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FRONT PAGE NEWS
9 February 2020

CORONAVIRUS: CHINA DEATHS RISE PAST 800, OVERTAKING SARS TOLL

The death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak soared to 803 in China on
Sunday, according to official figures, overtaking the global toll for SARS.
With 81 more people dying in Hubei - the province at the centre of the
outbreak - the toll is now higher than the 774 killed worldwide by the
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002-2003, according to figures
released Sunday.
The latest data came after the World Health Organisation said numbers were
"stabilising" - but warned it was too early to make any predictions about
whether the virus might have peaked.
Nearly 37,000 people have now been infected by the new coronavirus in China,
believed to have emerged last year in a market that sold wild animals in
Hubei's capital Wuhan before spreading across China.
The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down whole cities, as anger
mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing
doctor fell victim to the virus.
A 60-year-old American diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan,
according to the U.S. embassy, which gave no further details on the victim.
China's foreign ministry said in a statement to AFP that the victim was a
U.S. citizen of Chinese origin.


THAILAND SHOOTING: SOLDIER WHO KILLED 20 IS SHOT DEAD

A soldier who killed 20 people in a gun rampage in the Thai city of Nakhon
Ratchasima has been shot dead by the security forces, Thai police say.
Jakraphanth Thomma on Saturday killed his commanding officer before stealing
weapons from a military camp.
The suspect continued his attack in a shopping centre in Nakhon Ratchasima,
also known as Korat,
He posted material to social media, but his motives for his actions remain
unclear.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul posted on his Facebook page on
Sunday morning, congratulating the security forces for their actions in the
northeastern Thai town.
"Thank you police and army for ending the situation. Shooter shot dead!!!"
Officials said that the death toll stood at 20, with 42 wounded, revising an
earlier total of 21 dead.
However, it is still possible that the number of fatalities could rise.


THREE-WAY TIE IN IRISH GENERAL ELECTION: EXIT POLL

Ireland's three biggest parties are tied neck-and-neck following Saturday's
general election, according to an exit poll, leaving the battle to lead the
next government too close to call.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's incumbent Fine Gael party, centre-right rivals
Fianna Fail and left-wingers Sinn Fein all received 22% of first preference
votes, according to the PSOS MRBI poll issued as the polling stations closed
at 2200 GMT.
The survey of around 5,000 voters leaving the polls - which has an estimated
margin of error of 1.3% - put Fine Gael on 22.4%, Sinn Fein on 22.3% and
Fianna Fail on 22.2%.
The Republic of Ireland uses a single transferable vote system to elect
multiple deputies from each of the 39 constituencies, making it hard to
extrapolate a likely seat forecast from the exit poll figures for first
preference votes.
The count gets under way at 0900 GMT on February 9.
"We've never seen a general election result like it," said Pat Leahy,
political editor of The Irish Times newspaper.
"Basically a statistical tie between what are now the three big parties.
Government formation is going to be a very difficult exercise indeed if the
parties maintain their pre-election positions," he told RTE television.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which have traditionally held a duopoly on
power, pledged they would not form a coalition with Sinn Fein, the former
political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army paramilitary group.


AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI SAYS IRAN SHOULD INCREASE MILITARY MIGHT TO PREVENT WAR

Iran should increase its military might to prevent a war, Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of air force commanders on Saturday,
dismissing the US sanctions on the country as "criminal act".
"We should be strong to prevent any war against the county. Being weak will
encourage our enemies to attack Iran," Khamenei, Iran's top authority, said
according to state news agency IRNA.
The Islamic Republic has vowed to increase its military strength despite
mounting pressure from Western countries to curtail its military
capabilities, including its ballistic missile programme.
"Since the revolution their aim was to stop us from having a strong military
and a strong air force . but look at us now. We even build planes. We have
transformed their pressure to opportunity," Khamenei said, according to
state TV.


MALAYSIAN HINDUS DEFY CORONAVIRUS FEARS TO MARK FESTIVAL

Hindus gathered in temples across Malaysia on Saturday to celebrate the
annual Thaipusam festival, despite concerns about the deadly coronavirus
outbreak.
Massive crowds descended on the Batu Caves temple complex on the outskirts
of capital Kuala Lumpur to participate in the event, where Hindus showcase
their devotion to the deity Lord Murugan.
Worshippers walked barefoot up 272 steps to reach the temple - an important
religious site for Tamil Hindus - armed with gifts including milk pots which
are eventually smashed as offerings.
Many displayed their fervour by carrying heavy ornate metal structures
called "kavadis", affixed to their bodies with sharp metal spikes that are
hammered into the skin.
Some devotees appeared to be in a state of trance as they carried the
kavadis, which can weigh as much as 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds).
Others pierced their faces with tridents or hung multiple hooks and chains
from their bodies in an act of penance.
The crowd at the Batu Caves looked as big as in previous years despite
worries about the new virus, and only a handful were wearing protective
masks.


PAK COURT DEFERS VERDICT AGAINST MUMBAI ATTACK MASTERMIND HAFIZ SAEED

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Saturday deferred its verdict against
Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed in two terror financing cases on his
"request" and adjourned the hearing till Tuesday.
Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Lahore judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta had last week
reserved the verdict against the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) chief in the two
terror financing cases for Saturday.
"The ATC judge on Saturday took up the application of Hafiz Saeed requesting
the court to club all terror financing cases against him and announce the
verdict after the trial is completed," a court official told PTI after the
hearing on Saturday.
The official said the deputy prosecutor opposed to Saeed's plea, arguing
that the trial in the two cases against him has already been completed and
the court may announce the verdict under the law.
The ATC, however, adjourned the hearing till February 11, issuing notices to
both prosecution and defence lawyers for arguments on Saeed's plea.


SWITZERLAND VOTES ON LGBT DISCRIMINATION PROPOSAL

Voters in Switzerland go to the polls on Sunday to decide on a proposal to
make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity
punishable by law.
Discrimination because of race or religion is already illegal in the
country.
Now members of Switzerland's LGBT community hope they too will get legal
protection.
But opponents of the new law argue it could restrict free speech.
"Many Swiss people tend to overrate how modern our country is," explains
Anna Rosenwasser of the Swiss Lesbian Organisation.
She points out that on the Rainbow Map of 49 countries' respect for LGBT
rights, Switzerland ranks just 23rd. "It might be rich, but it's really not
modern yet. We have no laws concerning public discrimination based on sexual
orientation."
To support her argument that the lack of legal protection causes harm to the
gay community, Ms Rosenwasser cites suicide rates: "Amongst queer people in
Switzerland, it is five times higher compared to heterosexual people. That's
quite something, it shows how we are not feeling safe yet."
"We don't even know if jokes about gays will be allowed," Benjamin Fischer
of the right-wing Swiss People's Party told Swiss television.
"Some say yes, some say no they will be punishable. We live in a country
with freedom of expression, people should be allowed to think and say what
they like, even if it's a bit stupid or tasteless."
There is opposition too from some religious groups. Although Switzerland's
reformed church has backed the new law, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance,
which has significant support in rural areas, is sceptical.


KAZAKHSTAN: OVERNIGHT BRAWL LEAVES 8 DEAD, SCORES WOUNDED

A brawl and a series of clashes in several villages in Kazakhstan's southern
Zhambyl province have left eight people dead and scores wounded, Interior
Minister Yerlan Turgumbayev said on Saturday.
Some 70 people were involved in the initial brawl on the outskirts of the
Masanchi village, close to the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border, he told a briefing,
after which 300 more people arrived from the nearby villages.
The crowd clashed with police, wounding two officers with gunshots, and
torched dozens of buildings and cars. Police have detained 47 people and
confiscated two hunting shotguns, Turgumbayev said.
Police and the National Guard now have the situation under control,
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a statement, ordering the government
to take steps to maintain calm in the villages.
The area where the clashes took place is home to many members of the Dungan
minority group, Muslims of Chinese ethnic origin.
Tokayev urged a thorough investigation and instructed security agencies to
prosecute those spreading ethnic hate speech, "provocative rumours and
disinformation".
Dauren Abayev, Minister of Information and Public Accord told a briefing the
authorities have temporarily closed a large outdoor merchandise market in
Almaty, the largest city in the nation of 19 million, after "calls for
violence" there.

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