16 MARCH 2020
FIRST RUSSIAN-TURKISH PATROL ON SYRIAN HIGHWAY CUT SHORT BY PROTESTS
Russia and Turkey cut short their first joint patrol in Syria's Idlib on
Sunday after rebels and civilians opposed to a ceasefire agreement cut off a
main roadway to block its path, according to witnesses and Russian news
The patrol on the M4 highway in Idlib province was the result of a March 5
ceasefire accord between Moscow and Ankara, which back opposing sides in
Syria's nine-year war. The ceasefire has largely held since then.
Under the deal, which halted hostilities after an escalation of violence
that displaced nearly a million people, Turkish and Russian forces are to
establish a security corridor on either side of the M4, as well as carry out
joint patrols along it.
But on Sunday hundreds of civilians and rebels cut off the roadway,
rejecting the presence of Russian forces and what they said was an agreement
that did not guarantee their re-settlement after being pushed out by
"If the patrols happen without people being able to return to their lands,
we oppose them," said Osama Rahal, a military commander with the Syrian
National Army, a Turkey backed rebel group.
Protesters, some waving Syrian National Army flags, climbed atop Turkish
tanks or stood in their path, according to witnesses. Photos posted by the
Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, showed people lighting
fires in the street and forming human chains.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the joint patrols were cut short because
of rebel "provocations" and civilians being used as a human shield, forcing
them to take a shorter route, according to Russian news agency RIA.
GANTZ CHOSEN TO FORM NEW ISRAELI GOVT
Israel's president says he has decided to give opposition leader Benny Gantz
the first opportunity to form a new government following an inconclusive
national election this month.
President Reuven Rivlin's office announced his decision late Sunday after
consulting with leaders of all of the parties elected to parliament.
Israel's president on Sunday summoned Netanyahu and his challenger, Benny
Gantz, to an emergency meeting in hopes of breaking the deadlock that has
paralysed the political system for the past year and could threaten the
country's response to the coronavirus crisis.
Rivlin announced the meeting after a day of consultations with the country's
political parties ahead of his decision on who should lead Israel's next
With rival sides evenly divided following the country's third inconclusive
election in under a year, a unity government may be the only way out of the
deadlock, which comes as the government confronts an increasingly serious
CORONAVIRUS | AFRICAN NATIONS CLOSE BORDERS, CANCEL FLIGHTS TO CONTAIN COVID-19 SPREAD
Several African governments on March 15 closed borders, canceled flights and
imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of
the new coronavirus, which has a foothold in at least 26 countries on the
continent as cases keep rising.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of
disaster and warned the outbreak could have a "potentially lasting" impact
on the continent's most-developed economy, which is already in recession.
Measures to be taken there include barring travel to and from countries such
as Italy, Germany, China and the United States.
"Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20
days will be denied a visa," he said, adding that South Africans who visited
targeted countries would be subjected to testing and quarantine when
South Africa, which has recorded 61 cases, will also prohibit gatherings of
more than 100 people, Ramaphosa said.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government was suspending travel
from any country with reported COVID-19 cases.
"Only Kenyan citizens, and any foreigners with valid residence permits will
be allowed to come in, provided they proceed on self-quarantine," he told
the nation in a televised address.
The ban would take effect within 48 hours and remain in place for at least
30 days, he said.
RATE CUTS: US GOES TO ALMOST ZERO AND LAUNCHES HUGE STIMULUS PROGRAMME
The US has cut interest rates to almost zero and launched a $700bn stimulus
programme in a bid to protect the economy from the effect of coronavirus.
It is part of a co-ordinated action announced on Sunday in the UK, Japan,
eurozone, Canada, and Switzerland.
In a news conference Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the pandemic was having
a "profound" impact on the economy.
US President Donald Trump said the emergency action "makes me very happy".
The Fed has cut rates to a target range of 0% to 0.25%, and said it would it
begin buying bonds - quantitative easing - a move that pumps money directly
into the economy.
The central bank had already cut interest rates by half a percentage point
after an emergency meeting on 3 March.
It was the first rate cut outside of a regularly scheduled policy meeting
since the financial crisis in 2008.
Stock markets have plunged in recent days amid fears that economic paralysis
will wipe out corporate profits and spark a global recession.
But early indications suggest the Fed's move may not shore up financial
markets. US stock market futures, which anticipate the direction of shares
when trading begins, were almost 4% down.