World Newsletter

17 Dec 2020



The United States set a double record on Wednesday registering more than

3,700 deaths and over 250,000 new Covid-19 cases in just 24 hours, according

to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

With the new reported fatalities, the death toll in the US has now reached

more than 307,291.

The country has seen a spectacular spike in Covid infections for more than a

month now, with some 113,000 people currently hospitalised due to the virus,

according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The numbers far outpace the rest of the world. About five percent of the US

population has contracted the virus, or about 17 million people.

The United States has already rolled out its vaccination programme against

COVID-19, and it aims to get 2.9 million doses of the vaccine developed by

Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech, by the end of the week.

But Dr Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention (CDC), earlier warned that the country's healthcare system could

face a collapse before vaccines become more widely available by next year.

Redfield had noted that the latest coronavirus surge had already proven more

devastating than previous waves in terms of its geographic scope and steeper

trajectory of rising infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths.

Earlier this month, the University of Washington's influential Institute for

Health Metrics and Evaluation had projected the death toll could reach

nearly 450,000 by March 1 without greater attention to social distancing and


Vice President Mike Pence will publicly receive the coronavirus vaccine on

Friday, and President-elect Joe Biden is expected get vaccinated as soon as

next week, amid concern that many Americans may refuse the injection.

Pence will get the shot during a White House event to "build confidence

among the American people," his office said in a statement. Second lady

Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams are expected to receive the

vaccine along with the vice president.





A Paris court has found 14 people guilty of involvement in a series of

deadly militant Islamist attacks.

The January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a policewoman and a

Jewish supermarket left 17 people dead.

Eleven defendants appeared in court for the verdict on Wednesday, and three

were tried in absentia.

One of those not in court was Hayat Boumeddiene, the fugitive partner of

Amedy Coulibaly who was killed in the attack on the supermarket.

Boumeddiene, who fled to Syria a week before the attacks, was found guilty

of financing terrorism and belonging to a criminal terrorist network. She

was handed a 30-year jail sentence.

The main defendant in court, Ali Riza Polat, was found guilty of complicity

in terrorist crime and also given a 30-year jail term.

All 14 accomplices were found guilty on various charges, ranging from

belonging to a criminal network to direct complicity in the January 2015

attacks. Terrorism charges were dropped for six of the 11 defendants in

court who were found guilty of lesser crimes.

The three men who carried out the 7-9 January 2015 attacks were killed and

the accomplices, who first went on trial in early September, were accused of

obtaining weapons or providing logistical support. They all denied the


The trial, which was delayed repeatedly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, came

during a period when France once again faced a series of militant Islamist

attacks and renewed debate over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.





Nearly 1,40,000 persons in the UK have received their first Covid-19 shots

in the first week of roll-out of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and

BioNTech, the minister in charge of the programme said on Wednesday.

The vaccine was approved for emergency use two weeks ago, with rollout

commencing on December 8, making Britain the first country to deploy the

shot outside of clinical trials. "A really good start to theprogramme. It's

been seven days and we have done England: 1,08,000, Wales: 7,897, Northern

Ireland: 4,000; Scotland: 18,000' UK 1,37,897," Nadhim Zahawi said in a






A high-level Afghan-Taliban delegation arrived here on Wednesday to hold

talks with the top Pakistani leadership as part of efforts to push forward

the reconciliation process amid growing incidents of violence in Afghanistan

The Taliban Political Commission (TPC), headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani

Baradar, is on a December 16-18 visit to Pakistan, according to the Foreign

Office (FO).

"During the visit, the delegation will meet the Foreign Minister and call on

the Prime Minister," the FO said.

The visit comes after a delegation, led by US special representative for

Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Monday met Pakistan's Army

chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed with him the ongoing Afghan

peace process.

AP reported that Baradar and his delegation were summoned to Islamabad from

Qatar, where they have been negotiating since September with Afghan

government representatives, officials close to the talks said.

According to a report in The Express Tribune, the delegation will discuss

issues of mutual interest, in particular, problems of refugees, relaxation

and facilitation of Afghan's movement to Pakistan, as well as issues faced

by Afghan traders.

The visit of the TPC delegation is part of Pakistan's policy to reach out to

key Afghan parties in the peace process with a view to facilitating the

Intra-Afghan Negotiations that commenced in Doha on September 12, 2020. It

is the second visit of the TPC delegation this year after it visited

Pakistan in August.






The U.S. Congress has officially passed the $740 billion defence policy

bill, which among other things include calling out Chinese aggression

against India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate on Tuesday passed the

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included key components of

Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi's resolution language urging

the Chinese government to end its military aggression against India along

the LAC.

China and India have been locked in a military standoff along the Line of

Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since May this year. Several rounds

of talks between the two countries to resolve the standoff have not yielded

any concrete outcome.

The House and Senate versions of the bill were reconciled by a bipartisan

Congressional conference committee earlier this month.

The inclusion of this provision, which Mr. Krishnamoorthi led as an

amendment when the bill passed the House, reflects the U.S. government's

strong support for its allies and partners like India in the Indo-Pacific

region and beyond.

Mr. Krishnamoorthi's measure, which passed each chamber with overwhelming

bipartisan support, will become law if President Donald Trump signs it.





Bangladesh marked 49th anniversary of the victory in the Liberation War on

Tuesday with official events in its diplomatic missions in various

countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina greeted veteran freedom fighters in

Dhaka, and said Bangladesh would not allow communalisation of politics.

"Bangladesh is the land of Lalon Shah, Rabindranath, Kazi Nazrul,

Jibanananda. This Bangladesh is the land of Shahjalal, Shah Poran, Shah

Mokdum, Khanjahan Ali, this Bangladesh is the Bangladesh of Sheikh Mujib and

16.5 crore Bengalis - this country is for all. We won't allow anyone to

create any division and anarchy in the name of religion," said Prime

Minister Hasina in her speech delivered on the eve of the Victory Day.

The Victory Day was marked across the country as well as in the diplomatic

missions of Bangladesh in multiple countries. In the Bangladesh High

Commission here, High Commissioner Muhammad Imran led the celebration and

paid tributes to the sacrifices made by millions of people during the

nine-month-long Liberation War in 1971, which culminated in the birth of

Bangladesh on December 16. The day was also celebrated in India as Vijay

Divas as India paid tributes to the military martyrs in the India-Pakistan

war of December 1971.

"We also feel proud that our current leadership has effectively pursued

Bangabandhu's foreign policy of Friendship to All and Malice to None," said

High Commissioner Muhammad Imran as diplomats on both sides prepared for a

summit between Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh, which is expected to

take place on Wednesday.





Pakistan has approved the chemical castration of rapists as part of sweeping

new legislation sparked by outcry over the gang-rape of a mother on a


New laws approved by President Arif Alvi on Tuesday will see rape cases

expedited through the courts and create the country's first national sex

offenders register.

"The provision of the chemical castration of repeat as well as first-time

sex offenders... was added in the Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020", the President's

office confirmed on Wednesday.

Pakistan is a deeply conservative and patriarchal nation where victims of

sexual abuse often are too afraid to speak out, or where criminal complaints

are frequently not investigated seriously.





Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced that he was leading a

lawsuit against Google, accusing the tech giant of taking "illegal" actions

to hurt competition in the advertising technology market.

In a tweet on December 16, Mr. Paxton said his suit centres on the lucrative

market for digital ads, where Google obtains most of its revenue.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case marks the second antitrust action against Goggle after the U.S.

Justice Department filed a landmark monopolisation case against the company

in October.

The lawsuit is yet another legal battle for Google, which is facing a

Justice Department antitrust lawsuit on its search practices and imminent

legal action from a separate group of state attorneys general who have also

been investigating the company for anti-competitive behaviour.

Texas' lawsuit will go after Google's stranglehold on its corner of the ad

tech market, which it and fellow tech giant Facebook dominate.

The suit accuses Google of abusing its market power to rig auctions for

placing ads and drive up online advertising pricing.

The suit will be filed by multiple states, Mr. Paxton said in an

announcement video, though he didn't identify what other states are


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