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The president who ‘argued with God’

In the unmistakable cadence of a preacher, Malawi’s new President, Lazarus Chakwera, appealed for unity in his country shortly after he was sworn in on Sunday.

The day of the week seemed fitting as the former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God, one of the largest Christian denominations in the country, treated the stage like a pulpit to inspire fervour with his words.

The country is fractured after a divisive 13 months following the disputed 2019 election, the result of which was cancelled by the courts.

Speaking in a style and accent that had hints of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, President Chakwera talked about the dream “that binds us together [which] is for us to enjoy shared prosperity, not just freedom”.


But he then he said it was no good just having a dream.

“The time has come for us to go beyond dreaming.

“We all must wake up because this is a time to arise from slumber and make our dream come true.”

Mr Chakwera is a man of God in a deeply religious country.

The 65-year-old emerged as leader of the Malawi Congress Party in 2013 without having any previous political experience.

Fighting with God

He came to the job after leading the Assemblies of God for 24 years, but admitted, when he was first running for president in 2014, that making the decision to become a politician was not easy.

“I had to argue with God over a direction in life that didn’t seem natural to me,” he said in a video published by St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in California.

But after a lot of discussion “God was saying that: ‘I’m extending your ministry so that you’re able to pastor a whole nation'”.

In another interview, in 2017, he said that in the conversations with God he turned to chapter three of the book of Exodus in the Bible, in which God appears to Moses and says he should lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

This showed him how a leader can address both the spiritual and the social needs of the people, his adviser Sean Kampondeni told the BBC.

But he does not want to turn Malawi into a theocracy and neither does he want to proselytise, he added.

“The president believes that government is something that God subscribes to in nations in order to bring about order and progress in society, for the flourishing of human beings,” Mr Kampondeni explained.

“In Malawi, he feels that the government institutions have been deliberately crippled over the last 25 years to not provide that service and he is there as someone who is offering themselves to do that.”

President of Malawi

Born 5 April 1955

Studied theology in Malawi, South Africa and USA

Pastor and leader ofthe Malawi Assemblies of God church

Authored several books on religion including Reach the Nations

Ran for president in 2014 and came second

Became presidentin 2020 after defeating the incumbent

Standing at the apex of power and addressing the nation on Sunday, Mr Chakwera has come a long way from the boy who grew up in a village outside the capital, Lilongwe, who was, by his own admission, crippled by shyness.

The son of a preacher and evangelist who established several churches, his career as a pastor may have already seemed mapped out.

But at his prestigious secondary school, where he learned his accent by mimicking an American teacher, he initially had ambitions to be a doctor.

He thought that by being a medic he would have to talk to large numbers of people, he told journalist Joab Chakhaza in an interview in 2017.

Political v spiritual leadership

But during his education he says he “met God” and “began to redirect my life towards ministry”.

The father of four now wants to take that energy and vision and put it into running a country.

To those who think that there is a big difference between the lofty aims of spiritual leadership and the often low skulduggery of politics, Mr Chakwera’s adviser said the president was well aware of how to be political.

“Anybody who understands the political process and the journey to the presidency – the politics does not begin when you enter office,” Mr Kampondeni told the BBC.

“You have to do a lot of politics even just to enter public office.”

But, he said, the president’s approach will be different and he will not treat it like a dirty game.

He will now have to use his skill to bring the country together.

Addressing the nation and not just the crowds of jubilant supporters in Lilongwe, Mr Chakwera said that those who did not vote for him may view his presidency with “fear and grief”.

But he tried to reassure them.

“This new Malawi is a home for you too and so long as I am its president, it will be a home in which you too will prosper.”

The president’s defeat of the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, was so overwhelming, with 59% of the vote, that initially many will be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, journalist Chakhaza told the BBC.

Transcending tribalism

“But he’s got a huge task as the past regime was so openly tribalistic in its appointments of people and people felt sidelined, especially from the central and northern regions,” he added.

There will be pressure to try and rebalance the past and people “will be keen to see if he can transcend that”.

The president’s supporters believe he can and he will offer a new kind of leadership inspired by God and driven by the needs of Malawians.

Inevitably, though, tough decisions will need to be made, not only in relation to the immediate challenge of coronavirus, but also how to tackle corruption and foster economic growth. These may begin to test his popularity.

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Angela Merkel’s biggest challenge exposed as German Chancellor faces EU backlash

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Constanze Stelzenmüller told Euronews’ Brussels correspondent Stefan Grobe that up to four nations will need to be convinced to accept the economic recovery plan herself and President Macron have put forward. Mr Grobe questioned whether Merkel is seen as a lame-duck due to the announcement of her retirement next year.  

Ms Stelzenmüller said: “Her most immediate challenge still is convincing the so-called frugal four countries that they should accept her and Macron’s European recovery plan which includes common European bonds.”

Mr Grobe replied: “Now it is Merkel’s second council presidency after 2007 where she played a central role in the negotiation of the treaty of Lisbon.

“Could she be the saviour of Europe again or is she a lame-duck now that she has already announced her retirement for next year?”

Ms Stelzenmüller said: “I think the lame-duck thing has been somewhat disproven by her management of the pandemic.”

Earlier this month German MEP Jörg Meuthen unleashed a scathing attack on the European Commission’s bailout plan during the European Parliament’s plenary session.

Mr Meuthen slammed the European Union’s recovery package as nonsense and praised Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden for all refusing to agree to the bailout. 

The German MEP said: “I think Chancellor Merkel was very clear when she said there wouldn’t be any corona bonds or Euro bonds but now, we have this recovery fund providing grants of €5million.

“We have taxpayers who are financing this money on behalf of the European Commission without any proper legal basis.

“This does not seem to bother anybody though.

“You Commission President come here supporting this nonsense saying it is not enough and you want €500million more.

“Let me say this is completely wrong, this is nonsense.”

He continued: “This is a huge price for EU citizens to have to pay. So you are just spending as if there is no tomorrow with taxpayers’ money.

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“This completely lacking any responsibility or economic sense here.

“This does not make sense in terms of spending and taxes.

“We are talking about huge figures of money here and this is hypocritical, all in the name of solidarity.

“We have seen Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden all refuse to agree to this nonsense.”

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U.S. appeals court stays order requiring GM, FCA meet to resolve GM lawsuit

DETROIT (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday stayed a lower court’s order requiring officials from General Motors Co (GM.N) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI)(FCAU.N) to resolve GM’s racketeering lawsuit.

“In order to provide sufficient time to consider the matters raised in GM’s petition, and having considered the relevant factors, we conclude that a temporary stay is appropriate,” the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said in a court filing.

GM said in a statement that it looked forward to the appeals court’s review and decision. Officials with FCA were not immediately available to comment.

On Friday, GM asked a U.S. appeals court to allow it to continue pursuing its civil racketeering lawsuit against FCA, rejecting U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman’s belittling of the complaint. The No. 1 U.S. automaker called Borman’s order “unprecedented” and “a profound abuse” of judicial power.

GM’s appeal came less than a week after Borman called its lawsuit a “waste of time and resources” at a time when both automakers should be focused on surviving the coronavirus pandemic.

Borman ordered GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and FCA CEO Mike Manley to meet by July 1 to negotiate a resolution, and later amended his order to allow other officials in their place. On Monday, Borman said in an order that the July 1 call would simply entail the executives answering “yes” or “no” on whether the case had been resolved.

GM sued FCA last year, accusing the Italian-American company’s executives of bribing United Auto Workers union officials to secure labor agreements that put GM at a disadvantage. FCA is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department as part of a wide-ranging probe of UAW corruption.

GM’s accusations came as FCA and French automaker Peugeot SA (PEUP.PA) were in the early stages of preparing for a merger. FCA has said the suit was aimed at disrupting that deal. GM has said the suit has nothing to do with the merger.

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U.S. envoy in Lebanon says 'page turned' after interview ban

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador in Lebanon said on Monday the page had been turned on an incident sparked by a court ruling banning media in the country from interviewing her after she heaped criticism on the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

A Shi’ite judge in the southern city of Tyre ruled on Saturday that comments made by Ambassador Dorothy Shea had incited sectarian strife, and banned media in Lebanon from interviewing her for a year.

The foreign minister in Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed government summoned Shea to the ministry on Monday.

“We turned the page on this unfortunate distraction so we could all focus on the real crisis at end, which is the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon,” Shea told journalists at the foreign ministry after the meeting.

The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti emphasised the importance of media freedom and the right to free expression during the meeting, the ministry said in a statement.

Lebanon is grappling with an acute economic crisis seen as the worst threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

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Cirque du Soleil files for bankruptcy protection as COVID-19 cancels shows

(Reuters) – Canada’s Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the famed circus operator to cancel shows and lay off its artistes.

The Montreal-based entertainment company, which runs six shows in Las Vegas, has struggled to keep its business running amid coronavirus restrictions that started in March, forcing it to lay off about 95% of its workforce and temporarily suspend its shows.

“With zero revenue since the forced closure of all of our shows due to COVID-19, the management had to act decisively to protect the company’s future,” Chief Executive Officer Daniel Lamarre said.

The company has signed an agreement with its existing investors private equity fund TPG Capital, China’s Fosun International Ltd (0656.HK), and Canadian pension fund Caisse de depot et placement du Québec under which the group will take over Cirque’s liabilities and invest $300 million to support a restart.

As part of the investment, government body Investissement Québec will provide $200 million in debt financing.

TPG, Fosun and the Canadian pension fund, which have held a majority stake in the entertainment company since 2015, will also be responsible for a $15 million employee fund to provide financial assistance to laid-off employees.

Cirque said it will seek protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and its application will be heard on Tuesday by the Superior Court of Quebec. It will also seek its immediate provisional recognition in the United States under Chapter 15.

The company also said the artists and show staff of resident shows in Las Vegas and Orlando, which are expected to resume before the rest of its shows, would not be impacted by the lay offs.

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First foreign flight to Greek island carries German COVID-19 'heroes'

KOS, Greece (Reuters) – German workers who helped combat the novel coronavirus arrived on the island of Kos on Monday in the first foreign flight to reach a Greek regional airport since the health crisis erupted.

About 180 people – among them medical staff, police officers and supermarket workers – flew from Hanover and will stay for five days on the eastern Aegean island, the birthplace of ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of Medicine.

The trip, organised by TUI, was offered free of charge to workers in Germany to thank them for their contribution during the pandemic. Travellers were selected by German newspaper Bild following a public nomination process.

The passengers, who wore masks as they came down the plane’s staircase, said they were happy to travel to Greece. Dozens later underwent precautionary tests for COVID-19.

“The virus is still there… We have to be careful and we have to follow the rules and we’ll manage it together,” said Stephen, one of the passengers, who works as an officer at the German Chancellery.

Regional airports will start operating officially on July 1.

Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said he hoped the visitors would enjoy a holiday “well deserved for their achievements”.

“The island of Kos, the island of the father of Medicine, received the first airplane form Germany with the 180 corona heroes,” he told Reuters.

Greece, which emerged from a decade-long debt crisis in 2018, relies heavily on tourism for an economic recovery. The sector accounts for about a fifth of its economic output and Germany is one of its main tourism markets.

So far, Greece has managed to contain the spread of the virus to just 3,376 cases, faring better than other European Union countries, mainly due to an early lockdown.

TUI said that in the first week of July it plans 56 flights to Greek destinations, including to Crete and Rhodes.

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Brexit backlash: David Frost furious with ‘inflammatory’ demand from Barnier – ‘NO WAY!’

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Face-to-face Brexit talks are taking place in Brussels today for the first time since the start of the pandemic. With a deadline of July 1 for the UK to ask for an extension, there is much for chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, to wrangle over. Sky News Europe Correspondent Adam Parsons revealed that the continued involvement of the European Court of Justice in UK matters has struck a nerve in the negotiations.

From Brussels, the Sky reporter told viewers: “There’s a big question of what happens if there’s an argument?

“If there’s a dispute, who sorts that out?

“The Commission say it has to involve the European Court of Justice.

“The British Government say, ‘no way will we allow that court to be involved’.”

Mr Parsons continued: “Not least because it was so inflammatory within the Brexit process.

“Fishing is also a difficult one to reconcile the two positions at the moment, as entrenched as they are.

“The UK say it wants the rights to decide who goes into its coastal waters.

“The EU says that Channel and British waters have been fished for decades, if not centuries.”

The Sky Europe Correspondent added: “They say they can’t go back to a system of annual negotiations.

“But it’s not just that, it’s also about data, police cooperation, state aid and the so-called level playing field.”

The current deadline for a deal to be completed is December this year, leaving a very tight timeline.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he wants a deal done by the end of summer.

Mr Parsons warned that this was “wishful thinking”.

Mr Barnier tweeted today: “Negotiations resumed this morning with David Frost & team, in a restricted format. We will make the most of our intensified talks over the coming weeks & months.

“Our goal: a comprehensive future relationship with United Kingdom.

“The European Union remains calm & united in its principles and values.”

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U.S. home contracts post record jump, factory activity improves in Texas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Contracts to buy U.S. previously owned homes rebounded by the most on record in May, suggesting the housing market was starting to turn around after being hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the economy.

Other data on Monday showed an improvement in manufacturing activity in Texas in June after three months of record or near-record declines in output. But surging infections of the respiratory illness in many regions, including the densely populated Texas, Florida and California, pose a risk to the nascent recovery. The economy fell into recession in February.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed last month, surged 44.3%, the largest gain since the series started in 2001. Still, contracts remain 10.6% below their level in February before businesses were shuttered in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus, almost grounding the economy to a halt.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast pending home contracts, which become sales after a month or two, rebounding 18.9% in May. Pending home sales fell 5.1% from a year ago.

Home resales tumbled to a more than 9-1/2-year low in May. Economists believe the housing market could emerge more quickly from the recession, which started in February, thanks to historic low interest rates.

Applications for home loans are near an 11-year high and building permits rebounded sharply in May as did new home sales. But record unemployment, with 30.6 million collecting unemployment checks in the first week of June, is a challenge.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher after a sharp selloff last week. The dollar was steady against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

GREEN SHOOTS

In May, pending home contracts soared 43.3% in the populous South. They jumped 56.2% in the West and increased 44.4% in the Northeast. Contracts rose 37.2% in the Midwest.

There were also signs of green shoots in manufacturing. In a separate report on Monday, the Dallas Federal Reserve said its Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, increased to a reading of 13.6 this month from -28.0 in May.

It said other measures of manufacturing activity also pointed to a rebound in growth this month, with the new orders index racing 34 points to 2.9, its first positive reading in four months. Nearly a third of manufacturers reported an increase in orders. Measures of capacity utilization and shipments also returned to positive territory in June.

But manufacturers’ views of broader business conditions were mixed. The general business activity index surged 43 points but stayed negative at -6.1. The outlook index pulled back into positive territory, rising to a reading of 2.7 from -34.6 in May. About 29% of manufacturers said the outlook had improved, up from 12% last month.

Factory employment measures remained weak. The employment index rose 10 points to a reading of -1.5, with 15% of firms reporting hiring, while 17% said they had laid off workers. The hours worked index rose to -4.3 from -22.8 in May.

Though manufacturers reported paying more for raw materials, a gauge of prices for finished goods remained negative for the sixth straight month. The wages and benefits index returned to positive territory after two negative readings.

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'Disaster' looms in coronavirus-hit Afghanistan: Live updates

With hospital beds almost full, Afghan officials warn of coming ‘disaster’ as suspected cases of COVID-19 surge.

  • As Afghan officials warn of a looming crisis, health authorities in the country reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 19,551.    

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its position on face masks and is now encouraging people to wear them in crowded places, citing anecdotal evidence that supports their value in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. 

  • Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull his country out of the WHO, accusing the body of being “partisan” and “political”. With more than 34,000 coronavirus deaths, Brazil now has the third-highest toll in the world.

  • About 6.7 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 394,000 people have died, including some 109,000 in the United States. More than 2.9 million people have recovered.

Here are the latest updates:

June 6, Saturday

23:09 GMT – Italy confirms 270 new cases, including a cluster in Rome

Italy added another 270 confirmed coronavirus cases to its official count, including a cluster of two dozen more cases at a Rome hospital that has been sealed off to contain the spread.

The Italian civil protection agency on Saturday also reported the deaths of 72 more people with the virus. Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll now stands at 33,846, but officials say the real mortality figure in Europe’s one-time coronavirus epicenter likely is much higher.

Italy’s outbreak hit the northern region of Lombardy hardest, with more than 90,000 cases out of Italy’s official caseload of 235,000 and more than 16,000 deaths.

20:05 GMT – No new positives in Premier League COVID-19 tests

The latest round of tests for COVID-19 in the Premier League produced no positives, the league said.

A total of 1,195 tests were carried out on Thursday and Friday, the sixth round of tests since players from England’s 20 top-flight clubs returned to training.

The previous rounds of testing produced 13 positives.

No Premier League matches have taken place since March because of the pandemic, but a restart is scheduled for June 17. 

18:17 GMT – Turkey reports new deaths, cases 

The number of coronavirus deaths in Turkey rose to 4,669 as the country reported 21 new deaths in the past 24 hours.

Turkey reported 878 new infections, taking its total number of cases to 169,218.

18:03 GMT – Dutch mink cull starts as coronavirus spreads to 10th farm

Dutch mink farms have begun a government-ordered cull amid concern that animals infected with coronavirus could transmit the illness to humans.

Infected mink have been found on 10 Dutch farms where the ferret-like animals are bred for their fur, according to the country’s Food & Wares Authority.

“All mink breeding farms where there is an infection will be cleared, and farms where there are no infections won’t be,” said spokeswoman Frederique Hermie.

The government ordered the cull of 10,000 mink on Wednesday after determining that affected farms could act as a long-term reservoir of disease.

17:43 GMT – Italy reports 72 new deaths 

Italy reported 72 more fatalities from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 33,846.

The slowing trend of deaths last month continued in June confirming that the peak of the crisis has been left behind. 

The tally of active infections fell again on Saturday by 1,099, placing the total at 35,877.

However, health authorities stressed that the contagion rate is reassuring but the outbreak has not ended yet. 

17:41 GMT – OPEC, allied nations extend nearly 10m barrel cut by a month                  

OPEC and allied nations agreed to extend a production cut of nearly 10 million barrels of oil a day through the end of July, hoping to boost energy prices hard-hit by the pandemic.

Ministers of the body and outside nations like Russia met via video conference to adopt the measure, aimed at cutting out the excess production depressing prices as global aviation remains largely grounded due to the pandemic. It represents some 10 percent of the world’s overall supply. 

17:29 GMT – Kazakh president’s spokesman hospitalised 

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s spokesman has been hospitalised after testing positive for COVID-19, he wrote on his Facebook page, adding that the president’s health was not at risk.

The spokesman, Berik Uali, wrote that Tokayev, 67, gets tested regularly and that additional safety measures have been taken at the presidential headquarters.

“President Tokayev continues his work as scheduled, his health is under no threat,” Uali said.

The Central Asian nation has confirmed 12,511 cases and 53 deaths. It emerged from a two-month lockdown last month, while keeping in place social distancing rules and closed borders.

17:14 GMT – Impossible to play under US Open’s COVID-19 protocols, says Djokovic 

World number one Novak Djokovic has said participating in the US Open would be an impossible task due to the “extreme” COVID-19 protocols in place for the tournament at Flushing Meadows.

The US Open, scheduled to begin on August 31, will be the first Grand Slam to be played after the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the season in March. The French Open was postponed to September while the Wimbledon championships was cancelled.

“I had a telephone conversation with the leaders of world tennis. There were talks about the continuation of the season, mostly about the US Open due in late August, but it’s not known whether it will be held,” Djokovic told Serbia’s Prva TV.

“The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week.

17:02 GMT – Canada reports new cases, deaths

Canada’s total coronavirus cases rose to 94,335 from 94,070 the day before, according to data published by the public health agency.

The country reported a total of 7,703 deaths, up from 7,652 the day before.

16:32 GMT – Brazil’s Bolsonaro defends partial release of COVID-19 data

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended his government’s move to partially withhold official data on the scale of the world’s second-largest coronavirus outbreak.

Late on Friday, Brazil’s Health Ministry took down a website showing the evolution of the epidemic over time and by state and municipality. The ministry also stopped reporting a total tally of confirmed cases, which have shot past 645,000 – more than anywhere outside the United States – and its overall death toll.

“The cumulative data … does not reflect the moment the country is in,” Bolsonaro said on Twitter, citing a note from the ministry. “Other actions are underway to improve the reporting of cases and confirmation of diagnoses.”

14:44 GMT – Liberia set to ease virus restrictions   

Liberia has made good progress in containing the spread of coronavirus and will open its international airport and hotels on June 21, the government has said.

A state of emergency that was declared in April and due to expire on June 9 would not be renewed, President George Weah said in a statement.     

Restrictions such as a night-time curfew would remain in place, though it would start later, according to the statement released on Friday.

14:28 GMT – Afghanistan warns of ‘disaster’ as virus infections surge

Afghanistan is running out of hospital beds as suspected cases of coronavirus surge, officials said, warning “there is a disaster coming” in the impoverished country.

Afghan health authorities reported 761 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 19,551.      

“Our [hospital] beds are almost full, we won’t have any more capacity very soon,” Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters.     

“There is a disaster coming,” said Kabul governor Mohammad Yakub Haidary at a joint press conference with the health minister, adding that in Kabul alone there could be a million people infected.

So far there have been 327 confirmed deaths in the country.

14:13 GMT – Moscow’s annual book fair draws crowds despite coronavirus curbs

Hundreds of Moscow residents flocked to an open-air book fair in Red Square, though some publishing houses opted to stay away as city authorities keep most restrictions in place.

Organisers of the annual book fair, which was attended by 300,000 people last year, have implemented numerous measures to stem the spread of the virus – with chairs spaced one metre apart and temperature checks at the entrance.

The even drew up to 600 visitors within hours of its opening.

13:45 GMT – Turks stream out for first lockdown-free weekend in nearly two months 

Turks streamed outside for their first weekend without a coronavirus lockdown in nearly two months, the day after President Tayyip Erdogan suddenly scrapped a stay-at-home order.

Cafes, restaurants and other facilities had reopened on Monday as infection rates slowed and restrictions on intercity travel had been lifted as the infection rate slowed. But Erdogan had intended to maintain the weekend lockdown, applied to big cities since April 11, until a public backlash.

Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Linah Alsaafin.

12:15 GMT – Indonesia records single-day high in new cases

Indonesia has reported nearly 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus, a new single-day high for the country that brought its total caseload past 30,000, as the government unveiled an enhanced stimulus package worth $47.6bn to anchor the virus-battered economy.

The health ministry said there were 993 newly infected people over the past 24 hours. Indonesia has confirmed 30,514 cases, including 1,801 deaths, the most in Southeast Asia.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said a 677.2 trillion rupiah ($47.6bn) stimulus package aims to strengthen the healthcare system, direct more spending toward social protection to boost consumption, and provide incentives to rescue Indonesian businesses from bankruptcy and workers from layoffs.

At least 4,902 patients have died so far across the continent due to the virus, it said in a Saturday update.

A total of 78,267 patients have so far recovered from the disease.

North Africa has so far confirmed 51,300 cases and a death toll of 2,200; Southern Africa has 46,000 cases and 933 deaths; West Africa has 39,900 cases and 795 deaths; East Africa has 20,600 cases and 592 deaths; and Central Africa has 18,900 cases and 421 deaths.

07:50 GMT – Fans and football return to Vietnam after coronavirus shutdown

Football was back and so were the spectators in Vietnam when the top domestic league resumed after the coronavirus shutdown.

Fans were allowed into Ho Chi Minh City’s scoreless draw with Hai Phong on Friday among three matches. But unlike Germany’s Bundesliga and South Korea’s K-League, which returned to action in May with empty arenas, more than 1,000 fans attended the V-League game at Hai Phong.

Allowing spectators to the matches was the result of Vietnam’s successful efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Despite sharing a long land border with China, where the virus originated, Vietnam, with a population of almost 100 million, has recorded just 328 cases and not a single recorded death.

Fans were subjected to temperature checks as they entered the stadiums, which were limited to half of normal capacity. They were not required to wear masks.

07:32 GMT – Hydroxychloroquine is ‘useless’ against COVID-19, says Oxford study

A study of thousands of patients led by the University of Oxford has said that the hydroxychloroquine drug does not work against the new coronavirus disease and should not be given to any more hospital patients around the world.

“If you are admitted to hospital, don’t take hydroxychloroquine,” said Martin Landray, deputy chief investigator of the Recovery trial and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Oxford University. “It doesn’t work.”

“It is being touted as a game changer, a wonderful drug, a breakthrough. This is an incredibly important result, because worldwide we can stop using a drug that is useless.”

07:00 GMT – Most of 51 new South Korea cases linked to door sales

South Korea has reported 51 new cases of COVID-19, mostly in the densely populated capital region, as authorities scramble to stem transmissions among low-income workers who cannot afford to stay home.

The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,719 workers and 273 deaths.

At least 34 of the new cases were linked to door-to-door sellers hired by Richway, a Seoul-based health product provider.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said the spread of the virus among Richway sellers was particularly alarming as most of them are aged in their 60s and 70s. He called for officials to strengthen their efforts to find and examine workplaces vulnerable to infections.

06:40 GMT – Pakistan reports highest single-day virus deaths

Pakistan has broken its previous record of the highest single-day deaths ever from the novel coronavirus, reporting 97 fatalities over the last 24 hours, the health ministry said.

With the latest surge, the death toll in the country has reached 1,935.

With 4,734 new cases over the past day, the country’s number of coronavirus cases has reached 93,983, already surpassing China, and landing the country at the 17th spot in terms of coronavirus cases, the data shows. Some 32,581 patients have recovered.

Hello, this is Linah Alsaafin in Doha taking over from my colleague Zaheena Rasheed.

05:08 GMT – India’s confirmed infections overtake Italy’s

India has surpassed Italy as the sixth worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic after another record single-day spike in confirmed infections.

The health ministry reported 9,887 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total to 236,657.

Most of the new cases are in rural areas following the return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who left cities and towns after the lockdown in late March.

The lockdown is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas while authorities have partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen. Shopping malls and religious places are due to open on Monday with restrictions to avoid large gatherings.

03:51 GMT – Beijing eases emergency response level to second lowest

China’s capital Beijing further eased its coronavirus measures on Saturday, lowering the city’s emergency response level to the second lowest.

That will lift most restrictions on people travelling from Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei, where the virus first appeared late last year. They will no longer face 14-day mandatory quarantines and other forms of monitoring, and those currently in such situations will be allowed to return to their normal lives.

Beijing residential compounds will not be required to conduct temperature checks and masks no longer must be worn for outdoor activities. Kindergartens will reopen and other grades still suspended will restart classes.

Beijing has reported no new cases of local transmission in at least 50 days and as many as 90 days in some districts.

02:51 GMT – China urges citizens to shun Australia

China has advised its citizens not to visit Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against Asians during the coronavirus pandemic.

A notice issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism late on Friday said there had “been an increase in words and deeds of racial discrimination and acts of violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia, due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic”.

“The ministry advises Chinese tourists to raise their safety awareness and avoid travelling to Australia,” the notice said.

The move comes after China threatened retaliation following Australia’s decision to push for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and responses to it.

02:14 GMT – China reports three new COVID-19 cases

China has recorded three new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus as of the end of Friday, down from five the day before, the National Health Commission said.

All of the cases were imported, involving travellers arriving from abroad, the NHC said.

The total number of infections in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, stands at 83,030. With no new deaths reported, the death toll remained at 4,634.

02:07 GMT – California to allow pro-sports, day camps

California broadly relaxed its coronavirus-related shutdowns, moving to allow professional sports to be played without audiences and reopen day camps, tribal casinos, museums and zoos as soon as June 12.

The most populous US state will also allow film, television and music production, a key sector of the economy that provides thousands of jobs, to restart.

Still not allowed in California are nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie theatres, nightclubs, concert venues, theme parks or higher education, the state’s website showed.

01:23 GMT – Brazil’s Supreme Court halts police raids in Rio’s favelas

A Brazilian Supreme Court minister has banned police raids in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas during the coronavirus pandemic, as criticism of brutal police tactics grows in Latin America’s largest nation.

In the decision, Minister Edson Fachin forbid raids on Brazil’s informal shanty towns “except in absolutely exceptional cases”, which must be preapproved by the state prosecutor’s office.

Rio’s police forces are notoriously violent, having killed more than 1,800 people in 2019. In May, police in Rio drew criticism for an operation in which a 14-year-old boy was killed, as well as another shootout in a coronavirus-stricken favela, which drew hundreds into the streets.

Congressman Alessandro Molon, whose Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) filed the suit that resulted in the decision, called the ruling “historic”.

00:39 GMT – Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit

President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to pull Brazil out of the WHO after the United Nations agency warned governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Speaking to journalists, Bolsonaro accused the WHO of being “partisan” and “political”. He said Brazil will consider leaving the body unless it ceased to work “without ideological bias”.

Earlier on Friday, when asked about efforts to loosen social-distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, a WHO spokeswoman said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” Margaret Harris told a news conference in Geneva. She said that among six key criteria for easing quarantines, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

00:01 GMT – G20 pledges $21bn dollars to fight coronavirus

The Group of 20 (G20) – a bloc whose member nations have the world’s largest economies – has pledged more than $21bn to fight the coronavirus, a statement by the group said early on Saturday.

“The G20, with invited countries, has coordinated the global efforts to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, G20 members and invited countries have pledged over US$21 billion to support funding in global health,” the statement said.

The pledges will be directed towards diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, and research and development, the statement added.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives. 

For all the updates from yesterday, June 5, go here. 

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World News

CAR court rejects bid to extend president mandate if poll delayed

Gov’t argued proposals needed to ensure continuity in running the country if December vote was postponed over COVID-19.

The Central African Republic’s (CAR) highest court has rejected changes to the constitution that would have allowed President Faustin-Archange Touadera to remain in office if an election in December is postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The government had argued the proposals, which would have authorised Touadera and national legislators to remain in office for an amount of time to be determined by the court, were needed to ensure continuity in running the country.

More:

  • UN imposes sanctions on Central African Republic rebel leader

  • Five CAR militia leaders get life terms for war crimes

  • Central African Republic: UN steps in for peace efforts

In its ruling on Friday, the Constitutional Court said the proposals violated constitutional provisions forbidding modifications to the president’s term and providing for the speaker of parliament to take over on a three-month interim basis if an election must be delayed.

“The will of the people would be tossed aside,” it said in its judgement, which also urged the president to organise consultations with political parties to reach a consensual solution.

There was no immediate comment by the government following the court’s ruling. Mathurin Djimbele, one of the legislators who sponsored the proposal in parliament, said he accepted the court’s judgement but accused it of shirking its responsibilities, according to Reuters news agency.

To date, the CAR has confirmed about 1,300 coronavirus cases and four related deaths. But the country, still struggling to emerge from a prolonged conflict, is facing a massive challenge in its efforts to prevent a severe outbreak.

Armed groups control large swathes of territory while doctors already struggle to treat existing cases of malaria, measles and tuberculosis, let alone a new virus with no known vaccine or treatment.

As healthcare systems in wealthy nations buckle under the strain of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, medical professionals fear an even greater impact in vulnerable countries such as CAR if cases surge.

CAR is one of several African countries, along with Ivory Coast, Guinea and Ghana, where the pandemic has injected fresh uncertainty into presidential elections scheduled for later this year that were already expected to be bitterly contested.

The conflict erupted after a coalition of rebel groups from the lawless and largely Muslim north of the country fought their way into the capital, Bangui, and deposed then-President Francois Bozize. In response, mostly-Christian militias known as the Anti-balaka struck back, exacting revenge on Muslim civilians.

The ensuing chaos has displaced almost 700,000 people inside the country and spawned a hotchpotch of armed groups as the rebel coalition disintegrated. Touadera was elected in 2016 and a peace deal signed last year has eased the bloodshed.

Bozize returned to the CAR in December after six years in exile and has said he might stand in the election.

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