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Ugandan man sets himself on fire ‘over bribe’

A 29-year-old motorbike taxi rider in Uganda has died after setting fire to himself inside a police station.

Hussein Walugembe’s bike was seized in the south-western district of Masaka, about 135km (85 miles) from the capital, Kampala, on Monday.

Some riders allege that officers had demanded a $40 (£32) bribe from Walugembe to release his vehicle.

A police spokesman says the entire traffic department is now under investigation for bribery.

It is also reported that Walugembe had been living in police quarters and been supplying food to the force.

Riding motorbike taxis – or boda bodas as they are known in Uganda – is a common source of income for unemployed young men in countries across Africa.

But in Uganda they have been banned from carrying passengers as part of efforts to control the spread of coronavirus.

Boda boda riders are only able to operate between 06:30 and 17:00 local time and can only transport cargo.

What happened?

According to the police, Mr Walugembe had lent his motorbike to a friend, who was caught ferrying a passenger on Monday.

Mr Walugembe reportedly became frustrated with the police after visiting the station several times to demand they release his bike.

On Thursday, he locked himself into a room at the station and set himself alight using petrol concealed in a water bottle.

Officers at the station ferried water in jerrycans to put out the fire.

An officer who was with him at the time suffered minor injuries and several files and computers were destroyed.

Regional police spokesperson Paul Kangave said an investigation had been launched into the self-immolation and into the conduct of the entire traffic department.

He said the force’s Professional Standards Unit would be looking into allegations that the officers were demanding bribes after vehicles were impounded for flouting lockdown restrictions.

How serious is coronavirus in Uganda?

The government began easing lockdown restrictions in May but maintained those on boda bodas.

The president said in late June that they could lead to the further spread of the virus if allowed to transport people at this stage.

Uganda so far has 900 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 847 recoveries and no deaths.

Many of the cases have been reported among long-distance truck drivers and their contacts.

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US states hit pause on coronavirus reopening: Live updates

Bars, beaches, cinemas closed again in some US states as spike in cases underlines challenge of containing virus.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

  • World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned the pandemic is “not even close to being over” and that while there had been some progress initially, the pandemic was “actually speeding up”. 
  • States in the US are pausing reopening plans amid a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations. Among the states stepping back is California, which reported a record surge in COVID-19. 
  • More than 10.2 million people around the world have now been diagnosed with the coronavirus and more than 504,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

Here are the latest updates.

Tuesday, June 30

02:45 GMT – Los Angeles officials warn hospitals could be overwhelmed

Los Angeles is becoming the new coronavirus hotspot in the US.

California announced a record jump of 7,418 new cases on Monday with the number in LA, the second-biggest city in the US, exceeding more than 100,000 despite strict curbs on nightlife and a requirement to wear masks in all public areas.

“The alarming increase in cases, positivity rates and hospitalisations signals that we, as a community, need to take immediate action to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said in a statement.

“Otherwise, we are quickly moving toward overwhelming our healthcare system and seeing even more devastating illness and death.”

02:30 GMT – South Australia cancels plan to reopen domestic borders

The state of South Australia has cancelled plans to reopen its borders to interstate travellers from neighbouring Victoria after a spike in coronavirus cases there.

Restrictions were supposed to be removed on July 20.

Victoria reported 75 new cases of coronavirus on Monday. It has yet to release numbers for Tuesday.

02:00 GMT – India’s first COVID-19 vaccine approved for human trials

Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine has secured regulatory approval for human trials.

Phase I and II clinical trials for Covaxin, India’s first domestic candidate for a vaccine, will begin in July.  

00:55 GMT – Los Angeles to close beaches for July 4 holiday weekend

Los Angeles is to close its beaches for the July 4 holiday weekend after reporting a record one-day rise in cases.

People usually flock to the seaside during the holiday, which marks US Independence Day.

Officials said it was too much of a risk allowing the beaches to remain open. 

23:30 GMT – Researchers find new swine flu with pandemic potential 

Researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu that has the potential to cause a pandemic, according to a study published in the US science journal PNAS.

The G4 flu is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that was behind the pandemic in 2009.

G4 has “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans,” the researchers wrote.

They added that the G4 type was already predominant in pigs and that control of the infection in pigs and close monitoring of people working with the animals should be “urgently implemented”.

The peer-reviewed study was authored by academics at the China Agricultural University, Shandong Agricultural University, Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of Nottingham. 

Read more on their findings here. 

Source: Al Jazeera 

 

Read the updates from yesterday (June 29) here.

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What’s going on between Russia, US and Afghanistan?

What are we to make of the reports that have surfaced in the past few days that Russian military intelligence agents were offering money to Taliban fighters to kill US and possibly other Western service personnel? How true are these reports? Can they be substantiated? And what is their real significance?

For a start, we have a triple denial from all of the main parties involved. The Russian government has dismissed the story out of hand. So too have the Taliban.

And US President Donald Trump has vehemently denied any knowledge of the matter – with White House sources telling the US press that the subject never reached as high as the president or vice-president because there was no consensus in the intelligence community about the veracity of the reports.

However, serious US news outlets are carrying a range of reports quoting a variety of sources, suggesting that an intelligence assessment that Russian agents were offering bounties to the Taliban for the killing of US or coalition troops had been around since March; that significant amounts of cash had been seized in US raids; and that some US personnel may indeed have been killed as a result.

These sources also indicate that the intelligence assessment was indeed briefed at the highest levels, including mention at the president’s own daily intelligence briefing.

Mr Trump’s critics – not least the Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden – have seized upon these reports to highlight once again their view that Mr Trump is not up to defending US interests.

But perhaps more interestingly, even some key Republicans are raising questions – Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming asking the inevitable question of who did know about the assessment and when did they know it?

Payback?

Why, though, might Russia promote such action? Potentially, it has multiple motives.

Russia maintains close links with the Taliban for good reason. It sees the US involvement in Afghanistan winding down. It is deeply concerned about the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region spreading in its direction. And it sees the Taliban as one potential bulwark against this.

Moscow is believed to have supported key Taliban leaders with arms and money. And while it also maintains links with the Afghan government and in broad terms supports the putative Afghan peace deal, it is effectively hedging its bets, fearful of future Afghan instability.

But Russia is also waging a “grey” or undeclared war against the West. This has many elements: cyber-attacks; disinformation campaigns; electoral interference; the funding of extremists in Western countries and so on.

At times, this has even resulted in direct action: for example the use of nerve agent in the bungled assassination attempt on a former Russian intelligence officer in the British cathedral town of Salisbury, and a full-scale assault by Russian military contractors on a US position in Syria during which US air strikes are reported to have killed significant numbers of Russians.

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has smarted from every perceived indignity suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union. It was, of course, US support for Afghan irregular fighters that contributed to Moscow’s forced withdrawal from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

And there are suggestions that some in the Russian hierarchy might not be averse to paying the Americans back for both past and more recent setbacks.

Ambiguity

This episode also throws a stark light on the current state of US-Russia relations. US policy towards Moscow is suffering from a kind of schizophrenia.

On the one hand, the US is wary of Russian nuclear modernisation and suspicious of its broader plans in the Middle East and elsewhere; but on the other, this administration is strangely accepting of Russian denials, for example concerning its alleged intrusion into the US election campaign.

Much of this ambiguity is down to the person of President Trump himself, whom many see as rather admiring of strong, dictatorial leaders.

And to this extent, the handling of this intelligence report casts another light on the whole foreign policy process within the Trump administration.

It will add weight to those critics from both the Democratic side of politics and more hardline Republicans, like the former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who argue in their different ways that there is no strategic direction, no joined up thinking, and no leadership from the top.

This is a delicate story at the best of times and it is not going to go away. If even partly true and if any deaths can be ascribed to the paying of bounties by the Russians, it would mark a new low point in US-Russia relations since the Cold War ended.

The fact that it comes in the midst of a re-election campaign where Mr Trump is having to deal with plunging popularity amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations gives it an added edge.

For there is a factor here that Washington’s friends and enemies alike have to contend with: there is at least the possibility now that President Trump could lose his re-election bid. Even beyond the dramatic medical, social and economic impact of the pandemic, there is a lot going on now.

The Russians and the Chinese are seeking to assert themselves as regional powers, though Beijing’s ambitions may go further. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering the possible annexation of territory in the West Bank.

The UK’s government is seeking to realise what it sees as the benefits of Brexit and to rebrand its foreign policy under the banner of “Global Britain”.

For the next few months, all of these actors are going to have to factor into their plans the likely response of two US administrations: the one that is there now, and another which may take over in January.

And a Biden administration will be much more likely to call out Russia if the Afghan bounties story is ultimately revealed to be true.

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China forcing birth control on Uighur women to curb Muslim population, major report finds

The Chinese government is forcing Uighur women and members of other minorities to take birth control as part of a campaign to curb its Muslim population, according to a major investigation.

A report issued by the Associated Press said government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees and a former detention camp instructor indicated efforts to slash birth rates was far more widespread and systematic than previously known.

The alleged programme has been conducted by the state even as it encourages some of the country’s Han majority to have more children and was described by some experts as “demographic genocide”.

According to the probe’s findings, officials regularly subject minority women to pregnancy checks and force intrauterine devices (IUDs), sterilisation and even abortion on hundreds of thousands.

It said that while the use of IUDs and sterilisation has fallen nationwide, it was rising sharply in the far west region of Xinjiang where the campaign was being carried out.

The AP found the population control measures were backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.

It said having too many children was a major reason people are sent to detention camps, with the parents of three or more taken from their families if they cannot pay huge fines and police raiding homes to hunt for hidden children.

Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born Kazakh, said the government ordered her to get an IUD inserted after she had her third child.

She said two years later, in January 2018, four officials in military camouflage turned up at her home anyway and demanded she pay a $2,685 fine within three days for having more than two children.

The wife of a detained vegetable trader said they told her that if she did not, she would join her husband and a million other ethnic minorities locked up in internment camps – many for having too many children.

“God bequeaths children on you. To prevent people from having children is wrong,” a tearful Ms Omirzakh said.

“They want to destroy us as a people.”

A series of interviews suggests the campaign had created a climate of terror around having children, with rates in mostly Uighur regions falling by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018

In Xinjiang, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24% last year alone compared to a national drop of 4.2%.

China scholar Adrian Zenz said: “This kind of drop is unprecedented… there’s a ruthlessness to it.

“This is part of a wider control campaign to subjugate the Uighurs.”

For decades, China had one of the most extensive systems of minority entitlements in the world.

Uighurs – who are predominantly Muslim – and other groups got more points on college entrance exams, hiring quotas for government posts and laxer birth control restrictions.

But those benefits continue to be reversed under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades.

“It’s genocide, full stop,” said Joanne Smith Finley, an expert in China based at Newcastle University.

“It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide. These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uighur population.”

Darren Byler, an expert on Uighurs at the University of Colorado, said: “The intention may not be to fully eliminate the Uighur population, but it will sharply diminish their vitality, making them easier to assimilate.”

AP said the Chinese Foreign Ministry referred multiple requests for comment to the Xinjiang government, which did not respond.

Chinese officials have previously claimed the new measures are merely meant to be fair, allowing both Han Chinese and ethnic minorities the same number of children.

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