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Brazil health regulator Anvisa allows Chinese COVID-19 vaccine trial

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian health regulator Anvisa on Friday approved clinical trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac, according to an official gazette publication.

The study – first announced on June 11 – is led by Instituto Butantan, a research center funded by the state of Sao Paulo. The agreement with Sinovac includes not only trials but also the transference of technology to produce the potential vaccine locally.

On June 29, Sao Paulo state Governor Joao Doria said 9,000 volunteers have already been registered to test the vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Trials will be conducted by 12 research centers in six Brazilian states: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Brasilia, Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, according to Doria.

Anvisa’s approval comes after Brazil surpassed 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data, the second worst outbreak after the United States. The number of deaths rose by 1,290 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to 63,174, the data showed.

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A polling station that was observed records low turnout in Russian vote

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Some voters who took part in a referendum that paves the way for President Vladimir Putin to extend his rule over Russia said they had been asked by their employers to do so, and to provide evidence to bosses to show they did.

Their accounts, to Reuters reporters who monitored polling station #2668 near Moscow throughout the seven days of voting, tally with Kremlin instructions to employers, seen by Reuters, asking them last month to ensure workers took part.

Despite that campaign, only 43% percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum at the polling station, below the national average of 68% and roughly half the percentage in the area where the station was located.

In fact turnout, an important measure for the Kremlin of support for Putin and the constitutional changes, was the lowest of all the 46 voting sites in the leafy town of Reutov, separated by an eight-lane highway from Moscow’s urban sprawl.

The average turnout in Reutov was 83%. At two polling stations in the same school building which Reuters did not observe, turnout was 85% and 87%.

Local election commission chief Olga Ukropova said the discrepancy may be because many of the residents in the four apartment blocks the polling station serves were not registered to vote there because they were migrants.

Historical data did not show distinct electoral results from the polling station in previous recent elections.

The Central Election Commission was not immediately available to comment. Kremlin officials did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

SHOW OF FORCE?

A woman who works in a nursery in the area said that she had voted in favour of the reforms.

“After this I will call my boss and tell her I voted, of course. That’s required,” she told Reuters, declining to give her name.

Another voter, who said she works for the tax service, said she had been advised by her employer to vote as early as possible. “They don’t tell you whether to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’. But they do ask you to report that you voted.”

The tax service did not respond to a request for comment.

Encouraging voting is not illegal, but the practice, which the Kremlin instructions called Project ‘Mobilisation in companies 2020’, suggests authorities wanted a strong turnout.

The Central Election Commission said 68% of the electorate took part nationwide and 78% voted for the reforms, which means an absolute majority – 58 million of Russia’s 109 million voters – supported the constitutional changes.

A woman at polling station #2668 said she needed to be photographed voting as proof for her boss and a man asked election officials for documented proof.

They declined to give their names and the polling station’s chairman, Rena Turayeva, declined to comment.

The Kremlin says the package of constitutional changes will strengthen the role of parliament and improve social policy and public administration.

Opposition activists have called the vote illegitimate and said it was designed to allow Putin to rule for life.

Golos, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, said it had recorded numerous irregularities during the vote, including ballot stuffing and widespread cases of employers forcing staff to cast a ballot.

Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission, said on Friday the vote was “free, open, democratic to the maximum and fair.

“Its results are legitimate and indisputable.”

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the emphatic nature of the result was a measure of how deeply Russians trusted Putin to run the country.

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Business

Facebook: Sir Martin Sorrell says some firms ‘virtue signalling’ over advertising boycott

Sir Martin Sorrell has accused some companies of “virtue signalling” as Facebook faces a growing advertising boycott over concerns that it is not doing enough to tackle hate speech.

The marketing industry boss – who led advertising giant WPP before founding latest venture S4 Capital – told Sky News he was not advising clients to withdraw their business from the platform.

His remarks came after Starbucks became the latest household name to suspend its adverts on Facebook, following the likes of Unilever and Coca-Cola.

The tech giant has come under fire over its perceived lack of action on hate speech – notably by keeping up a post by Donald Trump in which the US president said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during early protests over the death of George Floyd.

The same post was hidden by Twitter, which said it had violated its “rules about glorifying violence”.

Sir Martin said Facebook had made “strenuous efforts” to tackle hate speech – including new plans announced last week.

He told Sky’s Ian King Live: “I think they will be doing more to try and deal with it because clearly advertisers – quite rightly – are concerned about this, because consumers are concerned about it.

“It is true there is some virtue signalling going on here – some righteous, or unrighteous, indignation.

“Some of the companies are just responding because they think it is virtuous to do that. But at its heart most of them I think are taking genuine steps to try and change the environment.”

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UN to call for $10bn aid for Syrians at virtual donor meeting

European Union to lead meeting of 60 governments, NGOs as UN seeks billions for Syrians and countries hosting refugees.

Governments are set to pledge billions of dollars in aid for Syrians at a virtual conference on Tuesday to help refugees enduring Syria’s ninth year of armed conflict, as the coronavirus and high food prices worsen the plight of millions.

This year, the United Nations is looking for almost $10bn for people in Syria and surrounding countries. It hopes much of that will come from the 60 governments and non-governmental agencies gathering by video link on Tuesday from 08:00 GMT. The European Union is hosting the event.

The pledging, now an annual event, breaks down into a UN appeal of $3.8bn for aid inside Syria and $6.04bn for countries hosting refugees. Only a fraction has been raised so far.

In a report last week, the EU said in 2019 donors contributed $10bn in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“The needs have never been greater,” said Corinne Fleischer at the World Food Programme, a UN agency.

Virtual meeting

In Syria, more than 11 million people need aid and protection, the UN says, while 6.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries in the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Many Syrians face unprecedented hunger, with more than 9.3 million people lacking adequate food, while the country’s coronavirus outbreak could accelerate, the UN has said.

The combination of an economic slump and coronavirus lockdown measures have pushed food prices more than 200 percent higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had an immediate and devastating impact on livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees and their hosts in the region,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

However, money pledged is only what European officials call a sticking plaster to meet Syrians’ immediate needs.

Rebuilding destroyed cities is likely to take billions more dollars and cannot start until powers involved in the war back a peaceful transition away from the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the EU says.

It will be the eighth annual Syria pledging conference, and the fourth hosted by the EU, which estimates that it has donated approximately $23bn to Syria and the region over the years.

Beyond its economic impact, the coronavirus has also forced the conference to be held online.

The event is usually an important opportunity for officials to meet on the sidelines to discuss thorny issues and resolve problems, but officials worry that the virtual format might reduce the conference to a number-crunching exercise.

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Canada officer guilty after ‘street justice’ blinding

An off-duty Toronto police officer has been convicted of assault after blinding a black man in an attack with a metal pipe four years ago.

Dafonte Miller, 19, was chased and attacked by officer Michael Theriault and his brother Christian.

The brawl ended with Mr Miller badly injured and in handcuffs.

The victim, whose injuries were so severe his left eye had to be removed, said the officer should have been convicted of a more serious charge.

On Friday, Michael Theriault was convicted of assault, a lesser offence than his initial charge of aggravated assault. His brother Christian was found not guilty of aggravated assault.

Both brothers were also found not guilty of attempting to obstruct justice.

Cries of “Shame!” could be heard outside the courthouse, where the verdict was delivered on a loudspeaker to a crowd of Mr Miller’s supporters.

“While I am disappointed that both Michael and Christian Theriault were not convicted of all charges, I am grateful that Justice Di Luca found Michael Theriault guilty of assaulting me,” Mr Miller said in a press conference after the verdict.

He and his lawyer Julian Falconer are calling on a wider inquiry into police accountability, and why it took local authorities to report the incident to the police watchdog the Special Investigations Unit, which is supposed to investigate incidents where civilians are injured by police – on duty or off.

The four-hour ruling was broadcast on YouTube, where it had more than 20,000 views.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Joseph Di Luca said he was aware of the case’s high profile, but could not let that influence his verdict.

“I want to make one thing very clear: I am not saying that race has nothing to do with this case. Indeed, I am mindful of the need to carefully consider the racialised context from which this case arises,” he said.

What happened to Dafonte Miller?

Michael Theriault, who was then 24, saw Mr Miller and friends getting into his lorry parked outside his parents’ home in Oshawa, Ontario, on 28 December 2016.

The court heard how Michael ran out in late December in just his socks, chasing Mr Miller in one direction while his 21-year-old brother Christian chased another young man in another direction.

Mr Miller has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, although Justice Di Luca found his innocence “not credible”.

All charges related to the alleged car-hopping – involving petty thefts from unlocked vehicles – have been dropped.

Michael Theriault says he chased Mr Miller because he wanted to apprehend and arrest him, but by his own admission, at no point during the chase did he identify himself as a police officer, or tell Mr Miller he was under arrest.

Justice Di Luca said during his ruling: “To be blunt, I would have expected the first thing out of Michael Theriault’s mouth as he was chasing Mr Miller while wearing only socks would have been: ‘Stop, you are under arrest. I’m a police officer.'”

What is more likely, Justice Di Luca said, was that the Theriaults wanted to administer “street justice” and had little intention of conducting an arrest.

On a 911 call made by Christian Theriault after beating Mr Miller, the younger brother can be heard saying: “You picked the wrong cars.”

After catching up with Mr Miller, the two struggled, with Christian eventually joining the fray. That is when the brawl turned into a “one-sided” fight, the judge found.

Mr Miller says Michael and Christian punched, kicked and hit him with an object that was likely a 4ft (1.3m) metal pipe found at the scene.

An expert pathologist says it was likely a punch, and not the pipe, that blinded him.

Bleeding, Mr Miller rang a neighbour’s doorbell and asked them to call 911. That is when Michael Theriault hit Mr Miller in the face with a pipe, the court heard.

When police arrived, Mr Miller was restrained on the ground, with Michael Theriault’s knee on his back. Officers gave Michael Theriault a set of handcuffs to restrain Mr Miller.

What’s the distinction between assault and aggravated assault?

In Canadian law, aggravated assault is an assault that “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant”.

Justice Di Luca said that because it was not clear who had the pipe during the brawl where Mr Miller was blinded, he cannot say without a reasonable doubt that the two brothers did not act in self-defence.

Mr Miller denies ever striking anyone with the pipe. DNA evidence shows only his blood on the pipe. Michael had no significant injuries, and Christian suffered a mild concussion.

“By that stage, they were probably just beating on Mr Miller. Probability, however, is not the test for a criminal case,” the judge said.

The judge found this “razor-thin” justification for self-defence evaporated when Michael Theriault hit Mr Miller after he asked the neighbour to call 911.

As to why he acquitted the brothers – who failed to mention the pipe to police – of obstruction of justice, Justice Di Luca said that while he was “troubled” by their omissions, the trauma of the situation could have affected their memory.

He also said that when giving additional testimony to police two weeks after the incident, police failed to directly ask Christian Theriault if he or his brother ever hit Mr Miller with the pipe.

At that point, police were still investigating Mr Miller as the suspect.

What happens next?

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said his “heart goes out” to Mr Miller and his family.

In 2017, he asked Waterloo police to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assault, and why neither Oshawa nor Toronto police reported Mr Miller’s injuries to the SIU immediately.

That investigation was paused during the criminal proceedings, but can resume, he says.

Michael Theriault, who is currently suspended with pay, will also face a professional disciplinary board.

The Toronto Police Association, the union representing police officers, declined to comment as Michael Theriault has yet to be sentenced.

He will be back in court on 15 July, to determine future plans for his sentencing hearing. He remains on bail.

this verdict shows how difficult it is for Black people to get fair decisions through the courts. they can't provide justice for us. the abolition of police AND our court systems will allow us to build systems of true accountability

I know this hurts–let's hold each other today

End of Twitter post by @DesmondCole

The verdict has fuelled calls to defund the police. Toronto city council is currently debating a 10% budget cut to police. The move is not supported by the city’s mayor, John Tory, who is proposing a number of reforms.

As for Mr Miller, who wears a prosthetic eye and still suffers chronic pain because of his injuries, the verdict may be disappointing, but it is not the end.

“I don’t feel like I took a loss. I feel like there’s a long way to go and we just took a step forward,” he said.

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