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Saudi Arabia will open an embassy in Qatar’s capital Doha within days: FM

Saudi Arabia will open an embassy in Qatar’s capital city Doha once the necessary procedures are complete, the Kingdom’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday during a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Riyadh.

-Developing

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Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s FMs discuss regional issues in Riyadh meeting

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Riyadh to discuss the bilateral relationship between the two countries and regional developments.

Saudi Arabia “continues to coordinate with Jordan on regional affairs and bilateral relations,” Prince Faisal said.

The minister added that the two discussed the need to reach a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian conflict.

They also discussed Iran’s interference in the region, including in Yemen and Lebanon, according to the minister.

-Developing

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Coronavirus: UAE records 3,432 new COVID-19 cases, death toll rises by 7

The United Arab Emirates recorded an increase of 3,432 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 249,808, the Ministry of Health and Prevention announced on Saturday.

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The new infections are the highest number of cases ever recorded in the country since the outbreak first began in January 2020.

The COVID-19 death toll increased by seven, which brought the total number of deaths caused by the virus to 740.

Meanwhile, the total number of recoveries rose to 222,106 after 3,118 people recovered from the coronavirus.

While most coronavirus restrictions in the country have been lifted, facemasks and social distancing is still required in public.

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Coronavirus: Pfizer delays Bahrain’s vaccine delivery for January

A January shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the Gulf state of Bahrain will not arrive on time, the ministry of health said on Saturday, but second doses of the jab already scheduled will not be affected.

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The small island state of Bahrain has the third highest rate of vaccinations per capita in the world so far, according to the Our World in Data website, which is run by an Oxford University research program.

“The delay … will not affect citizens and residents receiving the second dose of the vaccine over the upcoming period, according to current scheduled dates and the availability of the needed quantity for them,” the health ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency BNA.

Bahrain offers its citizens free of charge either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or one manufactured by Chinese state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm.

Other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the emirate of Dubai have also purchased the Pfizer jabs.

US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer this week said there would be a temporary impact on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes to boost production.

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Roadside bomb kills two policemen in Afghanistan: Officials

A roadside bomb targeting a police vehicle in the Afghan capital killed two policemen Saturday, officials said, as violence continues unabated in Afghanistan despite peace talks between the Taliban and government.

The vehicle carrying the policemen was struck by the bomb in the centre of the capital on the road to the prestigious Kabul University, police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said.

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Two policemen were killed and one wounded, Faramarz said.

Violence has surged across the country in recent months, especially in Kabul which is also rocked by a new trend of targeted killings that has sown fear in the city.

The bloodshed comes even as the Taliban and government negotiators engage in peace talks to end the nearly two decade war in the country.

The two warring sides are currently in the Qatari capital Doha discussing the agenda items of the talks.

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Coronavirus: India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive

India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.

The country is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs. But there is no playbook for the enormity of the challenge.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Indian authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people, roughly the population of the U.S and several times more than its existing program that targets 26 million infants. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers to be followed by 270 million others, who are either aged over 50 or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

The first dose of a vaccine was administered to a health worker at All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in the capital New Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the campaign with a nationally televised speech. Priority groups across the vast country, from the Himalayan mountains to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, began receiving it shortly after.

“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said in his address. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumors about the safety of the vaccines.”

It was not clear if Modi, 70, has taken the vaccine himself like other world leaders as an example of the shot’s safety. His government has said politicians will not be considered priority groups in the first phase of the rollout.

Health officials haven’t specified what percentage of the nearly 1.4 billion people will be targeted by the campaign. But experts say it will almost certainly be the largest such drive globally.

The sheer scale has its obstacles. For instance, India plans to rely heavily on a digital platform to track the shipment and delivery of vaccines. But public health experts point out that the internet remains patchy in large parts of the country, and some remote villages are entirely unconnected.

Around 100 people will be vaccinated in each of the 3,006 centers across the country on the first day, the Health Ministry said this week.

India gave nod for emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech, on January 4. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.

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Health experts worry that the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy. At least one state health minister has opposed its use.

India’s Health Ministry has bristled at the criticism and says the vaccines are safe, but maintains that health workers will have no choice in deciding which vaccine they would get themselves.

India is second to the US with 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with 152,000.

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5.0-magnitude aftershock hits Indonesia’s Sulawesi island

An aftershock hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi island on Saturday as rescue workers searched for people trapped under rubble after an earthquake killed at least 45 people, injured hundreds and sent thousands fleeing in terror.

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said no damage or casualties were reported from the Magnitude 5.0 aftershock in the West Sulawesi districts of Mamuju and Majene a day after the Magnitude 6.2 earthquake.

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Agency head Doni Monardo told Kompas TV the search continued for victims who could still be trapped under rubble.

More than 820 people were injured and about 15,000 people have been evacuated, the agency said. Some have sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centers, witnesses said.

Friday’s quake and its aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor, where authorities told Reuters several people had been trapped.

Access to the neighboring city of Makassar remains cut off, Arianto Ardi of the search and rescue agency in Mamuju told Reuters, adding that the search will focus on the hotels.

Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency, told Metro TV on Saturday that another quake was possible and could reach a magnitude of 7.0, urging residents to keep out of the water because of the tsunami risk.

The earthquake magnitude scale is logarithmic; a one-point increase means it is 10 times bigger. The difference in energy released is even greater. Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

Read more:

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Coronavirus: Emirates ceases flights to three Australian cities amid COVID-19 strains

Emirates has suspended flights to Australia’s three largest cities as the country further restricts international arrivals over fears of new virus strains.

The Dubai-based carrier was one of the last to maintain routes into and out of the country’s east coast throughout most of the pandemic but on Friday evening told travelers a handful of planned flights next week would be the last.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

“Due to operational reasons, Emirates flights to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be suspended until further notice,” Emirates said on its website.

The airline will still run two flights a week to Perth, but the cuts are another barrier for tens of thousands of stranded Australians still attempting to return home.

The Australian government responded by announcing more repatriation flights and said other carriers still flying services to the cities could fill the gap.

“The capacity that Emirates was able to use within the cap will be allocated to other airlines, ensuring that there are still as many tickets, as many seats available into Australia,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said.

A small number of airlines — including Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines — are still running services to Australia but local media were already reporting delays and cancellations among returning travelers.

Australia’s borders have effectively been closed since March to curb the spread of the virus, with the government even limiting the number of citizens allowed to return.

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Last week travel restrictions were further tightened, with arrival numbers slashed and all travelers into the country requiring a negative COVID-19 test before flying.

In making the changes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison cited a growing number of people in quarantine testing positive for new strains of COVID-19.

Fears that a variant of the virus from Britain, believed to be more contagious, had leaked into Brisbane from hotel quarantine triggered a snap lockdown in the city last week.

“There are many unknowns and uncertainties in relation to the new strain, and so that’s why this precautionary approach, we believe, is very sensible,” Morrison said.

Australia continues to deal relatively well with the virus, having recorded about 28,600 cases and 909 deaths linked to COVID-19 in a population of 25 million.

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Woman arrested in US Capitol attack: ‘I listen to my president’

A Dallas-area real estate agent who is facing charges for allegedly being part of the pro-President Donald Trump mob that stormed the US Capitol last week said she’s a “normal person” who listened to her president.

Jenna Ryan, 50, is accused of “knowingly” entering or remaining in the restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds on January 6, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI in a Washington federal court.

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Matt DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas office, confirmed that Ryan had turned herself in and that her Carrollton apartment was searched Friday. No personal telephone for Ryan was available, and court records didn’t list a lawyer for her as of Friday.

Ryan shared photos and videos on social media, including a video in which she says, “We’re gonna go down and storm the Capitol,” in front of a bathroom mirror, according to the FBI criminal complaint.

The agent who signed the complaint also noted that Ryan live-streamed a 21-minute Facebook video of her and a group walking toward the Capitol.

“We are going to (expletive) go in here,” Ryan said in the video as she approached the top of the stairs on the west side of the Capitol building. “Life or death, it doesn’t matter. Here we go.”

In an interview with KTVT-TV in Fort Worth, Ryan said she hoped that Trump would pardon her.

“I just want people to know I’m a normal person, that I listen to my president who told me to go to the Capitol, that I was displaying my patriotism while I was there and I was just protesting and I wasn’t trying to do anything violent and I didn’t realize there was actually violence,” Ryan said.

Ryan is the third person in FBI’s Dallas region of northern, northeastern and near western Texas to be named in criminal complaints, DeSarno said.

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Ethiopian refugee children at risk of exploitation, trafficking in Sudan

Dozens of children are still waiting to be reunited with their families after crossing into Sudan alone to flee conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, aid agencies said, warning that they could be at risk of abuse, trafficking and child labor.

More than 58,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan – about a third of them children – since fighting erupted in the northern region in November between federal troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

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The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 100 unaccompanied minors had been reunited with their families since the beginning of the conflict, but roughly the same number were still on their own in Sudan at the end of last year.

“Children travelling alone with no protection from an adult are more exposed to exploitation, trafficking and different types of abuse,” said Vanessa Coeffe, senior child protection manager at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Aid workers said the additional movement of refugees from transit centers to camps in Sudan had complicated ongoing tracing efforts. Since early January, the UNHCR has moved thousands of refugees to the new Tunaydbah camp.

Bakary Sogoba, child protection specialist at the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) in Sudan, said the lack of access to Tigray – where some of the children’s relatives remain – could present a further challenge to family reunification work.

In the meantime, aid workers said it was crucial to look into alternative care options for children – some of them traumatized – whose parents could still not be found.

Living conditions in the camps can protract traumatic experiences, and gender-based violence and sexual exploitation are additional risks, said Anika Krstic, country director for Plan International Sudan.

“As responders, (we need) to make sure that there is prevention, that there is awareness and that there are ways of seeking recourse and assistance,” Krstic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We need to do more but all of the prevention measures that are usual in such emergency situations are being set up.”

Some unaccompanied and separated children have already been placed in foster care or communal centers, while child-friendly spaces and temporary learning centers have been set up in camps.

“A strong network of able social animators and social workers – when possible also within the same refugee community – is pivotal to keep the children safe from risks such as abuse or exploitation,” said Giulia Raffaelli, senior external relations officer at UNHCR in Sudan.

Still, the IRC voiced concern that the lack of services, education and safe areas for children in the new Tunaydbah camp had pushed some refugees into child labor.

Fighting is still going on in several parts of Tigray and almost 2.3 million people, or nearly half of the region’s population, need aid, a UN report said last week.

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