Sunday, July 25, 2021

1960s Civil Rights Activist Robert Moses Has Died


FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2014 file photo shows Robert "Bob" Moses, a director of the Mississippi Summer Project and organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) answers questions about Freedom Summer in 1964 during a national youth summit hosted by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Miss. Moses, a civil rights activist who endured beatings and jail while leading Black voter registration drives in the American South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, died Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Hollywood, Fla. He was 86. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Robert Parris Moses, a civil rights activist who was shot at and endured beatings and jail while leading Black voter registration drives in the American South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, has died. He was 86.

Moses, who was widely referred to as Bob, worked to dismantle segregation as the Mississippi field director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement and was central to the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in which hundreds of students went to the South to register voters.

Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help struggling students succeed in math.

Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, said he had talked with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses, and she said her husband had passed away Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida. Information was not given as to the cause of death.

“Bob Moses was a giant, a strategist at the core of the civil rights movement. Through his life’s work, he bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice, making our world a better place,” said the head of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson.

Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on January 23, 1935, two months after a race riot left three dead and injured 60 in the neighborhood. His grandfather, William Henry Moses, has been a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and a supporter of Marcus Garvey, a Black nationalist leader at the turn of the century.

But like many Black families, the Moses family moved north from the South during the Great Migration. Once in Harlem, his family sold milk from a Black-owned cooperative to help supplement the household income, according to “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots,” by Laura Visser-Maessen.

While attending Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he became a Rhodes Scholar and was deeply influenced by the work of French philosopher Albert Camus and his ideas of rationality and moral purity for social change. Moses then took part in a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe and solidified his beliefs that change came from the bottom up before earning a master’s in philosophy at Harvard University.

Moses didn’t spend much time in the Deep South until he went on a recruiting trip in 1960 to “see the movement for myself.” He sought out the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta but found little activity in the office and soon turned his attention to SNCC.

“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe,” Moses later said. “I never knew that there was (the) denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Curtain here in the United States.”

The young civil rights advocate tried to register Black people to vote in Mississippi’s rural Amite County where he was beaten and arrested. When he tried to file charges against a white assailant, an all-white jury acquitted the man and a judge provided protection to Moses to the county line so he could leave.

In 1963, he and two other activists — James Travis and Randolph Blackwell — were driving in Greenwood, Mississippi, when someone opened fire on them and the 20-year-old Travis was hit. In a press release from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Moses described how bullets whizzed around them and how Moses took the wheel when Travis was struck and stopped the car.

“We all were within inches of being killed,” Moses said in the 1963 press release.

A reoccurring theme in Moses’ life and work was the need to listen and work with the local populations where activists were trying to effect change, whether that was registering Black voters in some of the most staunchly anti-integration parts of Mississippi or years later working with students and teachers to come up with ways to improve math knowledge.

In an interview with the National Visionary Leadership Project, he talked about the need for civil rights workers to earn the trust of the local population in Mississippi in order to effect change.

“You had to earn the right for the Black population in Mississippi to decide that they were going to work with you because why should they risk everything to work with you if you were somebody or a collection of people who were just not serious?” he said.

He later helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to challenge the all-white Democratic delegation from Mississippi in 1964. But President Lyndon Johnson prevented the group of rebel Democrats from voting in the convention and instead let Jim Crow southerners remain, drawing national attention.

Disillusioned with white liberal reaction to the civil rights movement, Moses soon began taking part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War then cut off all relationships with whites, even former SNCC members.

Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania, Africa, returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He later taught math in Jackson, Mississippi, while commuting back and forth to Massachusetts on the weekends.

The press-shy Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project using money he received through the MacArthur Foundation Fellows program — often referred to as “genius” grants — to improve math literacy among underserved populations. Ben Moynihan from the Algebra Project said Moses saw the work of improving mathematics literacy as an extension of the civil rights work he had started in the 1960s.

“Bob really saw the issue of giving hope to young people through access to mathematics literacy.... as a citizenship issue, as critical as the right to vote has been,” Moynihan said.

Historian Taylor Branch, whose “Parting the Waters” won the Pulitzer Prize, said Moses’ leadership embodied a paradox.

“Aside from having attracted the same sort of adoration among young people in the movement that Martin Luther King did in adults,” Branch said, “Moses represented a separate conception of leadership” as arising from and being carried on by “ordinary people.”


Former AP reporter Russell Contreras was primary contributor to this report.

Tunisian President Sacks Prime Minister, Freezes Parliament


A man reacts as police officers detain a demonstrator during an anti-government protest in Tunis, Tunisia, July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS, July 25 (Reuters) - Tunisia's president said on Sunday he was dismissing the prime minister and freezing parliament in a major escalation of political feuding in the democratic country following protests in several cities.

President Kais Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister, prompting the biggest challenge yet to a 2014 constitution that split powers between president, prime minister and parliament.

"Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people," he said in a statement carried on state media.

"I warn any who think of resorting to weapons... and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets," he added.

Saied has been enmeshed in political disputes with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi for over a year, as the country grapples with an economic crisis, a looming fiscal crunch and a flailing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said in his statement that his actions were in line with the constitution, and also suspended the immunity of members of parliament.

Saied and the parliament were both elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government.

Reporting by Tarek Amara and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Tunisia's President Orders Military to Manage Virus Crisis


Wednesday 21 Jul 2021

Meanwhile, a new interim health minister was taking office Wednesday, after his predecessor was fired

Tunisia's president on Wednesday ordered the military to take over management of the national COVID-19 pandemic response, as the country fights one of Africa's worst outbreaks.

Tunisia's military health service is to take on the task, President Kais Saied announced on regional TV network Al Arabiya.

Soldiers and military medics are already carrying out vaccinations in remote parts of Tunisia. On Tuesday, military trucks transported oxygen to regions in the center and northwest of the country where hospitals are suffering shortages.

Meanwhile, a new interim health minister was taking office Wednesday, after his predecessor was fired over a surprise decision to open vaccination centers to adults of all ages for the first time for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha this week.

Authorities were unprepared for the decision, which prompted confusion and chaos as crowds massed at vaccination centers. The president called it a ``crime'' to incite such gatherings just as the government is trying to discourage crowds and limit the spread of the virus.

Eid al-Adha, or the ``Feast of Sacrifice,'' is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and distributing meat to the needy. This year, Tunisian authorities restricted gatherings and reinstated a curfew in some regions where infections are high.

The country also closed some of its Mediterranean beaches in a new blow for the long-struggling tourism sector.

Overall, Tunisia has reported more deaths per capita than any African country and among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. Foreign countries have been pouring in vaccines and other medical aid.

Violent Protests in Tunisia over the Economy, Virus Spread


Protesters face Tunisian police officers during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, July 25, 2021. Violent demonstrations broke out on Sunday in several Tunisian cities as protesters expressed anger at the deterioration of the country's health, economic and social situation. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Violent demonstrations broke out on Sunday in several Tunisian cities as protesters expressed anger at the deterioration of the North African nation’s health, economic and social situation.

Thousands of people defied virus restrictions and scorching heat to demonstrate in the capital of Tunis and other cities. The largely young crowds shouted “Get out!” and slogans calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections.

The protests were called on the 64th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence by a new group called the July 25 Movement.

Security forces deployed in force, especially in Tunis where police blockades blocked all streets leading to the main artery of the capital, Avenue Bourguiba. The avenue was a key site for the Tunisian revolution a decade ago that brought down a dictatorial regime and unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings.

Police also deployed around the parliament, preventing demonstrators from accessing it.

Police used tear gas to disperse some demonstrators throwing projectiles at officers and made several arrests. Clashes also took place in several other towns, notably in Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan, Sfax and Tozeur.

Protesters also stormed the offices of the Islamist movement Ennahdha, the dominant force in parliament. Videos circulating online showed smoke pouring out of the Ennahdha building. The attackers damaged computers and other equipment inside and threw documents onto the streets.

The party denounced the attack, saying that “criminal gangs” from inside and outside Tunisia are trying to “seed chaos and destruction in the service of an agenda aimed at harming the Tunisian democratic process.”

On the coronavirus front, Tunisia has reimposed lockdowns and other virus restrictions because it’s facing one of Africa’s worst virus outbreaks.

The Enigma of the Western Crusade against Ethiopia and the Insidious Face of Racism

July 16, 2021

By Messay Kebede

One thing that has been most incomprehensible for many Ethiopian observers, activists, and politicians is the barrage of one-sided criticisms coming from Western capitals since the eruption in November of an armed conflict between the federal government and the TPLF’s controlled northern region of Tigray.  Directed exclusively against the federal government, the criticisms were soon followed by the implementations of various sanctions that elevated the surprise to the level of utter consternation. The deep differences over the direction of the country under the reformist leadership of Prime Minister Abiy constitute the underlying causes of the conflict. The immediate cause of the war, however, was the surprise attack of TPLF militia forces on the national defense forces stationed in Tigray. The Ethiopian government launched an all-out counter-offensive that it baptized “law enforcement operation,” which resulted in the quick and complete disbanding of TPLF forces. Unsurprisingly, severe humanitarian crises ranging from food shortages and killings of civilians to massive displacements into a neighboring country soon followed the military confrontation.  

From Disbelief to Consternation

In light of the sudden and unprovoked attack on the Ethiopian national forces, the expectation of the Ethiopian government and most Ethiopians was that Western governments and opinions would see the Ethiopian counter-offensive as a legitimate move of self-defense and law enforcement. The expectation never came to fruition. Instead, the Ethiopian troops were accused of a host of violations that included the killings of innocent civilians, the rapes of women, the deliberate destruction of properties and, last but not least, the engagement in genocidal acts. To make matters worse, the involvement in the counter-offensive of Eritrean troops and Amhara militia forces, both reputed to be quite hostile to Tigrean leaders and elites, made the accusations of massive human rights violations even more credible. The end result of all this is that everything was turned upside down: the attacker was seen as the victim. 

The Ethiopian surprise is all the harder to contain as Western governments did not show the same eagerness to express their condemnations during the 27 years of the TPLF’s horrific rule of Ethiopia. Even when repression became so intensified that it compelled the legislative branch of the US government to break the silence, not one single punitive measure was taken. To crown it all, President Obama described the TPLF’s government as a “democratically elected government” during his August 2015 visit to Ethiopia, even as all the 547 seats in the parliament were taken by its members and supporters and numerous activists and political leaders were languishing in jail where they were routinely tortured. Worse still, not one Western government expressed any outrage over the well documented recent massacre in Mai-Kadra of scores of Amhara residents by the TPLF forces in the wake of their retreat from advancing governmental troops and Amhara militia forces. The silence extended to major Western media outlets, which otherwise gave extensive coverage to alleged atrocities committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. After the pause of dismay, the only conclusion left for Ethiopians was to say that the TPLF remains the favorite ally of Western governments and that their open hostility toward the present government is an attempt to come to its rescue.

Western Dictates

For any impartial observer, the silence of Western governments on the far-reaching violations of human rights during the TPLF’s tyrannical rule of Ethiopia is proof enough that the accusation of systematic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara armed forces is just a smoke screen for underlying geopolitical concerns. According to the Western assessment, not only is the bellicose relation between Tigray and the federal government aggravating the ethnic tensions internal to Ethiopia, but also the involvement of Eritrean troops will have a destabilizing impact on the entire Horn of Africa. In addition, the current dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over the Nile dam and the looming war with Sudan over border disputes have the potential of igniting the flame of war across the whole region. 

To prevent all these calamities from happening, the Western position prescribes the restoration of peace in Tigray through a negotiated settlement with the TPLF as the first necessary step, even though the TPLF, which started an unprovoked war, is severely incapacitated as a result of its crushing military defeat. The negotiation should be extended to all other opposing parties, with the goal of reaching “a wider national reconciliation process” in Ethiopia (G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, April 2, 2021).

At first look, the proposed solution seems to be a reasonable one in that negotiations and national reconciliation are usually conducive to the restoration of national peace. Unfortunately, one has to be totally or fraudulently ignorant of the situation in Ethiopia to propose such a remedy. The proposal to negotiate with a party that is widely abhorred for its atrocities and its use of ethnicity as a divide-and-rule tactic to achieve political and economic hegemony, even though it represented a region with only 6% of the Ethiopian population, is nothing short of a dreadful slap in the face of Ethiopians. As to the inclusion of other opposing parties, their own extremist, and sometimes even secessionist, ethno-nationalist ideologies prevent them from participating in the mainstream of Ethiopian politics. So that, the proposed negotiation has no chance of succeeding, still less of reinstating peace. On the contrary, it has the potential of intensifying ethnic clashes already underway all over the country, with the result that the country will be engulfed in an uncontrollable civil war. Clearly, the Libyan tragic experience of removing a government without a viable alternative has not yet wised up Western governments.

What, then, is preventing Western governments from seeing what is but obvious for so many Ethiopians? Since the concern for humanitarian crises is not believable, there remains the geopolitical interest of the West. In the eyes of Western governments, the scenario of an expanding war to neighboring states is quite present unless the Ethiopian government agrees to settle all its disputes by means of negotiations. More importantly, these negotiations will have any chance to succeed only if they are supervised by forces that are capable of putting real pressure on all the concerned parties, like the European Union and notably the US government. 

Granted the logic of the argument, the hitch is that, as already stated, the suggested negotiated solutions have zero chance of achieving the goal of peace. The solutions do not take into account that the war in Tigray as well as the various clashes in different parts of the country are caused by groups that harbor extremist ethnonationalist ideologies. It is indeed strange to assume that these groups will negotiate in good faith and will commit to be responsible members of a representative government. By contrast, the right solution, that is, the solution that arises from the existing problems, would be to strengthen the exiting government so that it prevails over these violent forces and establishes a lasting internal peace. As to the external problems, the approach to intimidate Ethiopia only encourages Egypt and Sudan to become more intransigent, and so stands in the way of negotiated settlements. In short, the unbalanced intervention of Western governments does no more than seek the capitulation of Ethiopia; it does not facilitate negotiations.  

Consider, for instance, the Ethiopian government’s unilateral decision to declare ceasefire and withdraw its troops from Tigray. One would normally expect that Western governments and media sources would welcome such a decision. Unbelievable as it may seem, not only the expectation did not materialize, but also the decision became a springboard for another round of criticisms and threats of further sanctions. The reason for this unexpected reaction springs from the Western frustration of not being obeyed: the West wanted a negotiated settlement, not a unilateral ceasefire, as it excludes the TPLF and the ethnonationalist forces. Similarly, West governments drag their feet on recognizing Abiy as the legitimate Prime Minister of Ethiopia, even though he and his party obtained a resounding victory in the recent elections that many observers considered as relatively democratic––compared to all previous elections in Ethiopia—under very difficult circumstances. The reason for this hesitation is the same: the US government posited negotiations between contending forces and the government as a precondition for the holding of the national elections, even if among the contending parties that boycotted the elections, some were and still are prone to the use of intimidation and violent methods. Raising the democratic bar to an unprecedented level for a third-world country, we heard Secretary Blinken say, “Elections . . . are not in and of themselves a sufficient marker of democracy or genuine political reform.” Had it been another country than Ethiopia, we would have heard him say that the elections, as difficult as they have been, are a step in the right direction. 

The Emotional Mixture

The attitude of Western governments is all the more incomprehensible the more we recall that, until not long ago, Ethiopia was considered as an important and reliable ally of the West. What then is the added element that explains the sudden shift of Western policy toward Abiy and his government? To see that the change was indeed sudden, we just have to recall the phone conversation that Secretary Blinken had with Prime Minister Abiy on February 5, 2021, and in which he “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Ethiopia’s reform agenda and support for the upcoming national elections.”

We have already discarded the humanitarian concern. Geopolitical reasons are not enough to explain the change, either, since when an ally is in trouble, the expectation is that you come to its rescue. The explanation jumps out when one puts into play the terms of the partnership between Ethiopia and the West, namely, the status of Ethiopia as a junior partner. From the persistent refusal of Ethiopian authorities to abide by the terms set by the West as a condition for the peaceful resolution of the war in Tigray and of the conflicts with neighboring countries, the West drew the conclusion that the junior partner no longer wants to play by the rules. Instead of playing the cards dealt to it by the West, the junior partner has adopted the viewpoint of what it considers to be its legitimate rights and interests. Western unfair criticisms and sanctions are punishments for the naughty behavior of a junior partner.

The point is that the Western reactions and measures cannot be justified in terms of geopolitical considerations. The best that they can achieve is to weaken the Ethiopian state, which so far has been the only reliable and stabilizing force in the Horn. Moreover, such a weakening can only give free rein to ethnonationalist forces within Ethiopia itself, thereby turning the specter of a widespread civil war into an unavoidable outcome. The reckless nature of the Western resolutions and measures is so tangible that one must infer that they stem from an emotional state of mind rather than from rational deliberations, the very emotional state at being rebuffed by a junior partner. Where obedience is expected, defiance must entail punishment, and this is all the truer when the junior partner belongs to a poverty-stricken continent that falls short of the capacity needed to govern itself. 

For those who contest the racist overtone of the Western measures, I simply ask them to remember that what defines racism is not so much the hatred of the other as the expectation of an unconditional obedience from the person ranked as inferior. Hate requires the recognition of some measure of parity, whereas as racism is more sensitive to the lack of acknowledgement of superiority. As such, racism induces sentiments like anger, irritation, and even outrage, which are reactions to the breach of required submission, that is, to the hierarchical norms governing the relations between races. My contention is that the irrational and reckless nature of the Western reactions vis-à-vis Ethiopia compels us to admit the big part played by racist indignation at seeing the defiant behavior of Ethiopian authorities. The indignation also explains the moral smugness of the West, which not only gives so easily credit to all the stories of rape, indiscriminate killings, and genocidal acts concocted by the TPLF’s supporters, but also justifies intervention in the name of the obligation of “the morally superior” to tame those who still live in barbarism.  

Messay Kebede is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Dayton

Eritrean Refugees Under Attack in Ethiopia’s Tigray War


July 23, 2021

Elena, 7, left, plays a game of checkers using soda bottle tops with friend Hailemariam, 12, at a reception and day center for displaced Tigrayans in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Tigray conflict has displaced more than 1 million people, the International Organization for Migration reported in April, and the numbers continue to rise. Some thousands of Eritrean refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in the Tigray conflict and are increasingly caught in the middle of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thousands of Eritrean refugees are increasingly caught in the middle of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where witnesses and U.N. officials say forces have attacked their camps, abducted or killed some of the residents, and stolen their food and possessions.

The refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in the Tigray conflict, which broke out in November between the region’s forces and Ethiopian federal troops. It has left thousands of people dead.

The refugees say they have been targeted by both sides. Troops from their native Eritrea, which sent forces over the border to support Ethiopian soldiers, have been accused of destroying a refugee camp and abductions. And the refugees say they have also come under attack as scapegoats from Tigrayans, who allege widespread abuses by Eritrean soldiers.

Before the conflict, around 50,000 Eritrean refugees — many of whom fled their country’s authoritarian government and its policy of indefinite military service — were present in four camps in Tigray, according to the United Nations. Another 42,000 were scattered elsewhere in the region and the rest of Ethiopia. Two of the camps were destroyed early in the war, and the fate of thousands of their residents is unknown.

Last week, Tigray forces captured the remaining two camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush, after launching an offensive against forces from the neighboring Amhara region as they sought to take back more territory following the retreat of Eritrean and Ethiopian federal forces from the region last month.

Residents of Adi Harush camp told The Associated Press that Tigray forces have since abducted more than a dozen refugees and raided dozens of homes, stealing mobile phones, food and other supplies. “There is a lot of daily robbery,” said one resident who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Last week, the U.N. refugee agency’s Ethiopia representative, Ann Encontre, expressed alarm and confirmed the death of at least one Eritrean refugee. “Tens of thousands of refugees, fearful for their lives, are currently trapped and unable to move due to the insecurity and ongoing movement of troops,” she said.

Ethiopia’s refugee agency in a statement on Thursday called it “tantamount to a hostage situation.”

Fighting continues to the south of the camps, where Amhara forces are massing with the intention of retaking the area. Refugees in Adi Harush said Tigray forces positioned weapons in the camp to repel an attack.

Separately, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi condemned the arrests in recent weeks of “hundreds” of refugees in Shire, a town under Tigray forces’ control, and cited “credible and corroborated reports of reprisal attacks, abductions, arrests and violence meted out against Eritrean refugees for their perceived affiliation with one side or the other” since the conflict began in November.

The Tigray forces have denied targeting Eritrean refugees and in a statement on Thursday they said they were “gravely concerned” about reports of attacks. Spokesman for the forces, Getachew Reda, could not be reached for further comment.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of some 9,200 Eritrean refugees from the two other camps, Hitsats and Shimelba, are unknown, according to the U.N. Fighting erupted in Hitsats in November when Eritrean troops captured the surrounding area from Tigray forces.

The Eritreans later withdrew from the camp, and Tigray forces reclaimed the area. Several refugees said the Tigray forces engaged in reprisal attacks against them, killing 10 people outside the camp’s church.

“We were all afraid, so we left the camp, but the Tigray militias followed us,” said one Hitsats resident. “When they caught us, they threw grenades. A lot of people I know died that day. … I think they wanted revenge because the Eritrean government attacked them.”

Other Eritrean refugees told similar accounts of attacks by Tigray forces after they fled Hitsats. One said 40 of the 60 people he was traveling with were killed near the settlement of Zban Gedena.

Another refugee said dozens of people he fled with were killed in the same area. “I have never been scared like I was on that day,” he said.

Many of the camp’s residents were rounded up by Tigray forces and taken back to Hitsats.

“That’s when the hard times started,” said a refugee who was rounded up. “For one month there was nothing to eat or drink. We were eating leaves and grass to survive.”

Several residents said Tigray forces beat camp residents and stole their food while in control of Hitsats in December. Eritrean refugees described similar hardships in Shimelba camp and said 16 refugees were killed there in January amid fighting by Tigray forces and Eritrean troops.

An internal U.N. assessment seen by the AP confirmed that deaths, abductions and looting occurred in Shimelba and Hitsats but concluded the perpetrators were “unknown armed groups.”

In January, Eritrean forces retook Hitsats camp and ordered the remaining residents to leave, several refugees who witnessed it told the AP.

“The Eritrean troops ordered all the refugees back to Eritrea via Sheraro,” one Hitsats resident said. “At Sheraro, they ordered us onto large trucks, but I managed to escape by hiding myself in a house.”

Other refugees said Eritrean troops made thousands of refugees walk to the border, but they suggested that, even though they could face further persecution by the authoritarian government in Eritrea, some may have returned voluntarily to escape the violence in Tigray. Eritrea’s Information Ministry did not respond to questions.

A refugee now in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, said he saw Eritrean soldiers dousing buildings in Hitsats camp in petrol and setting them alight immediately after the refugees were ordered to leave. Refugees interviewed also said troops previously abducted residents of both Hitsats and Shimelba.

The U.N. estimates that 7,300 Eritrean refugees from Shimelba and Hitsats made it to Mai Aini and Adi Harush. Now, months later, as the Tigray forces expand their offensive, the refugees fear again being caught up in hostilities.

In a text message, one Adi Harush resident described a desperate situation with no access to aid and constant harassment by Tigray forces. “By God, please help us,” he said.

Florida COVID-19 Hospitalizations Jump Significantly Again


July 23, 2021

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases again jumped significantly this week as the vaccination rate in rural counties where some of the worst outbreaks are occurring remains well below the state and national averages.

About 5,300 Floridians are now hospitalized with COVID, a 65% jump since last week and nearly a tripling since June 14 when 1,845 were hospitalized, the Florida Hospital Association said. Officials have said more than 95% of those hospitalized were not vaccinated.

About 60% of residents 12 and older are vaccinated, according to the state, equal to the national rate. But the percentage of vaccinated adults remains low in the state’s rural, strongly conservative north, where some counties are at about 30% as residents don’t trust the vaccination program but have high infection rates.

More than 73,000 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide over the past week, according to the state health department, nearly seven times the 12,000 reported a month ago. Florida’s numbers had been falling since mid-January when 100,000 new cases per week were reported and 8,200 were hospitalized just as the vaccination program began.

“This thing got politicized nationally, and we’re paying the price,” said Jared Moskowitz, the state’s former emergency management director. “This is mostly now a pandemic amongst the unvaccinated.”

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been vaccinated, this week encouraged the remaining unvaccinated Floridians to get their shots.

“If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” DeSantis said. “These vaccines are saving lives.”

More than 38,000 Floridians have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020, including an average of 33 per day over the past week. That’s compared with 24 per day earlier this month. In late January, 185 Floridians per day were dying.

Still, despite the recent surge, DeSantis said the state will not return to government mandates — in May, he barred municipalities from imposing their own and banned businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. He said it is up to individuals on how they deal with the pandemic.

“We have a situation where we have three vaccines that have been widely available for months and months now and people need to make decisions that are best for them,” he said. “To have the government come in and to lock anyone down or restrict anyone is totally unacceptable.”

The state’s Democrats and their allies said that is the wrong approach and accused him of putting his 2022 reelection campaign and possible 2024 presidential run ahead of Floridians’ health. They want cities and counties to be able to again impose their own mandates and restrictions such as requiring masks in indoor public places.

“The surge is ... being facilitated by misguided orders from Tallahassee that block local leaders and businesses from pro-actively protecting individuals from unnecessary exposure,” the 10 Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation wrote in a letter to DeSantis.

Florida doctors affiliated with the Committee to Protect Health Care, a progressive group, criticized DeSantis for attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top government infectious disease official who has pushed for more cautious policies than the governor.

They said DeSantis’ recent mocking of Fauci’s errant first pitch at a Washington Nationals game a year ago and his reelection campaign’s sale of merchandise emblazoned with “Don’t Fauci my Florida” detracts from the serious message he should send about the virus. They accused him of dividing Floridians on an issue that should unite them.

“Why is he undermining infectious disease experts and their recommendations? The consequences of (his) leadership has been a steep rise in COVID-19 cases and an increased number of Floridians dying,” said Dr. Frederick Southwick, chief of the University of Florida medical school’s infectious disease division.

DeSantis has argued that his COVID leadership has been effective, protecting nursing home patients, seniors and others of the most vulnerable.

Because of the new outbreak, several hospitals across the state are reinstituting visitation restrictions. Jackson Health, the state’s largest provider, has barred visitors for most of its patients at its hospitals. Others are limiting visitors to one per patient. AdventHealth in central Florida has temporarily stopped doing inpatient elective surgeries.

Jackson said it had 143 COVID-19 patients this week compared with 66 in early July, a 117% increase.

Dr. Lilian Abbo, head of Jackson’s infectious disease prevention program, believes most of those becoming ill are infected with the delta variant as they are becoming sicker faster than with earlier strains of the coronavirus. They are also not seniors and other groups that were previously prevalent.

“We are seeing younger people in their 20s and 30s with not much risk factors -- not obese, not diabetic — coming in very sick,” Abbo said. “Some of them requiring potential lung transplants.”


Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Florida.

Fauci Says US Headed in `Wrong Direction’ on Coronavirus

Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to accusations by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as he testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Cases of COVID-19 have tripled over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising among unvaccinated people. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated.”

He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.

Fauci, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines.

He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public.

Nearly 163 million people, or 49% of the eligible U.S. population, are vaccinated, according to CDC data.

“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci said.


Fauci said government experts are reviewing early data as they consider whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals to get booster shots. He suggested that some of the most vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, are “likely” to be recommended for booster shots.

He also praised Republicans, including Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking House leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated. Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

US General Vows to Continue Air Strikes Supporting Afghan Troops


Sunday 25 Jul 2021

The United States will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday, as the insurgents press on with offensives across the country.

Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault just days after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.

The Taliban's deadly assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.

"The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.

McKenzie acknowledged that there were tough days ahead for the Afghan government, but insisted that the Taliban were nowhere close to victory.

"The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong," he said.

"Taliban victory is not inevitable."

McKenzie's remarks came as Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.

"They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas," Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, told AFP.

On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

"The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has made way for the Taliban to come that close," Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, told AFP.

"We are now trying to organise our security forces."

Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced people who are estimated to be about 154,000.

Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled.

"They forced us to leave... I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet," said Akbar.

- Fears of fighting to increase -

Residents expressed concerns the fighting might increase in days ahead.

"If they really want to fight, they should go to a desert and fight, not destroy the city," said Khan Mohammad, who moved to a camp with his family.

"Even if they win, they can't rule a ghost town."

Kandahar, with its 650,000 inhabitants, is the second-largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul.

The southern province was the epicentre of the Taliban's regime when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001.

Ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, the Taliban have spearheaded a deadly insurgency that continues to this day.

Their latest offensive launched in early May has seen the group take control of half of the country's about 400 districts.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff General Mark Milley said the Taliban appear to have "strategic momentum" on the battlefield.

Global rights group Human Rights Watch said there were reports the Taliban were committing atrocities against civilians in areas they had captured, including in the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan they took earlier this month.

"Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but growing evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detentions, and killings in areas under their control are raising fears among the population," said Patricia Grossman, associate Asia director at HRW said in a statement.

The authorities meanwhile announced they had arrested four men they said belonged to the Taliban, accusing them of carrying out this week's rocket attack on Kabul.

"A Taliban commander, Momin, along with his three other men, have been arrested. They all belong to the Taliban group," ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai told reporters in a video message.

At least three rockets landed near the palace on Tuesday as President Ashraf Ghani and his top officials performed outdoor prayers to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The attack was however claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group.

AstraZeneca Searching for Vaccines for Virus-hit Southeast Asia


Saturday 24 Jul 2021

AstraZeneca said it was scouring its supply chain to find more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for Southeast Asia, which is facing its most serious outbreak yet of the virus

Drugmaker AstraZeneca said Saturday it was scouring its supply chain to find more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for Southeast Asia, which is facing its most serious outbreak yet of the virus.

The statement from the Anglo-Swedish company -- which produces its vaccine in Thailand for use domestically and in neighbouring countries -- comes in the wake of a supply shortage which has sparked heavy criticism of Thai Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha's administration.

Under the terms of AstraZeneca's agreement with Thai authorities, 180 million doses are due for production, one-third destined for the Thai market and the rest to be exported.

By the end of July AstraZeneca will have delivered 11.3 million doses for Thailand, according to James Teague, AstraZeneca's representative in the country.

Exports have still not begun, even as the region faces a particularly virulent wave of Covid-19.

"We are delivering in the fastest possible timeframe, however, given the gravity of the Delta variant, we are leaving no stone unturned to accelerate supply further still," Teague said in an "open letter to the people of Thailand".

"We are also scouring the 20+ supply chains in our worldwide manufacturing network to find additional vaccines for Southeast Asia, including Thailand."

But "a global supply crunch" for Covid-19 vaccines and a shortage of the materials required to make them made it difficult to provide a specific timeframe, he added.

The AstraZeneca contract was awarded last year to Siam Bioscience, a firm owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn that has no track record of producing vaccines.

It set out to produce vaccines for nine countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, as well as Thailand.

Siam Bioscience has not commented on reports of insufficient production or late delivery.

But Thailand has been forced to change its vaccine strategy by importing millions of doses of Chinese vaccines.

Anger is mounting, with just five percent of Thailand's 70 million residents fully vaccinated.

Most Thais avoid talking about it openly because of harsh lese majeste laws that make it illegal to criticise the monarch. Those that do face between three and 15 years in prison.

Former opposition leader and billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has already been accused under the law after he said the vaccination policy was too dependent on Siam Bioscience.

Thailand is among a host of Southeast Asian countries that kept infection numbers low during 2020 but now face record numbers of cases amid slow vaccination campaigns.

Iraq Arrests 'Cell' over Deadly Bombing Claimed by IS Group


Saturday 24 Jul 2021

We have arrested all the members of the cowardly terrorist cell that planned and perpetrated the attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi said on Twitter

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi announced Saturday the arrest of a "terror cell" behind a Baghdad market bombing that killed dozens and was claimed by the Islamic State group.

The attack sparked revulsion and renewed fears about the reach of IS, which lost its last territory in Iraq after a gruelling campaign that ended in late 2017, but retains sleeper cells in remote desert and mountain areas.

The bombing took place on Monday at Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a Shia suburb in the capital, and officially killed 30 people, excluding the direct perpetrator.

"We have arrested all the members of the cowardly terrorist cell that planned and perpetrated the attack," Kadhemi said on Twitter, "and they will be put before a judge today."

The prime minister did not specify the number of people arrested, but a source at the interior ministry said the suspects were anticipated to make televised "confessions", a common occurence for major crimes in Iraq.

Deadly attacks were common in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as IS swept across much of Iraq in a lightning 2014 offensive.

Iraq declared IS defeated in late 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign and attacks became relatively rare in the capital -- until January this year when a twin IS-claimed suicide bombing killed 32 people in another market.

The US-led coalition that supported Iraq's campaign against IS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.

But US troops have been targeted by powerful Iraqi pro-Iran armed factions, which want them to withdraw from the country entirely.

The US and Iran share enmity toward IS, but Tehran also sees Washington as its arch-nemesis.

- New drone attack-

An armed drone targeted a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan that hosts American troops, without causing casualties, the US-led coalition said Saturday.

It was the latest in a spate of attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdish media outlets said the attack targeted a base at Al-Harir, 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

US interests in Iraq have been hit by 50 rocket and drone attacks so far this year -- assaults Washington consistently blames on Tehran-backed factions operating within Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance.

The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee on Friday threatened to continue the attacks unless the US withdraws all its forces and ends the "occupation".

Most of the American troops deployed in the coalition, which helped defeat IS in Iraq in 2017, were withdrawn under former US president Donald Trump.

Those that remain are officially classed as advisers and trainers for Iraq's army and counter-terrorism units.

Kadhemi is expected to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday to discuss a possible full US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

But analysts say events in the wake of the 2011 US withdrawal from Iraq -- notably the rise of IS -- may make Biden reluctant to authorise a full pullout, for fear of giving the jihadists rooms to regenerate once more.

Cars, Pavements Washed Away as Belgian Town Hit by Worst Floods in Decades


Sunday 25 Jul 2021

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows

The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

Saturday, July 24, 2021


A majority of MPs voted by acclamation in favour of an amendment abolishing the death penalty, according to AFP journalist who was present in the chamber.

Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio attends a press conference after a meeting with Ivorian President on 4 May 2018 at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Picture: AFP


FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Sierra Leonean lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty Friday, becoming to the latest African country to move toward banning capital punishment.

A majority of MPs voted by acclamation in favour of an amendment abolishing the death penalty, according to AFP journalist who was present in the chamber.

Capital punishment will be replaced with life imprisonment or a minimum 30-year jail term for crimes such as murder or mutiny.

No execution has taken place in the country since 1998, and death sentences have often been commuted.

But Sierra Leone, which is still recovering after decades of civil war, has frequently come under fire from rights groups for keeping capital punishment on the books.

In May, Deputy Justice Minister Umaru Napoleon Koroma announced that the government would move to ban the death penalty to "uphold the fundamental human rights of Sierra Leoneans".

During a lively debate in the 146-member legislature on Friday, Mathew Nyumah, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party, urged MPs to vote for abolition.

"Please understand this is something we are sacrificing to meet international best practice," he said.

President Julius Maada Bio must still sign off on the abolition voted by parliament before it becomes law.

The vote in Sierra Leone comes as the use of capital punishment has been falling across the African continent, and more countries have been outlawing the practice.


Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution allows the use of the death penalty for aggravated robbery, murder, treason and mutiny.

However, the last executions in the country were carried out in 1998, when 24 military officers were put to death after a coup attempt the year before.

The diamond-rich but poor former British colony was ravaged by a 1991-2002 civil war that claimed 120,000 lives.

A truth and reconciliation commission set up in 2005 to investigate the brutal conflict recommended abolishing the death penalty, calling it "an affront to civilised society".

But the authorities in the nation of 7.5 million people resisted immediately abolishing capital punishment, and courts condemned 84 people to death between 2016 and 2020, according to the UN.

With the parliament vote, Sierra Leone is set to become the latest African country to abolish the death penalty.

Malawi banned capital punishment in April, for example, and Chad scrapped the practice last year.

According to Amnesty International, 108 countries had completely abolished the death penalty by the end of 2020, while 144 had abolished it in law or in practice.

Both executions and death penalties also fell across sub-Saharan Africa last year, the rights group said.

Recorded death sentences fell by six percent, from 325 in 2019 to 305 last year, while executions were down 36 percent, falling from 25 in 2019 to 16 in 2020.

South Africa’s Vaccination Drive Regains Pace After Unrest


FILE - In this July 6, 2021, file photo, a patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 in Hammanskraal, South Africa. South Africa's COVID-19 vaccination campaign is regaining momentum after being disrupted earlier this month by a week of riots following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. (AP Photo/Alet Pretorius, File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is regaining momentum after being disrupted earlier this month by a week of riots sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, the country’s acting health minister said Friday.

At least 120 pharmacies, including 71 that were vaccination sites, were damaged and closed during the unrest in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, acting Health Minister Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said. More than 47,000 vaccine doses were destroyed when the sites were ransacked, she said.

“The social unrest has added to the complexity of our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kubayi-Ngubane said, adding that the “violent nature of the protests unsettled the health care system as a whole.”

At least 337 people died during the riots, including 213 deaths that police are investigating as possible murders, the government has stated. Major highways to Durban, one of Africa’s busiest Indian Ocean ports, were also closed and barricaded, with more than 27 trucks burned in KwaZulu-Natal.

Police also are investigating 132 cases of arson, including the burning of 11 warehouses and 8 factories. Property worth an estimated 20 billion rand ($1.37 billion) was destroyed in KwaZulu-Natal. The violence was finally quelled when 25,000 army troops were deployed.

South Africa is battling a resurgence of COVID-19. The country reported 14,858 new infections and 433 deaths Friday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccination rates dropped as a result of the unrest, but have picked up pace. South Africa gave shots to more than 220,000 people per day this week and aims to increase the number to 300,000 jabs each weekday next week.

More than 6 million South Africans have received at least one shot and 1.6 million are fully vaccinated with two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The country has now opened vaccinations to everybody above age 35.

The government has said it aims to have 67% of South Africa’s 60 million people fully vaccinated by February.

With 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, South Africa accounts for more than 30% of the 6.3 million cases reported by all 54 countries in Africa, according to the Africa CDC.

Tanzania Receives 1st Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines


DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) — Tanzania on Saturday received its first batch of 1 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines donated by the U.S. government.

Tanzania had been among the few countries in Africa yet to receive vaccines or start inoculating its population, mainly because its former leader had claimed prayer had defeated COVID-19 in the country.

The vaccines were received by Foreign Affairs Minister Liberata Mulamula and the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, Donald Wright, at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in the country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

Former Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who died in March, had refused to accept vaccines after he claimed three days of prayer had healed the country of the virus in June 2020.

Magufuli, 61, was among the world’s most prominent skeptics of COVID-19. Though his official cause of death was reported to be cardiac arrest, Magufuli’s critics believe he died of COVID-19.

Magufuli’s deputy, Samai Suluhu Hassan, took over as president in line with the country’s constitution and became the first female president in Tanzania.

Hassan has reversed Tanzania’s practice of denying COVID-19′s spread in the East African country.

US Airstrike in Somalia is 2nd This Week against al-Shabab

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second time this week, U.S. forces on Friday conducted an airstrike against the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia. The earlier strike, on Tuesday, was the first in Somalia since President Joe Biden took office in January.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon said the attack was conducted in support of Somali partner forces, and thus was allowed under existing congressional authorization for the use of military force.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Cindi King, said the airstrike was coordinated with the Somali government and took place in the Galmudug area in central Somalia, in the vicinity of Qeycad. She said further details would not be released to protect operational security.

The United States removed most of its troops from Somalia in the final days of President Donald Trump’s term, moving them to nearby countries where they remotely advise and assist Somali forces against al-Shabab, an affiliate of the al-Qaida extremist network.

States Scale Back Virus Reporting Just as Cases Surge


FILE - This May 4 2021 file photo shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks during a news conference at West Miami Middle School in Miami. Several states scaled back their reporting of COVID-19 statistics this July 2021, just as cases across the country started to skyrocket, depriving the public of real-time information on outbreaks, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their communities. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Several states scaled back their reporting of COVID-19 statistics this month just as cases across the country started to skyrocket, depriving the public of real-time information on outbreaks, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their communities.

The shift to weekly instead of daily reporting in Florida, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota marked a notable shift during a pandemic in which coronavirus dashboards have become a staple for Americans closely tracking case counts and trends to navigate a crisis that has killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S.

In Nebraska, the state actually stopped reporting on the virus altogether for two weeks after Gov. Pete Ricketts declared an end to the official virus emergency, forcing news reporters to file public records requests or turn to national websites that track state data to learn about COVID statistics. The state backtracked two weeks later and came up with a weekly site that provides some basic numbers.

Other governments have gone the other direction and released more information, with Washington, D.C., this week adding a dashboard on breakthrough cases to show the number of residents who contracted the virus after getting vaccines. Many states have recently gone to reporting virus numbers only on weekdays.

When Florida changed the frequency of its virus reporting earlier this month, officials said it made sense given the decreasing number of cases and the increasing number of people being vaccinated.

Cases started soaring soon after, and Florida earlier this week made up up one-fifth of the country’s new coronavirus infections. As a result, Florida’s weekly releases — typically done on Friday afternoons — have consequences for the country’s understanding of the current summer surge, with no statewide COVID stats coming out of the virus hotspot for six days a week.

In Florida’s last two weekly reports, the number of new cases shot up from 23,000 to 45,000 and then 73,000 on Friday, an average of more than 10,000 day. Hospitals are starting to run out of space in parts of the state.

With cases rising, Democrats and other critics have urged state officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis to resume daily outbreak updates.

“There was absolutely no reason to eliminate the daily updates beyond an effort to pretend like there are no updates,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from the Orlando area.

The trend of reducing data reporting has alarmed infectious disease specialists who believe that more information is better during a pandemic. People have come to rely on state virus dashboards to help make decisions about whether to attend large gatherings or wear masks in public, and understanding the level of risk in the community affects how people respond to virus restrictions and calls to get vaccinated.

“We know that showing the data to others actually is important because the actions that businesses take, the actions that schools take, the actions that civic leaders take, the actions that community leaders take, the actions that each of us individually take are all influenced by our perception of what the risk is out there,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, who leads the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

But reporting the numbers on a weekly basis still allows people to see the overall trends while smoothing out some of he day-to-day variations that come from the way cases are reported and not the actual number of new cases. And experts have long advised that it makes sense to pay more attention to the seven-day rolling average of new cases because the numbers can vary widely from one day to the next.

And Florida health officials say that they have not curtailed the sharing of data with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maintaining daily updates on the virus does require significant resources for states. For instance, Kansas went to reporting virus numbers three times a week in May because the state health department said providing daily statistics consumed too much time for its already overwhelmed staff.

In Nebraska, officials decided that continuing to update the virus dashboard daily wasn’t the best use of state resources now partly because there had been a steady decline in the number of views of the website indicating less interest in the numbers, spokeswoman Olga Dack said. The state could return to providing daily updates if the governor’s office decided that was needed, she said.

“Now that Nebraska is back to normal, some of the staff that has been dedicated to the dashboard has been able to focus on some of the other important issues,” Dack said.

State health departments have a long history of providing the public regular updates on other diseases like flu and West Nile, but those viruses have none of the political baggage associated with COVID-19.

In Florida, a former health department employee was fired last year after publicly suggesting that managers wanted her to manipulate information on coronavirus statistics to paint a rosier picture. The employee, Rebekah Jones, did not allege any tampering with data, but her comments sowed doubts about the reliability of the metrics.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. David Brett-Major said that for many people, national websites such as the one run by the CDC can be a good source of data on the latest state trends and weekly updates could be OK. The World Health Organization often uses weekly updates, but he said they do that for practical data management reasons, not political ones.

He said the message Nebraska sent when it ended its dashboard that the state emergency was over and conditions were returning to normal was troubling.

“The main problem is that it reflects a disinterest in pandemic risk management,” said Brett-Major, with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, said part of the problem is that public health officials generally don’t have sophisticated data systems so it is more labor intensive to produce the daily dashboards. Even though public health agencies have money for operations at a time when pandemic government spending is flush, they haven’t necessarily had the chance to upgrade.

“It would be great if daily reporting could be made widely available, but public health would have to be funded better to do that and right now that is just not the case,” said Hamilton.

And even in states where virus numbers aren’t being reported publicly every day health officials are still looking at the latest data, Hamilton said.

But at a time when the delta variant is, in the words of the CDC director, “spreading with incredible efficiency,” Bibbins-Domingo said it is important that everyone can see the latest trends and understand the risks.

“Even if we know that they are available to decisionmakers on a daily basis, there is considerable value to providing the data to the public,” she said.


Associated Press Writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report.

Federal Appeals Court Finds CDC Eviction Moratorium Unlawful

BY JOHN KRUZEL - 07/23/21 11:58 AM EDT

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its authority by temporarily halting evictions amid the pandemic.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the agency had overreached with its eviction moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of July.

The CDC order, originally enacted in September 2020 and subsequently extended by Congress and President Biden, aims to protect cash-strapped tenants who would face overcrowded conditions if evicted.

But in its Friday ruling, the court rejected the CDC’s two-pronged argument that the eviction freeze was within its authority, or that Congress authorized the measure after the fact as part of its COVID-19 relief legislation.

It was not immediately clear what practical impact would result from the ruling, which affirmed a March decision by a federal judge in Tennessee in favor of a group of landlords. That lower court ruling, by U.S. District Judge Mark Norris, a Trump appointee, blocked enforcement of the eviction freeze throughout the Western District of Tennessee.

The latest development comes after the Supreme Court last month voted 5-4 to reject an emergency request from a separate group of landlords who also sought to have the eviction ban lifted, arguing it amounts to unlawful government overreach at a cost of some $13 billion each month to property owners.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was among the majority, indicated that he believed the CDC had exceeded its authority in enacting the moratorium, and said Congress would need to pass new legislation for the CDC to lawfully push the moratorium past July 31.

According to Luke Wake, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents landlords in a number of challenges to the eviction moratorium, the 6th Circuit’s ruling Friday increases the odds that the CDC will simply allow its moratorium to expire at the end of the month, rather than attempt to extend it further or mount an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“I think the real practical significance of this decision today is it puts the CDC in a box. They're trapped right now,” Wake said. “If they had thought about renewing it, which was entirely likely that they would, now they've got the Sixth Circuit definitively agreeing with us that they didn't have statutory authority, and that if they did, it was a constitutional problem.”

The federal moratorium allows tenants who have lost income during the pandemic to protect themselves from eviction by declaring under penalty of perjury that they have made their best effort to pay rent and would face overcrowded conditions if evicted, threatening public health.

The extended protections come as landlords and property owners have sought to evict tens of thousands of financially distressed renters from their homes and as federal rental aid continues to make its way to needy tenants. Some state governments, which bear responsibility for distributing more than $45 billion in federally funded rental assistance, have been slow to make those disbursements.

The eviction pause has faced numerous legal challenges, leading to a patchwork of legal interpretations nationwide on the moratorium's lawfulness.

We Owe Haiti a Debt We Can’t Repay

July 21, 2021

In 1791 the enslaved people of Haiti, then known as St. Domingue, engineered the first and only successful slave revolt in modern history.Credit...“Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres,” by Karl Girardet and Jean-Jacques Outhwaite, via Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Ms. Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and American history, is the author, most recently, of “On Juneteenth.”

When assassins killed President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti on July 7, pushing the country to the brink of chaos, it may have struck many Americans as the latest in a string of political upheavals and destabilizing disasters in an unfortunate country with which the United States should have little to do. But the revelation that two of the suspects were American citizens was a reminder of the complicated history of our relations with Haiti — a needlessly tragic history, driven by self-interest and the politics of racism.

As the United States now offers to help Haiti restore political order, it should be kept squarely in mind that Haiti is more than just a troubled neighbor. It is a nation whose revolutionary fight for freedom helped make the United States the country that it is today.

In 1791 the enslaved people of Haiti, then known as St. Domingue, engineered the first and only successful slave revolt in modern history. St. Domingue was France’s richest colony, made so by the worldwide demand for sugar and the slavery-based economy that fulfilled it. Led by Toussaint Louverture, Africans on the island violently threw off their enslavers, whose countrymen themselves had only recently overthrown a monarchy that had oppressed people for generations. For reasons both strategic and principled, in early 1794, the French government accepted the declaration of the end of slavery in St. Domingue made by the rebels in August of 1793. Some in France saw abolition as in keeping with their own revolutionary ideals.

This period is popularly known as the “Age of Revolution.” First came the Americans, aided by the French, in 1776. The French followed with the fall of the Bastille in 1789. Thomas Jefferson, an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and still under its spell, wrote to his daughter Martha in 1793 as if the events in St. Domingue were part of an unstoppable wave sweeping the globe. “St. Domingo has expelled all its whites, has given freedom to all its blacks, has established a regular government of the blacks and colored people, and seems now to have taken its ultimate form, and that to which all of the West India islands must come.”

Americans watched these proceedings closely. As refugees from St. Domingue arrived in the United States, bringing news of the successful revolt, white Southerners were alarmed, fearing replication of the events on the island. Apparently, when whites fought and killed for their freedom, as the Americans and French had, it was noble and heroic. But when Blacks killed whites, who had used force to enslave them and would not be talked out of the practice, they were simply murderers.

Many Black Southerners, however, were inspired. In 1800, a man named Gabriel planned, with some other Blacks in Richmond, Va., to strike against slavery. The plot was foiled, and white Virginians put in place new restrictions on the enslaved and on free Blacks in the state, hoping to prevent other revolts. President Jefferson, mindful of the desires of his Southern political base, adopted a hostile stance toward St. Domingue. The stage was set for isolation of the tiny island nation, a choice that had enormous consequences for its development.

Dig deeper into the moment.

Napoleon brought a new challenge to St. Domingue when he decided in 1802 to reassert control over French colonies in the Americas. He sent a fleet to the island to accomplish the task. The residents fought back and, with the help of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries yellow fever, repelled the invaders. This victory was fateful not only for the residents of St. Domingue, who went on to form an independent republic that they renamed Haiti, but also for the course of American history.

Napoleon, as part of his plan to re-establish the French empire in the Caribbean, was hoping to use the territory of Louisiana as a supply station for the island colonies. Once the Haitians had shattered his dream, Napoleon saw no reason to hold on to the territory. He was eager to sell it, and President Jefferson was equally eager to buy.

The purchase doubled the size of the United States, which obtained 530 million acres for $15 million. If not for the French defeat at the hands of the Haitians, the sale may not have come off, leaving the United States possibly forever divided by a huge swath of French-controlled land or forced into armed conflict with the French over it. Of course, what the United States really bought from France was the right to contend with the various Indigenous people who had their own claims to the land.

Instead of welcoming and supporting the fledgling republic, the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862, after the Southern states seceded from the Union. Despite this formal recognition, after the assassination of President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915, the United States occupied the island until 1934.

The Assassination of Haiti’s President

An assassination strikes a troubled nation: The killing of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 has rocked Haiti, stoking fear and confusion about the future. While there is much we do know about this event, there’s still much we don’t know.

A figure at the center of the plot: Questions are swirling over the arrest of Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, a doctor with ties to Florida described as playing a central role in the death of the president.

More suspects: Two Americans are among at least 20 people who have been detained thus far. Several of the people under investigation met in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the country once the president was out of power, Haitian police said.

Years of instability: The assassination of Mr. Moïse comes after years of instability in the country, which has long suffered lawlessness, violence and natural disasters.

Think of how different its prospects would have been had Haiti been fully embraced from the very beginning, instead of reviled, and if Haitians hadn’t been forced in 1825, in one of the most disgraceful details in the history of the oppression of Haiti, to pay reparations to their enslavers and their heirs in exchange for official recognition. The reparations created a crushing debt that blighted the country’s future.

Throughout this history, race was at the heart of the matter, as even Jefferson in his old age acknowledged. The Haitians, who suffered enormously for their victory in the early years of the 19th century and who were treated so poorly by Americans and Europeans for decades after that, gave the people and the government of the United States a generally unrecognized benefit. Writing in “History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson,” Henry Adams said it plainly: the “prejudice of race alone blinded the American people to the debt they owed to the desperate courage of 500,000 Haitian Negroes who would not be enslaved.”

Americans’ debt to the Haitian people may never be repaid. But if we are supposed to be able to learn from history, we should be obliged, in true good faith, to try.

Annette Gordon-Reed (@agordonreed), a professor of law and of history at Harvard, is the author of “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” and, most recently, “On Juneteenth.”

Leon Bridges Shares His Evolution to ‘Gold-Digger Sounds’


Grammy-winning artist Leon Bridges discusses his musical and personal evolution as he releases his third studio album, the R&B-forward “Gold-Diggers Sound.” in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“Gold-Diggers Sound” is an apropos name for the third studio album of an artist who struck it rich six years ago with his debut LP.

Leon Bridges’ music quickly earned him recognition. “Coming Home” was nominated for Best R&B album at the 2015 Grammys. Three years later, his sophomore album’s “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” landed him his first Grammy win.

The fame that came next was an adjustment for Bridges. He lost his anonymity and felt isolated — an experience he details in the song “Blue Mesas.”

“When you take an insecure person and put them in a limelight, it’s a little hard to deal with that sometimes, you know?” he said in an interview this week.

The story behind the album’s name, though, is literal — Gold-Diggers is the name of the hotel where Bridges wrote and recorded his new material.

“I have been working and kind of digging and searching for the right sound over the course of two years,” Bridges said.

He wanted an R&B album “grounded with organic elements” and Gold-Diggers was “the perfect place to house all of this music.”

Bridges held a Grammys party there in 2019 and after connecting with the space, decided he wanted the album experience to be immersive — he started a residency at the hotel, brought in collaborators and got to work.

As the musicians would jam and improvise, he sang melodies and phrases over top, gradually shaping each song.

For some, he had a specific artist in mind, like Sade when he was writing “Magnolias.” But for most, he says he was just “doing me.”

“I didn’t necessarily have an idea of what the concept would be on some of them,” said Bridges.

But he knew he didn’t want to replicate the sound of his last two albums. He says it was a conscious decision to stay unpredictable. He calls growth and change inevitable.

“With each album, I want to continue reinventing myself as an artist,” he said.

In “Coming Home,” the influences of gospel music are pervasive. In “Good Thing,” Bridges leans on a more retro sound.

“When I first came in the game with ‘Coming Home,’ I was immediately pigeonholed and placed in a box,” says Bridges.

The shift away from spiritual tracks correlated with his relationship with religion. While songs like “River” from his first album are rooted in Christian symbolism, songs from “Gold-Diggers Sound,” like “Sho Nuff” are playfully sensual.

“I was apprehensive at that time, writing those songs out of fear of not being accepted,” said Bridges. “Currently, like, I don’t really know what my relationship with God is anymore and I think there’s still some of those gospel undertones in the music, but it’s more so liberating to just make the music that I want.”

Breaking out of the box is something he knows may have alienated some fans. But for any of the fans he lost, there were plenty he gained.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always been scrutinized for my music being essentially whitewashed,” he said. “But I can see via social media that there’s more Black people engaging in and supporting the music.”

Bridges says it was initially “off putting” for him to hear criticism of his music, but he doesn’t think about it anymore. Rap and hip-hop culture are so inundated in the mainstream that even a Young Thug concert can have predominately white fans, he points out.

He believes artists like Lil Nas X and Lizzo are redefining the boundaries of Black art that is accepted within the Black community.

“You know, guys like Daniel Caesar, he was kind of on the forefront of that, and it’s really beautiful to see artists who don’t really fit the mold of what’s popular being embraced,” he said.

As for Bridges, he’s content in the direction he’s heading and looking forward to the part of the process he enjoys the most — performing.

“Writing is such a tedious and challenging thing,” he said. “The last step of getting on the stage and witnessing this, like, collective effervescence in the crowd and putting out the energy and then getting it back, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Family of James Brown Settles 15-year Battle over His Estate


FILE - In this July 6, 2005 file photo, James Brown performs on stage during the Live 8 concert at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. The family of entertainer James Brown has reached a settlement ending a 15-year battle over late singer’s estate. David Black, an attorney representing Brown’s estate, confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday, July 23, 2021 that the agreement was reached July 9. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The family of entertainer James Brown has reached a settlement ending a 15-year battle over the late singer’s estate, an attorney involved in the mediation said Friday.

David Black, an attorney representing Brown’s estate, confirmed to The Associated Press that the agreement was reached July 9. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

Legal wrangling over the Godfather of Soul’s estate has been ongoing since his death at the age of 73 on Christmas Day 2006.

The performer’s death touched off years of bizarre headlines, beginning with Tomi Rae Hynie — a former partner who claimed to be Brown’s wife — being locked out of his 60-acre (24-hectare) estate while photographers captured her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in.

Brown was renowned for hundreds of iconic musical works including hits like “I Feel Good” and “A Man’s World,” and was known around the world for his flashy performances and dynamic stage presence. But years of drug problems and financial mismanagement caused his estate to dwindle.

More than a dozen lawsuits were filed over the years by people trying to lay claim to the singer’s assets, which courts have estimated to be worth anything from $5 million to more than $100 million.

The fight over Brown’s estate even spilled over into what to do with his body. Family members fought over the remains for more than two months, leaving Brown’s body, still inside a gold casket, sitting in cold storage in a funeral home.

Brown was eventually buried in Beech Island, South Carolina, at the home of one of his daughters. The family wanted to turn the home into a shrine for Brown similar to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but that idea never got off the ground.

Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Hynie had not been legally married to Brown and therefore did not have a right to his multimillion-dollar estate.

Justices also ordered a circuit court to “promptly proceed with the probate of Brown’s estate in accordance with his estate plan,” which outlined creation of a trust that would use his music royalties to fund educational expenses for children in South Carolina and Georgia.

A 2009 settlement plan would have given nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to Hynie, and the rest to be split among his adult children. The state Supreme Court overturned that deal in 2013, writing that then-Attorney General Henry McMaster — now the state’s governor — hadn’t followed Brown’s expressed wishes for most of his money to go to charity, having instead selected a professional manager who took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees to settle debts.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at