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Yves Guillemot, Founder & CEO of Ubisoft S.A. invests in Franco-Nigerian startup Kwik Delivery

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Yves Guillemot, Founder & CEO of French video games giant Ubisoft S.A. has invested in Franco-Nigeiran startup Africa Delivery Technologies SAS, who operated the Kwik Delivery (http://Kwik.Delivery) platform in Nigeria.

The investment, part of Kwik's ongoing Series A round, aims to allow the company to scale up in Nigeria as delivery platforms have proven an essential link to Africa last-mile delivery supply chains in the current context.

Olawale Olukoga: is a graduate and a professionally trained journalist, with experience in national news reporting/editing and verification at the News Agency of Nigeria. NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. Our journalists are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and they strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor[at]nnn.com.ng

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Farmcrowdy launches Crowdyvest to domesticate SDG’s, broaden investment for economic growth

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The Farmcrowdy Group, an agricultureal firm, has launched its impact-driven platform, Crowdyvest, to domesticate the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and to broaden investment opportunities across all sectors of the economy.

The Nigeria News Agency reports that Onyeka Akumah, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Crowdyvest, made the disclosure at a news conference on Tuesday in Lagos.

Mr Akumah says Crowdyvest is a safe, trusted and secure platform that will connect individuals to multiple sponsorship opportunities within the 17 SDG’s, especially agriculture in Nigeria and across Africa.

According to Akumah, Farmcrowdy has successfully implemented a business model in the agriculture sector that is driving the growth of food security in the country.

“We have been able to successfully implement a business model in one of the most challenging sectors in the world, driving growth in Agriculture (Food and Security).

“With our model, we have connected over 25,000 farmers with access to funding, technical expertise and market access by continuously creating value for them.

“We now intend to implement this across other sectors of the economy, while having a direct impact on the achievement of the UN’s SDGs.

“Crowdyvest is launched to foster a broader avenue for economic growth and build a system that will span across Nigeria and the rest of Africa,’’ he said.

Akumah, however, added that while new investors were welcomed, there would be a successful migration of all Farmcrowdy existing sponsors to Crowdyvest platform without creating a new account.

“Every sponsor will continue to safely sponsor farms on the Farmcrowdy platform as well as all other portfolio products and sponsorship opportunities to be launched via the Crowdyvest platform in the future’’.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Obiajulu, who is a Co-Founder and heads one of the groups portfolio, Farmgate Africa, was announced the Managing Director of Farmcrowdy.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to lead a brand like Farmgate Africa and achieving a great amount of traction in such a short period of time.

“The plan is now to consolidate on the traction from both Farmcrowdy and Farmgate Africa to build a more robust Farmcrowdy that can create more value points across the African agricultural value chain.

“The Crowdyvest platform differs from all other investment platforms as it shares its sponsorship risk with its sponsors.

“This means that both Crowdyvest and its sponsors will have their monies used to grow the businesses of the opportunities listed on the platform,’’ he noted.

NAN reports that Farmcrowdy is Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform offering a wide range of investment opportunities in the sector and Crowdyvest is another opportunity to increase livelihoods of Nigerians through secure investment channels.

ITM/PDE

(Editing by Peter Ejiofor)

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Belgium enters new deconfinement stage with more students returning to school

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Belgium entered in a new stage of the government’s Phase-2 deconfinement plan Monday, with more pupils filing back to the classroom.

The wearing of masks is not compulsory for children under 12 years old. However, hygiene measures and physical distance will have to be respected.

The new stage also concerns prisons. Visits will resume there under the strict conditions of one visit per prisoner and once a week.

The public health institute Sciensano on Monday reported 250 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 57,342 since the pandemic hit the country.

“These new infections confirm the continuing downward trend… over the past few days,” said Yves Van Laethem, inter-federal spokesman on the fight against COVID-19.

The same 24 hours saw 27 new hospitalizations, a decrease of around 4 percent, and 32 deaths, according to Laethem.

As of Monday, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed 9,312 lives in Belgium since its outbreak. Currently, 251 patients are in intensive care, down by five from a day earlier.

Belgium entered Phase-2 deconfinement on May 18, with schools reopening to some grades under strict organizational conditions.

(XINHUA)

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Macron’s centrist party sees majority at risk as dissidents leaves

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A split by left-leaning dissidents on Tuesday looked set to narrowly rob French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party of its majority in the National Assembly, though allies will keep his government safe.

A group of 16 current and former members of Macron’s parliamentary group, along with one Green, said they were forming a new bloc with a greater focus on social and environmental issues.

The move would take Macron’s La Republique en Marche (LREM, the Republic on the Move,) down from 295 to 288 seats in the 577-member assembly, leaving the party one seat short of commanding a majority on its own.

However, the centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem) party, which is in coalition with Macron’s LREM, lends the government a further 46 seats, ensuring its overall majority is not at risk.

Macron won the 2017 presidential election arguing that the left-right divide was outdated, and promising to combine job creation and support for business with social and environmental protection.

However, some left-leaning supporters had since been disappointed with what they said was an excessively pro-business approach.

Meanwhile, environmental policy, tougher migrant detention rules, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia had also caused unease for dissidents.

According to the founding member Aurelien Tache, the new group, baptized Ecology Solidarity Democracy, was seeking priority for social, ecological and democratic questions.

However, one of the fellow dissidents, Hubert Julien-Laferriere, insisted that nobody was interested in betraying their commitments of 2017, rather, the majority had left them behind.

According to Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le-Drian, the split was a pity and assured of Emmanuel Macron’s majority.

Edited By: Yahaya Isah/Felix Ajide (NAN)

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Belgium enters phase-2 deconfinement with partial resumption of schools

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Belgium on Monday entered Phase-2 deconfinement with schools reopening to some grades under strict organizational conditions.

Pupils of the sixth grade in primary schools and the graduating year in secondary schools went back to school on Monday, with a limit to the number of each class at a maximum of 10 pupils, measures of social distancing, mask-wearing and hydroalcoholic hand hygiene.

To help schools better ward off COVID-19, authorities distributed about 850,000 masks on Sunday to 2,530 primary and secondary schools in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, according to Stephane Adam, the inspector general of secondary education.

Museums, Libraries and infrastructures of cultural interest such as historical buildings also reopened their doors, with physical distancing and wearing mask measures.

The contact services, such as beauty salons and hairdressers, are allowed to restart under certain conditions, including making appointments, wearing mask and respecting distances between customers.

A maximum of 50 mobile markets can reopen, subject to the agreement of the local authorities. The animal parks are also allowed to reopen, provided that online or telephone ticketing is set up and that a traffic plan is established.

Over the last 24 hours, the figures on the spread of COVID-19 have been falling and “extremely favorable,” said Yves Van Laethem, inter-federal spokesman on COVID-19.

Within the period, 279 new cases of infection had been confirmed, including 43 hospitalizations, bringing the total number of infections since the beginning of the epidemic in Belgium to 55,559.

Meanwhile, 27 people had been discharged from hospitals and 28 died. So far, a total of 9,080 people have succumbed to the disease in Belgium.

(XINHUA)

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Belgium reports continued downward trend in coronavirus spread

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Belgium reported Friday 356 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide confirmed cases to 54,644 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

In the last 24 hours, 67 new hospitalizations have been reported. That’s a drop of 8 percent per day, while 190 cured people have left the hospital. At the same time, 56 new deaths have been confirmed, bringing the total number of deaths to date to 8,959, authorities at the Sciensano Public Health Institute confirmed.

Although the number of new cases is increasing compared to the situation 48 hours ago, “these new cases confirm the downward trend of 10 percent per day,” said Yves Van Laethem, an inter-federal spokesman of COVID-19, on Friday.

Currently, 380 patients are in intensive care units, a drop of 27 patients compared to 48 hours ago, representing a downward trend of 4 percent per day, according to the spokesman.

Quoting BNP Paribas Fortis, an international bank based in Belgium and a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, Belgian newspaper Echo Friday reported that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to collapse by 11.1 percent in 2020 instead of the 7.1 percent initially forecast. With regard to 2021, the rebound would only be 4.3 percent instead of the 7.6 percent initially envisaged.

(XINHUA)

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Canada to test for COVID-19 antibodies as country’s debt forecasted to reach 1 trln CAD

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As the COVID-19 pandemic could push Canada’s debt into the trillion-Canadian-dollar (709 billion U.S. dollars) territory, the country took an important step to identify immunity from the novel coronavirus disease.

On Tuesday night, the Canadian government’s health department announced that it had authorized the first COVID-19 serological test — the Italian-made DiaSorin LIAISON approved in the United States last month — for use in Canadian laboratories to detect antibodies specific to the virus.

A COVID-19 immunity task force, established by the government in late April, will oversee the collection and testing of at least one million blood samples from across Canada over the next two years to track the spread of the virus within the general population as well as in groups of people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, such as the elderly and healthcare workers.

The serological tests will examine the effectiveness of antibodies, which appear days or weeks following an infection, in providing someone with protection from reinfection, and for what duration, said Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Canada’s National Research Council also announced a collaboration with Chinese company CanSino Biologics, Inc., to produce a vaccine which is currently in human clinical trials.

Elsewhere in Canada, a team at the Lawson Health Research Institute is attempting a world first in treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients with a form of dialysis by removing a patient’s blood, reprogramming the white blood cells associated with inflammation and returning them to combat the heightened immune response.

On the economic side, a wide range of COVID-related relief packages provided by the government could lead to the federal debt rising to more than 638 billion U.S. dollars, or about 17,000 dollars for every adult and child in Canada, the country’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux warned on Tuesday.

It is “possible and realistic” that Canada’s debt could reach one trillion Canadian dollars, or 709 billion U.S. dollars, by this time next year, Giroux told the House of Commons standing committee on finance.

Due to the pandemic crisis, the government delayed releasing a budget this year, but last year’s projection of the national treasury’s debt for the 2020-21 fiscal year is 514 billion U.S. dollars.

Giroux, who is accountable to the parliament, called on the Canadian government to provide a fiscal update on the massive emergency spending spree.

“The situation is changing incredibly rapidly,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday when asked about the state of the country’s finances.

“A budget is usually something that projects what’s going to happen in the Canadian economy for the next 12 months, and right now, we’re having a lot of difficulty establishing with any certainty what’s going to happen in the next 12 weeks,” Trudeau said.

(XINHUA)

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WHO mobilizes 1 mln USD to help Tunisia confront COVID-19

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World Health Organisation (WHO) has mobilised nearly one million U.S. dollars to provide Tunisia with protective medical equipment and coronavirus testing supplies to help the country cope with the pandemic, reported Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) agency on Monday.

“The financial support has also been directed to providing continuous training and developing strategies to assist the infected and develop primary health services,” TAP quoted WHO Representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand as saying.

Souteyrand said the evolution of the indicators on the epidemiological situation in the country later in May should be observed carefully to decide whether Tunisia will risk a second wave of coronavirus.

The representative warned that if the barrier gestures recommended by the WHO are not respected, including social distancing and wearing masks, the risk of spreading the virus will obviously increase between seven days to two weeks.

In case of a second wave of COVID-19, the Tunisian health system will not be able to cope with a strong pandemic due to a lack of resources, according to Souteyrand.

Amid the improvement of the situation, Tunisia started on May 4 partial lifting of the lockdown, which includes three stages, from May 4 to 24, from May 24 to June 4, and from June 4 to 14.

It is worth noting that the Tunisian Ministry of Health announced on Sunday night that no new infections or suspected cases of the COVID-19 were reported in Tunisia.

The total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country remained 1,032.

(XINHUA)

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Belgium reopens businesses as deconfinement enters phase 1B

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Belgium entered phase 1B of the COVID-19 deconfinement on Monday, with businesses throughout the country allowed to reopen under strict conditions.

The reopening came one day after the expansion of social contacts, which allows people to receive up to four guests, family members or close friends, in each home visit.

The reopening of shops takes place in strict compliance with the rules of deconfinement, in particular a 1.5 metres social distance, a maximum of 30 minutes stay and wearing a mask.

To avoid crowds, everyone has to do shopping alone. An exception will be tolerated for children under 18 years old, who could be accompanied by a parent, and persons requiring assistance.

Excursions and tourist activities remain prohibited. Gatherings are also prohibited. Contact occupations other than medical and paramedical care will remain closed for the time being. Cafes, bars, restaurants, and places for festivities, recreation, culture and tourism will remain closed at this stage as well.

Over the last 24 hours, 368 new cases of COVID-19 infection had been reported in Belgium, bringing the country’s total confirmed cases since the beginning of the epidemic to 53,449, said the public health institute Sciensano on Monday.

Meanwhile, 60 new hospitalizations had been recorded, and 55 people had left hospitals.

Within the past 24 hours, 62 new deaths had been reported, pushing the country’s death toll from the coronavirus-cased disease to 8,707.

The general downward trend of the COVID-19 crisis can be observed both in terms of hospitalizations, which remain below 100, and in terms of deaths, according to Yves Van Laethem, inter-federal spokesman for COVID-19.

This downward trend persists at the intensive care level, where the number of patients has fallen to 478. This is a decrease of 5 percent per day over the last week’s calculation, according to Yves Laethem.

The health crisis is showing signs of abating, but the social crisis is looming. The Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported on Monday that the requests for additional aid are expected to increase by 30 percent for the months of April, May and June.

(XINHUA)

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COVID-19 deaths in Belgium rise by 170 to 7,501

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A further 170 people had died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours in Belgium, taking the country’s death toll to 7,501, according to fresh figures from the public health institute Sciensano on Wednesday.

Of the 170 new deaths, 69 occurred in hospitals and 98 in rest homes and care homes, according to Sciensano. Of the cumulative 7,501 deaths, 46 percent have occurred in hospitals while 53 percent in rest homes and care homes.

Belgium also confirmed 525 new cases of infection in the last 24 hours, bringing the total cases to 47,859, according to Sciensano.

Also in the 24 hours, 174 more people were admitted to hospital, a slight increase against the previous day. And 340 more people left the hospital cured, raising the total number of recoveries to 11,283.

According to health authorities, the reproduction rate of COVID-19 (commonly referred to as R0) in Belgium stood at 0.79, based on figures collected between April 20 and April 26. That means one person with the coronavirus infects 0.79 others on average.

“It is especially important that this figure remains below 1, which means that a person can only infect one other on average,” said Yves Van Laethem, an inter-federal public health spokesman.

As the virus is in a self-extinguishing phase, he said, the lower this figure is, the better the situation will be. “This is why the measures must be strictly followed at the moment,” Van Laethem added.

(XINHUA)

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France pledges to support Lebanon’s economic plan: report

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France on Tuesday pledged to support Lebanese government’s economic reform plan, the National News agency reported.

French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian reaffirmed the stance during a phone call with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the report said.

France is willing to help Lebanon within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and intends to hold a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon when the COVID-19 curfew measures end, the French top diplomat was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Finance Minister Ghazi Wazne said that he was informed by his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire that France will support Lebanon’s economic and financial strategies.

“Le Maire urged Lebanon to implement necessary reform measures,” Wazne was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Finance Ministry.

Lebanon is expected to put its finishing touch on the draft economic and financial rescue plan on Wednesday.

Lebanon, which defaulted last month on its public debt due to worsening economic situation, will discuss with the IMF the strategy which will enable the country to restructure its public debt by negotiating with bondholders.

(XINHUA)

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Belgium’s COVID-19 deaths up by 134 to 7,331, hospital admissions stabilizing

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Belgium is still increasing, but new hospitalization figure is stabilizing while the number new fatalities is falling, authorities at the Belgian health institute Sciensano confirmed on Tuesday.

A total of 647 new infection cases have been confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 47,334 in the country, according to the latest data.

New deaths of 134 were recorded in the last 24 hours, 67 of which took place in hospitals while 64 in rest homes and care homes. In the latter group, 80 percent were confirmed COVID-19 cases. The death toll in Belgium stood at 7,331, the official figures showed.

Of the 7,331 people who died, 46 percent died in hospital, 53 percent in a rest and care home, 0.3 percent at home and 0.4 percent elsewhere. The hospital deaths are all confirmed cases. The deaths in rest homes are both confirmed (12 percent) and suspected (88 percent) cases.

New hospitalizations totaled 123, while 876 patients are in intensive care, a decrease of 27 in the last 24 hours. Since March 15, 10,943 patients have recovered and discharged from hospital, an increase of 65 in the last 24 hours.

According to Sciensano, the epidemiological situation of COVID-19 in Belgium is moving in the right direction.

“A decrease in the use of inpatient beds and intensive care beds is fundamental to maintain, to start the deconfinement,” explained Yves Van Laethem, COVID-19 inter-federal spokesman.

“We are not all equal in the face of disease. This disease affects more people over the age of 65, people with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, vascular disorders,” the spokesman explained.

(XINHUA)

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Tanzanian gov’t urges textile mills to produce face masks for COVID-19

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A Tanzanian government cabinet minister has urged textile mills in the country to start producing face masks for protection against the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement said on Monday.

Innocent Bashungwa, the Minister for Industry and Trade, also appealed to owners of the textile mills to sell the masks at cheaper prices to enable the general public afford to buy them, said the statement issued by the ministry.

The statement said Bashungwa made the appeal when he visited two Arusha-based textile mills, Sunflag Tanzania Limited and A to Z Textile Mills where he inspected production of the masks.

The statement said the minister appealed to textile mills to produce the masks in bulk and promised them government support.

Bashungwa said locally produced masks should be sold at 1,500 Tanzanian shillings (about 0.65 U.S. dollar), warning non-governmental organizations that were producing the masks and selling them at between 2,500 shillings and 3,000 shillings apiece.

“There are NGOs that were given permit to produce the masks but they are selling them at hiked prices. They should stop that immediately,” warned the senior official.

Emmanuel Mgoma, an official with Sunflag Tanzania Limited, said the mill was producing 25,000 masks a day.

Slyvester Kazi, an official with A to Z Textile Mills, said the factory was producing 15,000 masks a day.

Tanzania has nearly 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 16.
(XINHUA)

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EU, France and Italy call for truce in Libya

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Top diplomats of the European Union (EU), France and Italy jointly called for a humanitarian truce in Libya on Saturday.

A joint statement, made by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, said the Libya conflict continues unabated and developments during the last weeks have increased concerns, in particular over the situation among the long-suffering Libyan population.

“In this beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, we want to unite our voices to those of the UN Secretary-General (Antonio) Guterres and his Acting Special Representative for Libya, Stephanie Turco Williams, in their call for a humanitarian truce in Libya,” the statement said.

“We call on all the Libyan actors to get inspired by the spirit of the Holy Ramadan, engage in resuming talks for a genuine ceasefire on the basis of the draft agreement of the Military Committee of Feb. 23, and in view of a political solution to the conflict, and unite their efforts to face the common enemy which the current pandemic risks represent in the interest of the whole country,” it added.
(XINHUA)

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China ready to work with France till defeating COVID-19 pandemic: FM

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China will work with France till they jointly and completely beat the COVID-19 pandemic, said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday during a telephone conversation with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The COVID-19 outbreak is the common enemy of all countries, and needs to be defeated with joint efforts, Wang said, adding that China thanks France for offering help during the hard times of its anti-epidemic fight, and is willing to provide France with necessary support and assistance according to its needs, which shows both the spirit of international humanitarianism and the high level of the two countries’ strategic partnership.

Both major countries in the world, China and France bear important responsibilities for the development and progress of the human race, Wang said, adding that China stands ready to work with France to contribute to the cause of global public health security.

Noting that Chinese President Xi Jinping cherishes the mutual trust and friendship with French President Emmanuel Macron, Wang said the Chinese side appreciates France‘s independent diplomatic style, especially its adherence to the diplomatic concept of multilateralism, and that China welcomes the European country’s more active and important role in the current international affairs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) plays a core role in coordinating and pushing ahead with the global fight against COVID-19, and also an essential part in assisting developing countries in Africa and other parts of the world to cope with the pandemic, Wang stressed.

Now is time to support, not obstruct, the WHO, he said, adding that in dealing with issues concerning the WHO, all sides should transcend ideologies, social systems, groups or camps, and domestic political calculations, and support the WHO from the standpoint of health of humanity.

Wang reiterated that supporting the WHO’s role can save more lives, cure more patients and unit all the anti-pandemic forces across the world, saying that it is a consensus among the great majority of nations, and a choice that should be made by all those with a conscience.

For his part, Le Drian thanked the Chinese side for assisting France in procuring urgently-needed medical resources from China, saying that France has mobilized civil airplanes to build an “air bridge” between the two nations, which has been operating well generally.

Noting that President Macron and President Xi have reached important consensuses on deepening bilateral medical and health cooperation in a phone conversation, Le Drian said France is willing to take measures together with China to implement those consensuses, and urges all countries to join hands and fight the pandemic together.

Noting that France and China share the same view on the WHO’s role, Le Drian said both countries support the role of the WHO, and oppose using the pandemic to stigmatize any certain countries.

During the phone talk, both sides also had an in-depth exchange of views on how the permanent members of the UN Security Council can promote the enhancement of global anti-epidemic cooperation.
(XINHUA)

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Roundup: Turkey’s COVID-19 cases top 95,000; Iran’s tally close to 85,000

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Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 4,611 new COVID-19 cases as its tally of infections surpassed 95,000. Meanwhile, Iran’s total cases surged to near 85,000.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Turkey, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, climbed to 95,591, while the death toll surged to 2,259, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted.

He added that 14,918 patients have recovered from COVID-19, while 1,865 are being treated at intensive care units and 1,006 intubated.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the curve of COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey has begun flattening thanks to the timely measures his government has taken.

Calling the pandemic “the biggest crisis after World War II in terms of its economic impacts,” he called for preparations “for the new situations that will emerge in the post-epidemic world in our region and our country.”

In a phone talk, Erdogan discussed with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin the cooperation in the combating the COVID-19 pandemic. They also pledged to maintain close cooperation on dealing with regional issues.

Iran on Tuesday reported 1,297 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number to 84,802.

The deaths from the virus soared to 5,297, after 88 new fatalities were added. A total of 60,965 coronavirus patients have recovered, with 3,357 still in critical condition.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the European countries to oppose U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, which are more “inhumane” when the entire world is fighting the novel coronavirus.

“We expect European countries, especially Italy, to take appropriate stances against such violation of the rules in these difficult circumstances,” he said during a phone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

In Israel, the number of daily recoveries from COVID-19 reached a record of 458, bringing the total recoveries to 4,507, the Ministry of Health said.

The total number of coronavirus cases reached 13,942, after 229 cases were confirmed Tuesday. The death toll surged to 184, after seven more patients died from the virus.

Most of the memorial ceremonies for marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day were canceled on Tuesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced the tightening of measures to fight the virus ahead of the state’s Independence Day on April 29, including a full lockdown that will last from next Tuesday afternoon until Thursday morning.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said that Israeli exports to China rose to 1.07 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of 2020, up 9.85 percent from last year, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

In Qatar, the Health Ministry announced 518 new coronavirus cases, raising the total number to 6,533, which included 614 recoveries.

Saudi Arabia reported 1,147 new COVID-19 cases and 150 more deaths, raising the tally of coronavirus infections to 11,631, which include 109 fatalities and 1,640 recoveries.

Morocco confirmed 163 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number to 3,209, which included 145 deaths and 393 recoveries.

In Egypt, the Health Ministry confirmed 157 new coronavirus cases and 14 deaths, bringing the total cases to 3,490, including 264 deaths.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a phone call with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss joint efforts to combat COVID-19, and cooperation on regional and international issues.

Algeria reported 93 new COVID-19 cases and eight new deaths from the virus, brining the tally of cases to 2,811 and the death toll to 392.

In Kuwait, the Health Ministry reported 85 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths, bringing the total infections to 2,080 and death toll to 11.

Iraq’s Health Ministry reported 28 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number to 1,602.

On Monday, the third batch of Chinese medical aid arrived in Baghdad as part of China‘s assistance to boost Iraq’s capability to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
(XINHUA)

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European Investment Bank joins Sahel Alliance

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EIB, the Bank of the European Union, joins Sahel Alliance at first General Assembly; Membership expected to strengthen impact of EIB engagement in Sahel; Builds on EUR 1 billion track record in region and 52 years of engagemen; Technical and financial experience from recent energy, water, private sector, transport and telecom investment to be shared with Sahel partners

The European Investment Bank, the European Union’s long-term lending institution, will join the Sahel Alliance. The EIB’s intention to join the Sahel Alliance, an international initiative to strengthen support for challenges faced in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, was confirmed at the first General Assembly of the Sahel Alliance taking place this week in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott.

New public and private investment is key to addressing the impact of climate change, improving education and generating employment to enable economic opportunities across the Sahel for millions of young people.

The European Investment Bank’s commitment to join the Sahel Alliance as a full member was signed in Nouakchott by Jean-Yves Le Drian, President of the Sahel Alliance and French Minister for European and Foreign Affairs and Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, in the presence of the Foreign Ministers of Spain, Italy, Mauritania and Burkina Faso..

“The international community and the European Union are committed to increasing investment essential to overcome challenges facing the Sahel. The European Investment Bank has supported transformational agriculture, energy, water, transport, telecom and private sector investment across the five Sahel states over the last fifty years. EIB membership of the Sahel Alliance will ensure a rapid response to specific local challenges by enabling technical experience and financial expertise to be shared with African and international partners to further strengthen the impact of our collective engagement in the Sahel. Further strengthening cooperation is essential to tackle the root causes of fragile economies and communities to address the impact of climate change, accelerate private sector growth to create economic opportunities and improve access to clean energy and water, and contribute to lasting and sustainable development in the Sahel.  Our membership of the Sahel Alliance is a key part of the EIB’s broader support for economic and social progress across Africa on behalf of the European Union.” said Ambroise Fayolle, European Investment Bank Vice President.

“Enabling economic growth, improving basic services and addressing the impact of an extreme climate is key to fostering stability and enabling sustainable development in the Sahel.  France welcomes the decision of the European Investment Bank to join the Sahel Alliance and commitment to increase cooperation with Sahel countries, the international community and international development partners. Involvement of the EIB will help to accelerate new investment essential to address instability and ensure a sustainable future for the Sahel.” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chairman of the General Assembly of the Sahel Alliance and French Minister for European and Foreign Affairs.

Nicole Bintner-Bakshian, Luxembourg Ambassador to Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, and special envoy for the Sahel highlighted “Closer partnership between financial and political partners is essential to unlock new investment in the Sahel. Luxembourg is a long-standing partner of the Sahel and we welcome the commitment of the European Investment Bank to join the Sahel Alliance. The EIB has unique technical and financial expertise that will strengthen European Union impact to better support vulnerable communities in this region.”

EIB to support key goals of the Sahel Alliance

Future EIB backed investment in the Sahel is expected to focus on three key priority fields identified by the Sahel Alliance.  These include providing direct and indirect financing and supporting implementation for new projects that support education and youth employment, agriculture, rural development, food security and energy and climate.

Supporting investment to strengthen sustainable development in the Sahel

The Sahel countries—Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad—face many challenges, including chronic insecurity, rising extremism, a lack of economic prospects, and poor access to education, employment and essential services such as water and electricity. Climate change is weakening the region even more.

Joining forces with the international community and development finance institutions

Development partners and large international organizations provided the response to this double-edged challenge of security and development. In July 2017, France, Germany and the European Union announced the launch of the Sahel Alliance. They have since been joined by the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Denmark and Netherlands have also confirmed their membership.

Building on the EIB’s 52 year engagement in the Sahel

The European Investment Bank has supported long-term investment in the Sahel since 1968 and provided more than EUR 1 billion for infrastructure and private sector projects across the region.

This has included transforming access to clean drinking water in the capitals of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, agriculture investment in Chad and strengthening telecommunications and transport connections in Mauritania.

Last year the European Investment Bank provided more than EUR 3 billion for new public and private investment in Africa.

 

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EU ministers consider relaunch of naval mission to protect Libya peace

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 European Union (UN) foreign ministers on Monday discussed the bloc’s role in implementing a peace process for Libya, including the possible relaunch of a naval mission that was suspended last year amid a fierce migration dispute.

The talks in Brussels came hours after a Libya conference in Berlin at which international leaders vowed to uphold a UN arms embargo and end military support for the country’s warring factions.

Libya’s embattled Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj enjoys United Nations backing and a Turkish force presence, while rival commander Khalifa Haftar has the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia.

Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and has become a battleground for rival proxy forces.

The issue is seen as key to EU security after the northern African country became a gateway for migrants trying to reach Europe.

At Sunday’s conference, the EU pledged to help implement the agreements reached, including possibly dispatching troops under an EU flag to monitor the ceasefire.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talked to ministers about possible steps – including the option of relaunching naval patrols in the Mediterranean Sea under Operation Sophia.

The mission was originally aimed at stopping human trafficking and enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya.

“I think we have to revive it, yes,” Borrell told journalists ahead of Monday’s talks.

The patrols ended last year due to a dispute between Italy and other member states on what to do with migrants rescued by Operation Sophia.

The mission still trains the Libyan coastguard.

“It collapsed at the time under (Matteo) Salvini,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said, referring to Italy’s former far-right foreign minister.

“Salvini is gone. We must rebuild Sophia,” he added.

However, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio insisted that the operation would have to be “dismantled and reassembled in a completely different way.

“It must be a mission to monitor the embargo and nothing else,” he added.

Asked if this means Operation Sophia should no longer rescue migrants at sea, Di Maio said this was “not the issue” on the table.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was too early to say whether a renewed EU naval presence off the coast of Libya was the way forward.

“The first thing to do is to turn the fragile ceasefire that we have into a (proper) truce,” he told journalists following the Brussels talks, adding that there would be a debate on a broad range of instruments.

No final decisions were taken on Monday, with ministers expected to return to the issue in more detail when they next meet in a month’s time.

The EU has come under fire in the past for its cooperation with the Libyan coastguard, which has been accused of human rights violations.

Speaking in Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias – whose country was not invited to the Berlin talks – welcomed the progress made on Sunday and said Athens would support all further steps.

“This is the first time … that Europe has regained control,” his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian said after Monday’s talks.

The German government said that the implementation of the peace process in Libya was now up to the warring parties on the ground.

The Berlin peace conference was aimed at supporting the efforts of the United Nations’ special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a “very important step” had been taken towards resolving the conflict in Libya, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

YEE

Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim

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Iran nuclear deal must be respected, French FM says

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All parties must respect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and resort to diplomacy and negotiations when resolving the latest Middle East tensions, the French foreign minister said on Friday.

“The best way to defuse tensions is diplomacy, negotiations and respect of the agreement,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The agreement, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), was reached in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the U.S., UK, Russia, France, and China, plus Germany) and the European Union.

Tehran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for decreased economic sanctions.

One year after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’ withdrawal from the agreement, Iran said in May 2019 that it would scale back its nuclear commitments in response.

Tensions between the two nations flared after the U.S. killed one of Iran’s key military commanders, Qassem Soleimani, in an air strike in Iraq early this month.

In retaliation for his death, Tehran threatened that it would not respect any limits put down in the 2015 nuclear deal, which includes a restriction in nuclear research and development activities and limits on its number of uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Le Drian reiterated France’s commitment to the JCPoA, which he called “an accord of security for everyone” even if “it’s not sufficient.”

EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting later in the day in Brussels to discuss how to avoid confrontations between Washington and Tehran and a nuclear proliferation crisis.

Edited by: Abiodun Oluleye/Sadiya Hamza

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Iran, Ukraine begin crash investigation amid claim airliner shot down

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 Iranian and Ukrainian officials have begun investigating the crash of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran, Iran’s aviation authority said on Friday.

The investigation is coming amid mounting claims that the jet was shot down by an Iranian missile.

All 176 people on board the Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737 airliner died when it crashed in a field shortly after take-off on Wednesday.

Most of the victims were Iranian and Canadian citizens. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that evidence suggests the airliner was downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

Iran has rejected the accusation. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has remained cautious, saying the missile scenario has not been ruled out.

“We call on all our international partners, especially the U.S., Canada, and Britain, to present any evidence pertaining to the catastrophe,” Zelensky said in a statement.

Iran has maintained that the plane went down due to a technical problem.

Ukrainian state media initially reported that the most likely cause was an engine fire.

Investigators are concentrating on the damaged black-box flight recorders recovered from the crash site.

The incident occurred hours after Iran fired missiles at U.S. bases in neighbouring Iraq in retaliation for the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike.

Ukrainian investigators have been considering several possible scenarios, including that the plane could have been hit by a Russian-made Tor missile.

Some of those investigators were involved in determining that an anti-aircraft missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has urged Iran to conduct the investigation with as much transparency as possible.

Those responsible for the probe in Iran have been informed that Canada and Ukraine should be involved in the process, Maas told the n-tv broadcaster.

Germany’s top diplomat also praised Iran’s offer for dialogue with the U.S. as an “important signal” and welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s restraint in responding to the crash.

“All sides have recognised that the time for military escalation is over,” Maas said.

German airliner Lufthansa announced it was grounding its daily flight between Frankfurt to Tehran.

The company said that it would decide when to resume the flights once it was able to assess detailed information.

A Thursday flight to Tehran operated by Lufthansa turned back after around an hour in the air due to changes made to the security assessment regarding the airspace around the Tehran airport, a spokeswoman said.

Low-cost airline Norwegian Air also temporarily ceased flying over Iranian airspace following the crash.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for the “fullest transparency” on the circumstances of the disaster, amid reports that the plane’s engines could have been produced at least partially in France.

“If we are asked, we could provide our expertise.

“For the moment, we have not been asked,” he told RTL radio.

With at least 10 Swedish nationals killed in Wednesday’s crash, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven expressed support for a “swift, thorough and transparent investigation”.

Lofven spoke late on Thursday with Trudeau, and the leaders agreed on the need for a comprehensive investigation, according to a statement from Lofven’s office.

Trudeau on Thursday cited “intelligence from multiple sources” suggesting that the plane was shot down.

“This may well have been unintentional,” he said.

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Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim

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France urges Iran not to seek retribution after U.S. strike

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France has urged Iran not to seek retribution in the wake of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s elite Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

“No-one wants war,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told broadcaster BFMTV on Monday evening.

He said that possibilities for negotiations must be created.

“There’s always room for diplomacy,” the minister added.

The  U.S. airstrike has prompted fears over an outbreak of war in the region and left the nuclear agreement struck with Tehran hanging by a thread.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to bring  U.S. and Iranian representatives together for talks, an initiative he presented at the G7 summit in Biarritz in August but which was not successful.

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Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim

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