Halloween During Pandemic: Costumes, Candy at a Distance

Ghosts, skeletons, princesses and black cats roamed the streets as usual this Halloween, but they kept their distance, wore face coverings and carried hand sanitizer in their quest for treats.As with everything else this year, the pandemic left its mark on Halloween. Parades, parties and haunted houses were canceled because of bans on large gatherings and concerns that spooky celebrations could spread the coronavirus.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
People walk past social-distancing markers meant to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus as they trick-or-treat for Halloween, Oct. 31, 2020, in downtown Overland Park, Kan.In Glen Allen, Virginia, just outside Richmond, neighbors left individually wrapped bags of candy on tables at the ends of driveways to avoid having dozens of kids coming to their doors and sticking their hands in the same candy bowls.Matt Cheadle, 35, a furniture designer, called it “extremely” socially distanced trick-or-treating.Still funParker, his 5-year-old son, was going as Yoshi, the green dinosaur from the Mario Kart video game series, and the chance to show off his costume and get candy is all he’s talked about recently.”He’s already had so much taken away from him this year,” Cheadle said. “We think this is a small compromise for Halloween. The little kiddos will still dress up, they’ll still get to go driveway to driveway, but not door to door.”Jane Hassebroek helps her sister Lydia dye her hair for a costume for Halloween at their home, as the coronavirus disease outbreak continues, in New York, Oct. 31, 2020.Halloween comes as coronavirus cases are surging in many parts of the country, and health officials warn of the potential for even higher numbers this winter.More than 230,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the country, and total U.S. cases surpassed 9 million on Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. In the past two weeks, more than 78,700 new virus cases have been reported each day on average, up from about 55,100 in mid-October, according to Johns Hopkins.So, many cities and towns issued guidelines for celebrating Halloween safely.New York City’s health department recommended avoiding large groups, haunted houses and bobbing for apples — “Keep your spit to yourself,” it said in an advisory. Officials urged people instead to focus on safe activities like pumpkin carving, home decorating, outdoor scavenger hunts and virtual costume parties.NY parade canceledLots of festivities were canceled, including the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, a nearly 50-year tradition that typically draws tens of thousands to the streets of Manhattan. Organizers staged a virtual puppet parade instead.In New Hampshire, where coronavirus cases are also on the rise, emergency management officials in Coos County recommended residents not participate in door-to-door trick-or-treating or group events. Trick-or-treating was called off entirely in Pittsburg, a town of about 900 in the northern part of the state.Betsy Curtin and her sons were also skipping it for safety’s sake. Instead, it was a visit to their grandparents’ houses in costume — 7-year-old Alex as Batman and 9-year-old Charlie as Captain America — then back home for pizza and a movie.”I only bought Kit Kats for them, so I’ve officially ruined their weekend,” Curtin said. “Hoping the grandparents come through with specialty chocolates.”

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Ivory Coast Votes for President in Test of Political Stability

Ivory Coast citizens went to the polls Saturday, even as some opposition supporters — heeding a call from two rival candidates of President Alassane Ouattara for a boycott over his bid for a third term — tried to disrupt the vote.Abidjan’s streets were quiet and largely empty, in contrast to the sometimes violent run-up to the election. The vote is seen as a test of stability in Ivory Coast, which is the world’s top cocoa producer and has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.Voting went smoothly with orderly lines at polling stations in a number of districts, Reuters witnesses said.But in the city’s Blockhauss neighborhood, around 20 young men blocked the entrance to a school, preventing would-be voters from entering until police dispersed the group.”It’s civil disobedience,” said Bienvenue Beagre, 31, one of the youths trying to obstruct the vote. “He’s done two terms and needs to go away.”It was not immediately clear if significant numbers were not participating in the vote or how the call for a boycott was playing out in the rest of the country.Clashes, fatalitiesElection-linked street clashes have killed 30 people since August and brought back memories of the 2010 election, which Ouattara won but which unleashed a brief civil war that killed 3,000 people when his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down.The recent violence has pitted the 78-year-old president’s supporters against those of his opponents. Ouattara’s critics say that he is breaking the law by running again because the constitution limits presidents to two terms and that he is jeopardizing the country’s hard-earned economic gains.Ouattara says he can run again under a new constitution approved in 2016 and is doing so only because his handpicked successor died unexpectedly in July. He is seen as likely to win.Ouattara’s two main rivals, former President Henri Konan Bedie and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, have called for an election boycott. Affi N’Guessan has told supporters to blockade polling places. The government has said it has deployed 35,000 soldiers and police officers for election day.Critics call Ouattara’s candidacy a new blow to West African democracy following a military coup in Mali in August and a successful third-term bid this month by the president of Guinea, Alpha Conde.

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Philippines Evacuates Nearly 1M as 2020’s Strongest Typhoon Approaches

Officials evacuated almost a million residents in the southern part of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon as a Category 5 storm, the world’s strongest this year, was set to make landfall Sunday.Typhoon Goni, with 215-kph (133-mph) sustained winds and gusts of up to 265 kph (164 mph), will bring violent winds and strong rains, state weather and disaster officials said.It is among the strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines since Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 people in 2013.”We are having a hard time with COVID-19, and then here comes another disaster,” Senator Christopher Go, the top aide of President Rodrigo Duterte, told a virtual news conference.Local executives should ensure that the virus does not spread in evacuation centers, he said.Officials began pre-emptive evacuations, with Albay province moving 794,000 residents to safety, Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the national disaster agency, said at a news conference.In Manila and nearby Bulacan province, roughly 1,000 COVID-19 patients housed in large isolation tents could be transferred to hotels and hospitals, Jalad said.The Philippines has the second-highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, behind only Indonesia, with 380,729 cases and 7,221 deaths.Molave’s victimsTyphoon Molave last week killed 22 people, mostly through drowning in provinces south of Manila, which is also in the projected path of Goni, the 18th tropical storm to hit the country this year.The main island of Luzon accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, which fell into recession in the second quarter, and half of the population of more than 108 million.Relief goods, heavy machinery and personal protective equipment are already positioned in key areas, Filipino Grace America, mayor of Infanta town in Quezon province, told DZBB radio. “But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our funds for calamity concerns and expenses are insufficient,” the mayor said.Local officials canceled port operations and barred fishers from setting sail. Airlines canceled dozens of flights.Another typhoon, Atsani, with 55-kph sustained winds and gusts of up to 70 kph, is gaining strength just outside the Philippines.An average of 20 typhoons, bringing heavy rains that trigger deadly landslides, hit the Philippines annually.

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Armenia, Azerbaijan Trade Fresh Accusations of Karabakh Shelling 

Armenia and Azerbaijan once more accused each other of bombing residential areas on Saturday, in defiance of a pact to avoid the deliberate targeting of civilians in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.   Shelling was reported by both sides within hours of the latest agreement to defuse the conflict, reached after talks in Geneva between the two countries’ foreign ministers and envoys from France, Russia and the United States.   The agreement with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group fell short of what would have been a fourth ceasefire since fighting began on Sept. 27. The death toll in the worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.   Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.   The Nagorno-Karabakh Emergency and Rescue Service said the central market in Stepanakert, the enclave’s largest city, had come under fire and that large parts of it had been burned.   Armenia’s defense ministry said several civilians had been wounded in attacks on the city of Shushi, 15 km (9 miles) to the south, while the human rights ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said a civilian in Martuni region had died when a shell hit his home.   Azerbaijan’s defense ministry denied these accusations. It said that the regions of Terter, Aghdam and Aghjabedi had come under artillery fire, as had Gubadli, a town between the enclave and the Iranian border that was taken by Azeri troops this week. Azerbaijan’s recent advances on the battlefield, which also extends to seven surrounding regions, have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.   The conflict has also brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence. Russia also has a security alliance with Armenia.  In response to a request by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to outline the extent of Moscow’s support, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would provide “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia” — land that is outside the current conflict zone.   Nagorno-Karabakh’s army says 1,166 of its soldiers have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan, which does not disclose its military casualties, updated its civilian death toll to 91. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.  

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WFP Boosts Aid to Kenyan Urban Poor Because of Pandemic 

The World Food Program is increasing cash assistance to hundreds of thousands of Kenya’s urban poor, hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says Kenya has recorded 52,612 cases of coronavirus, including 964 deaths.  COVID-19 thrives and spreads easily in crowded urban settlements and poor sanitary conditions.  In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, about 60% of the population of 4.4 million live in slums, vulnerable to viral infections and contagious diseases.   World Food Program spokesman Tomson Phiri says an estimated 1.7 million people living in these areas are short of food and lack nutrition because of the COVID-19 pandemic.    “Now, with new cases that are surging across the urban centers in Kenya, we fear that many more in COVID-19 hot spot counties may need our assistance,” said Phiri.    In response to this food and nutrition crisis, Phiri says WFP is rolling out cash assistance for more than 400,000 people in Nairobi and Mombasa.  He says people will receive a $40 monthly stipend.  This is enough to cover up to half the food needs for an average family of four.   Phiri says many more people who have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic need aid.  However, he notes WFP does not have the money to help them.  He says the agency’s $64 million emergency appeal is only 36% funded.   With adequate international support, he says WFP would be able to provide food assistance to 725,000 needy people in Nairobi’s informal settlements and other hot spots.  However, with the amount of cash on hand, he says WFP only can reach out to the most vulnerable households.      

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Cameroon Mourns 7 Children Killed at School 

Cameroon observed a day of national mourning Sunday, with the central African state’s flag flying at half-staff and millions of people taking to the streets, mosques, and churches to condemn barbarism and killing. People are also asking for investigations to be opened and for suspected killers and those promoting the separatist crisis that has killed 3,000 people in four years to face justice.Oumarou Mallam Djibril, a Muslim cleric, leads prayers at an ecumenical service at the Multi-Purpose Sports Complex in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Among the nearly 1,000 civilians who have come out to observe the day of national mourning is 40-year-old Catholic, Stephen Ngwa.  Ngwa says his younger sister’s daughter was killed when gunmen attacked a school in the English-speaking southwestern town of Kumba on October 24. He says the pain inflicted on innocent citizens by the separatist conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions is unbearable. “These acts of barbarism should not continue again,” he said. “I want to use this opportunity to once more plead with boys and girls who are carrying guns in the North West and South West to drop their guns, for we are tired. This is not our portion.” Choir members in OK? Yaoundé, besides praying for the killed children, asked God to bring peace back to Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. The government, along with Cameroon’s Ecumenical Service for Peace, mosques, and Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches reported that similar services took place all over the country. The military held ceremonies in memory of the slain children. Radio and TV stations broadcast special programs in their memory.  An empty classroom is seen following a shooting at a school in Kumba, Cameroon, Oct. 24, 2020, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.Marie Theres Abena Ondou, Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family says Africa should reflect on and condemn the massacre of children at the school in Kumba. She says the killing of Cameroonian children who only wanted education is unconscionable.  “Let us go back to June 16, 1976, when young Hector Pieterson, who was only 12 years old, was killed in his school during the mass killing of Soweto in South Africa,” she said. “Since then this date has been established as the Day of the African Child. On October 24, 2020, it was not just one child. Where did these children go wrong? What crime did they commit?” Gunmen stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy on October 24, killing seven children between the ages of nine and 12. Cameroon officials blamed Anglophone separatists for the attack. Separatists said the military killed the children to give their fighters a bad name.   Cameroon has been marred by protests and violence since 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers took to the street to denounce the overbearing influence of French in the bilingual country. The central government in Yaoundé responded with a military crackdown and separatists took weapons, claiming that they were defending English-speaking civilians. Violence in the Anglophone regions has claimed more than 3,000 lives and caused the displacement of more than 530,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported in June, that Cameroon tops the list of the most neglected crisis on the planet since 2019.    

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Officials: US Special Forces Rescue American Held in Nigeria 

U.S. special forces rescued an American citizen who had been kidnapped by armed men in an operation Saturday in northern Nigeria that is believed to have killed several of his captors, U.S. officials said. 
 
Forces including Navy SEALs rescued 27-year-old Philip Walton, who had been abducted on Tuesday from his home in neighboring southern Niger, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity, adding that no U.S. troops were hurt. 
 
A diplomat source in Niger said Walton is now at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Niamey. 
 
“Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today,” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter. 
 
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News that the Trump administration had over the years rescued 55 hostages in 24 countries. 
 
The Pentagon confirmed the operation but did not provide the identity of the hostage. 
 
Walton, who kept camels, sheep and poultry and grew mangoes near the border with Nigeria, was kidnapped by six men armed with AK-47 assault rifles who arrived on motorcycles at his home in southern Niger’s Massalata village early on Tuesday. 
 
His wife, young daughter and brother were left behind. 
 
Reuters has reported that the perpetrators appeared to be from the Fulani ethnic group, and that they spoke Hausa and some English. They demanded money and searched the family’s home before leaving with Walton. 
 
Niger, like much of West Africa’s Sahel region, faces a deepening security crisis as groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State carry out attacks on the army and civilians, despite help from French and U.S. forces. 
 
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in 2017, sparking debate about the United States’ role in the sparsely populated West African desert that is home to some of the world’s poorest countries. 
 
At least six foreign hostages are being held by Islamist insurgents in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Islamists have collected millions of dollars in ransom payments in recent years. The U.S. government has frequently criticized other countries for paying. 
 
    

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Security Remains High in France After Deadly Knife Attack at Church in Nice 

Security throughout France was high Saturday after this week’s deadly stabbings at a church in Nice as President Emmanuel Macron tried to ease tensions in the country. French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack after the perpetrator shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as he decapitated a woman and killed two others in Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. Thursday’s attack followed the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month after the republication of the Prophet Muhammad by the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.  Macron triggered protests in the Muslim world after the murder of Paty, who showed a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad to his class, by saying France would never renounce its right to caricature. On Saturday, though, Macron sounded a more empathetic tone in an interview with Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera. “I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures, but I will never accept that violence can be justified,” Macron said. 
 
Meanwhile, French authorities detained a third man for questioning Saturday in connection with the Islamist knife attack at Notre Dame Basilica in the southern French city of Nice that left three people dead. 
 
The man, a 33-years-old, was present during a police search Friday at the home of a second young Tunisian man suspected of being in contact with the attacker. 
 
France, Tunisia and Italy are jointly investigating to determine the motive of main suspect Ibrahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian, and whether he acted alone and whether his act was premeditated. 
 
French police have three people in custody for questioning after they found two telephones on the suspect after the attack. 
 
The first man, age 47, was detained Thursday night after police reviewed surveillance footage and observed the person next to the attacker on the day before the attack. 
 
A second detained subject, 35, suspected of contacting Ibrahim Issaoui, the day before the attack, was arrested Friday. 
 
Macron said earlier in the week he would increase the number of troops deployed to protect schools and churches from 3,000 to 7,000. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, strongly denounced the attacks and remarks Macron made on Oct. 21, when he said Paty “was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies … hate of the other … hate of what we profoundly are.” “The comments could divide the unity of the world’s religious communities at a time when the world needs unity to curb the COVID-19 pandemic,” Widodo said Saturday during a televised news conference in Jakarta.   Tunisian authorities are reportedly investigating whether a group called the Mahdi Organization carried out the attack. The state news agency TAP reported Friday investigators were also trying to determine whether the group exists and that the probe is based on claims of responsibility on social media.   Issaoui, who transited Italy last month en route to France, remains in critical condition in a French hospital after being wounded by police as they arrested him.   Three people were killed in Thursday’s attack. French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said a 60-year-old woman was decapitated, and a 55-year-old man, the church sexton, had his throat slit. Forty-four-year-old Brazilian national Simone Barreto Silva was stabbed several times before fleeing to a nearby bistro, where she raised the alarm before succumbing to her wounds.     Issaoui was not on Tunisia’s list of suspected militants and was not known to French intelligence services.   Ricard said Issaoui arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20 and traveled to Paris on October 9.   He said Issaoui was carrying a copy of the Quran. The knife used in the attack was found near him and two other knives not used in the attack were found in a bag that belonged to him.   French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack and raised the country’s security alert to its highest level.   

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