CDC Latest to Endorse Johnson & Johnson Vaccine for Use in US

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel Sunday endorsed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, voting overwhelmingly to recommend the shot for adults older than 18. CDC recommendations are not binding but are widely respected by medical institutions and professionals. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky later approved the panel’s recommendations.Sunday’s CDC endorsement came one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally authorized the use of the one-dose vaccine.Nearly 4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be distributed and available as early as Tuesday morning, according to a senior administration official. This vaccine, the third to be approved for use in the United States, will be distributed to states, tribes and territories proportional to their populations – the same way the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been distributed.FDA Approves Johnson & Johnson Vaccine for Use in USOne-dose shot is third, behind Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to win FDA approval Health officials in the U.S. welcomed the third vaccine, which has been eagerly awaited largely because it requires only one shot, but officials urged Americans to receive whichever vaccine is first available to them, reiterating that all three have proved to be safe and effective.The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to data from a study that spanned three continents. The shot kept its protection even in the countries where the South African variant is spreading.As of Sunday evening, about 28.6 million Americans have had COVID-19 and more than 513,000 have died from the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.President Joe Biden praised the “exciting news for all Americans,” in a statement Saturday evening, also urging Americans not to let their “guard down now.”“But I want to be clear: this fight is far from over,” he added. “I urge all Americans — keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks. As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse.”An FDA advisory panel unanimously endorsed the vaccine Friday, paving the way for the agency’s authorization.By the end of March, Johnson & Johnson has said, it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S., and 100 million by summer, the Associated Press reported. Johnson & Johnson is also seeking authorization for emergency use of its vaccine in Europe and from the World Health Organization.In New Zealand, residents of Auckland, a city of nearly 2 million people, began a seven-day lockdown Sunday, the second in the month since the more contagious British variant of the coronavirus emerged there.Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the lockdown Saturday because of a person who was infectious for a week but had not isolated.”It is more than likely there will be additional cases in the community,” Ardern told a press conference Sunday, although no new cases had been recorded.New Zealand, a nation of 5 million people, identified its first COVID-19 case on February 29, 2020, and since then has seen almost 2,400 cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins data.Japan reported 329 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, slightly down from 337 a day earlier, according to national broadcaster NHK.While a state of emergency stays in effect in Tokyo and three other prefectures until after the first week of March, it was lifted in eight others a week earlier than scheduled.In Russia, the coronavirus crisis center confirmed 11,359 new coronavirus cases on Sunday and 379 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of infections in the country stands at 4,246,079 to date and the death toll at 86,122.Elsewhere, the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq, Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, has tested positive for COVID-19. The announcement comes a week before Pope Francis’ March 5-9 trip to the country.Leskovar, whose title is apostolic nuncio, said in a statement that he was experiencing only light symptoms so far.  “This is not going to influence the pope’s program, which is going on as planned,” he said.France will impose weekend lockdowns in Paris and 19 other regions in early March if coronavirus infections continue to accelerate. The Czech government announced tighter restrictions beginning March 1.In Latin America, new containment measures were imposed in several Brazilian cities and states.The U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of coronavirus infections, followed by India with more than 11 million infections and Brazil with more than 10.5 million. 

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Iran Balks at Resuming Nuclear Talks with US

Iran on Sunday balked at holding an informal meeting with the United States and three European powers about reviving the 2015 accord that restrained Tehran’s nuclear development program to keep it from developing nuclear weapons.Tehran said that before talks are held, the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden must first lift its unilateral economic sanctions against Iran.An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that “considering the recent actions and statements” by the U.S., Britain, France and Germany, “Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” which was proposed by the European Union foreign policy chief. Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.Iranian Parliament Speaker Puts Interim Nuclear Inspection Agreement with IAEA in Doubt Iranian parliament questions validity of temporary accord reached with IAEA headA White House spokesperson responded Sunday by expressing “disappointment” with Iran’s response, but said the U.S. is ready to “reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal.  Washington will consult the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France and Russia – plus Germany on the best way forward, the spokesperson said.  Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, but Biden during his presidential campaign against Trump and since he took office has said he wants to rejoin the pact that includes Russia and China. The U.S. has also opened talks with Iran over the fate of at least five American hostages being held by Tehran.At the same time, Biden has pressured Iran militarily, ordering airstrikes last week on buildings in Syria that the Defense Department says were used by Iranian-backed militias. The U.S. said the rocket attacks were in retaliation for missile attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Iraq.The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday the attacks in Syria killed at least 22 militia fighters, although the Pentagon did not confirm the figure.

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Nigeria: Parents Anxiously Await Return of 300 Abducted Girls

Nigerian parents waited anxiously Sunday outside the school their daughters were taken from, amid rumors of their release and heavy security.The 317 schoolgirls, ages 12-16, were kidnapped Friday from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe by armed men.The state government has called the rumors a “falsehood.” Nigeria’s army has been working through the weekend alongside Zamfara state police in a search and rescue operation.Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said his priority is ensuring the safe return of all hostages. Buhari urged state governments Friday not to negotiate with bandits by paying ransom with money or vehicles.Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were infamously kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram in 2014. Known as the Chibok girls, they were taken from their boarding school. In the seven years since, many of the 276 girls have escaped, been rescued or released, but more than 100 remain missing. Since then, Nigeria has seen several such kidnappings. As recently as Saturday, 24 students were released after having been abducted February 17 from the neighboring nation of Niger.The U.N. condemned the abduction over the weekend, calling it a “heinous violation of human rights.”“The girls must be released to their families immediately & unconditionally,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter.I am appalled by the abduction of more than 300 girls during an attack on a secondary school in Nigeria today.Attacks on schools are a heinous violation of human rights.The girls must be released to their families immediately & unconditionally.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 26, 2021Kidnappings have been carried out by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa, but other militant groups with unclear motivations have also adopted the practice as a way to raise money. Boko Haram opposes Western education and has frequently targeted schools.

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Cancer Survivor Launches Head-Scarf Business to Help Women Undergoing Treatment

Hair loss is one of the unfortunate side effects of some cancer treatments, but one survivor decided that losing her hair didn’t mean she couldn’t look and feel great. Maxim Moskalkov has the story.amera: Andrey Degtyarev 

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Trump Rejoins US Political Fray at Conservative Conclave

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is set Sunday to stake his claim as the dominant Republican in the country, trying to win back party control of Congress next year and possibly run again for the presidency in 2024.Trump is speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering in Orlando, Florida, of hundreds of the most ardent Republicans. While he has made some public comments since leaving Washington January 20, when his victorious Democratic reelection opponent, Joe Biden, took power, Trump’s speech is his first significant post-presidency address.”I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” Trump plans to say, according to excerpts released by aides.”We are gathered this afternoon to talk about the future — the future of our movement, the future of our party, and the future of our beloved country,” he says.Republicans Hold Annual Conference With Trump Still at Center Stage Prominent annual gathering for conservatives will feature speech by former president on SundayBut Trump also is likely to mount his claim to dominance of the party, to leave his options open to run again in three years for another four-year term in the White House, at least to stall any momentum for other possible 2024 Republican candidates, including U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and others eyeing the presidency.Early national polls show voters giving wide approval to Biden’s first month-plus as president, including from some Republicans. But Trump, even if widely rejected by Democrats and a majority of independents, remains particularly popular among many Republican voters.Trump’s future as the dominant Republican figure in the U.S. remains an open question, however. He is the only president in U.S. history to be twice impeached and acquitted and the first president in 90 years to lose political control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in a single term in office.Conservatives at the three-day conference have cheered mention of his name, with many of them posing for pictures with a large golden caricature of his face that was sculpted in Mexico and now is being wheeled around the convention hall.The Senate earlier in February voted 57-43, with seven Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in the chamber, to convict Trump of inciting a mob of hundreds of his supporters that rampaged into the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as lawmakers were certifying that he had lost his November re-election to Biden. The Senate vote count fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for a conviction.  The mayhem left five dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer. More than 200 rioters have been arrested as the investigation continues.     The CPAC conference is one of the most prominent annual gatherings for conservatives and comes at a time of growing debate within the Republican Party over whether to distance themselves from the former president or continue to tie their future with his.  Trump has signaled he wants to try to defeat or diminish the political standing of the 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach him in January, a week ahead of him leaving office, and the seven who voted to convict him at his Senate trial.Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, voted to acquit Trump at the impeachment trial, but then assailed Trump’s role in fomenting the storming of the Capitol, in which rioters smashed windows, ransacked congressional offices and scuffled with police.  McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” that led to the Capitol siege.Trump, in response, described McConnell as “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” and said if Republican senators are going to stay with him, “they will not win again.”Even so, McConnell said last week he would support Trump for the presidency if Republican voters nominate him again in 2024.Asked whether Trump still controls the Republican Party, Senator Rick Scott of Florida told the “Fox News Sunday” show, “It’s the voters’ party.” But he said he believes Trump is “going to be helpful” in the immediate future.“We’re on the right side of the issues,” Scott said of Republicans. “The Democrats are on the wrong side.”One Republican lawmaker who voted to convict Trump on the impeachment charge, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, told CNN that if Republicans reclaim the White House in four years, “it will be because we speak to the issues, not by putting one person (Trump) on a pedestal. CPAC is not the entirety of the Republican Party.”“You’ve got to speak to voters who didn’t vote for us last time,” Cassidy said. “If we idolize one person, we will lose.”“I don’t think he’ll be our nominee,” Cassidy said. “We need a person who lifts all boats.”

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Militia Raids in Eastern DR Congo Kill 10 Civilians, Says Army 

Fighters thought to belong to the notorious Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia killed 10 civilians in two overnight attacks in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the army said Sunday.  ADF fighters decapitated eight villagers in the village of Boyo, in the northeast Ituri province, and shot dead two civilians in Kainama, army spokesman Lieutenant Jules Ngongo said.  Soldiers were in pursuit of the attackers, he added.   Local officials confirmed the two attacks, adding that houses were also burned in the violence.   Kainama lies at the extreme north of North Kivu province, where it borders with Ituri. It is just five kilometres (three miles) from Boyo. Both provinces sit on DR Congo’s eastern border with Uganda.   The ADF militia are Ugandan Islamic fighters who have made their base in eastern DR Congo since 1995.  While they have not launched raids into Uganda for several years, the militia has been blamed for the killings of more than 800 civilians over the past year in both North Kivu and South Kivu provinces.  While the army has conducted operations against them in the region since October 2019, they have not been able to put a stop to the massacres of civilians.  After a relative calm period in January, its fighters have stepped up attacks on civilians since February in Beni, North Kivu province, and Irumu, in Ituri. But they are just one of dozens of armed groups that have been operating in the mineral-rich border region of eastern DR Congo for decades now.  One recent report by analysts the Kivu Security Tracker estimated there were at least 122 armed groups active in DR Congo’s four eastern border provinces, from north to south: Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika. 

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18 Deaths Reported in Bloodiest Day of Myanmar Coup Protests 

Security forces in Myanmar fired on protesters on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and leaving more than 30 others injured in the deadliest day of demonstrations since the February 1 military coup, according to the U.N. human rights office.”Throughout the day, in several locations throughout the country, police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force,” said a statement from U.N. human rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.At least 18 people were killed & 30 wounded in #Myanmar today. “We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar & call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protestors,” says spox Ravina Shamdasani 👉https://t.co/nqhVYtXZfvpic.twitter.com/sAvKPwR4F7
— UN Human Rights Asia (@OHCHRAsia) February 28, 2021The statement called on the military to “immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters.”The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tweeted, “We stand in solidarity with the people of Burma, who have displayed determination and courage in rejecting this military coup,” as she used another name for Myanmar. She also said, “We stand with them as they call for a return to peace, democratic governance, and rule of law.”Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
This handout from Dawei Watch shows spent casings and projectiles after security forces launched a crackdown on protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, capital of the Tanintharyi Region, Feb. 28, 2021.Police also aggressively sought to break up protests in other cities, including Mandalay and Dawei.Popular protests have been staged across Myanmar on a daily basis since the military detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the civilian government last month, claiming widespread fraud in last November’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency. Its commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has pledged that new elections will be held to bring about a “true and disciplined democracy,” but did not specify when they would take place.Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun holds up three fingers at the end of his speech to the General Assembly where he pleaded for international action in his country, at the U.N. in New York City, Feb. 26, 2021.The envoy said he represents the NLD, which is “the legitimate and duly elected” government – not the military leaders who seized power. He said the coup was illegal, unconstitutional and “not acceptable in this modern world.” “It is crystal clear that we all do not want to go back to the system that we used to be in before,” Kyaw Moe Tun said of the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets across Myanmar since the coup.The envoy accused the military of oppressing the people for decades, using “unspeakable, violent methods” to attack ethnic minorities and that “these actions no doubt amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”A riot police officer opens fire on protesters during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 28, 2021.Kyaw Moe Tun said the military continues to act with impunity as it deploys violence against the peaceful protesters demanding a return to civilian rule and democratic norms.Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar says an Associated Press photographer, Thein Zaw, was arrested “while carrying out his journalistic work” in Yangon Saturday.A statement issued by the FCCM condemned the move and called for the release of the photographer and other detained journalists across the country while urging authorities to ensure the safety and security of those “performing their professional duties covering the ongoing protests in the country.”Some information in this report was provided by Associated Press and Reuters. VOA’s Margaret Besheer contributed to this story. 

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Powerful Countries Come Under Fire at UN Human Rights Council 

Cracks are emerging in the firewall that until now has protected some of the world’s powerful nations from being scrutinized and called to account for gross violations by the U.N. Human Rights Council.  The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, called them the “untouchables.”   “By that I mean governments that have managed to avoid any real critical scrutiny in the form of a resolution by the council.  And the foremost untouchables that I have in mind are China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia,” he said.  FILE – Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, attends an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 12, 2021.Addressing the untouchables, Roth said, is not only the biggest challenge facing the council, but is critical to its credibility.  He said efforts are underway to draft critical statements on Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  He added pressure is growing on Russia because of its alleged poisoning of opposition activist Alexey Navalny.    However, of greatest interest, he says are emerging signs that China may no longer be untouchable. “It has been seen as politically impossible to address the worsening repression in Xinjiang, the ongoing repression in Tibet, the crushing of Hong Kong’s freedoms.  It was seen as just, you know, impossible to get past China’s enormous diplomatic and economic efforts to prevent that kind of critical scrutiny.  But the times are changing,” he said.  International criticism of China’s alleged internment of at least 1 million Uighur Muslims in so-called vocational education camps hit new heights during the council’s High-Level Segment last week. FILE – Britain’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Dominic Raab walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, Feb. 3, 2021.In a hard-hitting statement, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the situation in Xinjiang beyond the pale.   “The reported abuses — which include torture, forced labor and forced sterilization of women — are extreme and they are extensive.  They are taking place on an industrial scale.  It must be our collective duty to ensure that this does not go unanswered.  U.N. mechanisms must respond.”     Raab called on the council to pass a resolution allowing urgent and unfettered access to Xinjiang by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights or another independent fact-finding expert.  Raab also condemned the systematic violation of rights in Hong Kong and restrictions in Tibet.  His denunciations of China’s repressive actions were supported by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.   “Our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also leaves no room for the arbitrary detention of ethnic minorities, like the Uighurs in Xinjiang or China’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong,” he said.    China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hit back hard on his critics.  He told them to stop meddling in his country’s affairs and to stop using human rights as a pretext to interfere in other countries’ internal matters.   “There has never been so-called genocide, forced labor or religious oppression in Xinjiang.  Such inflammatory accusations are fabricated out of ignorance and prejudice.  They are simply malicious and politically driven hypes and could not be further from the truth,” he said.  Wang Yi said the door to Xinjiang was always open and he invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit.     During a regular update to the council Friday on the global human rights situation, U.N. rights chief Michele Bachelet stressed the importance of such a visit.   “In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, information that is in the public domain indicates the need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation,” she said.  “My office continues to assess the alleged patterns of human rights violations, including reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and sexual violence in institutions; coercive labor practices, and erosion of social and cultural rights.”    Bachelet said she was confident a mutually agreeable arrangement would be worked out for her to visit China.   To date, efforts to arrange a visit to the region, which began before she took office in September 2018, have failed to materialize.  Discussions between Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities are continuing.    

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