Al Jazeera English United States of America
News, analysis from the Middle East and worldwide, multimedia and interactives, opinions, documentaries, podcasts, long reads and broadcast schedule.
Oxford vaccine prompts immune response in elderly: AstraZeneca - Al Jazeera English
Experimental COVID-19 vaccine also triggers lower adverse responses among older people, British drug maker says.
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed in the United Kingdom produces an immune response in both younger and older adults, British drug maker AstraZeneca said, raising hopes in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, also triggers lower adverse responses among the elderly, AstraZeneca, which is helping manufacture the vaccine, said on Monday. This could potentially be seen as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 43 million people worldwide, killed at least 1.15 million people, shuttered swathes of the global economy, and turned normal life upside down for billions of people. It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the COVID-19 disease severity is higher, an AstraZeneca spokesman said. The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222, the spokesman said, referring to the technical name of the vaccine. AstraZeneca did not provide details of the data behind the statement or say when it would publish eagerly awaited late-stage phase-three trial data, which would show whether the vaccine works well enough in large-scale trials for it to be approved. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be one of the first from big pharma to secure regulatory approval, along with Pfizer and BioNTechs candidate, as the world tries to plot a path out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The news that older people get an immune response from the vaccine is positive because the immune system weakens with age and older people are those most at risk of dying from the coronavirus. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a vaccine was not yet ready, but he was preparing logistics for a possible roll-out mostly in the first half of 2021. Asked if some people could receive a vaccine this year, he told the BBC: I dont rule that out but that is not my central expectation. The programme is progressing well [but] were not there yet, Hancock said. Work began on the Oxford vaccine in January. Called AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the viral vector vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees. The chimpanzee cold virus has been genetically changed to include the genetic sequence of the so-called spike protein the coronavirus uses to gain entry to human cells. The hope is that the human body will then attack the novel coronavirus if it sees it. Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said phase-three trials, which involve wide-scale testing with tens of thousands of participants, are a prerequisite for licensing before the vaccine can be rolled out to the masses. We do not know the efficacy at this point and that is why we are eagerly awaiting the phase-three trial results, she told Al Jazeera from Lucerne, Switzerland. According to early trial results published in the medical journal The Lancet in July, the AZD1222 vaccine generated robust immune responses in a group of healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, without any serious side effects. Details of the latest findings are expected to be published shortly in a clinical journal, the Financial Times reported. It did not name the publication. People aware of the results from so-called immunogenicity blood tests carried out on a subset of older participants say the findings echo data released in July. AstraZeneca has signed several supply and manufacturing deals with companies and governments around the world as it gets closer to reporting early results of a late-stage clinical trial. It resumed the United States trial of the experimental vaccine after approval by US regulators, the company said on Friday. More than 200 vaccine candidates are currently in development globally. About a dozen, including the Oxford vaccine and US biotech firm Modernas candidate, have reached phase-three trials. Wilder-Smith said there is a possibility that several vaccines could be rolled out simultaneously. Probably the first two vaccines will come at around the same time and then new additional vaccines will come out, she said. The intent is that by the end of 2021, we would have two billion doses of vaccine that would be fairly distributed to countries around the world.
NASA probe leaking asteroid samples due to jammed door - Al Jazeera English
Images beamed back to ground control revealed it caught more material than scientists anticipated.
A US probe that collected a sample from an asteroid earlier this week retrieved so much material that a rock is wedged in the container door, allowing rocks to spill back out into space. On Tuesday, the robotic arm of the probe, OSIRIS-REx, kicked up a debris cloud of rocks on Bennu, a skyscraper-sized asteroid some 320 million kilometres (200 million miles) from Earth and trapped the material in a collection device for the return to Earth. But images of the spacecrafts collection head beamed back to ground control revealed it had caught more material than scientists anticipated and was spewing an excess of flaky asteroid rocks into space. The leakage had the OSIRIS-REx mission team scrambling to stow the collection device to prevent additional spillage. Time is of the essence, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASAs associate administrator for science, told reporters on Friday. Zurbuchen said mission teams will skip their chance to measure how much material they collected as originally planned and proceed to the stow phase, a fragile process of tucking the sample collection container in a safe position within the spacecraft without jostling out more valuable material. Good news: on Oct. 20, our @OSIRISREx spacecraft captured more than enough material from asteroid Bennu to meet mission requirements! The team is now focused on stowing the sample for return to Earth in 2023: https://t.co/4etvnJzXfn#ToBennuAndBackpic.twitter.com/ILUzEJZHD8 NASA (@NASA) October 23, 2020 NASA will not know how much material it collected until the sample capsule returns in 2023. The troubleshooting also led mission leaders to forgo any more chances of redoing a collection attempt and instead commit to begin next March the spacecrafts return to Earth. Quite honestly, we could not have performed a better collection experiment, OSIRIS-RExs principal investigator Dante Lauretta said. But with the door lodged open by a rock and the concerning images of sample spillage, were almost the victim of our own success here, he added. The roughly $800m, minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, launched in 2016 to grab and return the first US sample of pristine asteroid materials. Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar systems formation some 4.5 billion years ago. A sample could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say.
Walmart sues United States government over opioid case - Al Jazeera English
Walmart filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Justice and the US Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday.
Retail giant Walmart Inc announced on Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit against the United States government, seeking clarity on the roles and legal responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in filling opioid prescriptions. Walmart said certain officials in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are threatening to sue the retail giant, claiming pharmacists should have refused to fill otherwise valid opioid prescriptions. We are bringing this lawsuit because there is no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship to the degree DOJ is demanding, Walmart, which runs one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country, said in a statement. In its lawsuit against the DOJ and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Walmart said federal authorities are seeking civil penalties related to its alleged failure to submit suspicious order reports, adding that this potential move would be unprecedented. The DOJ and the DEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters news agency Thursday. On Wednesday, a West Virginia court ruled that Walmart must turn over information about federal and state investigations into its opioid-related practices to hospitals suing the company for allegedly contributing to the epidemic. Opioid addiction claimed roughly 400,000 lives in the US from 1999 to 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Critics of the pharmaceutical industry said opioid makers hid the addiction and abuse risks of prolonged use from consumers, spurring the crisis. Earlier this week, Purdue Pharma LP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges over the handling of its addictive prescription opioid OxyContin and pay $225m in a deal with US prosecutors that effectively sidestepped paying billions of dollars in penalties and stopped short of criminally charging its executives or wealthy Sackler family owners.
Spike in South Korea flu shot deaths fuels vaccine doubts - Al Jazeera English
South Korea is giving the seasonal flu vaccine to millions to ward off any complications with COVID-19.
At least 13 South Koreans have died after receiving flu shots in recent days, according to official and local media reports, fuelling doubts about vaccine safety even as authorities rule out a link and as global efforts to find a vaccine against COVID-19 intensify. Health authorities said on Wednesday there were no plans to suspend the programme to vaccinate approximately 19 million people for free after a preliminary investigation into six deaths found no direct connection with the drug they had received. The number of deaths has increased, but our team sees low possibility that the deaths resulted from the shots, Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), told parliament. South Korea ordered 20 percent more flu vaccines this year to avoid what it calls a twindemic of people with flu developing potential COVID-19 complications, and overburdening hospitals during the winter. I understand and regret that people are concerned about the vaccine, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said on Thursday, while confirming the free programme would continue. Were looking into the causes but will again thoroughly examine the entire process in which various government agencies are involved, from production to distribution, he added. The deaths, including a 17-year-old boy and a man in his 70s, took place just a week after the resumption of the vaccination programme for teenagers and senior citizens on October 13. No toxic substances had been found in the vaccines and at least five of the six people investigated had underlying conditions, officials said. The inoculation programme was suspended for three weeks after it was discovered that some five million doses, which need to be refrigerated, had been exposed to room temperature while being transported to a medical facility. South Koreas vaccines come from a variety of sources. Manufacturers include local drug makers GC Pharma, SK Bioscience and Il-Yang Pharmaceutical Co, along with Frances Sanofi and Britains GlaxoSmithKline. Distributors include LG Chem and Boryung Biopharma, a unit of Boryung Pharm. GC Pharma, LG Chem, SK Bioscience and Boryung declined to comment. Il-Yang Pharmaceutical, Sanofi and GSK could not immediately be reached for comment. South Korea has extended its seasonal vaccine programme this year to avoid any potential complications as a result of COVID-19 complications. The country has reported more than 25,500 cases of the coronavirus, keeping the disease in check through a robust contact-tracing and testing regime and physical-distancing measures, as the world rushes to develop an effective vaccine against the disease. Officials said 8.3 million people have been inoculated with the free flu vaccine since it resumed on October 13, with about 350 cases of adverse reactions reported. It is also offering a paid vaccine programme which, combined with the free programme, aims to ensure about 30 million of the countrys 52-million population are inoculated. Under the paid programme, the purchaser can select the vaccine provider from a larger pool of manufacturers. Kim Myung-suk, 65, who is eligible for a free vaccine, was among a growing number of people opting to pay. Though just a few people died so far, the number is growing and that makes me uneasy, she told Reuters news agency in Seoul. So Im getting a shot somewhere else and will pay for it. The highest number of deaths linked to the seasonal flu vaccination was six in 2005, according to the Yonhap news agency. Officials have said it is difficult to make comparisons to previous years because of the greater numbers of people taking the vaccine this year.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx grabs rocks from asteroid in historic mission - Al Jazeera English
Scientists want at least 60 grams of Bennu’s carbon-rich material – thought to contain the building blocks of life.
A NASA spacecraft touched down on the rugged surface of the Bennu asteroid on Tuesday, grabbing a sample of rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system to bring home. It was a first for the United States only Japan has previously secured asteroid samples. The so-called Touch-And-Go manoeuvre was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, where at 6.12pm (22:12 GMT) on Tuesday an announcer said: Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress, and scientists erupted in celebration. Seconds later, the Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church confirmed the spacecraft had eased away from the space rock after making contact, announcing: Sample collection is complete and the back-away burn has executed. The historic mission was 12 years in the making and rested on a critical 16-second period where the minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft extended its 11-foot (3.35-metre) robotic arm towards a flat patch of gravel near Bennus north pole and plucked the sample of rocks NASAs first handful of pristine asteroid rocks. The probe will send back images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so scientists can examine how much material was retrieved and determine whether the probe will need to make another collection attempt. This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu was composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km) [NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Handout via Reuters] Scientists want at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and, ideally, closer to 4 pounds (2 kilogrammes) of Bennus black, crumbly, carbon-rich material thought to contain the building blocks of the solar system. The asteroid is located more than 200 million miles (321.9 million kms) from Earth. NASAs science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, likened Bennu to the Rosetta Stone: Something thats out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system, during the last billions of years. If a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will begin its journey back towards Earth, arriving in 2023. Everything went just exactly perfect, Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on a NASA live feed from Lockheeds mission support building. We have overcome the amazing challenges that this asteroid has thrown at us, and the spacecraft appears to have operated flawlessly. The robotic arms collection device, shaped like an oversized shower head, is designed to release pressurised gas to kick up debris. The spacecraft launched in 2016 from Kennedy Space Center for the journey to Bennu. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the Touch and Go manoeuvre. Bennu, which is more than 4.5 billion years old, was selected as a target because scientists believe it is a small fragment of what was once a much larger space rock that broke off during a collision between two asteroids early on in the history of the solar system. Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system, Lori Glaze, NASAs director of Planetary Science, told Al Jazeera. They can provide valuable information about how planets, like our own, came to be. Thanks to data collected from orbit, the NASA team has determined two key discoveries: first, that between 5 and 10 percent of Bennus mass is water, and second, that its surface is littered with carbon-rich molecules. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could help scientists better understand what role asteroids played in bringing water to the Earth and seeding it with the prebiotic material that provided the building blocks for life. Studying that material could also help scientists discover whether life exists elsewhere in the solar system, as well. If this kind of chemistry is happening in the early solar system, it probably happened in other solar systems as well, Lauretta, OSIRIS-Rexs principal investigator, told Al Jazeera in an interview ahead of Tuesdays breakthrough. It helps us assess the likelihood of the origin of life occurring throughout the galaxy and, ultimately, throughout the universe. Japan expects samples from its second asteroid mission in the milligramMEs at most to land in the Australian desert in December.
Global heating kills half the corals on the Great Barrier Reef - Al Jazeera English
New research finds corals on vast Australian reef increasingly unable to recover from heat-caused bleaching.
Half the corals on Australias Great Barrier Reef have died over the past 25 years, scientists said Wednesday, warning that climate change is irreversibly destroying the World Heritage-listed underwater ecosystem. A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal found an alarming rate of decline across all sizes of corals since the mid-1990s on the vast reef that lies off the countrys northeastern coast. Larger species, such as branching and table-shaped corals, have been worst affected almost disappearing from the far northern reaches of the reef, researchers found. Theyre typically depleted by (up to) 80 or 90 percent compared to 25 years ago, report co-author and James Cook University professor Terry Hughes told the AFP news agency. They make the nooks and crannies that fish and other creatures depend on, so losing big three-dimensional corals changes the broader ecosystem. Aside from its inestimable natural, scientific and environmental value, the 2,300-kilometre-long (1,400-mile-long) reef was worth an estimated $4bn a year in tourism revenue for the Australian economy before the coronavirus pandemic struck. An undated handout photo received from the ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies on October 14, 2020 shows a damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef the vast World Heritage-listed reef off Australias northeastern coast [File: Andreas Dietzel/ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies via AFP] The reef is at risk of losing its coveted World Heritage Status because of ocean warming, fuelled by climate change, which is damaging its health. Changes in ocean temperatures stress healthy corals, causing them to expel algae living in their tissues and draining them of their vibrant colours in a process known as bleaching. Back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 prompted the government to downgrade the long-term outlook for the worlds largest living organism to very poor. Mass bleaching was first seen on the reef in 1998 at the time, the hottest year on record but as temperatures continue to soar its frequency has increased, making it harder for the reef to recover from each incident. A vibrant coral population has millions of small, baby corals, as well as many large ones the big mamas who produce most of the larvae, the studys lead author Andy Dietzel, also of James Cook University, said. Its resilience is compromised compared to the past because there are fewer babies and fewer large breeding adults. On top of long-term ocean warming and associated bleaching, the reef has been battered by several cyclones and two outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat the coral, since 1995. Our latest research published today shows drastic changes on the #GreatBarrierReef over the past 25 years almost every coral species has declined, the mix of species has changed, colony sizes are smaller, and there are fewer juvenile corals. https://t.co/[email protected]_ADietzelhttps://t.co/YKlx2lSAvc Terry Hughes (@ProfTerryHughes) October 14, 2020 When the starfish occur in small numbers, they are considered part of the natural ecosystem, but when a large outbreak happens, they can rapidly destroy parts of the reef. While four mass bleaching events up to 2017 were covered by the latest research, the damage to coral species from bleaching in early 2020 is yet to be assessed. It was the most widespread bleaching on record, impacting swathes of the southern reaches of the reef for the first time. Hughes said scientists expected corals to continue dying off unless nations met their Paris Agreement commitment to keep the increase in global average temperature less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. It takes about a decade for a half-decent recovery for the fastest-growing species, so the chances of us getting decades between the future sixth, seventh and eighth bleaching events is close to zero because temperatures are going up and up and up, he said. An undated handout photo received from the ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies on October 14, 2020 shows a damaged part of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists say climate change is causing irreversible damage to the reef [Andreas Dietzel/ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies via AFP] If temperatures do stabilise later this century under the Paris target, it is hoped that corals will be able to reassemble and rebuild their numbers. Even then, Hughes said: We dont think theyll rebuild into the mix of species that weve known historically. If the rise is as much as three or four degrees Celsius, forget it, he said. The trajectory is changing very, very quickly were shocked and surprised by how quickly these changes are happening and theres further change ahead.
Coronavirus can survive for 28 days on some surfaces: Study - Aljazeera.com
Australian researchers findings on SARS-CoV-2 virus reinforce need for hand washing and effective cleaning.
The virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on banknotes, glass and stainless steel for up to 28 days, much longer than the flu virus, Australian researchers said on Monday, highlighting the need for effective cleaning and hand washing to help combat the disease. Findings from the study done by Australias national science agency, CSIRO, appear to show that in a tightly controlled environment the virus remained infectious for longer than other studies have found. CSIRO researchers said that at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) the SARS-COV-2 virus was extremely robust and remained infectious for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as plastic banknotes and glass found on mobile phone screens. The study was published in Virology Journal. By comparison, Influenza A virus has been found to survive on surfaces for only 17 days. It really reinforces the importance of washing hands and sanitising where possible and certainly wiping down surfaces that may be in contact with the virus, said the studys lead researcher Shane Riddell. The study involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on a range of surfaces at concentrations similar to samples from COVID-19 patients and then recovering the virus over a month. Experiments done at 20, 30 and 40 degrees Celsius showed the virus survived longer at cooler temperatures, smooth surfaces, and on paper banknotes rather than plastic ones. The researchers said that on cloth at 20 degrees they were unable to detect any viable virus beyond 14 days. At 30 degrees, the virus viability fell to just three days on cotton, compared with seven days for steel and smoother surfaces. Viability dropped further at 40 degrees Celsius. All the experiments were done in the dark to remove the impact of ultraviolet light, as research has shown direct sunlight can kill the virus. So in the real world results would likely be shorter than what we were able to show, Riddell told Reuters news agency. A new study by Australias national science agency shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive longer on paper banknotes than plastic ones [William West/AFP] Julie Leask, a professor in the Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney said the findings were useful but needed to be put in perspective. The study usefully confirms that surfaces may be a way to pass on coronavirus, but we should look to the epidemiology for how it actually moves between people in everyday life, Leask wrote on Twitter. That data shows its still close contact with an infected person that is risky and not from touching their mobile phone 5 days later. The infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 is not yet known, but based on related viruses is thought to be about 300 particles. Researchers said if the virus was placed on smooth surfaces at the standard mucus concentration of an infected person enough virus would easily survive for two weeks to be able to infect another person. CSIRO noted that infection would depend on a number of factors including the makeup of the virus itself, the type of surface, and whether the virus is liquid or dried. The study might also help explain the apparent persistence and spread of the virus in cool environments like meat-packing facilities, it said.
Turkey slams EU threat of sanctions over East Med dispute - Al Jazeera English
Turkish foreign ministry warns against threat of measures amid Eastern Mediterranean standoff with Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey has rejected the Europeans Unions threat of sanctions over its energy exploration activities in the contentious Eastern Mediterranean. EU leaders warned early on Friday they could sanction Turkey if it failed to stop what the bloc views as illegal drilling and research in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. The continued use of the language of sanctions is unconstructive, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday. The EU must now understand it will get nowhere with such discourse. Conflict over the resource-abundant seabed was averted after Ankara and Athens last month agreed to hold exploratory talks. The neighbours, both NATO-members, staged rival war games in the disputed waters and ramped up their rhetoric in August, prompting Greece and Cyprus to demand a robust EU response. The EU summit statement offered Turkey the prospect of closer ties and better trade if Ankara commits to pursuing dialogue in good faith and abstaining from unilateral actions. While the Turkish ministry welcomed these positive elements, it said some parts were disconnected from reality. The EU statement demonstrated how some countries wanted to develop relations with Turkey, but was also an example of how Greece and Cyprus had taken EU-Turkey relations hostage, the ministry said. Berkay Mandiraci, a Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the EU statement was the best Ankara could have hoped for. Turkey also called on the EU to encourage dialogue between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots in the islands northern third to set up a mechanism to coordinate hydrocarbon activities. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the whole island with Greece.
Trump denounces ‘all white supremacists’ including Proud Boys - Al Jazeera English
US president says his words were misinterpreted after he failed to denounce the far-right group at presidential debate.
US President Donald Trump has condemned all white supremacist groups, including the far-right Proud Boys, an organisation identified as a hate group, following comments he made at the presidential debate earlier this week. I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I dont know much about the Proud Boys but I condemn that, Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday. If I say it a hundred times it wont be enough because its fake news, he added. During Tuesdays presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump was asked if he was willing to denounce white supremacists and militia groups and tell them to stand down amid violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some US cities. Trump requested a specific name, and Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, an organisation that describes itself as a club of Western chauvinists but has been categorised as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, Trump said. The comment drew wide criticism and was viewed by many to be a sign of encouragement for the group. The White House on Thursday insisted that President Donald Trump denounced the far-right Proud Boys at the debate, saying that his comment that the groups members should stand back and stand by had been misinterpreted. During a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president had been trying to tell Proud Boys members to stand down, adding that he had explicitly condemned white supremacy in the wake of the debate. The president specifically, verbatim was asked yesterday white supremacy, do you denounce them? To which he responded, I have always denounced any form of that, McEnany said, quoting Trump. Republican US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, said Trump misspoke and called on him to correct his words. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters at the White House: I dont know who the Proud Boys are, adding, They have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work. The president has a long history of making comments that his critics view as racist or as supportive of racist groups. In 2017, he said both sides were to blame for violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later sought to walk back the comments. Trump called on Biden to condemn antifa, a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
EU breaks deadlock to impose Belarus sanctions, Turkey on notice - Al Jazeera English
Cyprus backed plan after EU leaders reassured island with compromise over Turkey’s Mediterranean gas exploration.
European Union leaders broke a diplomatic deadlock on Friday to impose sanctions on Belarus, after reassuring the Republic of Cyprus that the bloc would also punish Turkey if it continued to drill for oil and gas in disputed areas of the Mediterranean. The deal, hammered out after hours of negotiations, will impose sanctions on about 40 officials accused of rigging Augusts presidential election in Belarus although the countrys president, Alexander Lukashenko, is not among those singled out. No. Lukashenko is not on the current list, but of course we will follow the situation, we will follow developments, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said after meeting EU leaders. Still, the deal allows the EU to deliver on its promise to support pro-democracy protesters in Belarus capital Minsk and regain some credibility after weeks of delays. The European Union is taking action against those who stand in the way of democracy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after fraught discussions among the 27 EU member states that dragged past midnight. I think that is an important signal. While Britain and Canada have already announced sanctions, the impasse in the EU, where decisions require unanimity, has dented the credibility of the blocs foreign policy, diplomats say. Sanctions in support of Belarus protesters were delayed by Cyprus, which wanted action against Turkey over its exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean [File: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo] Cyprus, one of the EUs smallest countries, had blocked action against Belarus for a month, insisting that sanctions also be imposed on Turkey, which has stepped up oil and gas exploration in disputed areas of the Mediterranean. After a short war in 1974, the island was split between the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government an EU member in the south, and a self-declared Turkish Cypriot administration in the north, which is backed by Turkey. Germany has pushed back against a tough stand on Turkey, which is both a candidate to join the EU and a member of NATO. In a sign that the diplomatic standoff is easing at least between Greece and Turkey NATO announced on Thursday that the two countries had set up a military deconfliction mechanism to avoid accidental clashes at sea. The compromise struck at the summit that satisfied Cyprus was an agreement to review Turkeys behaviour in December and impose sanctions if its provocations have not stopped. In case of such renewed actions by Ankara the EU will use all its instruments and options available, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday after the summit concluded. We have a toolbox that we can apply immediately. The EU issues a clear threat of sanctions against Turkey should it continue to violate international law, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter after the meeting. The European Councils Michel described the approach as a double strategy towards Ankara, offering closer relations on trade and other fronts but holding out the threat of sanctions if it fails to de-escalate tensions in the Mediterranean. It was the most that Merkel would bear, said an EU diplomat after the talks. She felt the Union should give Turkey a chance for another few weeks. But Turkey has been put on notice and the ball is in its court.