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Global coronavirus cases surpass 36 million

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Canada’s public health officials are warning people to stay home as much as possible, saying the next few weeks will be “critical” to the country’s efforts to contain the virus.  

Public Health Agency of Canada says national daily case counts continue to increase steeply with an average of about 2,000 new cases every day for the past week. Government statistics indicate that’s a 40% rise in the past week alone. 

Hospitalizations and deaths continue to creep upward as well, with more than 600 Covid-19 patients currently in hospitals, and an average of about 18 deaths reported daily. 

More than 80% of new infections are from Ontario and Quebec, with 60% of cases detected in people under 40.

The province of Quebec is of particular concern with urban hotspots in Montreal and Quebec City. Dine-in restaurants and bars were closed in those cities last week as new daily cases continue to climb. 

Quebec reported 1,364 new cases of the virus on Tuesday alone, the highest daily case total since the pandemic began. That prompted a blunt warning to young people in Quebec to take the virus seriously and stay home. 

“The young people that are not respecting the rule, they will have an impact on the system.” said Christian Dube, Quebec’s health minister, during a news conference in Quebec City Tuesday, adding, “Don’t take the risk, please don’t test the hospital system. There are already nurses, the doctors, what they are asking you, what they are asking Quebecers, please stay home.”

More on this: Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians to stay home even for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, saying if Canada can once again flatten the curve that the country can “turn things around for Christmas.” 

“We are going in the wrong direction now, which is why it is so important for Canadians to do what is necessary, to wear a mask, to keep your distance, to understand that each of us has the power to end this by the choices we make,” said Trudeau during a news conference Monday. 

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Sudan sees economic hope as Trump signals terror list removal

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Khartoum, Sudan – After months of negotiations between the transitional Sudanese government and the US administration about a deal to remove Sudan from Washington’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism (SST), the disclosure of an imminent breakthrough was made, unsurprisingly, in the form of a tweet.

“GREAT news!” US President Donald Trump declared on Twitter on Monday. “New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!”

The announcement was swiftly welcomed by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, whose government has been pushing for the delisting to help it revive Sudan’s struggling economy ever since taking office last year following the military overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir in the face of months-long protests.

“We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much,” Hamdok wrote, also on Twitter.

The US Congress would need to approve the removal after being formally notified by the president.

Economic lifeline

The US placed Sudan on the list in 1993, four years after al-Bashir seized power, accusing his government of supporting “terrorism” by sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Washington further accused Khartoum of providing logistical and financial support to al-Qaeda and of helping it bomb the US embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya in 1998 and to attack the USS Cole off the port of Aden in 2000. It also placed comprehensive economic and trade sanctions on Sudan which were only eased by former US President Barack Obama during his final weeks in office in 2017.

In return for being delisted, Sudan’s transitional government has agreed to pay $335m to victims of the attacks on the embassies and the US destroyer.

The SST removal would pave the way for Sudan to be relieved of its debts under the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, as well as to attract much-needed investment.

Being on the list has kept foreign investors away from Sudan, depriving it of much needed hard currency to sustain an economy that was dealt a heavy blow when South Sudan became independent in 2011, taking with it three-quarters of Sudan’s oil output.

With no foreign trade and starved of hard currency, authorities have long struggled to contain the country’s spiralling inflation. Last month, annual inflation rose to 212.29 percent from 166.83 percent in August, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese pound has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the US dollar in the past two months, and the cash-strapped government is struggling to pay for the supplies of items it subsidises such as wheat, fuel and medicines.

The impact of the lack of hard currency can be seen daily in the long queues for bread and fuel filling the sidewalks of Khartoum.

“I’ve been standing in line for fuel for more than five hours now and this is something I go through every four days because I’m a taxi driver,” said Abdel-malik Mamoun, a resident of the capital.

“After every four days, I spend a whole day waiting for fuel. The situation is going from bad to worse, like a downward spiral and we don’t know where the end is.”

In recent weeks, the talks between the Sudanese and US officials sides appeared deadlocked after reports emerged that the US had tried to link the delisting with Sudan establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, following similar US-brokered deals in August by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

During a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Khartoum in late August, Hamdok told Washington’s top diplomat that his transitional administration, which is meant to lead the country to polls in 2022, was not mandated to make such a move because it was not an elected government.

While Trump’s tweet made no mention of the US attempts to get Sudan to establish relations with Israel in exchange for expediting the delisting process, senior Sudanese officials speaking to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity said the issue was not off the table and that there are still efforts under way to make Sudan join the list of countries officially recognising Israel.

In September, talks between the two sides in the UAE failed to produce a deal, with reports suggesting that Sudan had asked for oil and wheat shipments, as well as billions of dollars to aid its deteriorating economy in return for such a move.

US congressional aides who spoke to Al Jazeera said Sudan could still get the aid and support from the US even if it does not recognise Israel because Washington wants to see the transitional government successfully lead the country to democracy.

“This Tweet,” Hamdok said in a later Twitter post, “and that notification [to Congress] are the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people”.

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Ghislaine Maxwell loses bid to keep her Epstein testimony secret

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Judge ruled there was a public interest to see Maxwell’s deposition on relationship with paedophile Epstein.

A US appeals court on Monday dealt Ghislaine Maxwell a blow by refusing to block the release of a deposition she gave concerning her relationship with the late financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said there was a presumption the public had a right to see the April 2016 deposition, which was taken in a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers.

In its unsigned order, the appeals court also said US District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan did not abuse her discretion in rejecting Maxwell’s “meritless arguments” that her interests superseded that presumption.

Lawyers for Maxwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment, including whether they plan a further appeal.

The British socialite had argued that she thought the 418-page deposition was confidential, and that releasing it could undermine her ability to defend against criminal charges that she enabled Epstein’s sexual abuses.

A protester holds up a sign of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse in New York in 2019 [Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

Her lawyers have said bad publicity from disclosing “intimate, sensitive, and personal” details from the deposition would violate Maxwell’s right against self-incrimination, and imperil a fair trial because jurors might hold it against her.

The appeals court separately rejected Maxwell’s request to modify a protective order in her criminal case, and let her use confidential materials produced by the government to try to persuade Preska not to unseal the deposition.

Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and groom underage girls as young as 14 to engage in illegal sexual acts in the mid-1990s, and not guilty to perjury for having denied involvement in the deposition.

Giuffre said she was a teenager when Maxwell pulled her into Epstein’s circle, where she was groomed and trafficked for sex with Epstein and other wealthy, powerful men.

The push to have the deposition unsealed came from Giuffre and the Miami Herald newspaper, which had done investigative work about Epstein’s conduct, his accusers and his efforts in 2007 to avoid federal sex trafficking charges.

Lawyers for Giuffre and the newspaper were not immediately available for comment.

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A gruesome murder in France rekindles the country’s debate on free speech and Islam

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The murder last week of a teacher who used images of the Prophet Muhammad in lessons about freedom of expression — by a teenage Muslim refugee — has sparked a solidarity movement in France and reignited the debate over Islam’s role in the country.

History and geography teacher Samuel Paty, 47, brought scrutiny this month when he showed his 12- to 14-year-old students two caricatures of Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — the same images that in 2015 inspired jihadists to kill 11 staff members at the magazine and six others in Paris. Parents and teachers at the school, located just 20 miles outside the capital, said Paty gave his Muslim pupils the opportunity to leave the classroom or look away so as not to anger them.

Idolatry is forbidden in Islam, and many devout Muslims believe any depictions of Mohammed, or any revered prophet, to be taboo. But many also found the Charlie Hebdo drawings particularly offensive not just because they depicted the prophet, but because they did so in a way that some critics said perpetuated racist, bigoted stereotypes of Muslims.

A weeks-long uproar ensued. One student’s father called for a “mobilization” against Paty — including his firing — and posted the school’s address and the teacher’s name on social media. An Islamist militant even accompanied upset parents to the school to push for the instructor’s ouster.

But the situation turned deadly last Friday when Abdoullakh Abouyezidovitch, an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya, beheaded Paty with a butcher knife as the teacher made his way home. French authorities said the suspected attacker, who lived about 40 miles away from the school, asked students to identify Paty moments before killing him. The teenager was shot dead after he tried to stab and shoot back at authorities who closed in on him.

Police found a Twitter account suspected of belonging to the attacker since he posted a picture of the severed head along with a message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Saturday visited the site of the murder, said the beheading appeared to be an “Islamist terrorist attack” committed because Paty “taught freedom of expression.” He added that the terrorist sought to “attack the republic and its values,” further noting “this is our battle and it is existential. They [terrorists] will not succeed. … They will not divide us.”

On Monday, police raided numerous homes across France as part of its probe into Paty’s killing. About 15 people have been taken into custody and 51 Islamic organizations are under investigation, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Monday. The “enemies of the Republic” won’t be given “a minute’s respite,” he told the Europe 1 radio station.

It’s no surprise France is taking the suspected terror attack very seriously. Since the Charlie Hebdo assault in 2015, the last few years have seen high-profile knife attacks, strikes against police on the Champs-Élysées, and a coordinated assault in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.

But Friday’s killing strikes at the core of two of France’s most turbulent debates, which of late have somewhat fused together: whether there should be limits on freedom of speech, and how Muslims should integrate into French society.

And it’s a conversation that could continue to roil the nation’s politics for years to come.

France and “Islamist separatism”

For over a year, Macron promised to detail his views on the role of Islam in France’s secular culture. On October 2, he finally delivered that address.

“What we must attack is Islamist separatism,” he told the nation, saying extremists preyed upon desperate Muslims in desolate neighborhoods, basically creating anti-French enclaves by spreading their radical Islamic “ideology” and “project.”

“We built our own separatism ourselves,” he continued, arguing French authorities made such a situation possible by huddling immigrants together in areas apart from good-paying jobs or French public schools. To solve the problem, he offered some reforms, like within four years forbidding foreign-trained imams (Muslim religious leaders) to preach in France. Instead, all imams must be certified in the country in order to lead a congregation.

It was clear Macron, who has long called for an “Islam of France” that seamlessly integrates Muslims into the country’s society, aimed to distinguish between extremists and all Muslims. Still, his speech, and the thinking underlying it, received mixed reviews.

Some said his statements — namely, “Islam is a religion that is in crisis today, all over the world” — were incendiary, not measured. They also accuse Macron, who is up for reelection in 18 months, of trying to garner some right-wing bona fides by taking a tougher stance against Islamic extremism. “The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise,” tweeted Yasser Louati, a French Muslim activist.

Others, like the Atlantic Council think tank’s Benjamin Haddad, said the speech and Macron’s views on the issue set the right tone.

“It underlined the urgency to fight separatism,” Haddad, who has defended Macron’s policies in Washington, DC, since 2017, told me. “It’s really more about certain neighborhoods and areas that aren’t necessarily violent … but will progressively socialize radical ideology as French republican ideals can’t get through anymore.” It’s more than an ideological fight, he added. “We’re talking about losing territory.”

“If you go to Paris, everyone will tell you there’s a problem. It’s one of the deepest societal problems in France today,” he concluded.

But what the disagreement over Macron’s speech underscores is how France has struggled to accept Muslims as they come. For example, the country has banned headscarves in public schools and for government employees while at work. The government says such measures are meant to help Muslims integrate with France’s secular culture, while critics say the focus on Islamic garb stems from bigotry.

This issue burst out into the open after the terrorist attack following the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Local debate roiled over whether outlets should refrain from producing images of Mohammad, as Islamic teaching forbids, or whether doing so is a celebration of France’s history of criticizing all religions. After all, the magazine often lampoons religious leaders like the pope.

Thousands took to France’s streets to defend that history. On Sunday, they rallied in major cities like Paris, Lyon, and Marseille in defiance of the attack, in Paty’s memory, and to bolster the notion that freedom of expression in France has no limits — even if that leads one to show images of the Islamic prophet.

“We are the result of our history: These values of liberty, secularism and democracy cannot remain just words,” a demonstrator in Paris told French media. “We have to keep them alive, and being here helps do that.”

Politicians who attended the rallies made similar comments. “I want teachers to know that, after this ignoble act, the whole country is behind them,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday. “This tragedy affects each and every one of us because, through this teacher, it is the republic that was attacked.”

Importantly, the number of racist attacks in France, including against Muslims, has dropped in recent years. Such statistics offer hope that the potential scapegoating of Muslims in the coming weeks and months may not lead to a rise in hate crimes.

But Macron’s policies and the aftermath of the attack indicate that Muslims are once again under a national microscope. That, at the very least, won’t help with the assimilation problems the country aims to solve.


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