Saudi Arabia’s crown prince likely approved an operation to kill or capture a U.S.-based journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that could escalate pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew bipartisan and international outrage.
The central conclusion of the report was widely expected given that intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power.
Still, since the finding had not been officially released until now, the public assignment of responsibility amounted to an extraordinary rebuke of the ambitious 35-year-old crown prince and was likely to set the tone for the new administration’s relationship with a country President Joe Biden has criticized but which the White House also regards in some contexts as a strategic partner.
The report was released one day after a later-than-usual courtesy call from Biden to Saudi King Salman, though a White House summary of the conversation made no mention of the killing and said instead that the men had discussed the countries’ longstanding partnership. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Khashoggi’s killing in its report about the call, rather focusing on regional issues such as Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen.
Khashoggi had visited the Saudi consulate in Turkey planning to pick up documents needed for his wedding. Once inside, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival..
Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours leading up to his killing.
A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building. The whereabouts of his remains remain unknown.
The prince said in 2019 he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials. Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison in Khashoggi’s killing. They were not identified.
Michael Somare, a pivotal figure in Papua New Guinea’s independence and the South Pacific island nation's first prime minister, has died. He was 84.
Somare was Papua New Guinea's longest-serving leader after it became independent of Australia in 1975. He was prime minister for 17 years during four separate periods.
He died Friday after being diagnosed with a late-stage pancreatic cancer and admitted to a hospital on Feb. 19, his daughter Betha Somare said.
“Sir Michael was a loyal husband to our mother and great father first to her children, then grandchildren and great granddaughter. But we are endeared that many Papua New Guineans equally embraced Sir Michael as father and grandfather," she said.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said that Somare “is unmatched by anyone who has come after him.”
“I appeal to our citizens and residents for a week of silence, peace and calm as we pay respect to this one person whom our country owes so much,” Marape said. “He is universally loved in our country, may his memory bind out nation still."
Cabinet will meet later Friday to announce details of a state funeral for the leader who was also known as Papua New Guinea's Grand Chief and Father of the Nation.
Police Commissioner David Manning said police would ensure that Papua New Guineans mourn peacefully and that “opportunists do not take this sad day in our history to create fear and panic.”
Political differences can lead to violence in Papua New Guinea where elections are often accompanied by riots.
“Grand Chief Sir Michael believed in the unity of this nation of a thousand tribes and gave his life to this cause," Manning said. "He stood up when it mattered against the colonial masters and a world filled with racism, ignorance and hatred and dedicated his life to bring about a united and independent nation."
Somare was born on April 9, 1936, in the city of Rabaul in East New Britain, which was occupied by Japan during World War II. His earliest education was in a Japanese-run school in the village of Karau where he learned to read and write in Japanese.
He was raised the son of a police officer in the province of East Sepik, which he went on to represent in Parliament.
Ron May, emeritus fellow at the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs and a Papua New Guinea expert, said Somare was one of the Pacific’s most prominent and respected leaders.
“Papua New Guinea made a smooth transition to independence in 1975, with Somare as prime minister, confounding those in Australia and elsewhere who had predicted political and economic collapse,” May recently wrote. “It remains one of a fairly small number of post-colonial states that have maintained an unbroken record of democracy.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Somare was a “towering figure in the history of Papua New Guinea.”
“As a driving force in the development of Papua New Guinea’s national constitution, and the nation’s first and longest-serving prime minister, Sir Michael has an unparalleled place in the history of Papua New Guinea,” Morrison said.
On the 30th anniversary of Papuan New Guinea’s independence, Somare said he was generally pleased with his country’s progress.
“I’m happy about the way things have gone but, you know, we could have done better,” he told Australian’s SBS network in 2005.
His last term as prime minister ended controversially in 2011 while he was in a Singapore hospital. Lawmaker Peter O’Neill successfully moved a motion in Parliament that the post of the prime minister was vacant. O’Neill was elected premier and clung to power despite the Supreme Court twice ruling against him until he was legitimately elected in 2012.
Somare is survived by his wife Veronica and children Bertha, Sana, Arthur, Michael and Dulciana.
The US drug regulator said Thursday it will allow the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. to be transported and stored for up to two weeks at conventional freezer temperatures instead of the ultracold conditions previously required.
"The alternative temperature for transportation and storage will help ease the burden of procuring ultralow cold storage equipment for vaccination sites and should help to get vaccine to more sites," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a press release.
Before Thursday's announcement, the FDA had required the vaccine to be kept in an ultracold freezer at temperatures between minus 80 C and minus 60 C for a maximum of six months.
With the change, vaccines may now be stored at minus 25 to minus 15 C for up to two weeks, the regulator said.
Pfizer is expected to seek similar approval from regulators in other countries. The vaccine developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant and its German partner BioNTech SE has been administered in Japan and other countries.
The Japan unit of Pfizer said Friday in Tokyo it has begun discussions with Japanese drug screening authorities on changes in conditions for the use of its COVID-19 vaccine.
Japanese health minister Norihisa Tamura told a press conference his ministry will thoroughly examine an expected request by Pfizer to allow vaccine storage at higher temperatures.
"If (the requested changes are) appropriate, we will include them in documents attached (to the vaccine) and inform local governments" in charge of administering vaccines, he said.
Last week, the two companies said they have submitted data to the FDA showing their vaccine remains stable for a total of two weeks when stored at minus 25 C to minus 15 C, which they say are temperatures more commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers.
They may be returned once to the recommended ultracold condition, but total cumulative time of storage between minus 25 C to minus 15 C "should be tracked and should not exceed two weeks," the FDA added.
For actual use, the vaccines are thawed and can be stored for up to five days at standard refrigerator temperature, between 2 C and 8 C. The vaccine can then be mixed with saline diluent and should be administered within six hours, during which doses can be stored at refrigerator or room temperature.
The FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in December.
With one in 10 people still feeling ill 12 weeks after having COVID-19, authorities must do more to support them, a UN-backed policy brief issued on Thursday argues.
The document summarizes what is known so far about “long COVID” and how countries are addressing the condition, whose troubling symptoms include severe fatigue and increased damage to the heart, lungs and brain reports UN news.
The policy brief was published by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Europe and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.
Struggling to be taken seriously
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director, said long COVID is an extra cause for concern amid the pandemic, which has already caused immense suffering.
“It’s important that patients reporting with symptoms of long COVID are included as part of the COVID-19 response to mitigate some of the longer-term health impacts of the pandemic”, he said.
Long COVID is not fully understood, but available data indicate that roughly a quarter of people suffer from symptoms four to five weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, and about one in 10 still experiences symptoms after 12 weeks.
Patients, who include medical professionals, struggle to be taken seriously. They report feeling stigmatized and unable to get a diagnosis, receiving “disjointed” care, while also facing problems in accessing health and disability benefits.
Involve patients in research and response
The policy brief highlights areas for action, including through developing “new care pathways”, creating appropriate services, and tackling wider consequences such as employment rights, sick pay policies and access to disability benefits.
Patient registers and other surveillance measures should be implemented, and research into post-COVID conditions must be conducted in collaboration with patients and care providers.
“Long COVID has demonstrated the importance of involving patients in research”, said Dr. Selina Rajan, lead author of the policy brief.
“However, much remains to be understood about the long-term, multisystem consequences of COVID-19 infections in children and adults, and the interventions required to treat them.”
Also read: WHO calls for more research into post-Covid complications
Also read: Covid-19: Global cases top 108.7 million
Also read: COVID-19 shots might be tweaked if variants get worse
Soldiers from Eritrea systematically killed “many hundreds” of people, the large majority men, in a massacre in late November in the Ethiopian city of Axum, Amnesty International says in a new report, echoing the findings of an Associated Press story last week and citing more than 40 witnesses.
Crucially, the head of the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele. says the Amnesty findings “should be taken very seriously.” The commission’s own preliminary findings “indicate the killing of an as yet unknown number of civilians by Eritrean soldiers” in Axum, its statement said.
The Amnesty report on what might be the deadliest massacre of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict describes the soldiers gunning down civilians as they fled, lining up men and shooting them in the back, rounding up “hundreds, if not thousands” of men for beatings and refusing to allow those grieving to bury the dead.
Over a period of about 24 hours, “Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys,” the report released early Friday says. “The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones.”
The “mass execution” of Axum civilians by Eritrean troops may amount to crimes against humanity, the report says, and it calls for a United Nations-led international investigation and full access to Tigray for human rights groups, journalists and humanitarian workers. The region has been largely cut off since fighting began in early November.
Ethiopia’s federal government has denied the presence of soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, long an enemy of the Tigray region’s now-fugitive leaders, and Eritrea’s government dismissed the AP story on the Axum massacre as “outrageous lies.”
But even senior members of the Ethiopia-appointed interim government in Tigray have acknowledged the Eritrean soldiers’ presence and allegations of widespread looting and killing.
On Thursday, Ethiopia’s government acknowledged that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was investigating “allegations relating to incidents in the city of Axum” in collaboration with unnamed international experts.
But Ethiopia’s ambassador to Belgium, Hirut Zemene, told a webinar on Thursday that the alleged massacre in November was a “very highly unlikely scenario” and “we suspect it’s a very, very crazy idea.”
No one knows how many thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the Tigray regional government, which had long dominated Ethiopia’s government before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death as access, while improving, remains restricted.
The presence of Eritrean soldiers has brought some alarm. The United States has repeatedly urged Eritrea to withdraw its soldiers and cited credible reports of “grave” human rights abuses. On Wednesday it asked, “Does the Eritrean military have sufficient control over its troops to prevent them from committing human rights abuses?”
Witnesses of the massacre in Axum told Amnesty International that Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers jointly took control of the city but the Eritreans carried out the killings and then conducted house-to-house raids for men and teenage boys.
Bodies were left strewn in the streets after the events of Nov. 28 and 29, witnesses said.
“The next day, they did not allow us to pick the dead. The Eritrean soldiers said you cannot bury the dead before our dead soldiers are buried,” one woman told Amnesty International. With hospitals looted or health workers having fled, some witnesses said a number of people died from their wounds because of lack of care.
“Gathering the bodies and carrying out the funerals took days. Most of the dead appear to have been buried on 30 November, but witnesses said that people found many additional bodies in the days that followed,” the new report says.
After obtaining permission from Ethiopian soldiers to bury the dead, witnesses said they feared the killings would resume any moment, even as they piled bodies onto horse-drawn carts and took them to churches for burial, at times in mass graves.
The AP spoke with a deacon at one church, the Church of St. Mary of Zion, who said he helped count the bodies, gathered victims’ identity cards and assisted with burials. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend around the city.
After being left exposed for a day or more, the bodies had begun to rot, further traumatizing families and those who gathered to help.
The new report says satellite imagery shows newly “disturbed soil” beside churches.