Washington, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration on Tuesday released a new biodefense strategy that it said takes a more comprehensive approach to preparing the nation for deliberate biological attacks and natural outbreaks of infectious disease.
The goal of the strategy, which was required by Congress, is to more effectively prevent, prepare for and respond to biological threats, which the document said are "among the most serious threats" facing the U.S. and the world.
"Biological threats emanate from many sources, and they know no borders," Trump said in a written statement. "They have great potential to disrupt the economy, exact a toll on human life, and tear at the very fabric of society."
Trump said his administration's plan takes a "new direction" with a more coordinated, centralized approach based on lessons learned from past incidents such as the West Africa Ebola epidemic of 2014.
The Department of Health and Human Services is designated as the lead agency in coordinating federal biodefense actions and assessing whether the plan is working.
A privately sponsored group that has studied biodefense issues since 2014 applauded the White House's strategy. The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense has warned that the U.S. is dangerously vulnerable to a large-scale biological attack and has urged Washington to develop a more comprehensive strategy.
"The White House made a great start with the implementation plan they included with the strategy," said Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who is co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel. "We look forward to the White House assigning responsibilities for each element of this plan to specific federal departments and agencies, and establishing timelines for their completion."
At a White House briefing, John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, told reporters there is "no particular immediate threat" of biological attack.
Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, told reporters the threats are "very real and they're growing." He said the strategy is the first to include naturally occurring threats like the Ebola virus.
Previous approaches focused on the threat of terrorists unleashing deadly germs or a nation such as North Korea launching a biological attack.
Harare, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Zimbabwe's opposition has walked out of parliament during President Emmerson Mnangagwa's state of the nation address as politics remain tense after a disputed election.
MDC party lawmakers say the president was not legitimately elected on July 30.
Tuesday's speech was Mnangagwa's first to parliament since the election many hoped would set the impoverished southern African nation on a new course after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa vows to fight an outbreak of the "medieval" disease of cholera that has killed 31 people, with over 5,000 cases reported. He says his government will modernize collapsing health facilities and improve water and sanitation infrastructure.
The president also commits his government to resolving worsening economic problems and fighting corruption while continuing to use a multi-currency system dominated by U.S. dollars.
Brussels, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — EU leaders grapple this week with two of the biggest threats to the entire European project: the messy divorce with Britain and their failure to share responsibility for people seeking sanctuary or better lives in Europe.
Their summit in Salzburg, Austria, starting Wednesday evening launches a series of monthly meetings that runs to December aimed at overcoming key differences with Britain, as its departure next March fast approaches, and agreeing the shape of future ties.
The summit also focuses on the plight of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea after Italy's anti-migrant government recently denied entry to a number of rescue ships, endangering lives and embarrassing its EU partners.
Both challenges have raised disturbing questions about the viability of the EU, and Europe's inability to manage migrant arrivals — statistically minor compared with the numbers being hosted by Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — has fueled far-right support in ballot boxes across the bloc.
With just six months to go before Britain leaves — the first time a country has ever done so — EU Council President Donald Tusk warned Tuesday that "unfortunately, a no-deal scenario is still quite possible."
Tusk, who chairs the dinner talks Wednesday and informal sessions on Thursday, wants the 27 leaders — minus British Prime Minister Theresa May — to spell out just how detailed they need an agreement to be on future relations, and whether any wiggle room should be left for last-minute negotiation with London.
He also expects them to underline the need for a failsafe mechanism to ensure that goods, services and people flow freely between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland after Brexit.
The leaders are expected to agree to meet again in mid-November to sign Britain's withdrawal agreement, hopefully leaving enough time for parliaments to endorse the deal.
May's Conservative government remains divided over how close an economic relationship to seek. She wants to keep Britain aligned to EU rules in return for free trade in goods and an open Irish border.
But EU leaders insist that London cannot cherry-pick the best parts of membership and avoid the costs and responsibilities of leaving. Still, Tusk believes that in the weeks ahead "if we all act responsibly, we can avoid a catastrophe" of Britain crashing out without a deal.
Tusk also wants the leaders to turn the page on a summer of tension over migrants in the Mediterranean. "I am hoping that in Salzburg we will be able to put an end to the mutual resentment and return to a constructive approach," he wrote in a summit invitation letter.
Leaders will be asked whether they want to fast-track a plan to beef up the EU's border agency to 10,000 personnel by 2020. Guards would have powers to check ID papers and stamp travel documents, detain people crossing borders without authorization and help deport those refused entry.
Many nations deeply oppose having their borders policed by staff from other countries.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday he was pleased the EU is "finally" taking Europe's outside borders seriously with the agency plan, "but it's not right if they want to take the right of border protection away from us and if Brussels wants to direct the defense of Hungary's borders."
The summit will also focus on suggestions to screen people rescued at sea in ships off-shore or to deposit them in any country in northern Africa that might be willing to take on the responsibility in exchange for funds and other incentives.
Tusk, who last weekend held talks in Cairo with general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, urged the leaders to consider cooperation on migration with Egypt, saying that "it is worth recalling that the Egyptian authorities have made the fight against smuggling and trafficking their priority."
Moscow, Sept 18 (AP/UNB) — A Russian reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a Syrian missile over the Mediterranean, killing all 15 people on board, the Russian defense ministry said Tuesday. It blamed Israel for the crash, saying the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.
The Russian military said that the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was hit 35 kilometers (22 miles) off the coast late Monday as it was returning to its home base nearby.
"The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense," Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, later on Tuesday to say that Israel is "fully to blame" for the deaths, the ministry said.
The military said Israel did not warn it of its operation over Latakia province until one minute before the strike, which did not give the Russian plane enough time to escape.
Both the Israeli military and Israel's Foreign Ministry declined comment on the Russian claim.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a recovery operation in the Mediterranean Sea is underway and that it has already located the wreckage in the sea and has retrieved some bodies and some fragments of the plane.
The Kremlin sounded cautious in the aftermath of the attack, refusing to comment on a potential row with Israel.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the Kremlin is "analyzing the situation" and does not want to speak further at this point.
For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Israeli military officials have previously praised its effectiveness.
Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.
Russia's dramatic entry into the Syrian civil war in 2015 in support of the Syrian government, after a year of airstrikes by the U.S. and its coalition partners against the Islamic State group, increased the specter of dangerous confrontations in the skies over Syria.
Turkey's troops are also on the ground in northern Syria and are patrolling the skies over the region as Ankara seeks to ramp up its influence there and curb the expansion of Syrian Kurdish-controlled territory.
Israel has refrained from taking sides in the Syrian civil war. But it has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes against archenemy Iran and its Shiite proxy Hezbollah.
Israel has also acknowledged attacking Iranian targets some 200 times. Israel has warned that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in postwar Syria.
Throughout the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained continuous contact with Russia. Netanyahu frequently travels to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syria issue.
Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official and ex-deputy director-general at the Strategic Affairs Ministry, told Israel's Army Radio station that the shooting down is problematic both militarily and internally from a Russian perspective.
"I think it will impose very serious restriction on Israel's freedom of activity," she said.
Lagos, Sept 18 (AP/UNB) — Nigerian authorities say 100 people have died in flooding after heavy rains in recent days.
A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency tells The Associated Press that the deaths have occurred in 10 states and that the toll could rise.
The Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency say rising water levels will be higher than those recorded in 2012, when flooding killed 363 people and displaced over 2.1 million.
The agencies have warned that 12 of Nigeria's 36 states will be seriously affected by severe flooding.
Some of the worst affected areas are along the Niger River. Its water level is expected to rise substantially if water is released from the Lagbo dam in Cameroon as Nigerian authorities anticipate.