Hundreds of protesters broke into Guatemala’s Congress and burned part of the building Saturday amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a controversial budget that cut educational and health spending.
The incident came as about 7,000 people were protesting in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against corruption and the budget, which protesters say was negotiated and passed by legislators in secret while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Video on social media showed flames shooting out a window in the legislative building. Police fired tear gas at protestors.
“I feel like the future is being stolen from us. We don’t see any changes, this cannot continue like this,” said Mauricio Ramírez, a 20-year-old university student.
The amount of damage to the building was unclear, but the flames initially appear to have affected legislative offices, rather than the main hall of congress. Protesters also set some bus stations on fire.
Giammattei condemned the fires in his Twitter account Saturday.
“Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.” He wrote that he defended people’s right to protest, “but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property.”
The president said he had been meeting with various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.
Discontent had been building over the 2021 budget on social media and clashes erupted during demonstrations on Friday. Guatemalans were angered because lawmakers approved $65,000 to pay for meals for themselves, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies, among other things.
Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the Supreme Court and Attorney General they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.
Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Giammattei that both men should resign their positions “for the good of the country.” He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and attempting more outreach to various sectors around the country.
Giammattei had not responded publicly to that proposal and Castillo did not share the president’s reaction to his proposal. Castillo said he would not resign alone.
The spending plan was negotiated in secret and approved by the congress before dawn Wednesday. It also passed while the country was distracted by the fallout of hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought torrential rains to much of Central America.
The Roman Catholic Church leadership in Guatemala also called on Giammattei to veto the budget Friday.
“It was a devious blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid,” said Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor.
He said the budget appeared to favor ministries that have historically been hotspots of corruption.
In 2015, mass streets protests against corruption led to the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina, his vice president Roxana Baldetti, and members of his Cabinet. Both the former president and Baldetti are in jail awaiting trials in various corruption cases.
Skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave attempting to escape death from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago have been discovered in Pompeii, officials at the archaeological park in Italy said Saturday.
Parts of the skulls and bones of the two men were found during excavation of the ruins from what was once an elegant villa with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city destroyed by the volcano eruption in 79 A.D. It’s the same area where a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses were excavated in 2017.
Pompeii officials said the men apparently escaped the initial fall of ash from Mount Vesuvius then succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast that took place the next morning. The later blast “apparently invaded the area from many points, surrounding and burying the victims in ash,” Pompeii officials said in a statement.
The remains of the two victims, lying next to each other on their backs, were found in a layer of gray ash at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) deep, they said.
As has been done when other remains have been discovered at the Pompeii site, archaeologists poured liquid chalk into the cavities, or void, left by the decaying bodies in the ash and pumice that rained down from the volcano near modern-day Naples and demolished the upper levels of the villa.
The technique, pioneered in the 1800s, gives the image not only of the shape and position of the victims in the throes of death, but makes the remains “seem like statues,” said Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist who is director general of the archaeological park operated under the jurisdiction of the Italian Culture Ministry.
Judging by cranial bones and teeth, one of the men was young, likely aged 18 to 25, with a spinal column with compressed discs. That finding led archaeologists to hypothesize that he was a young man who did manual labor, like that of a slave.
The other man had a robust bone structure, especially in his chest area, and died with his hands on his chest and his legs bent and spread apart. He was estimated to have been 30- to 40-years-old, Pompeii officials said. Fragments of white paint were found near the man’s face, probably remnants of a collapsed upper wall, the officials said.
Both skeletons were found in a side room along an underground corridor, or passageway, known in ancient Roman times as a cryptoporticus, which led to to the upper level of the villa.
“The victims were probably looking for shelter in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected,” said Osanna.
Instead, on the morning of Oct. 25, 79 A.D., a “blazing cloud (of volcanic material) arrived in Pompeii and...killed anyone it encountered on its way,” Osanna said.
Based on the impression of fabric folds left in the ash layer, it appeared the younger man was wearing a short, pleated tunic, possibly of wool. The older victim, in addition to wearing a tunic, appeared to have had a mantle over his left shoulder.
Mount Vesuvius remans an active volcano. While excavations continue at the site near Naples, tourists are currently barred from the archaeological park under national anti-COVID-19 measures.
Pfizer formally asked U.S. regulators Friday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic -- but not until after a long, hard winter.
The action comes days after Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study.
The companies said that protection plus a good safety record means the vaccine should qualify for emergency use authorization, something the Food and Drug Administration can grant before the final testing is fully complete. In addition to the FDA submission, they have already started “rolling” applications in Europe and the U.K. and intend to submit similar information soon.
With the coronavirus surging around the U.S. and the world, the pressure is on for regulators to make a speedy decision.
“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert said on the eve of Pfizer’s announcement, adding that it’s too early to abandon masks and other protective measures. “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come.”
Friday’s filing sets off a chain of events as the FDA and its independent advisers debate if the shots are ready. If so, still another government group will have to decide how the initial limited supplies are rationed out to anxiously awaiting Americans.
How much vaccine is available and when is a moving target, but initial supplies will be scarce and rationed. Globally, Pfizer has estimated it could have 50 million doses available by year’s end.
About 25 million may become available for U.S. use in December, 30 million in January and 35 million more in February and March, according to information presented to the National Academy of Medicine this week. Recipients will need two doses, three weeks apart. The U.S. government has a contract to buy millions of Pfizer-BioNTech doses, as well as other candidates than pan out, and has promised shots will be free.
Not far behind is competitor Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine. Its early data suggests the shots are as strong as Pfizer’s, and that company expects to also seek emergency authorization within weeks.
Here’s what happens next:
MAKING THE DATA PUBLIC
The public’s first chance to see how strong the evidence really is will come Dec. 10 at a public meeting of the FDA’s scientific advisers.
So far, what’s known is based only on statements from Pfizer and BioNTech. Of 170 infections detected to date, only eight were among people who’d received the actual vaccine and the rest had gotten a dummy shot. On the safety side, the companies cite results from 38,000 study participants who’ve been tracked for two months after their second dose. That’s a milestone FDA set because historically, vaccine side effects don’t crop up later than that.
“We’ll drill down on these data,” said FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This photo provided by Pfizer shows Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine storage facility in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Think of it like science on trial. A few days before the meeting, the FDA will release its own internal analysis. That sets the stage for the advisers’ daylong debate about any signs of safety concerns and how the new vaccine technology works before rendering a verdict.
They’ll recommend not just whether FDA should allow broader use of the vaccine generally but if so, for whom. For example, is there enough proof the vaccine works as well for older, sicker adults as for younger, healthier people?
There’s still no guarantee. “We don’t know what that vote’s going to be,” said former FDA vaccine chief Norman Baylor.
EMERGENCY USE ISN’T THE SAME AS FULL APPROVAL
If there’s an emergency green light, “that vaccine is still deemed investigational. It’s not approved yet,” Dr. Marion Gruber, chief of FDA’s vaccine office, told the National Academy of Medicine this week.
That means anyone offered an emergency vaccination must get a “fact sheet” describing potential benefits and risks before going through with the shot, she said.
There will be a lot of unknowns. For example, the 95% protection rate is based on people who developed symptoms and then were tested for the virus. Can the vaccinated get infected but have no symptoms, able to spread the virus? How long does protection last?
That’s why the 44,000-person study needs to keep running -- something difficult considering ethically, participants given dummy shots at some point must be offered real vaccine, complicating the search for answers.
“I’m curious,” said Barry Colvin, 52, of White Plains, New York, who is taking part in that study at NYU Langone Health.
But he’s not in a great hurry to find out which group he’s in. “You need to hang in there for a while to understand and answer a lot of the other questions that remain unknown.”
Additionally at least for now, pregnant women won’t qualify because they weren’t studied. Pfizer only recently began testing the vaccine in children as young as 12.
A decision on Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine won’t affect other COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the pipeline, which will be judged separately.
Brewing vaccine is more complex than typical drug manufacturing, yet the millionth dose to roll out of Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan, factory must be the same purity and potency as every dose before and after.
That means the FDA decision isn’t just based on study data, but on its determination that the vaccine is being made correctly.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine -- and Moderna’s shots -- are made with brand-new technology. They don’t contain the actual coronavirus. Instead, they’re made with a piece of genetic code for the “spike” protein that studs the virus.
That messenger RNA, or mRNA, instructs the body to make some harmless spike protein, training immune cells to recognize it if the real virus eventually comes along.
GETTING INTO PEOPLE’S ARMS
Another government group -- advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- decides who is first in line for scarce doses. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hopes that decision can be made at the same time as FDA’s.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed has worked with states to line up how many doses they’d need to cover the populations offered vaccine first.
Pfizer will ship those supplies as ordered by the states -- only after FDA gives the OK.
Company projections of how much it will ship each month are just predictions, Baylor warned.
“It’s not like a pizza,” he said. Manufacturing is so complex that “you don’t necessarily end up with what you thought.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to soon receive an International Emmy award for his once-daily televised briefings on the coronavirus pandemic that killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers this spring.
The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, whose members include media and entertainment figures from over 60 countries and 500 companies, announced Friday it plans to present the award to the Democratic governor in a live-streamed show Monday.
International Academy President & CEO Bruce L. Paisner said Cuomo is being honored with the academy's Founders Award for using his briefings to inform and calm the public. Previous recipients include former Vice President Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey, and director Steven Spielberg.
"The governor’s 111 daily briefings worked so well because he effectively created television shows, with characters, plot lines, and stories of success and failure,” he said. “People around the world tuned in to find out what was going on, and New York tough became a symbol of the determination to fight back.”
Cuomo used his more than 100 Powerpoint-driven slideshows and his sometimes emotional, sometimes acerbic style to provide daily updates and detail his administration's efforts to shutter the economy and avoid predictions of as many as 100,000 people hospitalized at once.
The pandemic peaked in early-to-mid April, when over 18,000 people were hospitalized at once and hospitals and nursing homes reported as many as 800 deaths in one day.
New York has reported at least 34,187 deaths of people due to COVID-19, according to data from John Hopkins University & Medicine. And at least 6,600 residents have died in nursing homes, according to state data, which doesn't state how many nursing home residents died in hospitals.
The number of daily infections, hospitalizations and deaths plummeted as Cuomo slowly reopened the state's economy this summer, when about 1% of tests were coming up positive.
New York is now seeing far fewer deaths and hospitalizations than this spring. Still, the state's daily average of COVID-19 cases over the past seven days has more than doubled in two weeks as cases surge nationwide.
French President Emmanuel Macron has asked the country’s Muslim leaders to accept a charter of “republican values.” which states explicitly that Islam is not a political movement and prohibits “foreign interference” in Muslim groups.
This past Wednesday, the French president met eight leaders of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and asked them to accept the charter within 15 days, following which the latter agreed to form a national council of Imams – which can issue and withdraw official accreditation to Imams, local media reported.
"Two principles will be inscribed in black and white [in the charter]: the rejection of political Islam and any foreign interference," reported Le Parisien newspaper.
Last month, 47-year-old French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was killed by Abdoulakh A, 18, after Paty showed his students the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad which were published in the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, making its Paris office the target of a terrorist attack that year that killed 12 people.
The magazine, now working out of a secret location, republished the offending images in September to coincide with the proceedings in a court case over the original attack. That seemed to trigger a reaction, as two people were wounded shortly afterwards in a knife attack near Charlie Hebdo's old headquarters in Paris's 11th arrondissement.
Even before the Paty incident, Macron had put himself in the crosshairs of Muslims around the world by suggesting on October 2 that their faith was mired in crisis globally, and even announced his plan “to reform Islam” in order to make it more compatible with his country’s republican values.
He has continued to speak out forcefully against radical Islam and defended French secularism, saying that he will uphold the right to publishing caricatures no matter how offensive they are deemed.
In an interview with Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, Macron said he could understand why Muslims were shocked by controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At the same time he reiterated that he could never accept the issue justified violence. That interview came after another deadly knife attack on a church in Nice that killed 3 people- the third such attack in the country in little more than a month.
The tense reckoning France faces with its Muslim population - held to be the largest in Europe - has been supplemented by a backlash from many Muslim-majority nations. French goods have been boycotted in parts of the Arab world, and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked whether Macron needed to have his 'mental health checked'.
Effigies of Macron have been burnt across the Muslim world, and Bangladesh has in fact witnessed the largest and longest-running protests, with crowds estimated upto 50,000 and above. They demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador, an end to bilateral ties, and boycott of French products. None of them were likely to be even considered, much less met. Starlet Nusrat Faria did though chime in by parting with her Cartier wristwatch.
Playing his hand
With the "Charter of Republic Values," revealed on Wednesday, Macron would seem to have played his hand with regards to what he may have meant with his comments on Oct 2.
The head of the French Council of the Islamic Faith, Mohamed Mousavi and the dean of the Paris Mosque, Shams El Din Hafez, attended the meeting, in addition to representatives of the nine federations that make up the CFCM. The CFCM is a nationally elected body which serves as an official interlocutor with the French state in the regulation of Muslim religious activities.
President Macron told the meeting attendees that it is necessary to "get out of this confusion", according to Al Araby, saying he believes a number of them have ambiguous positions on certain issues.
The newly-created Council of Imams will not only be able to issue permits to Muslim religious leaders, but also have the power to withdraw them if perceived to violate the "Charter of Republic Values" Macron has asked them to agree to.
Depending on the role of the imams, they will possess a certain fluency in the French language and possess university-level academic qualifications.
Macron hopes, with the formation of the National Council of Imams, to remove the presence of 300 foreign imams from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria within four years.
In an immediate reaction, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned Macron's perceived ultimatum.