South Africa charges Parliament fire suspect with terrorism

CAPE TOWN— Prosecutors in South Africa charged the man accused of starting the fire that gutted parts of South Africa’s parliament building with terrorism on Tuesday.

Zandile M. was already facing five charges, including arson, theft and housebreaking, when the terrorism charge was added during his bail application in the Cape Town Magistrates Court.

The “accused is guilty of the offense of contravening the provisions of […] the protection of constitutional democracy against terrorist and related activities,” according to a court document.

The 49-year-old was arrested on parliamentary grounds after the fire broke out last Sunday. The additional charge of terrorism was added because he had also been caught with an explosive device, the prosecution said.

After his arrest, the suspect underwent psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, defense lawyer Dali Mpofu told the court.

Mpofu is one of South Africa’s most famous lawyers, and has defended some high-profile figures, including former president Jacob Zuma.

He is also the former national chairperson of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party.

Mpofu told the court his client would go on a hunger strike until he was granted bail.

“He is not prepared to trade his liberty for food,” Mpofu said.

Protesters outside the court building demanded the suspect’s release, saying he was a scapegoat.

The case was postponed to Feb 11.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s annual State of the Nation Address, which also signals the opening of parliament, will now take place in Cape Town’s City Hall in February.

Former President Nelson Mandela made his first public address, after his release from prison in 1990, from the city hall’s balcony.

“The extensive damage has necessitated the institution to find an alternative venue off-site to host this important event in the parliamentary calendar and the country,” parliament said in a statement.

It took scores of firefighters more than two days to extinguish the blaze, which gutted the national assembly chamber where parliamentary debates are held.

A preliminary report by the city of Cape Town last week said the fire detection system appeared “faulty,” and that “sprinklers did not activate.”

No casualties were reported in the fire.


Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, to participate in the Informal Meeting “Gymnich” of the EU Foreign Ministers (Brest, 13-14.01.2022)

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, is travelling tomorrow, Thursday, 13 January, to Brest, in order to participate in the Informal Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Union (“Gymnich”).

More specifically, tomorrow, Thursday, 13 January, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will participate in a joint working lunch of the European Union Foreign Affairs Ministers and Defence Ministers on the topic of the “Strategic Compass”.

A revised text will be presented at the working lunch, based on discussions that have taken place among Member States in recent weeks.

Subsequently, in the afternoon of the same day, the first working session will be held to discuss the “Security Situation in Eastern Europe”.

The second working session to discuss the European Union’s relations with China will take place on Friday, 14 January.

Following the session’s conclusion, the Foreign Ministers will attend a working lunch hosted by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU to discuss relations between the European Union and the African Union, in view of the EU-African Union Summit which will be held next month (February 2022).

The above-mentioned working lunch is expected to be attended by the President of the Republic of Senegal and Chairperson of the African Union, Macky Sall, as well as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic

Omicron fuels record weekly COVID-19 cases, but deaths ‘stable’

Fuelled by Omicron, more than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported around the world last week, by far the most cases reported in a single seven day period, the World Health Organization (WHO) informed on Wednesday.

Briefing reporters in Geneva, the UN health agency chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the “huge spike” is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries.

Despite the number of cases, the weekly reported deaths have “remained stable” since October last year, Tedros added, at an average of 48,000. The number of patients being hospitalized is also increasing in most countries, but it is not at the level seen in previous waves.

He told reporters this is possibly due to the reduced severity of Omicron, and widespread immunity from vaccination or previous infection.

‘50 thousand deaths too many’

For the WHO chief, while Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated.

“Almost 50 thousand deaths a week is 50 thousand deaths too many”, Tedros said. “Learning to live with this virus does not mean we can, or should, accept this number of deaths.”

For him, the world cannot “allow this virus a free ride” when so many people around the world remain unvaccinated.

In Africa, for example, more than 85 per cent of people are yet to receive a single dose of vaccine.

“We cannot end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we close this gap”, he said.

Making progress

Tedros then listed some progress towards reaching the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population of every country by the middle of this year.

In December, COVAX shipped more than double the number of doses it distributed in November. In the coming days, the initiative should ship its one billionth vaccine dose.

Some of the supply constraints from last year are also starting to ease, Tedros said, but there’s still have a long way to go.

So far, 90 countries have still not reached the 40 per cent target, and 36 of those countries have vaccinated less than 10 per cent of their populations.

New vaccines

Tedros also highlighted an interim statement from the WHO Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition, released on Tuesday, stressing that further vaccines are needed that have a greater impact on preventing infection.

Until such vaccines are developed, the experts explained, the composition of current vaccines may need to be updated.

The Group also said that a vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses is “unlikely to be sustainable.”

A heavy toll

According to Tedros, the overwhelming majority of people admitted to hospitals around the world are unvaccinated.

At the same time, while the immunizations remain very effective at preventing severe disease and death, they do not fully prevent transmission.

“More transmission means more hospitalizations, more deaths, more people off work, including teachers and health workers, and more risk of another variant emerging that is even more transmissible and more deadly than Omicron”, Tedros explained.

The sheer number of cases also means more pressure on already overburdened and exhausted health workers.

A study published last year showed that more than one in four health workers have experienced mental health issues during the pandemic. Data from several countries also show that many have considered leaving or have left their jobs.

Pregnant women

On Tuesday, WHO hosted a global webinar, attended by clinicians from around the world, on the clinical management of the virus during pregnancy, childbirth and the early postnatal period.

As stated earlier in the pandemic, pregnant women are not at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but if they are infected, they are at higher risk for severe disease.

“That’s why it’s vital that pregnant women in all countries have access to vaccines to protect their own lives, and those of their babies”, Tedros said.

The agency chief also called for pregnant women to be included in clinical trials for new treatments and vaccines.

He also stressed that, fortunately, mother to baby transmission in utero or during birth is very rare, and no active virus has been identified in breast milk.

Source: United Nations

Covid-19: Repeated boosters not a viable strategy – WHO

GENEVA— WHO experts warned that repeating booster doses of the original Covid vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants and called for new jabs that better protect against transmission.

An expert group created by the World Health Organization to assess the performance of Covid-19 vaccines said simply providing fresh jabs of existing Covid vaccines as new strains of the virus emerge was not the best way to fight the pandemic.

“A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-Co-VAC) said in a statement.

It said preliminary data indicated the existing vaccines were less effective at preventing symptomatic Covid disease in people who have contracted the new Omicron variant, currently spreading like wildfire around the world.

But protection against severe disease, which is what the jabs were especially intended to do, “is more likely to be preserved”.

It recommended developing vaccines that not only protect people against falling seriously ill but could also better prevent infection and transmission in the first place.

“Covid-19 vaccines that have high impact on prevention of infection and transmission, in addition to the prevention of severe disease and death, are needed and should be developed,” TAG-Co-VAC said.

“Until such vaccines are available, and as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, the composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that (they) continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs (variants of concern), including Omicron and future variants.”


Four soldiers killed in Burkina Faso attack

OUAGADOUGOU— At least four soldiers were killed in an attack blamed on jihadists in northern Burkina Faso, security sources said.

The “terrorists” targeted a military detachment between Markoye and Tokabangou, near the border with Niger, one of the sources said, using the army’s term for jihadists.

Another said the army counter-attacked, repelling the assailants and killing “some” of them. He added that more soldiers may have died in the clash.

He said a “search and sweep operation” was under way to “hunt down the assailants and search for (soldiers) who are still missing.”

Markoye, in Oudalan province, is in the heart of the so-called tri-border area — a flashpoint zone where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge that is a hotbed of groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.

Last week at least 13 civilians including two volunteers working for the army’s anti-jihadist campaign were killed in northern Burkina Faso, a poor, landlocked former French colony.

Such attacks have claimed more than 2,000 lives and forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes since 2015.