Faith, flora and fabric: How a Senegalese village became a desert oasis

Local women process baobab fruit pulp into powder at a workshop that belongs to Baye fall community, in Ndem
Local women process baobab fruit pulp into powder at a workshop that belongs to Baye fall community, a branch of the Muslim Mouride brotherhood, in Ndem Senegal April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

April 21, 2021

By Cooper Inveen

NDEM, Senegal (Reuters) – Beneath the scorching sun that beats down on Senegal’s savannah, the verdant gardens of Ndem village are a sanctuary.

Within a hibiscus fence, rows of vegetables grow under fruit trees. Men with dreadlocked hair and women in technicolour robes dye fabrics and stitch handbags destined for luxury boutiques and furniture companies in Spain, Italy and the United States.

They are members of Baye Fall, a branch of Senegal’s Muslim Mouride brotherhood who believe that labour is a form of prayer. In Ndem, they have created an oasis in a region long plagued by drought.

“We are pushed towards the love of sharing, of work, reflecting on the improvement of living conditions in our environment in harmony with nature,” said 29-year-old Fallou Mbow, whose great-great-grandfather founded the village.

Mbow’s parents and others founded the NGO Ndem Villagers in 1984 to manage myriad development projects. Since then, the group has grown to about 4,600 members who have renewed the landscape with the help of irrigation systems and solar power.

“It’s only in Ndem that there are these kind of work opportunities,” said Mame Diarra Wade, one of 120 women who process baobab fruit to a consumable powder.

“We are happy to see those from the surrounding villages come to work with us.”

A plate made in Ndem can even be found in the White House, a gift from a visiting consultant to former President George W. Bush, one of the NGO’s project managers said.

At the request of Mouride leaders, the Mbow family relocated in 2015 to nearby Mbacke Kadjior, the birthplace of the Baye Fall movement, to replicate their success. That village now boasts busy craft workshops and sprawling gardens too.

“One of the main objectives is to really slow down the rural exodus,” said Maam Samba Mbow, Fallou Mbow’s younger brother, “to create a dynamic local economy that is good for villagers, so they can have a happy life with interesting activities instead of leaving to find work in the big city.”

(Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Nellie Peyton and Karishma Singh)

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Haircuts for some, as Poland eases virus curbs in certain regions

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk in Warsaw
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk in Warsaw, Poland, April 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

April 21, 2021

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will reopen hair salons and let some children return to schools in 11 of its 16 regions from April 26, the health minister said on Wednesday, as daily COVID-19 case numbers start to fall.

Poland has seen record daily numbers of cases and deaths during the third wave of the pandemic, and introduced a raft of nationwide restrictions, including the closure of cinemas, hotels and many shops, in March. (Graphic of global cases and deaths) https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi

However, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference that the infection rate in many regions was now at a level where authorities believed they can lift some restrictions.

“We wanted to separate… those regions where the situation is the most difficult,” he said. “However, in other regions we want to introduce some loosening (of restrictions).”

Children in the first three years of primary school will return to school for some lessons in the regions with lower rates of infection, Niedzielski told a news conference. Hair and beauty salons will also reopen.

In the remaining five regions, which include the southern industrial centre Silesia, the current restrictions will remain.

Asked about the presence of counterfeit Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines in Poland, Health Ministry Spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz said authorities had not received any information about this.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Pfizer had identified counterfeit versions of its COVID-19 vaccine in Poland and Mexico.

“The risk of some counterfeit appearing in official circulation is practically non-existent,” Niedzielski added. “The entire logistic chain is built in such a way as to ensure security, so that no counterfeit will appear in official circulation.”

(Graphic on global vaccinations) https://tmsnrt.rs/3tUM8ta

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Koper; editing by John Stonestreet and Lisa Shumaker)

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German police clash with anti-lockdown protesters

Protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin
Members of the police stand guard as people protest against the government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as the lower house of parliament Bundestag discusses additions for the Infection Protection Act, in Berlin, Germany April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Mang

April 21, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Police clashed with protesters in Berlin on Wednesday as they tried to disperse a rally against the coronavirus lockdown, as parliament approved a law to give Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government more powers to fight a third wave of the pandemic.

Merkel drew up the law after some of Germany’s 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases. Her government has come under fire for its chaotic handling of lockdowns and slow vaccination campaign.

Police said on Twitter they would break up the protest because many in the crowds of demonstrators were not wearing face masks or keeping a distance from one another. Up to 2,200 officers were on duty in Berlin to manage the protests.

Seven people were detained after they attacked officers, while police had to use pepper spray against other demonstrators who threw bottles and tried to climb over barriers.

“Peace, freedom, no dictatorship!” some protestors chanted, many waving German flags and banners which said the coronavirus lockdown undermines values enshrined in the constitution.

Germans are sensitive to any measures which threaten their freedom due to the country’s Nazi and Communist past, and demonstrations against the legislation have been staged in the last few weeks in towns across the country.

The new law enables the national government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) and 5 a.m. (0300 GMT), as well as limits on private gatherings, sport and shop openings. Schools will close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents.

The law was approved with the backing of 342 lawmakers while 250 voted against and 64 abstained.

Alexander Gauland, parliamentary head of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, said the government was fighting the pandemic with the wrong measures. “They are stuck in their trenches,” he told the Bundestag debate on the law.

Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said politicians had to balance civil liberties with the need to save lives. “We are in a situation where too many people are dying,” he said.

Germany reported a rise of 24,884 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to nearly 3.19 million. Some 80,634 people have died and doctors have warned that unless action is taken, intensive-care units may struggle to cope.

However, in the last few days the seven-day incidence rate has inched down and is now at 160.1 per 100,000.

The legislation is due to go to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, on Thursday.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.S. lawmakers back $100 billion science push to compete with China

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings locked down in Washington
FILE PHOTO: National Guard members stand guard around the U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings following a security threat, after a blue car was rammed into a police barricade outside the Capitol building in an incident that reportedly resulted in the death of one Capitol police officer, the injury of another officer and the death of the driver as a result of police gunfire on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 2, 2021. REUTERS/Erin Scott

April 21, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation calling for $100 billion in government spending over five years on basic and advanced technology research and science in the face of rising competitive pressure from China.

The measure, which is sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Todd Young and others, would also authorize another $10 billion to designate at least 10 regional technology hubs and would create a new supply chain crisis response program.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul)

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Chad in turmoil after Deby death as rebels, opposition challenge military

People drive past a Chad army tank near the presidential palace, in N'djamena
People drive past a Chad army tank near the presidential palace, after Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who ruled the country for more than 30 years and was an important Western ally, was killed on the frontline in a battle against rebels in the north, in N’djamena, Chad April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Oredje Narcisse

April 21, 2021

By Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane

N’DJAMENA, April 21 (Reuters) – The son of Chad’s slain leader Idriss Deby took over as president and armed forces commander on Wednesday as rebel forces threatened to march on the capital, deepening the turmoil in a country vital to international efforts to combat Islamist militants in Africa.

The political opposition also denounced the military’s takeover of control, calling the move a coup d’etat and rejecting its plan for a transition. Labour unions called on workers to go on strike.

Deby, 68, was killed on Monday on the frontline in a battle against fighters of the Libyan-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a rebel group formed by dissident army officers.

His death shocked the nation and raised concerns among Western allies, notably France and the United States, who had counted on him as an ally in their fight against Islamist groups including Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Deby had been in power since 1990 and had just been declared winner of a presidential election that would have given him a sixth term in office. His son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers just after news of his death was announced.

General Deby, 37, moved to consolidate his position on Wednesday, with the council issuing a new charter in place of the country’s constitution granting him the functions of president and also naming him as head of the armed forces.

The council’s vice-president, Djimadoum Tirayna, had said earlier that the army wanted to return power to a civilian government and hold free and democratic elections in 18 months.

He reiterated that on Wednesday, saying in a statement the military was “in no way seeking to seize power”.

But the FACT rebels rejected the military’s plan and said they would press on with their offensive.

“Chad is not a monarchy. There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country,” FACT said in a statement.

OVER THE BORDER

The rebel forces poured over the vast country’s northern border last weekend.

A spokesman for the group – which is not linked to jihadists – said they were now in Kanem region about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) north of N’Djamena and that their aim was to bring democracy to Chad after years of authoritarian rule by Deby.

FACT claimed responsibility for the injuries that killed Deby on Monday. An ex-army officer who often joined soldiers on the battlefront, Deby was visiting troops who had held up the rebel advance in intense fighting over the weekend.

He was wounded by gunfire in the village of Mele near the town of Nokou, more than 300 km (190 miles) north of N’Djamena, and evacuated to the capital where he later died, said the FACT spokesman, who requested anonymity.

“We don’t want to seize power to hold power. Our objective is for democratic transitions to be a reality,” he said. He said the group was preparing to march on N’Djamena to “free the people from a system that is undemocratic”.

Opposition politicians, many of whom boycotted the election, also called for a return to civilian rule.

About a dozen party leaders who met on Wednesday condemned what they called “the institutional coup d’etat conducted by the generals” and “the monarchist devolution of power”.

In a statement, they called for a transition led by the people through dialogue.

“We do not see ourselves in this military transition. Our position is a return to constitutional order and a civil transition to ease tensions and to organise elections in due course,” Dinamou Daram of the Socialist Party Without Borders, told Reuters.

Opposition leader Succes Masran said a campaign of civil disobedience would be launched from Friday. The main labour organisation, the Union of Syndicates of Chad, also rejected the military takeover and called for a strike.

“The executive bureau asks all workers to stop working and to remain vigilant until the situation is clarified,” it said.

FRENCH FRIENDS

Deby had won friends abroad by sending his well-trained army to fight jihadists including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.

His main ally, France, has about 5,100 troops based across the region as part of international efforts to fight the militants, including its main base in N’Djamena. The United States also has military personnel there.

Paris said it had lost a courageous friend and an important ally. President Emmanuel Macron will go to Deby’s funeral.

Nigeria’s foreign minister said it was willing to help a dialogue, but that while an early return to democratic rule was the ultimate goal, the immediate objective was the stabilisation of Chad and the region.

Human Rights Watch criticised the West’s relationship with Deby, saying that for years it had propped up Déby’s government for its support for its security operations while turning a blind eye to his repression.

“The potentially explosive consequences of President Déby’s death cannot be underestimated – both for the future of Chad and across the region,” it said in a statement.

In N’Djamena, schools and some businesses were open on Wednesday but many people stayed home and the streets were quiet.

Authorities imposed a nightly curfew and closed land and air borders after Deby’s death was announced. A 14-day period of national mourning is being observed.

Ordinary citizens also voiced their frustrations.

“We must make sure that this military council does not take over power, said Djimadoum Ngarteri, a teacher. “And to all those fighting with weapons, it is time to lay down their weapons. We the Chadians are fed up. We do not need people who take power with weapons.”

(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane in N’Djamena, Nellie Peyton, Aaron Ross and Edward McAllister in Dakar, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by Nick Tattersall)

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Australia cancels Belt and Road deals; China warns of further damage to ties

FILE PHOTO: Staff members chat as they prepare a seminar in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Staff members chat as they prepare a seminar of Australia China bilateral cooperation in resources and infrastructure in West Australia, in Beijing July 23, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee

April 21, 2021

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia on Wednesday cancelled two deals struck by its state of Victoria with China on Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, prompting the Chinese embassy in Canberra to warn that already tense bilateral ties were bound to worsen.

Under a new process in Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has the power to review deals reached with other nations by the country’s states and universities.

Payne said she had decided to cancel four deals, including two that Victoria agreed with China, in 2018 and 2019, on cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature trade and infrastructure scheme.

“I consider these four arrangements to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations,” she said in a statement.

China’s embassy in Australia voiced its “strong displeasure and resolute opposition” to the cancellations late on Wednesday.

“This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China,” the embassy said in a statement. “It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations.”

Bilateral ties were strained in 2018 when Australia became the first country to publicly ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network. Relations worsened last year when Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia’s latest move “is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” the Chinese embassy said.

Australia’s federal parliament granted the veto power over foreign deals by states in December amid the deepening diplomatic spat with China, which has imposed a series of trade sanctions on Australian exports ranging from wine to coal.

Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull had declined to agree to a country-level MOU with China on the Belt and Road Initiative.

But Victoria’s Labor state premier Dan Andrews signed agreements with China’s National Development and Reform Commission to promote the initiative in 2018 and 2019.

Some countries fear the lending the Belt and Road scheme entails could lead to unsustainable debt levels in developing nations, including the Pacific islands region.

Morrison’s government has denied that its new veto power is aimed at China, Australia’s largest trading partner and biggest source of overseas universities students before the pandemic led the country to close its borders.

Payne said states, local governments and publicly funded universities had notified her of more than 1,000 foreign deals overall.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; additional reporting by Colin Qian and Tom Daly; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

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Australian state seeks to build onshore mRNA vaccine site

FILE PHOTO: The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared by a healthcare worker in Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare professional prepares a dose of the Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as high-risk workers receive the first vaccines in the state of Victoria’s rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

April 21, 2021

By Reuters Staff

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state on Wednesday unveiled plans to develop an onshore messenger-RNA (mRNA) vaccine manufacturing facility and launched three mass coronavirus immunisation centres to speed up the national inoculation programme.

Victoria would spend A$50 million ($39 million) initially to set up the mRNA facility in the state, which authorities said could become the first such centre in the southern hemisphere. The mRNA technology is used in COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

Australia’s immunisation drive was thrown into disarray earlier this month after the government restricted the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which uses a different technology and is the mainstay of the country’s inoculation drive, due to rare bloodclotting cases.

“It is vital that we can develop and manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally to ensure we have vaccine security here in Australia and across our region,” Victoria Acting Premier James Merlino said in a statement.

Several countries are trying to procure more COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna Inc, that use the mRNA technology, as no major side effects have been identified so far among vaccine recipients.

Reports of possible links between vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson and rare blood clotting issues have sidelined those shots.

Australia currently produces AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines in the country but earlier this month restricted its rollout to people above 50 years.

Merlino said he is liaising with the federal government on the plan and estimated the cost to build the plant could be in “the hundreds of millions of dollars”. It could take at least a year for the vaccines to be made in the country, he said.

Victoria, meanwhile, set up three mass immunisation centres in the state on Wednesday to administer AstraZeneca vaccines for anyone above 70 years.

Though Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with around 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, only about 1.70 million total doses have been administered so far, far short of the 4 million pledged by end-March.

($1 = 1.2945 Australian dollars)

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Return the favour: South Korea looks to U.S. for COVID-19 vaccine aid

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong speaks during a joint announcement with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, March 25, 2021. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via REUTERS

April 21, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea hopes its ally the United States will help it tackle a shortage of coronavirus vaccine in return for test kits and masks Seoul sent to Washington earlier in the pandemic, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The government has drawn fire from the media for not doing enough to secure enough vaccines early, with just 3% of the population inoculated, due to tight global supply and limited access.

“We have been stressing to the United States that ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,’” the minister, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters at the Kwanhun Club of South Korean journalists.

He said South Korea had airlifted Washington a large volume of coronavirus test kits and face masks in the early stages of the pandemic “in the spirit of the special South Korea-U.S. alliance,” despite tight domestic supply at the time.

“We are hoping that the United States will help us out with the challenges we are facing with the vaccines, based on the solidarity we demonstrated last year.”

The allies were in talks, added Chung, who also flagged South Korea’s potential contribution to preserving a global semiconductor supply chain U.S. President Joe Biden is keen to maintain.

Diplomatic efforts have not yielded any concrete steps, however, as the talks with Washington are still in an early stage, health ministry official Son Young-rae told reporters.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment.

“We do not comment on the details of private diplomatic conversations,” a spokeswoman said.

While South Korea is an important and longstanding ally, the United States has said its priority is vaccinating Americans, although it has promised to look into options to help other countries bolster their supplies.

South Korean opposition lawmaker Park Jin urged more aggressive vaccine diplomacy, calling for the government to invoke its free trade pact (FTA) with Washington to secure pharmaceutical products.

“The government needs to be more proactive,” Park told Reuters.

“The FTA provides us a legal base to demand (vaccines) as it stipulates the two countries’ commitment to promoting the development of, and facilitating access to, pharmaceutical products.”

About 1.77 million people in South Korea have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca Plc or Pfizer vaccines. The low rate compares with a 40% vaccination rate in the United States, according to Reuters data https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access.

Tuesday’s 731 new coronavirus infections, up from 549 cases a day earlier, took South Korea’s tally to 115,926, with 1,806 deaths.

(Global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access)

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Interactive tracker of global virus spread: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/)

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FACTBOX-Worldwide coronavirus deaths exceed 3.1 mln

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(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Joori Roh in Seoul and David Brunnstrom on Washington; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Alistair Bell)

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2021 Federal Budget Spends Large on Canada’s Credit Card

Commentary The 2021 federal budget released on April 19 solidifies the legacy of the Trudeau government—it pays for spending with the country’s credit card and shows a disregard for the country’s growing debt. As outlined in Budget 2021, Ottawa expects revenues this year (2021/22) to exceed expectations from the economic update released in November 2020 by $19.2 billion. In other words, the Liberal government expects to have almost $20 billion more in revenues this year than originally budgeted. And yet, the 2021/22 deficit—that is, the amount of spending in excess of revenues—is $33.5 billion larger than estimated just five months ago (November 2020). The explanation is telling. Interest costs on the debt are $1.8 billion higher but the expected additional costs for public-sector pensions are $3.4 billion lower. But program spending in 2021/22 is $54.4 billion higher than planned in November 2020, thus the larger deficit. Put differently, if Ottawa had …

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Bank of England Sees Potential Risks From Cloud Data Providers

LONDON—The Bank of England might strengthen its controls on cloud data providers and other technology firms to counter possible risks to the stability of the financial system from the rise of fintech, Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden said. The Bank of England (BoE) has expressed concerns before about the reliance by financial firms, especially fintech startups, on third-party technology companies for key parts of their operations, and Ramsden said this scrutiny would intensify. “We plan to analyse further whether we need even stronger tools to manage the risk that critical third parties, including potentially cloud and other major tech providers, may pose to the Bank’s … objectives,” Ramsden told the Innovate Finance conference on Wednesday. Regulators globally have been tightening scrutiny of outsourced functions as they worry that core services financial firms provide to customers are vulnerable to outages at third parties. Britain’s government is keen to promote fintech as an …

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