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Inside the EU, Bobi meeting



Robert Kyagulanyi with the European Union delegation at the NUP headquarters in Kamwokya recently

Excited crowds lined the motorcade route as the European Union delegation SUVs snaked through the usually crowded neighborhood of Kamwokya, Kifumbira, en route to the head office of the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP)/People Power on August 12.

Excited supporters decked in the red party color overalls and berets also mobbed the NUP office as the SUVs trooped into the parking lot.

As the high-profile visitors disembarked, Robert Kyagulanyi, the party presidential candidate and his co-administrators were on hand to welcome them. The timing of the visit was very significant.

To the hosts and their supporters, this was the perfect endorsement for Kyagulanyi’s presidential bid and a political coup for the young musician-turned-politician as the election campaign enters its most intense period.
This was the first visit by the EU Delegation to NUP, a political party – with a new mindset and new young generation of politicians that has unsettled the ruling NRM political establishment.

The timing of the visit stirred even more excitement within the largely opposition forces for change. After the meeting, NUP spokesperson Joel Ssenyonnyi said the visit was in recognition of NUP as a fully registered and serious political actor in Uganda’s political landscape.

He said People Power pressure group had already engaged with the EU Delegation before it morphed into a political party.

Ssenyonnyi said NUP used the meeting to unveil its objectives as a political party seeking power in Uganda. He said EU ambassadors wanted to know more about NUP’s preparedness to participate in the forthcoming general elections.

He said the delegation has committed to engaging the government on the matter to ensure that this time round, the ground is leveled for all contenders. He said the ambassadors told NUP that they will also hold talks with government to ensure peaceful and credible elections.

Visits to ANT, FDC

But similar EU delegation visits to the opposition Forum for Democratic Change head office in Najjanankumbi, The Alliance for National Transformation and the Democratic Party have since dampened the original NUP enthusiasm and excitement.

Within the EU, the visits are nothing new and out of the ordinary. The visits are part of the regular “political engagement with all political parties that are registered and are active participants in the coming general election.”

This was confirmed by Emmanuel Gyezaho, the EU press advisor in an interview with The Observer last weekend.

“This [visit] was part of the EU’s regular political engagement,” he said by telephone.

According to political party insiders with good knowledge of the discussions between political party officials and the delegation, the EU heads of mission had a similar set of questions for our local politicians and parties.

Interviewed for this story, one opposition party official said of the meetings, “They wanted to understand how prepared we are for the elections, how we are conducting our activities and what issues we stand for.”

The delegation was also keen on knowing the critical challenges political parties are grappling with in this election campaign and solutions if there are any. Many opposition politicians are having a difficult time campaigning especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gatherings are banned and on-the-ground village campaigns are also outlawed. What has been allowed is what has come to be known as scientific campaigns or on-air (radio, TV, social media) campaigns.

But law enforcement agencies have blocked many opposition figures from accessing several radio or TV stations yet ruling NRM politicians continue to draw large crowds during their village campaigns.

The EU delegation, according to insiders, used the visits to ask pointed questions about who the opposition politicians really are and what they stand for. Some political players like Kyagulanyi are new and most of the information the delegation knows about them is either hearsay or gleaned from the media.

But the EU delegation insists the visits are not an endorsement of any political party or player. Protocol-wise, the delegation should have met the ruling NRM party and its chairman President Museveni and his co-administrators first.

But according to insiders, issues about the date of the meeting and timing have stood in the way of that meeting. But the NRM meeting is still on the cards. Besides, one insider said the EU delegation and government officials and the president have regular dialogue.

After the meetings, the EU with the full understanding of the preparedness of the political parties for the 2021 general election, their challenges and ambitions, will move to help the political players.

Shortly after the meeting at the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) headquarters in Kampala on August 26, party leader, Gen Mugisha Muntu twitted “We had a wide-ranging discussion including some of our concerns with the upcoming elections as previously communicated. I thank the ambassadors for their visit.”

The delegation comprised of ambassadors, attaches and representatives of Denmark, France, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland.

The EU has deployed observer missions to Uganda’s local elections for the last four election cycles since 2001.
The EU has written reports with strong recommendations on improving the electoral process “but the recommendations have not been implemented todate,” one insider said.

But deployment of an EU observer mission is a huge doubt for the 2021 general election largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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‘Almost 180-degree turnaround’: More Black Americans open to jabs | Coronavirus pandemic News




More Black people in the United States say they are open to receiving coronavirus vaccines, a new survey shows, an encouraging sign that one community leader described as “almost a 180-degree turnaround” from earlier in the pandemic.

According to the late March poll by the Associated Press news agency and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 24 percent of Black people said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.

That is down from 41 percent in January, and is similar to the proportion of white people (26 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22 percent) who also say they do not plan to get jabs.

The findings come as US President Joe Biden’s administration works to speed up inoculations to try to outpace a recent rise in infections, after he promised that all adults would be eligible for a jab by April 19.

Public health experts had raised concerns about the need to ensure that Black and other communities of colour in the US, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, had equitable access to vaccines.

Local leaders said vaccine hesitancy was fuelled in part by decades of institutional discrimination in healthcare and other public services.

Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told AP that attitudes among Black people have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.

Benjamin said Black physicians, faith leaders and other organisers have helped get targeted messaging to the community “in a way that wasn’t preachy”.

“They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family,’” he said.

Mattie Pringle, a 57-year-old Black woman from South Carolina who previously had doubts about taking the vaccine, said she changed her mind after a member of her church urged her to reconsider. She got her first jab last week.

“I had to pray about it, and I felt better after that,” Pringle told AP.

Medical and public health experts have continued to urge people in the US to get vaccinated in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 561,000 people across the country – the highest death rate in the world.

The US, which has reported over 31 million cases to date, has authorised three vaccines for emergency use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs.

So far, more than 178.8 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, while 68.2 million people are considered fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent surveys have shown that more Americans in general say they intend to get vaccinated than previously did.

The Pew Research Center reported in early March that 19 percent of US adults said they had already received at least one dose, while another 50 percent said they probably or definitely would get vaccinated.

“Taken together, 69 percent of the public intends to get a vaccine – or already has – up significantly from 60 percent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November,” it said.

Other recent surveys show that attitudes towards vaccines are split along political lines. A survey at Monmouth University released last month found that 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just six percent of Democrats.

That prompted top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, to call on former President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, experts are urging Americans to take whichever vaccine is available to protect themselves and avoid delays.

“When people come in, I always advise them to get the vaccine that’s available because you never know what vaccine is going to be available the next time,” Reham Awad, a pharmacy intern in the Chicago area, told Al Jazeera this week.

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Erdogan urges end to Ukraine tension, offers Turkey’s support | Conflict News




Turkish president says tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over Donbass conflict have to be resolved through dialogue.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the “worrying” developments in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region to come to an end after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul, adding Turkey was ready to provide any necessary support.

Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks in Istanbul on Saturday amid tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over the long-running conflict in Donbass.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Zelenskyy, Erdogan said he hoped the conflict would be resolved peacefully, through dialogue based on diplomatic customs, in line with international laws and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“Our main goal is that the Black Sea continues to be a sea of peace, tranquility and cooperation,” Erdogan said.

Zelenskyy said the views of Kyiv and Ankara coincided regarding the threats in the region and as well as responses to those threats.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine in the defence industry, which was the main item on the meeting’s agenda, was not a move against any third countries.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Ukraine was purchasing Turkey’s military drones.

She also said that “new generation drones will be equipped with the Ukrainian engines”.

Regional tensions

Zelenskyy’s visit to Turkey comes amid renewed tensions in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

In a visit to troops there this week, Zelenskyy said breaches of a July truce were increasing.

Separatist authorities have also accused Ukrainian forces of violating the ceasefire.

Russia has reinforced its troops along the border and warned Ukraine against trying to retake control of the separatist-controlled territory.

Kyiv rejects that it is preparing for an offensive. The Russian military buildup has raised concerns in the United States and Europe.

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke on the phone on Friday. Among the issues discussed was Ukraine.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that Ukraine “recently resumed dangerous provocations on the contact line”.

Turkey is a NATO member. But Erdogan and Putin have forged a close personal relationship, sealing energy and trade deals.

They have also negotiated for opposing sides in conflicts, including Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Erdogan’s office also said he would discuss with Zelenskyy the living conditions of Crimean Tatars, who have ethnic links to Turks. Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

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Libya kicks off delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive | Coronavirus pandemic News




Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah receives shot on live television, urges Libyans to register online for their own vaccinations.

Libya has launched its delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of the country’s new unity government, getting his shot on live television.

Officially, Libya has registered a total of about 167,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 2,800 deaths, out of a population of seven million. Its healthcare system has struggled to cope during the pandemic, strained by years of political turmoil and violence.

After the vaccination of Dbeibah on Saturday at the headquarters of Libya’s Centre for Disease Control on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Health Minister Ali al-Zenati was next to receive a jab.

Libya has so far received 200,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, alongside more than 57,600 AstraZeneca shots, the latter delivered through the COVAX programme for lower and middle-income countries.

Dbeibah urged fellow citizens to register online for their own vaccinations. He has earmarked the vaccination campaign as a policy priority, alleging that the delivery of the shots was hindered by outgoing authorities.

“The arrival of vaccines has been delayed by political, not financial, considerations,” he said.

Dbeibah’s interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Dbeibah was selected earlier this year through a United Nations-sponsored Libyan dialogue to lead the country to national elections in December.

His government replaces two warring administrations based in Tripoli and the country’s east, the latter loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Hafar. The rival authorities have given their backing to the new administration, adding to tentative hopes that Libya can exit a decade of crisis.

‘Better late than never’

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that two new variants of the coronavirus are present in Libya, which has lately been detecting about 1,000 new daily infections.

No lockdown measures are currently in place, and while masks are obligatory in public places, the measure is widely flouted.

“I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never,” shop owner Ali al-Hadi told Reuters news agency, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.

Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.

“We hope the health ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients,” said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.

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