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As Europe masks up, the Netherlands dithers

Kalverstraat Amsterdam
© Olaf Kraak/AFP via Getty Images
Tourists walk at Kalverstraat, a shopping street in Amsterdam on July 25, 2020
The Dutch government is unyielding on masks.

While Europeans almost everywhere else have been required to wear masks in public places to stop the spread of the coronavirus, they're considered an annoyance in the Netherlands.

"From a medical point of view, there is no evidence of a medical effect of wearing face masks, so we decided not to impose a national obligation," said Dutch Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark late Wednesday, after a meeting with health experts and mayors.

The meeting comes after the mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam called last week for a compulsory mask rule in some busy areas, following a recent rise in the number of infections in those cities.

Van Ark said that cities are free to "experiment with a toolbox of measures," including mandatory masks, if deemed necessary.

The Dutch announcement stands in stark contrast to the growing consensus across Europe that masks should be worn in places where social distancing is difficult. Last week, Belgium announced plans to mandate face masks in more public places, and in England they have become compulsory in shops.

Comment: See also: "No proven effectiveness": Dutch government will NOT force public to wear masks - Minister for Medical care


Blackbox

Ukraine to seek extradition of alleged Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus, Moscow calls for their release

Wagner, Vagner Group mercenaries detained

Screenshot from the Belarus’s state-run news agency Belta shows Belarusian KGB agents arresting the alleged Russian mercenaries
Kyiv says it will seek the extradition of alleged contractors from the Russian private military company Vagner being held in Belarus as Moscow demanded their release, saying they were in transit and headed to Turkey.

Belarusian authorities have launched an investigation against 33 Russian contractors from Vagner who were detained earlier this week. Authorities allege they wanted to destabilize the country ahead of the August 9 presidential election.

Moscow has vehemently rejected Minsk's claims, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying on July 31 that the 33 men were in transit to Istanbul before flying to "a third country."

"Their stay is connected neither to Belarus itself nor its internal affairs," Peskov told reporters, calling for their release.

Comment: More from Al-Jazeera:

Kremlin demands release of Russians held in Belarus
Peskov confirmed the Russian men were "employees of a private security company" who were staying temporarily in Belarus before travelling onwards to Istanbul.

"They missed their plane," he said. "They had tickets to Istanbul."

A senior Belarusian investigator said in televised comments that the men's plans for onward travel were just "an alibi," Tut.by news site reported.

"As the investigation has found out, they did not plan to fly there (to Istanbul)," the head of the investigative team, Alexander Agafonov, was reported as saying in an interview with national television.

The men gave "contradictory" answers, he added.

Eleven of them said they intended to fly to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. One "did not know where he was flying to" and the rest refused to testify, Agafonov said.



NPC

CNN story on cervical cancer screening goes full PC: Avoids using the word 'women', substitutes 'individuals with a cervix'

CNN sign
© Shutterstock
Observers have a field day

A CNN story on cervical cancer screening begins with this sentence: "Individuals with a cervix are now recommended to start cervical cancers screening at 25 and continue through age 65, with the primary human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every five years as the preferred method of testing, according to a new guideline released Thursday by the American Cancer Society."

Also a word search revealed that the Thursday story doesn't refer to "women" or "woman" a single time.

What was the reaction?

Comment: The ratio (comments to retweets) properly bites on this bit of woke puffery. CNN had it coming.
CNN tweet individuals cervix
© CNN/Twitter



Eye 1

Ghislaine Maxwell trained underage girls as sex slaves, documents allege

ghislaine maxwell cries bail hearing
Ghislaine Maxwell sexually abused underage girls and joined Jeffrey Epstein in directing Virginia Roberts Giuffre to be sexually abused by others, Giuffre claimed in a cache of documents that has been unsealed in the US.

She "trained me as a sex slave", Giuffre is quoted as saying.

The documents were part of now-settled civil litigation against the British socialite and include claims about her alleged involvement in the sex-trafficking scheme of Epstein, her longtime confidant and a convicted sex offender.

The documents stem from a 2015 civil action brought against Maxwell by Giuffre, who has claimed Maxwell lured her into Epstein's orbit as a teenager under the guise of offering work as a masseuse.

She said the couple subsequently pressured her into having sex with numerous rich or notable men, including Prince Andrew, US politicians, wealthy entrepreneurs, a famous scientist, and a fashion designer.

Comment:


Megaphone

Tens of thousands rally in Belarus despite pre-election crackdown

Supporters of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
© Sergei Gapon/AFP
Supporters of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya attend her campaign rally in Minsk
Supporters of the president's top election rival rally in Minsk despite an increasing crackdown on the opposition.

Tens of thousands of supporters of President Alexander Lukashenko's top election rival have rallied in the Belarusian capital Minsk despite an increasing crackdown on the opposition.

The rally came on Thursday as Belarus authorities accused top members of the opposition of collaborating with Russian fighters to destabilise the country.

Backers of political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a stay-at-home mother-of-two, packed a Minsk square in what appeared to be the largest opposition protest in the country in 10 years.

Protesters waved flags and balloons emblazoned with the opposition's campaign symbols - a victory sign, a clenched fist, and a heart. "Change!" - read one of the placards.

The human rights organisation Vyasna said at least 63,000 people had turned out.

Comment: So the "let's blame Russia for election interference" canard has evidently spread to Belarus too.

See also:


Handcuffs

Ex-US Marine sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison for drunken assault on two Moscow police officers

Trevor Reed
© Reuters/Tatyana Makeyeva
US ex-Marine Trevor Reed is escorted before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia.
Texan Trevor Reed, a 29-year-old student and former US Marine, has been found guilty of attacking two police officers and handed a nine year jail sentence by a Moscow court, prompting media speculation about a "prisoner swap."

The former marine has been accused of attacking the officers last summer while drunk after attending a party. According to the prosecutors, some Moscow residents called the police when they saw a rowdy troublemaker arguing with two women. The drunk man, who turned out to be Reed, tried to resist arrest.

It was inside the police car that the man suddenly became aggressive and elbowed one officer while tugging on the arm of another - the driver - making the car swerve. The judge said in his verdict that they suffered "mental and physical harm."

The American arrived in Moscow last year to learn Russian and visit his girlfriend, Alina Tsybulnik. A lawyer herself, Tsybulnik told the US media that it was one of her colleagues who called the police after Reed celebrated during a night out with his friends and her co-workers - supposedly because the American was "in a bad state." Reed, who spent almost a year in pre-trial detention, maintained he had no memory of that night's events at all. He also pleaded not guilty precisely because he had no recollection of the incident.

Padlock

California landlords are locking out struggling tenants indicating a 'tsunami of evictions' may be next

Denise Briggs
© Jason Henry/The Guardian
Denise Briggs, of Richmond, California, is being evicted despite the pandemic.
As Covid-19 continues to pummel the state, hundreds of thousands of renters are at risk of becoming homeless.

Christopher Borunda's landlords locked him out. Theresa Ribeiro's landlord left vulgar voicemails threatening to remove her. Denise Briggs's landlord said he was selling her house and she couldn't stay.

Some California tenants have faced increasingly aggressive eviction efforts over the last month, despite emergency protections meant to preserve people's housing during the coronavirus pandemic. And although advocates have urged state officials to strengthen the rules, key renters' protections are set to expire without new state plans in place. The result, experts say, could be catastrophic.

Amid rising coronavirus infections and a worsening economic crisis, hundreds of thousands of renters are now at risk of becoming homeless in California, potentially exacerbating the state's dire housing crisis. In addition, advocates fear the lack of protections will embolden some landlords to resort to hostile methods to get their renters out, at a time when many Californians have nowhere to go. With so many families facing huge rent debt, advocates are urging the state to act. The only viable solution, some activists say, is rent relief - a move that elected officials have so far resisted.

"When talking about the scale of eviction and mass displacement, it's pretty unimaginable," said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The state, she said, was headed towards even more dire conditions than the shanty towns or "Hoovervilles" of the 1930s. "This will be worse than the Great Depression."

Comment: Time will not favor the poor, nor is it likely America will absorb this sudden and extensive economic blow without rippling effects. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism may be a fitting read at this time.


Broom

Vandals trash Venezuelan diplomatic compound in Colombia as tensions between the countries run high

Venezuelan consulate
© Twitter/jaarreaza
Vandalism in Venezuelan consulate in Bogata, Columbia
Mobs broke into the Venezuelan consulate in the Colombian capital of Bogota, looting the mission's premises and breaking furniture, a Venezuelan diplomat has claimed, showing footage of the damage.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called for Colombian authorities to be held accountable for the act of vandalism. He said they left the diplomatic mission unprotected, violating two articles of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations. "The compound of the Venezuelan consulate in Bogota was completely looted and trashed," Arreaza said. "The Colombian state must respond."

Pistol

Pakistan: Man killed for blasphemy charge was American citizen, US demands action

Protest march
© Nadeem Khawer/EPA-EFE
Protest to support man who killed a man accused of blasphemy.
The United States has demanded action over the killing of a U.S. citizen in a Pakistani court this week as he faced blasphemy charges.

The State Department said in a statement on July 30 that the man, Tahir Nasim, was a U.S. citizen and it had urged Islamabad to protect him. The statement said Nasim had been lured from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan's blasphemy laws to entrap him.

"We are shocked, saddened, and outraged that American citizen Tahir Naseem was killed yesterday inside a Pakistani courtroom," the statement said, using an alternative spelling of his name.

Nasim was shot dead on July 29 in a courtroom in the northwestern city of Peshawar amid tight security.

The U.S. government had called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case since his detention in 2018 aiming to "prevent the type of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred," the statement said.

Handcuffs

Russian serviceman arrested for high treason; former journalist accused of passing secrets to Czech Republic

Ivan Safronov
© Sputnik/Alexey Maishev/file
Ivan Safronov, former journalist, advisor to Russian Space Agency
A serviceman from Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been arrested by the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on suspicion of working for Ukrainian military intelligence. If found guilty of high treason, the detained soldier could face between 12 to 20 years behind bars.

In a statement published online, the FSB announced that they had arrested a man in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean Peninsula, who was collecting and transferring state secrets to Ukraine's Ministry of Defense. They did not name the accused, or give his rank.

The serviceman's arrest is the latest in a recent string of high treason arrests this summer. In June, the head of the police in the Russian city of Kursk was detained after being accused of passing secret information to the Ukrainian Security Service. Kursk is just a 90-minute drive away from the border between the two countries.

On July 7, the FSB detained Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and current adviser to the head of the Russian Space Agency, on suspicion of passing secret information to the Czech Republic, a NATO member.

Comment: From covert to Covid: Complications for Safronov.
Former journalist Ivan Safronov, accused by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of spying for Czech intelligence, has been isolated in Moscow's Lefortovo pre-trial detention center due to suspected coronavirus.

According to Eva Merkacheva, from the Public Monitoring Commission - a human rights organization - Safronov has symptoms of Covid-19 and has been transferred to a separate cell, awaiting test results.

Speaking to the press, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that Safronov would receive medical assistance if he does indeed have the virus. "If this information is true, we hope that the necessary testing will be performed, and if the diagnosis is confirmed, the necessary medical care will be provided," he said.

As a journalist, Safronov specialized in the Russian military, writing for well-known Moscow newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He is currently employed as an adviser to the head of Roscosmos, Russia's space agency.