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Ex-French PM faces fraud trial

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Former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris' courthouse, for the hearing of his trial over claims he embezzled over one million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS (AFP) — A French court is scheduled to give its verdict Monday in the trial of former premier Francois Fillon on charges of setting up a fake job for his wife, although the ruling could be delayed by a controversy over alleged pressure on prosecutors.

Fillion is accused of creating a post that paid his wife over one million euros in public funds, a scandal that torpedoed his 2017 presidential bid.

It is one of a number of fraud cases against senior politicians opened in recent months and seen by some as a test of whether the French elite can be held accountable.

But there is some doubt over whether the Paris court will deliver its ruling after a controversy erupted over alleged pressure on prosecutors.

The former head of the Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), Eliane Houlette, told lawmakers on June 10 she had met with “pressure” to bring charges quickly against Fillon.

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TikTok urges court to block Trump’s ban on app in US

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(AFP)

TikTok is urging a federal court to block US President Donald Trump from banning the video app, arguing the move is motivated by election politics rather than legitimate national security concerns.

The Chinese-owned app — which is wildly popular in the US — has come under fire as tensions escalate between Beijing and Washington, with Trump threatening a ban if it is not sold to an American company.

Attorneys are set to argue the case on Thursday before a judge who will decide whether to put Trump’s order on hold until a lawsuit over the ban is resolved.

Citing “confusing and contradictory statements about TikTok” by the president and other agencies, the motion for a preliminary injunction argues a ban is not motivated by “genuine national security concern, but rather by political considerations relating to the upcoming general election.”

TikTok, which became a global phenomenon with its brand of short, addictive phone videos, has some 100 million US users.

A deal to restructure ownership of the app was thrown into doubt Monday when Trump vowed to block a deal that allows its Chinese parent firm ByteDance to retain any control.

The comments cast doubt over an agreement that had appeared to cut a way through the threatened ban.

The deal would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the data partner for TikTok, with retail giant Walmart also taking a minority stake in a new entity to be called TikTok Global.

As competing statements deepened the mystery over the app’s future, ByteDance earlier said TikTok Global plans to launch a “small round of pre-IPO financing” after which it would become an 80 percent-owned subsidiary of ByteDance.

But Trump told Fox News om Monday that TikTok’s Chinese parent firm “will have nothing to do with it.”

Oracle and Walmart “are going to own the controlling interest,” he added. “Everything is going to be moved into a cloud done by Oracle… and it’s going to be controlled — totally controlled by Oracle.”

ByteDance said Thursday that it had applied for an export license with the commerce ministry, although it did not link the move to TikTok or any potential sale.

China’s commerce ministry published new rules in August that added “civilian use” to a list of technologies that are restricted for export and require permission, which could complicate any sale.

Winning a temporary injunction typically involves convincing a judge that not intervening would allow irreparable harm to be done to a party likely to win the case.

TikTok would suffer “devastating harm” from which it could not recover if Trump’s ban is found to be unlawful, the motion argued.

As US relations with China grew more contentious, Trump began targeting TikTok, the filing read.

The motion also speculated that TikTok had irked the president because of reports the app was used by his critics to snatch up tickets to a Trump rally in Tulsa to which they had no intention of going — an event which belly flopped with significantly fewer people in attendance.

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North Korea shot dead South Korean defector: officials

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North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector after interrogating him at sea, then poured oil over his body and burned it over coronavirus fears, Seoul military officials said Thursday.

The man had disappeared off a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong, the South Korean defence ministry said in a statement.

He was wearing a lifejacket, a military official told AFP, adding that “circumstances tell us that there was an intent to defect”, without providing evidence.

According to the South’s Yonhap news agency, the man was located by North Korean forces and questioned from a boat by an official wearing protective equipment.

“He was shot dead in the water,” the military official told AFP. “North Korean soldiers poured oil over his body and burnt it in the water.”

The burning appears to have been intended as a precaution against the coronavirus, in response to which Pyongyang has closed its borders and declared an emergency.

“We assess it was carried out under the North’s anti-coronavirus measure,” the military official told AFP.

The killing took place after an “order from superior authority”, Yonhap cited South Korean officials as saying.

Seoul’s defence ministry condemned the shooting as an “outrageous act”.

“We sternly warn North Korea that all responsibilities for this incident lie with it,” it said.

In July, a North Korean defector who had fled to the South three years ago sneaked back over the heavily fortified border into the impoverished nation.

His crossing prompted North Korean officials to put the border city of Kaesong under lockdown amid fears that he may have carried the coronavirus.

US Forces Korea commander Robert Abrams said earlier this month that North Korean authorities had issued shoot-to-kill orders to prevent the coronavirus entering the country from China, creating a “buffer zone” at the border.

The isolated North — whose crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak — has not confirmed a single case of the disease that has swept the world since first emerging in China, the North’s key ally.

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January to try to prevent contamination, and in July state media said it had raised its state of emergency to the maximum level.

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Former ‘world’s heaviest man’ defeats coronavirus

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A Mexican who was once the world’s heaviest man has beaten the coronavirus, helped — he believes — by several years of dieting, exercise and stomach-reduction surgery that saw him shed hundreds of kilos.

Juan Pedro Franco used to weigh 595 kilos (1,310 pounds) — more than the average male polar bear and enough to be certified by Guinness World Records in 2017.

The 36-year-old now weighs around 208 kilos, but his history of diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease made his battle against the virus particularly grueling.

“It’s a very aggressive disease. I had a headache, body ache, breathing difficulty, a fever. I was a very high-risk person,” Franco told AFP from his home in the central state of Aguascalientes.

Mexico, which has the world’s fourth-highest Covid-19 death toll, has the highest obesity rate on the planet among children and the second-highest among adults.

A quarter of the more than 74,000 Mexicans who have died after catching the virus were overweight.

Many of the dead suffered from at least one underlying condition such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, often associated with a poor diet and lack of exercise.

“Patients who are diabetic, have hypertension and heart disease are more susceptible to serious complications” from the virus, said Jose Antonio Castaneda, the doctor who headed the team that treated Franco’s obesity.

“Their chances of pulling through are very slim,” he added.

His patient, who was once too heavy to get out of bed, was an exception.

Franco, who lost his 66-year-old mother to Covid-19, believes that his weight loss treatment — including three operations — helped him to survive because his diabetes and hypertension are now under control.

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6 Chinese cities in science list

A concentration of talent, funding, research institutions and other resources is crucial for the top five global science cities to maintain their leading positions.

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BEIJING is humming with activity in this photo showing people queuing to board buses at a bus terminal during the evening rush hour. China’s capital city is one of six Chinese cities included in the Top 20 rankings in science, in Beijing. / NICOLAS ASFOURI/Agence France-Presse

BEIJING, China (China Daily) — Beijing ranked as the top science city globally, followed by New York, Boston, San Francisco/San Jose and Shanghai, in the Nature Index global science city 2020 rankings released during the recently concluded Zhongguancun Forum.

Four other Chinese cities — Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Hefei — ranked among the top 20 global science cities.

David Swinbanks, founder of the Nature Index, said a concentration of talent, funding, research institutions and other resources is crucial for the top five global science cities to maintain their leading positions.

He spoke via video at the forum, saying that cooperation between the top five cities is pretty close.

A key metric used by the index is “share” — a city’s contribution to science publication with its own country.

Beijing’s contribution to China was 21 percent, more than double that of any other city in the top five — New York (10.3 percent), Boston (9.5 percent), San Francisco/San Jose (8.4 percent) and Shanghai (10.9 percent), according to STM Publishing News which focuses on science, technical and medical publishing professionals of the world.

Beijing is also home to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which, at the institutional level, leads the index in share and acts as a central hub of Chinese scientific collaboration.

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China puts people, lives first

That was a serious contrast to some US politicians who are still fighting for their political ends while ignoring people’s lives.

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CHINESE President Xi Jinping addresses the United Nations on its 75th anniversary, a video link of which is shown on an outdoor screen as pedestrians walk past below in Beijing. / GREG BAKER/Agence France-Presse

BEIJING, China (Global Times) — In stark contrast to the United States which apparently turned the UN General Assembly — a multilateral dialogue platform — into a battlefield to attack and defame China, China stressed putting people and lives first in battling COVID-19, and that major countries should act like major countries by taking up their due responsibility and live up to people’s expectations.

Though the Chinese president did not mention the US in his speech, unlike Donald Trump who started his speech by mentioning the “China virus,” Chinese analysts described the virtual speeches as a “face off” between China and the US, in which Chinese President Xi Jinping’s words and pledges were gentle but powerful, which fully displayed China’s image as a responsible major country which honors commitment, respects science and stresses actions.

During the general debate, state leaders all focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and health. Xi pledged that China will provide COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries on a priority basis, and will honor its commitment to provide $2 billion in international assistance over two years.

He also promised to provide another $50 million to the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, and establish the phase III FAO-China SSC Trust Fund with $50 million.

COVID-19 will not be the last crisis to confront humanity, so we must join hands and be prepared to meet even more global challenges, he said.

“That was a serious contrast to some US politicians who are still fighting for their political ends while ignoring people’s lives,” Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

In the speech, Trump told the United Nations General Assembly to “hold China accountable for their actions” related to the coronavirus pandemic, and accused the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO), which he said is virtually controlled by China, of falsely declaring that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

On the same day, the US just topped 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in less than 8 months.

“It is evident that Trump has abandoned his efforts to deal with the epidemic,” Lü said, slamming Trump for boasting about his achievements as being “shameless.”

The US has always been self-centered while China stressed inclusiveness and a shared prosperity. Trump gave the fullest expression of the “egotism” of the US culture in his speech full of attacks and defamation against China, Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

On the contrary, China has consistently emphasized its role and responsibilities in supporting others in fighting the virus, in a humble rather than condescending way that Trump took.

While many countries were not able to denounce Trump in public, many ridiculed Trump’s arrogance and his destructive power over the world alliance systems, Wang said.

Despite touting the US as the most powerful country in the world, Trump offered nothing of substance in his speech. China, the second largest contributor to the UN, continued its principle of promoting global common development by providing another two funding packages and expressing its determination to share the experience with the rest of the world, experts noted.

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Japan may ease virus restrictions

Business visitors are already allowed from seven places — including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.

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Japan is considering loosening its coronavirus entry restrictions, local media report. /AFP

TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — Japan is considering easing strict coronavirus border restrictions from October to allow more foreign nationals to enter, local media reported Wednesday.

Tourists would still be banned and only longer-term visas approved, the reports said, as the nation looks to rebuild its economy and prepare for the postponed Olympics next year.

Japan currently bans entry for foreigners from most countries, but has been negotiating the gradual resumption of cross-border business travel.

Business visitors are already allowed from seven places — including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.

This limited travel resumption has not resulted in additional virus cases, so the government is now considering letting in eligible visa-holders from all countries, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Several other local media outlets reported similar stories, also citing unnamed sources. Arrivals would be capped at 1,000 per day and the minimum stay would be three months, they said.

An immigration agency official could not confirm the reports, saying only that negotiations on business travel resumption were ongoing with several countries.

Government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters that ministers “will study how to resume accepting new visitors while preventing a resurgence of infections”.

“We will deal carefully with the issue while keeping an eye on the virus situation,” he added.

With the postponed Olympics due to open in July, discussions are also ongoing about how to handle the arrival and movements of athletes and spectators.

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380 whales dead

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Hundreds of whales have died in Tasmania's biggest mass stranding, with rescuers racing to save a few dozen animals stuck on a sandbar - POOL/AFP

HOBART, Australia (AFP) — At least 380 whales have died in a mass stranding in southern Australia, officials said Wednesday, with rescuers managing to free just a few dozen survivors.

Nearly the entire pod of 460 long-finned pilot whales stuck in Macquarie Harbour, on the rugged and sparsely populated west coast of Tasmania, has now perished.

“We have got a more accurate count and we can confirm that 380 whales are dead,” Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.

“There’s around 30 left still alive but the good news is that we have saved 50,” he said, describing the rescue effort as emotionally taxing.

The first of the giant mammals were found on Monday, sparking a major effort to free them from a sandbar only accessible by boat.

It is the largest mass stranding ever recorded in Tasmania, an island state off mainland Australia’s south coast, and likely the biggest in the country’s history.

A rescue crew of 60 conservationists, skilled volunteers and local fish farm workers has concentrated efforts on a group of whales partially submerged in the water.

The rescuers have spent two days wading in the cold shallows to free the still living creatures, using boats fitted with special slings to guide them back to the open ocean.

They are now racing to free as many of the 30 remaining live whales as possible.

“They’re focused on the job — it’s demanding work, some of them are up to their chest in cold water so we’re trying to rotate the crews,” Deka said.

“Its very draining physically. It’s also draining emotionally.”

The whales have been found stranded up to 10 kilometers (six miles) apart, and officials have now expanded their search area to see if more of the mammals are stuck nearby.

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Huawei presents next vision

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SHANGHAI, China (Global Times) — While some people are still wondering about the fate of Huawei, the Chinese tech giant which has been just cut from almost all chip supplies under a US chip ban effective from 15 September, doesn’t seem to be as worried as expected and has presented its next vision to the world — use all its technological strength to empower its partners in the industrial chain become stronger in the upcoming ICT era.

During the annual Huawei Connect 2020 held in Shanghai on Wednesday, an annual flagship event hosted by Huawei for the global ICT industry, also the first large-scale offline event it held after the chip ban, Huawei unveiled its next focus: creating new value with industry partners across the tech domains of network, computing, cloud service and AI.

It has also vowed to “leave no one behind in the digital world, make millions of dreams come true” through its technological strength.

“In the next phase, Huawei will work with its partners to apply ICT technologies to industries, helping enterprises grow their businesses and helping governments achieve their strategic goals of boosting domestic industry, benefiting their constituents, and improving overall governance,” Guo Ping, rotating chairman of Huawei, said in Shanghai on Wednesday.

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Mexicans prefer dying at home

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HEALTH workers go door to door looking for people with coronavirus symptoms in Tlapa de Comonfort in the southern state of Guerrero. PEDRO PARDO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MEXICO CITY (AFP) — By the time 61-year-old Mexican mechanic Martin Urdiain finally decided to go to hospital to seek treatment for the coronavirus, it was already too late. He died the next day.

When Urdiain and his wife fell ill, they chose to stay at their home in Mexico City rather than put their trust in the creaking public health system.

After their symptoms worsened, they even bought two mechanical ventilators for $3,400 instead of going to hospital.

“He was suspicious because he saw on the news about the overflowing hospitals, and poor care, but in the end he felt worse and finally went,” Urdiain’s brother Alfredo told AFP.

Urdiain died on 17 June, while his wife recovered without hospitalization.

In Mexico, it is common to hear of people choosing to fight the virus on their own at home, sometimes refusing to be taken to hospital by paramedics.

The government has recognized that the health system has suffered from years of neglect, but says it is working to improve standards.

When the pandemic began, Mexico had a shortage of 200,000 doctors and 300,000 nurses, prompting the health ministry to embark on a major hiring spree.

It also scrambled to refurbish a thousand hospitals and buy supplies with an investment of $1.9 billion.

‘I’ll never return’
Rather than set foot in hospital, Jessica Castillo endured a week at home in Hidalgo state in central Mexico where she even had suicidal thoughts, the 43-year-old pastry chef said.

“I felt that the air I was breathing wasn’t entering my lungs, but I said ‘If I go to hospital, I’ll never return.’”

Castillo, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, said her distrust of the public health system stems from the poor care she received before the pandemic.

“I don’t believe them. They’ve hurt me a lot physically, and emotionally.

“I haven’t even been for medicine for my diabetes for about three years. I prefer to buy it elsewhere,” said Castillo, who took more than a month to recover from the virus.

With more than 73,000 deaths, Mexico has the world’s fourth-highest Covid-19 toll, although the government says that is partly due to its large population.

The country of 128 million has officially registered nearly 700,000 coronavirus infections.

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