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IOC’s Bach scraps plans for quick visit, will be in Tokyo in mid-July
10 June 2021, 9:34 PM

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach will arrive in Tokyo in the middle of July ahead of the Olympic Games and will not visit before, he said on Thursday.

Bach had wanted to travel to Tokyo in recent months to monitor preparations ahead of the postponed Olympics but those plans were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said he would arrive prior to the July 23 start of the Games, postponed last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This has been discussed with Tokyo 2020 whether it would really make sense to go back and forth,” Bach told a virtual news conference.

“Going to Tokyo, having to respect the quarantine, to be there for a couple of hours and then after two weeks going again having to respect quarantine,” he said.

“We came to the conclusion that it would be better I arrive mid-July in Tokyo, in time for the Games and all the preceding meetings and visits and organisation issues.”

The IOC holds a series of meetings, including a session, prior to the start of the Olympic Games.

Japan has been spared the widespread infections seen elsewhere but has recorded more than 760 000 cases and more than 13 600 deaths. Tokyo and some other regions are under a state of emergency set to be lifted on June 20.

About 11% of Japanese have had at least one vaccine dose – low compared with other rich nations.

To try and reassure the public, Tokyo 2020 organisers have banned foreign visitors and said visiting athletes and media crews will be monitored via GPS for the first 14 days of their stay to ensure they do not stray from itineraries.

Patient Pavlyuchenkova reaches major final at 52nd attempt
10 June 2021, 7:52 PM

Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova held steady to beat an erratic Tamara Zidansek in straight sets on Thursday and reach the French Open final at her 52nd Grand Slam tournament.

The 29-year-old’s 7-5 6-3 win made her the woman with the most attempts ever needed to reach the final of one of the sport’s four majors.

It was reward for her patience throughout a career that has earned her 12 titles but none on the biggest of stages, and for her calmness against a player who blew hot and cold.

Pavlyuchenkova, the oldest of the four first-time semi-finalists here, will play 17th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece or the unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova in Saturday’s final.

“I am so tired and so happy, it is very emotional,” Pavlyuchenkova said on a sunlit Court Philippe Chatrier.

“It was difficult, I tried to fight very hard and to work on the tactical side. It is important to stay focused and in the right zone for the final on Saturday.”

While 31st seed Pavlyuchenkova had reached the quarter-finals at six Grand Slams, Zidansek had only managed three match wins at Grand Slams before arriving in Paris.

Yet the 23-year-old Slovenian has flourished after knocking out former U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu in round one.

Her destructive forehand worked well initially and she broke Pavlyuchenkova’s opening service game before holding to love. But she missed a smash at 2-1 as the Russian got back on level terms and then broke for a 5-3 lead.

Zidansek produced an incredible improvised lob volley and crunching forehand winners to break back and was 15-40 when Pavlyuchenkova served at 5-5 but could not convert the chance.

Pavlyuchenkova calmly absorbed Zidansek’s best shots and was gifted the first set with a double-fault.

ATTEMPTED COMEBACK

The Russian forged 4-1 ahead in the second set and snuffed out an attempted Zidansek comeback, clinching victory when her opponent blazed a backhand wide, her 33rd unforced error.

There was little by way of celebration for Pavlyuchenkova who looked relived more than anything as she became the first woman to require 50 or more attempts to reach a Grand Slam final and the first Russian woman to make one since Maria Sharapova lost to Serena Williams at the 2015 Australian Open.

“Definitely, trying to soak this in and enjoy as much as possible this very special moment for me,” Pavlyuchenkova, who took six more Grand Slam appearances to reach a final than previous record holder Roberta Vinci (who reached the U.S. Open final in her 44th in 2015), told reporters.

“I didn’t feel great today. I actually felt I was a bit negative on myself because I thought I expected myself playing better. I just didn’t feel like I was playing good.”

Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, who won her first Slam at Wimbledon in 2013, aged 28, said Pavlyuchenkova would be a worthy champion if she can triumph on Saturday.

“Not everyone can win their first Grand Slam at 19 or 20 years of age. If she can grab the moment and make that title hers she will deserve it entirely,” she told ITV Sport.

Zidansek was left to rue missed opportunities.

“The fact that I managed to play this well, got this far, just shows me that I can play on the big stage,” she said.

France to announce troop reduction in Sahel operations: Sources
10 June 2021, 6:34 PM

French President Emmanuel Macron will announce on Thursday a reduction in French troops battling militants in the Sahel region of West Africa, two sources with knowledge of the decision and a French official in West Africa told Reuters.

France has hailed some success against Sahel militants in recent months but the situation is extremely fragile and Paris has grown frustrated with no apparent end in sight to its operations and political turmoil especially in Mali.

The troop reduction decision comes days after Malian army Colonel Assimi Goita took power following his overthrow of a second president in nine months.

Macron described the move as a “coup within a coup” and temporarily suspended joint operations between French and Malian troops on June 3. One of the sources said that along with the troop cut, there could also be redeployment to Niger.

The decision on the French troop cutback was made during a defence cabinet meeting on Wednesday, two of the sources said. Macron was due to speak at a news conference in Paris later in the day.

He had pushed back a decision on a troop reduction after a virtual summit in February of the five Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – and their allies, during which Chad announced the deployment of 1 200 troops to complement 5 100 French soldiers in the area.

None of the sources were aware of how many troops would be pulled out or what other changes were planned.

“Obviously France is not going to stay forever in the Sahel. It was known since the beginning and obviously, it is Africans who have to assure the security of African countries,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Ivory Coast when asked about a reduction in troops.

Last year, Paris boosted its troop numbers for its Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel by 600. That move was meant to be temporary.

Military and diplomatic sources had indicated that an “adjustment” in the French presence would depend on the involvement of other European countries in the Takuba Task Force fighting militants in the Sahel alongside the Malian and Nigerien armies. Those forces have ramped up in recent months.

The foreign and armed forces ministries declined to comment. The French presidency did not respond to a request for comment.

Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold across the region, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Biden meets Britain’s Johnson, to warn over N.Irish peace
10 June 2021, 6:24 PM

US President Joe Biden brought a grave Brexit warning to his first meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday: Prevent a row with the European Union from imperilling the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.

On his first trip abroad since taking office in January, Biden met Johnson in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay ahead of a Friday-Sunday G7 summit, a NATO summit on Monday, a US-EU summit on Tuesday and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the following day.

Biden will try to use the trip to burnish his multilateral credentials after the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency, which left many US allies in Europe and Asia bewildered and some alienated.

Biden, though, has an uncomfortable message for Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign: Stop heated EU divorce negotiations from undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States,” said Sullivan, who declined to characterise Johnson’s actions as imperilling the peace.

As the two leaders met in Carbis Bay, though, they appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the turquoise waters of the Atlantic with the First Lady, who wore a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”, and Johnson’s new wife, Carrie, who wore a red dress.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” the First Lady said as she looked out across the sea.

Britain’s exit from the European Union strained the peace in Northern Ireland to a breaking point because the 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets, yet a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland shares a border with EU member Ireland.

Such is Biden’s concern over Northern Ireland that Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Ireland hailed Biden’s intervention while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned Johnson against taking any more unilateral steps to undermine the Brexit deal.

TROUBLES

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries that killed 3,600 people.

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, will make a statement of principle about the importance of that peace deal, Sullivan said.

“He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums, he’s going to simply convey his deep-seated belief that we need to stand behind and protect this protocol,” Sullivan said.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

The EU and Britain tried to solve the border riddle with the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement, which keeps the province in both the United Kingdom’s customs territory and the EU’s single market.

Pro-British unionists say the Brexit deal that Johnson signed contravenes the 1998 peace deal and London has said the protocol is unsustainable in its current form after supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland were disrupted.

Britain, home to a large Airbus facility, and the European Union are hoping to resolve a nearly 17-year old dispute with the United States over aircraft subsidies to Boeing and Airbus.

US, British and EU officials have expressed optimism that a settlement can be reached before July 11, when currently suspended tariffs will come back into force on all sides.

One source close to the negotiations said the discussions were progressing well but a deal was unlikely to be reached before the US-EU summit next week.

Johnson, who wrote a biography of British wartime leader Winston Churchill, will agree with Biden an “Atlantic Charter”, modelled on the 1941 deal struck by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the prime minister’s office said.

The two leaders will agree to a task force to look at resuming UK-US travel as soon as possible and also discuss how to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorer nations.

Biden plans to buy and donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to more than 90 countries, while calling on the world’s democracies to do their part to help end the deadly pandemic.

West Indies win the toss and bat in first test vs South Africa
10 June 2021, 4:46 PM

West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite won the toss and elected to bat in the first test of a two-match series against South Africa that starts at a windy Daren Sammy Cricket Ground in Saint Lucia on Thursday.

The home side have handed a debut to 19-year-old fast bowler Jayden Seales – who has only played one previous first class match in his young career. He fills in for the injured Shannon Gabriel.

West Indies have also recalled opening batsman Shai Hope and all-rounder Roston Chase, who will give them another spinning option along with the burly Rahkeem Cornwall.

South Africa have included batsmen Keegan Petersen and Kyle Verreynne for their debuts in what has been a brittle top six batting line-up of late.

They take the place of Faf du Plessis, who retired from test cricket earlier this year, and Temba Bavuma (hip injury). Petersen will bat at number three and Verreynne at five.

The tourists have chosen a four-prong seam attack including Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and all-rounder Wiaan Mulder, with Keshav Maharaj the specialist spin option.

South Africa have a dominant record against their hosts, who have won only three of their previous 28 matches, though recent tests have been rare with this only the second series in a decade.

Teams:

West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite (captain), Shai Hope, Nkrumah Bonner, Kyle Mayers, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder, Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales.

South Africa: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar (captain), Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Quinton de Kock, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje.

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