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Tremors felt in Cape Town after earthquake off South African coast
26 September 2020, 10:05 PM

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck offshore from South Africa on Saturday, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Some residents of the southern city of Cape Town posted on Twitter that they had felt the tremor, which the USGS said occurred at around 1710 GMT, at a depth of 10 kilometres and far south of South Africa’s coast.

“Guys, we just felt a tremor in Cape Town. Our house shook, the ground shook and rumbled, there was a faint rumbling sound. It all lasted 5 seconds,” one resident wrote on Twitter. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

 

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate steps down in blow to French initiative
26 September 2020, 5:08 PM

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate quit on Saturday after trying for almost a month to line up a non-partisan cabinet, dealing a blow to a French bid aimed at rallying sectarian leaders to tackle the worst crisis since the nation’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Mustapha Adib, former ambassador to Berlin, was picked on August 31 to form a cabinet after President Emmanuel Macron’s intervention secured a consensus on naming him in a country where power is shared out between Muslims and Christians.

A source close to Macron said the situation that led to Adib’s resignation amounted to “collective betrayal” by political parties but said France, the former colonial power, would not abandon Lebanon.

Under the French roadmap, the new government would take swift steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy that has been crushed by a mountain of debt.

Lebanon faced a further knock when a huge explosion on Aug.4 at Beirut port ruined a swathe of the capital. Adib, a Sunni Muslim under the sectarian power-sharing system, announced he was stepping down but said Lebanon must not abandon the French plan or squander Macron’s goodwill.

“I stress that this initiative must continue,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, a Christian. He wished his successor well in the “hard task” of forming a government. Politicians, whose loyalties tend to run along confessional lines, had promised Paris they would have a government in place by mid-September. But Adib’s efforts stumbled in a dispute over appointments, particularly the post of finance minister, who will have a key role in drawing up an economic rescue plan. “It’s a setback, but we’re not giving up,” a French diplomatic source said.

UNICEF requires more than US$46.7 million to provide aid in Lebanon:

Roadblock

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a vital bailout package stalled this year, and one of the cabinet’s first tasks would have been to restart the negotiations.

The cabinet formation hit a roadblock over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, that they name several ministers, including finance, a position previously held by a Shi’ite. Adib held several meetings with Shi’ite politicians but failed to reach agreement on how the minister would be chosen.

Shi’ite leaders feared being sidelined as Adib sought to shake up appointments to ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same faction for years, politicians said. Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Iranian-backed factions might have wanted to stall the cabinet formation to await the result of a U.S. election on November 3.

US President Donald Trump, seeking re-election, has taken a tough line on Iran and its allies, and his administration imposed sanctions on Lebanese politicians who back Hezbollah. Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said his group still backed the French plan, while Suleiman Frangieh -head of a Christian group allied to Hezbollah – called the initiative a “golden opportunity that Lebanon must not lose.”

The party founded by Lebanon’s president, the Free PatrioticMovement, said it was sticking to the French plan’s principles and urged Macron to continue helping Lebanon. It said a new cabinet needed the support of political blocs.

Opponents accused Adib of not consulting enough. Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a leading Sunni politician who backed Adib, said anyone celebrating the collapse of Macron’s initiative “will bite your fingers in regret.”

The street value of the Lebanese pound, which has plunged from an official peg of 1 500 to the dollar since the economic crisis erupted last year, weakened further after the news. One trader said it was now trading at 8 200 from 7 700 on Friday.

Sudan rejects linking removal from US terrorism list with Israel ties
26 September 2020, 3:57 PM

Sudan does not want to link its removal from a US terrorism list that is hindering access to foreign funding for the country’s economy with a normalisation of relations with Israel, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Saturday.

Sources said this week that US officials indicated intalks with a Sudanese delegation they wanted Khartoum to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and open ties with Israel. Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism dates back to its toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir, and makes it difficult for its new transitional government to access urgently needed debt relief and foreign financing.

Hamdok said Sudan had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit last month it was necessary to separate the removal from the US list from the normalisation of relations with Israel.

“This topic (ties to Israel) needs a deep discussion of the society,” he told a conference in Khartoum to discuss economic reforms. Sudan’s surging inflation and plummeting currency have been the biggest challenges to Hamdok’s transitional administration, which rules with the military since Bashir’s ouster.

Sudan was put on the US list in 1993 because the United States believed Bashir’s regime was supporting militant groups. But many in Sudan consider this is undeserved since Bashir was removed last year and Sudan has long cooperated with the United States on counter-terrorism. The White House and State Department have declined to comment when asked about the status of negotiations. Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a surprise meeting in Uganda earlier this year. Yet opening ties is sensitive, as Sudan was a staunch foe of Israel under Bashir.

Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York.
Michael Bloomberg to spend $100 million in Florida to help elect Joe Biden
13 September 2020, 5:33 PM

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who spent $1 billion on his 2020 Democratic presidential bid before dropping out, plans to inject at least $100 million to help Democrat Joe Biden’s effort against Republican President Donald Trump in the important swing state of Florida.

The decision comes as Trump’s initial financial supremacy over former Vice President Biden earlier this year has largely evaporated after high spending from the campaign and a surge in fundraising by Democrats.

Florida is one of the biggest prizes on Election Day, and it is also the most expensive of the expected battlegrounds in which to campaign. But polls there show a race that is effectively tied. The Republican president, who trails Biden in national opinion polls before the November 3 election, told reporters last week that he would spend his own money if needed.

“I thought Mini Mike was through with Democrat politics,” Trump said on Twitter in reaction to the news. “Save NYC instead.” Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee on Wednesday said they raised a combined $210 million in August, falling far short of matching Biden’s record-breaking haul of $364.5 million for the month.

“Mike Bloomberg is committed to helping defeat Trump, and that is going to happen in the battleground states,” said Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey, who said the spending “will mean Democrats and the Biden campaign can invest even more heavily in other key states like Pennsylvania, which will be critical to a Biden victory.”

Latest poll shows Biden leading Trump:

Africa CDC, WHO step up efforts to find COVID-19 treatment tailored to Africans
13 September 2020, 4:13 PM

As several African countries expand COVID-19 testing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) are also stepping up efforts to assist in the fight against the virus.

They have launched a network of laboratories to reinforce genome sequencing of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, in Africa.

Twelve specialised and regional reference laboratories in the network will provide sequencing, data analysis and other technical support services to the countries where they are located as well as to neighbouring countries and countries in their sub-regions.

The move is in a bid to find solutions that will help countries manage localised or imported transmission.

“As we continue to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, being able to not only track its evolution, but also assess the possible mutation of the virus is crucial to mounting an effective response,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

“Through this new laboratory network dedicated to genome sequencing we can better develop vaccines and treatment which are tailored to Africans and eventually bring COVID-19 under control.”

Africa CDC says on-going sequencing is already providing crucial information for determining the type of SARS-CoV-2 lineage circulating in some countries. It has shown that most of SARS-CoV-2 genomes circulating in Africa are assigned to the B.1 lineage which emerged from the epidemic in Europe.

In Africa, 10 lineages have been identified and more than 80 000 sequences have been produced globally.  According to researchers, grouping viruses from different countries into the same lineage or sub-lineage has indicated a linkage or importation of viruses between countries.

“The establishment of the COVID-19 sequencing network will help improve surveillance in the continent and help countries to effectively manage and control the pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic curve flattens in Africa, we must be prepared for a possible resurgence as already observed in some countries. With genomic sequencing we can have a better understanding of the pandemic through more precise identification of transmission clusters,”  says the Director of Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong.

Africa CDC, WHO and other partners say they are providing Member States with sequencing equipment, reagents and technical support to accelerate SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in Africa.  They say 2 016 sequences from 18 African countries – including Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa – have already been generated.

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