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Protests and blockades greet new Italy Covid rules

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Protesters massed at some of Italy’s major ports Friday as thousands took to the streets against the introduction of one of the world’s toughest Covid pass regimes.

More than 6,500 people demonstrated at the northeastern port of Trieste, according to local government estimates, although regional president Massimiliano Fedriga insisted that “the port is working”.

Delays were reported at the northwestern port of Genoa, where about 300 people blocked an entrance, while pockets of protests broke out across Italy ahead of bigger demonstrations called for later in the day.

The government is braced for widespread disruption by Italians angry at the extension of the coronavirus “Green Pass” to all workers, after a demonstration last weekend sparked violent clashes in Rome.

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From Friday, all workers must show a Green Pass offering proof of vaccination, recent recovery from Covid-19 or a negative test — or face being declared absent without pay.

More than 85 percent of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one jab, thus automatically qualifying for the pass.

Among those who have not been vaccinated, a minority say they either oppose the idea or are fearful. Some foreigners have also reported difficulties getting the jab, including undocumented workers.

But up to three million workers are estimated to be unvaccinated — and most will only be able to work if they pay for their own tests either every 48 or 72 hours, depending on the type.

Ivano Russo, director general of trade group Confetra, told AFP that out of a total of 900,000 truck drivers, couriers and warehouse staff employed by members of his lobby, “25 to 30 percent” do not have Covid certificates.

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Dock workers in Trieste have threatened to go on strike indefinitely, despite being offered free Covid tests.

“Citizens not puppets” and “No Green Pass, No Discrimination” read some of the placards in the crowd gathered Friday.

In Genoa, the small blockade was peaceful early Friday, according to an AFP journalist, although some truck drivers reported delays.

“Today it’s really hard to unload,” Marco, a 50-year-old driver, told the ANSA news agency.

“I have to unload, I have to be able to work. I took the vaccine to get the Green Pass because I have to work.”

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– Downloading passes –

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government says the pass will help prevent further lockdowns in Italy, one of the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Business lobby Confindustria has been among the staunchest backers of the measure, which follows a similar initiative adopted in Greece last month, saying it would “create workplaces that are as safe as possible”.

Introduced in August, initially for museums and indoor dining, it has also had the effect of boosting vaccinations, and rates of infection currently remain low.

The eurozone’s third largest economy is expected to record almost six percent growth this year after a devastating Covid-induced recession.

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Ahead of the extension of the Green Pass to workplaces, more than 560,000 certificates were downloaded on Wednesday and around 860,000 Thursday, according to government data.

However, there are concerns there is not enough capacity for everyone who is not vaccinated to have regular Covid tests, raising the prospect of mass absenteeism from work.

Anyone caught in the workplace without a Green Pass risks fines ranging from 600 to 1,500 euros ($700 to 1700).

And those who fail to turn up for work because they don’t have one face suspension on no pay — but cannot be fired.

Meanwhile, employers can be fined 400 to 1,000 euros for not checking if their staff comply with the rules.

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Trade unions initially called for compulsory vaccinations to avoid discrimination between those who were and were not jabbed.

They are now pushing for free tests, saying staff should not have to pay to go to work, although ministers so far seem unlikely to agree.

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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