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U.S., Indonesia call for new G20 forum to prepare for next pandemic

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October 27, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world’s biggest economies should create a forum to facilitate global coordination for the next pandemic, as well as a new financing facility to keep up with emerging threats, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Tuesday.

In a letter to their G20 colleagues https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0435, the two finance ministers said the forum would allow health and finance ministers to better cooperate and coordinate prevention, detection, information-sharing, and any needed response.

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A copy of the letter, dated Monday, was posted Tuesday by the Treasury Department.

Yellen and Indrawati said the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 5.2 million people around the world, had revealed a lack of readiness at the country level and a lack of coordination among G20 countries.

“While we are making progress in fighting COVID-19, we also face a stark reality: this will not be the last pandemic,” they wrote ahead of Friday’s joint meeting of G20 health and finance ministers. “We must not lose this opportunity to demonstrate leadership with a decisive commitment to act.”

Several independent organizations, including the High-Level Independent Panel headed by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Singaporean Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, have called for creation of such a forum,

Yellen and Indrawati said the forum would elevate and empower the work of the World Health Organization and other technical entities, but should include diverse voices and perspectives from around the world, such as the African Union.

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They said a new financing facility could complement the resources of multilateral development banks and ensure sufficient dedicated, reliable financing so that vaccination and treatment can keep up with emerging threats.

While the two initiatives were complementary, their timetables need not be interlinked, the ministers said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Gambians vote for president using marbles in key test for stability

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December 4, 2021

By Pap Saine and Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) -Gambians cast their votes for president on Saturday using a unique voting system – marbles dropped into each candidate’s ballot drum – to decide a tightly fought election that is seen as a test of stability and democratic progress.

It is Gambia’s first democratic election since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.

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Jammeh, who was defeated by an opposition coalition that backed current President Adama Barrow, fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after refusing to accept defeat https://reut.rs/31oknjP.

Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and property developer, cast his vote in a crowded polling station in the capital, Banjul, accompanied by his two wives.

“I’m happy to see a large turnout from Gambian voters,” he said after voting, adding that he was confident of victory.

Barrow is facing five rivals including his former political mentor, Ousainou Darboe, 73, seen as his main challenger.

Darboe called for calm after the vote, urging his supporters in the tourism-dependent nation not to respond to any provocation.

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“Remember, we are in the tourism season, the slightest disturbance in this country will drive away all the tourists,” he said.

Nearly 1 million people from a population of 2.5 million are registered to vote in Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country. Turnout is expected to be high, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has said.

“I want to see a better Gambia, a far better Gambia than the previous years,” said civil servant Bubacarr Kanteh, 39, outside the polling station.

Before the polls opened, officials carried the voting drums outside to show the queues of voters that they were empty.

Gambians are comfortable with using glass marbles to vote, said Mamadou A. Barry, an official at the IEC.

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The system, which was introduced in the 1960s to avoid spoilt ballots in a nation with a high illiteracy rate, is “transparent and fair”, Barry said.

Results are expected by Sunday under the simple majority system.

Other candidates https://reut.rs/3EqrXsH include Essa Mbye Faal, who served as chief counsel of Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that chronicled the abuses of Jammeh’s rule, and Mama Kandeh, who came third in 2016 and is backed by Jammeh.

As campaigning wrapped up on Thursday, hundreds of jubilant Barrow supporters gathered in downtown Banjul for a final rally, hoping another Barrow term would secure stability as Gambia seeks to put 22 years of Jammeh rule behind it.

Critics, however, say Barrow has broken his promises, pointing to how he backtracked on a pledge to serve only three years after winning in 2016. Barrow has argued the constitution requires him to serve out a full five-year term.

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(Reporting by Pap Saine and Bate FelixWriting by Bate Felix and Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Sandra Maler and David Clarke)

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Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

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December 4, 2021

UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) – Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.

Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.

It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.

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The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Germany’s Social Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 4, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD), which narrowly won a federal election in September, voted on Saturday to back a coalition agreement with the Greens and Free Democrats that should allow the three-way alliance to take over next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the ideologically disparate Greens, the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Greens and the FDP also need the approval of their members for the deal that the three parties agreed last month. They hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’ respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’s biggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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