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Senior figures urge G20 to create new ways of tackling health threat

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October 28, 2021

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – The world’s 20 richest countries must overcome differences to urgently set up new global mechanisms to confront future health disasters, a group of senior politicians and officials have told G20 leaders.

The leaders meet in Rome this weekend and are due to discuss ways of preparing for the next pandemic after the COVID-19 crisis exposed glaring failings in international cooperation.

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However, diplomats have said there are still major divisions over how best to prevent and contain the spread of potentially catastrophic infectious diseases in future.

A group of prominent figures who advise the G20 or hold senior roles within the World Health Organization (WHO), told the leaders in a letter not to shirk their responsibility.

“The next pandemic could come at any time, and we are unprepared. It may even strike while the world still grapples with COVID-19,” said the document, seen by Reuters.

The letter was signed by World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Singaporean Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam – the co-chairs of a G20 panel reviewing pandemic preparedness.

It was also signed by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who both have roles within the WHO.

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The five signatories said the G20 should create a permanent board that would bring together health and finance ministers tasked with finding the funding needed to prepare for, and hopefully avoid, future pandemics.

They said money was required to bolster the surveillance of disease risks and create a network to speed up the distribution of vaccines and supplies “to avoid both the staggering inequalities of access that COVID-19 has revealed…”.

If spread fairly, such funding would amount to roughly 0.02% of most countries’ gross domestic product and could also involve private finance.

The new forum would complement and flank the WHO, providing more clear cut political and financial muscle than the U.N. agency can currently muster.

Diplomats say the United States, Indonesia and European Union nations have backed the recommendations, while China and Russia, among others, had yet to signal their support.

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The letter said coronavirus, which has killed 5.2 million people around the world, had triggered a deep distrust in global bodies, especially in regions that have had little access to life-saving vaccines.

“Failure to reverse this trust deficit will have lasting consequences. It will make it very difficult to address climate change and future pandemics, or other problems in a dangerous world,” the five signatories said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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