World News

Huge crowds protest again in Belarus as opposition ultimatum for Lukashenko expires

Duminda Cooray/iStockBY: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- Police used stun grenades and fired non-lethal weapons on Sunday to attack peaceful protesters in Belarus’ capital who are demanding the resignation of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

An estimated 100,000 protesters marched peacefully through Minsk in what appeared to be the largest demonstration in weeks. People were rallying ahead of an ultimatum set by the opposition for Lukashenko to step down from power.

Police did not act against the crowds in Minsk for most of the day. But as darkness fell, videos posted by local media showed police attacking a large crowd with stun grenades and appearing to open fire. In the videos, people can be seeing running in panic as explosions and clouds of white smoke go off.

Shots could also be heard and local media reported that rubber bullets had been used.

There were reports of injuries among protesters. The Belarusian human rights group Vesna said over 120 people had been arrested in several cities.

Videos also showed police roughly detaining people in other towns, including in Grodno and Brest.

Huge protests have gathered in Minsk each Sunday for 11 weekends in a row since Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term in a presidential election widely criticized as rigged.

Two weeks ago, Belarus’ key opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, announced what she called a “People’s Ultimatum” demanding that Lukashenko resign by midnight Sunday or else face a national strike.

The ultimatum is seen as a potential moment of reckoning for the protest movement and Lukashenko’s regime after two months of stalemate. Despite the huge demonstrations, the security forces and most of the government have remained loyal to Lukashenko.

The question is whether the opposition now has the power to mobilize major strikes and civil disobedience sufficient to move the crisis into a new phase.

Besides Lukashenko’s resignation, the opposition’s ultimatum had also called for all political prisoners to be freed and violence against protesters to end.

Tikhanovskaya — who is in exile in Lithuania — said the national strike should go ahead, noting the violence from Lukashenko’s security forces.

“The regime today again showed Belarusians that violence is the only thing that it’s capable of. But to explode stun grenades in a crowd of people,” she said in a statement Sunday. “That’s not strength.”

She went on, “This regime is not worthy of the Belarusian people. It means it will lose power.”

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have sanctioned senior Belarusian officials over their alleged role in rigging August’s election and violence against protesters.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pope names US Archbishop Wilton Gregory 1st African American cardinal

piola666/iStockBY: BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC NEWS

(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis on Sunday elevated Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Wilton Gregory, to cardinal, making him the first African American appointed to the red-hat conclave.

The 72-year-old Gregory, who led the Roman Catholic Church's response to an internal sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis during his noontime prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The cardinal nominees will be installed during a ceremony on Nov. 28.

"With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church," cardinal-elect Gregory said in a statement following the news from the Holy See.

In naming the selections, the pope elevated several archbishops from developing countries, including Cuba, the Congo and Guatemala. Nine of the new cardinals are younger than 80, a requirement to be allowed to vote on a successor to the pontiff.

The pope said the new crop of cardinals have all shown dedication to "the missionary vocation of the Church that continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all men and women of the earth."

The new appointments will expand the College of Cardinal's from 120 to 128 electors, who hail from 68 countries.

The elevation of Gregory to cardinal will make him the highest-ranking African American prelate in the nation.

The historical appointment came two years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter condemning what it called an accumulation of “episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones" and imploring the Catholic church to practice what it preaches in regards to racial equality.

In June, Francis denounced the “sin of racism” and identified George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, as the victim of a “tragic” killing.

“We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said at the time.

Gregory, who was born and raised in Chicago, was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago in May 1973, according to his biography on the Archdiocese of Washington website. He served as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, from 1994 to December 2004, when Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Gregory was elected president o the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001 and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the "Charter of Protection of Children and Young People" that laid out five principles for responding to a sex abuse crisis involving Catholic clergy and conceded they had been remiss in protecting children from pedophile priests.

During his tenure in Atlanta, Gregory came under criticism for spending $2.2 million in church money earmarked for charity to build a Tudor-style mansion for the archbishop's residence. He made national news in 2014 when he sold the mansion and used the proceeds for pastoral work, a move in keeping with the austere priorities set by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis appointed Gregory as the seventh archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington on April 4, 2019.

Earlier this year, Gregory issued a statement rebuking a visit by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., for a photo op.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," Gregory said.

His statement came just days after protesters outside the White House were tear-gassed and forcibly removed so Trump could walk to a vandalized St John's Episcopal Church and pose for photos holding a Bible.

“St. Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth," Gregory's statement added. "He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ethiopian prime minister compared to Mandela now ruling with an iron fist

Smart/iStockBY: GUY DAVIES, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 44, burst onto the international scene as a leading light in African politics when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

Abiy received the award primarily for his efforts in ending one of the continent's most protracted conflicts -- a decades-long frozen war between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea -- with the Nobel committee also commending his efforts to "build democracy" and his contributions to "peace and reconciliation" in East Africa.

"Over the past few months, Ethiopia has made historic investments in peace, the returns of which we will see in years to come," Abiy said in his acceptance speech. "We have released all political prisoners. We have shut down detention facilities where torture and vile human rights abuses took place."

As the phenomenon dubbed "Abiymania" took hold at home, the new prime minister was even compared to Nelson Mandela in some quarters of the international press.

Now, just one year after that speech, the Ethiopian leader has a very different reputation. Several experts told ABC News that not only has he failed to live up to his early promises, he has unleashed a wave of repression, locking up those he once freed, advancing a dangerous form of nationalism and indefinitely postponing elections.

Rise to power


Abiy, the former head of one of Ethiopia's top security agencies before his career in politics, was appointed prime minister in April 2018, becoming the continent's youngest national leader, after the unexpected resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn following months of anti-government protests.

Abiy was tasked with leading Ethiopia's transition to democracy on the condition he would invite back exiled opposition, according to Awol Allo, a former admirer of Abiy and lecturer at Keele University in England. Ethiopians, yearning for change, welcomed his vision of renewed democracy and human rights-led governance.

"I think most of the accolades and admiration that Abiy received at the beginning largely emerged out of the desperation of the Ethiopian public for some kind of change," Allo told ABC News. "This is a society that has not really seen a head of government that even pretends to want to make things good for them, to want to be democratic and address the urgent needs and demands of the public."

The opposition in exile were invited back into Ethiopia's political fold soon after Abiy's appointment, and political prisoners of the previous regime were released. Meanwhile, eye-catching policies such as the selection of an equal-gendered cabinet and the promise to plant a million trees stoked excitement both at home and abroad. But it was the peace secured with neighboring Eritrea that truly captured the world's attention. The conflict, though frozen in a "no peace, no war" stalemate for 20 years, was marred by deadly violence throughout the 1990s that claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.

For a moment, Abiy's premiership appeared to be a new dawn over one of the world's poorest countries.

But within weeks of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Abiy already was deploying the language of a very different leader -- saying that Ethiopia was "readied" for war with Egypt over an ongoing dispute over the Nile dam. Citing "domestic concerns," he refused to take questions publicly after the award. Very quickly, it became clear at home the Abiy's intentions were quite different from his international image.

"In terms of the Nobel itself, it is very difficult to think of a political leader who was awarded the prize that conducted himself in the same manner," Allo said. "[It is] now very clear that all accolades and praises showered on him, including by myself, were premature."

The return to oppression

Human rights groups have issued repeated warnings about Abiy's recent actions. In March, millions of Ethiopians in the western Oromia region faced a government shutdown of the internet and phone services -- just as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold. Thousands were arrested after the killing of Hachalu Hundesa, an outspoken popular singer, with a police crackdown on intercommunal protests that left at least 177 killed over the summer, according to Amnesty International.

Elections have been twice delayed this year, now indefinitely, due to the pandemic. Those same opposition groups who were invited back from exile have since been locked up, according to Allo.

"The man came out of nowhere, changed the party, and he knows the party could not win a competitive election," he said. "So what did he do? He rounded everybody up and put them in jail."

Most shocking of all, Ethiopia's security services were accused of "horrendous human rights violations" in response to communal violence and attacks by local armed groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions, including rape, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions.

"The Ethiopian authorities have made notable progress in changing the country's bleak human rights record," Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, noted back in May. "However, it is unacceptable that the security forces should be allowed to carry on committing human rights violations with impunity."

What can explain the change in Abiy, a former darling of the international human rights community now accused of leading a police state?

To understand Abiy, according to Allo, you have to look back to the time, before the 1974 Revolution, when Ethiopia was ruled by emperors -- the last of whom was Haile Salaisse. Now, Ethiopia is governed under a federation of nine territories given autonomy. But in the imperial period, Allo said, the Amhara ethnic group proved dominant in culture and language, exercising national control over the provinces.

Allo said Abiy's dream is to take the country "back to the imperial era."

"He seems fairly determined to impose his idea of national unity on an ethnically diverse country, and I think that is the central problem the country is facing," Allo said. "He wants to move away from ethnic-built politics to what he calls pan-Ethiopian, that returns a particular glory of the Ethiopian state. But most people see the glory that he talks about were the glories of one particular ethnic group -- the Amharas."

Daniel Mekonnen, a Geneva-based independent consultant and director of the Eritrean Law Society, who counted himself among the optimists when Abiy rose to power, agrees.

"One of his main problems," Mekonnen explained, "is his fantasy with an old and dysfunctional dream of Ethiopia as an empire, a project too dangerous to be implemented in present day Ethiopia without a huge cost to human security."

A fractured country

Abiy created a pan-Ethiopian Prosperity Party in December 2019, but even in his home region the idea of an imperial government is unpopular. The Omoro, the ethnic group from which Abiy descends, are fiercely federalist, and Abiy's recent maneuvers to centralize the government cost him support from that base.

Domestic turmoil also threatens to undermine that newly negotiated peace. Last month, authorities in the Tigray region, led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front, pushed ahead with their own regional elections despite a pandemic-induced delay to an August 2020 vote. In response, Abiy's government has effectively frozen them out, sparking fears Ethiopia not only could fracture but also undermine the peace deal with Eritrea.

"As far the stalemate with Eritrea is concerned, yes he tried but he did not succeed, simply because he cannot do so without including in the TPLF," Mekonnen told ABC News. "This should not be confused with exonerating the TPLF from past misdeeds. ... I am afraid he has failed in both fronts -- in making meaningful peace with Eritrea and in fixing Ethiopia's deep-seated political problems."

In recent months, sporadic intercommunal violence has broken out, but little is known about who is instigating the fighting. Abiy has a strong hold on the state's security services despite having been appointed as a caretaker, and he's regularly blamed Ethiopia's internal problems on foreign agents, according to Allo.

Other experts, such as Yohannes Gedamu, a lecturer in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, are not so pessimistic. He points to Ethiopia's long history of suppressing descent and the problems of a "highly entrenched ethnic state" as reasons for Abiy's policies.

"The problem is that Abiy has inherited a highly repressive state, and, to this day, he is working with individuals from the old regime," Gedamu told ABC News. "While I think that [the prime minister] could still be committed toward a democratization process, I highly doubt that he has been surrounded by capable individuals and advisers in his administration that would join hands to lead the country."

In the meantime, however, there looks to be no let-up in what analysts perceive as an increasingly oppressive regime. For now, the risks of Ethiopia fracturing ever further are "high," the impact of which would be "too much to bear for the entire Horn of Africa," according to Mekonnen.

"He is intent in winning the next election, whatever it takes, even if it drives the country to the cliffs," he said. "It is frightening to think about it, from a human security point of view."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump lifts sanctions on Sudan as he announces deal between African nation and Israel

Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump formally notified Congress on Friday that his administration will remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, nearly 30 years after the African country was first listed.

In a historic joint call afterwards, he also announced a "very special deal" between Israel and Sudan -- marking the third Arab country to move toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state in an election-season push by his administration.

It's unclear if Sudan, which had pushed back on the White House efforts, is formally recognizing Israel or ending hostilities against it after decades of tensions.

Either way, Friday's events mark a historic new chapter, 18 months after the Sudanese people overthrew their strongman leader in mass protests. Facing fuel and food shortages and sky-high inflation, Sudan is desperate for international assistance, humanitarian aid, and foreign investment, all of which have been stymied or outright blocked by U.S. sanctions.

Despite the advances, several critical hurdles remain, including for the U.S. victims of terror attacks who have legal claims against Sudan.

In an agreement reached between the State Department and Sudan's transitional government, the country agreed to pay $335 million to the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, victims of the USS Cole attack, and the family of murdered USAID employee John Granville.

The White House confirmed Friday that those funds were now in escrow, triggering Trump's pending formal notification to Congress. But none of that money will be paid out until lawmakers resolve Sudan's "legal peace," and after a deal to do so fell apart last month, several sources warned there's no resolution in sight.

In the meantime, Trump celebrated the announcements Friday, by touting his deal-making abilities: "Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?" he asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a speakerphone, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden the morning after their last debate.

"There are many, many more coming," Trump added, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced normalized relations with Israel earlier this fall. Few in the Oval Office were wearing masks.

Sudan's prime minister Abdalla Hamdok had resisted relations with Israel, saying his transitional government did not have the authority to do so. Hamdok is the civilian leader, sharing power with Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan, chair of Sudan's Transitional Military Council, after the military ousted Omar al Bashir, a murderous dictator who led the country from 1989 to 2019. After mass demonstrations ousted Bashir, the military seized power, but later agreed to a transition to democracy because of continued demonstrations.

Trump's focus on Israel overshadowed the historic nature of the U.S. lifting its most stringent sanctions on Sudan, providing a renewed opportunity as the transitional government struggles to provide for the Sudanese people.

While the formal notification has not yet been delivered to Congress, it can now happen because Sudan transferred the $335 million for terror victims to a European bank, according to two sources.

But no victim will see a dime until legal peace is resolved, according to a congressional aide and a source briefed on the matter, and there's a clock ticking down because the money was loaned to Sudan from the African Export-Import Bank. If the money is not transferred within a certain time period, Sudan would face penalties and likely take the funds back.

Congress will have to resolve ongoing claims against Sudan in legislation that re-establishes its "legal peace" -- a legal term that means as a sovereign country, it cannot be sued.

Sudan's listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list waived that immunity, but before Congress returns it, some lawmakers have concerns about protecting ongoing litigation by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though Sudan has not been found liable for those. An agreement to resolve those issues fell apart last month, sources told ABC News at the time.

Sources told ABC News this week that a deal to resolve the issue is taking shape in Congress.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Americans threatened by terror, kidnapping plots in Turkey, embassy warns

omersukrugoksu/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. mission in Turkey warned Americans of "potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings" in Istanbul Friday in an urgent security alert.

The warning, which said U.S. citizens and other foreigners could be targeted, comes after U.S. forces warned of a threat from al Qaeda in Syria.

The alert said specifically that the U.S. consulate general in Istanbul was threatened, but it did not provide details on where the threats come from or who provided the reports.

As a precaution, all U.S. diplomatic facilities are closed to the public, including for American citizens, the alert said.

The alert was "a result of our ongoing assessment of security conditions," an embassy spokesperson told ABC News. "We are grateful for the support of the Turkish government in ensuring the safety of Americans living in Turkey as well as Turkish citizens who visit our Embassy and Consulates."

While the embassy and State Department declined to provide more details, the U.S. has recently increased its air strikes against al Qaeda operatives in neighboring Syria.

A meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders was targeted by U.S. forces on Thursday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

"AQ-S takes advantage of the instability in northwest Syria to establish and maintain safe havens to coordinate terrorist activities," CENTCOM warned.

U.S. officials have been warning about the strength of Islamist forces in Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in Syria after nearly a decade of war. Syrian opposition forces continue to beat back an assault by strongman Bashar al Assad with support from Turkey and its military, but some of those fighters include hard-line jihadists.

As the fight against ISIS continues, the U.S. military has increasingly turned to targeting al Qaeda-linked operatives, too -- with Thursday's strike the second in as many weeks.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US official meets with Nigeria's vice president, after killing of #EndSARS protesters

kylieellway/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(LONDON) -- U.S. Department of State counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl met with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the capital of Abuja on Thursday to raise concerns about the ongoing violence, as widespread protests against police brutality grip Africa's most populous country.

The meeting was part of a previously scheduled delegation, which included top U.S. diplomats for human rights, Robert Destro, and for conflict stabilization, Denise Natali, according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

"The Counselor expressed the U.S. condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos," Ortagus said in a statement Thursday night. "He expressed condolences to the victims of these shootings and urged the government of Nigeria to abide by its commitment to hold those responsible accountable under the law. The Vice President and the Counselor noted that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles."

Amnesty International said in a report that at least 12 people were killed and hundreds more were severely injured on Tuesday night when Nigerian security forces opened fire without warning on two large gatherings of peaceful protesters in parts of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. The London-based human rights organization cited "evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports."

"Soldiers clearly had one intention -- to kill without consequences," Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, said in a statement Wednesday night, alongside the release of the report.

Amnesty International said it also received reports that surveillance cameras at the toll gate in Lekki, a wealthy suburb of Lagos where protesters have been camped for two weeks, were removed by government officials and the electricity was cut off shortly before the shootings in what appeared to be an attempt to hide evidence. Some of those killed and injured at the protest sites in both Lekki and Alausa, another suburb of Lagos, were allegedly taken away by the military, according to Amnesty International.

"These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions," Ojigho said. "There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials. Authorities must ensure access to justice and effective remedies for the victims and their families."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Thursday, condemning "the use of excessive force by military forces" and urging Nigeria's "security services to show maximum restraint and respect fundamental rights and for demonstrators to remain peaceful." It was the first comment to come from the White House on the situation in Nigeria, following outcry from American celebrities, lawmakers and even Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

While the shootings in Lagos have prompted global outrage and have been widely condemned, the Nigerian military has denied responsibility. On its official Twitter account, the Nigerian Army has labeled numerous reports about the shootings as "fake news."

Lagos, a sprawling financial hub of the West African nation, has been the center of weeks-long, nationwide demonstrations over a now-disbanded, widely-criticized police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The youth-led protest movement, which uses the social media hashtag #EndSARS, has been largely peaceful, but tensions have boiled over in recent days and fires have been set to cars, government buildings and television stations. Authorities have imposed an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.

Last week, as protesters showed no signs of backing down, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced he would dissolve SARS, which operated across the country -- often in plainclothes -- and has been accused of assault, extortion, extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, torture, unlawful detentions and robbery.

Buhari, who is a retired general of the Nigerian Army, addressed the nation Thursday night, urging demonstrators "to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions." He made no mention of the shootings of peaceful protesters in Lagos.

"This government will not allow anybody or (any) groups to disrupt the peace of the nation," Buhari warned in his televised address. "For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order."

"Under no circumstances would this be tolerated," he added.

In response to criticism from fellow African heads of state and other world leaders, Buhari called on them "to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position, or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia continues to spread coronavirus conspiracies, intel bulletin warns

macky_ch/iStockBy JOSH MARGOLIN and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Russia and other foreign adversaries are ramping up efforts to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., according to an internal U.S. intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News -- a development that critics say reflects another example of President Donald Trump and the Russians parroting similar talking points.

The Oct. 19 intelligence bulletin, from analysts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and disseminated to federal state, and local law enforcement partners, noted the “re-emergence of domestic COVID-19 [misinformation and disinformation] narratives online" from China and Iran, but emphasized the most harmful material is emanating from Russia.

“Russia continues to spread COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories that have the greatest potential to impact U.S. public health efforts,” according to the bulletin.

The bulletin did not provide more details on the impact, and DHS declined to comment on the leaked document.

The bulletin found that disinformation narratives appear to be gaining traction online, as “the volume of engagement [with these] narratives has increased since 02 October.”

COVID has become one of the most politically consequential and charged topics in the upcoming election, with deep divisions emerging on masks, social distancing and lockdown measures and the use of certain therapeutics and vaccines.

The disease's lethality, method of transmission and other key points have become the subject of intense scientific and political debate, deriving in part from misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

While details of the specific conspiracies the Russians are peddling was not clear in the bulletin, several examples of coronavirus-related misinformation have emanated domestically -- and often from the White House itself. The president’s mixed messages on the coronavirus -- such as promoting untested therapies and calling into question the efficacy of wearing masks -- has helped sow confusion and discord among Americans as they respond to the virus.

The president has long faced scrutiny for misleading Americans about the pandemic. Perhaps most notably, during an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in March, Trump admitted to deliberately minimizing the seriousness of the disease publicly despite understanding its true danger.

After testing positive for the virus earlier this month, Trump told Americans, “don’t be afraid of Covid,” prompting scrutiny from critics who accused him of minimizing a disease that had already taken more than 200,000 American lives.

Critics say it is part of a pattern that harkens back to previous instances in which Trump has echoed messages aligned with misinformation from foreign adversaries.

“For years a key part of the Russian disinformation playbook has relied on American elected officials and mainstream media personalities amplifying their narratives,” said John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and the former undersecretary for intelligence at DHS under President Barack Obama.

“So from a national security perspective,” he continued, “it is highly disconcerting to see a growing number of instances in which these conspiracies promoted by Russia have been mimicked by the president and his supporters.”

On several occasions in the past, Trump has promoted false narratives about other matters that match disinformation emanating from foreign adversaries. It has never been clear whether the president has taken his cues from the foreign adversaries or vice versa.

Last month, for example, ABC News reported that Russia sought to “amplify” concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections by promoting allegations that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud -- an unfounded complaint Trump has raised frequently in recent months.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump has also tried to return focus to the business dealings of Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in large part by supporting the efforts of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on the Democratic contender’s family.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department characterized one of Giuliani’s sources of information about the Bidens, Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach, as a Russian agent. Giuliani said at the time that he had "no reason to believe [Derkach] is a Russian agent.”

“There is nothing I saw that said he was a Russian agent,” Giuliani said. “There is nothing he gave me that seemed to come from Russia at all."

The Washington Post later reported on a classified CIA finding that “[Russian] President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President” -- including Derkach’s collaboration with Giuliani.

In a statement responding to ABC News’ reporting last month, Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said, "We don't need or want any foreign interference," and added, "President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Students paid to identify Samuel Paty before teacher's death, officials say

Kuzma/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(PARIS) -- France’s anti-terror prosecutor charged seven people in the case of the murder of French history teacher Samuel Paty, including two minors.

French prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said in a press conference on Wednesday that Abdoulakh Anzorov, the man accused of killing Samuel Paty on Friday, Oct. 16, needed help identifying his victim.  After questioning 16 people, the police released nine of the detainees, including members of Anzorov’s family.

Among those charged is a student Anzorov approached, offering him around €300-350 (around $356-415 USD). The student accepted and stayed on-site with Anzorov and received the remainder of the payment once Paty was identified, Ricard said on Wednesday.

Among the charged is Brahim "C", a school parent who had posted a video accusing Paty of using blasphemous depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. "Brahim C" was accompanied by ''Abdelhakim S" when he went to the school to complain about the teacher's lesson and request Paty's dismissal, authorities said.

“It is clear that the professor has been designated as a target on social networks by the two men,” Ricard said, adding that Brahim C and Anzorov subsequently had "several contacts" between Oct. 9-13.

Charges listed in the inquiry include complicity in assassination in relation to a terrorist enterprise, complicity in attempted assassination on a person holding public authority in relation to a terrorist enterprise, and terrorist association with a view to committing crimes against persons.

Ricard said that the attack occurred in the context of "calls for murder" following the republication of the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo in early September as the trial of the January 2015 attacks started.

French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at La Sorbonne University in Paris for Paty in the presence of his family.

"We have all anchored in our hearts the memory of a teacher who changed the course of our lives (...) Samuel Paty was one of them," Macron said. Paty was granted posthumously the Légion d'honneur, France's highest honor.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Credible but disturbing evidence' that Nigerian authorities fatally shot protesters

beyhanyazar/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR and JAMES BWALA, ABC News

(LAGOS, Nigeria) -- Amnesty International said it has received "credible but disturbing evidence" of security forces killing protesters who were demonstrating against police brutality in Nigeria's largest city.

"While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury," the London-based human rights organization wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

Lagos, the sprawling financial hub of Africa's most populous country, has been the center of weeks-long, nationwide protests over a now-disbanded, widely-criticized police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has been accused of human rights abuses. The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but tensions have spiraled in recent days and authorities have imposed an indefinite 24-hour curfew in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.

The Lagos state commissioner for information, Gbenga Omotoso, said Tuesday that "there have been reports of shooting" at the Lekki toll gate, one of the main roads into Lagos's business district, following the announcement of the curfew. Hundreds of protesters have been gathering at the toll gate in Lekki, a wealthy suburb of Lagos.

"The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident," Omotoso said in a statement posted on his Twitter account. "Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has advised the security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew, which he urges residents to observe for the peaceful atmosphere we all cherish."

Video shown on Nigeria’s Channels Television appeared to capture the sound of live rounds being fired at the scene.

Leaders of the protest movement, which uses the social media hashtag #EndSARS, claim the Nigerian government ordered the removal of surveillance cameras at the Lekki toll gate and for the lights to be shut off before directing security forces to open fire on protesters there Tuesday.

The Nigerian Army has denied that any of its personnel were involved in the reported incident.

Lagos State Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has condemned the alleged shooting, saying in a statement Wednesday that "there are no excuses." He has also warned that the growing protests have "degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society."

“Lives and limbs have been lost as criminals and miscreants are now hiding under the umbrella of these protests to unleash mayhem on our state,” Sanwo-Olu said in another statement posted on his official Twitter account Tuesday.

The governor said one person who was recently admitted to a Lagos hospital has died "due to blunt force trauma to the head."

"This is an isolated case. We are still investigating if he was a protester," Sanwo-Olu tweeted Wednesday.

There were more than a dozen others who remained hospitalized "with mild to moderate levels of injuries," he tweeted earlier.

The Lagos state government has ordered the indefinite closure of all public and private schools amid the unrest. Meanwhile, the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos remained shut Wednesday after closing its doors a day earlier due to the violence.

"Although most demonstrations are peaceful, some have become violent and have shut down major thoroughfares and bridges," the consulate said in a statement Tuesday. "We continue to urge all U.S. citizens to avoid areas around protests and demonstrations and to check local media for updates and traffic advisories."

Armed crowds attacked two correctional facilities in Edo state on Monday, freeing nearly 2,000 inmates, according to a statement from Mohammed Manga, spokesman for the Nigerian Ministry of Interior, which said the perpetrators were "protesters purportedly under the #EndSARS aegis." There have also been attacks on police stations in Lagos state, according to the governor.

Gunshots were heard again in Lagos on Wednesday as some protesters continued to demonstrate despite the curfew. People set fire to a television news station in Lagos and part of the Nigerian Ports Authority headquarters.

Nigeria's Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu has ordered the nationwide deployment of anti-riot police and has advised the Nigerian Police Force to "exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens," according to a statement.

Beyonce, John Boyega, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna are among the celebrities who have spoken out in support of Nigeria's #EndSARS movement and have called for an end to the violence. Rihanna posted a photo on her Instagram account, showing a protester holding up a blood-soaked Nigerian flag.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is the Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement late Tuesday urging Nigeria's president and military "to cease the violent crackdown on protesters."

"The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy," Biden said. "I encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria."

Last week, as protesters showed no signs of backing down, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari stepped in and dissolved SARS, which operated across the country -- often in plainclothes -- and has been accused of assault, extortion, extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, torture, unlawful detentions and robbery.

"The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people," Buhari, who is a retired general of the Nigerian Army, said in a statement on Oct. 12. "Meanwhile, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of men and women of the police force are hardworking and diligent in performing their duties. The few bad eggs should not be allowed to tarnish the image and reputation of the force."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Humans 'likely' contributed to extinction of dodo bird, giant tortoise: Study

Beeldbewerking/iStockBy JULIA JACOBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Human activity "likely contributed" to the extinction of multiple species on the islands on Madagascar and Mascarene, according to new research.

Animals native to the islands such as the dodo bird and giant tortoises had survived "repeated megadroughts" over several thousand years, but it was human activity that killed off the species for good, researchers said in a new study published in the journal Science.

The researchers studied 8,000 years of climate data from cave mineral deposits and determined that the shifting climate alone probably did not result in the species' extinction. Rather, a major increase of human-caused stressors, such as hunting and deforestation, may have contributed "significantly" to the extinctions by altering the megafauna of the region, they said.

During the past millennium, the islands underwent "catastrophic" ecological and landscape transformations, attributed to either human activity or climate change or both, according to the study.

Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, both highly threatened biodiversity "hot spots" with "exceptional levels" of endemic species, are two of the last places on Earth to be occupied by humans. Both have lost most of their native animals weighing more than 22 pounds within the past few centuries, according to the study.

The last sighting of the dodo bird, endemic to the Mascarene island of Mauritius, was in the late 17th century, according to Nature, while the giant tortoise became extinct soon after humans arrived in Madagascar, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

Mauritius lost most of its native terrestrial vertebrates within about two centuries of its colonization, and the permanent colonization around the 1790s was marked by island-wide deforestation, the researchers said. Madagascar has lost "virtually all" of its megafauna weighing more than 22 pounds -- including giant lemurs, elephant birds and pygmy hippopotami -- over the past millennium, according to the study.

Other animal species around the world are also in trouble as a result of human activity. A report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published last year found that humans are pushing 1 million species to the brink of extinction and that nature is declining "at rates unprecedented in human history."

The authors of the study, however, said it has "proven difficult" to investigate whether climatic shifts, human activities or both are to blame for the disappearances without precise records of biotic, environmental and cultural changes on the islands.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US, Russia move closer to deal to extend last nuclear arms control pact

Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy CONOR FINNEGAN and PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. and Russia are moving closer toward an agreement to extend the last major nuclear arms control pact between them and freeze both countries' nuclear arsenals for one year.

The possible deal could avoid a new nuclear arms race, at least for the moment, and could mean that President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in the coming weeks -- a signing ceremony Trump has long pursued, with the 2020 presidential election looming.

But there are still gaps between the world's two largest nuclear powers over New START, the 2010 treaty that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and includes verification measures like on-site inspections and data sharing.

The opening came Tuesday after Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow is willing to extend New START with a "freeze," after Putin said last week that he would only agree to an extension "without pre-conditions."

Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said in statement Friday that was a "non-starter" and blamed the Russian government for sending mixed messages: "This would have been a win for both sides, and we believed the Russians were willing to accept this proposal when I met with my counterpart in Geneva," O'Brien said.

On Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry inched closer to the U.S. proposal for a freeze, and the State Department called for immediate talks to finalize a deal.

"We appreciate the Russian Federation's willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control. The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said nothing about a "verifiable agreement," instead proposing a "political obligation for 'freezing' for that period the quantity of nuclear warheads possessed by both sides. This position can be realized strictly and exclusively within the understanding that a 'freeze' of warheads will not be accompanied by any kind of additional demands from the side of the U.S."

That throws the ball back into the U.S. court in what has become a public negotiation. The U.S. may still demand a verification regime of some kind to ensure Russia doesn't cheat on a freeze -- or continue to insist on other measures, such as a reference to including China in future nuclear arms control talks.

Trump's chief negotiator, special presidential envoy for arms control Marshall Billingslea, has repeatedly insisted that talks must involve the Chinese government, which has a much smaller, but rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.

The Russian government has not yet responded to the State Department call for meeting "immediately," although its foreign ministry attacked the Trump administration for negotiating on "social media," saying it never received an official response to Putin's comments last week.

"A deal is possible, but it's unclear whether it's close. A disagreement over whether verification is needed is pretty significant," said James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program in a tweet. "If the U.S. wants a deal before the election, then either (i) the U.S. will have to back down and accept no verification; or (ii) the U.S. will have to accept a Russian promise to negotiate verification arrangements since it's not possible to do so in 2 weeks. Both are possibilities; both are far from assured."

Trump has long played up his ability to negotiate, but his administration has walked away from several arms control pacts, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


UK launching controversial vaccine trials, volunteers to be infected with COVID-19

Meyer & Meyer/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In a bid to speed up the race to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, the U.K. government announced Tuesday morning that it will be launching some controversial vaccine trials known as challenge trials.

In a world first for COVID-19, young healthy volunteers will be vaccinated, then intentionally exposed to the potentially deadly virus in order to test vaccines in a controlled environment. Although some medical experts view them as ethically questionable, the benefit of challenge trials is that they can be completed in a much shorter timeframe than typical late-stage studies.

The experiment will take place in a quarantine ward of a north London hospital. After inhaling a diluted dose of the virus, the trial participants will be closely monitored, thus enabling scientists and doctors to better understand the disease and how a vaccine can fight it.

“Human challenge studies can increase our understanding of COVID-19 in unique ways and accelerate development of the many potential new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines,” explained Dr. Chris Chiu, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London and lead researcher on the human challenge study.

The 1Day Sooner advocacy group, which has been petitioning the government to allow challenge trials, hailed the announcement.

"We are glad the U.K. government is embracing the altruism of the thousands of our British volunteers who want these studies," the group said.

The advocacy group says these trials "will be key to making multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available for the whole world, including those in low-income countries bearing the brunt of this pandemic."

It says it believes these trials will not only accelerate research into vaccines but "will also answer essential questions about COVID-19 immunity that are broadly applicable to the development of treatments and public health policy."

Alastair Fraser-Urquhart, 18, a spokesperson for 1Day Sooner, explained to ABC News his motivation to volunteer for these trials. Brushing aside the fact that he's putting himself at risk, he said, "I'm convinced that challenge trials will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds, and if I didn't do something and I wasn't advocating challenge trials I would regret it."

Andrew Catchpole, the chief scientist of hVIVO, the company that will be running the trials in conjunction with the British government, Imperial College University and the Royal Free Hospital, stressed to ABC News that as much risk as possible has been removed from the process.

Only people ages 18 to 30, proven to be healthy, will be taken as volunteers, according to Catchpole, and the dose of the virus that they will be exposed to will be very carefully calibrated.

"So just like any other clinical trial, what you would expect is that any product we put into a human needs to undergo very tight regulations, and this is no exception to that," Catchpole said.

"So the virus, which we would inoculate them with, has been manufactured to the very high standards, a medical grade version of the virus that undergoes very high regulatory scrutiny to make sure that that virus is safe and suitable for use -- just like you would expect for any other licensed medicine," he added.

The dosage will be low to reduce the risk of volunteers experiencing severe symptoms, but doctors still need to get the balance just right.

"We are looking to induce infection, but not necessarily looking to induce disease," Catchpole said.

Once the volunteers have been successfully infected, they will be closely monitored in a quarantine ward of the Royal Free Hospital.

"The body, once inoculated with the virus, starts to produce various reactions within itself," Martin Johnson, Hvivo's senior medical director explained. "And that's what we need to measure. We need to understand what the exact response of the virus is right from the word 'go,' in a safe environment."

Everyone involved with the project is keen to stress that safety is paramount and that the World Health Organization's guidelines will be followed to the letter.

“Our number one priority is the safety of the volunteers. My team has been safely running human challenge studies with other respiratory viruses for over 10 years. No study is completely risk free, but the Human Challenge Programme partners will be working hard to ensure we make the risks as low as we possibly can,” Chiu said.

While there is a precedent for challenge trials, they are typically conducted for diseases for which there is a robust treatment or cure, so that volunteers can be rescued should they fall ill.

"In the U.K., we've got a very long history of safely conducting challenge studies," Johnson said. "And therefore, we have a very, very well-established regulatory framework for doing exactly that and ensuring that the ethics of doing this are really closely scrutinized."

Tuesday's announcement shows that as Britain carves out a new identity in the post-Brexit era, it is determined to keep its seat at the top table of medical and scientific advancements; in fact, according to Catchpole, it wants to consolidate its position as a world leader in the field.

"The U.K. government is very keen to establish a challenge trials platform to respond not just to this pandemic, but also future pandemics," he said.

But as the hVIVO team explained, challenge trials can be an incremental process, and it may take time for doctors and scientists to identify the appropriate dose of the virus needed to infect -- but not harm -- a volunteer patient. Regulatory and ethical approvals are also still pending, although these are expected to be received by November or December of this year, according to Catchpole. The trials will likely begin by next spring or summer.

And the big question: What does all this mean amid the race to find a vaccine?

Catchpole told ABC News that the doctors and scientists involved insist "challenge studies have a key advantage of the fact that you can determine vaccine efficacy very, very quickly (could be as minimal as two months), and you can determine whether you got vaccine efficacy or not. Compare that to traditional field trials and it takes many, many months."

"And of course, what happens with the traditional studies is you vaccinate people and they go about living their normal lives and it's just purely by random luck whether they're actually exposed to the virus or not. Hence, it can take a very long time to establish efficacy in the field," Catchpole continued. "And you're totally dependent on how much virus is going on [around] the community. Challenge studies we're able to conduct safely and all year round, irrespective of how much virus is going on [around] the community."

The UK’s deputy chief medical officer, professor Jonathan Van-Tam, detailed two main reasons that his government decided to sponsor these trials: “First, for the many vaccines still in the mid-stages of development, human challenge studies may help pick out the most promising ones to take forward into larger Phase III trials. Second, for vaccines which are in the late stages of development and already proven to be safe and effective through Phase III studies, human challenge studies could help us further understand if the vaccines prevent transmission as well as preventing illness.”

The U.K. government will not yet reveal which vaccines will be tested in these trials, and Johnson warned that they might not even be overwhelmingly successful. He noted that previous attempts at finding vaccines have proved elusive.

"If you take when the Spanish pandemic was around in 1919, almost exactly 100 years later, we still don't have a perfect vaccine for influenza," he said, adding that our expectations for a coronavirus vaccine need to be tempered. "No, we're not going to get a perfect vaccine quickly, but hopefully we can try and establish some baselines of what is good at the moment."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New study shows how students around the world are returning back to school amid COVID-19

smolaw11/iStockBy KAITLYN FOLMER, DOUG VOLLMAYER, MYA GREEN and ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The topic of kids returning back-to-school is always up for debate amid the coronavirus pandemic. But around the globe, the idea of kids heading back to the classroom may not be as controversial as it is here in the U.S.

A new report on children, schools and the coronavirus pandemic from the University of Washington, found that several countries including Cambodia, Afghanistan, Ghana and China returned to the classroom early on in the pandemic. And while some outbreaks occurred in schools, the report found “little evidence that schools were main drivers of transmission.”

According to the report, when countries began reopening schools for in-person learning in April and May, modifications were implemented in schools such as reduced class sizes or staggered schedules.

One country that modified in-person learning to smaller class sizes was Denmark. In May, they were one of the first countries in the world to reopen their schools by putting children in “protective bubbles” of 12 -- where they ate, played and learned with the same pod of children and a teacher.

“We have seen that limiting group sizes, keeping those groups linked together, these are things that we know [that] work to control transmission,” said Brandon Guthrie, assistant professor at the University of Washington, Departments of Global Health and Epidemiology.

Now this fall, school is relatively “normal” in Denmark with larger class sizes of 24.

In South Korea, schools were also able to bring students back for in-person learning in May with a few adjustments.

By having students among different grades alternate between returning to school and taking online classes, it helped reduce the risk of school-based transmission.

“We take turns going to school,” said Jiho Yun, a ninth grade student in South Korea. “In the first week, the 7th graders go to school and the 8th and 9th graders stay home taking online classes.”

When Yun does go to school, she has to check in using a COVID-19 symptom tracker and undergo five temperature checks throughout the day.

According to experts, the model of bringing students based on different age groups or grades works if it’s decided early on which group of students benefit most from in-person learning.

In Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, there was a push to get younger students back in classrooms first. While in Germany, schools had older students return to classrooms in person because they believed they could more “effectively adhere to the physical distancing measures,” according to Guthrie.

And in countries like Uruguay, schools focused on bringing students back to the classroom from rural areas, who the government determined were less likely to have access to remote learning.

While the report does point out that there is “clear evidence for the potential for widespread transmission” for COVID-19, the research provided based on how other countries were able to successfully reopen can offer some clues for how schools in the U.S. could safely reopen and what could potentially work.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump says US will remove sanctions on Sudan in historic new chapter in relations

spawns/iStockBY: CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump tweeted that he will remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list -- the most stringent of U.S. sanctions -- in a historic move that marks a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

In exchange, Sudan's new government has paid $335 million to the victims of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The move is part of a broader deal that could bring debt relief, international financial assistance, and humanitarian aid to the African country, a year and a half after peaceful protests ousted its longtime strongman leader Omar al Bashir. In his place, military leaders are sharing power with civilians in a transitional government that has struggled with political and economic crises and urgently sought the end of these sanctions.

The deal may also include Sudan normalizing relations with Israel -- a step that its civilian prime minister has said the transitional government could not make, but that Trump has lobbied hard for in a campaign-season push to create new ties between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

So far, however, nothing has changed. Sudan is expected to transfer the $335 million to the U.S. soon as part of a negotiated settlement with the victims of the U.S. embassy bombings. Bashir's regime provided safe haven to the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the attacks that killed 224, including 12 Americans and injured over 4,000.

Trump has not yet formally notified Congress that he is lifting the designation, and lawmakers would have the ability to block it. That's not likely to happen, but Congress will have to resolve ongoing claims against Sudan in legislation that re-establishes its "legal peace" -- a legal term that means as a sovereign country, it cannot be sued.

Sudan's listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list waived that immunity, but before Congress returns it, some lawmakers have concerns about protecting ongoing litigation by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though Sudan has never been found liable for those. An agreement to resolve those issues fell apart last month, sources told ABC News at the time.

Edith Bartley, whose father and brother were killed in the Nairobi attack and who has served as a spokesperson for the families of slain Americans, welcomed the news Monday.

"We urge Congress to immediately pass the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement, and begin the payment process. Congress cannot let this agreement fall victim to legislative gridlock and bickering," she said in a statement.

Sudan was first designated in 1993 for Bashir's support of Hezbollah and other Islamist extremist groups. The dictator, now in detention in the capital Khartoum, also faces charges at the International Criminal Court for the Darfur genocide.

Lifting the designation will also allow international financial assistance to finally flow to Sudan -- not just from the U.S., but also global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

While that may take weeks at the earliest, the political win for the transitional government may help stave off growing discontent among a population struggling to get by. Sudan has been overwhelmed by high inflation and food and fuel shortages -- challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and recent flooding.

"Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much," tweeted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Monday. "As we're about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan's previous, defunct regime, I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism."

The White House and the State Department have not yet released other details. But according to two analysts briefed on the plans, the U.S. will also take other key steps to support the Sudanese government, including providing hundreds of millions in aid, including direct food aid; backing $3 billion in debt forgiveness and help with $65 billion of national debt; and sponsoring an investment conference with a high-level U.S. trade delegation.

"Most of these things would have already been in train if the Administration was truly committed to nurturing Sudan's democratic transition, staving off financial collapse, and deterring the return of military rule," wrote Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. "Instead, the Trump Administration has kept the transitional government guessing, the Sudanese people's frustration mounting, and the military poised to step in to secure a final deal if the civilian authorities did not.”

At the heart of that has been Trump's push for Arab countries to recognize Israel. Those historic agreements, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have formalized increasing cooperation behind closed doors -- and been brandished by Trump and his reelection campaign as evidence of his statesmanship.

But Hamdok has said his transitional government doesn't have the authority to establish formal ties with Israel, and there's deep concern of a backlash in Khartoum to doing so. Instead, Sudan may begin to normalize relations with Israel in the coming weeks, without fully establishing ties.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Further restrictions, curfews imposed in Europe as continent fights COVID-19 surge

Myriam Borzee/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Governments across Europe have introduced more restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, with a combination of nationwide and specific regional measures and curfews imposed as the continent faces its "second wave."

The number of globally recorded coronavirus cases passed 40 million on Monday, according to John Hopkins University, and while more than half of those cases come from the U.S., India and Brazil, an increasing proportion of new daily recorded cases are emerging from Europe.

In total, over seven million cases have been recorded in Europe since the start of the pandemic, according to the European Center for Disease Control, with 241,291 deaths.

After new restrictions were imposed in several countries earlier this month, Switzerland has followed Italy in imposing a nationwide mask mandate in all public spaces from Monday.

While not as restrictive as previous measures imposed when Italy faced a severe COVID surge earlier in the pandemic as it became the first country to surpass China’s death toll, local mayors have been given the power to close piazzas and streets from 9 p.m. and bars and restaurants must shut by midnight.

The Republic of Ireland will move into "Level Five" restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, the country's highest COVID alert level, for the next six weeks, according to local media. The new rules will be slightly modified, allowing certain sporting events to take place, schools to remain open, and people will be told to stay within just over three miles from their own homes for exercise, RTE reported. Some stores may have to close under the new rules, with take-out the only option in pubs and restaurants.

Over the past 24 hours from midnight on Sunday, 1,031 cases of coronavirus were recorded and zero deaths, bringing the national totals up to 50,993 and 1,852 respectively, according to the Department of Health.

In the U.K., the four nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland retain the power to set their own "lockdown" measures. In England a three-tier system remains in place, with varying restrictions imposed depending on whether an area is on "medium," "high" or "very high" alert.

London moved into the category of “high” alert, meaning household mixing has been banned in indoor spaces, and the authorities have not ruled out more stringent measures for the coming winter. A 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars and a ban of more than six people from gathering has been in place for several weeks.

Wales moved to impose a "fire break” lockdown for over two weeks from this Friday. All non-essential stores as well as hospitality businesses will have to close from 6 p.m. In Scotland, all bars and restaurants have been shuttered to combat the spread of COVID-19. Schools in Northern Ireland shuttered for two weeks on Monday, and restaurants are now limited to take-out services only for a four-week period.

Nine cities, including Paris, have been placed under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in France. Over the weekend, the country reported over 57,000 new coronavirus cases. And in Belgium, all bars and restaurants have been ordered to shutter for the next four weeks.

On Monday, Russia set a record of daily confirmed new infections with 15,982 cases, but the mayor of Moscow, which is recording the most cases, has rejected the idea of imposing a curfew or lockdown in the city. Russia has the most coronavirus cases on the continent, with over 1.4 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In a recent interview with ABC News, the World Health Organization’s Dr. Margaret Harris said that “people did believe” that they would get a “break” in the summer during the pandemic, which may in part explain why cases have risen since Europe opened up.

“And, unfortunately, people sort of did behave as if it had gone away and it hadn't, and that's why numbers have been steadily increasing since the middle of June,” she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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