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image captionThousands of women took part in a demonstration in Minsk on Saturday

Large protests are expected to be held in Belarus later calling for long-time President Alexander Lukashenko to step down as a crackdown intensifies.

On Saturday, security agents in the capital Minsk detained dozens of people, mostly students, in the fourth weekend of protests.

In a separate march, thousands of women chanted “hands off the children”.

Meanwhile, a top opposition activist said she had taken refuge in Poland after threats from security forces.

Demonstrators say the presidential election of 9 August was rigged to keep Mr Lukashenko in office. Protesters, human rights activists and observers have accused riot police of brutally suppressing peaceful marches.

Mr Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has accused Western nations of interfering.

  • What’s happening in Belarus?

  • Belarus cracks down on journalists covering unrest
  • ‘We can breathe for the first time in our lives’

The protests on Sunday may be the largest yet in Minsk since the demonstrations began four weeks ago, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Minsk reports.

Riot police have intensified their efforts to intimidate and block the flow of people heading into central Minsk while detaining those taking part in the demonstrations, our correspondent adds.

Demonstrations that were first triggered by a disputed election are now just as much about the thuggish beatings and abuses that have followed.

On the eve of the protests, masked security agents dragged students off the streets of Minsk and bundled them into police vans during a demonstration. Dozens of protesters were detained.

media captionA 73-year-old great-grandmother has turned into an unlikely hero for demonstrators in Belarus

Also on Saturday, leading opposition activist Olga Kovalkova said she had taken refuge in Poland, adding that she would have faced a long jail term had she not agreed to leave Belarus.

She added that security forces drove her to a border post where she was able to board a bus to Poland after the driver recognised her.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, represented the chief opposition to Mr Lukashenko in the election – she entered the presidential race after her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky and another candidate were jailed.

She said the opposition was demanding an end to the police violence, the immediate release of all political prisoners, and a free and fair election.

image copyrightEPA

image captionMs Tikhanovskaya has been forced to leave Belarus
Last month, EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions – including asset freezes – on as yet unnamed Belarusian officials involved in alleged election-rigging, brutality and imprisonment of protesters. The exact sanctions are still being worked out.

The UN special rapporteur on Belarus, Anais Marin, said Mr Lukashenko’s re-election as president was “completely manipulated” and “people’s votes were stolen”.

She accused the Belarus police of torture, citing as one example a 16-year-old who was “so badly beaten up he was left in a coma”.

“The authorities must release all those arbitrarily arrested,” she said. “The government is waging an insane war against its own people.”

media captionLukashenko leaves helicopter wearing a flak jacket and carrying an assault rifle

Mr Lukashenko has blamed some EU nations, in particular neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, of trying to force regime change.

The 66-year-old, whose key backer is Russia, has promised to defend Belarus. He was recently seen near his residence in Minsk carrying a gun and being surrounded by his heavily armed security personnel.

Related Topics

  • Alexander Lukashenko

  • Minsk
  • Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
  • United Nations
  • Belarus

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Operation Fox Hunt: China sent fugitive’s elderly father to America to coerce him into going home, US claims

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The case is believed to be part of the ruling Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives — often former officials or rich individuals suspected of economic crimes.

The US Department of Justice said Wednesday the charges included “conspiring to act in the US as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China.” Five people have been arrested, while three are believed to be at large in China.

In 2016, the group — which includes an American-licensed private investigator — is alleged to have embarked on an illegal campaign targeting a former Chinese government official, who has lived in the US since 2010. They are accused of recording and harassing his daughter, taping a threatening note to his front door and flying his elderly father from China — allegedly against his will — in 2017 to pressure his son to return to China.

The note on the target’s New Jersey home said in Chinese: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, US Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said the arrests sent a message that the US “will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”

“Without coordination with our government, China’s repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Chinese law enforcement agencies “conduct foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty.”

“The United States ignores the basic facts and uses ulterior motives to smear China’s work in pursuit of escaped and stolen goods. China firmly opposes this. We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes,” he said.

Operation Fox Hunt

The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens who were accused of corruption and had fled the country with large amounts of money.

Beijing authorities said at least 150 corrupt officials had fled to the US, and provided American counterparts with a list of “priority cases.”

Demers said such operations — regardless of whether the targets were guilty or not — were “a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms.”

“Rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity,” he said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference Wednesday that in a different Operation Fox Hunt case, the Chinese government had sent an “emissary” to the target’s US-based family warning that the person should “return to China promptly or commit suicide.”

Wray said that when Operation Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China, family members in their home country “have even been arrested for leverage.”

“These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead they’re more like something we would expect from an organized criminal syndicate,” Wray said.

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Van Drew’s defection to GOP haunts him in tight race

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Van Drew, like many of his Republican colleagues, now finds himself having to answer for an unpopular president, whose shaky handling of the coronavirus and inflammatory rhetoric has damaged the GOP’s standing nationwide, especially in the suburbs.

Van Drew currently trails in the polls to a well-funded Democratic challenger in Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher who married into the Kennedy political dynasty. Kennedy is leading Van Drew by five points among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll from earlier this month, though it’s within the survey’s margin of error. POLITICO’s election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.”

Democrats have tried to use Van Drew’s party change and sudden embrace of Trump as a cudgel, branding him as “switcheroo Van Drew” and accusing him of betraying his constituents for his own self interests. In one ad, Democrats even ribbed Van Drew for his taste for flashy suits in a bid to portray him as superficial and inauthentic.

“It felt like he was willing to do or say anything to keep his job,” said Kennedy, who decided to run for office after hearing Van Drew promise his unwavering loyalty to Trump. “There are a lot of people in the district who really respect someone who can be independent-minded, but that’s not what that felt like to them.”

In an interview, Van Drew defended his decision to abandon the Democratic Party, which caught his colleagues off guard and stunned Washington. Van Drew, a dentist who served in the state Legislature for over a decade, noted he was always a conservative-leaning Democrat. But Van Drew argued that the party abandoned its “big tent” principles and was no longer a good fit for him.

Yet despite pledging his fealty to Trump in an Oval Office sit-down, Van Drew now says he is not beholden to any leader — including the president. And Van Drew maintains that voters respect independent-minded politicians, especially in his south Jersey district just outside of Philadelphia, which went for Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“You vote for the person,” said Van Drew, who won his seat by eight points in 2018. “It’s not your job to vote for me, if you were in my district, because I’m a Republican. It’s your job to think about the two candidates and which candidate would do a better job for the district.”

“I didn’t betray anybody,” he added. “When people call me up and they need help, whatever party they are, I help them.”

The match-up between Van Drew and Kennedy — which has become one of the most hotly-contested races in the country — has drawn national attention, with outside resources pouring in. Democrats are not only eager to win back a seat they thought they had already seized in 2018, but also seek revenge for Van Drew’s high-profile defection.

Kennedy, who has notched endorsements from Obama and Joe Biden, has outraised and outspent Van Drew. Kennedy has spent $1.2 million on the airwaves, compared to Van Drew’s $367,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But Van Drew had roughly $600,000 more in the bank than Kennedy as of mid-October, according to the latest FEC reports.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to reward Van Drew for joining their ranks while also preventing the GOP from slipping further into the House minority. Since joining the party, Van Drew got a rally from Trump, desirable committee assignments from GOP leaders and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Notably, Van Drew’s campaign message has focused on calls for bipartisanship and putting country over party. He talks more about American exceptionalism on the campaign trail than he does about Trump, though Van Drew confirmed he plans to vote for the president, despite endorsing home-state colleague Sen. Cory. Booker (D-N.J.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

Van Drew has also tried to label his opponent as a liberal Democrat who supports sanctuary cities, open borders and defunding the police.

“I believe the future of the country depends upon not just my election — of course, I’m not an egomaniac — but on the direction that we take,” Van Drew said. “And the direction that my opponent would want to take is significantly different than the direction I would want to take.”

Switching parties has yielded mixed results in the past, so it was always going to be an electoral gamble for Van Drew, strategists say. He risks infuriating the Democrats who backed him in 2018, while there’s no guarantee Republican voters will trust him. And independents might be turned off by his tight embrace of Trump.

Nearly half of registered voters said they were bothered by Van Drew now running for Congress as a Republican, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Crossing the aisle may have looked like a safer bet for Van Drew during the height of impeachment, when there was widespread concern that swing-district Democrats could suffer at the polls because of the party’s efforts to oust the president.

Had he remained in the Democratic Party and maintained his opposition to impeachment, Van Drew would have likely faced a primary challenge from the left. Before he became a Republican, polling commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign showed just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters believed the congressman deserved to be reelected.

But the political landscape has changed vastly since then. Trump’s approval ratings have slumped both nationally and in Van Drew’s district. The sagging economy is further clouding the outlook for Republicans up and down the ballot. The Monmouth University poll has Joe Biden with a narrow, three-point lead over Trump in a “high turnout” election in the district.

“The president’s popularity has gone down. That hurts someone who pledged undying allegiance to Trump,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative and former adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, many frontline Democrats are actually well-positioned heading into November, defying expectations and fueling hopes that their party could actually pad their majority even further. And the election has largely been dominated by the coronavirus — not impeachment.

“No one cares about impeachment anymore. It seems like 10 years ago, not 10 months ago.” DuHaime added.

On the coronavirus, Van Drew has echoed Trump’s rhetoric. He railed against health restrictions dampening the economy, highlighted how Trump overcame the virus, criticized D.C. residents for wearing masks even alone in their cars and called on Washington to “go big” on a stimulus package.

“You know what makes people upset where I am in my district? The people that went out of business, the people that lost everything they own, the people that can’t even keep their homes, the people who work for the casinos,” he said.

Van Drew also said he has worked tirelessly on constituent services during the pandemic, which could help boost him in the race. And GOP strategists say Van Drew will likely once again attract some crossover voters — but it may not be enough.

“He has always won because people transcended party to vote for him. But is that enough in a year where Trump is so dominant on the ballot and affecting how everyone views everything?” DuHaime asked. “Now, just so many people this year are voting party-line to send a message to Trump.”

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The NHS Covid-19 App Has Only Had Half The Downloads NHS Advisors Say It Needs To Help Stop the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The NHS Covid-19 app has been downloaded over 19 million times (PA)


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The official NHS Covid-19 app has only been downloaded by 40% of adults with eligible smartphones—half the number researchers say is needed to effectively halt the spread of the virus.

Experts from the University of Oxford claimed in April that 56% of the general population, or 80% of current smartphone owners, would need to use a contact-tracing app for it to be effective in helping stop the coronavirus.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, Professor Christophe Fraser, a member of the modelling team which advised the NHS on the contact tracing app, said this was “a very ambitious target”.

But he added that the app would still have an effect if fewer people downloading it, with his team estimating that one infection could be averted for every one to two users.

The app, which tracks who a user has been in contact with using anonymous bluetooth data, has now been downloaded 19 million times since it went live on 24 September, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

These latest figures came alongside an announcement of the latest updates to the app, which included improvements to its accuracy and fixes to prevent incorrect exposure notifications.

Following its launch, some users complained that they had received notifications from the app telling them to self-isolated which later disappeared.

But, a DHSC spokesperson insisted such messages were “default privacy notifications from Apple and Google, who provide the underlying framework on which this and many other countries’ Bluetooth contact tracing apps are based.”

The most recent update has reportedly improved the app’s ability to judge the distance between users and so better estimate when there is a risk of infection. 

Gaby Appleton, director of product for NHS Test and Trace, said she hoped these changes would “make it as simple as possible to keep users and their loved ones safe”.

“We are thrilled that over 19 million people have chosen to download the app to help protect their loved ones while preserving their privacy, and that over 680,000 QR codes have been created by businesses to support digital contact tracing,” she continued.

The DHSC also announced that the NHS Covid-19 app, which currently only operates in England and Wales, will soon become interoperable with contact tracing apps in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar.

Under a proposed system set to be launched in November, users who test positive on any of the apps can choose to upload their anonymous Bluetooth key to all app users across the UK.

 

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