EU Chief Says 70% of Bloc’s Adult Population Now Vaccinated

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said Tuesday 70% of all adults in the European Union are now fully vaccinated — more than 250 million people.In a video message from EU headquarters in Brussels, Von der Leyen called the milestone a “great achievement, which really shows what we can do when we work together.”But she also cautioned the pandemic is not over and many more Europeans need to get vaccinated a soon as possible to prevent new infections and the possible emergence of new variants.On Monday, World Health Organization European Regional Director Hans Kluge warned about the slowing vaccination rate on the continent over the past six weeks. He said those stagnating numbers have been caused by a lack of access to vaccine in some lower income nations and a lack of vaccine acceptance in others. He said only 6% of people in lower- and lower-middle-income European countries have completed a full vaccination series. And while nearly 75% of European health care workers have completed a full COVID-19 vaccine series, some countries have only managed to vaccinate 10% of their health professionals.In her comments, Von der Leyen also said the EU must help vaccinate the rest of the world by continuing to support the WHO’s managed global vaccine access initiative, COVAX, which gets vaccine to low- and middle-income nations. She said the pandemic will only end if it is defeated in every corner of the globe. 

Deportation Centers in Turkey Packed With Afghan Refugees

Deportation centers in Turkey are filled to capacity as refugees from Afghanistan continue to cross the border from Iran by night, hoping to evade police and resettle. As VOA tours a deportation center in Van, officials say they are not sending people back to Afghanistan, but they also have no plans to release detainees. VOA’s Heather Murdock has this report from Van, on the Turkish border with Iran.Camera: Yan BoechatMohammad Mahdi Sultani contributed to this story.

Putin Gives Cash to Police, Soldiers Ahead of Polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered law enforcement officers and army staff receive $200, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections next month.The cash handouts follow earlier one-time payments for pensioners of $135 ahead of lower house State Duma polls in September, with United Russia’s ratings hit by rising prices coupled with falling wages.Russia’s legal information portal showed Putin had signed decrees ordering one-time cash payments of 15,000 rubles ($200) for members of the military and law enforcement bodies to be handed out in September for their “social protection.”While Russia has not announced how many people will receive the payments, the country has some 42 million pensioners and 1.7 million members of the military, police and national guard, according to official statistics.The Interfax news agency cited lawmaker Andrei Makarov, who heads the budget committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, as saying that the payments will total more than 500 billion rubles ($6.8 billion).The payments come as Russian authorities have struggled to curb soaring inflation, with Putin ordering his government several times since late 2020 to take measures to bring prices under control.Annual inflation has reached 6.5%, according to the central bank, which in June hiked its key interest rate to the same figure — its biggest increase since a currency crisis in 2014.United Russia has seen its ratings fall in recent years after the government passed a controversial pension plan in 2018 and as the country’s economy has stagnated. The ruling party is polling around 30%, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM — a 10-point drop from the last lower house elections in 2016.It currently controls 75% of seats in the State Duma, with the rest held by parties widely seen as doing the Kremlin’s bidding.Ahead of the September vote, Russian authorities have pursued a crackdown on the opposition and independent media.Jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny has seen his organizations declared “extremist” and banned in the country, while all of his top allies have fled.Meanwhile, leading independent media outlets including the Meduza news website and the Dozhd TV channel have been designated “foreign agents,” while investigative outlet Proekt was declared an “undesirable organization.”

Milan Mayor Says Cladding Melted in Tower Block Blaze, as in London’s Grenfell Tower

The mayor of Italy’s financial capital Milan demanded answers on Monday over why a fire was able to rip through an apartment block and melt its cladding, comparing it to the Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 71 people four years ago. Firefighters said everyone managed to escape the 18 story building in the south of Milan, which was gutted by the blaze that broke out on Sunday afternoon. Among the residents in the high rise building was rapper Mahmood, winner of the 2019 San Remo music festival with his international hit “Soldi.” Witnesses have said the fire, which started on the 15th floor, quickly surged through the outside cladding of the building. Video of the blaze showed panels melting off the building in liquefied clumps. “The tower was built just over 10 years ago and it is unacceptable that such a modern building should have proved totally vulnerable,” mayor Beppe Sala wrote on Facebook. “What was clear from the start was that the building’s outer shell went up in flames far too quickly, in a manner reminiscent of the Grenfell Tower fire in London a few years ago.” The deaths in Britain’s Grenfell Tower fire were blamed on exterior cladding panels made of flammable material. Owners of flats in similar buildings across Britain have since been forced to remove such panels at a cost estimated to run into billions of dollars, forcing many residents into economic hardship.  

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Heads to Long-Awaited White House Visit

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday, September 1st. VOA’s Ostap Yarysh reports on the long-awaited meeting from Washington.Camera: Kostiantyn Golubchyk, Contributor: Myroslava Gongadze

EU to Recommend Return of COVID Travel Restrictions on US Tourists

European Union officials say the bloc is expected to recommend its member nations reinstate COVID-19 travel restrictions on travelers from the United States, where new cases and hospitalizations have risen sharply in recent weeks.The officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity as the EU travel policy is still being reviewed, say that as early as this week, the U.S. could be removed from a “safe list” of countries whose residents can travel to the 27-nation bloc without additional restrictions, such as quarantine and testing requirements. The recommendation would come from the European Council, which reviews the EU’s travel list every two weeks. The suggested restrictions, however, would not be binding for member countries, as there is no unified travel policy and member nations are free to set their own regulations.The EU lifted most travel restrictions for U.S. tourists in June, even though the U.S. has remained closed to European travelers.The threshold for being on the EU “safe list’ is an infection rate of no higher 75 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days. The latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a rate of more than 300 new cases per 100,000 people.Last week, new cases per day averaged more than 150,000, a number reminiscent of the peak months of January and February of this year. COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also risen to around 100,000, a number not seen since early February. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus.

EU Says Afghanistan Shows Need for Rapid-Reaction Force

EU governments must push ahead with a European rapid reaction force to be better prepared for future crises such as in Afghanistan, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.In an interview published on Monday, Borrell told Italian paper Il Corriere della Sera the short-notice deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan as security deteriorated showed the EU needed to accelerate efforts to build a common defense policy.”We need to draw lessons from this experience … as Europeans we have not been able to send 6,000 soldiers around the Kabul airport to secure the area. The US has been, we haven’t,” he said.Borrell said the 27-member EU should have an “initial entry force” of 5,000 soldiers. “We need to be able to act quickly.”In May, 14 EU countries including Germany and France proposed such a force, possibly with ships and aircraft, to help democratic foreign governments needing urgent help.First discussed in 1999 in connection with the Kosovo war, a joint system of battlegroups of 1,500 personnel each was set up in 2007 to respond to crises, but they have not been used because EU governments disagreed on how and when to deploy them.Borrell said it was time to be flexible, citing agreements made quickly to cope with the financial crisis as an example of how the EU could overcome restrictions in the deployment of military operations laid down in its constitutional treaties.”We can work in many different ways,” he said.Britain, long a reluctant EU member, was instrumental in the creation of the battlegroups in the 2000s but did not approve deployment as domestic opposition grew to anything that might resemble the creation of an EU army. With Britain’s departure from the bloc, the EU executive hopes the idea can be revived.But obstacles remain, including the lack of a common defense culture among the various EU members and differences over which countries should be given priority for deployment.

France’s Macron Visits Iraq’s Mosul  Destroyed by IS War 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday visited Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, which suffered widespread destruction during the war to defeat the Islamic State group in 2017. He vowed to fight alongside regional governments against terrorism. Macron said IS carried out deadly attacks throughout the world from its self-declared caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. He said IS did not differentiate between people’s religion and nationality when it came to killing, noting that the extremists killed many Muslims. “We will do whatever we can, shoulder to shoulder, with the governments of the region and with the Iraqi government to fight against this terrorism,” Macron said in English following a visit to an iconic mosque that was destroyed by the extremists. “We will be present alongside with sovereign governments to restore peace.” Macron said France will help in rebuilding mutual respect as well as monuments, churches, schools and mosques and most importantly “economic opportunity.” Despite the defeat of IS on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, the group’s sleeper cells still carry out deadly attacks in both countries and an affiliate of the group claimed Thursday’s attacks at Kabul’s airport in Afghanistan that killed scores. Macron began his visit to Mosul by touring the Our Lady of the Hour Church, a Catholic church that was badly damaged during the rule of IS that lasted from 2014 until the extremists’ defeat three years later. Iraqi children dressed in white and waving Iraqi and French flags sang upon Macron’s arrival. FILE – Pope Francis arrives to pray for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul, Iraq.It was the same church where Pope Francis led a special prayer during a visit to Iraq in March. During the trip, the pontiff urged Iraq’s Christians to forgive the injustices against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches. Macron moved around the church — whose walls are still riddled with bullets — amid tight security as a priest accompanying him gave him details about the church built in the 19th century. The French president then went up to the roof overlooking parts of Mosul accompanied by Iraqi officials. “We hope that France will open a consulate in Mosul,” Iraqi priest Raed Adel told Macron inside the church. He also called on the president to help in the reconstruction of Mosul’s airport. Macron made a list of promises during his meeting with Christian leaders at Our Lady of the Hour church, including opening a consulate. “I’m struck by what’s at stake here so I want to also tell you that we are going to be making the decision to bring back a consulate and schools,” Macron said. 
Macron left the church in the early afternoon and headed to Mosul’s landmark al-Nuri mosque, which was blown up in the battle with IS militants in 2017 and is being rebuilt. French President Emmanuel Macron (unseen) tours the Al-Nuri Mosque in Iraq’s second city of Mosul, in the northern Nineveh province, on August 29, 2021.The mosque, also known as The Great Mosque of al-Nuri, and its iconic leaning minaret were built in the 12th century. It was from the mosque’s pulpit that IS’s self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the caliphate’s establishment in 2014. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, became IS’s bureaucratic and financial backbone. It took a ferocious nine-month battle to finally free the city in July 2017. Between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed, according to an Associated Press investigation at the time, and the war left widespread destruction. Many Iraqis have had to rebuild on their own amid a years-long financial crisis. Since the early years of Christianity, northern Iraq has been home to large Christian communities. But over the past decades, tens of thousands left Iraq and settled elsewhere amid the country’s wars and instability that culminated with the persecution of Christians by extremists over the past decade. The traditionally Christian towns dotting the Nineveh Plains of the north emptied out in 2014 as Christians — as well as many Muslims — fled the Islamic State group’s onslaught. Only a few have returned to their homes since the defeat of IS in Iraq was declared four years ago, and the rest remain scattered elsewhere in Iraq or abroad. Macron arrived in Baghdad early Saturday where he took part in a conference attended by officials from around the Middle East aimed at easing Mideast tensions and underscored the Arab country’s new role as mediator. Macron hailed the Baghdad conference as a major boost for Iraq and its leadership. The country had been largely shunned by Arab leaders for the past few decades because of security concerns amid back-to-back wars and internal unrest, its airport frequently attacked with rockets by insurgents. Macron vowed to maintain troops in Iraq “regardless of the Americans’ choices” and “for as long as the Iraqi government is asking for our support.” France currently contributes to the international coalition forces in Iraq with 800 soldiers. On Saturday night, Macron visited a Shi’ite holy shrine in Baghdad before flying to the northern city of Irbil, where he met Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, the 28-year-old activist who was forced into sexual slavery by IS fighters in Iraq. A member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, Murad was among thousands of women and girls who were captured and forced into sexual slavery by IS in 2014. Her mother and six brothers were killed by IS fighters in Iraq. She became an activist on behalf of women and girls after escaping and finding refuge in Germany and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. 

Spacex Launches Ants, Avocados, Robot to Space Station

A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday.The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company’s 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX’s newest ocean platform, named A Shortfall of Gravitas.SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.A Japanese start-up company’s experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc.’s robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs, said chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki.As early as 2025, a squad of these arms could help build lunar bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.It was the second launch attempt; Saturday’s try was foiled by stormy weather.NASA turned to SpaceX and other U.S. companies to deliver cargo and crews to the space station, once the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

Arc De Triomphe to be Wrapped for Posthumous Work by Christo

The Arc de Triomphe has seen parades, protests and tourists galore, but never before has the war monument in Paris been wrapped in silver and blue recyclable polypropylene fabric. That’s about to happen next month in a posthumous art installation designed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”Christo has wrapped museums, parliaments as in Germany, but a monument like this? Not really. This is the first time. This is the first monument of this importance and scale that he has done,” Vladimir Yavachev, the late collaborating couple’s nephew, told The Associated Press.Preparations have already started on the Napoleon-era arch, where workers are covering statues to protect them from the wrapping.The idea for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was formed in 1961, when Christo and Jeanne-Claude lived in Paris. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and in spite of Christo’s death in May 2020, the project carried on.”He wanted to complete this project. He made us promise him that we will do it,” Yavachev told The Associated Press.It was to be realized last fall, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the installation.The $16.4 million project is being self-financed through the sale of Christo’s preparatory studies, drawings, scale models and other pieces of work, Yavachev said.Visitors to the foot of the Arc de Triomphe during the installation, scheduled for Sept. 18-Oct. 3, will be able to touch the fabric, and those climbing to the top will step on it when they reach the roof terrace, as intended by the artists.Born in Bulgaria in 1935, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, born in Morocco on the exact same day as him, in Paris in 1958.The artists were known for elaborate, temporary creations that involved blanketing familiar public places with fabric, such as Berlin’s Reichstag and Paris’ Pont Neuf bridge, and creating giant site-specific installations, such as a series of 7,503 gates in New York City’s Central Park and the 39-kilometer Running Fence in California.Yavachev plans on completing another one of his uncle and aunt’s unfinished projects: a 150-meter-tall pyramid-like mastaba in Abu Dhabi.”We have the blueprints, we just have to do it,” he said.