Threatened Swedish Artist Dies in Road Accident

STOCKHOLM —

The Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since his 2007 sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body brought death threats, died from a traffic accident Sunday, Swedish news media reported.

The accident reportedly involved a truck colliding with a civilian police car in which Lars Vilks and his police protection were traveling, news media said.

The Swedish news agency TT said police had confirmed that Vilks, 75, was traveling in the car with two police officers. The newspaper Dagens Nyheter said the artist’s partner confirmed his death.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before his Muhammad drawing. At home, he was best known for building a sculpture made of driftwood in a nature reserve in southern Sweden without permission, triggering a lengthy legal battle. He was fined, but the seaside sculpture — a jumble of wood nailed together in chaotic fashion — draws tens of thousands of visitors a year.

Vilks’ life changed radically 13 years ago after he drew the sketch of Muhammad. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Al-Qaida put a bounty on Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden. Last year, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill him.

Source: Voice of America

US Ban on Visits from Canada Creates Economic Losses, Frustration

VANCOUVER, CANADA —

The continued closure of the U.S. side of the land border with Canada to non-essential travel is having an impact in both countries. That includes more than just communities along the international boundary.

The closure of the American land border with Canada and Mexico is to last until at least October 21. The Biden administration quietly announced the extension without stating a specific reason, continuing the closure, which started as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020.

Canadians have always been able to fly into the U.S. for non-essential reasons. Canada has allowed fully vaccinated American residents to enter by land or air for any reason since August 9.

Point Roberts, Washington, is a 12.65 square kilometer American exclave surrounded on three sides by water and attached on the north to the Vancouver suburb of Delta in Canada.

The closure is devastating for businesses in Point Roberts since Canadians – who own three quarters of the properties in the enclave – cannot cross the border to reach them. But Americans in the enclave are finally free to travel north to Vancouver, where they can enjoy the shopping variety offered by a large city.

For Ali Hayton, owner of the International Marketplace, the community’s only grocery store, this has exacerbated the revenue loss.

“So it took absolutely bottom of the barrel numbers and cut them by another 30%. For us, because every person there has been blocked there (in Point Roberts) for 18 months, I don’t begrudge them at all for wanting to go shop,” said Hayton.

Thirty-year resident Brian Calder is president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce. He feels the extended closure is only being driven by America’s Department of Homeland Security, not by facts.

“It’s insane. It’s not based on science. If we followed the science, we’d be allowing Delta people to come in here to their properties and us to go in there,” Calder said. “Canada has allowed us now to go into Delta from here, great, but further took business away from our stores here.”

Each fall, Florida, Arizona, and California see thousands of Canadians, called “snowbirds,” drive south to take up temporary residence during the cold Canadian winter.

A study by the Canadian Consulate in Miami found that Canadian tourists injected $6.5 billion into the Florida economy in 2017 and own over $53 billion in real estate.

Bob Slack and his wife Lois, retired educators from Athens, Ontario, are snowbirds who have been driving to Winterhaven, Florida for 23 years. Now, they are shipping their car over the border and flying to Florida, at an extra cost of $1,500.

Like many snowbirds, they feel frustrated at having to make a decision about not only if, but how they will travel this year.

“I’ve talked to a number of people. And everybody’s in the same boat,” Slack said. “We book a flight, or do we wait and hope October 21 are going to open the border?”

The continued closure has also impacted the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League – teams located near the border that usually have thousands of supporters from Canada attending their games. The Seahawks have told 3,000 Canadian season ticket holders they will credit their accounts as long as they are unable to cross the border.

Source: Voice of America

Algeria Recalls Ambassador to France as Tensions Rise

ALGIERS —

Algeria on Saturday rejected “inadmissible interference” in its affairs, hours after recalling its ambassador from Paris following comments by French President Emmanuel Macron reported by the French and Algerian media.

The statement, from the Algerian presidency, said it had withdrawn its ambassador following media reports of the French leader’s comments, which had not been denied.

The French daily Le Monde reported that Macron had made critical remarks about the former French colony during a meeting Thursday with descendants of figures from the war of independence.

Macron reportedly said the country was ruled by a “political-military system” and described Algeria as having an “official history” which had been “totally re-written,” the paper reported.

He said this history was “not based on truths” but “on a discourse of hatred towards France”, according to Le Monde — though he made clear that he was not referring to Algerian society as a whole but to the ruling elite.

The statement from the Algerian presidency said: “Following remarks that have not been denied, which several French sources have attributed by name to (Macron), Algeria expresses its categorical rejection of the inadmissible interference in its internal affairs.”

Macron also spoke out on current Algerian politics. His counterpart Abdelmajid Tebboune was “trapped in a system which is very tough,” the French president was quoted as saying.

“You can see that the Algerian system is tired, it has been weakened by the Hirak,” he added, referring to the pro-democracy movement which forced Tebboune’s predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019 after two decades at the helm.

Visa tensions

It is the second time that Algeria has recalled an ambassador from France.

Algiers also recalled its ambassador in May 2020 after French media broadcast a documentary about the Hirak.

Saturday’s move comes amid tension over a French decision to sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

France said the decision, which it announced Tuesday, had been made necessary by the former colonies’ failure to do enough to allow illegal migrants to return.

The Algerian foreign ministry summoned French ambassador Francois Gouyette on Wednesday and handed him a “formal protest” note concerning the visa ruling.

It called the visa reduction an “unfortunate act” that caused “confusion and ambiguity as to its motivation and its scope.”

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has described the French move as “unjustified.”

Tunisian President Kais Saied expressed disappointment with the decision in a telephone call with Macron on Saturday, his office said, adding that the French leader had said it could be revised.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that the visa reduction decision was “unprecedented.”

Paris made that choice, he said, because Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia “are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France.”

The radio said Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries.

Source: Voice of America

WHO Chief: ‘No Country Can Vaccinate Its Way Out of This Pandemic in Isolation’

“The pandemic has destabilized societies, economies, and governments. It has shown that there is no global security without global health security,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a recent address to ambassadors and representatives to the European Union’s political and security committee.

“The fastest and best way to end this pandemic is with genuine global cooperation on vaccine supply and access,” Tedros said. “The longer vaccine inequity persists, the longer the social and economic turmoil will continue, and the more opportunity the virus has to circulate and change into more dangerous variants. We need a global realization that no country can vaccinate its way out of this pandemic in isolation from the rest of the world.”

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Sunday it had recorded 234.6 million global COVID infections and nearly 5 million deaths.

Thousands marched Saturday in Bucharest, Romania, to protest restrictions that begin Sunday to combat a jump in coronavirus infections.

The European nation of 19 million is seeing a shocking rise in the daily number of coronavirus cases. A month ago, the number was about 1,000 new cases a day. On Saturday, Romania reported more than 12,500 new cases, its highest number since the pandemic began in March of last year.

Protesters, mostly maskless, gathered outside government offices, shouting “Freedom, freedom without certificates,” and “Down with the government,” according to Reuters. One sign read: “Green certificates = dictatorship,” The Associated Press reported.

The demonstration was organized by Romania’s far-right AUR party, the AP said.

The rising cases have strained the nation’s hospitals — intensive care beds are nearly full — and the protests angered some medical workers.

“The situation in hospitals is serious,” Beatrice Mahler, hospital manager of Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, told The Associated Press. “We have patients hospitalized in beds in the hallway — all with extremely severe forms of COVID-19.”

The restrictions scheduled to take effect Sunday include requiring masks be worn in public, and that shops close at 10 p.m. local time.

Public spaces such as restaurants, theaters and gyms, can remain open — some at only partial capacity — for customers who have COVID-19 passes, meaning they are fully vaccinated, or show proof they have had the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Romania has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, 33.5% of all adults are fully vaccinated, second only to Bulgaria.

There is a weekend curfew in effect for unvaccinated Romanians, and there are plans to make vaccinations mandatory for health care workers, Reuters said.

Since the pandemic began, Romania has recorded nearly 1.25 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 37,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Russia’s vaccine

Russia’s health minister, Mikhail Murashko, said Saturday that just some paperwork needs to be finished before its Sputnik V vaccine can be registered with the World Health Organization.

The shot has been approved in more than 70 countries and is used widely in Russia. If it wins approval from the WHO and the European Medicines Agency, that could make it available to other markets, Reuters said.

The WHO could not be immediately reached for comment, Reuters added.

Nicaragua shots

Nicaragua has OK’d two Cuban-made vaccines for use in the Central American nation, the Cuban manufacturer, BioCubaFarma, said Saturday.

Cuba developed three coronavirus vaccines, all of which are awaiting official recognition by the WHO, Reuters reported. Nicaragua authorized Abdala and Soberana for emergency use.

Iran, Vietnam and Venezuela have also OK’d the Cuban vaccines for emergency use in their countries.

Source: Voice of America