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Brazil: Political crisis and Covid surge rock Bolsonaro – BBC News

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Reuters

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is facing the biggest crisis of his presidency after the heads of the army, navy and air force all quit and the country recorded its highest daily Covid-19 death toll.

The unprecedented resignation of the defence chiefs is being seen as a protest at attempts by Mr Bolsonaro to exert undue control over the military.

Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted over his response to Covid-19.

Nearly 314,000 people have died, with a new daily record of 3,780 on Tuesday.

What’s the situation with Covid?

Worldwide, Brazil has the second highest number of total confirmed Covid cases with more than 12.6m. Only the United States has more.

It is also the country with the second highest number of Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began and its daily deaths currently account for about a quarter of all coronavirus fatalities in the entire world.

Chart comparing countries' Covid-related deaths

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Daily confirmed deaths in Brazil graphic

The high number of cases has brought the health system to the verge of collapse.

In 18 of Brazil’s 26 states and in the capital, Brasilia, the occupancy of intensive care units (ICU) is above 90%, according to Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz. In two states, Amapá and Mato Grosso do Sul, ICU are completely full.

How did it get so bad?

The latest surge in cases and deaths has been attributed to the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus which was first detected in Japan in travellers from the city of Manaus, in Brazil’s Amazon state.

Preliminary data suggests the new variant could be up to twice as transmittable as the original version of the virus.

Neighbouring countries are extremely worried the new variant. Bolivia, which shares a 3,400km-long (2,100 miles) border with Brazil, announced that it would focus its Covid immunisation programme on the border areas.

Brazil’s own vaccine programme has been beset by delays. So far, only 8% of its 211-million-strong population have received a first dose.

What is the political fallout?

According to a poll published by Datafolha in mid-March, 43% of Brazilians blame President Bolsonaro for the poor handling of the pandemic.

A woman demonstrates against the pandemic management by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in Brasilia, Brazil, 26 March 2021

EPA

The far-right leader has consistently opposed lockdown measures, arguing that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the coronavirus itself. He has also told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the situation.

While his stance made him popular with anti-lockdown protesters, his popularity is falling. In a poll conducted in mid-March, 54% of respondents said his management of the Covid crisis was “bad” or “very bad”, up from 48% in January.

Mr Bolsonaro was a divisive figure even before the pandemic hit and the rapid spread of Covid seems to have further hardened opinions.

The Datafolha poll suggests that while the percentage of those who said they “never trusted” the president’s words rose from 41% to 45% between January and March, those who say they “always trust” what has only dropped slightly from 19% to 18% in that same timeframe.

However in recent days, his government has been furthered weakened by a deep political crisis.

What’s happening in the cabinet?

Since the pandemic began, Brazil has had no fewer than four health ministers. The latest is Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, who replaced an army officer with no medical training on 16 March.

But while changes in the health ministry have become almost par for the course, this week also saw the foreign minister and five other cabinet ministers leave.

Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo had fallen foul of Congress, some of whose members accused him of mishandling relations with China, India and the US, which they said in turn led to Brazil not getting enough Covid vaccines from those countries.

What’s with the resignations of the armed forces heads?

But it was Mr Bolsonaro’s sacking of the defence minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, which caused the biggest storm so far.

Mr Bolsonaro and his minister had clashed over the issue of the armed forces’ loyalty, which the defence minister said should be directed to upholding the constitution rather than supporting the president personally.

In a first in Brazilian history, on Tuesday the heads of the army, navy and air force all resigned together in a move signalling their opposition to the president and his sudden sacking of the defence minister’s sacking.

The role of the armed forces in Brazilian politics has been a contentious issue since the country’s return to democracy in 1985 after 21 years of military rule.

Walter Souza Braga Netto, speaks after visiting the coordination center of the Covid-19 crisis committee, in Brasilia, Brazil, 25 March 2020

EPA

President Bolsonaro, a former army captain, caused outrage in 2019 when he organised a commemoration of the 1964 coup which brought the military to power.

He also appointed active duty and retired generals to key positions in his cabinet, including the health ministry and the vice-presidency.

But in recent weeks, top members of the military seem to have increasingly distanced themselves from the president, culminating in the resignation of the armed forces heads on Tuesday.

Mr Bolsonaro’s newly appointed minister of defence, Gen Walter Braga Netto, seems to be more closely aligned with the president. In one of his first statements he said that the 1964 coup had “pacified the country” and should be celebrated.

Marking the coup’s anniversary on 31 March, the general said that there had been a “very real threat to peace and democracy” and that the armed forces had confronted that threat in 1964.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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