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U.S. imposes fresh sanctions on Myanmar junta

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The United States on Monday imposed fresh sanctions on Myanmar’s junta, targeting the governing State Administrative Council (SAC) and 13 officials in the latest in a series of punitive actions following a military coup.

The Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, has been in crisis since the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1, with near daily protests and a crackdown by the junta in which hundreds of people have been killed.

The U.S. Treasury Department in statement accused the SAC, formed a day after the coup, of being created by Myanmar’s military to support it’s “unlawful overthrow of the democratically elected civilian government”.

Among those blacklisted in Monday’s move were four members of the SAC, as well as nine other officials the Treasury said were key members of Myanmar’s military government, including the governor of the country’s central bank, the minister for international cooperation and the chairman of the military-appointed electoral body, the Union Election Commission.

The move appeared to be the first time Washington has targeted civilian officials who are working with the junta, although some of them are retired military officers.

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on three adult children of U.S.-blacklisted Myanmar military officials, according to the statement.

“Burma’s military continues to commit human rights abuses and oppress the people of Burma. Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ commitment to work with our international partners to press the Burmese military and promote accountability for those responsible for the coup and ongoing violence,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington’s move freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

Western nations have led condemnation of the junta and applied limited sanctions since it took power alleging fraud in an election won by Suu Kyi’s party in November. Its allegations of irregularities were rejected by the electoral commission.

 

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Israeli military confirms Gaza air strikes

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The Israeli military said its aircraft attacked Hamas armed compounds in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to the launching of incendiary ballons from the territory that caused fires in fields in southern Israel.

In a statement, the military said that it was “ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza”.

The attacks, following an Israeli nationalist march in East Jerusalem that angered Palestinians, were the first launched by Israel and Gaza militants since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended 11 days of cross-border fighting last month.

 

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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U.S., Canada set to discuss lifting of border restrictions

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U.S. and Canadian officials are set to meet Tuesday to discuss how to eventually lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries, but no immediate action is expected, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Monday.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel at land borders because of COVID-19 that was imposed in March 2020 and has been renewed on a monthly basis since. The measures, which also apply to the U.S.-Mexico border, do not affect trade or other essential travel.

The current restrictions are set to expire June 21, but U.S. and industry officials expect they will be extended again.

Reuters reported on June 8 the Biden administration was forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions.

A meeting is expected to occur with Mexico later this week and meetings with the United Kingdom and EU are currently set for next week, but the timing could still shift, three people briefed on the meetings said.

U.S. restrictions prevent most non-U.S. citizens who have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within the last 14 days from traveling to the United States.

Reuters reported previously that U.S. and airline officials do not think U.S. restrictions will be lifted until around July 4 at the earliest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift the restrictions, but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

Two officials said the working groups are each expected to meet twice a month.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Outgoing U.N. aid chief slams G7 for failing on vaccine plan

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Outgoing U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock slammed the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Monday for failing to come up with a plan to vaccinate the world against COVID-19, describing the G7 pledge to provide 1 billion doses over the next year as a “small step.”

“These sporadic, small-scale, charitable handouts from rich countries to poor countries is not a serious plan and it will not bring the pandemic to an end,” Lowcock, who steps down on Friday, told Reuters. “The G7, essentially, completely failed to show the necessary urgency.”

The leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada met in Cornwall, England over the weekend and also agreed to work with the private sector, the Group of 20 industrialized nations and other countries to increase the vaccine contribution over months to come.

“They took a small step – at that very, very nice resort in Cornwall – but they shouldn’t kid themselves it’s more than a small step and they have still have a lot to do,” Lowcock said.

“What the world needed from the G7 was a plan to vaccinate the world. And what we got was a plan to vaccinate about 10% of the population of low and middle income countries, maybe by a year from now or the second half of next year,” he said.

In May, the International Monetary Fund unveiled a $50 billion proposal to end the COVID-19 pandemic by vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and at least 60% by the first half of 2022.

“That is the deal of the century,” said Lowcock, adding that the G7 could also have done a lot more to provide vital supplies – such as oxygen ventilators, testing kits and protective equipment – to countries who are going to have to wait longer for vaccines.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged world leaders to act with more urgency, warning that if developing countries were not vaccinated quickly, the virus would continue to mutate and could become immune to inoculation.

 

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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