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Carnival returns to French Riviera, as virus fears recede

Artists, florists, actors, technicians and drivers are putting the final touches on their costumes, lavish flower arrangements and giant floats for the Carnival in the French Riviera city of NiceBy BARBARA SURK Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 1:36 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNICE, France — Two years after the pandemic shut down the Carnival in the French Riviera city of Nice, artists, florists, actors, technicians and drivers are putting the final touches on their costumes, lavish flower arrangements and giant floats set to roll down the city’s famed boulevards and squares on Friday.It will be a loud, rich and crowded chain of events over the next two weeks. The Carnival’s 149th edition is led by the King of Animals, celebrating nature, light, human connection and life itself after months of lockdowns, silence, social distancing and banned public gatherings.“It’s rejuvenation,” said Nicole Bravi, the director of the florist association, La Nouvelle Vague, that has been designing flower arrangements for the Carnival floats for 20 years. Flowers are a prominent part of the Nice Carnival and feature in their own parade known as the Battle of Flowers. Traditionally, people throw flowers at the spectators but this year they decided to hand them out to people.“It’s to express our desire to reconnect with people,” Bravi said. “There has been so much grief and nostalgia and melancholy that we just want to give people some beauty back.”The Nice Carnival is part of a European medieval carnival tradition, and the city’s two-week festival of excess in costumes, food and music is one of the world biggest, after those in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.Public celebrations in the city on the French Mediterranean coast started in the early 19th century to honor visiting nobility. There were street battles in which people pelted one another with flour and eggs. By the late 1800s a modern version of the Carnival emerged after the local painter, Alexis Mossa designed grotesque characters and put them on floats.The Carnival is a rare event in the French republic that offers a chance for royalty to return. In line with this year’s theme, the king and queen have human faces perched on animal bodies — and giant crowns, of course. They will be overseeing their subjects in the city’s main Massena Square until the end of the month when they will be burned and buried.French political leaders need not feel shunned. Candidates for April’s presidential election are featured as well. Their giant faces are perched on the bodies of crabs.“They are in a basket of crabs,” said Pierre Povigna, a fourth generation “carnivalier” from Nice, whose family has designed the royal floats for decades. “It’s a famous dish, le panier des crabes, a crab basket,” Povigna explained. But before serving it, crabs are put in a basket and they turn on one another, they go after one another with their claws, he said.The city will be divided into carnival zones for the next two weeks and while Nice celebrates “a return to life,” according to Povigna, residents and tourists will only be allowed to access the festivities with a vaccination pass in line with national health regulations. Masks are recommended, but not mandatory outdoors.However, city officials are expected to announces new rules at the opening ceremony Friday evening.In a sign that Nice, like the rest of France, is ready to turn the page and its back to the pandemic, a journalist reporting from the decorated and illuminated Massena Square for BFM television ended her report by taking off her surgical mask and covering her eyes with a Venetian mask instead. “I urge you to do the same,” she said.

Dutch lawyer to get German prize for landmark climate cases

A lawyer who helped win cases forcing the Dutch government and oil giant Shell to cut carbon emissions, is to receive a 10,000-euro ($11,410) award in GermanyByThe Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 1:03 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — Roger Cox, a lawyer who helped win cases forcing the Dutch government and oil giant Shell to cut carbon emissions, is to receive a 10,000-euro ($11,410) award in Germany for contributing to global peace.Organizers of the Dresden Prize said Cox was being honored for “his groundbreaking contribution to fighting for compliance with global climate targets by means of law.”Past recipients of the prize include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, American civil rights activist Tommie Smith and Kim Phuc, who became known as the “Napalm Girl” from an iconic 1972 Associated Press photo during the Vietnam War.Acting for the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, Cox won a ruling against Shell last year that requires the energy giant to cut its carbon emissions by net 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.Climate activists hailed the decision as a victory for the planet that built on a 2015 case Cox brought requiring the Netherlands’ government to cut emissions at least 25% by the end of 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.Since then, similar cases have been brought against governments and corporations around the world, with mixed results.“Peace is more than the absence of war,” the organizers of the Dresden Prize said. “Standing up for peace in times of climate crisis means acting responsibly and fighting for a humane and thus peaceful life for future generations.”———Follow all of AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate

In Romania, NATO chief visits air base hosting US troops

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has paid an official visit to RomaniaBy STEPHEN McGRATH Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 11:59 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBUCHAREST, Romania — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg paid an official visit to Romania on Friday, where he joined the country’s president at a military air base that will host some of the 1,000 U.S. troops deployed to the country as the alliance bolsters its forces on the eastern flank amid soaring tensions between Russia and Ukraine.Stoltenberg, who met with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis and other officials at the southeast Mihail Kogalniceanu air base near the Black Sea, said that “there is a risk of armed conflict in Europe.”“We have no certainty about what will happen. That is why we call on Russia to de-escalate,” Stoltenberg told the media. “That is why we are vigilant and prepared, that is why the presence of NATO troops in Romania is so important.”The NATO chief’s visit came on the same day that the first U.S. military convoys carrying armored personnel vehicles rolled into the Romanian base, after traversing the country since arriving Wednesday night. It is part of a U.S. move relocating 1,000 U.S. troops from Vilseck, Germany, to Romania as U.S. officials fear Russia will soon invade Ukraine. NATO troops have also been deployed to Poland.Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders and performed military maneuvers in the region but says it has no plans to invade. Stoltenberg and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis held official talks Friday and will meet with troops deployed at the base.Iohannis on Friday expressed his gratitude to U.S. President Joe Biden for sending the troops to his country and said it is “proof of the allied solidarity.” He called the current situation “a crucial moment for Euro-Atlantic security.”“We are just 200 miles away from the illegally annexed Crimea,” Iohannis said. “We also share part of our northern and eastern borders with Ukraine — we perceive the current security threat in a clear manner.”The troops will add to around 900 U.S. service members that were already stationed in Romania, a NATO member since 2004. Romania shares more than 600 kilometers of border with Ukraine, to the north. France has also pledged to send troops to Romania.Romania hosts a NATO missile defense system at the Deveselu military base, in the south, that Moscow has long considered a threat, arguing that the site could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors. Washington has denied these claims.Stoltenberg’s official visit to Romania comes ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels next week. Stoltenberg, whose tenure at NATO ends later this year after serving in the post since 2014, said Friday that NATO ministers will discuss strengthening the presence of NATO in southeast Europe.NATO’s troop movements are aimed at defending members of the military alliance. NATO will not send troops into Ukraine should Russia invade.———Follow all AP stories on the crisis over Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Thailand tackles 2nd offshore oil spill in 3 weeks

Thai authorities are scrambling to contain the country’s second oil spill in less than three weeks in the Gulf of ThailandByThe Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 11:41 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBANGKOK — Thai authorities scrambled Friday to contain the country’s second oil spill in less than three weeks in the Gulf of Thailand.An estimated 5 tons (1,320 gallons) was believed to have leaked 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the eastern province of Rayong, in the same location where at least 22 tons (5,800 gallons) spilled into the sea on Jan. 25.The cleanup from the earlier spill from a mooring point was declared completed last week, but only after some oil made it on to one of the shoreline beaches.The new leak was reported Thursday, and believed to have come from an underwater pipeline to the mooring point that was undergoing repairs, according to its operator, Star Petroleum Refining Co.Navy spokesperson Vice Adm. Pokkrong Manathatphalin said three large oil slicks from the leak were detected and chemicals were being applied to disperse them.Star Petroleum said in a statement that the new situation was under control after floating booms were deployed and chemicals used to limit the spread of the oil.Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his concern and ordered Rayong officials, the navy and the Transport Ministry’s Marine Department to work urgently to contain the problem, said government spokesperson Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Iranians celebrate 43rd anniversary of Islamic Revolution

Thousands of cars and motorbikes are parading in celebration of the 43rd anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, although fewer pedestrians were out for a second straight year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemicBy NASSER KARIMI The Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 10:39 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTEHRAN, Iran — Thousands of cars and motorbikes paraded in celebration of the 43rd anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution on Friday, although fewer pedestrians were out for a second straight year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.In the capital Tehran, processions started out from several points, converging on the usual meetup point at Azadi Square. State media said hundreds of thousands of people were involved in the celebrations, and state TV showed crowds in many cities and towns.The anniversary comes as negotiations to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers continue in Vienna. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, and in response Iran gradually reneged on its commitments.President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran was seeking a balanced foreign policy, but would take “big steps” to further economic independence. “We never pinned hopes to Vienna and New York,” he said in a speech before Friday prayers in northern Tehran’s Mosalla Mosque.White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that a deal is “in sight,” but warned that “if it’s not reached in the coming weeks Iran’s nuclear advances will make it impossible” for the U.S. to return to the deal.Crowds waved Iranian flags, chanting slogans and carrying placards that read “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in celebration on Friday, a commemoration for the uprising that ousted a Western-backed monarchy and brought the Islamists to power. Several groups in Tehran and elsewhere burned U.S. and Israeli flags, a regular ritual at Iranian rallies.It was the second year where celebrations were largely limited to vehicles due to the pandemic. Authorities say the aggressive omicron variant is now dominant in the country, and hospitals have been urged to prepare for a new wave of infections.With more than 130,000 total deaths according to official numbers, Iran has the highest national death toll in the Middle East. It says it has vaccinated some 80% of its population above age 18 with two shots, although only 27% of that group has had a third shot.Iran’s Islamic Revolution began with widespread unrest over the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, terminally and secretly ill with cancer, fled Iran in January 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returned from exile and the government fell on Feb. 11, 1979, after days of mass demonstrations and confrontations between protesters and security forces.In April 1979, Iranians voted to become an Islamic Republic, a Shiite theocracy with Khomeini as the country’s first supreme leader, with final say on all matters of state.When the U.S. later allowed the shah into the United States for cancer treatment in New York, anger boiled over in Tehran leading to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 by militant students. The subsequent hostage crisis kindled decades of enmity.

UK defense secretary in Moscow amid Ukraine tensions

Britain’s defense secretary is visiting Moscow for talks on easing tensions amid massive Russian war games near UkraineBy VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 10:05 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMOSCOW — Britain’s defense secretary visited Moscow Friday for talks on easing tensions amid massive Russian war games near Ukraine.Ben Wallace’s trip comes a day after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held talks in Moscow, urging Russia to pull back over 100,000 troops amassed near Ukraine and warning that attacking its neighbor would “have massive consequences and carry severe costs.”Russia says it has no plans to invade Ukraine but wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons there and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.In an interview Thursday with NBC News, U.S. President Joe Biden repeated his warning that any Americans still in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible.“It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly,” he said.Asked whether there were any scenarios that would prompt him to send U.S. troops to Ukraine to rescue Americans, the president said: “There’s not. That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.”Amid the soaring tensions, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Thursday that the Ukraine crisis has grown into “the most dangerous moment” for Europe in decades.Russia’s troop concentration includes forces deployed on the territory of its ally Belarus for massive joint drills involving firing live ammunition. That entered a decisive phase Thursday and will run through Feb. 20. The Ukrainian capital is located about 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of the Belarus border.Continuing its military buildup near Ukraine, Russia has moved six amphibious assault vessels into the Black Sea, augmenting its capability to land marines on the coast.Moscow has announced sweeping drills in the Black and Azov seas in the coming days and closed large areas for commercial shipping, drawing a strong protest from Ukraine on Thursday.NATO has stepped up military deployments to bolster its eastern flank, with the U.S. sending troops to Poland and Romania.The U.S. Navy said Thursday it has deployed four destroyers from the United States to European waters. The Navy did not directly tie this deployment to the Ukraine crisis but said the ships provide “additional flexibility” to the U.S. Sixth Fleet commander, whose area of responsibility includes the Mediterranean, and will operate in support of NATO allies.Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing Crimea and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed over 14,000 people.A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped halt large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled. The Kremlin has accused Kyiv of sabotaging the agreement, and Ukrainian officials argued in recent weeks that implementing it would hurt their country.Foreign policy advisers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine held nearly nine hours of talks in Berlin on Thursday to try to revive the stalled agreement but made no progress.Russian representative Dmitry Kozak said Ukraine firmly refused to commit to a dialogue with the rebels on a political settlement, blocking any further movement. Ukrainian envoy Andriy Yermak sounded a more positive note, noting that the parties agreed to continue their discussions and hailed the four-way talks as an “effective and efficient platform.“

UK lifts all testing requirements for vaccinated travelers

Vaccinated travelers can now enter Britain without taking any coronavirus testsBy JILL LAWLESS Associated PressFebruary 11, 2022, 10:36 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLONDON — Vaccinated travelers can enter Britain without taking any coronavirus tests starting Friday, after the government scrapped one of the final restrictions imposed over the past two years in response to COVID-19.British residents and visitors who have had at least two doses of an approved coronavirus vaccine now only need to fill out a passenger locator form before traveling to the U.K. Unvaccinated people still have to take tests both before and after arriving but no longer need to self-isolate until they get a negative result.Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the U.K. “now has one of the most free-flowing borders in the world — sending a clear message that we are open for business.”Airlines and other travel firms hailed the change as a lifeline after two years of severely constricted travel. Andrew Flintham, managing director of travel group Tui UK, said there was “a huge pent-up demand for international travel,” and people were rushing to book getaways for the February school break and April’s Easter holiday.Gatwick, London’s second-busiest airport, said that it plans next month to reopen the second of its two terminals, shuttered since June 2020.British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle urged other countries to follow Britain’s “pragmatic approach.”But some scientists worry the government is moving too fast. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government lifted most domestic rules last month. Face masks are no longer mandatory in most indoor spaces in England, vaccine passports for gaining entry to nightclubs and large-scale events were scrapped, as was the official advice to work from home. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have also lifted most restrictions.Johnson announced this week that he hopes to lift the final restriction — mandatory self-isolation for people who test positive — by the end of February as part of a plan to live long-term with COVID-19. Officials have said the government plans to switch from legal restrictions to advisory measures and treat the coronavirus more like the flu as it becomes endemic in the country.Scientists expressed surprise at Johnson’s announcement. Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at Kings College London, said it was “more a political type of statement rather than a scientific one.”“There is some rationale to this and other countries are doing things similar, but it’s clearly a race for the government to say that ‘Britain is first, Britain is the first to come out of this, Britain has conquered omicron, our booster program is world beating etc, etc,’” he told Times Radio.The re-opening came as statistics showed the U.K. economy grew by a bigger-than-expected 7.5% in 2021, despite an omicron-driven slowdown at the end of the year. The re-imposition of some restrictions in response to the highly transmissible variant brought a 0.2% contraction in December.The Office for National Statistics said the growth follows a 9.4% contraction in 2020 as the pandemic shut down big chunks of the economy. The U.K. economy is now back to the size it was in February 2020, just before the new coronavirus swept the U.K.Britain has Europe’s highest coronavirus toll after Russia, with more than 159,000 officially recorded deaths. The country has seen a drop in both new infections and COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals since the peak of the omicron spike in early January.Officials have credited the government’s booster jab program with preventing the surge in omicron cases from causing serious stress to U.K. hospitals. In Britain, 84.6% of people 12 and up have had two doses of a vaccine and almost two-thirds have had a third, booster shot.———Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic