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South Korean sect leader apologises over coronavirus spread

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The elderly leader of a secretive South Korean sect linked to more than half the country’s 4,000-plus coronavirus cases knelt before the cameras Monday to apologise for the spread of the disease.

Shincheonji head Lee Man-hee’s plea for forgiveness came after Seoul city authorities filed a murder complaint against him for failing to cooperate in containing the epidemic.

South Korea’s case numbers — the largest total anywhere outside China — are expected to rise further as authorities carry out checks on more than 266,000 people associated with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is often condemned as a cult.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people,” said Lee, his voice breaking.

“Although it was not intentional, many people have been infected,” the 88-year-old said, twice bowing his head to the floor before reporters in Gapyeong.

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“I seek the forgiveness of the people. I am very thankful to the government for its efforts,” he added. “I also seek the forgiveness of the government.”

Lee is revered by his followers as the “Promised Pastor” who has taken on the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the Day of Judgement, which he will usher in within his own lifetime.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four services in Daegu — the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million and the centre of the outbreak — before being diagnosed.

At worship Shincheonji members sit close together on the floor and pray extensively in what critics say creates an ideal environment to spread viral infections.

Lee — whose organisation says he has tested negative for the virus — insisted that the group was “actively cooperating with the government”.

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“At churches, the leader of the church is like a parent and its members are the children,” he said, pausing occasionally to wipe tears from his eyes as protesters shouted abuse.

“What parent would stand by and watch when there is such a scary disease that could even lead to death? Wouldn’t they try to fix it?”

Seoul’s city government has asked prosecutors to press charges including homicide against Lee and 11 other leaders after the sect was accused of submitting false lists of its members to authorities.

For its part, the group says members face social stigma and discrimination if their beliefs become publicly known, dissuading some from responding to official inquiries.

Prosecutors have assigned the Seoul City request for investigation, Yonhap news agency reported.

Seoul mayor Park Won-soon added on his Facebook page: “If they had actively taken early measures, we could have prevented the explosive rise of Covid-19 cases in Daegu and North Gyeongbuk province and the deaths of several people.”

South Korea confirmed 599 new coronavirus cases Monday, taking the total to 4,335, health authorities said, while the death toll rose to 26.

Around 60 per cent of the infections are linked to Shincheonji.

The country’s central bank has warned of a contraction in the world’s 12th-largest economy in the first quarter, noting the epidemic will hit both consumption and exports.

Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion and the education ministry said school and kindergarten breaks, which had already been extended nationwide to next Monday, will be lengthened by a further two weeks.

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Floating footbridge to end congestion at Likoni channel – KBC

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Vehicles disembark from MV Likoni at the Likoni crossing channel that connects Mombasa Island to the mainland south. The national government seeks to construct Likoni Floating Pedestrian Bridge in six months’ time to end congestion at the vital channel

The first pedestrian footbridge to be built at the Likoni crossing channel will end the perennial human congestion at vital crossing channel in Mombasa County.

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Likoni Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Francis Kazungu said the construction of the floating bridge is a high-level decision by the national government in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The project worth Sh 1.5 billion will be undertaken by the State Department of Infrastructure through its implementing agency, the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA).

The 0106 KNA 9China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) will be implementing the project dubbed the ‘Likoni Floating Pedestrian Bridge’ and is expected to start in June and end in November this year.

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Kazungu said the new floating bridge will be for the exclusive use of pedestrians as an alternative to the ferries noting that enforcing social distancing at the vital crossing channel has been a nightmare for the authorities since the outbreak of the viral disease.

Speaking to KNA at the Shika Adabu chief’s office during a food distribution exercise Kazungu said the goal of the project is to ease pressure of the overcrowded Likoni ferry during the current covid-19 outbreak.

“The bridge will help reduce the perennial congestion at the crossing channel and allow residents to access Mombasa Island and the mainland south with ease,” he said on Sunday.

He noted that observing social distancing which is a key intervention measure in curbing the spread of the viral disease would be a lot easier once the bridge is constructed.

He said the envisioned bridge will complement the existing ferry services to streamline safe passageways for pedestrians and reduce overcrowding and long queues.

The floating bridge will be a composite structure designed for pedestrians only. The bridge deck will comprise of 529 m long floating section, and 54 m long approaches on either side of the floating span.

It will be connected by pins and hinges and guard rails will be installed on either side of the deck to ensure pedestrian safety.

Alex Kahindi who lives in Likoni but works in Mombasa Island said the floating suspension bridge would make life easier for the residents.

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Trump threatens military mobilization against violent US protests » Capital News

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Washington, United States, Jun 2 – President Donald Trump vowed Monday to order a military crackdown on once-in-a-generation violent protests gripping the United States, saying he was sending thousands of troops onto the streets of the capital and threatening to deploy soldiers to states unable to regain control.

The dramatic escalation came a week after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck, leading to the worst civil unrest in decades in New York, Los Angeles and dozens of other American cities.

US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John’s Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020 © AFP / Brendan Smialowski

After being criticized for his silence on the worsening crisis, Trump struck a martial tone in a nationwide address from the White House garden, as police fired tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the fence.

“I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property,” Trump said.

He slammed the previous night’s unrest in Washington as a “total disgrace” and called on governors to “dominate the streets.”

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” he said, denouncing “acts of domestic terror.”

Despite the president’s rhetoric, Monday’s protests appeared largely peaceful in major cities, though some looting was reported in New York and Los Angeles.

A protester is arrested near the White House on June 1, 2020 © AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT

During his address, however, law enforcement including military police used tear gas to clear protesters outside the White House so the president could walk across the street to the two-centuries-old St Johns church, hit with graffiti and partially damaged by fire during unrest on Sunday.

“We have a great country,” Trump declared as he stood before the church’s boarded up windows, held up a Bible and posed for photographs.

The backlash was swift.

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“He’s using the American military against the American people,” tweeted Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

“He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo. For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him,” he said.

Protestors are tear gassed as the police disperse them near the White House on June 1, 2020 © AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT

Washington’s Episcopalian bishop, Marian Budde, said she was “outraged” at the church visit, which she said Trump did not have permission for.

Thousands of people have participated in the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racism since Floyd’s killing.

It was the most widespread unrest in the United States since 1968, when cities went up in flames over the slaying of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of the demonstrations have been peaceful and marked by moments of catharsis such as officers hugging tearful protesters and marching or kneeling alongside them.

– ‘Homicide’ –

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A man in wheelchair with his dog confronts a National Guard officer during a march in Los Angeles on June 1, 2020 © AFP / Frederic J. BROWN

Others have seen rage-filled clashes between protesters and police, and widespread property damage. One person was shot dead in Louisville, Kentucky.

Floyd’s agonizing death was caught on bystander cell phone video that shows policeman Derek Chauvin pinning him down with his knee for nearly nine minutes, as the 46-year-old pleaded for his life with the haunting words: “I can’t breathe!”

“The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death, and homicide as the manner of death,” Aleccia Wilson, a University of Michigan expert who examined his body at the family’s request, said.

A protestor grabs his bike as the police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd gathered near the White House on June 1, 2020 © AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT

Hennepin County’s medical examiner released its official autopsy calling the death a homicide caused by “neck compression,” although it had also said he was intoxicated and pointed to heart disease.

A memorial for Floyd will take place on Thursday in Minneapolis before his funeral in Houston, where he grew up, on June 9.

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But hundreds paid tribute in Minneapolis on Monday at the exact time he died one week prior, forming a large circle at the site of the killing where they chanted, knelt and prayed.

Floyd, 46, had been accused of trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

The windows of the Apple store in Washington DC on June 1, 2020 are boarded up after being looted in the night following protests © AFP / Daniel SLIM

The autopsy revived demands for the arrest of three other police officers who stood guard for Chauvin as Floyd lay dying.

Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and is due to appear in court June 8.

– ‘We’ve had enough’ –

More than 40 cities have imposed curfews after consecutive nights of tension.

More looting was taking place in New York Monday night, an AFP reporter saw, with stores including Best Buy and Nike damaged.

Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly announced a curfew for 8:00 pm on Tuesday in the city that never sleeps, three hours earlier than Monday’s.

In Los Angeles, where the National Guard were deployed at Hollywood landmarks such as the Dolby Theatre, some looting was also reported, though protests were largely peaceful.

“Deep down inside us, we’ve had enough,” said 30-year-old Jessica Hubbert, a protester.

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Trump spent most of the weekend inside the White House tweeting attacks on political rivals and the media.

In a leaked conference call Monday, he told state governors they were “going to look like a bunch of jerks” if they were too soft.

The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, is heard saying he was “extraordinarily concerned” by the president’s “inflammatory” rhetoric.

Biden, for his part, met Monday with black leaders at a church in his home of Wilmington, Delaware and promised to form a police oversight commission in his first 100 days as president.

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Kenya: Oparanya – Nasa Coalition Never Helped Orange Party

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As political realignments continue despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya — who is also the ODM deputy party leader and chairman of the Council of Governors — is emerging as a key player in Raila Odinga’s camp. Our reporter talked to him on the political game plan and state of devolution

Is ODM warming up to signing a coalition pact with Jubilee?

The essence of any party is to get power, and you cannot be in existence just for the sake of it. The fact that we want to get power as ODM, we must look at options that will make us get that power.

Therefore, we are willing to go into a coalition with any party that we feel can help us get power. I think Jubilee is more attractive in view of its membership and size.

ODM is still a member of the National Super Alliance (Nasa). Do you intend to withdraw from that pre-election pact and chart a new political path?

As the ODM deputy party leader, get it from me, Nasa is no more. It was an amorphous, hopeless coalition that never helped us at all. In any case, it reduced our numerical strength as a party due to numerous sibling rivalries witnessed during the General Election as we fought amongst ourselves.

It wasn’t a good move to have ODM, Wiper, ANC, Ford Kenya, and even CCM, members field candidates in various positions. This made us lose many seats.

Jubilee reaped big from some of our zones since they fielded single candidates while we had several contesting for one position. For instance, in places where we garnered 60 per cent of the votes as a bloc, Jubilee got 40 per cent and won because we divided the 60 per cent amongst ourselves. This is why we have to rethink such a deal.

What is your game plan going into 2022?

Personally, I have stated that at the end of my two terms as governor, I will be vying for President while banking on my development record.

For ODM, we had agreed to hold our grassroots elections in March to strengthen the party and go all the way to conduct our polls at the national level, but this was before the Covid-19 pandemic. We are optimistic that once it is behind us, we shall continue with our plans.

Second, we are also crafting a winning strategy and have already mapped out regions we did not perform well in the last elections, like Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley.

Going forward, we will be seeking coalitions with major parties from the regions to endear ourselves there. In Mt Kenya, for instance, Jubilee is the most attractive in terms of numbers.

ODM nominations have in the past been characterised by chaos that political observers have linked to voter apathy in some of your bastions, how do you plan to tackle this in future?

Our main undoing as a party has been nominations. We have found that we spend too much energy on nominations to an extent that by the time we are facing the main election, most of our candidates are exhausted and depleted financially.

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Therefore, they face fresh candidates a majority of whom have been selected by their respective parties without any rigorous process.

The nomination management has also been an issue due to inadequate resources to carry out primaries. We put up a committee that came up with resolutions that we can even select or have a small electoral college within ODM and make a decision on a candidate depending on the circumstances. We must approach the next elections differently if we are to succeed.

Your party leader Raila Odinga says the country will hold a referendum before the 2022 elections. Is this tenable?

The problem is Covid-19. It is a real challenge and we don’t know when it will subside. But if it can be out of our sight by end of September, then we can have the vote within the three months – October, November and December will be ideal.

As CoG chair, how do you rate the performance of counties seven years into devolution?