Ukraine: US, NATO respond to Russian demands
The United States and NATO have delivered separate written responses to Russia’s security demands, as efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Ukraine continue. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered Washington’s reply to Moscow, which is seeking security guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion into former Soviet republics. The Russian military has amassed 100,000 troops near the country’s border with Ukraine, sparking fears it may be preparing for an imminent invasion of its neighbour. Russia has denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine, but it has vehemently opposed Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO. Blinken stressed that Washington and its allies would not agree to curb the NATO admissions process for new members, saying the military alliance’s door “remains open”.
‘Putin plans force by mid-February’
Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has said the United States believes Russian President Vladimir Putin remains poised to use force against Ukraine by mid-February. She told the Yalta European Strategy Forum Putin’s planning may be affected by the Winter Games in Beijing.
Pope Francis urges parents not to condemn gay children
Pope Francis has urged parents not to condemn their children if they are gay. In his latest gesture of outreach to the LGBTIQ community, long marginalised by the Catholic hierarchy, Francis spoke off the cuff during his weekly Wednesday general audience dedicated to the figure of St Joseph. “Parents who see that their children have different sexual orientations should not hide behind a condemning attitude.” Francis has sought to make the Church more open, most famously with his 2013 comment: “Who am I to judge?”
‘Omicron survives much longer than earlier COVID variants’
The Omicron COVID-19 variant can survive longer than earlier strains of the virus on plastic surfaces and human skin. New research by Japanese scientists has found that Omicron’s high “environmental stability” – its ability to remain infectious – in particular might have helped it replace Delta as the dominant variant and spread more rapidly. The study showed that on plastic and skin surfaces, Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron variants exhibited more than two-fold longer survival times than those of the Wuhan strain and maintained infectivity for more than 16 hours on the skin surfaces. On skin samples from cadavers, average virus survival times were 8.6 hours for the original version, 19.6 hours for Alpha, 19.1 hours for Beta, 11 hours Gamma, 16.8 hours for Delta and 21.1 hours for Omicron.
Italy’s third presidential vote also fails
Italy’s lawmakers have again failed to elect a new head of state for a third day running on Wednesday, with no consensus candidate emerging to replace outgoing President Sergio Mattarella. The race for the seven-year role is wide open and on paper neither the centre-right nor the centre-left bloc have enough votes to ram through their candidate, meaning some sort of compromise deal will probably be needed. The centre-right meets this morning, before the fourth vote which will see the quorum drop to 505. On the table there would be the name of Pier Ferdinando Casini. But Enrico Letta (PD) puts a firm point: the ongoing negotiations, he explains, will close with the vote on the new president on Friday.
Boris Johnson will not resign over alleged parties
Reuters quotes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he would not resign over the series of alleged lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office and residence, but agreed ministers who knowingly mislead parliament should step down. Answering questions in parliament, Johnson was accused by opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer of changing his story over the gatherings and was asked whether he would now step down. “No,” Johnson replied.
Football: biennial World Cup could save Africans from ‘death in sea’
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said his plans to hold the World Cup every two years could stop African migrants from trying to cross the Mediterranean and suffering “death in the sea”. His comments, made during an address to the Council of Europe, have been condemned as “disgusting” and “completely unacceptable”. He spoke about the global benefits of FIFA’s plans to reform the international calendar and suggested that countries outside Europe need more opportunities to access football competitions to give them “hope”.
Egypt reach Africa Cup of Nations quarter finals
Egypt beat Ivory Coast 5-4 on penalties to reach the quarter-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon following a 0-0 draw. Pharaohs captain and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah netted the decisive penalty to send the record seven-time champions through. The quarter-final fixtures are as follows: Saturday: Gambia v. Cameroon; and Burkina Faso v. Tunisia; and Sunday: Egypt v Morocco; and Senegal v Equatorial Guinea. The final will be played on Sunday, February 6.