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Japan Expands COVID-19 Emergency Just 2 Months Before Tokyo Olympics



chairman

TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Friday further expanded a coronavirus state of emergency from six areas, including Tokyo, to nine, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga repeated his determination to hold the Olympics in just over two months.

Japan has been struggling to slow infections ahead of the games. The three additions are Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, and Hiroshima and Okayama in western Japan.

Despite the worsening infections, Suga stressed his commitment to holding the games safely and securely while protecting Japanese by strictly controlling the movements of foreign participants, including possibly expelling journalists covering the event if they defy regulations.

“I understand there are various difficulties, but the priority is to stop the further spread of infections and protect the people’s lives and health,” Suga said.

The three additional areas will join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures already under the emergency coronavirus restrictions through May 31, Suga announced at a government taskforce meeting Friday. Bars, karaoke parlors and most entertainment facilities are required to close. Business owners who comply will be compensated; those who don’t could face fines.

“Infections are escalating extremely rapidly in populated areas,” Suga said. “As new variants continue to spread, we judged that now is a very important time to stop the further spread of infections.”

It was the second expansion of the emergency in just one week. Suga declared a state of emergency — Japan’s third — in four prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka starting April 25, then expanded it to six prefectures last Friday. Despite the emergency measures, infections are continuing to spread in wider areas of Japan instead of slowing.

In the worst-hit Osaka area, hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients. Many are waiting at home or at hotels with oxygen, and more than a dozen have died without being able to get a hospital room. Coronavirus treatment in Japan is largely limited to public or university hospitals, where treatment of non-COVID-19 patients has been largely curtailed.

Dr. Shigeru Omi, who heads a government panel of experts, urged organizers to carefully study how much additional burden Olympic participants will place on already-strained medical systems.

Suga said he will decide on a possible further extension of the emergency by evaluating the virus situation at the end of May.

His government is under heavy pressure from the public, increasingly frustrated by a slow vaccine rollout and repeated emergency declarations. Many now oppose hosting the July 23-Aug. 8 Olympics, and people appear to be less cooperative with non-compulsory stay-at-home and social-distancing requests.

Less than 2% of the public has been fully vaccinated in Japan, one of the world’s least inoculated.

The expansion of the state of emergency is a major shift from the government’s initial plan that relied on less stringent measures.

The addition of Hiroshima to the areas covered by the emergency measures comes just days after Japanese organizers announced that a visit next week by International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach to mark the Hiroshima leg of the torch relay has been canceled.

Earlier Friday, organizers of a petition demanding the cancellation of the Olympics submitted more than 350,000 signatures to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike that were collected since early May. The petition says money spent on the games would be better used on people in financial need because of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Japan reported 6,800 new coronavirus cases, increasing its total to 665,547 with 11,255 deaths.

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Alan Turing, LGBTQ WWII Code Breaker, Honored On Britain’s 50-Pound Note



Alan Turing

LONDON (AP) — The rainbow flag is flying proudly Thursday above the Bank of England in the heart of London’s financial district to commemorate World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, the new face of Britain’s 50-pound note.

The design of the bank note was unveiled before it is set to be formally issued to the public on June 23, Turing’s birthday. The 50-pound note is the most valuable denomination in circulation but is little used during everyday transactions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic as digital exchanges increasingly replaced the use of cash.

The new note, which is laden with high-level security features, completes the bank’s rejig of its stable of paper currencies over the past few years. Turing’s image joins that of Winston Churchill on the five-pound note, novelist Jane Austen on the 10-pound note and artist J. M. W. Turner on the 20-pound note. All the notes are made from polymer rather than paper, which means they should last longer and remain in better condition through their use.

The new note incorporates two windows and a two-color foil that designers say will make it very difficult to counterfeit. There is also a hologram image which changes between the words “Fifty” and “Pounds” when the note is tilted from side to side, as well as an embedded microchip to pay tribute to Turing’s role in the birth of computers.

Turing was selected as the new face of the 50-pound note in 2019 following a public nomination process, recognition of his pivotal role in breaking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code during World War II. The code had been believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously. Historians say the cracking of the code may have helped shorten the war by at least two years, potentially saving millions of lives.

The 250,000 or so votes supporting Turing’s nomination also represented a recognition of the discrimination that he faced as a gay man after the war.

“There’s something of the character of a nation in its money, and we are right to consider and celebrate the people on our bank notes,” Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey said.

“Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War. However, in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result.”

During World War II Turing worked at the secret Bletchley Park code-breaking center, where he helped crack Enigma by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. He also developed the “Turing Test” to measure artificial intelligence.

After the war, he was prosecuted over his relationship with a man in Manchester and given a choice between imprisonment and probation with the condition of undergoing female hormone treatment, which at the time was used as a form of chemical castration.

His conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He died at age 41 in 1954 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Turing received a posthumous apology from the British government in 2009, and a royal pardon in 2013. Four years later, the Turing law, which pardoned gay men with past convictions, was passed.

Actor and author Stephen Fry said the choice of Turing to appear on the 50-pound note marks another step in the nation’s long overdue recognition of “this very great man,” whose “talents ranged far and wide.”

In a YouTube video posted by the Bank of England, Fry laid out the levels of discrimination and “barbaric punishments” that gay men faced in the years after World War II.

“Alan Turing was among the thousands of men who were harried and harangued by the authorities,” he said.

“Not just down to the hostile attitude to their sexuality alone, but also under the bigoted belief that there was a link between homosexuality and communism,” Fry added.

Over the past decade, Turing’s life has become known to a much wider audience, especially in the wake of the 2014 film “The Imitation Game” that saw Benedict Cumberbatch play the role of Turing.

As part of the new bank note design, the bank collaborated with U.K. intelligence and security agency GCHQ to create The Turing Challenge, a set of 12 puzzles

GCHQ said the full challenge could take an experienced puzzler seven hours to complete and may have even left Turing “scratching his head, although we very much doubt it.”

Turing’s great-nephew James Turing, who runs the Turing Trust that refurbishes U.K. computers for use in African schools, told BBC radio that the puzzle is “a wonderful recognition, and a bit reminiscent of the famous crossword that they used for recruiting at Bletchley Park back in the day.”



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Nigerian Governor Says 279 Kidnapped Schoolgirls Are Freed



Bello Matawalle

GUSAU, Nigeria (AP) — Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last week from a boarding school in the northwestern Zamfara state have been released, the state’s governor said Tuesday.

Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls have been freed. The government last week said 317 had been kidnapped.

Gunmen abducted the girls from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday, in the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.

An Associated Press reporter saw hundreds of girls dressed in light blue hijabs and barefoot sitting at the state Government House office in Gusau.

After the meeting, the girls were escorted outside by officials and lined up to be taken away in vans. They appeared calm and ranged in ages from 10 and up.

Matawalle said they would be taken for medical examinations before being reunited with their families.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” Matawalle said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday.

At the time of the attack, one resident told AP that the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from responding to the mass abduction at the school.

One of the girls recounted the night of their abduction to the AP.

“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said. “Everybody fled and there were just two of us left in the room.”

The attackers held guns to the girls’ heads, she said.

“I was really afraid of being shot,” she said, adding that they asked for directions to the staff quarters and the principal. “We said we don’t know who she is. They said the principal is our father and they will teach us a lesson.”

Police and the military had since been carrying out joint operations to rescue the girls, whose abduction caused international outrage.

President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “overwhelming joy” over the release of the girls.

“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatized female students,” he said in a statement. “Being held in captivity is an agonizing experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”

The president called for greater vigilance to prevent bandits from carrying out such attacks.

He urged police and military to pursue the kidnappers, and warned that policies of making payments to bandits will backfire.

“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he said.

The terms of the female students’ release were not made immediately clear.

Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years. On Saturday, 24 students, six staff and eight relatives were released after being abducted on February 17 from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger state. In December, more than 300 schoolboys from a secondary school in Kankara, in northwestern Nigeria, were taken and later released. The government has said no ransom was paid for the students’ release.

The most notorious kidnapping was in April 2014, when 276 girls were abducted by the jihadist rebels of Boko Haram from the secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. More than 100 of those girls are still missing. Boko Haram is opposed to western education and its fighters often target schools.

Other organized armed groups, locally called bandits, often abduct students for money. The government says large groups of armed men in Zamfara state are known to kidnap for money and to press for the release of their members held in jail.

Experts say if the kidnappings continue to go unpunished, they may continue.

AP writers Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria and Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed.





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Tokyo Olympic Committee President Mori To Resign Over Sexist Remarks: Reports



AKIO TOYODA

TOKYO (AP) — The long saga of Yoshiro Mori appears to be near the end.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency and others reported on Thursday — citing unnamed sources “familiar with the matter” — that Yoshiro Mori will step down on Friday as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.

The move follows his sexist comments about women more than a week ago, and an ensuing and rare public debate in Japan about gender equality. They also come just over five months before the Olympics are to open.

A decision is expected to be announced on Friday when the organizing committee’s executive board meets. The executive board is overwhelming male, as is the day-to-day leadership.

The 83-year-old Mori, in a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee more than a week ago, essentially said women “talk too much” and are driven by a “strong sense of rivalry.” Mori, a former prime minister, gave a grudging apology a few days after his opinions were reported but declined to resign.

This is more than just another problem for the postponed Olympics, which have made the risky choice of trying to open on July 23 in the middle of a pandemic with 11,000 athletes — and later, 4,400 Paralympic athletes.

More than 80% of the Japanese public in recent polls say the Olympics should be postponed or canceled.

Mori’s remarks have drawn outrage from many quarters and have put the spotlight on how far Japan lags behind other prosperous countries in advancing women in politics or the boardrooms. Japan stands 121st out of 153 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings.

Though some on the street have called for him to resign — several hundred Olympic volunteers say they are withdrawing — most decision makers have stopped short of this and have simply condemned his remarks. Japan is a country that works largely on consensus with politicians — often elderly and male — acting behind the scenes and leaking trial balloons to sense public sentiment.

His replacement is reported to be 84-year-old Saburo Kawabuchi, a former president of the Japanese soccer association.

Here are samples of comments and observations about what has been playing out as pressure has mounted on Mori.

AKIO TOYODA, president of Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota is one of 14 so-called Olympic TOP sponsors that pay about $1 billion every four-year cycle to the International Olympic Committee. The company seldom speaks out on politics, but this week Toyoda said: “The (Mori) comment is different from our values, and we find it regrettable.” Toyota and Coca-Cola are also major sponsors of the torch relay, which is to being on March 25. Toyota has not called for Mori to resign. but its comments have received headline attention.

YURIKO KOIKE, governor of Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Koike called Mori’s comments a “major issue” for the Olympics. She is one of the few powerful female politicians in Japan and has worked closely on the Olympics. She said she will skip an Olympic meeting next week with IOC President Thomas Bach, Mori and the national government. “I don’t think holding talks under the current circumstances will produce a positive message,” she said. “I will not attend the meeting.”

KOICHI NAKANO, political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University

’Koike, as a natural populist, smells political gains by making use of her standing as a prominent female politician. Koike is no feminist, but she knows that being a woman in a very conservative, male-dominated Japan can be used to her advantage. By refusing to attend the meeting she can indicate that she is more in touch with the widely shared sentiment in the Japanese society that Mori should resign.”

INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

The IOC accepted Mori’s apology and said the case was closed. Then it waited almost a week to issue a more forceful statement and said his remarks were “absolutely inappropriate.” It pointed out that the local organizing committee also called the remarks “inappropriate.” The IOC has not called publicly for Mori to resign. Most of its statement about Mori focused on how it says it has improved gender-equality in the Olympics over the last 25 years.

MIZUHO FUKUSHIMA, head of the Social Democratic Party

Opposition leaders have been pressuring Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to convince Mori to step down. There are some unconfirmed reports in Japan that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could replace Mori. Mori got his job in 2014, when Abe was prime minister. “We must tell the world that Japan is a country committed to making a gender-equal society,” Fukushima said. “He (Mori) must step down.”

Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama and Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.





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