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UN calls Syria ‘prolific slaughterhouse’ as it calls for ceasefire

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The United Nations has called Syria and other war-torn nations “prolific slaughterhouses” as it appealed for an immediate ceasefire in the country.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it is “high time to stop this hell on Earth” in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region, where hundreds of civilians have died over the past month.

He appealed on all sides to abide by a 30-day nationwide ceasefire, which the 15-member Security Council unanimously voted on over the weekend.

The council came to an agreement after days of Russia – Syria’s key military ally in the civil war – refusing to agree unless the ceasefire excluded fighters from IS and the al Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

Mr Guterres said he welcomed the resolution but it is “only meaningful…if effectively implemented”.

“That is why I expect the resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained,” he told the opening of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.


Baby girl pulled from under rubble after strikes on eastern Douma



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Baby girl pulled from Syria rubble

Meanwhile, another top UN official criticised the lack of action in conflicts around the world, including Syria.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s human rights chief, said: “Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria, Ituri and the Kasais in the (Democratic Republic of Congo), Taiz in Yemen, Burundi, Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors.”

He said Security Council members who had vetoed action bore “responsibility for the continuation of so much pain.”

“It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States end the pernicious use of that veto,” he told the rights council.



A teenager screams for his father in this video and rescuers help people climb out of the rubble of a building, where a fire is actively burning. The Syrian Civil Defense said this video was filmed in Saqba.



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Civilians saved from burning rubble

“We have every reason to remain cautious,” he added.

“The resolution must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.”

The European Union’s diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini, also demanded the ceasefire be implemented “immediately” and “without delay” as she arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Their remarks came as the Syrian government kept up its bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, on Monday, killing at least 10 civilians, including nine members of the same family, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.

Opposition activists claimed it was a chlorine gas attack, saying a three-year-old had died of asphyxiation.

:: The complex who’s who of Syrian civil war

Members of the Security Council vote during a meeting on a ceasefire in Syria
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Members of the Security Council vote during a meeting on a ceasefire in Syria

The Syrian American Medical Society said 16 patients in its hospital had symptoms indicating they were exposed to chemical compounds.

Assad’s regime has continually denied using chemical weapons but has been accused of carrying out several chlorine gas attacks in recent weeks, including a further two in January in eastern Ghouta.

Since 18 February more than 500 civilians have been killed in bombings by the Assad regime and its Russian allies on the enclave east of Damascus, the monitoring group said.

The area, home to 400,000 people, is controlled by Islamist and jihadist fighters as well as rebel fighters.

It is the last major area near the Syrian capital which remains under rebel control.

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Tom Cruise: Creator of Hollywood star’s viral deepfake warns people to ‘think twice’ over manipulated videos | Science & Tech News

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The creator of a series of deepfake Tom Cruise videos says he wants to make people more aware of what they are watching – and that it might not be real.

Viewed more than 11 million times, Chris Ume’s videos appear to show Cruise playing golf, doing a magic trick, and falling over while telling a story about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

A deepfake usually involves an image or video in which a person or object is visually or audibly manipulated to say and do something that is fabricated.

Most people realised Ume’s videos were fake – but the 31-year-old says the speed the technology is advancing could pose problems in future.

Cast member Tom Cruise attends a news conference promoting his upcoming film "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" in Beijing
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The real Tom Cruise?

“I always try to make funny content, but at the same time, when people see these videos they realise and will learn what’s possible within the next few years,” he told Sky News.

“The tech is evolving rapidly and will get better and will become more accessible as time goes on.

“Twenty years ago you have Photoshop, you didn’t know about fake photos so they started editing photos, and now people realise – like photos – that videos can be misleading.

“So it’s important on my side to create awareness so people start thinking twice when they see similar videos.

“In a year from now people need to question what they’re looking at and it’s important for journalists to confirm their sources and where they got it.

“You will always have people misusing techniques, so you have to think twice when you look at something.”

The Cruise double, actor Miles Fisher, and Ume have worked together on a number of projects – but none as popular as this one.

Deepfake creator Chris Ume
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Ume says he wants to raise awareness so people ‘start thinking twice’

Ume told Sky News: “I’ve never had videos going viral as much as these have, so we were amazed. We really like the mystery around them and how they made people smile.

“To create a deepfake as realistic as this one you need two things.

“On one side a great actor who’s great at impersonating someone – Miles Fisher has been doing Tom Cruise for a while.

“And on the other side you need someone like me who specialises in deepfake and special effects and also the hardware.”

Other manipulated videos that have gained traction in recent years include a video produced by BuzzFeed featuring actor Jordan Peele’s realistic-looking impersonation of former President Barack Obama in 2018.

And last year, a deepfake Queen delivered a warning about misinformation and fake news in Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message.

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Eurovision 2021: Cyprus protesters demand withdrawal of ‘Satanic’ song El Diablo | World News

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Protesters in Cyprus are demanding the withdrawal of a Eurovision song they say promotes Satanism.

They gathered outside the state broadcaster with signs reading: “We’re protesting peacefully, no to El Diablo”, “Repent and return to Christ” and “Christ saves, Diablo kills”.

But according to the artist behind the track, entitled El Diablo, the song is not intended to turn people to the dark side, but is about an abusive relationship.

People protested outside Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation in Nicosia
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Protesters displayed signs including ‘Christ saves, Diablo kills’

Leaders from the island’s influential Orthodox church disagree and say it “praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil’s authority”.

They want El Diablo swapped with an entry that promotes Cyprus‘s history, culture and traditions.

The song, by Greek performer Elena Tsagrinou, includes the lyric: “I gave my heart to El Diablo… because he tells me I’m his angel.”

She says it tells the story of a woman pleading for help after falling for a “bad boy” known as El Diablo and that any other meaning is “unfounded”.

“In these Me Too movement times that message is extremely relevant and can be felt not only in Cyprus but also across Europe and beyond,” said Tsagrinou.

Despite the protests, the national broadcaster says the song won't be withdrawn
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Despite the protests, the national broadcaster says the song won’t be withdrawn. Pic: AP

The state broadcaster said the song would not be scrapped but that organisers could have done more to explain its meaning.

Last week, a man was charged by police over threats and a disturbance when he barged on to the broadcaster’s grounds to protest over the “blasphemous” track.

Cyprus’s government has even been dragged into the row, but refuses to intervene.

A government spokesperson said it “respects creative intellectual and artistic freedom that cannot be misinterpreted or limited because of a song’s title”.

Eurovision takes place on 22 May in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Last year’s contest was cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis.

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COVID-19: Greece invites Britons to start booking holidays as it targets 40 islands for vaccinations | UK News

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Greece’s tourism minister has said Britons hoping for a summer holiday in the country can start booking as it prioritises giving the COVID vaccine to the inhabitants of around 40 small islands.

The islands, which each have a population of less than 1,000 people, include Halki near Rhodes, Kastellorizo off the Turkish coast, Meganisi in the Ionian Sea and Kythira in the Peloponnese peninsula, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Larger destinations such as Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu will be targeted once Greece’s tiniest islands have been vaccinated, the newspaper said.

However, UK government has said the earliest date people from England can travel abroad for a holiday is 17 May – that is provided the four tests for easing lockdown are met.

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Halki island, Greece
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The island of Halki is among those being targeted for vaccinations in Greece

Greek tourism minister Harry Theoharis told the Telegraph: “If you’re going to send a medical team to an island with a small population, it makes sense to vaccinate not just the elderly and vulnerable, but everyone.

“We’re vaccinating everyone on islands that have a population of less than 1,000 inhabitants.”

Elderly people and the most vulnerable have been the first to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine in Greece, with Mr Theoharis telling the Telegraph it is now “a priority to vaccinate the tourist islands”.

“We want to vaccinate people working in the tourism sector, from hotel staff and waiters to tourist guides and drivers,” he added.

Mr Theoharis did not state when the vaccine rollout on the islands would be completed, saying the pace of progress “depends on how many vaccines we receive in a couple of months’ time”.

Meganisi island, Greece
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The inhabitants of the Greek island of Meganisi are being prioritised for vaccinations

He added that Britons wanting to enter Greece this summer will need one of the following: a certificate showing they have been vaccinated; proof that they have antibodies against the virus; or a test to show they are negative.

Mr Theoharis told the Telegraph that Greece would “try to make it as smooth and hassle-free as possible”, adding: “They can book flights and start choosing the places where they want to go.”

More than one million people in Greece have received the first jab of a coronavirus vaccine, with 356,000 people having had both doses, out of a population of 11 million people.

The number of coronavirus cases is still high in Greece, with 2,702 new infections recorded on Wednesday – a record daily figure so far this year.

Greece has eased restrictions for vaccinated Israelis and is discussing a similar arrangement with the UK.

The UK government is set to discuss with the EU the bloc’s proposals to create a vaccine passport that could allow people to travel more freely in time for the summer holidays.

The EU-wide “digital green pass” would provide proof a person has been vaccinated, as well as test results for those not yet inoculated and information on recovery for people who have had COVID-19.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the proposals for the pass, which will “respect data protection, security and privacy”, will be set out this month.

Compared to the UK, the EU’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines has been slow.

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EU leaders agreed last month to work on vaccine certificates, with southern European countries including Spain and Greece pushing to unlock tourism this summer.

However, a number of nations say before that, it needs to be established that vaccinated people cannot transmit COVID-19 to others.

Some countries, such as France and Belgium, have also expressed concern that easing travel only for inoculated people would be unfair.

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