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Syria pro-government forces enter Kurdish-held Afrin

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Pro-Syrian regime forces have entered Afrin to help fend off a Turkish assault on the region, as the threat of worsening violence continues.

A convoy of militia fighters, waving weapons and flags and chanting “one Syria, one Syria” drove into the enclave on Tuesday and were immediately met with shellfire.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the convoy was made up of “terrorists” and repeated earlier reports that shellfire from the Turkish forces led to a pro-Syrian retreat.

Turkey, with the support of some Syrian rebels, has waged the campaign against Kurdish militants, whom Ankara regards as terrorists. Turkey wants to drive the Kurdish YPG militia from Afrin because it considers it a big security threat on its border.

The campaign pits the Turkish army directly against the military alliance backing the government of President Bashar al Assad, further complicating Syria’s already messy battlefield.

According to Turkish state media, the pro-government forces retreated by 10km (6m), from Afrin city.

But Syrian television showed them passing through a checkpoint with the insignia of the Kurdish security force.

:: UN Syria envoy warns Ghouta could become ‘second Aleppo’
:: Turkey on a collision course with Syria over Kurdish support in Afrin

The troops cross a checkpoint in Afrin
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The troops cross a checkpoint in Afrin

Syrian state media reported that Turkey fired at its forces on Tuesday as they entered Afrin.

SANA said: “Turkish regime forces targeted the locations of popular forces with artillery fire as they arrived to the Afrin region.”

Turkey said these were “warning shots”. The Kurdish militia denied the retreat.

The forces had arrived in Afrin to take a stand against a Turkish-led offensive on the region.

Meanwhile, in rebel-held areas near Damascus, nearly 130 people have died in the last two days, according to paramedics, amid heavy Syrian government shelling and airstrikes.

Some of the troops were shouting one Syria as they crossed
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Some of the troops were shouting one Syria as they crossed

Eight people died in Damascus when retaliatory shells rained down, and panic spread among residents of the Syrian capital.

The bombardment has been some of the deadliest in the region in three years.

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Joe Biden takes oath of office to become America’s 46th president | US News

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Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the United States, after taking his oath of office in a heavily scaled back inauguration ceremony in Washington DC.

He swore to preserve, protect and defend America to the sound of cheers and applause from former presidents both Democrat and Republican – though Donald Trump decided to break precedent by skipping the event.

It came minutes after new Vice President Kamala Harris took her oath, too.

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Air Force One
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The outgoing president was whisked to Florida in Air Force One

Mr Biden stressed the fairness of last November’s election result in the opening of his inaugural address by declaring: “This is democracy’s day. The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.

“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile and at this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his speech after he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Mr Biden delivered his inaugural address facing the National Mall

Mr Biden promised to “press forward with speed and urgency” during a “winter of peril” to tackle the “once-in-a-century virus that silently stalks the country”, also vowing to confront white supremacy and terrorism.

He stressed his prevailing focus after a divisive election campaign will be on “uniting our nation”, adding: “With unity, we can do great things, important things – we can right wrongs.”

And he said he wanted to “make America once again a leading force for good in the world”, seemingly in a snub to Mr Trump commenting: “Let’s start afresh… all of us.”

Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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Kamala Harris was also sworn in as the new US vice president

Mr Biden urged people to “join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature”, for, he explained, without unity there will be “no nation, only a state of chaos”.

Speaking as he looked out on to the National Mall lit by a bright sunshine, Mr Biden continued: “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.

First Lady Jill Biden places her hands on U.S. President Joe Biden during the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS
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Dr Jill Biden celebrated with her husband

“Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war and we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”

Repeating a motif from his victory speeches in the days after winning the Electoral College vote, Mr Biden promised to be “a president for all Americans”.

Winding up his address, he struck an optimistic tone, saying: “Together we shall write an American story of hope not fear, of unity not division, of light not darkness.”

He ended with: “May God bless America and may God protect our troops, thank you America.”

President Joe Biden is congratulated by First lady Jill Biden, after being sworn-in during the inauguration. Pic: Patrick Semansky/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
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The new first family will later head to the White House

Lady Gaga, wearing a large dove broach on her top and clasping a golden microphone, had just performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem – and Jennifer Lopez followed with an “American musical selection”.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton attended the event at the Capitol – and Mr Biden was greeted by cheers and applause as he walked up to the stage.

Jennifer Lopez performs during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
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Mike Pence, representing the outgoing administration, watched J-Lo’s performance

Mr Biden shared a fist-bump with Barack Obama before the pair took their seats, and then a series of speeches got underway – all sharing a theme of unity.

But as the new president prepared to take the oath of office, Donald Trump was landing in Florida.

Mr Trump is the first outgoing president since 1869 to skip an inauguration ceremony, but departing Vice President Mike Pence was in the audience.

As the inauguration ceremony took place in a chilly Washington DC, where it was trying to snow, the White House was getting a deep clean that was set to cost $500,000 (£366,000).

Shortly before the ceremony began, Mr Biden declared on Twitter: “It’s a new day in America.”

Mr Trump gave a parting message before boarding Air Force One, telling a small group of supporters and family members gathered on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews that “we will be back in some form”.

“I wish the new administration great luck and great success,” he added, before boarding the plane, which took off to the booming soundtrack of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

Mr Biden is only the second Catholic to hold the office of president.

His team have already announced he will sign a series of executive orders reversing several of Mr Trump’s policies, including on COVID-19, climate change and racial inequality.

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic says he is not ‘selfish, difficult and ungrateful’ for quarantine requests | World News

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Tennis star Novak Djokovic has insisted he was not being “selfish, difficult and ungrateful” after making a list of requests for players in quarantine ahead of the Australian Open.

The men’s world number one reportedly sent a letter to Australian officials asking for a reduction in the time players spend in isolation, permission to see coaches and for athletes to be moved to private houses.

His suggestions were firmly rebuffed by Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews, who said: “People are free to provide lists of demands, but the answer is no… There’s no special treatment here.”

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State premier lays down law to tennis stars

A total of 72 players are in quarantine after 10 people who flew to Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year tested positive for coronavirus – leaving many forced to train in their hotel rooms.

Djokovic has since defended speaking out about the quarantine conditions, writing in a lengthy social media post: “My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful.

“This couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

He said his email exchange regarding suggestions for the quarantine conditions was an “opportunity to brainstorm” and he was “aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted”.

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“There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help,” he said.

While many players are under the strictest quarantine conditions and unable to leave their rooms, others who were not on the affected flights – including Djokovic – are able to train outside for five hours a day under COVID-secure protocols.

The men's world number one smiles from his balcony while in quarantine
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The men’s world number one smiles from his balcony while in quarantine

The star player said he wanted to use his “position of privilege” to help others.

“I’ve earned my privileges the hard way and for that reason it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture and good word mattered to me when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order,” he said.

He added: “Things in the media escalated and there was a general impression that the players (including myself) are ungrateful, weak and selfish because of their unpleasant feelings in quarantine.

“I am very sorry that it has come that because I do know how grateful many are.”

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Quarantined tennis stars train in hotel rooms

Going ahead with the tournament amid the global pandemic and harsh restrictions in Melbourne has caused some controversy, particularly as many Australians remain stuck overseas.

Three new coronavirus cases related to the tournament were reported on Wednesday, including a player who has been in hard lockdown since they arrived.

The second case related to another player and the third is a support person with the player.

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Madrid: ‘Extremely loud’ explosion in city centre – reports of injuries | World News

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An “extremely loud” explosion has been reported in Madrid’s city centre – with rescue teams, firefighters and police sent to the scene.

Spanish media reports said the explosion took place in a building near a nursing home – and videos and images shared on social media showed rubble scattered in the street.

“We didn’t know where the sound came from. We all thought it was from the school. We went up the stairs to the top of our building and we could see the structure of the building and lots of grey smoke,” a witness told the AP news agency.

The explosion happened in Toledo street. Video on social media showed a number of wrecked cars and debris strewn in the road.

According to TVE, several people have been hurt, while Telemadrid is reporting that at least one person is trapped.

Emergency services could not immediately confirm if there had been injuries.

A police spokeswoman said the area was being evacuated but could not confirm the cause of the explosion.

Government sources have been quoted by Spanish media as saying it may have been a gas leak.

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