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‘Mission accomplished’ on ‘perfectly executed’ Syria strike

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President Donald Trump hailed the U.S.-led intervention in Syria as “perfectly executed,” adding that the military campaign to degrade Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons capability had accomplished its goals.

Less than a day after U.S., British and French forces targeted suspected chemical weapons sites in retaliation to an attack that left dozens of civilians dead last week, Trump thanked the U.S. coalition partners.

Yet in an echo of former president George W. Bush, Trump used words that ultimately came back to haunt his predecessor, pronounced “Mission Accomplished” — raising questions about whether Western forces would intervene again if Assad used chemical weapons again, or if the conflict escalated.

Trump’s declaration came as Moscow, which is backing Syria in its long civil conflict, has denounced the bombing campaign with undisguised contempt. In the wake of Friday’s strike, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. warned of “consequences,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly called the intervention an “act of aggression.”



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Facebook Oversight Board plans to launch ahead of U.S. election

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Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., arrives for a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — Facebook’s much-anticipated Oversight Board has confirmed that it is planning to launch ahead of the U.S. election on Nov. 3 after being criticized for a perceived lack of action. 

The board will rule on appeals from Facebook and Instagram users and questions from Facebook itself, although it will have to pick and choose which content moderation cases to take due to the sheer volume of them.

Following a report from The Financial Times, a spokesperson for the independent Oversight Board told CNBC that it expects to start in mid to late October. 

“We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases. Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October.”

They added: “Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible.” 

The Oversight Board said it expects to decide on a case, and for Facebook to have acted on this decision, within a maximum of 90 days.  

A spokesperson for the Oversight Board said: “In terms of passing rulings around the time of the election, the Board will be prepared to consider cases on any matters that come before it and are in scope for us, and it’s premature to guess what the Board may or may not consider until we launch. Whether Facebook will send the Board expedited cases around this time is a question for Facebook.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that it has been “helping” the Oversight Board members to get up and running as quickly as possible since they were announced in May. 

“That has included finalizing a new software tool that allows members to securely access and review case information from anywhere in the world; and training them on our community standards and policy development processes.”

The social media company has been under pressure to demonstrate that it is ready to deal with what stands to be one of the most polarizing U.S. elections in recent history, with experts concerned that some of the platform’s users may try to incite violence.  

The board will receive cases through a content management system that is linked to Facebook’s own platforms. They will then discuss the case as a group before issuing a final decision on whether the content should be allowed to stay up or not.

Facebook announced it was creating the independent board in November 2018. It came soon after a report was published in The New York Times that detailed how the company avoided and deflected blame in the public conversation around its handling of Russian interference in U.S. politics and other social network misuses. 

At the time it said the board’s members are a globally diverse group with lawyers, journalists, human rights advocates and other academics. Between them, they are said to have expertise in areas such as digital rights, religious freedom, conflicts between rights, content moderation, internet censorship and civil rights.

Notable members include Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian newspaper, and Andras Sajo, a former judge and VP of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Oversight Board could help Facebook avoid accusations of bias if it removes content deemed problematic. Some lawmakers and conservative speakers have said that Facebook censors politically conservative points of view, a claim the company rejects. 

Facebook pledged to give the board $130 million in funding last December, with the money expected to cover operational costs for at least six years. The board will be compensated for their time, although the amount they will be paid has not been made public.

Facebook in January outlined the board’s bylaws, making it clear that the social media giant was still in control. The board’s decisions do not necessarily set any precedents that Facebook has to follow in the future, and the board is limited when it comes to content it can address.

The board has said it will publish transparency reports each year and monitor what Facebook has done with its recommendations.  

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UK finance minister announces emergency jobs package

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street after attending a Cabinet meeting on 14 February, 2020.

Barcroft Media

U.K. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a new emergency package of measures to contain unemployment, replacing the country’s furlough scheme which is due to expire next month.

The scheme has subsidized 80% of wages for millions of workers furloughed as a result of the pandemic, but Sunak confirmed in July that it would be wound down as the country began to emerge from lockdown measures, instead offering businesses a bonus program for bringing furloughed employees back to work.

However, with many of those workers having been employed by the hospitality industry and the government now being forced to reintroduce some restrictions due to a spike in Covid-19 infections, economists have warned that the country could face a significant surge in unemployment in the fourth quarter.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 10 p.m. curfew for hospitality venues in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. The U.K. reported 6,178 cases on Wednesday, up by 1,252 since Tuesday and taking its total confirmed cases past 412,000.

British media reports so far have suggested that Sunak could announce more wage subsidy initiatives and financial help, while some have suggested that the kind of salary top-up scheme currently operating in Germany and France could be on the table.

Just last week, the Bank of England gave its first indication that negative interest rates could be under consideration as it looks to play its part in shoring up the economy against the fallout from the pandemic, with GDP having plunged by a record 20.4% in the second quarter.

“The financial markets have largely welcomed Chancellor Sunak’s speech, sparking a short surge in trading activity,” said Giles Coghlan, chief currency analyst at HYCM.

“However, this will likely be short lived, and I anticipate a general retreat to safe haven assets and cash savings as investors look to hedge against market uncertainty.”

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Are Germany and Italy finally seeing a second wave of the coronavirus?

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A street seller wearing a face mask (L) proposes straw hats to tourists outside the Colosseum monument on August 22, 2020 in Rome during the Covid-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus.

VINCENZO PINTO | AFP | Getty Images

As coronavirus cases began to surge in France, Spain and the U.K. this month, there were question marks over why Italy — the epicenter of Europe’s first outbreak in spring — and Germany, Europe’s largest economy, weren’t seeing similar increases.

But looking at the most recent data, it appears Italy and Germany won’t be able to avoid a second wave of the pandemic after all.

Italy’s health ministry reported 1,640 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, up 250 cases from the previous day. On Monday, 1,350 new cases had been reported from the previous day, showing how rapidly the number of infections are rising.

Populous regions like Campania (where Naples is located), Lazio (where Rome is located) and Tuscany (the region where Europe’s first outbreak emerged), have all seen sharp rises in recent days, health ministry data shows.

An increase in the number of tests being carried out could account for the rise, with ANSA news agency citing the health ministry as stating that 103,696 swab tests were taken Wednesday, around 16,000 more than Tuesday and the highest number in Italy in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, as Italy’s neighbors France (which has reported more than 10,000 new daily cases several times since Saturday) and Spain (which has a similar 7-day average) have experienced before it, the data shows Italy is starting to see cases rise.  Further afield, the number of daily reported coronavirus cases in the U.K. has jumped by a quarter in the past day, according to the BBC. The U.K. reported 6,178 cases Wednesday, up by 1,252 since Tuesday when further national measures, including the early closure of hospitality venues, was announced to try to quell the rise.

In Germany, a country praised for its initial response to the pandemic having tracked, tested and traced widely since the start of the pandemic, infections are also rising. 

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s public health body monitoring the course of the epidemic there, reported on Thursday morning a further 2,143 new infections, having registered 1,769 new infections on Wednesday and 1,821 new infections the day before. Cities Munich and Hamburg are particular hotspots for the virus currently. Two government ministers went into quarantine Wednesday having been in close contact with people who tested positive for the virus.

As seen in France and Spain in recent weeks, fatalities caused by the virus thankfully appear to have remained low so far; Germany reported 19 further deaths Thursday (its total death toll is still under 10,000) and Italy reported 20 more deaths on Wednesday, from the previous day. 

While France, Spain and the U.K. have introduced more localized restrictions (such as local lockdowns in Madrid and parts of northern England), Germany and Italy are yet to re-introduce restrictive measures on the public although there are signs that politicians are starting to react to the latest developments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet with regional leaders next week to address the rise in infections and there is reportedly talk in Berlin of reintroducing compulsory quarantines for travelers returning from abroad, German newspaper Bild reported Thursday. In Italy too, Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced Monday that he had signed an order forcing anyone returning from Paris or any other part of France where there is “significant circulation” of the virus to be tested.

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