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Yemen separatists seize remote island from Saudi-backed government

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Ras Shuab beach in Socotra, Yemen, a Unesco world heritage site since 2008 for its biodiversity. Undated photo.

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Southern separatists have seized control of Yemen’s island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, deposing its governor and driving out forces of the Saudi-backed government which condemned the action as coup.

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared self rule in the south in April, complicating U.N. efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in a war that has separatists and the government fighting as nominal allies in a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi group, who control the north.

On Saturday, the STC announced it had seized government facilities and military bases on the main island of Socotra, a sparsely populated archipelago which sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The government which is led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi condemned the action as a “full-fledged” coup on the island and accused STC forces of attacking government buildings in “gang-style behaviour”.

Socotra governor Ramzi Mahroos accused coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of turning a blind eye. The UAE has previously backed STC forces with air strikes in fighting against the government in the south.

The coalition’s Saudi spokesman and the UAE foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Sources told Reuters last week that Saudi Arabia, which has tried to broker a deal between the STC and Hadi’s government, had presented a proposal to end the separatist stand-off, but the STC subsequently denied receiving it.

Riyadh wants to prevent another front developing in Yemen’s multifaceted war, which has been locked in military stalemate for years.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government for power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.

Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique fauna and flora, is located in the shipping lane linking Asia to the Europe via the Red sea and Suez Canal.

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Germany’s sex workers protest to go back to work amid coronavirus ban

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Prostitutes in Germany are demanding the right to get back to work as the country’s brothels remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Approximately 400 prostitutes and brothel operators from across Germany demonstrated in the red light district of Hamburg on Saturday, Germany news agency Deutsche Welle reported Sunday

Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany but the country’s brothels have been closed for almost four months due to the outbreak.

Now, sex workers say they are being treated unfairly and are demanding the right to return to work, especially as other businesses where close contact is permitted, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, have reopened.

The protest was organized by the Association of Sex Workers with the group warning that the closure of licensed venues had forced some prostitutes onto the streets, putting them in danger both in terms of their health and personal safety.

Ahead of the protest on Herbertstrasse, a street in the district of St. Pauli in Hamburg and the only street in the city’s “red light district” where sex workers occupy windows, similar to Amsterdam’s red light district, the association posted a statement on its website calling for sex workers to be able to work again.

“Prostitutes stand up and ask the politicians to open the brothels,” the association said. “While around the infamous Herbertstrasse in Hamburg/St. Pauli, normal life returns after the coronavirus lockdown, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants have reopened, tourists are guided through the world-famous neighborhood, the windows in Herbertstrasse remain dark (and there is) no life, no business, no joy. Nothing is going on.”

The statement added that “prostitutes are upset” at the continuing ban on sex work, and are concerned for their livelihoods.

“They have met all government requirements, paid taxes, received little corona support, stand with their backs to the wall and are tired of the fact that politics is not taking action.”

The group argues that prostitution does not pose a higher risk of infection than other body-related services, such as massages, cosmetics, dancing and contact sports and that hygiene “has always been part of business for prostitutes.” The group added that workers are prepared to implement more protective measures, such as partitions in the windows, ventilation and the recording of customer contact data. 

The group has questioned whether it is proportionate to keep Germany’s brothels closed given the country’s falling number of coronavirus infections. Like its European counterparts, Germany has seen a high number of coronavirus cases (with nearly 200,000 cases to date) but unlike its neighbors, it has kept the death toll low with 9,071 fatalities so far. Germany has attributed its low death toll to several factors, including a robust contact-tracing system and modern hospital infrastructure.

There are estimated to be around 400,000 sex workers in Germany, although no official data is recorded. The Association of Sex Workers cited members that feel humiliated having to turn to the state for financial support, and also those that insist they can offer their services in a safe way. One worker, Anna, was quoted as saying that partitions had been set up in the windows of Herbertstrasse.

“Mouth-nose masks are already there. We went through everything carefully: we can also offer sexual services under coronavirus protective measures. We find it insulting and incapacitating if we are not trusted,” she said.

The association said that sex workers in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic had been allowed to return to work since the beginning of June.

In Amsterdam, where Europe’s most well-known Red Light District is located, sex workers were allowed to return to work last month after the government brought forward an initial return to work date of September 1.

Red Light United, a group representing sex workers’ interests in the Netherlands, said that the ban on sex work during the coronavirus crisis had forced many women with little or no financial buffers into illegal work. 

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Trump advisor Navarro calls TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer an ‘American puppet’

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A TikTok logo seen displayed on a smartphone with Chinese flag on the background.

Omar Marques | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro dubbed TikTok’s new CEO Kevin Mayer, an “American puppet” for working at the Chinese-owned social media app, in an interview with Fox Business on Sunday.

Navarro also used the interview to double down on accusations that Chinese apps are gathering data on Americans and handing that over to Beijing. He also said to expect “strong action” from President Donald Trump on TikTok and other Chinese apps.

TikTok has been in the cross-hairs of Washington for some months. But pressure on TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based Bytedance, rose last week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the government is “looking at” banning the viral app.  

We have never shared TikTok user data with the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked. Period.

The Trump administration maintains that TikTok and other Chinese apps gather lots of data from American users and send that back to China, accusations repeated by Navarro. 

“What the American people have to understand is all the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party, and the agencies that want to steal our intellectual property,” Navarro told Fox.

“Those apps can be used to steal personal and financial information for blackmail and extortion, they can be used to steal business intellectual property and proprietary secrets.” 

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Navarro also mentioned WeChat, China’s largest messaging app which is owned by technology giant Tencent

“TikTok and WeChat are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland, and so expect strong action on that,” he alleged. 

TikTok does not operate within mainland China. Instead, ByteDance runs a very similar product called Douyin.

After mentioning that India banned several Chinese apps, Navarro said: “TikTok, WeChat, I suspect the president is just getting started with those two,” without elaborating if that meant a ban was coming. 

In response to Navarro’s comments, a TikTok spokesperson said protecting the privacy of its users’ data is a “critical priority.” 

“Our Chief Information Security Officer has decades of industry and US law enforcement experience. TikTok’s parent is a privately owned company backed by some the best-known US investors, which hold four of its five board seats,” a TIkTok spokesperson told CNBC. 

“TikTok is enjoyed by users throughout the world, but the app is not even available in China. As we have said repeatedly, we have never shared TikTok user data with the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked. Period.”

Tencent declined to comment. 

TikTok has faced accusations of censorship in the past but has denied that it removes “content based on sensitivities around China or other governments.” In regards to privacy, TikTok has previously said that U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. The app also said that it has “never provided user data to the Chinese government” nor would it do so if asked. 

Meanwhile, services operating on the Chinese mainland, including WeChat, regularly censors posts and messages that are deemed sensitive to the Chinese government. 

TikTok CEO an ‘American puppet’

For its part, TikTok has been trying to distance itself from its Chinese parent company. 

ByteDance hired former Disney executive, Kevin Mayer, to be TikTok’s CEO earlier this year. His priority was seen as rebuilding trust with regulators

But Navarro criticized the hire, calling Mayer an “American puppet” and saying that the strategy of putting a U.S. citizen in charge is “not going to work.” 

TikTok was not immediately available for comment specifically on the remarks regarding Mayer. 

The White House trade advisor also said that any plans to spin-off TikTok into an American company would also not be beneficial to the U.S.

“If TikTok, if it separates as an American company, that doesn’t help us because … we’re going to have to give China billions of dollars for the privilege of having TikTok operate on U.S. soil,” Navarro said. 

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Poland’s incumbent Duda wins presidential election

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Andrzej Duda (R), the current Polish President and candidate for the presidential election 2020, accompanied by wife Agata (C) and daughter Kinga (L), seen on the final day of Duda’s presidential campaign, in Rzeszow.
On Friday, July 10, 2020, in Rzeszow, Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Poland’s incumbent Andrzej Duda has won the presidential election, results from over 99% of polling stations show, with remaining uncounted votes unlikely to sway the final outcome, the National Electoral Commission said on Monday.

Duda, an ally of Poland’s ruling nationalists, is expected to help the Law and Justice (PiS) party continue its reforms of the judiciary, which have been criticised by the European Union, and generous social spending programs.

According to the latest results, Duda received 51.21% of the vote, while opposition candidate Rafal Trzaskowski got 48.79% of the vote. The difference in votes between the candidates amounted to around 500,000. 

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the campaign staff, but I think that this difference is large enough that we have to
accept the result,” Grzegorz Schetyna, the former head of Poland’s opposition Civic Platform (PO) grouping and member of parliament told private broadcaster TVN24 on Monday. 

Poles voted with almost record turnout, reported at 68.12% by the commission. The Commission said it wasn’t sure when it would announce full official results as some polling stations, including some abroad, had not yet submitted their official counts.

The opposition had earlier said it was collecting information about what it says were voting irregularities. “We are gathering information and signals about different irregularities and we are still only talking about polls and only a percentage of results from the National Electoral Commission so we don’t have a full picture of the situation,”
Tomasz Siemoniak, a PO member of parliament told Reuters. 

PiS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The foreign ministry was also unavailable for comment. “Today or perhaps at the latest tomorrow…we will be able to indicate what the scale of these protests is,” Sylwester Marciniak, the head of the electoral commission, told a news conference on Monday.

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