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Franco Mulakkal: Kerala court clears bishop in nun's rape – BBC News

Franco Mulakkal

An Indian court has cleared a bishop accused of raping a nun between 2014 and 2016 in a case that had shocked one of the country’s oldest Christian communities.

Franco Mulakkal, 54, was arrested from the southern state of Kerala in 2018. He had denied the allegations.

The case sparked widespread protests after the nun alleged that the Catholic Church had ignored her complaints.

The Vatican had temporarily relieved the bishop of his duties.

On Friday, a trial court in Kottayam city of Kerala found him not guilty of the charges.

“The prosecution failed to prove all the charges against the accused,” said Kottayam Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) G Gopakumar.

The nun’s lawyers said they would challenge the verdict in the high court.

But the bishop’s legal team said it had “shattered the entire evidence” against him.

“It is a hotly challenged case. It is bound to be taken to the high court. That’s alright,” Raman Pillai, who led the defence team for Mr Mulakkal, told BBC Hindi.

“But the court said he was not guilty. Clearly, the evidence that was provided by the prosecution witnesses was discarded. This means the charge was false. There was no rape at all,” he added.

Mr Mulakkal was the bishop of a diocese in Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab. His accuser belongs to the Missionaries of Jesus, a congregation in Kerala that is part of the Jalandhar diocese.

She alleged that the bishop had raped her 13 times and the assaults happened when he visited the convent where she lived in the city of Kottayam, in Kerala.

She had petitioned the Vatican and wrote an open letter to the Pope’s representative in the Indian capital of Delhi in 2018 – which she claimed was her fourth letter to them.

This led to unprecedented protests by nuns and activists who came out in support of the woman.

Several other nuns who protested against the bishop had accused the church in Kerala as well as Vatican officials of turning a blind eye towards the rape allegations.

Many nuns had also alleged that they were victimised for participating in the protests, including disciplinary warnings and transfer notices and even expulsion from the congregation.

Friday’s judgement has sparked shock and anger among them.

“What happened is against Christianity,” said Sister Lucy Kalapura, who had been at the forefront of the protests against the bishop. In 2019, she was expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) in Kerala.

The FCC had said Sister Lucy was expelled on the grounds that her “lifestyle was in violation of the proper law” of the congregation. But she denied this and alleged she was actually dismissed because she took part in the protests.

“This is not against one woman or one lady, this is against many nuns. . We will fight till the end of our lives. Justice never dies,” she said on Friday.

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Sedef Kabas: Turkish journalist jailed for reciting proverb – BBC News

Sedef Kabas


A Turkish court has detained well-known journalist Sedef Kabas for allegedly insulting the country’s president.

Ms Kabas was arrested on Saturday in Istanbul and a court ordered her to be jailed ahead of a trial.

She is accused of targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a proverb which she quoted on live television on an opposition-linked TV channel. She denies the charge.

The charge carries a prison sentence of between one and four years.

“There is a very famous proverb that says that a crowned head becomes wiser. But we see it is not true,” she said on the Tele1 channel. “A bull does not become king just by entering the palace, but the palace becomes a barn.”

She also later posted the quote on Twitter.

Mr Erdogan’s Chief Spokesman Fahrettin Altun described her comments as “irresponsible”.

“A so-called journalist is blatantly insulting our president on a television channel that has no goal other than spreading hatred,” he wrote on Twitter.

In her court statement, Ms Kabas denied intending to insult the president.

Editor of the Tele1 channel Merdan Yanardag criticised Ms Kabas’ arrest.

“Her detention overnight at 2am because of a proverb is unacceptable,” he said. “This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society”.

Mr Erdogan spent 11 years as prime minister before becoming the country’s first directly-elected president in August 2014 – a supposedly ceremonial role.

His silencing of critics has caused alarm abroad, contributing to frosty relations with the EU, which has stalled Turkey’s bid to join the bloc.

Thousands of people have been charged with insulting Mr Erdogan since he became president.

In 2020 more than 31,000 investigations related to the charge were filed, Reuters news agency reports.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 4,026 hospitalized with COVID-19, 600 in ICUs, 47 deaths; Omicron may be peaking but virus isn’t done with us just yet: Tam – Toronto Star

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:25 p.m.: Both Quebec and Ontario reported a drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations on Saturday, but the numbers remained high in the country’s most populous provinces, which have been hit hard by the pandemic’s Omicron-driven fifth wave.

Despite drops of 88 and 56 hospitalizations in Ontario and Quebec respectively, there were still more than 7,300 virus-related hospitalizations between the two provinces.

There was also an uptick in patients requiring intensive care, with Ontario reporting 600 patients in ICUs while Quebec had 275 patients listed, in both cases a rise of 10 patients compared to the previous day.

During a briefing on Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said despite signs of stability in patient numbers in some provinces, the toll on hospitals remains heavy and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain.

More than 10,000 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals across Canada each day in the past week, surpassing peak daily numbers in all previous waves of the pandemic.

Federal health officials said on Friday that daily case counts, positivity rates and waste water surveillance show early indications that the pandemic’s Omicron-driven wave has peaked nationally, but the volume of cases is resulting in more hospitalizations and deaths.

Among the provinces reporting data on Saturday, Ontario reported 47 COVID-19 linked deaths and Quebec adding 68 deaths.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported six more COVID-19 deaths on Saturday. There are 125 people in hospital, including 12 in intensive care.

In Prince Edward Island, officials announced fifth death linked to COVID-19 during this wave of the pandemic. Health authorities described the victim as a person in their 80s.

Provinces reporting on Saturday encouraged people to get their booster shot. Tam acknowledged on Friday that might eventually mean a discussion with provinces and territories about what being fully vaccinated entails.

Federal officials have changed their own terminology referring to a third dose as being “up-to-date” on vaccinations. Many provinces require full vaccination to access certain non-essential businesses, travel and other activities.

Tam noted globally and across Canada, the numbers of those who’ve received a third dose vary.

For example, in Quebec, which recently opened up third-dose eligibility to all adults, about 39 per cent have received the added dose. The province’s health minister said it intends to expand its vaccine passport to require a third dose once more people have had a chance to get it.

In New Brunswick, about 61 per cent of those aged 50 and older have received a booster dose.

“We know that people who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have much better protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in a statement on Saturday.

With the more transmissible Omicron variant has made clear the necessity for the booster, Tam said it’s not time to have a discussion about changing the definition.

“But we will be re-examining those kind of policies going forward,” Tam said.

4:55 p.m.: New Brunswick health officials are reporting six more deaths related to COVID-19, confirming that five of the latest victims were over the age of 80.

There were 125 people recovering in hospital from an infection as of Saturday morning, though 74 of those patients had been admitted for other reasons.

There were also 12 patients in intensive care and six people were using a ventilator.

Of those in hospital, 82 per cent were over the age of 60 and only two were under 19.

On another front, health officials issued a statement Saturday reminding residents that booster doses are available to everyone 18 and older, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.

To date, 61.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers 50 and older have received their booster dose.

“We know that people who are fully vaccinated and have a booster dose have much better protection against serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.

“I urge everyone who is eligible, especially people 50 and older, to book an appointment for their booster right away if they have not yet done so.”

4:16 p.m.: Another person has died as a result of a COVID-19 infection in Prince Edward Island.

The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says the latest victim was a person over the age of 80.

Morrison offered her condolences to the victim’s family, but she did not provide any details, citing privacy concerns.

Meanwhile, health officials reported six people were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including one person in the intensive care unit.

Two others in hospital had also tested positive for COVID-19 but were being treated for other illnesses.

In total, 288 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded as of Saturday morning, bringing the province’s total to 2,489 active infections.

In the past week, the Island has logged an average of 290 cases per day.

Morrison says vaccines and boosters continue to be key to protecting Islanders from COVID-19, particularly for those over the age of 50.

2:56 p.m.: Florida reported 22,818 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, dropping the state’s seven-day average to 37,414, a 31 per cent decline from one week ago, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Hospitalizations have held steady for nearly two weeks, another key indicator that the omicron wave is slowing. There were 11,351 patients with the virus in Florida hospitals on Friday and 1,619 adult COVID patients in intensive care, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows.

The state reported a large batch of new vaccinations, which had been slowing significantly in recent days. The average daily vaccination rate increased to 52,036 over the past week but remains at its lowest level since late October, CDC data shows.

About 64.7 per cent of Floridians are fully vaccinated and 36 per cent have received booster shots.

2:13 p.m.: Health officials in Nova Scotia say 82 people were recovering in hospital on Saturday after being admitted with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Eleven of those people were receiving intensive care, and their average age is 67.

Aside from the 82 admitted with COVID-19, another 84 patients were identified as positive upon arrival but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care.

Another 121 people contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.

That means a total of 287 people were in hospital with COVID-19, though health officials did not say how many people had been admitted with the disease today.

Sixteen new hospital admissions due to COVID-19 were reported Friday, when the total number of patients was 280, up from 269 on Thursday.

12:07 p.m.: Quebec is reporting 68 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Saturday, but saw a drop in virus-related hospitalizations for a third consecutive day.

Health authorities say hospitalizations declined by 56 patients to 3,295. But 10 more patients were listed in intensive care for a total of 275.

Officials reported 5,547 new COVID-19 cases, but have said the case count isn’t representative of the actual situation because PCR testing is limited to certain high-risk groups.

Officials say they administered just over 100,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday.

The Health Department says 90 per cent of Quebecers aged five and older have received a first dose of vaccine, 83 per cent have received two doses, while 38 per cent have now received a booster shot.

11:13 a.m.: The Omicron variant is starting to loosen its grip on the U.S. Northeast, but experts warn that it will take more time for the latest wave of COVID-19 to recede nationwide.

The strain’s fast surge and swift descent in one of the most populous parts of the U.S. echoes its trajectory in areas of Europe and South Africa, where infections skyrocketed only to come back down nearly as quickly. The shape of the Omicron wave may look different in various parts of the U.S., depending on vaccination rates and hospital capacity, but nationally, the wave could peak as early as this week, according to projections from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. rose to almost 14,300 in the week through Friday, the most since September, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. That compares with record weekly death of more than 20,000 last January and early February.

10:15 a.m.: Ontario is reporting that 4,026 people are currently hospitazlied with COVID-19, along with 600 in ICUs and 47 virus-related deaths. There are at least 6,473 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.

Of those in hospital, 56 per cent were admitted to the hospital for the virus and 44 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.

8:24 a.m.: These workers are among the 205,800 Canadians who left their jobs in the food service industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and started anew.

Since March 2020, when thousands of businesses closed and millions of Canadians lost their jobs, the national labour force has undergone a seismic transformation spurred by droves of workers moving from one sector of the economy to another. In pursuit of higher earnings, job security and a change of scenery, they’ve taken up new jobs in new industries while leaving their old work behind.

Employment is at its highest point during the pandemic — higher, even, than it was in the months leading up to it — but job vacancies have surged in hospitality and retail while employment has grown in professional services and finance.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jacob Lorinc.

8:23 a.m.: Those who have not taken the vaccine cite a variety of reasons — mistrust of the system and the scientists who invented the vaccine, the jab’s irreversibility, and simply “freedom” among them.

The situation has raised thorny societal questions about balancing individual freedoms with the collective good, especially as unvaccinated people are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and increasing hospitalizations put a strain on the health-care system and increase calls for restrictions.

Whatever their reasons, it’s clear that the costs they’re accruing as a result of their refusal are only growing.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex McKeen.

8:15 a.m.: Three studies released Friday offered more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the omicron variant, at least among people who received booster shots.

They are the first large U.S. studies to look at vaccine protection against omicron, health officials said.

The papers echo previous research — including studies in Germany, South Africa and the U.K. — indicating available vaccines are less effective against omicron than earlier versions of the coronavirus, but also that boosters doses rev up virus-fighting antibodies to increase the chance of avoiding symptomatic infection.

The first study looked at hospitalizations and emergency room and urgent care centre visits in 10 states, from August to this month.

It found vaccine effectiveness was best after three doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in preventing COVID-19-associated emergency department and urgent care visits. Protection dropped from 94% during the delta wave to 82% during the omicron wave. Protection from just two doses was lower, especially if six months had passed since the second dose.

Officials have stressed the goal of preventing not just infection but severe disease. On that count, some good news: A third dose was at least 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations for COVID-19, both during the delta and omicron periods, the study also found.

The second study focused on COVID-19 case and death rates in 25 states from the beginning of April through Christmas. People who were boosted had the highest protection against coronavirus infection, both during the time delta was dominant and also when omicron was taking over.

Those two articles were published online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published the third study, also led by CDC researchers. It looked at people who tested positive for COVID-19 from Dec. 10 to Jan. 1 at more than 4,600 testing sites across the U.S.

Three shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were about 67% effective against omicron-related symptomatic disease compared with unvaccinated people. Two doses, however, offered no significant protection against omicron when measured several months after completion of the original series, the researchers found.

“It really shows the importance of getting a booster dose,” said the CDC’s Emma Accorsi, one of the study’s authors.

8:15 a.m.: The sweeping “zero-tolerance” strategy that China has used to keep COVID-19 case numbers low and its economy functioning may, paradoxically, make it harder for the country to exit the pandemic.

Most experts say the coronavirus around the world isn’t going away and believe it could eventually become, like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat if enough people gain immunity through infections and vaccines.

In countries like Britain and the U.S., which have had comparatively light restrictions against the omicron wave, there is a glimmer of hope that the process might be underway. Cases skyrocketed in recent weeks but have since dropped in Britain and may have levelled off in the U.S., perhaps because the extremely contagious variant is running out of people to infect. Some places already are talking about easing COVID-19 precautions.

China, which will be in the international spotlight when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin in two weeks, is not seeing the same dynamic.

8:15 a.m.: Hong Kong reported 25 confirmed local COVID infections on Saturday, the most since at least March, and 100 preliminary positive cases as officials try to contain an outbreak at a public housing estate.

Most of the preliminary positive cases were found at the public housing complex in the New Territories, where more than 2,500 residents have been locked down for five days and are tested every day. Two employees at a local public hospital and one worker at a care centre also tested preliminary positive.

The government will expand the five-day lockdown at one apartment block in the public housing estate, after finding at least eight preliminary cases there, chief executive officer Carrie Lam told reporters at a press conference on Saturday. All residents from another four buildings in the complex will be prohibited from leaving and required to do regular testing, while residents at the remaining 11 blocks will need to do mandatory screening.

Lam urged Hong Kong residents to stay at home and avoid gatherings, in particular children and older people. She said the city’s vaccination rate is 77.5%, which is still not high enough and puts the health of elderly at risk. The city will stick to it current zero-Covid strategy, Lam said.

8:15 a.m.: Canada’s chief public health officer says there are positive signs the Omicron wave is peaking in this country, but no one should start choreographing a COVID-19 victory dance.

“There is no doubt that nobody wants to have all these restrictive measures anymore, and Omicron may or may not have put us one step toward that new reality,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday during a COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa.

“We need to plan for the different scenarios and just be ready for a time of emergence of new variants. But we’ve got to move on and see how we can make our societal functions closer to what they were before the pandemic.”

Tam said that in the last week, case rates, the share of tests coming back positive, and wastewater surveillance are all showing “early indications” that Omicron has peaked nationally.

Her comments echoed statements the day before from several provinces, including Alberta, where Premier Jason Kenney said cases were starting to plateau, and Ontario, where Premier Doug Ford is so confident the fifth wave has crested he announced restrictions on public spaces will start to be lifted in 10 days.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday while the peak in cases and hospitalizations hasn’t happened there yet, he is optimistic that the lockdown imposed Jan. 15 can be lifted at the end of the month.

Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday he wasn’t lifting restrictions because the situation remained too fragile. But the province’s restaurant association is fielding hundreds of calls from frustrated restaurant and bar owners ready to defy the closure order if the restriction banning indoor dining isn’t lifted soon.

While patient numbers in some provinces show signs of stabilizing, there remains a heavy strain on hospitals.

More than 10,000 Canadians were in hospital with COVID-19 over the last week, up almost 50 per cent from the previous week. Tam says that is higher than at any other point in the pandemic.

Intensive-care units treated an average of 1,100 patients a day over the last week, higher than in any previous wave other than the Delta surge last spring.

The high patient numbers are compounded by staff illnesses, adding further stress. The Saskatchewan Health Authority reported this week almost one-fifth of its health workforce is off sick or isolating because of COVID-19.

The absences have left the authority to seek 500 government workers from other departments to volunteer to help out with non-medical roles like cleaning, cooking, or assisting patients to eat or get dressed, in hospitals and long-term care homes.

Health Canada data also show January will go down as one of the deadliest months in the pandemic to date. New deaths climbed above 100 per day this week for the first time in almost a year.

Tam said an average of 131 people died every day in Canada from COVID-19 since Jan. 14, up from an average of 82 a week earlier, and 39 in the first week of January.


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Car bomb rocks Afghanistan's Herat; 7 killed – India Today

A bomb attached to a packed minivan exploded in Afghanistan’s western Herat province on Saturday, killing at least seven civilians and wounding nine others, Taliban officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, but the Islamic State has claimed credit for similar attacks on civilians and the country’s new Taliban leaders elsewhere in the country since the group seized power on Aug. 15.

Saturday’s bombing was the first such attack in Herat. Local Taliban official Naeemulhaq Haqqani said investigations were ongoing.

A Taliban intelligence official in western Herat told the Associated Press that the bomb was attached to the van’s fuel tank. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to release the information to the public.

Herat Ambulance chief Ebrahim Mohammadi said the victims – three in critical condition – were transferred to the provincial hospital.

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