Day: February 5, 2022

Biden to sign executive order boosting rights of 200,000 construction workers

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Economy16 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 02:45AM ET)

Biden to sign executive order boosting rights of 200,000 construction workers© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about a U.S. Special Forces operation in Northern Syria against ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Friday requiring “project labor agreements” in federal construction projects over $35 million, a potential boost to workers and unions that negotiate these deals, and a shift the administration says will speed up building times.

The order will apply to $262 billion in federal construction contracting and impact nearly 200,000 workers, the White House said late on Thursday, confirming news first reported by Reuters.

Project labor agreements are collective bargaining agreements between building trade unions and contractors, which set wages, employment conditions, and dispute resolution on specific projects. Democratic presidents in the past have typically supported applying such agreements to the massive U.S. federal contracting budget, while Republican presidents have rescinded them.

The order, which will go into effect immediately, comes on the heels of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by Biden that invests in the country’s roads, ports and bridges.

Much of that money will flow through federal agencies to states and local governments. The new executive order excludes projects funded by grants to non-federal agencies, a senior administration official said, adding that will make up for a bulk of the projects under the bill. But it will apply to billions of other federal spending on waterways, military bases and other areas.

The White House said Biden would visit Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Friday to sign the new executive order, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

The U.S. construction industry – including workers, owners, developers, contractors – has been one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to a slowdown of available goods and labor and the termination of entire projects.

Biden has vowed to strengthen unions and increase membership in the United States after years of steady decline, and to increase salaries for hourly workers in construction, health care and other jobs.

“Contractors who offer lower wages or hire less qualified workers will need to raise their standards to compete with other high-wage, high-quality companies,” the order says, according to a draft viewed by Reuters. Earlier executive action by Biden requires federal contractors in new or extended contracts to pay a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Biden’s move won praise from some contractors.

“This streamlines the negotiation process and gives employers access to a highly skilled pool of craftworkers,” Daniel Hogan, chief executive of the Association of Union Constructors, that represents 1800 contractor companies, told Reuters.

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Bitcoin returns to $40K, liquidating over $50M of shorts in hours

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Cryptocurrency10 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 03:20AM ET)

Bitcoin returns to $40K, liquidating over $50M of shorts in hours© Reuters.

(BTC) returned to $40,000 for the first time in two weeks during Feb. 4 as Wall Street volatility proved a boon for BTC bulls.

1-hour candle chart (Bitstamp). Source: TradingView

Data from Cointelegraph Markets Pro and TradingView showed BTC/USD suddenly jumping past the $40,000 on Feb. 4, just two hours after the Wall Street open produced rapid gains.

BTC liquidations chart. Source: Coinglass
1-day candle chart (Bitstamp). Source: TradingView

Continue Reading on Coin Telegraph

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Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

China says U.S. tariff extension on solar products hurts new energy trade

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Stock Markets14 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 04:40AM ET)

China says U.S. tariff extension on solar products hurts new energy trade© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Wind turbines and solar panels are seen at a wind and solar power plant by State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A U.S. extension of tariffs on solar products distorts international trade and hinders the development of clean, low-emission energy, China’s commerce ministry said on Saturday.

President Joe Biden on Friday extended tariffs on imported solar energy equipment for four years, though he eased the terms to exclude bifacial panels that generate power on both sides, which are dominant among big U.S. projects.

Donald Trump imposed the tariffs on solar imports in 2018, using authority under section 201 of a 1974 trade law. The levies started at 30% and declined to 15%.

“The U.S. government insisted on extending the section 201 measures despite strong opposition from related parties at home and abroad, and they not only do not help the healthy development of the domestic U.S. industry, but also distort the normal order of international trade in photovoltaics as a new energy product,” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

China expressed hope that the United States would take “concrete action” to facilitate free trade in new energy products and “contribute to the global development of a low greenhouse gas emission economy.”

Driven by growing protectionism abroad as well as rising domestic demand, China’s solar manufacturers have focused increasingly on the home market.

China’s solar capacity rose by a record 54.9 gigawatts (GW) last year to 306.6 GW. It aims to total wind and solar power capacity to a combined 1,200 GW by the end of the decade from 635 GW at the end of last year.

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Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

China’s Xi meets more heads of state in Winter Games diplomatic push

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World6 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 07:20AM ET)

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China's Xi meets more heads of state in Winter Games diplomatic push© Reuters. 2022 Beijing Olympics – Opening Ceremony – National Stadium, Beijing, China – February 4, 2022. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan during the opening ceremony. Pool via REUTERS/Anthony Wallace

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BEIJING (Reuters) -Chinese President Xi Jinping met the leaders of several more countries on Saturday as Beijing used the start of the Winter Olympics to score diplomatic points amid simmering tensions with the United States.

Following a groundbreaking agreement https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-china-tell-nato-stop-expansion-moscow-backs-beijing-taiwan-2022-02-04 with Russia on Friday over Taiwan and against NATO expansion, Xi held meetings with the leaders of Serbia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and hosted a banquet at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Over 30 foreign leaders travelled to Beijing to attend Friday’s opening ceremony. But the United States and other Western countries have subjected the Winter Games to a diplomatic boycott amid rising geopolitical tensions and allegations of human rights abuses in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

The Global Times, run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, hit back at foreign media reports that the event had attracted only “authoritarian” leaders, accusing them in an editorial of using “outdated anti-China cliches”.

Saturday’s Lunar New Year-themed banquet was the first time the Chinese president has joined a gathering of state leaders since before the outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019.

Toasting his fellow leaders, Xi expressed “heartfelt thanks to all governments, peoples and international organisations who care about and support the Beijing Winter Olympics”.

“China has made every effort to overcome the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, earnestly fulfilled its solemn commitments to the international community and ensured the Beijing Winter Olympics is being held as scheduled,” Xi said in a speech published by Xinhua news agency.

The People’s Daily described strengthened China-Russian relations – announced by Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin after they met on Friday – as “an important guarantee for maintaining an international strategic balance, world peace and stability”. The Global Times called it the start of a new era “not defined by the United States”.

MEETINGS

Xi held individual meetings with Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and President Abdel Fatta Al-Sisi of Egypt on Saturday morning, Xinhua news agency reported, discussing Belt and Road-related infrastructure investments and cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.

He also told Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov that the two sides should deepen cooperation on supplying to China.

Xi also met Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held meetings with Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob and the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and president of the Asia Society, described the joint statement issued by Xi and Putin as “highly significant”.

It was “the first time since the Sino-Soviet split that China’s taken a definitive position on European security to support Russia on something as fundamental as NATO”, Rudd wrote on Saturday.

The “no limits” agreement https://www.reuters.com/world/china/moscow-beijing-partnership-has-no-limits-2022-02-04 for a strategic partnership included Russian support for China’s opposition to any form of independence for Taiwan, and China’s backing for Russian opposition to further expansion of NATO.

Russia has amassed 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine as it tries to pressure the country into ruling out future NATO membership for the country. Moscow has denied it plans to invade.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry called the timing of the agreement “contemptible”, and added that the Chinese government was bringing shame to the spirit of the Games.

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Queen Elizabeth begins celebrations to mark 70 years on throne

Queen Elizabeth begins celebrations to mark 70 years on throne By Reuters – Feb 05, 2022 2

LONDON (Reuters) – A smiling Queen Elizabeth kicked off celebrations for the 70th anniversary of her accession to the British throne by inviting local community groups on Saturday…

NFL-Progress on head coach diversity 'unacceptable', commissioner Goodell tells teams

NFL-Progress on head coach diversity ‘unacceptable’, commissioner Goodell tells teams By Reuters – Feb 05, 2022

(Reuters) – The NFL will reevaluate its policies relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, commissioner Roger Goodell told the clubs on Saturday, days after former Miami…

France's Macron, in call with UK's PM, says dialogue needed on Ukraine

France’s Macron, in call with UK’s PM, says dialogue needed on Ukraine By Reuters – Feb 05, 2022 2

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the Ukraine crisis by phone with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and underlined the need “to maintain dialogue…

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First U.S. reinforcement troops arrive in Poland, more expected

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Stock Markets22 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 02:46PM ET)

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First U.S. reinforcement troops arrive in Poland, more expected© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft is unloaded after landing at Jasionka Airport near Rzeszow, Poland February 4, 2022. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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RZESZOW, Poland (Reuters) -The first U.S. troops reinforcing NATO allies in Eastern Europe amid a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border arrived on Saturday at Rzeszow military base in southeastern Poland.

A small plane carrying what a Polish military source said were U.S. chain of command personnel landed at Rzeszow-Jasionka airport as preparations continued at the base, which is near Poland’s border with Ukraine.

TV footage showed temporary accommodation being prepared at the G2A Arena in the nearby town of Jasionka, while workers could be seen building a fence around the venue.

“As announced, the first elements of the brigade battle group from the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army have arrived in Poland,” a Polish military spokesman said.

The U.S. army confirmed that the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army Major General Christopher Donahue, had arrived in Poland.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe from potential spillover from the Ukraine crisis.

About 1,700 service members, mainly paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, will deploy from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland in coming days, U.S. Army sources have said.

According to the Pentagon, a squadron of around 1,000 U.S. service members based in the German town of Vilseck will be sent to Romania.

The first additional U.S. troops from the 18th Airborne Corps arrived in Germany on Friday.

“Our Corps’ presence serves to bolster existing U.S. forces in Europe and demonstrates our commitment to our NATO allies and partners,” spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, Captain Matt Visser, was quoted saying in a statement on Saturday.

Russia has denied planning to invade Ukraine but has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and says it could take unspecified military measures if its demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Kyiv.

The latest U.S. deployment goes beyond the 8,500 troops the Pentagon put on alert last month to deploy to Europe if needed. NATO defence ministers are expected to discuss further reinforcements at their next meeting on Feb. 16-17.

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Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

Olympics-Dutch reporter on-air incident was isolated case, says IOC

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Coronavirus5 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 11:00AM ET)

Olympics-Dutch reporter on-air incident was isolated case, says IOC© Reuters. 2022 Beijing Olympics – Opening Ceremony – National Stadium, Beijing, China – February 4, 2022. Journalists wait for transport back to the media centre after the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

By Karolos Grohmann

BEIJING (Reuters) -An incident involving a Dutch reporter in the middle of a live broadcast who was dragged away by Chinese security officials was an isolated event and will not affect foreign media’s reporting at the Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Saturday.

The journalist, Sjoerd den Daas, was delivering his live report to public broadcaster NOS on Friday evening during the Games opening ceremony in the Chinese capital when security officials surrounded him and one forcefully dragged him away.

Another security officer attempted to hold his hand in front of the camera as the reporter tried to continue speaking to it.

The broadcaster had to interrupt the link with the reporter, leaving the studio anchor back in the Netherlands confused.

“Obviously, we have been in touch with the NOS, the state broadcaster, and it was an unfortunate circumstance,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said.

“I think someone was being overzealous. He (the reporter) was able to, very quickly afterwards with the help of officials there, do his piece to camera.”

Games participants, including media, are restricted to a “closed loop” during the Games, which includes the venues, the media centre and the accommodation.

All participants must remain in that loop for the entire duration of the Games as part of China’s health measures to minimise the risk of coronavirus spread during the Feb. 4-20 Games.

NOS said there had been no contact with the IOC.

“Neither NOS management, nor the chief editors of News and Sport, our Olympic team leadership in Beijing, or our correspondent himself has spoken to anyone from the IOC about yesterday’s incident,” an NOS spokesperson said.

Den Daas, the broadcaster’s China correspondent, said it was not the first time this had happened to him.

“In recent weeks, we, like several foreign colleagues, have been hindered or stopped several times by the police while reporting on subjects related to the Games,” he said on Twitter (NYSE:).

There have been concerns over whether visiting media will be allowed to do their jobs freely in China during the Games.

But the IOC has repeatedly assured them that the contract signed with the Chinese hosts would allow every participant, including athletes and media, to speak freely within the loop.

“These things do happen and I think it’s a one-off. I hope it’s a one-off and we will assure you that within the closed loop you will be able to carry on your work,” Adams said.

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Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

Popular U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan apologizes for using racial slurs

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Stock Markets14 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 08:00PM ET)

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Popular U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan apologizes for using racial slurs© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: May 15, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; UFC ring announcer Joe Rogan (right) is interviewed before UFC 262 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports – 16090519/File Photo

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(Reuters) -Joe Rogan, the popular U.S. podcaster, issued an apology for the second time in a week, this time for using racial slurs after a montage video surfaced showing him repeatedly saying the N-word.

In an apology video posted on Instagram on Saturday, Rogan said it was the “most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.” During the video, Rogan said footage that emerged of him using the epithet had been taken out of context, but looked “horrible, even to me.”

Rogan’s apology came after Grammy award winning singer-songwriter India Arie pulled her music from the Spotify streaming service, which hosts Rogan’s podcast, after posting clips on her Instagram feed of him using the N-word.

In his apology, Rogan said the montage showed him using the epithet in conversations on shows over the last 12 years, and included examples of him discussing its use by Black and white comedians and others. He said he had not spoken it in years.

“It’s not my word to use. I am well aware of that now, but for years I used it in that manner,” he said. “I never used it to be racist because I’m not racist.”

Media reports on Saturday said more than 70 episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast had been removed from the Spotify Technology SA (NYSE:) service.

Spotify did not return a request for comment.

On Monday, Rogan had apologized amid a backlash against COVID-19 misinformation in his program, and Spotify said it would add a content advisory to any episode with discussion of the virus.

Rogan, a mixed martial arts commentator and prominent vaccine skeptic, has stirred controversy with his views on the pandemic and on vaccines and government mandates to control the spread of the virus.

Singer-songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell announced last week that they were removing their music from Spotify in protest at coronavirus misinformation broadcast on the platform.

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Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

Moroccan boy trapped in well dies before rescue

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World5 hours ago (Feb 06, 2022 11:47AM ET)

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Moroccan boy trapped in well dies before rescue© Reuters. People gather as rescuers work to reach a five-year old boy trapped in a well in the northern hill town of Chefchaouen, Morocco February 5, 2022. REUTERS/Thami Nouas

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By Ahmed Eljechtimi

RABAT (Reuters) -A small boy trapped in a well in northern Moroccan for five days died before rescuers were able to reach him late on Saturday and retrieve his body, two government officials said.

Footage posted on social media showed the scene after his body was recovered, with hundreds of distraught rescue workers and onlookers gathered at the site chanting to god and shining the flashlights of their phones into the air.

Rayan Awram, aged five, fell into the well at his village of Ighran in the hills near Chefchaouen on Tuesday, triggering a huge rescue effort that engrossed the country.

Rescuers finally reached him late on Saturday after removing much of the adjacent hillside and delicately tunnelling a horizontal passage into the well.

King Mohammed sent condolences to his parents, a statement carried by state media reported.

The well was only 45 cm (18 inches) wide at the top and tapered as it dropped 32 metres (100 feet) to the bottom, where Rayan was trapped, making it impossible for rescuers to descend directly.

A male relative of the boy said on Friday that the family had first realised he was missing when they heard muffled crying and lowered a phone with its light and camera switched on to locate him.

“He was crying ‘lift me up’,” the relative said.

The hilly region around Chefchaouen is bitterly cold in winter and rescuers attempted to keep the boy alive by lowering food, water and oxygen through a tube.

Rescuers worked round the clock cutting a massive trench through the hillside, then tunnelling horizontally towards Rayan, with a constant risk of triggering landslides.

In the final hours of the rescue effort, workers had to move with extreme caution as they attempted to dig through earth and rocks to where Rayan lay.

They were eventually able to access the well late on Saturday, and carried his body to a waiting ambulance.

Crowds had gathered in a vigil at the scene to watch the rescue effort as hundreds of workers toiled to save the child. Across the country, Moroccans followed the saga on television in homes and cafes.

“I am so sad to learn Rayan has died. Sincere condolences to the parents,” said Abderrahim Sabihi, a Rabat resident who was following the rescue effort from a cafe.

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Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

Russian forces at 70% of level needed for full Ukraine invasion – U.S. officials

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World23 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 08:32PM ET)

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Russian forces at 70% of level needed for full Ukraine invasion - U.S. officials© Reuters. Military vehicles are seen during the joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at a firing range in the Brest Region, Belarus February 3, 2022. Vadim Yakubyonok/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

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By Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and is sending more battalion tactical groups to the border with its neighbor, two U.S. officials said on Saturday.

In the last two weeks, the number of battalion tactical groups (BTG) in the border region has risen to 83 from 60 as of Friday and 14 more are in transit, the officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

As to the timing of an invasion, the ground is expected to reach peak freeze around Feb. 15, the officials said, allowing for off-road mechanized transit by Russian military units. Such conditions would continue until the end of March.

That timeline and the growing number and capability of Russian forces close to Ukraine could suggest the window for diplomacy is shutting.

The U.S. officials did not provide evidence to back up their estimates of Russia’s forces.

As Russia masses more than 100,000 troops near the border, it has said it is not planning an invasion but could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met. Those include a promise that NATO will never admit Ukraine, a demand Washington and NATO have said is unacceptable.

Washington believes Russia may choose other options than a full-scale invasion, including a limited incursion, and does not believe President Vladimir Putin had made a final decision, the officials said.

But they said Putin is putting in place a force that can execute all scenarios.

If Russia were to invade the capital of Kyiv, it could fall within a couple of days, the U.S. officials said.

A full-scale invasion would cause major casualties, one of the officials said.

Ukraine could suffer 5,000 to 25,000 troop casualties, while Russia’s troop casualties could be between 3,000 and 10,000, and civilian casualties could range from 25,000 to 50,000, according to U.S. estimates, the official said.

A full invasion would also prompt the flight of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe, Washington believes.

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Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

Thousands protest vaccine mandates in Canada, further fraying nerves

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World10 hours ago (Feb 05, 2022 10:26PM ET)

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Thousands protest vaccine mandates in Canada, further fraying nerves© Reuters. Protestors continue to clog downtown streets as truckers and supporters continue to protest against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 5, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

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By Kyaw Soe Oo and Brian Gable

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Thousands of people demonstrated in Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, on Saturday as mostly peaceful but noisy protests against vaccine mandates spread from Ottawa, the capital.

The “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a Canadian vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“We’re all sick and tired of the mandates, of the intimidation, of living in one big prison,” said Robert, a Toronto protester who did not give his last name. “We just want to go back to normal without having to take into our veins the poison which they call vaccines.”

Protesters have shut down downtown Ottawa for the past eight days, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and some saying they wanted to dissolve Canada’s government.

“The protesters in Ottawa have made their point. The entire country heard their point,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who urged protesters to “go home and engage elected officials.”

Ottawa police said hate crime charges were laid against four people and they were investigating threats against public figures jointly with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The well-organized blockade, which police say has relied partly on funding from sympathizers in the United States, saw protesters bring in portable saunas on Saturday to combat frigid temperatures.

One man rode through the area on horseback, carrying a Trump flag, social media videos showed. Former U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken out in support of the truckers against “the harsh policies of far-left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.”

GoFundMe took down the Freedom Convoy’s donation page on Friday, saying it violated the platform’s terms of service due to unlawful activity. The group had raised about C$10.1 million.

The website originally said it would give refunds for any requests made by Feb. 19 and would remaining funds to verified charities, but on Saturday GoFundMe said it would refund all donations automatically.

Tesla (NASDAQ:) CEO Elon Musk, who has previously criticized vaccine mandates, called GoFundMe “professional thieves.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican state lawmakers vowed to investigate the California-based company over the move.

About 5,000 people demonstrated in Ottawa, police said, while hundreds more gathered in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, and Quebec City, coinciding with the city’s annual winter carnival. Four people were injured in Manitoba after a pick-up truck drove into a crowd late Friday, police said.

In Toronto, about 500 healthcare workers and supporters rallied downtown in opposition to the trucker convoy, according to a Reuters witness.

Several Toronto healthcare workers said they received advice from their hospitals to not wear hospital scrubs in public in light of the protest.

“The notion that we have to somehow skunk around or be afraid of who we are and what were doing, I think, is offensive and regrettable, and I think, a sad commentary on our society,” emergency room doctor Raghu Venugopal told Reuters.

Some Ottawa residents, who have endured near-incessant honking, smashed windows and harassment for wearing masks themselves, criticized Ottawa Police earlier this week for not doing more to end the blockade. One resident filed a class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers, seeking up to $10 million in damages and an injunction to end the protests.

Ottawa police, which warned on Friday of a crackdown on the protest and dedicated more officers, do not have enough resources to end the protests, the city’s police chief said on Saturday. Trudeau ruled out the use of troops against truckers in the capital earlier this week.

“This is a city under siege, this is a threat to democracy, this is a nationwide insurrection, this is madness,” Chief Peter Sloly said at a police services’ board meeting. “We have done our very best.”

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