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Posted by Ukrap on

Народ України унеможливить будь-який сценарій захоплення – Загороднюк

Армія і народ захищатимуть країну. Це і є головним стримуючим фактором для Путіна

Posted by Worldkrap on

Queen Elizabeth Speaks of Family and Loss at Christmas

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth spoke of the loss of her husband, Prince Philip, on Saturday, remembering the “mischievous twinkle” in his eyes in an unusually personal Christmas message to the nation.

The 95-year-old monarch said that while Christmas was a time of happiness for many, it could be hard for those who had lost loved ones, and this year especially she understood why, having lost Philip, 99, in April after 73 years of marriage.

“His sense of service, intellectual curiosity and capacity to squeeze fun out of any situation were all irrepressible,” she said in her traditional pre-recorded festive broadcast, paying tribute to “my beloved Philip.”

“That mischievous enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him,” she said.

The queen said she knew Philip would want his family to enjoy Christmas, and there would be joy for them despite the absence of his “familiar laugh.”

She delivered her address seated at a desk on which stood a photograph of herself and Philip, standing arm-in-arm and smiling at each other. The photo was taken in 2007, when the couple were marking their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

For her broadcast, the queen wore a sapphire brooch that she wore on her honeymoon in 1947 and for the Diamond Wedding portrait. Photos of her and Philip at various stages of their lives appeared on the screen while she spoke.

Elizabeth is spending Christmas at Windsor Castle, west of London, for the second year running, a break from royal tradition caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A palace source said this reflected a precautionary approach when the omicron variant is spreading fast.

Police arrested at 19-year-old man on the grounds of the castle about 8:30 a.m. local time. The man, from Southhampton, didn’t enter any buildings and was being held on suspicion of possessing a weapon, Thames Valley Police Superintendent Rebecca Mears said.

Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, and other royal family members arrived later in the morning for a Christmas church service at St George’s Chapel within the Windsor Castle complex.

There was no suggestion that any of the royal family’s plans had been disrupted by the incident.

Usually, all the Windsors gather for Christmas at another one of the     queen’s homes, the Sandringham estate in eastern England. Their walk to a nearby church for a Christmas service is a staple of the royal calendar.

With Britain’s daily COVID-19 infection numbers hitting records, the queen last week canceled a pre-Christmas lunch with her family, also as a precaution.

In her message, she also spoke of her upcoming Platinum Jubilee year, which starts in February and will mark her 70 years on the throne. She is the longest-reigning monarch in British history, having in 2015 overtaken her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

She said she hoped the jubilee would be a chance for people “to give thanks for the enormous changes of the last 70 years, social, scientific and cultural, and also to look ahead with confidence.”

Posted by Ukrap on

Російський «Газпром» зробив заяву про дефіцит газу в Західній Європі

В Європі кажуть, що «Газпром» штучно створює дефіцит природного газу

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Bidens Mark Christmas with Holiday Calls to Service Members

President Joe Biden marked his first Christmas in office by making calls to military service members stationed around the world, offering them holiday wishes and gratitude for their service and sacrifice for the nation.

Joined by his wife, Jill, and their new puppy, Commander, the president on Saturday spoke via video to service members representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard, stationed at bases in Quatar, Romania, Bahrain and the U.S.

“As your commander in chief, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you, thank you, thank you,” he told the service members. “We’re grateful for your courage, your sacrifice, not only your sacrifice but your family’s sacrifice.”

Speaking from a studio set up at the White House, Biden told them they’re “the solid steel spine of the nation,” and emphasized the “truly sacred obligation” the nation has to care for soldiers and their families.

Jill Biden expressed empathy for the difficulties their families experience spending the holidays away from their loved ones, noting that the Bidens experienced the same when their son Beau, who served as a major in the Delaware Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq.

The Bidens planned a relatively quiet Christmas at the White House with family.

As the coronavirus pandemic surges anew, driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, the Bidens sought with their public appearances and statements to offer a sense of unity and normalcy in an otherwise challenging season for many.  

In a Christmas statement, the Bidens praised the “enormous courage, character, resilience, and resolve” of the American people in the face of the pandemic, and offered prayers that the nation would find “light in the darkness” during a difficult season.

“During this season of joy, we are inspired by the countless Americans who are a reminder that the things we hold sacred unite us and transcend distance, time, and even the constraints of a pandemic,” the Bidens said in their statement.

And the call to soldiers was just the latest Christmas tradition the two participated in, after spending Christmas eve spreading holiday cheer around Washington. On Friday morning, they visited Children’s National Hospital to offer holiday greetings to young patients and their families. The president showed off photos of their new puppy and Jill read a children’s book to patients.

Later, the two stopped by a Jill Biden-themed Christmas tree in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The president hung the 2021 White House Christmas ornament amid branches decked out with photos of his wife’s face, apples and small chalkboards, in homage to her teaching career.

Both answered calls to the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Santa-tracking service, speaking to parents and children about their Christmas wishlists.

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Посольство США привітало Україну із 30-річчям визнання її незалежності

У посольстві США наголосили, що зараз відносини між країнами міцні, як ніколи

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Berlin and Kremlin Envoys to Meet About Ukraine, Says Source

Senior German and Russian government officials have agreed to a rare in-person meeting next month in an effort to ease political tensions over Ukraine, a German government source said Saturday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s foreign policy adviser Jens Ploetner and Russia’s Ukraine negotiator Dmitry Kozak agreed to meet after a lengthy phone conversation Thursday, the source said on condition of anonymity.

The German government has not made any official comment.  A spokesman for Kozak declined to comment.

There has been a flurry of phone calls between western leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months over Russia’s military build-up on the Ukrainian border and resulting fears of an invasion.

In-person meetings between senior Western and Russian government officials have been few and far between, though U.S. President Joe Biden held talks with President Putin in Geneva last June.

Since taking office this month, Scholz has emphasized the need for dialog with Russia over its military build-up on the Ukrainian border while joining western allies in backing sanctions should Moscow invade.

Berlin doubts more than Washington whether Russia actually wants to attack Ukraine and is keen to de-escalate tensions, two government sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Critics accuse Germany of being beholden to Putin because of its need for Russian gas, attacking construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between the countries, bypassing Ukraine.

Berlin says Nordstream 2 is not political and would be only one of several pipelines transporting Russian gas to Europe.

“The German side’s goal remains to achieve a swift reactivation of the Normandy format,” the German government source said, referring to multilateral talks between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

SPD parliamentary leader Rolf Mutzenich told Reuters the party was not “naive” and knew who it was dealing with, adding that it still believes that engagement could help to de-escalate the Ukraine situation.

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La Palma volcano eruption declared over after three months of destruction

Scientists declared the eruption on Spain’s La Palma officially over on Saturday, allowing islanders to breathe a sigh of relief nearly 100 days after the Cumbre Vieja volcano began to spew out lava, rock and ash and upended the lives of thousands.

After bursting into action on Sept. 19, the volcano suddenly went quiet on Monday Dec. 13 but the authorities, wary of raising false hope, held off until Christmas Day to give the all-clear.

“What I want to say today can be said with just four words: The eruption is over,” Canary Islands regional security chief Julio Perez told a news conference on Saturday.

During the eruption, lava had poured down the mountainside, swallowing up houses, churches and many of the banana plantations that account for nearly half the island’s economy.

Although property was destroyed, no one was killed. Maria Jose Blanco, director of the National Geographic Institute on the Canaries, said all indicators suggested the eruption had run out of energy but she did not rule out a future reactivation.

Some 3,000 properties were destroyed by lava that now covers 1,219 hectares – equivalent to roughly 1,500 soccer pitches – according to the final tally by the emergency services.

Of the 7,000 people evacuated, most have returned home but many houses that remain standing are uninhabitable due to ash damage. With many roads blocked, some plantations are now only accessible by sea.

German couple Jacqueline Rehm and Juergen Doelz were among those forced to evacuate, fleeing their rented house in the village of Todoque and moving to their small sail boat for seven weeks.

“We couldn’t save anything, none of the furniture, none of my paintings, it’s all under the lava now,” said Rehm, 49, adding that they would move to nearby Tenerife after Christmas. “I’m not sure it’s really over. I don’t trust this beast at all,” she said.

The volcanic roar that served as a constant reminder of the eruption may have subsided and islanders no longer have to carry umbrellas and goggles to protect against ash, but a mammoth cleanup operation is only just getting underway.

The government has pledged more than $453 million (400 million euros) for reconstruction but some residents and businesses have complained that funds are slow to arrive.

($1 = 0.8836 euros)

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NASA’s Revolutionary New Space Telescope Launched From French Guiana

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, built to give the world a glimpse of the universe as it existed when the first galaxies formed, was launched by rocket early Saturday from South America’s northeastern coast, opening a new era of astronomy.

The revolutionary $9 billion infrared telescope, hailed by NASA as the premiere space-science observatory of the next decade, was carried aloft inside the cargo bay of an Ariane 5 rocket that blasted off at about 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT) from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch base in French Guiana.  


The flawless Christmas Day launch, with a countdown conducted in French, was carried live on a joint NASA-ESA Webcast.


After a 27-minute ride into space, the 14,000-pound instrument was released from the upper stage of the French-built rocket, and it should gradually unfurl to nearly the size of a tennis court over the next 13 days as it sails onward on its own.


Live video captured by a camera mounted on the rocket’s upper stage showed the Webb moving gently away high above the Earth as it was jettisoned. Flight controllers confirmed moments later that Webb’s power supply was operational.


Coasting through space for two more weeks, the Webb telescope will reach its destination in solar orbit 1 million miles from Earth – about four times farther away than the moon. And Webb’s special orbital path will keep it in constant alignment with the Earth as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem.


By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth from 340 miles away, passing in and out of the planet’s shadow every 90 minutes.


Named after the man who oversaw NASA through most of its formative decade of the 1960s, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than Hubble and is expected to transform scientists’ understanding of the universe and our place in it.


Webb mainly will view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born, while Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.


Cosmological History Lesson


The new telescope’s primary mirror – consisting of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal – also has a much bigger light-collecting area, enabling it to observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back into time, than Hubble or any other telescope.


That, astronomers say, will bring into view a glimpse of the cosmos never previously seen – dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.


Hubble’s view reached back to roughly 400 million years following the Big Bang, a period just after the very first galaxies – sprawling clusters of stars, gases and other interstellar matter – are believed to have taken shape.


Aside from examining the formation of the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe, astronomers are eager to study super-massive black holes believed to occupy the centers of distant galaxies.


Webb’s instruments also make it ideal to search for evidence of potentially life-supporting atmospheres around scores of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and to observe worlds much closer to home, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.


The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. Northrop Grumman Corp was the primary contractor. The Arianespace launch vehicle is part of the European contribution.


Webb was developed at a cost of $8.8 billion, with operational expenses projected to bring its total price tag to about $9.66 billion, far higher than planned when NASA was previously aiming for a 2011 launch.


Astronomical operation of the telescope, to be managed from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, is expected to begin in the summer of 2022, following about six months of alignment and calibration of Webb’s mirrors and instruments.


It is then that NASA expects to release the initial batch of images captured by Webb. Webb is designed to last up to 10 years.


Posted by Ukrap on

Зеленський привітав християн західного обряду з Різдвом

У понад 140 країнах це державне свято, під час якого більшість населення не працює, як і в Україні

Posted by Ukrap on

В Україні минулої доби виявили 5 276 нових випадків COVID-19 – МОЗ

Минулої доби шпиталізували 1 689 людей, 15 639 – одужали, 268 людей померли

Posted by Ukrap on

Штаб: бойовики напередодні 5 разів порушили «тишу», біля лінії розмежування поранений нацгвардієць

Від ранку поточної доби порушень режиму припинення вогню не зафіксовано, вказують українські військові

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The Year in US Foreign Policy 

President Joe Biden came into office at a time when U.S. standing in the world had reached a record low point. Across 60 countries and areas surveyed by Gallup’s U.S. Leadership Poll during the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency, median approval of U.S. leadership stood at 22%.

Six months into Joe Biden’s presidency, American global standing had largely rebounded. According to Gallup’s August poll across 46 countries and territories, median approval of U.S. leadership stood at 49%.

Biden entered the presidency with a very low bar, said Thomas Schwartz, a historian of U.S. foreign relations at Vanderbilt University. “Outside of a very few countries, most significantly Israel and Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump was so disliked by most foreign leaders that simply not being Trump was an immediate advantage,” he said.

However, not being Trump could take Biden only so far, said Schwartz. Despite inheriting the deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan from his predecessor, Biden’s disastrous execution of the exit gravely damaged America’s credibility internationally and reputation for competence domestically.

“Terrorism has intensified, and the Taliban takeover has led to sanctions that have put Afghanistan in a position where it has an acute humanitarian crisis that could well lead to mass famine,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center. “And I think that this very precipitate, chaotic U.S. withdrawal is seen as links to those outcomes.”

The tumultuous withdrawal betrayed Western and other allies, including the increasingly educated women of Afghanistan who will suffer the most under the Taliban, said Kenneth Weinstein, Walter P. Stern distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute. It will make it harder for American presidents to ask our allies to sacrifice for common goals in the future, he added.

Weinstein pointed to the administration’s handling of the southern border as another failure. As the crisis grew, Weinstein said, the U.S. has returned to “watered-down versions of Trump administration policies that the Biden-Harris campaign denounced as inhumane in 2020.”

Is America back?

Following years of “America First” under Trump, Biden delivered a diametrically opposed message that America was back, returning to multilateralism and diplomacy as the main instruments of foreign policy, rejoining multilateral organizations, returning to withdrawn agreements and bringing more engagement on global issues including pandemic recovery and climate change.

“If the measure of success is global engagement and the baseline is 2020, then President Biden’s first year in office has been nothing short of restorative,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of U.S. and the Americas Program at Chatham House.

Responding to a question from VOA, White House press secretary Jen Psaki listed several achievements, saying the U.S. has reclaimed leadership on some of the biggest global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, while restoring alliances, resolving trade disputes with European countries, and elevating partnerships in the Indo-Pacific through the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) involving the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan, and AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership that includes the U.S., Australia and U.K.

AUKUS will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and promote cutting-edge three-nation collaboration on cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. “The deal could change the security dynamic of the Indo-Pacific if we can actually deliver the subs before their due date of 2042,” said the Hudson Institute’s Weinstein.

However, AUKUS’s launching blindsided France, a close ally, and scuttled the $66 billion conventional submarine deal Paris had underway with Australia. It was widely seen as another foreign policy blunder and an example of a disconnect between the administration’s messaging and policies.

The administration has shown very little regard for traditional allies and does not back its rhetoric with action that would be discernibly different or better than some of the isolationism seen under Trump, said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Rohac pointed also to the continuation of the European Union travel ban and tariffs months into the administration as other illustrations of the disconnect.

“Whether the president can bridge the gap between rhetoric and action is the most important question facing him today,” Rohac said.

China and Russia

Managing strategic competition with Beijing, a key doctrine of the Trump administration, remains the defining framework of the U.S.-China relationship under the current administration.

Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping virtually in November to discuss “ongoing effort to responsibly manage” a relationship that threatens to spiral out of control between two rivals competing in areas of trade, geopolitical influence and, more recently, military might.

The biggest thorn in this troubled U.S.-China relationship is the issue of Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

“The United States is asking China not to escalate pressure on Taiwan. China is asking the United States not to fiddle around with and test the limits of the One China policy,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, describing a key point in the Biden-Xi meeting. “Both countries are guilty as charged, and neither is in a position where it’s going to reconsider its policies.”

Meanwhile, Russia is not staying on the sidelines. In recent weeks President Vladimir Putin has mobilized tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border. He says he wants to prevent NATO’s eastward expansion — the main focus of the Biden-Putin virtual summit in December.

“What we’re seeing here is some behavior from the Russian Federation to remind the United States that it’s still there, it still has interests that it wants to pursue and that those interests can’t be ignored,” said Andrew Lohsen, fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Moscow recently outlined demands for a sweeping new security arrangement with the West, including a guarantee that NATO will not only cease expanding farther east but also will roll back all military activity in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus. It also included a ban on sending U.S. and Russian warships and aircraft to areas within striking distance of each other’s territory.

Russia wants Washington and Moscow “to sit down and draw up the world like it’s 1921 instead of like it’s 2021,” said Max Bergmann, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. The tough demands appear certain to be rejected by the U.S. and its allies, who insist that Moscow does not dictate NATO’s expansion.

The administration says it will continue to hold high-level talks with both Moscow and Beijing, not only to avoid conflict but also to collaborate on areas of common interest, such as the pandemic, climate change and regional issues like Iran.

So far, Biden’s two-track strategy of deterrence and diplomatic engagement has not led to grave setbacks or negative consequences, said Leslie Vinjamuri of Chatham House. “But defending the rules-based order in the context of power shifts and technological change — and in a world where the leading powers embrace radically different value systems — is a tall order and the future is uncertain,” she said.

Moreover, Putin’s threats to Ukraine and Xi’s crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, intimidation of Taiwan and allegedly genocidal policies toward the Uyghurs has fed the narrative of an administration too weak to stand up forcefully for American interests and values against aggressive adversaries, said Vanderbilt University’s Thomas Schwartz. “Iran’s continuing defiance and move toward acquiring a nuclear weapon strengthen this portrait,” he said.

Other unsolved problems include North Korea, where the administration appears in no hurry to push for a deal unless Kim Jong Un commits to winding down his nuclear weapons program, and simmering tensions between Israel and Hamas. More than one year following the Abraham Accords that normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and two of its Arab neighbors, the administration has reestablished ties with Palestinians severed under Trump but has made little progress in advancing the broader Middle East peace process.

Democracies vs autocracies

The administration frames relations with rivals in the context of a global struggle, drawing a fault line between democracies and autocracies.

“We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries that dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technical exploitation or disinformation,” Biden said in remarks at the U.N. General Assembly in September. “But we’re not seeking — say it again, we are not seeking — a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

A “Cold War mentality” is exactly what China and Russia accuse Washington of fostering. Their leaders were excluded from the Summit for Democracy where Biden hosted more than 100 countries on December 9-10. Xi and Putin held their own virtual meeting a week after the democracy summit.

While activists applaud the summit’s goals of “strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism,” combating corruption and promoting human rights, some analysts warn of overreach.

If Biden pushes his democracy-vs.-autocracy framing too far, there’s a danger of losing collaborative ground on global issues such as climate change with China and arms control with Russia, said Stacie Goddard, Mildred Lane Kemper professor of political science at Wellesley College. “Those are the types of global issues where you really do need that type of cross-ideological cooperation,” she said.

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The Year in US Foreign Policy

President Joe Biden came into office with the message “America is back,” and he promised that diplomacy would replace military power as the main instrument of U.S. foreign policy. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this recap of the U.S. president’s policies abroad in his first year in office.

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Chinese White Paper Seeks to Redefine Democracy 

U.S. efforts to counter what it sees as an erosion of democratic principles around the world are facing a new challenge from China, which is seeking to redefine the very word democracy and use it to describe its own one-party model of governance.

In a white paper issued days before U.S. President Joe Biden’s December 9-10 Summit for Democracy, Beijing’s State Council Information Office argues that its system — in which all power is firmly entrenched in the Chinese Communist Party — constitutes “a true democracy that works.”

U.S. analysts and political leaders are dismissing the claim, seeing it as a bid to make China’s diplomatic and economic outreach around the world more palatable to some of the countries where it seeks to invest and gain influence.

“In order to gain popularity and welcome, ultimately influence, in the international community, they decided to call themselves a democracy instead of changing practices to become one,” said Hu Ping, a onetime district councilor in Beijing who later edited China Spring and Beijing Spring, both U.S.-based journals focused on Chinese politics.

The release of the December 4 white paper, which was published in the China Daily, appears to have been timed to counter the Biden-hosted summit, which the U.S. State Department said was aimed principally at defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.

The white paper offers a very different notion of what democracy is. “Whole-process people’s democracy integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the state,” it says.

In a tacit acknowledgment that Beijing’s notion of democracy differs from what is more widely understood by the term, it said democracy “is a concrete phenomenon that is constantly evolving. Rooted in history, culture and tradition, it takes diverse forms and develops along the paths chosen by different peoples based on their exploration and innovation.”

Some elements of the treatise appear at odds with current practices in China, where President Xi Jinping is widely regarded as having set the stage this fall to remain in power indefinitely.

‘Orderly,’ lawful succession

“The best way to evaluate whether a country’s political system is democratic and efficient is to observe whether the succession of its leaders is orderly and in line with the law,” the white paper said.

And at the very time that Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai had disappeared from public view after leveling a charge of sexual abuse against a former party leader, it listed another benchmark for measuring democracy as “whether the public can express their requirements without hindrance.” Peng has since denied making the accusation under what many suspect to be political pressure.

Other benchmarks for measuring democracy in the document appear to contrast with the ruling party’s growing efforts to control most aspects of daily life, ranging from popular entertainment to private tutoring. These include “whether the exercise of power can be kept under effective restraint and supervision” and “whether the exercise of power is genuinely subject to public scrutiny and checks.”

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat who chairs the powerful House Rules Committee and co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told VOA the version of democracy described in the white paper is very different from what is understood in most of the world.

“Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the ability to change their government through free and fair elections, a freedom that the citizens of the People’s Republic of China are denied,” McGovern said in a written statement to VOA.

“Genuine democracy requires respect for all human rights, including freedom of assembly, association and speech, as well as freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, consent of the governed, and equal treatment before the law. None of these exist in China,” he said.

Attempt to shift focus

Jessica Ludwig, a China analyst at the National Endowment for Democracy, sees the white paper as an effort to decouple the meaning of democracy from the principles described by McGovern.

“A closer look at the language Beijing uses to describe the concept of democracy — emphasizing democracy as ‘whole-process’ and arguing that different systems should be able to co-exist — reflect an effort to redefine democracy as a weaker, more malleable concept,” she said in written replies to questions from VOA.

Beijing, she said, is trying to “shift the focus of how democracy is defined into narrower terms of what a government delivers and how efficient its processes are rather than by the values it protects and the accountability of its institutions.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Republican Party and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said China’s claim to be a democracy is contradicted by its treatment of its own people, including its crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong and its oppression of Tibetans and its Uyghur minority.

Known as one of the fiercest critics of Beijing, Rubio added that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “doesn’t have a shred of democratic legitimacy, no matter what they say.”

Shanghai-born historian Song Yongyi said in a phone interview that the CCP has claimed to be a champion of democracy since the 1940s, when the Mao Zedong-led party portrayed itself “as the true democratic force in China in order to get American support in the civil war” that ended with a communist victory in 1949.

Mao declared at that time that the political system run by the CCP was one of “people’s democratic dictatorship,” following the Leninist model, Song recalled.

Both Song and Hu believe the CCP knows as well as anyone what democracy means, then and now.

‘Worse than Mao’

The fact that “they know they’re not a democracy, and they know we know they’re not a democracy, and they still insist on calling themselves a democracy,” is consistent with increased confidence, or belligerence, on the part of the latest CCP leadership, Hu said.

“Back in the Mao era, Chinese leadership was very clear: we operate under a different model, and we’re in a battle against you,” Song said. He views the latest polemic as a bid to stress the democracy element while downplaying the dictatorship element of its governing model in order to better sell its policies to audiences at home and abroad and to undermine the Western concept of democracy.

“What they’re doing is worse than Mao,” he said, in that Mao was more honest about the true nature of the regime.

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Paris’ Notre-Dame Rector Offers Hope to Virus-Weary Worshippers

Worshippers in face masks filed into Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre Museum on Friday for Christmas Eve Mass and were greeted by the rector of the closed Notre-Dame Cathedral. 

It was the second year that holiday services were held under the shadow of the coronavirus. 

Everyone was masked, and members of the congregation sprayed people’s hands with disinfectant as they entered. Children in the choir sang while masked and spaced out across the podium. They had to produce negative coronavirus tests to participate.

“We have very strict rules in place,” said Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame, which has been closed since a devastating fire nearly three years ago. “The communion wafer is placed into worshippers’ hands, and there is no kiss of peace. There is no contact whatsoever.” 

Chauvet has been leading the congregation at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois while the cathedral is being repaired. 

In the lead-up to Christmas, France has recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus infections so far, and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been rising. But the government has held off on imposing curfews, closures or other restrictions for the festivities.

‘We have to live’

Maria Valdes, a dual Mexican-French citizen at Mass, said she was resigned to the restrictions of the pandemic. She has gotten used to the ever-changing rules and regulations in her private and public life.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have to live because this is a virus that isn’t just going to go away,” Valdes said. “Respect the rules, but we have to live.” 

Chauvet said before celebrating the Mass that much as the fire ravaged Notre-Dame, the pandemic has devastated communities, whole towns and families. The lockdowns and isolation have left people disoriented, tired and emotionally exhausted, he said.

“I meet with people who wonder if they are going to manage to get out of this situation, people who are sometimes losing hope,” he said.

“Christmas is hope,” Chauvet added. “We have to continue to fight, to reach the point where we can try to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

In September, the famed medieval cathedral was finally deemed stable and secure enough to start reconstruction from the blaze in April 2019 that tore through its roof and toppled its spire. Work on the spire started a few days ago, and authorities hope to have Notre-Dame open to visitors and religious services in 2024, the year Paris hosts the Olympics.

Carpenters, scaffolding experts, professional climbers, organ mechanics and others are taking part in the effort, which includes special temporary structures to secure the iconic towers, vaults and walls of the huge, roofless structure, and a special “umbrella” to protect it from the weather.

“It’s not simple,” Chauvet said of the work. But, he said, like people in his congregation will recover from the pandemic, the cathedral will recover its past glory. 

“The spire will be the same. The roof will be the same,” he said.

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More Than a Dozen Dead in Greece Migrant Boat Accidents

At least three people died when a migrant boat sank in the Aegean Sea on Friday, just hours after similar sinking claimed 11 lives, Greece’s coast guard said.

The latest tragedy, the third since Wednesday, came amid high smuggler activity not seen in Greek waters in months.

The coast guard said it found three bodies and rescued 57 people from a boat that overturned and sank near the island of Paros.

Hours earlier, 11 bodies were recovered from a boat that ran aground on an islet north of the Greek island of Antikythera on Thursday evening.

Ninety people stranded on the islet were rescued, including 27 children and 11 women, the coast guard said.

On Wednesday, a dinghy carrying migrants capsized off the island of Folegandros, killing at least three people.

Thirteen people were rescued, while dozens remain missing, Greek authorities said.

Survivors gave conflicting accounts: Some said there had been 32 people on board, while others put the number around 50, a coast guard official told AFP.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said the Folegandros accident was the worst in the Aegean Sea this year.

“This shipwreck is a painful reminder that people continue to embark on perilous voyages in search of safety,” said Adriano Silvestri, the UNHCR’s assistant representative in Greece.

Earlier Friday, the coast guard intercepted another boat with 92 men and boys on board after it ran aground on the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula.

Three suspected smugglers who fled the boat on foot were later arrested.

The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea in their attempt to reach Europe from January through November this year.

Nearly 1 million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the European Union in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey. 

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Judge Orders New York Times to Return Project Veritas Internal Memos

A New York state judge on Friday ordered The New York Times to return internal documents to the conservative activist group Project Veritas, something the newspaper said violates decades of First Amendment protections.

In an unusual written ruling, Justice Charles Wood of the Westchester County Supreme Court directed The New York Times to return to Project Veritas any physical copies of legal memos prepared by one of the group’s lawyers, and to destroy electronic versions.

Wood had entered a temporary order against the Times last month, drawing criticism from press freedom advocates.

Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe, has used what critics view as misleading tactics like secret audio recording to expose what it describes as liberal media bias. The group is the subject of a Justice Department probe into its possible role in the theft of a diary from President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, pages of which were published on a right-wing website.

Project Veritas objected to a Nov. 11 Times article that drew from the legal memos and purported to reveal how the group worked with its lawyers to “gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.”

Wood said in Friday’s ruling that the Project Veritas legal memos were not a matter of public concern and that the group has a right to keep them private that outweighs concerns about freedom of the press.

“Steadfast fidelity to, and vigilance in protecting First Amendment freedoms cannot be permitted to abrogate the fundamental protections of attorney-client privilege or the basic right to privacy,” Wood wrote.

A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal the ruling.

Sulzberger said the decision barred the Times from publishing newsworthy information that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting.

“In addition to imposing this unconstitutional prior restraint, the judge has gone even further (and) ordered that we return this material, a ruling with no apparent precedent and one that could present obvious risks to exposing sources should it be allowed to stand,” Sulzberger said.

Libby Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, said in a statement that The New York Times’ behavior was irregular and that the ruling affirms that view.

“The New York Times has long forgotten the meaning of the journalism it claims to espouse, and has instead become a vehicle for the prosecution of a partisan political agenda,” Locke said.

Project Veritas has been engaged in defamation litigation against the Times since last year, when the newspaper published a piece calling the group’s work “deceptive.”

The Times had not faced any prior restraint since 1971, when the Nixon administration unsuccessfully sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

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Biden Praised – and Criticized – for COVID-19 Battle in 2021

US President Joe Biden says defeating the coronavirus pandemic – both at home and around the world – is his top priority. VOA looks at how he handled this unprecedented global and domestic challenge during his first year as president, with this report from White House correspondent Anita Powell.

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Yes, There Is a Santa Claus — and COVID-19 Won’t Stop Him

Rest assured, kids of all ages: Santa’s coming this Christmas Eve, and a second holiday with COVID-19 won’t stop him. 

That’s the word from the joint U.S.-Canadian military operation that for 66 years has been tracking Jolly Old St. Nicholas on his global mission and has assured us all — first by land line and more recently by iPhone, Android, OnStar, Facebook, YouTube and more — that he’s on his way with a sleigh stuffed with toys and a welcome dose of joy. 

In what’s become its own wildly popular tradition, the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command provides real-time updates on Santa’s progress December 24, from 4 a.m. to midnight MST. NORAD’s Santa Tracker lets families watch Father Christmas in 3D as he transits the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. 

From deep inside NORAD headquarters, dozens of volunteers field an unrelenting wave of phone calls to 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723). They and other volunteers working off-site because of coronavirus distancing protocols will answer such questions as “When will he come to my house?” and “What kind of cookies does he like?” said program manager and NORAD spokesman Preston Schlachter. 

Want to watch? Visit https://www.noradsanta.org, check out #NORADTracksSanta and @NoradSanta on Twitter, or use the associated apps. You can also email noradtrackssanta@outlook.com for the latest. 

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden also participated in tradition, answering calls to the Santa tracking service. It is a long-standing tradition for first ladies, but the president joined this year as well. 

Even before Friday’s takeoff, the NORAD webpage had been visited more than 3 million times, Schlachter said. 

“Every household, every country is having to deal with the impact of this pandemic. Santa Claus is an icon, and he is a source of joy for a lot of people,” Schlachter said. 

For those worried about Santa’s safety — or their own — the bearded man likely will be wearing a mask at each stop, and of course he’s wearing gloves, Schlachter noted. For the technically inclined, NORAD’s website offers more data on the voyage (weight of gifts at takeoff: 60,000 tons, or 54,600 metric tons; sleigh propulsion: nine RP, or reindeer power). 

Like any good Christmas tale, the program’s origin has been told for generations.

In 1955, Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup — the on-duty commander one night at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command — answered a call from a child who dialed a number that was misprinted in an ad in a newspaper, thinking she was calling Santa. 

Shoup “answered the call, thought it was a prank at first, but then realized what had happened and assured the child that he was Santa, and thus started the tradition that we are celebrating now 66 years later,” Schlachter said. 

NORAD’s mission is to watch the skies above North America for any potential threats. Come early Christmas Eve, the Santa operation begins when a cluster of radar stations in northern Canada and Alaska pick up an infrared signature emanating from Rudolph’s nose. NORAD’s array of geostationary satellites above the Earth monitors the journey. 

It’s all shown on large, “unclassified” display screens in a festively decorated command post at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. Masked volunteers sit at tables equipped with telephones, garland, miniature Christmas trees, plenty of caffeine-laden candy and coffee — and hand sanitizer. 

“We Have the Watch” is NORAD’s military-mission motto. 

And when it comes to Santa, NORAD adds:

“Santa calls the shots. We just track him.” 

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Pope Celebrates Christmas Eve Mass, Urges Focus on Poor

Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass before an estimated 2,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, going ahead with the service despite the resurgence in COVID-19 cases that has prompted a new vaccine mandate for Vatican employees. 

A maskless Francis processed down the central aisle as the Sistine Chapel choir sang “Noel,” kicking off the Vatican’s Christmas holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. He remained maskless throughout the service. 

In his homily, Francis urged the faithful to focus on the “littleness” of Jesus, and remember that he came into the world poor, without even a proper crib. 

“That is where God is, in littleness,” Francis said. “This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.” 

Attendance on Friday was limited to about 2,000 people, far more than the 200 allowed in 2020 when Italy was in a full Christmas lockdown. But the number is a small fraction of the capacity of St. Peter’s, which can seat up to 20,000 and in pre-pandemic times would be packed for one of the most popular Vatican liturgies of the year. 

The “Midnight Mass” actually began at 7:30 p.m. local time, a nod to the 85-year-old pope’s endurance and a holdover from last year, when the service had to end before Italy’s nationwide COVID-19 curfew.

No curfew is in place this year, but cases this week have surged even beyond 2020 levels. For the second day in a row, Italy on Friday set a new pandemic daily record with 50,599 new cases. Another 141 people died, bringing Italy’s official death toll to 136,386. 

New mandate

With the arrival of the omicrom variant in Italy, the Vatican secretary of state on Thursday imposed a new vaccine mandate on all Vatican staff, extending it to all employees except those who have recovered from the coronavirus. Previously, only employees who dealt with the public directly had to be vaccinated, such as staff at the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guards, while others could access their offices with regular testing.

The mandate does not apply to the faithful attending Mass, but they are required to wear masks. Those attending Friday’s Mass, and the priests, bishops and cardinals concelebrating it, all wore masks. Francis, who is missing part of one lung and had intestinal surgery in July, has largely eschewed masks, even when greeting prelates and the general public.

“I’m not worried because first of all I have a mask on, and I’ve had my third dose so I feel relaxed,” said Franco Pasquali, a Rome resident attending the service. “The problem is those who don’t vaccinate, that’s all.” 

Francis is believed to have received the third booster shot, as has emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Francis has said vaccination is an “act of love” and he has called for wealthier countries to provide the shots to the developing world. 

Among those attending the Mass was Melissa Helland, an American tourist visiting Rome with her family.

“This is the first time in the last two years that we’ve been able to gather both as a family and to attend Mass because of the pandemic, so we are very excited and grateful,” she said before the service began.