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Estonia Appoints First Female Prime Minister

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Pro-business europhile Kaja Kallas is to be Estonia’s first female prime minister after parliament on Monday voted in her new coalition.

Kallas, a 43-year-old former MEP and leader of the Reform Party, is the daughter of the Baltic state’s former prime minister Siim Kallas.

She will govern in a coalition with the Centre Party of outgoing prime minister Juri Ratas.

Her government will command 59 seats in Estonia’s 101-member parliament and won the backing of 70 MPs in Monday’s confidence vote after garnering support from the Social Democrats.

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Speaking to parliament as the small Baltic eurozone state struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic, Kallas vowed “to keep Estonia as open as possible, so that people could go to work, and children to school, and the economic activity could continue.”

She said that her “government will be like a tightrope walker over an abyss, always watching their balance” between controlling the pandemic and allowing economic activities.

The new government will be sworn in on Tuesday.

Ratas resigned earlier this month after his party came under investigation for corruption.

The far-right EKRE party which had been in coalition with Ratas is now out of government.

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Kallas’s party came first in parliamentary elections in 2019 but did not win an outright majority and then failed to build a coalition.

During her time at the European Parliament between 2014 and 2018, she was regularly included on lists of the most influential MEPs.

She is a passionate proponent of innovation who argues that regulations must not hinder the digital technological revolution.

Focused on the rights of small and medium-sized businesses, Kallas believes that borders in the digital world prevent innovative companies from emerging.

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The Reform and Centre parties have alternated in government over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Both strongly support Estonia’s EU and NATO membership, which they see as a buffer against Soviet-era master Russia.

They have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country of 1.3 million people one of the eurozone’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratios.

AFP

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France Sets To Change Sexual Consent To 15 Years

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France Sets To Change Sexual Consent To 15 Years

The French government has set up plans to change the age of sexual consent at 15 and make it easier to punish long-ago child sexual abuse.

The move has long been supported by victims of sexual abuse and child protection activists pushed for tougher laws and greater societal recognition of the problem of sexual abuse and this new development has been welcomed by them.

The Justice Ministry said systematic sexual abuse is “intolerable”, adding that “the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes that our society expects.”

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“An act of sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under 15 will be considered a rape,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Tuesday, Feb 9, on France-2 television.

Perpetrators could no longer cite consent to diminish the charges, he said, though exceptions would be made for teenagers having consensual sex.

The change still needs to be enshrined in law, but the announcement is a major step.

“It’s very good that there is this revived debate, that there is an idea of a minimum age (of consent),” said Fatima Benomar, whose group Les Effrontees has pushed for stronger laws against sexual abusers. “This will make adults more responsible.”

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An effort to set France’s first age of consent three years ago in the wake of the global #MeToo movement failed amid legal complications. But it has gained new momentum since accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel. That unleashed an online #MeTooInceste movement in France that led to tens of thousands of similar testimonies.

The Justice Ministry is in discussions with victims’ groups about toughening punishment of incestuous abuse and extending or abolishing the statute of limitations on sexual violence against children, because it creates such deep trauma that it can take decades for victims to speak out. The law currently allows child victims to file complaints until they are 48.

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The ministry also says it wants “to ensure that victims of the same perpetrator do not receive different legal treatment,” which could broaden the scope to prosecute those accused of abusing multiple people over decades.

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Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Relationships As New Law Takes Effect

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Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Relationships As New Law Takes Effect

A new law decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations has gone into effect in Angola.

A new law decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations went into effect Wednesday, Feb 10, in Angola.

The new law overturned a colonial-era “vice against nature” provision that was seen as a ban on homosexual relations.

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The changes were passed in January 2019 by Angola’s parliament, but was not signed into law by the country’s president until November 2020. It went into effect on Feb 10, 2021.

The new law also prohibits discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation.

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The changes came from the first rewriting of the country’s penal code since gaining independence in 1975. Angola had previously been a colony of Portugal, and the amended laws had been a remnant of the colonial-era rule that encouraged discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

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According to Human Rights Watch, the previous laws on same-sex sexual relations had been rarely prosecuted, but served as a basis for undue scrutiny and discrimination. The new law includes imprisonment of up to two years for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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Orthodox Church Under Pressure As Six-week-old Baby Dies During Baptism

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Romania Orthodox Church

The Romania Orthodox Church is facing growing pressure to change baptism rituals style after a  six-week-old baby died following a ceremony earlier this week.


The baby boy reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest during the Baptism on Monday and was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later, with autopsy revealing liquid in his lungs. 

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Prosecutors have now opened a manslaughter investigation against the priest in the north-eastern city of Suceava.

An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening.

“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”

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Due to several similar incidents in recent years, Church spokesman, Vasile Banescu had suggested that priests pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of immersing infants three times in holy water. But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.

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More than 80% of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.

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Trump Hires New Defence Team Ahead Of Impeachment trial

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Former U.S. president Donald Trump has hired a new defence team shortly before his second impeachment trial is due to start.

The defence will be led by David Schoen and Bruce Castor, Trump’s office said late on Sunday.

Broadcaster CNN had reported earlier that Trump’s initial defence team of five lawyers would not be representing the Republican after all, citing differences over his legal strategy.

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CNN cited sources as saying Trump wanted the attorneys to pursue unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud instead of questioning the legitimacy of impeachment proceedings against a president who has already left office.

The attorneys had so far not received any advance payments, and no letter of intent was ever signed, according to CNN.

The announcement from Trump’s office said that Schoen and Castor agree that the trial against Trump is unconstitutional.

A large majority of Republicans in the Senate also recently took this view.

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Trump is facing an unprecedented second impeachment trial over the deadly storming of the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Lawmakers have accused Trump of inciting an insurrection after a violent mob of his supporters attacked the Congress building following one of his rallies, leading to the deaths of five people.

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The trial, which is similar to a court proceeding with the senators functioning as jurors, is set to begin during the week of Feb. 8.

A two-thirds majority is needed to obtain a conviction in the Senate and subsequently bar Trump from running for office again. (dpa/NAN)

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5,000 Artefacts Retrieved From US, says Egypt

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Egypt announced Wednesday that it had retrieved some 5,000 ancient items from the United States, after years of negotiations to return what it said were fraudulently acquired items.

In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed the “arrival at Cairo airport of a large number of ancient Egyptian items which had been in the possession of the Museum of the Bible in Washington”.

The items, totalling nearly 5,000, mainly consisted of manuscripts, but also included funeral masks, parts of coffins and the heads of stone statues, said Chaabane Abdeljawad, an official quoted in the statement.

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The items, which left Egypt in a fraudulent manner, would be placed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, the statement added.

It was not clear how the items left Egypt illegally or ended up at the museum in Washington, but Egyptian authorities negotiated their return over several years.

Many treasured items were damaged, destroyed or illegally whisked out of the country during the popular uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

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