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An unreal city: lockdown in London | World news



How does it feel to be locked down in the largest urban centre in western Europe? Well, it certainly looks different from the skies. I live on the steepest hill in south London, a hill so steep that in pre-coronavirus times it would draw swarms of angry bankers on £4k touring bikes, clinging to its spine like thirsty wasps around a lime tree.

On day one of London lockdown the hill is empty, the city below unnaturally silent. From here you can see the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the grey outline of Muswell Hill to the north and the full range of postmodern skyscrapers in between. You can hear the hum of London’s traffic and the twin flightpaths of Heathrow and City airports.

Not today, though. Rarely can six million people have been this quiet on a Tuesday morning. From up here, London has entered standby mode. But look a little closer and the body is still breathing, the streets humming with an insubordinate inner life.

On Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, people are walking three abreast, carrying out essential trips to the deli and the cheese shop. Builders are refitting shop fronts. Essential group-jogging is taking place. Insanely – and how insane that this should seem insane – the chip shop with the tables is open for business.

Even the Thames looks quiet. The City’s skyscrapers loom over a locked-down central London.

Even the Thames looks quiet. The City’s skyscrapers loom over a locked-down central London. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Closer to town, people are playing football in Ruskin Park, on Denmark Hill. Demob-happy kids are strolling in groups on the Old Kent Road. In Camberwell, it’s like a moderately busy rush hour – not just for the NHS staff thronging dutifully into Kings College hospital, but for the people milling about the shops or crowding by the park entrance, people those same staff may soon be asked to treat.

This is not, by any stretch of the word, a lockdown. Not much has been locked. Nobody seems that down. The plague laws may be back on the streets, dusted off after 500 years on the shelf. But London still doesn’t seem to have really noticed.

Perhaps there is still a degree of shock at just how rapid the journey here has been. Thirteen days ago, 55,000 people, 3,000 of them from Madrid, were watching football in Liverpool. Three days ago, people were still thronging the restaurants and pubs.

Even now, on lockdown Day Zero, East Street market is rammed with shoppers drawn to the fish and fruit stalls. People have to eat but there is not much distancing here.

East Street Market, Walworth, south London: shopping continues despite the lockdown.

East Street market, Walworth, south London: shopping continues despite the lockdown. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

On nearby Walworth Road, a building has collapsed and police and fire engines are present, along with a curious, milling crowd of people who have just popped out for a fag and a chat, the two south London must-haves of bronchial virus season.

At times like these it is hard to avoid the disaster movie images, the deja vu of virus flick montages, even those tempting wartime parallels. In his poem MCMXIV, Philip Larkin wrote about the queues of eager, smiling young volunteers signing up to fight in the first world war, a happy, prosperous crowd “grinning as if it were all an August Bank Holiday lark”.

The theme of Larkin’s poem was innocence lost. This feels more like a failure of communication, like the most dysfunctional, libertarian version of lockdown; and like something entirely inadequate for a city of this scale.

It was not like this everywhere.

The Guardian’s photographs from around the UK on Tuesday show mounted police patrolling a ghostly South Bank on the Thames. Glasgow Central station is deserted. Small-town streets across the country show evidence of civic-minded abandonment. The motorways in particular are frightening places, empty arteries dotted with the odd worried-looking car.

But big cities, or at least the parts people live in, are an uncontrolled environment at the best of times.

Mounted police on London’s South Bank – an area usually thronged with people.

Mounted police on London’s South Bank – an area usually thronged with people. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

This needs a more ruthless kind of micromanagement. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested under the current definition 1.1 million Londoners count as key workers (now including people such as bicycle mechanics as well as nurses and heart surgeons).

The other eight million Londoners still need to go shopping. Meanwhile, the details of the shutdown are hazy on such a huge scale. London is thronged with fast food shacks, chicken cottages, kebab houses, pizza gaffs. Entire rows of these are now shut, and people really are going to have to get used to cooking.

But the hardware shops are still spilling out on the pavement. You can still buy homeopathic remedies from the health shop. Dog walking gets a pass, which makes owning a dog suddenly an A-list accessory, key to trebling your personal freedom at a stroke.

As for going shopping “for necessities”: define necessity, which could mean anything from a perfectly foamed cortado to five tins of spam in the trolley, to a reliable, safe supply of crack cocaine and heroin.

Glasgow Central railway station, almost deserted.

Glasgow Central railway station, almost deserted. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

In the supermarket on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, south London a middle-aged cashier is keeping order as furtive human shapes grab things from the shelves. The entrance is full of street people, drinkers, people with nowhere else to go. An unsteady-looking man in a long overcoat has already chased the security guard to the back of the shop. “Don’t be upset, darling,” the cashier says in a warm, churchy kind of voice. “Now you’re going to have to stand back. Yes, back. Thank you, darling.”

This is not simply operating a till and stacking shelves. Social care is happening here. The cashier says her daughter is at home with her grandmother. Today, she’s finally been allowed to download TikTok. As they leave the shop, people thank her for coming in to work. It feels like they’re thanking her for something else, for sounding like someone is at least in control.

The class divide is also working in lockdown. In Dulwich Park, the proscribed single form of exercise appears to be buggy-pushing shuttle sprints or immaculately turned-out middle-aged power jogs. In Burgess Park, between Camberwell and Bermondsey, it’s gathering round a bench lifting a cold purple tin and occasionally shouting at each other.

These are Londoners too. Where are they supposed to go? Where are kids who don’t want to be at home supposed to go, or people who just have a shared room, or a shared space with someone they try to avoid?

Day one felt like a light-touch London lockdown. The edges will undoubtedly tighten. As in other cities, this is a staged process. It will need to be, if there is any hope of flattening that infernal curve, the curve nobody really knew about two weeks ago but which is now the subject of fevered digital expertise.

London has a deep, buried history of plague laws, of wardens wandering the streets, of crosses on doors and houses shuttered and bolted. This is surely coming again in some form. Although exactly how this restless, tightly packed, defiantly distracted place will cope with the key being turned is anyone’s guess.

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Iran Agency Says Chain of Errors Caused Ukrainian Plane Crash | World News




DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation blamed a misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air defence operator and his commanders for the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January that killed 176 people aboard.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight with a ground-to-air missile on Jan. 8 shortly after the plane took off from Tehran,in what Tehran later acknowledged as a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.

“A mistake in aligning the radar system had caused human error. An operator had forgotten to re-adjust the direction on the radar system after moving to a new position, an error that contributed to misreading the radar’s data,” an interim report on the Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO) website said.

The CAO report, which was published on late Saturday, said the missile battery that targeted the passenger plane had been relocated and “was not properly reoriented”.

The downing occurred at a time of high tension between longtime foes Iran and the United States. Iran was on alert for attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing on Jan. 3 of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

“A failure occurred after the relocation of one of the air defence units of Tehran  … It occurred because of a human error,” the CAO report said, adding that the plane was detected by the system as a target approaching Tehran.

The operator of the air defence system “lacked awareness of the relocation of the air defence unit”, and fired the two missiles without authorisation from the command centre, the report said.

“When the first missile was fired, the passenger plane was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory,” the report added.

Last month, Iran said the black boxes of the Boeing 737-800 airliner will be sent to France, to be analysed starting July 20.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Hagia Sophia mosque move | World news




Pope Francis has said he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pontiff said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.

On Saturday the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano carried reaction from various countries to Friday’s decision, without making any comment.

A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced on Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on 24 July at the Unesco world heritage site.

In the past, he has repeatedly called for the building to be redesignated as a mosque, and in 2018 he recited a verse from the Qur’an at Hagia Sophia.

Erdoğan’s announcement came after a court cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

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EU leaders are split over coronavirus recovery | World news




Lockdown has proved challenging for most workplaces, and the European Council is no different. All-night sessions, corridor huddles and fine dining in the glass Europa building in Brussels have been replaced with hours staring at a gallery of fellow heads of state reading out prepared lines in front of a backdrop of EU and national flags – and the odd bit of pop art, as in the case of Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel.

But this week, leaders will be forced to switch off their laptops and make their way across recently reopened borders to Brussels for their first face-to-face meeting in five months – and it is set to be a bruising encounter.

With the continent heading into a recession not seen since the 1930s, the EU’s institutional heads, the presidents of the European commission and council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, have struggled to find consensus between sparring member states over both a long-term budget and a huge one-off economic stimulus. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, Emmanuel Macron, have given their backing to a €750bn (£675bn) pandemic recovery fund. But “frugal” northern states have raised issues. Efforts to placate them have angered Hungary’s nationalist prime minister and the European parliament.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have backed the €750bn pandemic recovery fund. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

“It became obvious deals weren’t going to be made online,” said one EU official. “You need the work in the margins, bilaterals and discussions between advisers to find the common ground. It needed a physical meeting.”

But the set-up will be far from normal this weekend. The usual back-slapping and cheek-kissing will be replaced by social distancing in the presence of mask-wearing aides. The army of reporters that flock to the summits has also been banned from taking the usual seats in the expansive foyer of the Justus Lipsius building next door to the Europa.

The European commission forecasts an 8.3% drop in economic activity across the EU this year followed by a 5.8% rebound in 2021 but countries are expected to emerge from the crisis at starkly different speeds, risking a breakdown in the bloc’s single market as the disparity between Europe’s haves and have-nots is exacerbated

In Brussels’ latest proposal, Michel, a former Belgian prime minister said to have had a lacklustre first year in his role chairing leaders’ debates, only appeared to stir up new problems.

In response to the unapologetically “frugal” positions taken by Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ prime minister, Michel tabled a €25bn smaller seven-year budget than last proposed, through which day-to-day programmes including the common agricultural policy are funded.

He also suggested greater accountability for countries seeking cash from the separate recovery pot, which is to be partly financed through issuing joint EU debt. But the move to placate the Dutch ended up annoying Hungary and Europe’s parliament.

One of the big tasks facing Brussels is bridging the demand for financial relief from countries such as Italy and Spain, whose economies are in freefall due to the pandemic, and maintaining the faith of sceptical taxpayers in the richer north. “Are European governments ready for their business to be our business?” asked one EU diplomat from a northern state.

Confirming EU officials’ predictions that the leaders faced a “very difficult” meeting, with doleful diplomats fearful that the talks starting on Friday will drag on into Sunday, Michel’s plan to find the right balance drew immediate fire from countries outside the “frugal four” of the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, who have hitherto made Michel’s life difficult by demanding less spending and tighter controls.

Following Michel’s suggestion that the commission be joined by the European court of auditors, the EU’s financial watchdog, in reporting on the governance of member states seeking recovery cash, and making funding conditional on backing from a qualified majority of member states, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán was first to go on the attack.

Speaking on state-owned Kossuth Rádió, Orbán threatened to scupper both the long-term budget and the recovery fund if “rule of law” strings were attached to funds, telling reporters “there will not be an economic restart, there will not be a budget, there will be drawn-out debates”.

“Let’s put this debate aside now,” Orbán said. “Let’s resolve the economic problems, restart our economies, start creating jobs, then we can continue the rule of law debates.”

Hungary and Poland could be big winners from the recovery fund but are facing proceedings over concerns that changes to their judicial systems have undermined the independence of their judges and breach EU treaties.

There was also rejection of Michel’s proposals from the European parliament’s negotiators, who disapprove of cuts to the budget known as the multi-annual financial framework.

Both the budget and recovery fund have to be approved by MEPs. A cross-party group has been tasked with finding a package that can command a majority in the chamber. The European parliament has strongly advocated a significantly larger budget for the bloc than Michel’s proposal of €1.074tn over seven years.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has threatened to scupper any budget deal that comes with ‘rule of law’ strings attached. Photograph: Janek Skarżyński/AFP/Getty Images

Rasmus Andresen, a Green MEP who is the only German budget negotiator for the parliament, told the Observer that Michel’s proposal would be swiftly voted down if it came to the chamber. He said: “We need a strong budget and if you want to deal with the future challenges you need to invest and it is not enough to have a recovery fund for three or four years.

There is a lot of criticism in the parliament and it will be much louder when colleagues are analysing what it means.”

If this week’s meeting fails to find common ground, a second has been pencilled in for the last week of July, with Merkel insisting the EU must resolve the problem by the summer.

Rutte – whose country would benefit from Michel’s proposed retention of its budget rebate and €5bn reserve set aside should the UK end its relationship with the EU without a new deal – said he would “handle” any criticism at this week’s summit.

“I’m not made of marzipan,” he said. “It is starting to go our way.”

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