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Coronavirus live updates: White House asks everyone who recently left N.Y.C. area to self-quarantine

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President Trump said Tuesday that he wants to have the country “opened up” by Easter — April 12 — as he continued to press the case that the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak is more damaging to the economy than it’s worth.

Trump continued to express concerns that federal guidelines for social distancing, including the closure of some businesses, and other steps to mitigate the outbreak could go too far, despite warnings from public health experts that the restrictions may need to stay in place for weeks.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall broadcast from the Rose Garden at the White House. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

“Our people are full of vim and vigor and energy. They don’t want to be locked into a house or an apartment or some space,” Trump said. “It’s not for our country, and we are not built that way.”

During the broadcast, Trump said he reluctantly gave his blessing to the White House strategy of social distancing to “slow the spread” of the virus for 15 days and reiterated he will be reevaluating the wisdom of that approach in coming days.

“I gave it two weeks,” he said, noting the time frame will expire early next week. “We’ll assess at that time.”

He suggested dire consequences if at least some sectors of the economy are not restored.

“We’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,” Trump said. “The other people, you’re going to have suicide by the thousands, you’re going to have all sorts of things happen, you’re going to have instability. You can’t just come in and say let’s close up the United States of America, the biggest, the most successful country in the world by far.”

Speaking of the economy, Trump said, “The faster we go back, the better it’s going to be.”

Earlier in the town hall, Vice President Pence, appearing separately, urged viewers to continue to abide by the White House distancing guidance for the remainder of the 15 days. He said Trump has asked his coronavirus task to make recommendations about “what’s next.”

Pence said during the next phase, the federal government would remain focused on the “most vulnerable” while finding ways to “open America back up.”

“The president’s asked our team for recommendations about not how we do one or the other, but how we do both,” Pence said. “Over the months ahead, we’ll focus on our most vulnerable, but putting America back to work will also be a priority, as the president said, in weeks, and not months.”

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

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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

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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

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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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