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Biden order makes sexual harassment in military a crime******
US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday making sexual harassment a crime under the military justice code, in an attempt to relieve a long-term issue with which the Pentagon has struggled.
The move, called for in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon's annual budget package, pays homage to Vanessa Guillen.
The 20-year-old army soldier was murdered by a fellow soldier in 2020 after being sexually harassed and telling her family she did not trust the military command to follow up on her complaint.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the order "honors the memory of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen," whose death is "catalyzing national attention to the scourge of sexual violence in our military and helping advance bipartisan military justice reform."
Biden tweeted earlier in the day that he was "signing an Executive Order to make sexual harassment an offense in the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
The order is also meant to "strengthen the military's response to domestic violence and the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images," he said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had previously appointed an independent commission to submit recommendations as to how best to deal with perpetrators of sexual violence in the armed forces, and how to prosecute them more effectively.
The commission concluded that removing decisions about prosecuting sexual assault from the military chain of command was the only solution.
Instead of incurring administrative sanctions as was previously the case, perpetrators may receive prison time.
South Africa detects new COVID******
A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg on October 21.。
Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday they had detected a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers.。
The number of daily infections in Africa's hardest-hit country has increased tenfold since the start of the month.。
In response, Britain banned all travel from the country and five other southern African nations as concerns grow about the new variant, which scientists say could be more infectious than Delta and more resistant to current vaccines.。
"Unfortunately we have detected a new variant, which is a reason for concern in South Africa," virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a hastily called news conference.。
The variant, which goes by the scientific label B.1.1.529, "has a very high number of mutations," he said, adding that the World Health Organization may give it a Greek variant name – like the dominant Delta strain – on Friday.。
"It's unfortunately causing a resurgence of infections," he said.。
The variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, de Oliveira added.。
The WHO said it is "closely monitoring" the reported variant and is expected to meet on Friday to determine if it should be designated a variant of "interest" or of "concern."
"Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study," the WHO added.。
'A major threat'
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of "serious concern" and behind an "exponential" increase in reported cases, making it "a major threat."
The country's daily number of infections hit 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 106 earlier in the month.。
Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted a fourth wave to hit South Africa starting around the middle of December, buoyed by travel ahead of the festive season.。
The government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases said 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country.。
The NICD said the number of detected cases and the percentage testing positive are "increasing quickly" in three of the country's provinces including Gauteng, home to the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.。
A cluster outbreak was recently identified, concentrated at a higher education institute in Pretoria, the NICD added.。
Last year, the Beta variant of the virus first emerged in South Africa, although until now its infection numbers have been driven by Delta, which was originally detected in India.。
South Africa has the highest pandemic numbers in Africa with around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.。
Scientists said the new variant has at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta and three for Beta.。
"The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, said at a virtual press briefing.。
"It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines," she added.。
Neutralizing the variant is "complicated by the number of mutations this variant" contains, said one of the South African scientists Penny Moore.。
"This variant contains many mutations that we are not familiar with," she added.。
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said it will soon meet South African experts to discuss the variant.。
"There are so many variants out there but some of them are of no consequence on the trajectory of the epidemic," Africa CDC head John Nkengasong told a news conference on Thursday.。
Russia accuses US of funding biological weapons research in Ukraine******
Russia on Thursday accused the United States of funding research into the development of biological weapons in Ukraine.
Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a televised briefing that "the purpose of this – and other Pentagon-funded biological research in Ukraine – was to establish a mechanism for the stealthy spread of deadly pathogens."
Konashenkov claimed the ministry had obtained documents detailing US military-biological activities in Ukraine, including on the transfer of Ukrainians' biomaterial abroad.
He said Washington "planned to carry out research on bird, bat and reptile pathogens," as well as on African swine fever and anthrax.
"Bio-laboratories set up and funded in Ukraine have been experimenting with bat coronavirus samples," Konashenkov added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a press conference later Thursday following talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba repeated the claim, saying Washington had funded development of biological weapons in Ukraine.
"The Americans carried out this work in complete secrecy. Just like how they work in other former Soviet states, creating their military-biological labs right along Russia's borders," he said.
Both Washington and Kiev have denied the existence of laboratories intended to produce biological weapons in the country.
Russia has repeatedly accused the United States of secretly carrying out biological experiments in a lab in Georgia, another former Soviet republic, which like Ukraine aims to join NATO and the European Union.