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Spanish Civil War: Last surviving member of the International Brigades dies at 101 | News

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The international brigade volunteer Josep Almudéver, in Valencia, in an image from 2013.
The international brigade volunteer Josep Almudéver, in Valencia, in an image from 2013.JOSÉ JORDÁN

Josep Almudéver Mateu, a member of the International Brigades who fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, died May 23 at the age of 101 in France.

Born to Spanish parents who met in Marseille on the eve of World War I, Almudéver was one of the last survivors of the 45,000 volunteers who left their homes in 80 countries to fight against Francisco Franco’s armed forces that were backed by the German and Italian fascist regimes.

Sent to a concentration camp after Franco declared victory in 1939, he was forever haunted by the cries of his comrades shot while trying to escape. “I don’t know why, but they always made me watch the executions of those who attempted to escape from the concentration camp,” he told EL PAÍS in 2013. “I will never in my life forget the screams of the executed.”

Later, he would become a maqui – an anti-fascist guerrilla who carried on the fight against Franco until the early 1960s. In 1947, he was forced to flee to France and didn’t return to Spain until 1965.

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Almudéver would later relate his experiences to schoolchildren, students and scholars in high schools and universities. His father was a bricklayer and a militant and Almudéver assumed the mantle of both. When the Civil War broke out, he was just 16 and living with his family in Alcásser, the town his father had fled to before running into his mother, herself on a circus tour, in France. To enlist in the Republican Army, Almudéver lied about his age. When he was discovered, he was sent home. Almudéver returned to the front nevertheless, where he was wounded. Once he recovered, he seized the opportunity to join up again, this time with the Garibaldi Brigade, and was accepted as a Frenchman, translator and combatant.

When the International Brigades disbanded and left Spain after a decision taken by the Non-Intervention Committee, Almudéver made his own way back to Valencia. A year later, as the war ended, he fled with his father to the port of Alicante where he was caught and sent to the Albatera concentration camp.

Two years ago, Almudéver was honored by the regional government of Valencia “for being a living example of the memory of a history that must be kept alive in order to move towards a fuller and fairer democracy,” as the minister of participation, transparency, cooperation and democratic quality, Rosa Pérez Garijo, said at the time.

By that stage, Almudéver stated that he preferred not to talk in terms of a civil war because, in his opinion, it was not an armed conflict between Spaniards but an “international” struggle; a war that involved many countries, if not “the whole world.”

The former soldier pointed out that Nazi troops from Germany and fascist troops from Italy took part on Franco’s side. “The biggest lie is that it was a civil war,” he said. Almudéver also pointed out that the fight of a militiaman “represents the will of the Spanish working people” and when he was embroiled in the conflict this was something he considered “had to be defended against the fascists, no matter what.”

He also recalled how the French authorities never delivered the weapons purchased by the Republican government, claiming that the Non-Intervention Committee would not allow it, according to a passage from his book The Non-Intervention Pact. Poor Republic. Memoirs of the militiaman and international brigader José Almudéver Mateu.

Almudéver’s testimony and that of seven other volunteers of the International Brigades was the focus of the Italian documentary The Last Will Be First, directed by Pasquale D’Aiello, which records the search between 2015 and 2018 for the last Republican volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities

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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.



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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development

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Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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[Ticker] EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021

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The European Commission announced it is on track to share some 200 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 before the end of the year. It says the vaccines will go to low and middle-income countries. “We will be sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income countries by the end of this year,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

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