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Norway turns left, elects Støre as new leader

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After eight years, Erna Solberg’s tenure as prime minister ended last night: Norway made a left turn and a centre-left government will take over.

Shortly after 11PM on Monday (13 September), Solberg placed a congratulatory call to Jonas Gahr Støre, the leader of the Arbeiderpartiet (Labour party) and the all-but certain next prime minister of the country.  

In his victory speech, Støre underlined that a large majority of Norwegians voted for a change in government. The five parties on the left on the political spectrum are poised for a sizeable majority in Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament – as many as 100 out of 169 seats, according to preliminary results.

Støre said he will now start negotiating with the two parties that make up what he calls his “dream coalition” – SV (the Socialist Left party) and Senterpartiet (the Centre party). This would mean a restoration of the last centre-left government from 2005 to 2013. 

The preliminary results show that the three parties will get more than the 85 seats required for a majority in Stortinget. Had he fallen short, Støre would also have needed support from the MDG (Green party) and the old Maoist party Rødt (the Red party).

While the election result is a big victory for Støre personally, whose leadership tenure has been haunted by the 2017 election defeat, his Arbeiderpartiet only received 26.4 percent of the vote.

This is the worst election result for Norway’s leading social democratic party in 20 years, and the second straight election where the party’s share of the vote decreased. 

Who is Norway’s new PM?

Støre does not fit the profile of a traditional social democratic politician.

He is one of the richest politicians in Norway. He was educated at the elite Science Po academy in Paris and speaks fluent French.

He started out in politics as an advisor to prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 90’s and became foreign minister in 2005.

He will need all his skills as a negotiator when he prepares to form a government and build his political platform. And that will not be easy, because there are serious differences between the three parties.

Norway’s relationship with the EU will be one of the biggest issues. Arbeiderpartiet is a strong defender of the existing ‘European Economic Area’ trade agreement, but SV and Senterpartiet want to renegotiate the arrangement.

While early exit polls made it clear that Solberg would no longer be prime minister and Støre would take over, the election did not lack drama.

Four parties fought a hard battle against the four percent election threshold, which gives political parties a chance to compete for 19 at-large seats in Stortinget. For the first time Rødt, the old Maoist party, received eight seats, up from one today.

Meanwhile, two junior parties in Solberg’s government had a long night watching the results trickle in.

KrF (the Christian party) could not quite make it, with just 3.8 percent, while Venstre (the Liberal party) could celebrate with 4.5 percent, in what was otherwise a disappointing election for the right.

The MDG (Green party) fell just short, which was a surprise for the party’s leadership.

Climate change

Meanwhile, after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published in August, climate change became the most debated issue in the run-up to the Norwegian election.

Norway has three parties who deem themselves “climate parties” – Venstre, SV, and MDG.

All three gained in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election, but as votes were counted it was clear they all underperformed.

Even so, the election campaign showed that almost all political parties in Norway are seriously engaged on the climate issue.

And while Solberg lost her bid for a historic third straight term as prime minister, she made a promise in her speech to the party faithful in Oslo: We will be back in 2025.

Solberg’s future

She will now return to being the leader of the Conservative party in parliament. She is the party’s longest serving prime minister and, at just 60 years old, speculation about her political future will only increase in the months ahead.

There is a tradition that former Norwegian prime ministers end their career with a post on the international stage, just as Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has done, and there will, no doubt, be expectation about her candidacy for various international roles.

Solberg’s government will remain in place until October, when the new government is expected to be formed.

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Covid travel rules: US to ease travel restrictions for international visitors: what we know so far | USA

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A plane taking off from Dulles International Airport in Washington in September 2020.
A plane taking off from Dulles International Airport in Washington in September 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

As US President Joe Biden was addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week – at which a number of representatives from countries laboring under coronavirus travel restrictions were in attendance – amid the barely concluded evacuation from Afghanistan and a deepening diplomatic crisis with France, the White House announced that as of November, requirements to enter the US will change.

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients, explained that under the new guidelines, people from countries on the no-travel list will be able to enter the country again.

There is as yet no definitive date for the lifting of restrictions and no clear protocol regarding children who are not eligible for vaccination, but there are some firm points in place. Will quarantine be necessary? Will travelers have to undergo tests before or after arrival? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Countries that will be cleared for travel to the United States

Travel to the US will be resumed for 33 countries that are currently not permitted direct entry. The nations that will be allowed to travel to the US are those in the Schengen area (22 members of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India. People arriving at US entry points by air must show proof of vaccination as well as a negative Covid-19 test. Quarantine on arrival will not be required.

Negative tests

Travelers must provide a negative Covid-19 test conducted within three days of boarding a flight to the US.

What happens if I am not vaccinated?

Entry to the United States will be denied to non-vaccinated people. Two weeks must have elapsed between the final dose of the vaccine and travel to the US.

What if I’m a US citizen and have decided not get a vaccine?

US citizens who have elected not to get vaccinated must take a Covid-19 test within one day of boarding a US-bound flight and another one on arrival in the country.

New contact tracing system

Airlines will collate contact information (phone numbers and email addresses) to be able to reach passengers and warn them if they have potentially been exposed to the virus during their flight. Airlines must retain this information for 30 days.

Travelers can fly directly to the US

Under current restrictions, travelers from countries where restrictions applied could spend 14 days in a country not on the no-fly list (without having to quarantine) and then enter the United States. This will no longer be necessary to travel to the US.

Which vaccines are accepted as valid to enter the US?

Vaccines accepted by the US must be approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization or the US Food and Drug Administration. At the present time, these include Pfizer/BioNtech, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac/Coronavac.

Among the vaccines that have not received WHO approval are Sputnik V, Novavax, Abdala and Soberana.

Land borders will remain closed

With exception of essential journeys, US land borders with Mexico and Canada will remain closed for travel at least until the end of October. Among the reasons considered essential by the US embassies in those countries are medical purposes, work, public health, legal cross-border commerce, diplomatic travel, official government trips and military deployments.

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‘My future is overseas’: Tunisians look to Europe as Covid hits tourism | Global development

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The seafront along the town of Hammamet in Tunisia is deserted. Looking out at the bright empty coast from his souvenir shop, Kais Azzabi, 42, describes the crowds that would stroll along the broad boulevards. Today, there is nobody.

“It was very busy here,” he says, gesturing to the street and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. “Since the corona started, everything stopped.”

Blasted by revolution, terror attacks and political instability, the pandemic has all but delivered a death blow to Tunisia’s embattled tourism sector, a former economic staple. Many of its employees are now looking across the sea for opportunities to build new lives in Europe.

Beyond the resorts, recent political events have done little to instil confidence in hotel workers. A presidential power grab in July, which suspended parliament, ousted the chief of government (prime minister), and put former constitutional law professor and political independent Kais Saied into office, has yet to deliver a new long-term vision for the country.

Amine*, 20, sits on the empty beach outside one of the resort’s imposing white hotels. The lifeguard from nearby Tazerka pushes a half-dead fish around a bucket as his friend wades into a lively sea in search of more.

“There were some Tunisian guests here earlier, but it’s dead now,” he says, through an interpreter, looking to the empty beach huts and stacks of unused loungers. “My future is overseas,” he says, remaining vague on how he might get there. “All my friends have gone [to Europe],” he says. “Tazerka is empty. All the nearby towns are empty. Everyone has gone.”

In August, migrant arrivals in Italy from Tunisia were up about 75% on the previous year. According to the International Organization for Migration, this marked “the highest number of departures since the aftermath of the 2011 revolution”. Among them, were 502 unaccompanied minors, as well as a further 138 travelling with at least one member of their family, suggesting that these were not temporary relocations.

In another part of Tazerka, Ramzi, 20, sells melons from the back of his father’s truck on the roadside. Every day, he travels with his father and cousins 150km (90 miles) from Kairouan to sell fruit. They can only do this during the summer months, surviving the winter on whatever they have saved in the tourist season or from occasional work his father can find in construction. Covid-19 has made a desperate situation worse, Ramzi’s father, Nouredinne, says.

“I only want to go to Europe,” Ramzi says. “I’ve been wanting to go there for five or 10 years.” One of his cousins, Wassim, shouts over that he has never had any goal other than to get to Europe since he was a child.

The only thing stopping them is money. “You need around 3,500 TD [Tunisian dinar], but that’s risky. If you have more, it’s more secure,” Wassim says, through an interpreter.

While coronavirus has hammered Tunisia’s economy, its tourism sector has been hardest hit. Even before the pandemic, the country’s sprawling identikit resorts, relying as they do on package tourism, were in trouble. Battered by revolution in 2011, a devastating terror attack in 2015 and subsequent travel bans, the country’s tourism sector had long ceased to offer the security it promised in the 1960s.

“Before the pandemic, the tourism sector represented around 7% of GDP,” says economist Radhi Meddeb. “Consolidated with the ancillary activities of transport, catering, leisure and crafts, its contribution increases to 14%.”

However, he adds: “If the trends observed so far continue until the end of the year, the contribution of the tourism sector to GDP will probably be negative, around -1% to -1.5% of GDP.”

Despite the best efforts of hoteliers, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. Before the pandemic, more than half a million people were employed in tourism and its support services. Recent events, not least the travel bans imposed in response to Tunisia’s escalating Covid death rate, have put pay to much of that.

With the economy not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels for some time, tourism in Tunisia “will never be what it was before the crisis”, says Meddeb, evidenced by the rows of abandoned hotels along the coast at Hammamet, Sousse, Monastir and beyond, signalling an end to the all-inclusive package holidays they once provided. “The Tunisian tourism model will have to reinvent itself.”

Back on the beach, Amine continues to push his solitary dying fish around the bucket. “You can see Pantelleria [Italian island] from my village,” he says. Asked how he’ll get there, he says “I’ll swim”.

* Full names not used to protect identities

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Navalny to get EU human-rights prize

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The European Parliament has formally nominated Russian dissident Alexei Navalny for this year’s ‘Sakharov’ human-rights prize. “It is vital that we in the European Parliament confirm our relentless support for Navalny and stress that his wellbeing is the responsibility of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Peter van Dalen, a Dutch centre-right MEP said in plenary Monday. Putin tried to kill Navalny with poison then jailed him in a remote penal colony.

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