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Judge approves extradition of former Honduras president to US | Drugs News

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Juan Orlando Hernandez, who faces drug trafficking and firearms charges, has three days to appeal the decision.

A Honduran judge has authorised the extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States on drug-trafficking and firearms charges.

The decision was announced on Wednesday on the Twitter account of the Central American country’s judicial authority.

Hernandez, who was arrested in mid-February following the US extradition request, has three days to appeal the judge’s decision, according to a judicial spokesperson.

US authorities say that the right-wing former leader participated in a drug-trafficking scheme between 2004 and 2022.

He is also accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to protect drug traffickers from investigation and prosecution, and carrying, using, or aiding and abetting the use of weapons.

Hernandez, who was replaced as president in January by leftist Xiomara Castro, has denied any wrongdoing.



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As Australia votes, cost of living a key concern | Business and Economy

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Hobart, Australia – Penny-pinching is a way of life for Australian David Jobling. The Adelaide man lives in public housing, suffers from chronic pain and survives on a disability pension of 450 Australian dollars ($316) per week.

But with the cost of living rising, he is starting to feel the panic set in.

Even though he is accustomed to living on a tiny income, the 60-year-old actor and writer by training is not sure his budget can stretch any further.

“I’ve done my research in terms of what I can do within my limits,” Jobling told Al Jazeera, adding there is “not a lot of incentive” to do the occasional casual work he picks up because it reduces the value of his pension payments. “But prices are rising, and it’s scary.”

He’s not alone.

David Jobling hold an infant.
Australians like David Jobling are worried about making ends meet amid rising inflation [Courtesy of Nina Hendy]

Ahead of Australia’s federal election on Saturday, the cost of living has become a pivotal issue for voters. Nearly half of Australians are more worried about their ability to make ends meet than they were a year ago, with young people, women and low-income earners the most concerned, according to an opinion poll released last month.

Even wealthy Australians appear worried, as rising prices and sinking stock markets gnaw away at investment portfolios and newspapers aimed at well-to-do professionals run articles with tips on stopping inflation and “getting away with your wealth”.

Australia’s inflation rate hit 5.1 percent during the first quarter, driven by soaring costs of food, housing, education and transport. Although not as severe as in the United States or the United Kingdom – where inflation is running at 8.3 percent and 9 percent, respectively – the figure marked the steepest rise in prices in more than two decades.

House prices rose especially sharply, surging a record 18.1 percent in 2021/22 – although there are some signs the market could be near the peak.

With the average house in Sydney and Melbourne selling for more than 1 million Australian dollars ($700,000), many young adults are forced to keep living at home with their parents well into their 20s and 30s. Petrol prices in March hit new records, going as high as 2.40 Australian dollars ($1.70) per litre in some parts of the country.

Meanwhile, wage growth has stagnated over the past decade, meaning Australians are paying more with less money in the household budget. In January-March, wages grew by 2.4 percent – less than half the rate of inflation.

The rising cost of living in the “Lucky Country” has hit hard in a nation accustomed to continually rising living standards after 31 years of economic growth that was only interrupted when the pandemic hit.

Campaign material for Anthony Albanese.
The Liberal Party-National Coalition and Labor Party are running neck and neck in the final stretch of Australia’s election campaign [File: Loren Elliott]

Despite the cost of living dominating the election campaign, both the incumbent Liberal-National Coalition and centre-left Labor Party have faced criticism for not offering enough to alleviate the pain.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has campaigned for weeks on cost of living issues, rolling out excise tax cuts and a scheme to allow first home buyers to tap into their retirement savings, he has largely blamed overseas events such as the war in Ukraine for the financial squeeze.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has been criticised for offering little detail about how households would be better off overall under Labor’s plans to address the growing cost of living.

The centrepiece of Labor’s manifesto is a scheme under which the government would pay up to 40 percent of the cost of a new home. The ‘Help to Buy’ scheme would be available for up to 10,000 homes a year.

The two parties are running neck and neck, after Labor’s substantial lead narrowed in recent days.

Rising interest rates to tame inflation are also adding to the squeeze, spurring higher mortgage repayments for millions of Australians.

Claire Victory, national president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, said politicians should take “urgent action” to support Australians living in or at risk of falling into poverty.

“Interest rate hikes will add to these pressures and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in the community, who are already struggling to get by, often with limited family or social support networks,” Victory told Al Jazeera.

The worst is likely yet to come, with Australians warned that inflation will continue to rise this year and possibly the next.

Michael Kodari, the CEO of Kodari Securities, said Australians could take comfort in knowing the soaring prices are unlikely to be a long term problem.

“As it was born from the aftershock of the pandemic, this period of inflation is not a sign of a chronic situation and will likely resolve itself in time,” Kodari told Al Jazeera.

In the meantime, Australians like Jobling, who is not a fan of either major party and is considering voting for the minor Australian Greens, are hunkering down.

“I know what I’ve got available to spend right down to the cent every single day and I just cannot go over that,” he said.



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US panel recommends COVID booster jab for children aged 5 to 11 | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Just more than 29 percent of US children in the age group have received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to date.

An advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster jabs for children aged five to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.

The committee on Thursday voted 11 to one in favour of recommending the boosters, with one doctor abstaining.

The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from two doses starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe COVID-19 and hospitalisations.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still needs to sign off on the committee’s recommendation but signalled at the meeting that she was likely to back the additional jabs.

“We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable,” Walensky said.

A child getting a covid shot.
A COVID-19 vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five years old [File: Jon Cherry/Reuters]

“It’s important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact.”

The development comes amid uncertainty over how many parents will opt to have their children in that age group receive a third dose.

According to CDC data, just more than 29 percent of US children aged five to 11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That represents the lowest vaccination coverage out of all groups.

The vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five.

The US government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosters in the face of data that shows vaccine immunity wanes over time, and it recently authorised a second booster for people aged 50 and older.

The move also comes after the nation on Tuesday surpassed the sombre milestone of one million deaths due to COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Children getting covid shots
Recommendation comes days after the US hit a sombre mark of one million COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began [File: Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters]

Dr Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters for children on Thursday, argued that the focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate in the age group.

“Boosters are great once we’ve gotten everyone their first round,” she said.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised Pfizer’s booster shot for children aged five to 11.

Dr Paul Offit, a paediatric infectious diseases expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said booster shots in that age group would have a limited effect on the pandemic, even with evidence that the additional shots will protect against mild illness for three to six months.

“What is the goal of this vaccine? Are we trying to protect against all symptomatic infection for a limited period of time? Or are we trying to protect against serious illness, in which case all the evidence is that we are preventing serious illness” with the two-dose vaccine regimen, Offit said.



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What might happen to Ukraine’s Azovstal prisoners of war? | News

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Breaking its recent silence on prisoners of war (POWs), the Red Cross said it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian POWs who have left the giant Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol after holding out for weeks against besieging Russian forces.

The announcement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday, which acts as a guardian of the Geneva Conventions and its stated aim to limit “the barbarity of war”, came shortly after Russia’s military said 1,730 Ukrainian troops at the steel plant had surrendered.

Attention now is turning to how those prisoners of war might be treated and what rights they have.

Here is a look at some key questions about POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old war on Ukraine:

Who is a prisoner of war?

Article 4 of the third Geneva Convention, which focuses on POWs, defines them as any member of armed forces or militias – including organised resistance movements – in a conflict who “who have fallen into the power of the enemy”.

It also includes non-combatant crew members, war correspondents, and even “inhabitants of a non-occupied territory who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces”.

What rights do POWS have?

The Geneva Conventions set out requirements to ensure that POWs are treated humanely. They include issues such as where they can be held; the relief they should receive, including medical help for wounded ex-fighters; and legal proceedings they might face.

“In this case, the Russian Federation has an entire list of obligations: To treat them humanely, to let the ICRC (have) access to them, to inform the ICRC of their names, to allow them to write to their families, to care for them if they are wounded and sick, to feed them and so on,” said Marco Sassoli, a professor of international law at the University of Geneva.

“But obviously, the detaining power may deprive them of their liberty until the end of the international armed conflict and may hold them – unlike civilians – on their own territories. So they may be brought to Russia,” he said.

Can POWs be put on trial?

Only under certain conditions, notably if an individual fighter is accused of committing one or more war crimes. Such an accusation must be based on published evidence, Sassoli said.

“They can certainly not be punished for having participated in the hostilities, because that’s the privilege of combatants and of prisoners of war,” he said.

Could POWs become part of prisoner exchanges?

The Geneva Conventions do not set rules for prisoner exchanges. In the past, Red Cross intermediaries have helped carry out agreed-upon POW exchanges. Still, much has been made of the insistence by some Russian officials that detained Ukrainian ex-fighters should face trial and should not be included in any prisoner exchanges.

People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers
People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers take part in a rally called ‘Save military of Mariupol’ in Kyiv on May 3, 2022 [Sergei Supinsky/ AFP]

Could Russia claim the Azovstal fighters are not entitled to POWs status?

Some countries have tried to sidestep their Geneva Conventions obligations – or simply argue that they are not bound by them. A prominent case was when the US detained hundreds of fighters allegedly linked to groups like al-Qaeda. They were detained as “enemy combatants” at a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent US-led military invasion to topple the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

Sassoli said there are “all kinds of reasons” why an individual might lose their prisoner of war status. For example, if the fighter “didn’t distinguish themselves from the civilian population” during combat.

“But here, to the best of my knowledge, no one claims that these people [detainees from the Azov Regiment in Mariupol] didn’t wear a uniform, or if they don’t belong to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Sassoli said.

“It’s basically Ukraine who decides who belongs to their armed forces.”

Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly touted the regiment’s role in the armed forces and have celebrated what they call its members’ “heroism” for holding out so long against far-larger Russian forces.

The Azov regiment is part of the national guard – does that matter?

Ukraine and Russia have both accepted an important annex to the Geneva Conventions that broadens the definition of what fighters – militia or otherwise – might be considered as part of the national military force, based in part on whether they follow military commands. As for the Azov Regiment fighters, “there’s no doubt” they are part of Ukraine’s military force, said Sassoli, who was on a three-person team commissioned by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe that travelled to Ukraine in March.

However, Russia has not been fully clear about who is detaining the former Azovstal fighters – Russia itself, or the breakaway pro-Russian areas in Ukraine such as the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” or the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” which could blur such distinctions.

What is the significance of the Red Cross Statement on POWs?

Thursday’s statement was the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 that the ICRC – which plays an often-confidential role to check on prisoners of war – has said anything officially about POWs in the conflict.

“Normally, the ICRC will not tell you how these people are treated, but the ICRC will say whom they visited,” Sassoli said.

“But the ICRC – to the best of my knowledge, until this media release – did not clarify how many people it had access to, on both sides.”

Beyond its communication about the Azovstal fighters, the ICRC has not said whether it has registered other POWs or carried out any visits with POWs on either side of the war.



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