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South African Jazz ‘Giant’ Jonas Gwangwa Dies Aged 83

South Africa jazz trombonist and composer Jonas Gwangwa, whose music powered the anti-apartheid struggle, died Saturday aged 83, the presidency said.President Cyril Ramaphosa led the tributes to the legendary musician who was nominated for an Oscar for the theme song of the 1987 film “Cry Freedom.”
 
“A giant of our revolutionary cultural movement and our democratic creative industries has been called to rest,” Ramaphosa said.
 
“The trombone that boomed with boldness and bravery, and equally warmed our hearts with mellow melody has lost its life force” the president added.
 
There were no immediate details on how or where Gwangwa died.
 
He passed away on the third anniversary of the death of the “father of South African jazz” Hugh Masekela and the second anniversary of the death of Zimbabwean musical legend Oliver Mtukudzi. January 23 had become “the day the music died,” the South African and other media outlets said.
 
Gwangwa was born in October 1937 in Soweto and went on to have a career spanning 40 years.
 
“He delighted audiences in Sophiatown until it became illegal for black people to congregate and South African musicians were jailed merely for practicing their craft,” the presidency’s statement said.
 
He was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest national award presented for achievements in art and culture, in 2010.
 
The award recognized his work as composer, arranger and musical director of the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, a cultural group formed by activists from the African National Congress in the 1970s.  

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US Television Host Larry King Dies Aged 87: CNN

Larry King, who quizzed thousands of world leaders, politicians and entertainers for CNN and other news outlets in a career spanning more than six decades, has died at age 87, CNN reported Saturday, citing a source close to the family.  King had been hospitalized in Los Angeles with a COVID-19 infection, according to several media reports. He had endured health problems for many years, including a near-fatal stroke in 2019 and diabetes.  He had been hospitalized at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for more than a week, CNN reported.  Millions watched King interview world leaders, entertainers and other celebrities on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” which ran from 1985 to 2010. Hunched over his desk in rolled-up shirt sleeves and owlish glasses, he made his show one of the network’s prime attractions with a mix of interviews, political discussions, current event debates and phone calls from viewers.  Even in his heyday, critics accused King of doing little pre-interview research and tossing softball questions to guests who were free to give unchallenged, self-promoting answers. He responded by conceding he did not do much research so that he could learn along with his viewers. Besides, King said, he never wanted to be perceived as a journalist.  “My duty, as I see it, is I’m a conduit,” King told the Hartford Courant in 2007. “I ask the best questions I can. I listen to the answers. I try to follow up. And hopefully the audience makes a conclusion. I’m not there to make a conclusion. I’m not a soapbox talk-show host … So, what I try to do is present someone in the best light.” 
 

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World COVID-19 Infections Climb Towards 100 Million

The world is steadily inching up to 100 million COVID cases. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday there are more than 98 million global COVID infections and more than 2 million deaths.“For the moment, the virus still has its hand in the game, but we still have our two best players: vaccination and spring,” Yves Van Laethema, a Belgian health ministry spokesperson said about COVID in his country.Van Laethema said he is hoping spring’s warmer weather will help alleviate the recent uptick in Belgian hospital admissions.Belgium has nearly 690,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 20,000 people have died.Chinese authorities have partially locked down a section of a Hong Kong neighborhood. The Jordan district is one of Hong Kong’s most densely populated neighborhoods. Officials said Saturday they are testing everybody in the area, after the territory recorded 162 cases in January. Hong Kong has reported fewer than 10,000 coronavirus cases.German health officials said Friday that although the country surpassed 50,000 deaths, its infection rate was slowing.At a news conference in Berlin, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said he saw a “slightly positive trend” in the numbers and credited the drop to a partial lockdown originally introduced in November and since tightened.Also Friday, European countries were dealt another blow when AstraZeneca announced that initial deliveries of its vaccine to the region would not meet its projected targets.A company statement said, “Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.” The statement did not give further details.Europe is already struggling to roll out vaccines to its citizens after vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech announced a temporary shortfall in the supply of their vaccine in order to help a manufacturing site in Belgium to boost output.In the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders aimed at providing financial and food security to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.The orders boost food assistance, protect unemployment benefits for job seekers and lay the groundwork for federal employees and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage.“We have to act now,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Friday before he signed the orders.Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan to Congress to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, however it is not clear if the bill has enough support from lawmakers to pass. Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill in December and some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether there is a need for another large relief bill.Also Friday, U.S. retailer Walmart said it was preparing to expand its vaccination program to seven more states, using its network of pharmacies.The world’s largest retailer said it would start providing inoculations in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas as well as in Chicago and Puerto Rico. The company is already providing vaccines to health care workers in New Mexico and Arkansas.Vaccination efforts in the United States have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles, bureaucratic failures and a basic shortage of vaccines, which have led to residents across the U.S. seeing their vaccine appointments canceled.

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Twitter Bans Suspect Iran Account After Post Threatens Trump

Twitter said Friday it has permanently banned an account that some in Iran believe is linked to the office of the country’s supreme leader after a posting that seemed to threaten former President Donald Trump.In the image posted by the suspect account late Thursday, Trump is shown playing golf in the shadow of a giant drone, with the caption “Revenge is certain” written in Farsi.In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, a Twitter spokesperson said the account was fake and violated the company’s “manipulation and spam policy,” without elaborating how it came to that conclusion.The tweet of the photo violated the company’s “abusive behavior policy,” Twitter’s spokesperson added.In Iran, the suspect account — @khamenei_site — is believed to be linked to the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because its behavior mirrored that of other accounts identified in state-run media as tied to his office. It frequently posted excerpts from his speeches and other official content.In this case, the account carried the link to Khamenei’s website.Other accounts tied to Khamenei’s office that did not tweet the photo, including his main English language account, remained active. The photo had also been featured prominently on the supreme leader’s website and was retweeted by Khamenei’s main Farsi language account, @Khamenei-fa, which apparently deleted it after posting.Earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump from their platforms for allegedly inciting the assault on the U.S. Capitol, an unprecedented step that underscored the immense power of tech giants in regulating speech on their platforms. Activists soon urged the companies to apply their policies equally to other political figures worldwide, in order to combat hate speech and content that encourages violence.The warning in the caption referenced Khamenei’s remarks last month ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. In his speech, Khamenei did not call out Trump by name, but reiterated a vow for vengeance against those who ordered and executed the attack on Soleimani.”Revenge will certainly happen at the right time,” Khamenei had declared.Iran blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, and censors others. While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran’s youth and tech-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.Soon after Trump’s ban from Twitter ignited calls to target tweets from other political leaders, the company took down a post by a different Khamenei-linked account that pushed a COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory.Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, had claimed that virus vaccines imported from the U.S. or Britain were “completely untrustworthy.”  

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Dry January Not That Dry for Some at Rocky Start of 2021

A raging pandemic, tumultuous presidential election and deadly Capitol insurrection have combined to make the annual tradition of Dry January less than air-tight for some.Not Sarah Arvizo. She considers it her easiest yet.As much as the 32-year-old Manhattanite would love to partake in a little “vinopeutics,” she said the abstinence from alcohol period she’s participated in for several years has been made smoother this time around by her at-home pandemic life and the closing of bars and restaurants.”Longing for those days, for sure,” said the social drinker who lives alone. “But unless I want to freeze outside, that’s largely off the table this year.”Eight-year-old Dry January, which comes at the height of resolution season after the holidays, has brought on the desired benefits for many among the millions participating around the world. They’re losing quarantine weight, experiencing more clarity and sleeping easier.Others with lockdown time on their hands and round-the-clock access to TV news and the home liquor cabinet are struggling to meet the challenge. Some who have already cheated hoisted a glass on Inauguration Day.Sue Cornick, 52, in Los Angeles, wanted to experience Dry January after her consumption of alcohol rose from three or four days a week to five or six. But she knew pulling the plug wouldn’t work before a celebratory Inauguration Day, so it’s Dry February for her.”Full disclosure, my Dry February will be more like almost dry. I’ll definitely have a cheat day here and there. Just no daily habit,” she said.Others are holding steadfast but said the horrid year that was and the chaotic events of January have made it far more difficult. The odds aren’t in their favor. Studies over the years have shown that a small percentage of New Year’s resolutions overall are actually achieved.Peta Grafham, a 61-year-old retired IT specialist in Tryon, North Carolina, signed on to Dry January after watching her alcohol intake creep up during the pandemic and months of political and racial turmoil.”I’m a social creature and isolating has been difficult. I found that I would open a bottle of wine and watch TV, usually CNN, and could knock back a bottle in less than two hours. Then I would move on to the Grand Marnier,” said Grafham, who lives with her husband. “I announced to my friends and family that I was doing a Dry January, so my pride is what’s keeping me sober.”She hasn’t had a drop since December 31. Her spouse didn’t join, but she said he’s an efficient nurser of bourbon or vodka and has supported her effort.”I seemed incapable of limiting myself to just one glass,” Grafham said.According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, 78% of adults report the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant source of stress, and 65% said the amount of uncertainty in the world is causing strain.At 27, Emily Roethle in Encinitas, California, nearly broke on Jan. 6, when a riotous mob descended on the Capitol.”This is my second Dry January,” she said. “It’s difficult this year. I’ve looked to my glass of wine to separate work from home as I work remote, but in ways it’s easier as there’s no happy hour or dinner invitations.”While addiction treatment experts note that a month of forced sobriety may not have a lasting impact and may lead to binge drinking in February, others believe the show of sobriety can’t hurt.Dry January began after a woman training for her first half-marathon, Emily Robinson in Britain, decided to quit drinking for the month. She later went to work for an alcohol awareness organization that launched a national campaign. The event slowly went global.Well before that, in 1942, Finland began a program called Raitis Tammikuu, meaning sober January, to assist the war effort against the Soviet Union, said Hilary Sheinbaum, who wrote a new book about Dry January, “The Dry Challenge.” She said she wrote from personal experience.”On Dec. 31, 2016, moments before the ball dropped, I made a Dry January bet with a friend,” Sheinbaum said. “In the end, I ended up going the full 31 days. My friend did not. He ended up buying me a very fancy meal, but I had the opportunity to see how alcohol was affecting my day-to-day life. With Dry January, I had clearer skin. I was sleeping better. I had so much more financial savings at the end of the month. This is my fifth Dry January.”When she took on her first dry challenge, she was working regularly at booze-infused events as a red-carpet reporter, and a food and beverage writer. She was also single and going on a lot of dates. Now in a two-year relationship, she and her live-in boyfriend do Dry January together.She and others note that the ritual isn’t meant as a substitute for addiction treatment and recovery.Dr. Joseph DeSanto, a medical doctor and addiction specialist for the recovery program BioCorRx, agreed but said Dry January may give those in trouble “something to rally around, especially if they’re not in a 12-step group, and provide a sense of community.”He added: “Any kind of harm reduction is advantageous. If someone is a heavy drinker, they could benefit greatly from switching to moderate to light drinking, even if they can’t stop altogether. I’ve never met an alcoholic that felt worse from drinking less or not drinking.”

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Germany Passes 50,000 COVID-19 Deaths 

Germany surpassed 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 Friday, while Europe’s vaccination effort was dealt another setback when drugmaker AstraZeneca announced a slower rollout than planned because of production issues.German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday that he would begin leaving a light in a window at his official residence, Bellevue Palace, to remember those killed by the COVID-19 pandemic.Steinmeier called on Germans to do the same as a remembrance that “the dead in the corona pandemic are not just statistics for us.” He added, “Even if we don’t know their names and families, we know that every figure stands for a loved one whom we miss infinitely.”With more than 850 deaths from the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, German officials said Friday that the country’s death toll stood at 50,642.Less than two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press report, Germany’s death toll was 40,000.’Slightly positive trend’ in infectionsGerman health officials noted Friday that although the country had surpassed 50,000 deaths, its infection rate was slowing.At a news conference in Berlin, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said he saw a “slightly positive trend” in the numbers and credited the drop to a partial lockdown introduced in November and since tightened.A person receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at an NHS vaccination center in York, England, Jan. 22, 2021.Also Friday, European countries were dealt another blow when AstraZeneca announced that initial deliveries of its vaccine to the region would not meet its projected targets.A company statement said, “Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.” The statement did not give further details.Europe is already struggling to roll out vaccines to its citizens after vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech announced a temporary shortfall in the supply of their vaccine in order to improve a manufacturing site in Belgium to boost output.Actions by BidenIn the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders aimed at providing financial and food security to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.The orders boost food assistance, protect unemployment benefits for job seekers and lay the groundwork for federal employees and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage.“We have to act now,” Biden said Friday in remarks at the White House before he signed the orders.FILE – President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan to Congress to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, but it is not clear if the bill has enough support from lawmakers to pass. Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill in December and some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether there is a need for another large relief bill.Also Friday, U.S. retailer Walmart said it was preparing to expand its vaccination program to seven more states, using its network of pharmacies.The world’s largest retailer said it would start providing inoculations in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas as well as in Chicago and Puerto Rico. The company was already providing vaccines to health care workers in New Mexico and Arkansas.Vaccination efforts in the United States have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles, bureaucratic failures and a shortage of vaccines, which led to residents across the U.S. seeing their vaccine appointments canceled.In Geneva, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday formally welcomed back the United States, after Biden signed an executive order this week to retain U.S. membership.FILE – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 21, 2021.Speaking at the agency’s regular briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed Biden’s commitment, “not just to remaining part of the WHO family, but to working constructively with the WHO, its member states and the multilateral system to end the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many health challenges we face globally.” The director-general also noted that the U.S. committed to joining the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative COVAX, which seeks to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.Former President Donald Trump announced in May that he was withdrawing the United States from the WHO, accusing the agency of helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. 

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WHO Welcomes US Back After Biden Moves to Retain Membership

The World Health Organization (WHO) Friday formally welcomed back the United States, after President Joe Biden signed an executive order this week to retain U.S. membership.
Speaking at the agency’s regular briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the United States was a founding member of the organization in 1948 and has long played a vital role in global health.  
Tedros said he welcomes Biden’s commitment, “not just to remaining part of the WHO family, but to working constructively with the WHO, its Member States and the multilateral system to end the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many health challenges we face globally.”
The director-general also noted that the U.S. committed to joining the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative, COVAX. Tedros said the cooperative has signed an agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech for up to 40 million doses of its vaccine.  
He said they also expect 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, pending its approval for emergency use by the WHO. Tedros said if all goes as planned, COVAX is on schedule to begin delivering vaccines by February and meeting its goal of delivering 2 billion doses by the end of year.
The WHO director-general also thanked U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he said he spoke with Thursday on her first full day in office. He said he told the vice president he was grateful for the new administration’s commitment to advancing women’s health as well as action on climate change.

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Baseball Legend Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron Dies at 86

The Atlanta Braves Major League baseball team announced Friday Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has died at the age of 86.
 
The team says Aaron died peacefully in his sleep Thursday.  
 
Aaron spent all but two years of his 23-year major league baseball career with the Braves organization.  
 
In a statement on the Braves web site, Chairman Terry McGuirk said the team was “devasted” at news of Aaron’s death. “Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world.”
 
Aaron was known as the all-time greatest hitter, but he is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974. By the time he retired two years later, he had 755 home runs, a record that stood until 2007 when it was broken by Barry Bonds. Aaron remains in second place.
 
Aaron joined the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1954 and moved with the team in 1965 to Atlanta, where he played until 1974. He played his final two seasons back in Milwaukee, with the Brewers before retiring in 1976.  
 
In his career, Aaron was always among baseball’s best. He was the National League (NL) Most Valuable Player in 1957 — the same year the Braves won the World Series — and he was a two-time NL batting champion, a three-time Gold Glove winner for his defensive play as a right fielder and a record 25-time All-Star.
 
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best hitter in both leagues.
 
Off the field, Aaron was an activist for civil rights, having been a victim of racial inequalities. He was born in Mobile, Alabama, and didn’t play organized high school baseball because only white students had teams.  
 
During the buildup to passing Ruth’s home run mark, threats were made on his life by people who did not want to see a Black man break the record.
 
After his retirement, as an executive with the Braves, Aaron worked to help find Black players meaningful employment after their playing days were over.
“On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants,” he once said. “But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it, and we go back to the back of the bus again.”

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