Vietnam's health minister arrested over COVID-19 test gouging – Arab News


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HANOI: Vietnam’s health minister and the mayor of the capital Hanoi have been arrested as part of an expanding investigation into massive price gouging of COVID-19 tests, state media reported.
Nguyen Thanh Long was dismissed from his ministry post and Chu Ngoc Anh, who previously was the science minister, was fired as Hanoi mayor, Tuoi Tre online news outlet reported Tuesday. They are being investigated for abuse of power, according to the Ministry of Public Security, and have been expelled from the ruling Communist Party.
An investigation concluded earlier that mismanagement in the science and health ministries had allowed Viet A Technology Corporation to inflate prices for test kits supplied to hospitals and health centers in Vietnam.
Nearly 60 suspects including ministry officials, public health leaders and military generals have been detained or are being investigated for involvement in the price gouging, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
The report said the two officials’ violations had harmed Vietnam’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and were costly to the state budget.
A deputy science minister, Pham Cong Tac, also was arrested Tuesday and accused of violating regulations on managing state assets.
Viet A took in $172 million for supplying its test kits in 62 localities. Its general director was arrested in December and allegedly admitted his Ho Chi Minh City-based company had inflated the selling price of a test kit to about $20, or 45 percent more than the original, to earn a difference of $21.5 million.
Phan Quoc Viet allegedly confessed to investigators that he paid illegal kickbacks worth $34 million to his state-owned partners who bought his test kits at the inflated prices.
SYLHET: Monsoon rains in Bangladesh have killed at least 25 people and unleashed devastating floods that left more than four million others stranded, police told AFP Saturday.
Lightning strikes during monsoon rains killed 21 people around the South Asian nation since Friday while four others died in landslides triggered by the storms, district police officers said.
BHUBANESHWAR/LUCKNOW: Indian authorities suspended Internet services in several parts of the eastern state of Bihar in a bid to stop public gatherings and violent protests over a military recruitment plan, police officials said on Saturday.
One protester was killed and more than a dozen have been injured in a series of protests in some regions of the country against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new policy to hire soldiers for short tenures.
The Agnipath or “path of fire” system aims to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts to lower the average age of India’s 1.38 million-strong armed forces and cut burgeoning pension costs, the government said.
Protesters, mainly young men, say the plan will limit opportunities for permanent jobs with the defense forces, which guarantee fixed salaries, pensions and other benefits.
Many took to the streets in Bihar, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to protest against this plan.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp have been blocked in 15 of 38 districts of Bihar, said Sanjay Singh, a senior police official in the state, where protesters burned passenger trains and buses this week to express their outrage.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, police detained at least 250 people under what are called preventative arrests. Some demonstrators accused the police of using excessive force.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has appealed to youth to apply under the new scheme. The navy chief said on Friday the protests were unexpected and probably the result of misinformation about the new system.
“I didn’t anticipate any protests like this,” Admiral R. Hari Kumar told Reuters TV partner ANI. “It is the single biggest human resource management transformation that has ever happened in the Indian military.”
KABUL: An attack on a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least two people and injured seven on Saturday, following a blast in a car loaded with explosives, officials said, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Grey smoke billowed over the area in images aired by domestic broadcaster Tolo. A Taliban interior spokesman said attackers had laden a car with explosives but it had detonated before reaching its target.
Taliban authorities were securing the site, he added.
“There were around 30 people inside the temple,” said a temple official, Gornam Singh. “We don’t know how many of them are alive or how many dead.”
Temple authorities did not know what to do, as the Taliban were not allowing them inside, Singh told Reuters.
A spokesman for Kabul’s commander said his forces had taken control of the area and cleared it of attackers. One Sikh worshipper had been killed in the attack and one Taliban fighter killed during the clearing operation, he added.
Since taking power in August, the Taliban say they have secured Afghanistan, although international officials and analysts say the risk of a resurgence in militancy remains.
Some attacks in recent months have been claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
Sikhs are a tiny religious minority in largely Muslim Afghanistan, comprising about 300 families before the country fell to the Taliban. But many left afterwards, say members of the community and media.
Like other religious minorities, Sikhs have been a continual target of violence in Afghanistan. An attack at another temple in Kabul in 2020 that killed 25 was claimed by Islamic State.
India’s foreign ministry expressed concern over reports of the attack. “We are closely monitoring the situation and waiting for further details,” foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
Saturday’s explosion follows a blast at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz the previous day that killed one person and injured two, according to authorities.
VESTAVIA HILLS, Alabama: The 70-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police say he showed up for a potluck dinner, pulled out a handgun and fatally shot three of the elderly participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms as she whispered words of love in his ear.
Church members were spared further violence Thursday evening when one of them rushed the gunman, struck him with a chair and held him until police arrived, a former pastor said. The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder Friday, the Jefferson County district attorney announced.
The baffling violence in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham stunned a community known for its family-centered lifestyle. It also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent slaughter wrought by gunmen who attacked a Texas school, a New York grocery store and another church in California.
“Why would a guy who’s been around for a while suddenly decide he would go to a supper and kill somebody?” said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, St. Stephen’s pastor for three decades before he retired in 2005. “It doesn’t make sense.”
All three shooting victims were members attending a monthly dinner at the church, said Carpenter, who still attends Sunday services there but wasn’t present Thursday night. A Facebook post referred to the gathering as a “Boomers Potluck.”
Carpenter said one victim’s wife and other witnesses recounted what had happened. They said a man who introduced himself only as “Mr. Smith” sat at a table by himself — as he’d done while visiting a previous church dinner.
“People tried to speak to him and he was kind of distant and very much a loner,” Carpenter told The Associated Press by telephone.
At Thursday’s dinner, church member Walter Bartlett Rainey invited the visitor to join his table, Carpenter said, but the man declined. He said Rainey’s wife noticed the visitor wasn’t eating.
“Linda Rainey said he didn’t have any food and she offered to fix a plate for him, and he turned that down,” said Carpenter.
Soon afterward, Carpenter said, the man drew his gun and opened fire — shooting Walter Rainey and two other church members. Carpenter said another member, a man in his 70s, grabbed a chair and charged the gunman.
“He hit him with a folding chair, wrestling him to the ground, took the gun from him and hit him in the head with his own gun,” Carpenter said.
Church members held the suspect until police arrived, police Capt. Shane Ware said. A police mugshot showed Smith with a blackened left eye and cuts to his nose and forehead.
“The person that subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Ware told a news conference Friday, saying that act was “extremely critical in saving lives.”
Rainey, 84, died at the scene. His wife of six decades wasn’t harmed.
“We are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears,” Rainey’s family said in a statement.
Police said Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham, died soon afterward at a hospital, and an 84-year-old woman died Friday. Police didn’t release her name, citing the family’s request for privacy.
Ware said Smith and the three victims were all white. He said police are investigating what motivated the suspect, who occasionally attended services at the church. Authorities executed a search warrant Friday at Smith’s home, less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.
Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show Smith is a licensed gun dealer whose business is listed at his home address. Court records show Smith filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Samford University, a private university in metro Birmingham, alleging campus security wrongly detained him and accused him of impersonating a police officer.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry told reporters his “close-knit, resilient, loving community” was rocked by “this senseless act of violence.” It’s home to nearly 40,000 residents, most of them white, including many businesspeople, doctors and lawyers who work in Birmingham.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. John Burruss, said in a Facebook post that he was in Greece on a pilgrimage and trying to get back.
The Rev. Rebecca Bridges, the associate rector, led an online prayer service on the church’s Facebook page Friday morning. She prayed not only for the victims and church members who witnessed the shooting, but also “for the person who perpetrated the shooting.”
“We pray that you will work in that person’s heart,” Bridges said. “And we pray that you will help us to forgive.”
Bridges, currently in London, alluded to other recent mass shootings as she prayed that “our culture will change and that our laws will change in ways that will protect all of us.”
Thursday’s shooting happened just over a month after one person was killed and five injured when a man opened fire on Taiwanese parishioners at a Southern California church. It also came nearly seven years to the day after an avowed white supremacist killed nine people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
A message posted by St. Stephens said it would hold Sunday services, adding: “We will gather at the Table that has taught so many that love is always breaking through in this world, no matter what we experience, whether it be doubt, anger, loss, grief, or death — but yet also joy and life.”
BRUSSELS / KYIV: With the war in Ukraine’s east raging on, Kyiv received a major boost when the European Union recommended that it become a candidate to join the bloc, in what would be a dramatic geopolitical shift following Russia’s invasion.
EU leaders are expected to endorse the EU executive’s recommendations for Ukraine and neighboring Moldova, announced on Friday, at a summit next week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that the bravery of Ukrainians had created the opportunity for Europe to “create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia.”
In his nightly address on national television, Zelensky said the decision of the EU member states remained to be seen, but added: “You can only imagine truly powerful European strength, European independence and European development with Ukraine.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the executive’s decision while dressed in Ukrainian colors — a yellow blazer over a blue blouse.
“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” she said. “We want them to live with us the European dream.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin railed at the West, the United States in particular, in a grievance-filled speech in St. Petersburg on Friday, but sought to play down the EU issue.
“We have nothing against it,” he said. “It is not a military bloc. It’s the right of any country to join economic union.”
However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was closely following Ukraine’s EU bid, especially in the light of increased defense cooperation among the 27-member bloc.
Ukraine applied to join the EU four days after Russian troops poured across its border on in late February. It was joined days later by Moldova and Georgia — smaller ex-Soviet states also contending with separatist regions backed by Russia.
Though only the start of a process that may take many years and require extensive reforms, the European Commission move puts Kyiv on course to realize an aspiration out of reach just months ago.
One of Putin’s stated objectives in launching an invasion that has killed thousands of people, destroyed cities and driven millions to flee was to halt the West’s eastward expansion via the NATO military alliance.
Friday’s announcement underlined how the war has had the opposite effect: convincing Finland and Sweden to join NATO, and now the EU to embark on potentially its most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.
In his speech, Putin denounced the United States for considering itself “God’s emissary on Earth” and said Western intransigence had given Russia no choice but to launch its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
He also questioned whether it was “advisable” for the EU to let Ukraine join, saying Kyiv would need huge economic subsidies that other EU members may not be willing to give.
Adding fuel to the global showdown, Russian media broadcast images of what they said were two Americans captured while fighting for Ukraine. “I am against war,” both men said in separate video clips posted on social media.
Post-Soviet generation
EU membership is not guaranteed — talks have been stalled for years with Turkey, a candidate since 1999. If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous.
Ukraine and Moldova are far poorer than current EU members and have recent histories of volatile politics, organized crime and conflicts with Russian-backed separatists.
But in Zelensky, 44, and Maia Sandu, 50, they have pro-Western leaders who came of age outside the Soviet Union.
The latest foreign dignitary to visit Kyiv was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who offered training for Ukrainian forces on Friday and said Britain would stand by the Ukrainian people “until you ultimately prevail.”
In an online article in Foreign Policy on Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the West should not “suggest peace initiatives with unacceptable terms” — an apparent reference to remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron this month that Russia must not be humiliated if a diplomatic solution was to be found.
Instead, it should help Ukraine win, not just by providing heavy weapons but by maintaining and increasing sanctions against Moscow, Kuleba wrote.
“The West cannot afford any sanctions fatigue, regardless of the broader economic costs,” he said. “It is clear that Putin’s path to the negotiating table lies solely through battleground defeats.”
Within Ukraine, Russian forces were defeated in an attempt to storm Kyiv in March. Russia has since refocused on the Donbas region in the east, which it claims on behalf of separatist proxies, and its forces have used their artillery advantage to blast their way into cities in a punishing attritional phase of the war.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region in the Donbas, said in a post on Telegram that four civilians were killed and six were injured in shelling on Friday.
Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk, in neighboring Luhansk province and scene of the worst recent fighting, but it was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians trapped in a chemical plant due to shelling and heavy fighting.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said a key highway out of Sievierodonetsk’s sister city of Lysychansk was now impassable due to Russian shelling.
In the south, Ukraine has mounted a counteroffensive and claims to have made inroads into territory seized by Russia.

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