Russia has begun its COVID-19 vaccination program. Seventy clinics in Moscow began inoculating people Saturday with the Sputnik-V COVID-19 shot, the city’s coronavirus task force said.The vaccine is being made available to health care workers, social workers and people who work in schools because they run the highest risk of exposure to the coronavirus. People over 60 are excluded from receiving the shot, media reports say.Russia’s vaccine is administered in two injections, with the second injection scheduled for three weeks after the first.Thousands of people have registered to receive the vaccine. It was not immediately clear, however, how much of the vaccine has been produced.Some scientists have questioned the efficacy of the Russian-manufactured vaccine because of its speedy appearance on the market. Russia has 2.4 million COVID infections and more than 42,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. The California city of San Francisco and several Bay Area counties said Friday that they will begin imposing stay-at-home orders this weekend as part of their battle against the coronavirus.California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the state was on the verge of imposing stay-at-home orders on a regional basis once intensive care units in the state’s five regions reached more than 85% capacity.San Francisco and the Bay Area counties, however, are not waiting for the hospital capacity threshold and are instead voluntarily opting into the state’s regional stay-at-home order.”We are in our worst surge yet of COVID-19. It is stressing health care systems across the state of California and taxing our health care workers,” Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of health, said Friday. “We need urgent intervention now if we want to be able to care for the sick in mid-to-late December. We do not want your parent, your spouse, your child, your grandparent or any loved one to be in need of help and our hospitals too overwhelmed to properly care for them.”FILE – California Street, usually filled with cable cars, is seen empty in San Francisco, Calif., on March 18, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Starting Sunday night, the order will close all outdoor dining, public outdoor playgrounds, outdoor museums, zoos and aquariums, drive-in theaters, and open-air tour buses and boats. Pet grooming and electronics or shoe repair, considered low-contact retail, will be allowed to operate on a curbside-dropoff basis. All other retail, including grocery stores, will be allowed to operate only at 20% capacity.“We must do whatever is necessary in order to get the virus under control,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “This is about protecting people’s lives.”The head of the World Health Organization said Friday that with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, nations must start investing and preparing for the next pandemic.“Despite years of warnings, many countries were simply not ready for COVID-19,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on the coronavirus. “Many mistakenly assumed their strong health systems would protect them.”He said countries that have dealt with recent coronaviruses, including SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, as well as other infectious diseases, have done better in containing COVID-19.“Now all countries must develop that same muscle memory and invest in the measures that will prevent, control and mitigate the next crisis,” Tedros said. “It is also clear the global system for preparedness needs attention.”FILE – A pedestrian walks past a sign advising mask-wearing during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco, Nov. 21, 2020.The WHO has come in for criticism from some countries for its handling of the pandemic after China reported the first cases early this year. U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of the most vocal critics, and on May 29 announced the United States would withdraw from the global health organization. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will reverse that decision when he takes office in January.The WHO chief stressed the need for rich and poor countries alike to have equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine, saying sharing science is not charity, but in the best interest of every nation. He also urged nations to radically rethink how they prioritize and view health if they want to avoid another crisis on this scale.“The pandemic has proven that a health crisis is not just a health crisis, it’s a social, economic, political and humanitarian crisis,” he said. “The risks of under investment in health have wide-ranging impacts, and so do the benefits of investing in health.”On Friday, Bahrain became the second country to approve emergency use of the Pfilzer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Britain was the first nation to greenlight the vaccine.The challenge would be keeping the vaccine cold enough. It must be stored at temperatures around minus 70 degrees Celsius. Bahrain routinely registers summer temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.Bahrain has already inoculated 6,000 people with a Chinese vaccine that uses a dead version of the virus. The Mideast nation has had nearly 88,000 cases of the coronavirus and almost 350 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.Global COVID-19 confirmed cases have surpassed 65 million with more than 1.5 million deaths. The U.S. continues to have the highest number of confirmed cases – more than 14 million so far — and nearly 279,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union’s top official are set to discuss the state of play of post-Brexit trade discussions later Saturday after negotiators paused talks in light of their inability to bridge an array of differences.With the discussions stuck over the same issues for months, Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU’s executive European Commission, will see if there is a route to a deal.With the U.K.’s post-Brexit transition period due to conclude at the end of the year, the discussions are clearly facing a crunch point, not least because of the necessary approvals required from both sides. Without an agreement in place, tariffs will end up being imposed on traded goods at the start of 2021.Months of negotiations have produced agreement on a swath of issues, but serious differences remain over the “level playing field” — the standards the U.K. must meet to export into the bloc — and how future disputes are resolved. That’s key for the EU, which fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep.EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, agreed Friday to “pause” negotiations while they brief political leaders.”We will keep calm as always and if there is a way, still a way, we will see,” Barnier said Saturday morning outside a hotel in London before heading off to Brussels.Though the U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year. A trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and quotas on trade in goods between the two sides, but there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services.Though both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit, at least in the near-term, as it is relatively more reliant on trade with the EU than vice versa.
Germany’s foreign minister said Friday he is glad the U.S. Congress appears to believe U.S. troops should stay in his country at current levels. At a news briefing Friday in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented on the final version of the U.S. Defense Authorization Act released Thursday by Congress. That bill says U.S. troops stationed in Germany may not be withdrawn below current levels until 120 days after the secretary of defense submits a detailed analysis of the move to Congress. About 36,000 U.S. troops are in the country. FILE – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media during a statement at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, June 3, 2020.In July, U.S. President Donald Trump called for a reduction of about 12,000 troops stationed in Germany. Trump told reporters at the time that Germany had not contributed its share to the NATO defense alliance. The move shocked some U.S. military officials, who see the troops as a safeguard to U.S. interests in Europe. Maas told reporters that despite comments by the president and the Defense Department in July, Germany has “never been given any information about the troop reductions that were announced in July,” so he could not say for sure what the plans are or if they even exist. But, referring to the measure agreed upon in Congress this week, he said Germany is glad there appears to be bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers for revisiting the decision. He said his government plans to discuss the situation with the incoming administration and make it clear that Germany stands by its promises and its American allies. He said, “American soldiers are welcome here. They contribute not just to Germany’s but also to Europe’s security.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet condemned gross violations of human rights in Belarus on Friday, calling on the government to put an end to the abusive treatment of its people.Bachelet told the U.N. Human Rights Council that conditions in Belarus have deteriorated since the council held an urgent debate on the human rights situation in September, following Belarus’ widely criticized presidential elections August 9.FILE – United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet adjusts her mask during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 14, 2020.More than 27,000 people have been arrested, including senior citizens participating in peaceful marches, she said, adding that penalties imposed on protesters appear to be growing more severe, with over 900 people reportedly having been treated as suspects in criminal cases. Security forces have used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and stun guns to disperse crowds, Bachelet said, and at least four people have been killed. “We also have multiple and credible reports of people beaten by members of the security forces during and after their transport to police stations or detention centers,” she said. “If confirmed, such incidents should constitute ill-treatment and, in some cases, may amount to torture. Moreover, masked men, without insignia or identification, have frequently taken part in the dispersal of protests, alongside riot police.” Up to 2,000 complaints of torture of people while in custody were lodged by the end of October. Such actions heighten a climate of fear and an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity, she said. “Many people who have been detained have reported being held in overcrowded cells, without adequate ventilation — despite the risks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic — denied food, water, access to the toilet and medical treatment,” Bachelet said. “They have further reported violent and random beatings as well as acts of humiliation, insults and threats.” FILE – Belarusian law enforcement officers block opposition supporters during their rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 1, 2020.The high commissioner is calling on the government to immediately release all those unlawfully detained, to respect the right of peaceful assembly, and to ensure independent and impartial investigations into cases of alleged torture and other human rights violations. Belarus Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Yuri Ambrazevich accused the U.N. of distorting the situation. He said full-fledged wars have received less attention than is being directed at his country. The pressure being exerted on Belarus violates the U.N. Charter on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, he said, blasting the European Union for imposing sanctions on Belarus, which he said clearly violated international law.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has complained about an international conspiracy forming against Turkey, and he says it’s attempting to frustrate his projection of Turkish power and influence abroad.Domestic and foreign critics counter that there isn’t yet a conspiracy, but if one does emerge, it largely will be due to his picking fights with his country’s neighbors, including the European Union and Turkey’s NATO allies. They are exasperated by his threats, whenever he is crossed, to throw open the doors for migrants to once again flock into Europe.Erdogan has in recent months frequently blamed invisible, malevolent foreign enemies for Turkey’s sharply deteriorating economy. For most of this year, foreign investors have shunned the country, and an already weak Turkish lira plunged last month to record lows in value against the dollar and euro. Western critics say Turkish economic woes are the result of his own mishandling of the economy.FILE PHOTO: A merchant counts Turkish lira banknotes at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2019.Additionally, the Turkish leader and his aides have accused European nations of ganging up to sabotage his geopolitical ambitions, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara is locked in an escalating maritime quarrel with Greece and Cyprus that risks getting out of hand over lucrative gas and oil drilling rights.The huge energy potential of the eastern Mediterranean has drawn other powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East into the destabilizing standoff. Western Europeans and Turkey’s other regional neighbors say maritime law is on the side of Athens and Cyprus, accusing Ankara of brinkmanship in a deadlock that’s seen opposing warships come close to clashing.“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] in a speech last month. “However, this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” he added.Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey, Feb. 15, 2020.In October, as European criticism mounted about Turkish adventurism, including a military intervention into northern Syria aimed at dislodging Syrian Kurds, Erdogan, retorted, “Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: If you try to frame our operation as an invasion, our task is simple — we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you.”Conspiracy theories have long been a feature of cultural and political life in Turkey, certainly since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And during his 17-year-long rule, political critics have accused Erdogan of stoking the long-held Turkish fear of being surrounded by foreign powers and beset by shadowy outside forces eager to weaken the country and to prevent it from restoring Ottoman greatness.“In fueling the current disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the [Turkish] leadership is using a narrative revolving around themes such as conquest—referring to the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul—battles and wars, a huge [and undefined] foreign conspiracy, and a return to glory,” Marc Pierini, an analyst at the research group Carnegie Europe, noted in a posted commentary.Erdogan’s frequent complaint about an anti-Turkish foreign conspiracy risks turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy, warn some analysts and Western diplomats.French President Emmanuel Macron greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Jan. 5, 2018.From a diplomatic row with NATO ally France over the enforcement of an international arms embargo on Libya, to the deployment of special forces and Ankara-paid mercenaries to the strife-torn North Africa country, from military adventurism in northern Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, to Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, the Turkish leader is amassing an impressive list of opponents.Ankara seems ever more willing to challenge allies and enemies alike in pursuit of a larger role on the world stage. If Western nations, and Turkey’s near neighbors, start coordinating containment strategies, it will be as a consequence of Erdogan’s aggressive aim to expand, through assertive diplomacy and military means, Turkish influence in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, say Western diplomats and analysts.There are increasing signs that Turkey’s NATO partners are tiring with Erdogan’s assertive geopolitical ambitions and irredentist claims against his neighbors. “The totality of Turkey’s policies and actions have now reached a point of dangerous escalation,” according to analysts Heather Conley and Rachel Ellehuus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a research group in Washington.They noted in a commentary for CSIS that Erdogan’s actions “substantially challenge the coherence of NATO’s collective defense posture in the Mediterranean and weaken its political cohesion.”“To avoid this,” they say, Western allies “should approach the growing instability in the Mediterranean through an integrative policy that seeks to de-escalate tensions and define, with Ankara, common interests by identifying some agreed principles to guide regional behavior.” They add: “If Turkey is unwilling to join such an initiative, greater transatlantic tensions lie ahead.”NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak to the media after their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 5, 2020.Turkey’s wrangling with allies and neighbors have increased since 2015, when Erdogan adopted as policy the so-called Blue Homeland Doctrine, originally drawn up by Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz in 2006. The doctrine outlined an ambitious goal to expand Turkish influence with an aim to improve access to important energy and other economic resources. Its implementation has seen Erdogan resorting to ad hoc arrangements, reversing bilateral understandings, and backsliding on multilateral agreements and Turkish obligations to NATO—creating even greater regional instability, say critics.Despite his complaints about an anti-Turkey international conspiracy, some analysts say Erdogan has been helped by the absence of coordination between Western allies and by their circumspection.They say Western officials have held off imposing further sanctions on Turkey or enforcing sanctions that have already been announced. In July, EU foreign ministers asked the bloc’s diplomatic corps to draw up possible enforcement options for sanctions imposed on Turkey for its gas and oil drilling activities in Cypriot territorial waters and what they see as Ankara’s “gunboat diplomacy” in the eastern Mediterranean.A man reads walks past Cypriot newspaper with a front page carrying a photo montage about Turkey’s actions over Cyprus and international companies exploration for gas in the eastern Mediterranean in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Feb. 13, 2018.Likewise, the U.S. has held back. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Turkey’s illegal drilling in Cypriot waters is “unacceptable,” but the Trump administration hasn’t followed up with concrete action and has not yet imposed sanctions for Turkey’s recent purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, an acquisition seen as breaching Ankara’s NATO commitments.Western diplomats and analysts say there are increasing signs, though, that Turkey’s NATO partners are wary of Erdogan’s adventurism and go-it-alone strategy. Impatience is likely to build quickly next year when U.S. President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.Erdogan clashed often with Donald Trump, but Washington backed off confronting Ankara and opted for backroom deal-making. The two leaders were at least united in antipathy toward the EU. But that won’t be the case next year, and Erdogan is likely to find himself dealing with a less forgiving U.S. leader, according to Western diplomats.FILE – Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak speaks during a conference to ease investor concerns about Turkey’s economic policy, in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 8, 2020.Since the U.S. election, Erdogan has shown signs he knows he will need to adjust. Hours after the U.S. election, Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, resigned as Turkey’s economy minister. Albayrak had a close friendship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.The Turkish president has also since the election vowed to launch a period of economic and legal reforms, saying he will prioritize legislation to strengthen democracy and improve human rights, an announcement widely seen as anticipating the changed circumstances in Washington. Biden has promised to host next year a global Summit for Democracy.
A leading European human rights organization called out the Polish government Thursday with a memorandum condemning the Eastern European country’s treatment and stigmatization of its LGBTI citizens.In a report, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner of human rights, criticized Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party for eroding conditions and treatment of LGBTI people. Mijatovic explicitly addressed President Andrzej Duda for what the report called his endorsement of hate, after Duda called the LGBTI movement an “ideology worse than communism.”FILE – Surrounded by migrants, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, addresses reporters at the Vucjak refugee camp outside Bihac, northwestern Bosnia, Dec. 3, 2019.”Stigmatization and hate speech carry a real risk of legitimizing violence,” Mijatovic said in the report. “LGBTI are people, not an ideology.”The commissioner cited instances wherein propaganda, hateful rhetoric and social exclusion has been encouraged by Polish authorities, citing the declaration of “LGBTI-free zones” by local authorities in six Polish cities as promoting hate and perpetuating the stigmatization of the community.Reuters reported Thursday that the Polish government released a statement rejecting Mijatovic’s criticisms, saying the institution of marriage as a union between men and women is manifest in the Polish constitution. Previously, Law and Justice party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski called LGBTI people a “threat to the traditional family.”Mijatovic called for the rejection of Polish laws pending before parliament that she said target LGBTI people.“Public authorities, politicians and opinion leaders in Poland [should] not to engage in hate speech or any discourse denigrating LGBTI people, and … firmly denounce such actions and statements, including when they come from private parties,” she said.The Council of Europe is an international organization founded after World War II to uphold human rights.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced Thursday that high schools would switch to distance learning beginning Monday through early January to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections in the country. Lofven made the announcement at a Stockholm news conference alongside Swedish Education Minister Anna Ekstrom. He said he hoped the move would have a “breaking effect” on the rate of COVID-19 infections. He added it was not intended to extend the Christmas break for students and he said he was putting his trust in them that they would continue to study from home. The distance learning will be in effect until January 6.People walk past shops under Christmas decorations during the novel coronavirus pandemic in Stockholm, Dec. 3, 2020.After a lull during summer, Sweden has seen COVID-19 cases surge over the past couple of months, with daily records repeatedly set. Deaths and hospitalizations have also risen sharply. Meanwhile, earlier Thursday, Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told reporters he did not think masks were necessary, just two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) expanded its advice to use masks as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19. Tegnell said that in some situations, masks might be necessary, but that the current situation in Sweden did not require it. He said the evidence for wearing a mask was weak and he believed social distancing was much more important. In its expanded guidelines, the WHO said that where the virus was circulating, people — including children and students age 12 or older — should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms. On Thursday, Sweden reported 6,485 new COVID-19 cases and 35 new virus-related deaths, bringing the nation’s total COVID-19 fatalities to 7,007.
In a modern twist on old-fashioned war games, the U.S. military dispatched cyber fighters to Estonia this fall to help the small Baltic nation search out and block potential cyber threats from Russia. The goal was not only to help a NATO partner long targeted by its powerful neighbor but also to gain insight on Russian tactics that could be used against the U.S. and its elections.
The U.S. Cyber Command operation occurred in Estonia from late September to early November, officials from both countries disclosed this week, just as the U.S. was working to safeguard its election systems from foreign interference and to keep coronavirus research from the prying reach of hackers in countries including Russia and China.
Estonian officials say they found nothing malicious during the operation.
The mission, an effort analogous to two nations working jointly in a military operation on land or sea, represents an evolution in cyber tactics by U.S. forces who had long been more accustomed to reacting to threats but are now doing more — including in foreign countries — to glean advance insight into malicious activity and to stop attacks before they reach their targets.
The Defense Department has worked to highlight that more aggressive “hunt forward” strategy in recent years, particularly after Russia interfered through hacking and covert social media campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. American officials were on high alert for similar interference in 2020 but described no major problems on Nov. 3.
“When we look at the threats that we face, from Russia or other adversaries, it really is all about the partnerships and our ability to expand really the scope, scale and pace of operations in order to make it more difficult for adversaries to execute operations either in the United States, Estonia or other places,” Brig. Gen. William Hartman, commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, said in a conference call with a small group of reporters this week.
Estonia, a former Soviet republic, was in some ways a natural fit for a partnership with Cyber Command because in years past it has been a cyber target of nearby Russia, including crippling attacks on government networks in 2007.
Estonian officials say they have since strengthened their cyber defenses, created a cybersecurity strategy and developed their own cyber command, which like the U.S. version is part of the country’s military.
While nothing malicious was found on the networks during the exercise, “what we did learn is how the U.S. conducts these kinds of operations, which is definitely useful for us because there are a lot of kind of capability developments that we are doing right now,” said Mihkel Tikk, a deputy commander in Estonia’s Cyber Command.
Tikk added: “In some areas, it is wise to learn from others than having to reinvent the wheel.”
Hartman declined to discuss specifics of the operation but said the networks in Estonia were “very well defended.”
“I don’t want anyone to leave here with the impression that Estonian networks were full of adversary activity from a broad range of nation states” because that is not the case, he added.
Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, has hinted at a more aggressive, proactive federal government approach to cyber threats.
In an August piece for Foreign Affairs magazine, for instance, Nakasone wrote that U.S cyber fighters have moved away from a “reactive, defensive posture” and are increasingly engaging in combat with foreign adversaries online.
Cyber Command has worked in past years with countries including Montenegro and North Macedonia on similar missions. Estonian officials say they believe the partnership could be a deterrent to countries such as Russia.
“These kinds of operations, I think, they will continue,” said Undersecretary of Defense Margus Matt. But, he added, “I don’t know how much we will speak of them publicly.”
U.S. officials say they think the risks of a proactive approach — a country, for instance, could regard such an operation as a provocation toward a broader international cyber conflict — are outweighed by the benefits.
“We believe that inaction in cyberspace contributes to escalation more than reasonable action in cyberspace,” said Thomas Wingfield, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy.
British emergency officials Thursday say a large blast near a water treatment facility in southwest Britain has resulted in “multiple casualties.”
In a statement, the Avon and Somerset Police said the explosion is believed to involve one of several chemical tanks at a water recycling center in the industrial area of Avonmouth, located near Bristol, about 195 kilometers west of London.
They provided no details regarding the casualties.
Witnesses at a nearby warehouse reported hearing a loud “bang” and felt the building shake late morning, local time.
Pictures shared on social media by first responders and others show a tank with a large hole ripped in the top, and a helicopter and emergency services on the scene.
The police department said a rescue operation was carried out a short time later, led by the local fire service, and crews from at least eight municipalities responded, including paramedic teams and a helicopter crew.
A chief inspector with local police said they have cordoned off the area and a full investigation is underway. He said officers from multiple agencies will likely remain at the scene for some time.
Britain has approved the use of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer – and plans to begin inoculations in the coming days. As Henry Ridgwell reports, it represents a significant milestone in the battle against the pandemic – but challenges remain.Camera: Henry Ridgwell Producer: Bakhtiyar Zamanov
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the president of France from 1974 to 1981 who became a champion of European integration, died on Wednesday. He was 94.Giscard d’Estaing’s office said he passed away in his family home in the Loir-et-Cher region, in central France, after contracting COVID-19.”In accordance with his wishes, his funeral will take place in strict privacy,” his office said.Giscard d’Estaing was hospitalized last month with heart problems, but remained vigorous deep into old age.In a January 2020 interview with The Associated Press, he displayed a firm handshake and sharp eye, recounting details from his meetings as French president in the 1970s with then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then-Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, whose photos graced his office walls.He wrote the article in the EU charter that allowed Brexit to happen – the brief measure that allows a member state to leave the bloc.On the eve of Britain’s departure this year, Giscard told AP it was a “step backward” geopolitically, but took the long view. “We functioned without Britain during the first years of the European Union. … So we will rediscover a situation that we have already known.”Born in Germany in the wake of World War I, Giscard d’Estaing helped liberate Paris from the Nazis in the next world war, and later laid the groundwork for the shared euro currency and helped integrate Britain into what became the EU in the 1970s.Seeing the Britons leave, “I feel great regret,” he said.FILE – Valery Giscard d’Estaing, left, as finance minister and Jacques Chirac as secretary of state to finance leave Elysee Palace, Aug. 9, 1969.He remained unfailingly optimistic in the European project, forecasting that the EU and the euro would bounce back and gradually grow stronger and bigger despite the challenges of losing a major member.When he took office in 1974, Giscard d’Estaing began as the model of a modern French president, a conservative with liberal views on social issues.Abortion and divorce by mutual consent were legalized under his term, and he reduced the age of majority from 21 to 18.He played his accordion in working class neighborhoods. One Christmas morning, he invited four passing garbage men to breakfast at the presidential palace.He lost his reelection bid in 1981 to Socialist Francois Mitterrand.Born in 1926 in Coblenz, Germany, where his father was a financial director of the post-World War I French occupation administration, he grew up with a pan-European view. After joining the French Resistance during World War II, he next saw Germany as a tank commander in the French military in 1944.In 1952, he married Anne-AymoneIt de Brantes, the daughter of a count and heiress to a steel fortune. They had four children: Valerie-Anne, Louis, Henri and Jacinte.Young Giscard d’Estaing studied at the prestigious Polytechnical Institute and then the elite National School of Administration, before mastering economics at Oxford.President Charles de Gaulle named him finance minister at the age of 36.
After his defeat in the 1981 presidential election, he temporarily retired from politics.FILE – French former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing speaks to the media in Paris, April 8, 2013.He then found a second calling in the European Union. He worked on writing a European Constitution, which was formally presented in 2004 but rejected by French and Dutch voters. However, it paved the way for the adoption of the Treaty on European Union in 2007.At age 83, he published a romance novel called The Princess and the President, which he said was based on Princess Diana, with whom he said he discussed writing a love story.Asked about the nature of their relationship, he said only: “Let us not exaggerate. I knew her a bit in a climate of a confidential relationship. She needed to communicate.”Earlier this year, a German journalist accused Giscard of repeatedly grabbing her during an interview, and filed a sexual assault complaint with Paris prosecutors. Giscard’s French lawyer said the 94-year-old former president “retains no memory” of the incident.Former French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to “a statesman who had chosen to open up to the world and was thinking that Europe was a condition for France to be greater.”Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, expressed his “deep sadness.” Giscard d’Estaing “made France be proud,” he said.