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Prince Philip's funeral service to be held April 17 with limited guests, palace announces

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(LONDON) -- The funeral for Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will be held April 17 and limited to 30 guests, Buckingham Palace announced.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who died Friday at the age of 99, will be given a ceremonial royal funeral and will not lie in state, palace officials said during a press briefing Saturday.

"The plans for the funeral are very much in line with the Duke of Edinburgh's own wishes," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.

The funeral service will begin at 3 p.m. local time at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England, starting with a national minute of silence.

Funeral guests will be limited to 30 people, excluding clergy and pallbearers, and include royal family members and Prince Philip's private secretary.

According to a royal source, Prince Harry will attend his grandfather's funeral, though his wife, Megan Markle, who is currently pregnant with their second child, has been advised by her doctor not to travel.

The final guest list is expected to be provided in a briefing on Thursday.

Prince Charles paid tribute to his father, Prince Philip in a video posted on Twitter. He called his father "dear Papa" and a "very special person who, I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him."

Prince Philip's coffin, which is currently at Windsor Castle, will be carried to the chapel in a specially modified Land Rover that the duke himself had a hand in designing, a palace spokesperson said.

Funeral guests will follow the route during the royal procession. Arrangements for the Queen in the procession also will be confirmed next week.

Following the service, the coffin will be interred in the royal vault.

Coronavirus measures will be observed for both the procession and funeral service, officials said. England is in its third national lockdown during the pandemic, enacted earlier this year after the discovery of a more transmissible COVID-19 variant.

The funeral service will be broadcast "to enable as many people as possible to be part of the occasion, to mourn with us and celebrate a truly extraordinary life," a palace spokesperson said.

“While there is sadness that the public will not be able to physically be part of events to commemorate the life of the duke, the royal family ask that anyone wishing to express their condolences do so in the safest way possible and not by visiting Windsor or any other royal palaces to pay their respects," the spokesperson said.

A period of national mourning is being observed leading up to the funeral. The royal family and members of the household are also observing two weeks of mourning and wearing mourning bands when appropriate.

On Saturday, military teams across the U.K. fired 41-gun salutes to mark the death of the former naval officer.

ABC News' Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

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Volcanic eruption in Caribbean forces thousands of evacuations

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(NEW YORK) — The La Soufriere Volcano, located on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of over 16,000 people from nearby homes.

Scientists had been monitoring the volcano’s activity for years and were able to alert the islands that make up the Grenadines island chain on Thursday that a major eruption would occur imminently via the National Emergency Management Organization of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Heavy ashfall and high plumes of smoke created low visibility and reportedly disrupted evacuation efforts in some surrounding communities, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference on Friday.

He added that nearby islands Grenada, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda would be ready to receive people from St. Vincent by Monday.

Nearby cruise lines were alerted of the eruption and agreed to send four large cruise ships to support humanitarian efforts and evacuate residents, according to a statement released by Carnival Cruise Line.

Ahead of the eruption, Royal Caribbean announced on Twitter Thursday that it was also sending ships.

Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are sending ships to St. Vincent in the Caribbean to evacuate residents currently at risk from a potential eruption of the island’s La Soufriere volcano which has seen increasing activity in recent days,” a statement said. “Both cruise lines are working closely with St. Vincent authorities to assist residents most at risk.”

Gonsalves said only vaccinated residents who have been checked and identified by Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chief medical officer, will be allowed to board the ships out of an abundance of caution.

Each ship will accommodate up to 1,500 residents, who will be taken to neighboring islands that have agreed to receive the evacuees, according to Carnival Cruise Line.

Thousands of people who have not yet been vaccinated remained on land on Friday and are staying at local hotels in safe zones, Gonsalves said.

Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center said during a press conference Friday that eruptions may continue for the next few days or weeks, and that experts will continue to monitor the situation.

The State Department said it is “not aware of any U.S. citizens affected at this time” by the volcanic activity, a spokesperson told ABC News.

The local U.S. Embassy issued an “alert” for the “red zones” of St. Vincent Thursday, but it does not have a figure for the number of U.S. citizens in the country right now.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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Britain's Prince Philip dies at age 99

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(LONDON) -- Britain's Prince Philip, a stalwart supporter of his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, for over seven decades, died Friday. He was 99.

"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," Buckingham Palace said in a statement Friday. "His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."

The Duke of Edinburgh was known as one of the hardest-working members of the royal family during his tenure alongside the country's longest-reigning monarch. Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and fulfilled thousands of royal duties.

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know," Queen Elizabeth said in 1997, paying tribute to her husband on their golden wedding anniversary, celebrating 50 years together.

At age 96 in August 2017, Prince Philip retired from official royal duties with the "full support of the queen," according to Buckingham Palace.

He completed 22,219 solo engagements since 1952, gave 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, Buckingham Palace said.

In his customary good humor, Philip joked to a well-wisher who said he was sorry the Duke of Edinburgh was standing down shortly after the retirement announcement, saying, "Standing down? I can barely stand up these days."

Even after his official retirement, Prince Philip still appeared at Queen Elizabeth's side for events like Remembrance Sunday, but took a step back and spent more time at Windsor Castle and Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate to enjoy painting, carriage riding and his other hobbies.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth married in 1947 and marked their 73rd wedding anniversary on Nov. 20, 2020.

A traveling prince

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born June 10, 1921, in a villa on the Greek island of Corfu. His parents were Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Philip was their youngest child and only son.

His father, Prince Andrew, was a younger son of a Danish prince who had been chosen to become King George I of Greece and Queen Olga, a Russian princess. Princess Alice, a minor German princess, was a great-granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria.

Despite their notable backgrounds, one year after Philip's birth, Andrew and Alice found themselves refugees after a coup in Greece that chased out the royal family.

Philip first grew up in Paris and was later sent to prep school in England. He then attended Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school where he would send his own sons.

When Philip's parents separated during his childhood, his father spent most of his time in the South of France; his mother, after suffering from bouts of mental illness, was committed to a sanatorium for several years before returning to Greece.

With his four older sisters all married into the German aristocracy, Philip no longer had a family home.

He began spending more time with his mother's brother, George, Marquis of Milford Haven. When the marquis died of cancer in 1938, Philip found a new mentor in his mother's other brother, Louis Mountbatten, the future Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Mountbatten was the younger son of Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and joined the British Royal Navy, rising to become admiral of the fleet and first sea lord. He lost that position during World War I when Britons became suspicious of anyone with German blood and the Battenbergs found it prudent to anglicize their name to Mountbatten.

Following in his grandfather's footsteps, the young Prince Philip was sent to the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth and joined the British navy. While Philip served with distinction in an illustrious naval career, including service during World War II, his Mountbatten uncle devised plans for an introduction to then-Princess Elizabeth.

Love and marriage

Philip met Princess Elizabeth for the first time in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Elizabeth was not the heir apparent at the time but became so two years later after her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated so that he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the two met several times. A very young Princess Elizabeth became smitten with the blond, blue-eyed Philip. Her governess recorded that Philip's "Viking good looks" made quite an impression on the princess.

The couple exchanged letters and, in 1946, Philip, then in his mid-20s, was given permission by King George VI to marry his daughter, on the condition that they wait until Elizabeth was 21.

Her father's courtiers, however, were less impressed. There were reservations about Prince Philip's lack of financial resources and foreign roots. King George VI was also reportedly concerned about his daughter's young age and whether Philip would remain faithful to his daughter. But Elizabeth was determined and, on Nov. 20, 1947, she married Philip in Westminster Abbey.

Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the anglicized surname of his mother's family, calling himself Lt. Philip Mountbatten. His new father-in-law granted him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.

For a while, Philip and Elizabeth lived a relatively normal life. He continued to serve in the navy, and the couple soon had two children, Charles, the future Prince of Wales, and Anne.

Then, everything changed. King George VI died on Feb. 6, 1952, and Philip's wife became Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 26 while touring Kenya.

'Nothing but a bloody amoeba'

Philip had risen to the rank of commander in the Royal Navy, but he gave up his career on his wife's accession. He eventually became patron or president of about 800 organizations, with particular emphasis on the areas of scientific and technical research and sports.

Elizabeth did not give her husband the formal title of "prince consort," as Victoria had done for her beloved Albert, but in 1957 the Duke of Edinburgh was declared a prince of the United Kingdom.

For Prince Philip's 90th birthday in 2011, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Lord High Admiral.

On their 70th wedding anniversary in November 2017, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Philip to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order for his services to the sovereign.

Philip and Elizabeth had two more children, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

But Philip had reportedly been angry to learn, after his wife's accession, that his children would never bear his last name, according to a 2012 biography of the queen by author Sally Bedell Smith.

"I'm nothing but a bloody amoeba," a resentful Philip reportedly said. "I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."

Although they didn't bear his surname, Philip took a very active role in his children's upbringing. At his insistence, all three of his sons went to Gordonstoun, his old boarding school, which Charles is said to have loathed.

Philip was very protective of both his family and the family business into which he married. He reportedly wrote stern letters to his daughters-in-law, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, when he felt their actions embarrassed the monarchy.

He also had the reputation for being particularly candid with members of his own family. His eldest son, Prince Charles, said in a biography that his father pushed him into marriage. Philip also sent Diana letters as her marriage to Prince Charles fell apart, hoping to calm tensions and mediate the differences between them.

"We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her. I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla. Such a prospect never even entered our heads," wrote Philip in one letter.

The sympathetic letters to Diana were often signed "with fondest love, Pa," and also expressed exasperation at how the couple's problems had been made public and embarrassed the monarchy.

When Diana was killed in a 1997 car crash, Philip took the reins of the family and was a stalwart force for Queen Elizabeth. She was criticized for remaining at Balmoral with Diana and Charles's children, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Philip's only concern was protecting his grandsons from the intense scrutiny by the press and allowing them to grieve for their mother in the aftermath of her tragic death.

When Downing Street officials suggested that William and Harry might walk behind their mother's coffin, an anguished Philip reportedly bellowed into the phone, "F--- off. We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother."

Philip ultimately put aside his personal feelings and told young William and Harry, "I'll walk if you walk."

Royal controversy

Over the years, Prince Philip has also seen his share of controversy.

In January 2019, the 97-year-old prince made headlines after he was involved in a serious car crash near the queen's Sandringham estate.

Prince Philip collided with another car carrying two women and a 9-month-old baby. No one was seriously injured but questions were raised as to whether the prince should still be driving at his age. The matter was compounded when two days after the accident, Philip was back behind the wheel without a seat belt on the Queen's private estate, an offense punishable by a fine under UK law. The prince was criticized for his lack of sensitivity and apparent disregard for the law.

He was also well known for his royal gaffes. The British and Canadian press equally denounced him for a blunt comment in Canada in 1976, where he said, "We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

Health issues

Prince Philip has been hospitalized a number of times over the last few decades.

In October 2007, it was revealed that the prince had been suffering from a heart condition since 1992. In April 2008, he was hospitalized for a chest infection but recovered quickly.

In December 2011, the prince suffered chest pains and had minor surgery to open a blocked artery.

During Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012, he was hospitalized for a bladder infection just before his 91st birthday, and Buckingham Palace announced in August he was readmitted to the hospital while on his annual Scottish summer at Balmoral.

A year later, the royal household said Prince Philip had once again been admitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery after his doctors revealed that it was necessary following "abdominal investigations." The surgery was conducted under general anesthesia and the palace later said he was progressing satisfactorily, but would remain in the hospital for approximately two weeks.

In June 2017, Buckingham Palace was forced to announce Prince Philip had been hospitalized again as the reason he was going to miss the state opening of Parliament, which he attended annually with Queen Elizabeth.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London last night, as a precautionary measure, for treatment of an infection arising from a pre-existing condition."

In April 2018, Buckingham Palace announced Prince Philip was to be hospitalized again, this time for hip surgery at the age of 96, after missing a number of events due to discomfort.

"His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London this afternoon, for planned surgery on his hip, which will take place tomorrow," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

Queen Elizabeth's mother, the Queen Mother, also underwent hip surgery at the age of 97, so although the surgery carried risks due to his advanced age, doctors wanted to ensure Philip would be in less pain. His beloved grandson, Harry, was set to marry American-born Meghan Markle in May 2018 and Philip wanted to recover in time for his grandson's wedding.

Prince Philip was seen carriage driving on the grounds of Windsor Castle shortly after his 97th birthday in June 2018, just months after his hip replacement surgery.

Philip was later hospitalized in December 2019, when he was taken to King Edward VII Hospital for "observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition," the palace said in a statement at the time.

He was admitted again to King Edward VII Hospital in February 2021 as "a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness’s Doctor, after feeling unwell," according to a Buckingham Palace statement.

The duke later underwent a "successful procedure" at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in east London for a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.

Philip was transferred back to King Edward VII Hospital and then discharged from the hospital on March, 16, 2021, after "treatment for an infection and a successful procedure for a pre-existing condition," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

Both the duke and Queen Elizabeth received COVID-19 vaccinations in January 2021, soon after the vaccines became available in the United Kingdom.

Family man

The outspoken prince was an avid sportsman, and he played polo regularly until 1971 and helped develop the country's interest in carriage driving.

Despite his somewhat prickly nature, Prince Philip could also be very supportive, especially toward his wife and family. He was particularly proud of his daughter, Anne.

Rarely missing any royal occasions, the prince has always been by his wife's side. The British public revered Prince Philip for his no-nonsense style, his unwavering public service and devotion to Queen Elizabeth. The Queen acknowledged Prince Philip's commitment in front of Parliament in 2012.

"During these years as your queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure," the queen said. "Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind. But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide."

Later, during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with Philip once again in the hospital, Prince Charles paid tribute to his father: "As a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud to be British."

In addition to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip is survived by his three sons: Charles, the Prince of Wales; Andrew, the Duke of York; and Edward, the Earl of Wessex; one daughter, Princess Anne; and eight grandchildren, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry of Wales; Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York; Peter and Zara Phillips, as well as Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

He also has 10 great-grandchildren: Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, the children of Prince William and Duchess Kate; Archie, the son of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan; along with a great-grandson from Prince Andrew's daughter Eugenie, two great-grandchildren from Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, and three great-grandchildren from Anne's daughter, Zara Tindall, an Olympic equestrian.

Philip's title is expected to pass to his youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Royal family members, world leaders react to Prince Philip's death at 99


(LONDON) -- Prince Philip's death Friday at the age of 99 marked the end of an era in Britain's royal family.

Philip was a steadfast supporter of his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth, and a consistent presence in public life.

When he officially retired from royal duties in 2017 at age 96, Philip had completed more than 22,000 solo engagements since 1952, given 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, according to Buckingham Palace.

Philip was also a constant presence in the life of his family. In addition to Queen Elizabeth, the duke is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Upon his death, leaders from around the world reflected on Philip's 99 years of life and the legacy he leaves behind.

Buckingham Palace announced Philip's death with a statement that read, in part, "The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."

The statement was shared on the royal family's website, as well as the social media accounts of royal family members, including Philip's grandson, Prince William, and his wife, Duchess Kate.

Members of the royal family are not expected to issue further public comments as they continue their period of mourning.

Following tradition, Buckingham Palace also placed an announcement of Prince Philip’s death on the gates of the palace. Flags at the palace will be flown at half-mast from today until the morning of the day after the funeral service for Philip.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about Philip's life and legacy in comments delivered Friday outside 10 Downing Street in London.

"Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world," Johnson said. "Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the Royal Family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life."

Former U.S. president George W. Bush said in a statement, “Laura and I are saddened to learn the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and remarkable life, he devoted himself to worthy causes and to others. He represented the United Kingdom with dignity and brought boundless strength and support to the sovereign. Laura and I are fortunate to enjoyed the charm and wit of his company and we know how much he will be missed. We join those around the world offering heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the entire Royal Family.”

— British Army (@BritishArmy) April 9, 2021 ">The British Army also shared news of the death of Philip, whose military career included service in the British Navy during World War II.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a statement reflecting on Philip's service to Australia, a Commonwealth nation.

"Prince Philip was no stranger to Australia, having visited our country on more than 20 occasions," Morrison said in the statement. "Through his service to the Commonwealth he presided as patron or president of nearly 50 organizations in Australia. Given his own service, Prince Philip also had a strong connection with the Australian Defense Force."

"For 65 years, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme has encouraged over 775,000 young Australians to explore their leadership potential. Forty thousand young Australians are currently participating in the program," he said. "Australians send our love and deepest condolences to her Majesty and all the Royal family. The Commonwealth family joins together in sorrow and thanksgiving for the loss and life of Prince Philip. God bless from all here in Australia."

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf remembered Philip as a "great friend" of his family.

“The Queen & I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh," he said in a statement. "Prince Philip has been a great friend of our family for many years, a relation we have deeply valued. His service to his country will remain an inspiration to us all. We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty The Queen, The Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom."

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Philip's legacy of community service.

"My thoughts are with the British people and the Royal Family on the passing away of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," he said in a statement. "He had a distinguished career in the military and was at the forefront of many community service initiatives. May his soul rest in peace.“

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neytanyahu said Philip will be missed "in Israel and across the world."

"I express my deepest condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, the Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom on the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh," he said. "Prince Philip was the consummate public servant and will be much missed in Israel and across the world."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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3,000-year-old 'Lost Golden City' unearthed in Egypt's Luxor


(LUXOR, Egypt) -- Egypt announced on Thursday the discovery of what it termed the "Lost Golden City" in the southern province of Luxor, with one U.S.-based egyptologist describing the find as the biggest archaeological discovery since Tutankhamun's tomb nearly a century ago.

A mission led by Egypt's former antiquities chief Zahi Hawass unearthed "several areas or neighborhoods" of the 3,000-year-old city after seven months of excavation.

The mission's original target was to find a mortuary temple of King Tut, whose tomb was discovered in Luxor's Valley of the Kings in 1922, but they instead excavated parts of an entire city.

The city, which Hawass also called "The Rise of Aten," dates back to the era of 18th-dynasty king Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt from 1391 till 1353 B.C.

"The excavation started in September 2020 and within weeks, to the team's great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions," Egypt's antiquities ministry said in a statement.

"What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life."

The southern part of the city includes a bakery, ovens and storage pottery while the northern part, most of which remain under the sands, comprises administrative and residential districts, the ministry added.

"It was the largest administrative and industrial settlement in the era of the Egyptian empire on the western bank of Luxor," Hawass said.

"The city's streets are flanked by houses," with some walls up to 3 meter high, Hawass also said.

Hawass said the city was still active during Amenhotep III's co-regency with his son, Akhenaten, but that the latter eventually abandoned it when he took the throne. Akhenaten then founded Amarna, a new capital in the modern-day province of Minya, some 250 km south of Cairo and 400 km north of Luxor.

Betsy Brian, professor of egyptology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the finding's importance is only second to the earth-shattering discovery of King Tut's tomb.

"The discovery of the Lost City, not only will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the Empire was at its wealthiest but will help us shed light on one of history's greatest mystery: why did Akhenaten and Nefertiti decide to move to Amarna," Brian added.

Egypt has made a string of major discoveries over the past few years as it hopes to revive its vital tourism industry, which was badly hit by two uprisings and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country held a glitzy parade to move 22 mummies to a newly inaugurated museum in Cairo on Saturday and is preparing to open the Grand Egyptian Museum near the Giza Pyramids later this year.

Egypt says GEM will be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization.

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Biden admin to 'surge' aid to Central America, offer 'legal paths' to stem historic migration

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is working "to surge humanitarian assistance to" Central American countries and to offer new "legal paths" for migration, according to U.S. officials, as it tries to manage a historic jump in the number of migrants reaching the southern U.S. border.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Mexico's president Wednesday as she takes the lead for the new administration in addressing what has become a critical security, foreign policy, and political challenge.

After speaking to Harris last week, Guatemala's president told ABC News Wednesday that the U.S. must work with his country, El Salvador and Honduras "to build walls of prosperity" that encourage migrants to stay home and to increase cooperation on trade and law enforcement against human smugglers.

"We need the United States to see us as their front yard, as their partner," said President Alejandro Giammattei. "Because we are partners in the same problems -- they don't want illegal people there, and I don't want them to leave. So we have a common problem. Let's solve it together."

But a staggering number of people have made that journey in recent months, as the three countries, known collectively as the "Northern Triangle," reel from the coronavirus pandemic, two back-to-back deadly hurricanes in November, and systemic issues like corruption, gang violence and drug trafficking.

President Joe Biden has said he wants to boost U.S. investment in the region by $4 billion over several years, assigning Harris the same task he was given by former President Barack Obama to deal with irregular migration.

While the White House has said its message is clear, Biden's messages of compassion for immigrants have been misused by human smugglers, according to Giammattei.

"They used his message and turned it around to tell people, 'Now is the time. They will receive you. Let's go.' The message is confusing," Giammattei told ABC News' John Quinones in his first U.S. television interview.

After calling Giammattei last week, Harris spoke to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Wednesday. Both calls focused on cooperating to improve economic opportunities and reduce corruption, key drivers of migration, according to spokesperson Symone Sanders.

It's unclear if and when she'll call Honduras' president, who has faced allegations of narcotrafficking and accepting bribes in U.S. federal court, or El Salvador's president, who has tightened his grip on power in increasingly authoritarian ways and skirmished with a U.S. lawmaker this week on Twitter.

To kick start its efforts, Sanders said Tuesday, the administration has also implemented a "surge in humanitarian assistance." But so far, the White House has not announced any new funding. To date, the U.S. has provided $112 million in response to November's Hurricanes Eta and Iota, as well as $85 million for fiscal year 2020, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

But that pales in comparison to Biden's $4 billion plan during his 2020 presidential campaign, and the administration has yet to put forth a proposal for Congress to request any funds.

Instead, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it has launched a disaster assistance response team, or DART, to deploy to the region. The new team is assessing conditions in all three countries and "working to mitigate the impact" of challenges like "recurrent drought, severe food insecurity, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic" and Hurricanes Eta and Iota, Price told ABC News Wednesday.

The immediate response may help stem the march of migrants, according to Sanders, by "helping the people of the region where they are."

But Giammattei said what is really needed is long-term investment -- and help from the U.S. government in fostering ties with the private sector. The Guatemalan president told ABC News' John Quinones that the U.S. should loosen import restrictions in order to boost Guatemalan businesses, including avocados and berries, clothing and personal protective equipment.

He also called for increased cooperation on law enforcement, requested the U.S. make human smuggling a federal crime and suggested expanding Guatemala's extradition treaty with the U.S. to prosecute so-called "coyotes" in America.

The U.S. must also increase legal paths to enter the country, Giammattei added, like expanding temporary work visas and providing children legal status to be reunited with parents already in the U.S. -- something the Biden administration has already said it is working on.

"We are here to also discuss the need and the efforts of the White House to create legal paths for migration, so that people don't have to use irregular and very dangerous paths," Ricardo Zúñiga, U.S. special envoy for the Northern Triangle, said Tuesday after meeting government officials and civil society leaders in the capital of Guatemala City.

Standing with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo, Zúñiga praised the country's officials for an "impressive ... spirit of cooperation."

The State Department has not yet said what kinds of "paths" he was referring to, with spokesperson Price referring questions to the White House. The White House declined to comment.

But Biden told ABC News last month that his administration is working to set up a process for asylum seekers to apply from home.

"Make your case. We'll have people there to determine whether or not you are able to meet the requirement to qualify for asylum. That's the best way to do this," Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Asylum is a legal status that can only be claimed when someone reaches another country's territory and has their case adjudicated to see if they face a credible threat back home -- as opposed to refugee status, where one flees one's home country, applies from a third country, is vetted, and can be approved for resettlement.

The administration hopes that allowing folks to apply for asylum status in their home country may discourage some would-be travelers from trying to cross the southern U.S. border. But some experts counter that most asylum applicants are urgently fleeing violence or threats and would still make the journey north, instead of waiting through an application process.

"If the processes are made easier, we could have, instead of illegal migrant children, children who have permission to be reunited with their families -- before they put themselves at risk," Giammattei told ABC News.

The Biden administration has announced the resumption of a program to do that. Created by the Obama administration, the Central American Minors program grants legal status to children 18 and younger who have a parent already legally in the U.S.

The program was shut down by the Trump administration, which ultimately lost a federal lawsuit for its actions and was forced to accept over 2,000 applicants who had been in the pipeline. While those applicants continue to be processed, there's still no word on when the U.S. will begin taking new applications again.

In the meantime, "The Border of the United States is closed," Zúñiga reiterated Tuesday. He left Guatemala for El Salvador Wednesday, but he and his delegation will not visit Honduras. The State Department said it is not meant as a signal to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been named as a "co-conspirator" in a narco-trafficking and bribery trial in New York, but has not been indicted.

"There will be a meeting, I expect, with the Honduran foreign minister, who will be visiting the United States upon their return. As we've said before, we are deeply concerned about the challenges that the people of Honduras are facing right now," Price told ABC News on Monday, declining to say whether Hernandez himself is one of those challenges.

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Sustainable crop, timber production can reduce extinction of species by 40%: Study


(NEW YORK) -- Transforming crop and timber production to a sustainable model could reduce the extinction of species by mitigating one of the great drivers of terrestrial wildlife decline, according to a new study.

Loss of habitat is often to blame when the status of a species' potential to survive worsens. But while the major direct threats to species have been well documented, establishing specific targets for threat reduction is complex due to the large number of threatened species -- more than 30,000 on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species -- as well as rapid deterioration and large variation in extinction risk to species and the threats impacting them, according to a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Thursday.

A new metric, the species threat abatement and restoration (STAR) metric, allows businesses, governments and society to assess their potential contributions to the global species loss. STAR can also calculate specific targets at a national, regional, sector-based or institutional level.

The metric found that restoring habitat opportunities in certain places "could reduce species extinction risk to levels that would exist without ongoing human impact," researchers state. Crop production accounts for about 24.5% of the global STAR score, while logging and wood harvesting accounts for another 16.4%.

These figures lead researchers to believe that removing threats to wildlife from crop production, as well as actions such as land sharing to land sparing, the setting aside of land for biodiversity conservation, could reduce the global extinction risk for amphibians, birds and mammals by 24%.

Ending threats caused by unsustainable logging globally would reduce this by a further 16%, while removing threats associated with invasive alien species would reduce the risk by 10% more, according to the researchers.

"For years, a major impediment to engaging companies, governments and others in biodiversity conservation has been the inability to measure the impact of their efforts," IUCN Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said in a statement. "By quantifying their contributions, the new STAR metric can bring all these actors together around the common objective of preserving the diversity of life on Earth. We need concerted global action to safeguard the world’s biodiversity, and with it our own safety and wellbeing."

Complete alleviation of threats to a great majority of species could halt the decline and promote sufficient enough recovery in populations that their status on the IUCN's Red List could be improved to the category of "Least Concern," researchers said.

A global framework with revised targets and goals for 2030 is currently being negotiated using the new metric.

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Putin foe Navalny tests negative for COVID-19 but has 2 hernias, lawyers say


(MOSCOW) -- The jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has tested negative for the coronavirus after he was moved to his prison's medical bay to be treated for a respiratory illness, Navalny's lawyers said Wednesday, but the activist remains unwell and appears to be suffering from two hernias that have been causing him severe back pain.

Navalny, known as President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic, is currently in a penal colony close to Moscow and was transferred to its medical unit two days ago with a high temperature and a cough.

Navalny was already on hunger strike over what he said was the prison's refusal to treat his back pain that was making it difficult to walk. His new symptoms raised concerns he could be sick with COVID-19, and also possibly even tuberculosis, after he said three inmates in his prison block had been diagnosed with the illness.

Navalny's lawyers on Wednesday visited him at the prison and told ABC News that a first test for the coronavirus was negative. They are currently waiting on the result of a second test.

After meeting with Navalny, one of the lawyers, Olga Mikhailova, told Russian media that his temperature appeared to have improved somewhat on Wednesday, falling from over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to around 99 degrees.

She told ABC News earlier they were concerned about the cases of tuberculosis in the prison but that for now it was unclear what illness was causing his cough and fever. An anonymous prison source has denied to Russian state media that there is an outbreak of tuberculosis in the camp.

But Navalny's other health problems appeared worse, the lawyers said. An MRI scan, they said, had now shown Navalny's back pain is being caused by two hernias.

Navalny, 44, declared his hunger strike a week ago and demanded he be allowed proper medical treatment for his back problem, which he said he has been enduring for weeks and has recently worsened, causing him to lose sensation in his legs and making it hard to stand.

Navalny has accused the prison of refusing to allow him to be examined by an independent doctor or give him real treatment. Mikhailova said on Wednesday that the loss of sensation has now started to spread to Navalny's hands.

"Of course, he's exhausted, because he is continuing his hunger strike, he's only drinking water." Mikhailova told the Russian opposition-leaning channel TV Rain. "But with that, he is holding on and he was trying to somehow cheer us up."

Navalny was imprisoned after he returned to Russia in February, having survived an assassination attempt with a nerve agent last summer that has been linked to Russia's intelligence service, the FSB. He was sentenced to over two and a half years in prison for alleged parole violations in a case that has been condemned internationally as political.

The camp where Navalny is held, Correctional Colony No.2 in the town of Pokrov, about 60 miles east of Moscow, is notorious among prisoners and rights activists for its strictness, and denial of medical treatment is routine in Russian prisons.

Russia jails 2nd ex-US Marine Trevor Reed for 9 years amid criticism trials are political
The international human rights group, Amnesty International, on Tuesday warned that the conditions Navalny was being kept in amounted to "torture".

They "have already attempted to kill him, they are now detaining him, and imposing prison conditions, that amount to torture," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general, told Reuters.

"The Russian authorities, may be placing him into a situation of a slow death and seeking to hide what is happening to him," Callamard said.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said it is not following Navalny's situation in prison. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday told reporters that there could be no "special treatment" for Navalny.

In messages posted from prison, Navalny has struck an upbeat tone and maintained his ironic, mocking style. A new message was posted on Wednesday from Navalny via his team on Instagram where he did not mention his illness, but in his characteristic style accused authorities of using absurd tactics to try to undermine his hunger strike. He said the prison guards had started trying to put candy into his pockets to make it look like he was sneaking food and has even resorted to cooking chicken in the prisoners' kitchen in the hope of weakening his resolve.

"I knew, of course, that the authorities in the first place would want to discredit my hunger strike and make a joke of it," Navalny wrote. "Only the primitiveness of the approach surprises me."

A group of Navalny's supporters, including a prominent medical activist who is also his personal physician, gathered at the prison on Tuesday and demanded he be given access to an independent doctor. Police detained the activists, including six doctors, as well as briefly a CNN crew, who were later released.

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Interpol issues 'red notice' for MIT graduate accused of murdering Yale student

Police are searching for Quinxuan Pan, seen in this undated photo. - (New Haven Police Department)

(LONDON) -- The United States Marshals Service has secured a "red notice" through Interpol in the search for Qinxuan Pan, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student who is wanted for the murder of Yale University graduate student Kevin Jiang.

Matthew Duffy, supervisory deputy and public information officer of the U.S. Marshals' District of Connecticut Violent Fugitive Task Force, told ABC News that federal investigators are "expanding our reach internationally so if Pan has traveled or is going to travel outside of the United States, or is in transit, we are hoping to grab him with the red notice."

"Anywhere that has a treaty with the United States, he would be stopped in transit, secured and taken into custody," Duffy said. "At that point in time, we would go and get him and bring him back to the United States."

Interpol, formally known as the International Criminal Police Organization, enables police in 194 member states to work together to fight international crime. The organization publishes a red notice at the request of a member country for law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action. A red notice is an international wanted persons notice, not an international arrest warrant, according to Interpol's website.

"Interpol helps us with countries where there may be difficulty getting people out," Duffy told ABC News.

The move came more than a month after the U.S. Marshals expanded its manhunt nationwide for 29-year-old Pan, who is wanted for murder and second-degree larceny. Pan, described as a 6-foot Asian American man weighing 170 pounds, was last seen in the early morning hours of Feb. 11 driving with family members in the Brookhaven or Duluth areas of Georgia. Relatives said he was carrying a black backpack and acting strange, according to the U.S. Marshals.

Pan is the primary suspect in the Feb. 6 slaying of 26-year-old Jiang, who was shot and killed on a street in New Haven, Connecticut. Police found Jiang dead from multiple gunshot wounds that night in the East Rock neighborhood, near Yale University's campus. Police said Jiang was operating a vehicle at the time of the shooting but declined to say if he was inside or outside the car when he was killed. Authorities are investigating whether Jiang was targeted or if the shooting followed a road rage incident.

Jiang, a former member of the Army National Guard, had recently gotten engaged and was a graduate student at the Yale School of Environment, according to the university's president.

In late February, the New Haven Police Department obtained an arrest warrant charging Pan with murder, with a $5 million bond. Police had previously only named Pan as a person of interest in Jiang's killing.

Pan was accused of stealing a car from a dealership in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and swapping the plates on the day of the murder. The vehicle was found abandoned in a scrapyard in New Haven where it had gotten stuck on some railroad tracks, according to an application requesting a warrant for Pan's arrest on the larceny charge.

Pan was born in Shanghai, China, but is a U.S. citizen who was most recently living in Malden, Massachusetts, about five miles north of Boston. He received undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in June 2014. He has been enrolled as a graduate student in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science since September 2014, according to the school.

The U.S. Marshals is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to Pan's direct location and arrest. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is urged to contact the federal law enforcement agency at 1-877-926-8332 or submit tips online at

"Pan should be considered armed and dangerous," the U.S. Marshals said in a statement. "Individuals should not attempt to apprehend him themselves."

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Gunmen free nearly 2,000 inmates in attack on Nigerian prison


(LONDON) -- Nearly 2,000 inmates have escaped from a prison in southeastern Nigeria after heavily armed gunmen attacked the facility, authorities said.

The massive jailbreak occurred before dawn on Monday in Owerri, the capital of Imo state. Attackers wielding machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives stormed the facility, blasting their way through the administrative block to gain entrance to the prison yard. They exchanged fire with on-duty guards "in a fierce gun battle" and "forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody," according to a press release from the Nigerian Correctional Service, the government agency in charge of the West African nation's prison system.

While most of the inmates fled, 35 stayed behind and at least six others have voluntarily returned to the prison. Authorities are investigating the incident and have launched a manhunt to recapture the escaped detainees, the Nigerian Correctional Service said.

The gunmen also attacked other government buildings in Owerri, including the Imo state headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force, the country's leading law enforcement agency. There were no deaths or injuries among police, apart from a constable who sustained a minor bullet wound to his shoulder.

"The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the police armory at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted," the Nigeria Police Force said in a statement Monday, adding that its inspector-general has ordered the "immediate deployment" of additional police units in Imo state.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Nigeria Police Force blamed the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the paramilitary wing of a secessionist movement active in the region known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The group seeks to restore independence to the so-called state of Biafra in southeast Nigeria. Biafra secessionists had declared independence in 1967 but were defeated by the Nigerian federal government in a nearly three-year civil war that left 1 million people dead.

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US, Iran hold first indirect talks in bid to save nuclear deal

Oleksii Liskonih/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. and Iran are holding indirect talks on Tuesday in what could be the first step toward reviving the 2015 deal that constrains Tehran's nuclear facilities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The meetings, hosted by the European Union, will work toward two separate agreements -- on how the U.S. and Iran can both return to compliance with the deal's terms.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018, re-imposing strict U.S. sanctions on Iran's economy and government. In response, the Iranian government began violating the restrictions on its nuclear program, now enriching more uranium, at higher levels, and with more -- and more advanced -- centrifuges.

While both sides have downplayed Tuesday's meetings, it could mark the beginning of a quick return to the deal, which saw Iran agree to international inspections of and certain time-limited restrictions on its nuclear program. In exchange, sanctions were lifted by the United Nations, the U.S., and the other world powers who signed on -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

But especially amid fierce pressure in Washington and from regional allies like Israel, a renewed nuclear deal would still leave a long road ahead for the Biden administration, which seeks to "lengthen and strengthen" the original agreement, including by addressing Iran's support for proxy forces across the region and its ballistic missile program.

"We don't underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead. These are early days. We don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday -- before calling the indirect talks a "healthy step forward."

U.S. special envoy for Iran Rob Malley will lead the delegation, which will meet with European, Chinese and Russian counterparts. Iran's delegation will have its own separate meetings with those teams, which together constitute the remaining members of the agreement.

While there is no face-to-face meeting planned with Iran, the U.S. still "remains open" to one, according to Price. The U.S. first offered to meet the Iranians in February, but weeks of outreach through European allies have been rejected by the Iranian government.

Just last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a face-to-face meeting was "unnecessary." Iran has called for the U.S. to move first in returning to the deal since Trump was the first to violate it, even refusing to meet the Americans until the U.S. government begins lifting sanctions -- while Biden has vowed to keep sanctions in place until Iran returns to compliance.

"What is promising about the Vienna talks is there seems to be an understanding now by both the Biden administration and the Iranians that neither side is going to go first. It may seem like semantics, and maybe it is. But I think what we have is at least the germ of a process whereby both sides can say we're moving simultaneously, both sides can save a little face and put together a roadmap going forward," said Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.

The talks begin Tuesday in Vienna, the capital of Austria, where much of the diplomacy around the original deal unfolded. While they're slated for one day, it could extend on, especially if the separate "working groups" make progress and bring in technical experts to finalize details on Iranian and U.S. compliance.

That alone will be no easy task. There are critical questions remaining, including how quickly Iran can dismantle the advanced centrifuges now spinning, how it will reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium, and what to do about its gains in research and development as it violated its terms of the deal.

On the U.S. side, there are questions around which sanctions the Biden administration will lift, after the Trump administration targeted hundreds of Iranian businesses, officials, economic sectors and state-owned firms and agencies.

Iran has called for all Trump-era sanctions to be removed, saying they violated the deal. But the State Department indicated Monday that it will only lift those related to Iran's nuclear program.

"We certainly will not entertain unilateral gestures or concessions to get Iran -- to induce Iran to a better place," Price said during the department's daily press briefing. "We'll continue to be guided by what the original JCPOA called for, which is nuclear sanctions."

But Press TV, an Iranian state media outlet, reported that Malley and the U.S. delegation will "leave Vienna empty-handed if the Tuesday meeting would result in anything other than the removal of all U.S. sanctions," citing an "an informed source close to the Iranian negotiating team."

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New Zealand to open quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia


(LONDON) -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday that her country will open a travel bubble with Australia in less than two weeks.

Quarantine-free travel between the neighboring nations, separated by the Tasman Sea, will commence at 11:59 p.m. New Zealand time on April 18.

"This is an important step forward in our COVID response and represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world," Ardern said at a press conference Tuesday, "that is safely opening up international travel to another country while continuing to purse a strategy of elimination and a commitment to keeping the virus out."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed Ardern's announcement.

"This announcement will enable quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand on both sides of the Tasman helping to reunite families and friends and giving tourism operators a significant boost," Morrison said in a statement Tuesday. "This latest major step in the resumption of international travel has only been possible due to the internationally recognised, world-leading responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by Australia and New Zealand."

Both countries have been successful in stamping out the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand, a nation of five million people, has had a total of 2,524 confirmed and probable cases, including 26 deaths. There are currently 74 actives cases, all of which are in managed isolation and quarantine, according to New Zealand's Ministry of Health. Australia, a country of 25 million people, has had a total of 29,365 confirmed cases, including 909 deaths. There are currently 149 active cases, according to Australia's Department of Health.

While Australia had previously allowed travelers from New Zealand to arrive without having to self-isolate, New Zealand had enforced a two-week quarantine period for travelers from Australia amid concerns about small outbreaks there. Both have had strict quarantine requirements for travelers from nations where COVID-19 is rife.

Ardern said the risk of transmission from Australia to New Zealand is now deemed low and that a trans-Tasman travel bubble would be safe. However, the prime minister warned that quarantine-free travel between the two countries "will not be what it was pre-COVID."

"Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware," she said. "People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak."

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Europe's vaccine rollout 'unacceptably slow': WHO


(GENEVA) -- The World Health Organization criticized Europe's sluggish vaccine rollout as "unacceptably slow" in a recent statement, pointing to the low rate of Europeans who have been fully vaccinated.

Just 10% of Europeans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and only 4% have been fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.

"Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic. Not only do they work, they are also highly effective in preventing infection," Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO's regional director for Europe, said in a statement last Wednesday. "As long as coverage remains low, we need to apply the same public health and social measures as we have in the past, to compensate for delayed schedules," he added.

"Let me be clear: we must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now."

In the United States, 32% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 18.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Europe has seen an uptick transmission of the virus in recent weeks, including the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom and which is now the dominant variant in Europe. As a result of rising cases, 27 countries in the region are now in partial or full national lockdown, many imposing nighttime curfews.

"The likelihood of new variants of concern occurring increases with the rate at which the virus is replicating and spreading, so curbing transmission through basic disease control actions is crucial," Dr. Dorit Nitzan, regional emergency director for the WHO's regional office for Europe, said in a statement.

Europe's vaccine rollout has been plagued by supply issues and disagreements over vaccine delivery contracts with pharmaceutical companies. AstraZeneca, the vaccine that Europe bet most heavily on, reduced the number of doses it said it could deliver to the European Union because of low supply and contracts with other countries.

In March, more than 20 countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands halted their AstraZeneca programs over concerns about blood clots. Those countries have since resumed vaccinations following an investigation by the European Medicines Agency that found the vaccine to be safe and effective.

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Arrests made as intrigue and suspicion surround alleged royal coup in Jordan


(NEW YORK) -- Jordan’s government has said that a coup attempt centered on former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of the current monarch King Abdullah II, was foiled on Sunday, with up to 16 people arrested for “attempts to jeopardize the safety and stability” of the country.

The suspects arrested include several key figures in the Jordanian royal court, including Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadallah, who was King Abdullah’s advisor on shaping the country’s economic policy and served as his chief of the royal court until 2008. The government alleges that Crown Prince Hamzah had liaised with foreign entities and that he was making plans to flee the country.

The Jordanian government initially denied reports that Prince Hamzah had been arrested, but a video first obtained by the BBC said that he was under house arrest and had his phone and internet access restricted. The BBC said they received the video from Hamzah’s lawyer.

In the video, seen by ABC News, Prince Hamzah denied being part of a foreign plot and encouraged Jordanians to not believe any "forged" narratives.

“It’s reached the point where no one is able to speak, or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened,” he said in the video. “I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out.”

At a press conference on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said that “thorough, intensive and comprehensive investigations” were carried out before the arrests, and that Prince Hamzah had held several meetings with foreign parties to “persuade them into destabilizing the country.”

Overnight, an Israeli national living in Europe, Roee Shaposhnik, said he offered to send a plane to pick up Prince Hamzah and offered him a place to stay in Germany. However, he denied any relation with Israeli intelligence in a statement to a Hebrew news outlet, as well as any knowledge of the current intrigue gripping Jordan.

Prince Hamzah is considered to be a popular figure in Jordan, especially amongst the Kingdom's tribal leaders, and has long been vocal about problems inside the country. Jordan, which remained largely untouched by the Arab Spring that swept through Middle Eastern monarchies ten years ago, has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 7,000 deaths. Since the pandemic hit, the level of poverty in the country has increased by 38% according to a study from the World Bank and UNHCR.

Part of Prince Hamzah's popularity lies in his close resemblance to his father, the late King Hussein, who is still mourned in the country more than two decades after his death.

After the late king's death, Hamzah was designated Crown Prince, with Abdullah II ascending to the throne. In 2004, however, King Abdullah II replaced Prince Hamzah and later designated his eldest son as the Crown Prince of Jordan.

The coup attempt in a key Western ally has also alerted the attention of the State Department in the U.S.

“We are closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”

Meanwhile the American born Queen Noor Al-Hussein, the mother of Crown Prince Hamzah and widow to the former king, issued a strong statement in support for her son, staff and associates who were arrested.

“Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander,” she posted on Twitter to her one million followers. “God bless and keep them safe.”

Deputy Prime Minister Safadi said that the stability of Jordan was a top priority, and that the results of their ongoing investigations would eventually be announced in “all transparency.”

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India sees 'alarming rate of growth of COVID-19 cases and deaths,' officials say


(LONDON) -- India has seen "an alarming rate of growth of COVID-19 cases and deaths" in recent weeks, the prime minister's office said Sunday.

More than 12.3 million people in India have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far and at least 165,101 of them have died, making India one of the worst-affected countries in the world. On Saturday, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare confirmed 93,249 new cases, the highest single-day tally since mid-September. The country's daily case counts have been rising exponentially since early March.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting on Sunday to review the worrying situation. Ten of India's 36 states and union territories are currently contributing to 91.4% of the country's total COVID-19 cases and 90.9% of the country's death toll from the disease. The states of Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh are "of serious concern," according to a press release from the prime minister's office.

Maharashtra, the second-most populous state in India that houses the financial hub of Mumbai, is the hardest-hit state, accounting for 57% of India's case count in the last two weeks and 47% of the country's death toll during the same period. As many as 47,913 new cases have been reported in a single day in Maharashtra, "which is more than double its earlier peak," the prime minister's office said.

Punjab and Chhattisgarh are seeing a disproportionate number of deaths from COVID-19. Punjab accounted for just 4.5% of India's case count over the past 14 days but contributed 16.3% of the country's death toll in that period, "which is a matter of serious concern," the prime minister's office said. Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh accounted for just 4.3% of India's case count in the last two weeks but more than 7% of its death toll during the same period, according to the prime minister's office.

Officials attributed the sharp rise in cases mainly to the public's increasing unwillingness to comply with COVID-19 public safety measures, "pandemic fatigue" and the ineffective implementation of containment measures at the local level. Over the coming days, the Indian government plans to roll out a special campaign to reinforce public safety measures including mask usage, personal hygiene and sanitation, according to the prime minister's office.

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