Barbados elects first president, to replace British Queen

Sandra Mason, the current governor-general, is set to be sworn in as president on November 30, the country's 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.

Calling the parliamentary vote a "historic milestone on the road to the Republic," the Barbadian government tweeted that its House and Senate had elected Mason, 72, on Wednesday.

In September 2020, Mason announced the break with Britain, saying "the time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind."

"Having attained Independence over half a century ago, our country can be in no doubt about its capacity for self-governance," she said.

When asked about the plans last year, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said it was "a matter for the government and people of Barbados."

Barbados -- which has a population of just under 300,000 -- was claimed by the British in 1625. It has sometimes been called "Little England" for its loyalty to British customs.

It is relatively prosperous, and a popular tourist destination: prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, more than a million tourists visited its idyllic beaches and crystalline waters each year.

The Caribbean's easternmost island is also well-known as the birthplace of superstar singer Rihanna, who is a Barbadian ambassador tasked with promoting education, tourism and investment.

© 2021 AFP

US policeman who shot dead Australian woman sentenced to 57 months

A former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced to 57 months in prison on Thursday for the fatal shooting of an Australian woman who had called 911 to report a crime.

Mohamed Noor, 36, was convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in a case that shocked this Minnesota city and sparked outrage in the victim's home country.

Noor was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison on the murder charge but his conviction was overturned last month by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced Noor on Thursday to 57 months in prison on the manslaughter charge -- the maximum allowable -- with credit for the 908 days he has already spent in custody.

Damond, a yoga teacher with dual US-Australian nationality, was shot after Noor and his partner responded in their police cruiser to a late-night report made by Damond of a possible sexual assault.

The 40-year-old Damond, who was barefoot and wearing pink pajamas, had approached their squad car after calling 911 twice to report a possible rape in the dark alley behind the home where she lived with her American fiance. No such assault was found to have occurred.

Quaintance said Noor had shot "across the nose of his partner" from the passenger seat of the police car and endangered the public when he killed Damond.

During his trial, Noor testified that he feared an ambush and shot Damond to protect his partner.

But prosecutors insisted the shooting was unreasonable and contrary to police department training policy.

Shot in the abdomen, Damond died at the scene.

'Went very much awry'

Her death came at a time of heightened tensions over officer-involved shootings in the United States and Quaintance -- without mentioning his name -- made a reference to the case of George Floyd, who was murdered in Minneapolis in May 2020 by police officer Derek Chauvin.

"The citizens of Minneapolis have now paid out $47 million in settlements for allegations of police negligence and malfeasance," the judge said.

"Why are officers more concerned about their personal safety than the safety of the public?," she asked. "Why should a civilian have to be afraid of approaching a squad car?"

"No one who heard the testimony in this case or who works in the criminal justice system can question the difficulty of a patrol officer's job or the dedication of the majority of the police and first responders," she said.

"But here, something went very much awry."


Convicted murderer to be executed in Alabama barring last-minute stay

An Alabama man convicted of murdering a woman during a robbery is to be executed on Thursday barring a last-minute intervention by the US Supreme Court or the governor of the southern state.

Willie Smith, 52, is to be put to death by lethal injection at 6:00 pm Central Time (2300 GMT) at a prison in southwest Alabama.

Smith has been on death row for 30 years after being convicted of the 1991 murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.

Smith was granted an 11th-hour stay of execution in February after the Supreme Court ruled that barring a priest from being by his side during his death was unlawful.

Prison officials have since said they would allow Smith's pastor to be present but his lawyers have been seeking to halt the execution on other grounds.

They have argued that Smith is intellectually disabled and he has not been allowed to choose the manner of his execution.

In 2018, Alabama approved the use of nitrogen gas as a means of execution in addition to lethal injection.

Because of his mental disability, Smith -- who has an IQ of around 70 -- could not understand that he was able to choose this method of execution, his lawyers said.

Capital punishment has been abolished in 23 US states, while three others -- California, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- have observed a moratorium on its use.

UK police charge man with murder of MP Sir David Amess

A man has been charged in the stabbing of a Conservative lawmaker who was killed as he met constituents at a church hall last week.

Authorities say a 25-year-old British man with Somali heritage, Ali Harbi Ali, has been charged under the Terrorism Act in the death of David Amess.

"We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations,'' said Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service. "He has also been charged with the preparation of terrorist acts."

The death of Amess, who had served in Parliament for almost 40 years and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015, has shocked Britain, especially its politicians, who pride themselves on being accessible to their constituents . It has prompted conversations at the highest levels about how the country protects its leaders and grapples with extremism at home.

The slaying came five years after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a far-right extremist. Cox was the first British lawmaker to be killed since a peace accord ended large-scale Northern Ireland violence almost 30 years earlier.

Amess, 69, was a social conservative who opposed abortion, campaigned for animal rights and strongly supported Britain's exit from the European Union.

(AP)

'Big John', largest-ever triceratops, goes under hammer

He is expected to fetch up to 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) at the Drouot auction house.

Big John's skeleton is 60 percent complete, and was unearthed in South Dakota, United States in 2014 and put together by specialists in Italy.

He lived during the Upper Cretaceous period, the final era of dinosaurs, and died in a floodplain, buried in mud that kept him very well preserved.

A horn injury near his cranium suggests he got into at least one nasty fight.

It is the latest dinosaur to be sold by the Drouot auction house which, according to its website, handled an allosaurus and a diplodocus each worth 1.4 million euros in 2018.

The Drouot auction house has sold several dinosaur skeletons over the past few yearsThe Drouot auction house has sold several dinosaur skeletons over the past few years Christophe ARCHAMBAULT AFP/File

The price tag means that museums are largely excluded from the purchase.

"We can't compete," said Francis Duranthon, director of the Toulouse Museum of Natural History.

He said 1.5 million euros represented 20 to 25 years of his acquisitions budget.

But auctioneer Alexandre Giquello said there was a good chance it would still be seen by the public.

He told AFP that half of those expressing an interest in Big John had stated their desire to show it in a museum, and it was not clear how the others felt.

Scientists had also been able to analyse the bones before the auction.

The triceratops is among the most distinctive of dinosaurs due to the three horns on its head -- one at the nose and two on the forehead -- that give the dinosaur its Latin name.

Dinosaur sales can be unpredictable, however: in 2020, several specimens offered in Paris did not find takers after minimum prices were not reached.

© 2021 AFP

Moscow to shut non-essential services over virus

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced the 11-day closure a day after President Vladimir Putin ordered a nationwide paid week off at the end of the month to curb fast spreading infections.

Russia reported a record 1,036 Covid-19 deaths in a single day Thursday, but officials have warned the worst is yet to come, with only 35 percent of Russians fully vaccinated.

Sobyanin said all non-essential retail, sporting and entertainment venues must close for the period. Shops selling food, medicine and other essentials will remain open.

Restaurants and cafes will be able to sell take-away food, the mayor said in a statement.

Mass events will be banned and schools will be closed, with the days off coinciding with national school holidays.

Theatres and museums can stay open, but entry will be allowed only with QR codes.

The mayor said the measures were necessary because the "situation in Moscow is continuing to develop according to the worst-case scenario."

'Show responsibility'

When restrictions end on November 8, Moscow will also halt free public transport passes for unvaccinated passengers over 60 or with chronic disease.

"Please take this decision with understanding. It was adopted with the aim of protecting the lives and health of the most vulnerable Muscovites," Sobyanin said.

He had previously told unvaccinated over-60s in the Russian capital to work from home and extended mandatory vaccinations for service workers.

Officials this week said the virus is spreading faster than ever, with Russia registering 36,339 new cases on ThursdayOfficials this week said the virus is spreading faster than ever, with Russia registering 36,339 new cases on Thursday Dimitar DILKOFF AFP/File

Officials this week said the virus is spreading faster than ever, with Russia registering 36,339 new cases on Thursday.

Putin on Wednesday linked Russia's high death rates to what he called an "unfortunately" low vaccination rate.

"Please, show responsibility," Putin urged Russians.

Despite multiple pleas from Putin and the homegrown Sputnik V vaccine being widely available since December, many Russians are reluctant to vaccinate themselves.

Putin's own spokesman Dmitry Peksov said Wednesday that he had not been inoculated, even if he repeatedly urged Russians to do so.

Although it is being used in dozens of countries, Sputnik V is not approved by the EU or by the World Health Organization.

An aide to Russia's health minister, Alexei Kuznetsov, told local media on Thursday that the date for an inspection by the EU's drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, is "still being discussed."

"We are preparing a visit (by the EMA) this year," he was quoted as saying by state news agency TASS.

Western vaccines are not available in Russia and the Kremlin this week insisted that bringing them into the country would not help the sluggish vaccination rates.

The fatalities on Thursday brought the country's official death toll from the disease to 227,389.

But figures published by statistics agency Rosstat in October paint a far darker picture, suggesting that more than 400,000 people have died in the country from the coronavirus.

© 2021 AFP

NBA player Kanter slams China's 'brutal' Xi on social media

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which claims it "peacefully liberated" the region in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.

But human rights campaigners and exiles have accused China of religious repression, torture, forced sterilization and cultural erosion through forced re-education.

"Dear Brutal Dictator XI JINPING and the Chinese Government. Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people!" Boston Celtics center Kanter said in a message posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

"I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom," the 29-year-old added, next to a picture of sneakers adorned with Tibetan iconography and the slogan "Free Tibet".

The message accompanied a three-minute video of Kanter wearing a T-shirt of the Dalai Lama and criticizing Chinese rule in the region.

Kanter wore the political sneakers on the sidelines of the Celtics' 138-134 double-overtime defeat to the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, a game he did not appear in.

Kanter wore the 'Free Tibet' sneakers on the sidelines of the Celtics' defeat to the New York KnicksKanter wore the 'Free Tibet' sneakers on the sidelines of the Celtics' defeat to the New York Knicks Sarah Stier GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Global brands including the NBA have in recent years been consumed by PR crises and faced financial repercussions in China after touching politically sensitive subjects.

In 2019, Chinese broadcasters dropped the league after Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted a message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

But the NBA remains wildly popular in China, where it is the most popular sports league.

By Thursday in China, the sports site of tech giant Tencent showed upcoming Celtics games had been pulled from the livestream roster.

Coverage of the games had been downgraded to text and photo only, a status currently applied to the Philadelphia 76ers, where Morey is now president.

A handful of confused fans asked on Tencent's website and Weibo page why the streams were pulled.

In more then 700 NBA appearances, Kanter has also turned out for Utah, Oklahoma City, New York and PortlandIn more then 700 NBA appearances, Kanter has also turned out for Utah, Oklahoma City, New York and Portland Steph Chambers GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Swiss-born and Turkey-raised, Kanter is a devout Muslim, and vocal in defense of various political causes.

Kanter has previously angered the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he has also dubbed a "dictator".

In a 2020 opinion piece for The Boston Globe, he wrote: "Tens of thousands of innocent people are locked up in Turkish jails, paying the price of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disdain for human rights."

Kanter re-joined the Celtics in August, having played for them a couple of years earlier.

In more than 700 NBA appearances, he has also turned out for Utah, Oklahoma City, New York and Portland.

© 2021 AFP

Australia sets $1 million reward for missing four-year-old

Cleo Smith disappeared from her family's tent in Western Australia during the early hours of Saturday, sparking an extensive air, sea and ground search.

But after six days of fruitlessly combing in the area surrounding the Blowholes campsite -- a coastal tourist spot about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north of Perth -- police said they were "urgently seeking" public assistance.

"Someone in our community knows what happened to Cleo. Someone has the knowledge that can help," Western Australia police deputy commissioner Col Blanch said.

"Now there's a million reasons why you need to come forward."

Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said the investigation now "leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent".

"We are hopeful that we will find Cleo alive. But we hold great fears for her safety," he told a press conference.

Cleo Smith's disappearance has drawn national attention, with many Australians taking to social media to express their anguish for her family.

Her mother, Ellie, has described waking at 6 am to find the tent unzipped and her oldest daughter missing.

In an interview with local media Wednesday, she urged Australians to help "bring our little girl home".

© 2021 AFP

Supply bottlenecks, labor shortages slowed US growth, says Fed

Supply bottlenecks and labor shortages have slowed US economic growth and contributed to a sharp rise in prices, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

The constraints and shortage of goods caused "significantly elevated prices" in most areas of the country, the Fed said in its "beige book" report on economic conditions, which noted rising uncertainty about the outlook.

While economic activity increased at a "modest to moderate" rate over the last several weeks, in much of the country "the pace of growth slowed... constrained by supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and uncertainty around the Delta variant of Covid-19," the report said.

The analysis, based on discussions with business and community contacts in the central bank's 12 regions, was prepared in advance of the Fed's next policy meeting November 2-3.

Despite again reporting the the US pandemic recovery was losing steam, Fed officials are expected to announce plans to start to pull back on stimulus measures amid concerns about rising inflation.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell has been saying for some time that the price spikes are expected to be transitory and retreat as pandemic-related disruptions are resolved, but economists increasingly are warning that they could become a lasting issue.

While few are expecting the central bank to raise the benchmark borrowing rate off zero until late next year at the earliest, policymakers in late November or December are expected to begin to slow the massive monthly bond purchases implemented at the start of the pandemic last year to support the economy.

Wages on the rise

The Fed is walking a fine line as it vies to ensure economic growth continues to support new jobs, while also keeping a lid on inflation, which it wants to see return to its two percent target from more than double that currently.

The pandemic restrictions are behind at least some of the scarcity of goods like semiconductors as well as the backlog in transportation, but the shortage of workers was more unexpected.

That is adding to the supply challenges and putting pressure on firms to raise wages to attract workers -- or poach them from competitors.

In its report the Fed cited "high turnover" rates, saying "child-care issues and vaccine mandates were widely cited as contributing to the problem, along with Covid-related absences."

The Fed said employers have responded by raising wages for new and existing workers, and that "many also offered signing and retention bonuses, flexible work schedules, or increased vacation time to incentivize workers to remain in their positions."

And though special pandemic jobless benefits, which some had blamed for keeping workers at home, ended in early September, the Cleveland Fed said it did not help ease the hiring crunch.

"The expiration of supplemental unemployment insurance benefits and a return to school did little to alleviate worker shortages, and wages continued to rise," it said.

The Fed's report comes in the wake of tens of thousands of nurses, factory workers and other laborers going on or threatening strike across the US this month, with workers citing long hours, low wages and unsafe working conditions.

In a television interview early Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen employers especially in the service sector may have to raise wages as the economy adjusts to a labor shortage, but that would be a "good thing" for workers.

"This is something that we've wanted to accomplish for a long time," Yellen said.

The Fed said that sentiment about the near-term economic outlook "remained positive, overall," but some areas reported "increased uncertainty."

Consumer demand remained strong, but the Cleveland Fed noted product shortages were causing changes in behavior.

"For example, one auto dealer said that customers weren't coming into showrooms because they knew inventories were limited," it said.

US authorizes 'mix and match' Covid vaccine boosters: regulator

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized using a so-called "mix and match" strategy for people who require a booster shot of a Covid vaccine after their primary series.

"The FDA has determined that the known and potential benefits of the use of a single heterologous booster dose outweigh the known and potential risks of their use in eligible populations," the agency said in a statement

The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized in the United States. A single dose of any of them may now be used following completion of primary vaccination with a different Covid vaccine.

According to the new decision, people who received two Moderna shots initially and are 65 or older, over 18 and at high risk for Covid, or over 18 and have high occupational exposure, may now receive a booster.

All adults who received the one shot J&J vaccine more than two months ago are also eligible for a booster.

Previously, only immune compromised people or people who belonged to elderly or high risk groups and had received the Pfizer vaccine initially were eligible for a boost.

The data supporting the decisions come from emerging research reviewed by the FDA.

"Today's actions demonstrate our commitment to public health in proactively fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic," said acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock.

The statement also cautioned of highly rare side effects associated with the vaccines.

The messenger RNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, have been associated with increased risks of inflammatory heart conditions, myocarditis and pericarditis, especially in younger males.

The J&J vaccine has been linked to a serious and rare type of blood clot in combination with low blood platelets one or two weeks after administration. The risk is highest among females ages 18 through 49 years.

Meghan Markle pushes US Congress for paid family leave

Meghan Markle called Wednesday for the United States to provide paid family leave, confessing in an open letter to congressional leaders to feeling "overwhelmed" by the arrival of her daughter.

"I'm not an elected official, and I'm not a politician. I am, like many, an engaged citizen and a parent," Markle wrote in an open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer.

The former "Suits" actress, who became the Duchess of Sussex on marrying Prince Harry, has two children with the British royal -- Archie, age two, and Lilibet, who is 20 weeks old.

"Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed," the 40-year-old wrote of her daughter's birth in June.

"Like fewer parents, we weren't confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work."

Markle told the Democratic congressional leaders she was writing "as a mom" to advocate for paid leave as the party's lawmakers debate whether the provision will make it into President Joe Biden's sweeping Build Back Better social spending bill.

In what is being interpreted as her most robust public political statement yet, Markle spoke of the "sacred" importance of being able to take Lilibet home after her birth and devote "any and everything to our kids and to our family."

"We knew that by doing so we wouldn't have to make impossible choices about childcare, work, and medical care that so many have to make every single day," she wrote.

Members of the British royal family are expected to stay above the political fray, avoiding partisan positions on the issues of the day.

But Meghan said paid family leave should be "a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists."

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave, a benefit that the White House says is good for business.

The Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress, are working on finalizing the social spending plan, which looks likely to include up to four weeks of paid family leave, substantially less than the 12 weeks Biden proposed.

"I know how politically charged things can -- and have -- become," Meghan wrote. "But this isn't about Right or Left, it's about right or wrong."

Harry and Meghan stunned the royal family last year when they announced they were stepping back from frontline royal duties.

They moved to Los Angeles, cutting financial ties with the royal family and signing a string of lucrative deals, including with the streaming giant Netflix, and Apple TV+.

Markle is estranged from her father Thomas Markle, who did not attend her wedding and is yet to meet his grandchildren.


US voting rights push sunk by Republicans

The 2020 US election drew the highest turnout in more than a century, despite a raging pandemic and efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to undermine trust in the voting system.

It was declared the most secure election in US history. Yet states across America have spent months leveraging Trump's false claims of a stolen election to introduce restrictive laws that opponents say are an assault on voting rights.

The curbs have alarmed civil rights activists and prompted President Joe Biden to issue an 11th-hour plea Wednesday for the soul of the nation -- just as senators were voting against debating the issue.

"United States Senate needs to act to protect the sacred constitutional right to vote which is under unrelenting assault by proponents of the Big Lie and Republican governors, secretaries of state, attorneys-general, and state legislatures across the nation," he said in a statement.

"It is urgent. Democracy -- the very soul of America -- is at stake."

In Georgia, people handing out drinks or snacks to voters waiting in line can now be criminally charged. In Iowa and Kansas, people returning faulty ballots on behalf of voters with disabilities face prosecution.

Texas has banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting, as well as the promotion of mail-in voting by election officials. Similar laws in more than a dozen other states make life more difficult for voters, say activists.

"These state laws are often aimed at disadvantaging historically underrepresented communities, including communities of color, as well as lower-income voters and people with disabilities," the Center for American Progress said.

Sweeping reforms

More than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions, according to the liberal-leaning Brennon Center for Justice.

By the beginning of October, at least 19 states had signed off on 33 laws that restrict voting, the organization says.

Senate Democrats sought Wednesday to start debate on the Freedom to Vote Act, a sweeping package of voting, redistricting, and campaign finance reforms.

The legislation calls for automatic and same-day voter registration, two weeks of early voting and a new Election Day public holiday.

Crucially, it seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, end partisan gerrymandering and fortify elections against foreign interference.

But it didn't garner the 60 votes needed to bring a debate to the floor, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell directed every Republican to reject the "latest iteration of Democratic efforts to take over how every American votes all over the country."

"Let there be no mistake," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.

"Senate Republicans blocking debate today is an implicit endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws, pushed in conservative states across the country."

Republican leaders in Congress argue that while the last election may not have been stolen, new laws such as photo identification requirements -- a normal measure in many countries -- are just common sense.

"The Democrats argue that (fraud) does not happen. Well, it doesn't happen very often because states do have things like photo ID, purging dead people from the rolls," McConnell said.

"These are normal administrative provisions that our Democratic friends would like to get rid of."

Trump's 'Big Lie'

Elections are administered locally in the United States, and Republicans tend to see Washington telling states how to run their own votes as federal overreach.

Yet Trump has been doing just that, for more than a year.

Starting before he was defeated by Joe Biden, and without a shred of evidence, the Republican firebrand has been engaged in a crusade to convince millions of Americans that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Pressuring election officials in multiple states to invalidate results, Trump spread conspiracy theories in a bid to foment a seething fury over his election loss that culminated in the January 6 insurrection.

Biden was duly installed as the 46th president -- but Trump's so-called "Big Lie" ultimately worked.

Even after thousands of his supporters stormed the US Capitol, assaulting police and chanting death threats, 147 Republicans voted along the lines of the insurrectionists' objective to overturn the election in some states.

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll in August found that two-thirds of Republicans believe the last election was stolen from the twice-impeached Trump.

Top Democrats including national committee chief Jaime Harrison, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin and House Leader Steny Hoyer reacted with anger to the blocked Senate debate on the Freedom to Vote Act.

"Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they are willing to prioritize political games and power over our fundamental rights," said Harrison.

"They've chosen to serve the Big Lie over the American people."

Mitch McConnell installs super-transphobic and inexperienced judge on 15-year bench

Mitch McConnell installs super-transphobic and inexperienced judge on 15-year bench Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Screengrab).

Pig kidney works in human patient in 'potential miracle'

A US medical team has succeeded in temporarily attaching a pig's kidney to a person, a transplant breakthrough hailed as a "potential miracle" by the surgeon who led the procedure.

The surgery, carried out on September 25, involved a genetically modified donor animal and a brain dead patient on a ventilator whose family had given permission for the two-day experiment, for the sake of advancing science.

"It did what it's supposed to do, which is remove waste and make urine," Robert Montgomery, director of the transplant institute at New York University (NYU) Langone, told AFP in an interview.

Critically, the organ was able to reduce the level of the molecule creatinine, a key indicator of kidney health that was elevated in the patient prior to the transplant.

Montgomery carried out the surgery with several colleagues over the course of around two hours.

They joined the kidney to blood vessels on the top of one of the patient's legs, so that they could observe it and take biopsy samples.

The patient had wanted to be an organ donor and their family was initially disappointed when told their loved one's organs were not suitable, said Montgomery.

But "they felt a sense of relief that this was another opportunity for donation," he said. The patient was taken off the ventilator and passed away following the 54-hour test.

'Important intermediate step'

Earlier research has shown that kidneys from pigs are viable in nonhuman primates for up to a year, but this was the first time it had been attempted with a human patient.

The donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone a genetic editing procedure to knock out a gene that produces a particular sugar, which would otherwise have triggered a strong immune response and led to organ rejection.

The editing was performed by biotech firm Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics.

"It is still a question what would happen three weeks from now, three months, three years," said Montgomery.

"The only way we're really going to be able to answer that is to move this into a living human trial. But I think this is a really important intermediate step, which tells us that at least initially, things are probably going to be okay."

He plans to submit the findings to a scientific journal in the next month, and says a clinical trial could take place in around a year or two.

The news was welcomed cautiously by outside experts, who nonetheless said they would like to see the peer-reviewed data before drawing firm conclusions.

"This news is a significant scientific achievement in the xenotransplantation field," Hynek Mergental, a surgeon at the University of Birmingham in Britain said in a statement.

If confirmed, "it would be a major step forward in the organ transplant field that might solve the critical shortage of donor organs," he added.

Organ shortage

The news comes amid a dire shortage of transplant organs.

According to official US data, there are nearly 107,000 Americans awaiting an organ -- 90,000 of whom need a kidney. Seventeen Americans die each day while waiting for an organ.

To meet demand, doctors have long been interested in so-called xenotransplantation, or cross-species organ donation, with experiments tracing back to the 17th century.

Early research focused on harvesting organs from primates -- for example a baboon heart was transplanted into a newborn known as "Baby Fae" in 1984, but she survived only 20 days.

Today, pig heart valves are widely used in humans, and pig skin is grafted on human burn victims.

Pigs make the ideal donors because of their size, their rapid growth and large litters, and the fact they are already raised as a food source, said Montgomery.

For Montgomery, the research has a personal dimension: he himself was on a waitlist for a heart transplant, which he finally received two years ago.

The technique could one day provide a "renewable source of organs," much like wind and solar provide sustainable energy, he said.

"I think people will see that and accept that, particularly the people who are waiting and desperate -- they will see this as a potential miracle for them as we move this forward."


Biden pleads in hometown Scranton for massive investment in US future

President Joe Biden made an impassioned plea in his birthplace of Scranton on Wednesday for massive spending on US infrastructure and social safety nets, as his Democratic party continued to feud over the price tag.

"America is still the largest economy … but we risk losing our edge as a nation," Biden said, describing the gap between US modernization of its infrastructure compared to competitors. "We haven't passed an infrastructure bill for decades."

The two bills under debate -- one for repairing infrastructure and another to fund childcare and other social spending -- will "breathe new life into the economy," Biden said in his speech at a museum for trolley trains in the blue collar Pennsylvania town where he spent part of his childhood.

The bills remain stuck in Congress, where Democrats control both houses with razor-thin majorities but are divided between themselves on the cost and scope of Biden's proposals.

There were positive signals on Wednesday, but no solid deal, with two key senators still holding back.

Biden showed his frustration, almost shouting in mid-speech: "This is the United States of America, damn it. What are we doing?"

But in an address filled with emotional references to his family's humble roots and connections to the working class, he predicted a happy ending for the two bills.

"This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it, but I think we're going to surprise them," he said.

Still working on it

At stake are a $1.2 trillion bill for improving creaking US bridges, roads and railways and an even bigger splurge on childcare and other areas that Biden says will provide historic help to struggling ordinary Americans.

The main bone of contention is the size of the second package, with an initial figure endorsed by Biden of $3.5 trillion clearly dead.

The White House is now indicating it would settle for something between $1.9 and $2.2 trillion, while a leading moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, wants as little as $1.5 trillion. The ultimate top line may fall somewhere between.

That means making significant cuts to Biden's priorities in areas like expanding free education and clean energy.

Senator Chuck Schumer, who heads the Democrats' tiny majority in the Senate, fueled expectations that a deal may be imminent.

"We are getting closer to an agreement. We want to finalize a deal by the end of this week," he said Wednesday.

"Everyone is going to have to compromise if we are to find that legislative sweet spot that we can all get behind," Schumer said.

But with Manchin and another reluctant Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, still not on board, the White House remained cautious.

"We've made a lot of progress but we still have work to do," Biden's senior adviser Cedric Richmond told CNN.

Biden's Scranton speech was meant to remind his party that he beat Donald Trump last year in part by wooing blue collar workers.

"Both these bills were all that I talked about. But guess what? Eighty one million people voted for me. More people voted than any time in American history and their voices deserve to be heard," he said.

Midterm legislative elections in just over a year could see the Democrats lose their majorities in one or both chambers to the Republicans, meaning Biden's spending plans are unlikely to get a second chance.

French teacher convicted over anti-Semitic vaccine protest sign

A teacher in eastern France received a suspended jail sentence Wednesday for inciting racial hatred after brandishing an anti-Semitic sign at a demonstration over the government's Covid-19 health pass.

Cassandre Fristot, 34, was photographed at the demonstration in the city of Metz on August 7 holding a sign scrawled with the surnames of several well-known figures from politics, business and the media labelled "traitors!!!"

Many of those cited had Jewish or Jewish-sounding names such as US financier George Soros, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and former French health minister Agnes Buzyn.

The sign, which also cited President Emmanuel Macron and current Health Minister Olivier Veran, also bore the question "but who?" -- a hashtag used by conspiracy theorists to perpetuate the anti-Semitic claim that Jews control the media.

Fristot, a former local councillor with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front (now called the National Rally), was suspended from her job as a German teacher in the wake of the picture.

She denied it was anti-Semitic.

The six-month suspended sentence handed down by a court in Metz was stiffer than the three-month suspended sentence state prosecutors had requested.

Fristot was also ordered to pay between one euro and 300 euros ($350) in damages to eight anti-racism groups that joined the case as plaintiffs.

She was not in court for the ruling.

Annie Levi-Cyferman, a lawyer for France's Human Rights League, hailed the judgement as "a victory for everything that constitutes incitement to hatred" and praised the court for not "being fooled" by the sign's "hidden" message.

The sign, which was widely shared on social media, caused an outcry in the political class and among anti-racism campaigners.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called it "despicable" and vowed Fristot would be punished.

"Anti-Semitism is a crime, not an opinion," he tweeted in August.

Over the summer tens of thousands of French people demonstrated against the introduction of a pass requiring people to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid, tested negative for the virus or already had the disease in order to gain entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, gyms and other facilities.

In the past two months, however, the protest movement has begun to run out of steam as more people who had resisted getting vaccinated relent and agree to receive Covid jabs.

(AFP)

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