NETHERLANDS

Leader imposes 5-week
national virus lockdown

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte imposed a tough new five-week nationwide lockdown Monday, saying schools, nonessential shops, museums and gyms will close at midnight until Jan. 19.

“We have to bite through this very sour apple before things get better,” Rutte said in a televised address to the nation.

As he spoke from his office in The Hague, protesters could be heard blowing whistles outside.

“The reality is that this is not an innocent flu as some people — like the demonstrators outside — think,” Rutte said, “but a virus that can hit everybody hard.”

Starting Tuesday, all nonessential shops will close, along with businesses such as hair salons and theaters. Schools and universities will have to switch to remote learning beginning Wednesday. Day-care centers will be closed to all except the children of key workers.

The government also urged people to receive a maximum of two guests over age 13 per day but relaxed the rule slightly for Dec. 24-26, saying three people can visit on those days.

Bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October. The partial lockdown initially slowed high infection rates, but they have been rising again in recent days.

— Associated Press

CAUCASUS

Azerbaijan, Armenia exchange prisoners

Azerbaijan and Armenia exchanged prisoners Monday, a move stipulated in the peace deal between the two ex-Soviet nations that ended recent fighting over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijani authorities said an all-for-all exchange of prisoners and hostages was brokered with Armenia, and a plane with some of the captives landed in Azerbaijan on Monday afternoon.

On Monday evening, Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan announced that 44 captives had returned from Azerbaijan.

The exchange was facilitated by Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh under the peace deal. Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday that 12 captives were handed over to Azerbaijan and 44 to Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also substantial territories around it in Armenian hands.

Heavy fighting erupted there in late September and marked the biggest escalation of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, killing more than 5,600 people on both sides.

The Russian-brokered peace agreement took effect Nov. 10.

— Associated Press

Gunmen in Niger reportedly kill 27, burn 800 houses: Gunmen killed at least 27 people and burned 800 homes in a weekend attack in Niger’s Diffa region, the United Nations said. It did not say who was behind the bloodshed, but the Islamist group Boko Haram has been waging attacks in the region around Lake Chad since 2009. The Boko Haram insurgency erupted in northeastern Nigeria, but attacks frequently spill into neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Macron offers referendum on adding climate goal to charter:
French President pledged to hold a referendum on revising the constitution to include references to the environment and fighting climate change. Left-wing factions of his centrist party have accused him of failing to do enough to combat global warming despite his pledges to spend billions to speed up moves to a greener economy. He told the Citizens’ Convention on Climate that he was willing to include a mention of biodiversity, the environment and tackling climate change in Article 1 of the constitution. “It will be put to a referendum,” he said. Both houses of Parliament must agree to it.

New Zealand, Britain ease rules on blood donations by gay men: New Zealand and Britain have eased rules on blood donations by gay and bisexual men, as supply fears amid the coronavirus pandemic increase scrutiny of AIDS-related restrictions. New Zealand cut the celibacy period for gay and bisexual men to give blood from a year to three months, regardless of whether they had used condoms, the New Zealand Blood Service said. In Britain, which had a three-month deferral period, a behavior-based policy will now be used, meaning anyone — gay or straight — who has had anal sex with multiple partners or a new partner will not be able to donate blood. The change means men in long-term same-sex monogamous relationships are eligible to donate blood without a waiting period.

— From news services

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