World News (October 15, 2020)


MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian attempt to broker a cease-fire to end the worst outbreak of hostilities over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in more than a quarter-century has failed to get any traction, with rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia trading blame for new attacks.

The failure of the truce that was supposed to begin Saturday reflects the uncompromising positions of the two South Caucasus nations that have stymied decades of diplomatic efforts. The escalation of fighting raises the specter of a wider conflict that could draw in Russia and Turkey and threaten Caspian Sea energy exports.

Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mostly by Armenians, was an autonomous region inside Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. Historic tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azerbaijanis, fueled by memories of the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, exploded in the final years of the Soviet Union.

In 1988, the region sought to join Armenia, triggering hostilities that morphed into an all-out war as the USSR collapsed in 1991. By the time a 1994 cease-fire ended the fighting, an estimated 30,000 people had been killed and up to 1 million were displaced. Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also seized substantial chunks of land outside the territory’s borders.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a forested, mountainous territory that covers about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles), the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, has run its own affairs ever since, relying on Armenia’s support.

Ever since Armenian forces routed Azerbaijani troops in the war, international mediators have sought a political settlement. Russia, the United States and France, which co-sponsored the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have put forward numerous peace initiatives, but Armenia’s stiff resistance to surrendering any land has been a key stumbling block.

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has relied on its oil wealth to modernize its military and now argues that it has the right to reclaim its land by force after nearly three decades of failed international mediation.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The mayor of Alaska’s largest city submitted his resignation, four days after an anchorwoman at a local television station threatened to report he had posted nude photos of himself on a website.

Ethan Berkowitz initially denied the allegation, but acknowledged that he had an inappropriate relationship with Maria Athens, the anchor at a Fox/ABC combined station in Anchorage.

“It is with profound sadness and humility that I resign as mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage,” he said in a statement read at the Anchorage Assembly meeting by his Chief of Staff, Jason Bockenstedt, and later emailed to the media.

“My resignation results from unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required,” Berkowitz wrote.

Berkowitz, 58, noted that his conduct did great injury to his wife, their family, his staff and the people of Anchorage. “For that, I am deeply sorry,” he said.

A small but vocal crowd stood and cheered the resignation, effective Oct. 23. The saga that has been the buzz of Anchorage started when Athens posted a video on her Facebook page, the same day the station barred her from the studio. In the video, she claimed she would break a story that night claiming Berkowitz posted nude photos to an underage website. She later also posted what she said was a photo of the mayor’s nude back side.

Berkowitz’s office immediately denied the unsubstantiated allegation. A day later, Anchorage police said they and the FBI investigated and found no evidence of criminal conduct.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have given regulatory approval to a second coronavirus vaccine after early-stage studies, two months after a similar move prompted widespread criticism from scientists both at home and abroad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made the announcement on Wednesday, during a televised meeting with government officials.
“We now need to increase production of the first vaccine and the second vaccine,” Putin said, adding that the priority was to supply the Russian market with the vaccines.

The peptide-based, two-shot vaccine, EpiVacCorona, was developed by the Vector Institute in Siberia and tested among 100 volunteers in early-stage, placebo-controlled human trials, which lasted more than two months and were completed two weeks ago. The volunteers were between 18 and 60 years old.

The scientists have yet to publish the results of the study. In comments to the media, scientists developing the vaccine said that it produced enough antibodies to protect the person who had it from the virus and that the immunity it creates could last for up to six months.
An advanced study involving tens of thousands of volunteers that is necessary to establish safety and effectiveness of the vaccine was scheduled to start in November or December.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who said earlier this week she took part in the early trials as a volunteer, said Wednesday that 40,000 people will take part in the advance studies of EpiVacCorona. It remained unclear whether the vaccine would be offered for a wider use while the trials are still ongoing.

Russia’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, was developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute and approved by the government on Aug. 11, after early trials among 76 volunteers were completed. Just like on Wednesday, Putin personally broke the news on national television and said one of his daughters had already been vaccinated, experienced slight side effects and developed antibodies.