WORLD NEWS:

ABC News

(BRUZGI, Belarus) -- Parsa Akram now lives with her mother, father and brother under a warehouse shelf. The space is about 2 meters wide. The 18-year-old and her mother sleep in a tent, her brother and father on the ground.

They are among hundreds of people -- mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan -- now living in a warehouse about a mile from Belarus' border with Poland, caught up in the migration crisis that, although eased, has not ended.

The warehouse in Bruzgi is not a refugee center; it is just a packing warehouse, the kind Amazon or FedEx would use to store goods. People are now living on the stacks of shelves that would normally hold packages. Whole families like the Akrams are packed into the spaces under the shelving; others have clambered up to make nest-like beds in the higher levels.

"It's not a camp," Parsa said. "[It's] a chicken house!"

For months, thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have found themselves trapped between Belarus and Poland amid a crisis allegedly engineered by Belarus' authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who is accused of luring them to Europe's border in an effort to retaliate against the European Union for its support for Belarus' pro-democracy movement.

The migrants, mainly trying to reach western Europe, have been blocked by Poland and neighboring Lithuania, stranding them in forests along the border often for weeks, without food or shelter.

The crisis came to a head three weeks ago, when Belarus marched hundreds of migrants to a crossing point with Poland. Scenes of migrants sleeping in the open air in freezing temperatures and then violent clashes with Polish border guards, that Belarus was accused of inciting, attracted global attention.

Following the clashes, Belarus moved about 2,000 of the migrants to the warehouse, raising hopes the crisis might be easing.

Although better than the forest, the warehouse is not set up to house hundreds of people and after two weeks, conditions inside have rapidly deteriorated. When ABC News reporters visited this weekend, people were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags and sometimes thin tents, huddled together in dirty clothes. There is almost no sanitation, just a few chemical toilets. People wash themselves from two portable water tanks set up in a yard slick with mud and slush.

There are dozens of children, including some a few months old, and pregnant women.

This week, Belarus' military brought a mobile sauna in a tent to allow people to wash, for many, the first time in a month. Belarus is also feeding people, giving them portions of buckwheat porridge twice a day. Food trucks, selling bread and snacks, are also set up.

Many people in the camp said they were sick. Several told ABC News they were suffering from food poisoning that they blamed on expired tinned food they said Belarusian authorities had given them.

There are also fears COVID-19 is in the camp. Belarusian authorities -- who have been accused of undercounting COVID cases more generally -- claim only two cases have been recorded in the warehouse. But the sound of coughing there is constant and ABC News reporters met a man being hospitalized with pneumonia on Sunday.

"People cannot wait any longer because the weather is getting really really cold. And all the people in here, they're all sick, they're getting sick so bad," said Zanyar Dishad, an 18-year-old from Kurdistan who was with his family.

Lukashenko visited the camp last Friday, accompanied by state television cameras. In a speech, he told the migrants he would not force them to go home and would do everything to help them reach Europe. He also demanded Poland and Germany take them in.

Belarusian authorities told the migrants European countries will soon take them, though there is no indication when or if this will happen. Several migrants said they believed Lukashenko was holding talks with the EU to get them across the border and many were unaware of the reasons behind his conflict with Europe.

"He's a very good man," said Karwan Jamal, 26, who is living now in a tent with his wife and 7-year-old son.

"He's very kind," his wife Narin added. "Because Belarus all the time helps all people in here."

In reality, Belarusian authorities refused to allow migrants out of the forests for weeks. Migrants in recent weeks have told ABC News that Belarusian border guards beat and robbed them, forcing them to cross back into Poland after being pushed back.

But EU efforts to cut off the flow of migrants to Belarus seem to be having an effect. The number of new arrivals has sharply and visibly dropped off. Belarus also appears to now be allowing people to leave the border area.

Hundreds of Iraqi citizens have also returned home in the last week on voluntary repatriation flights organized by Iraq's government, which said 1,800 people have returned already.

Among them was Balsam Khalaf, 51, who said he had given up after five months of being pushed back and forth across the border, saying he had been roughed up by Belarusian, Polish and Lithuanian guards.

"We turned to a bouncing ball between both sides," he said in an interview in Baghdad this week.

It is unclear how many migrants are still in Belarus, but it estimated to be at least a few thousand, including in the forests. Polish authorities accuse Belarus' security forces of continuing to try to push dozens of people across the border each night.

Iraq's government said it would hold a final repatriation flight this week because it said no one else wished to return. It said 3,000 people in total had expressed a desire to return.

At the camp, most people said they would not go back, despite the wretched conditions.

"Never ever," said Narin.

ABC News' Bader Katy contributed to this report from Baghdad and Tanya Stukalova contributed from Bruzgi, Belarus.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

CasPhotography/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Global health authorities are urging against the use of "blanket" travel bans in response to the threat of new coronavirus variants, as some nations have rushed to shutter incoming travel from southern African countries where the omicron variant has been detected.

The same health officials also warn that travel bans could have a negative effect on global efforts to respond to the pandemic, as nations may not wish to report new data and variants if they worry they could be seemingly punished for it by other countries barring their nationals from travel.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the World Health Organization said in a statement Tuesday. "In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data."

Rather than blanket travel bans, the United Nations' public health body urges countries to apply an "evidence-informed and risk-based approach" when implementing new travel restrictions.

The WHO's advice comes after it said some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying the importation of the omicron variant.

In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, told ABC News' "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday that travel bans could "slow things down," but they won't prevent a new variant from coming into the country.

"What you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared," Fauci said. "And that's the thing that people need to understand. If you're going to do the travel ban the way we've done now and that we're implementing right now, utilize the time that you're buying to fill in the gaps."

Fauci's remarks notably came before the U.S. confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in California on Wednesday.

"Travel bans are a very weak measure at best, but they're most valuable very, very early on in the emergence of a new variant," said Dr. John Brownstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Travel bans can "buy you a little time," he said, but only if they are implemented quickly and uniformly.

"The problem that we have here is that detection doesn't mean being the epicenter of where the outbreak is," Brownstein said. "Just because South Africa had incredible capacity to detect sequence doesn't mean that necessarily this is where the most amount of cases occur."

Some South African officials and scientists are calling the travel bans aimed at their country discriminatory and punitive.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed the WHO's sentiments in remarks to reporters while traveling to Nigeria on Tuesday, saying South Africa should not be "punished" for travel bans after being transparent with its omicron detection and research.

"These bans must be removed, they must be lifted," Ramaphosa said. "And in fact, we have advanced in the world to a point where we now know when people travel, they should be tested like I was tested last night, and I'm happy to be tested when I arrive again. We've got the tools we've got the means to be able to deal with this."

Ramaphosa added that the open travel is critical for the tourism industry around the world, which he said has been "really devastated."

"And for us, the tourism industry is one of the key industries for southern Africa as well," he said. "So, this is unfair, this is discriminatory against us, and they are imposing a very unfair punishment."

One of the South African scientists who helped identify the omicron variant similarly blasted the travel bans imposed on southern African countries as a result of their discovery.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in Stellenbosch, South Africa, tweeted Monday night that he had "spent a big part" of his day speaking with genomic and biotech companies because "soon" his team "will run out of reagents as airplanes are not flying to South Africa."

In a series of tweets last week, de Oliveira urged the world to "provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it."

"We have been very transparent with scientific information. We identified, made data public, and raised the alarm as the infections are just increasing. We did this to protect our country and the world in spite of potentially suffering massive discrimination," he tweeted.

In an interview with the New Yorker, de Oliveira added that he was "very upset" with the events that took place after the discovery, specifically related to travel bans.

"The U.K., after praising us for discovering the variant, then put out this absolutely stupid travel ban, and it has hoarded vaccines for the last year," he told the outlet. "It’s trying to put the blame on vaccine hesitancy. It’s looking for a reason to fault Africa."

Brownstein, who also noted that countries would feel penalized, rather than incentivized, for reporting new variants, suggested that testing pre- and post-travel and "intense surveillance" would be "incredibly helpful and probably more valuable than the travel restrictions." Travel bans, he said, are "not the best tool."

"We have really robust testing, we have other tools at our disposal," he said. "We should be in a position where we don't need to implement these things."

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in remarks Tuesday that it was "deeply concerning" that countries "are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing."

"I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand," he said. "But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities."

Ultimately, Ghebreyesus called on nations to take "rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations."

"The global response must be calm, coordinated and coherent," he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

PinkOmelet/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- Global health authorities are urging against the use of "blanket" travel bans in response to the threat of new coronavirus variants, as some nations have rushed to shutter incoming travel from southern African countries where the omicron variant has been detected.

The same health officials also warn that travel bans could have a negative effect on global efforts to respond to the pandemic, as nations may not wish to report new data and variants if they worry they could be seemingly punished for it by other countries barring their nationals from travel.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the World Health Organization said in a statement Tuesday. "In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data."

Rather than blanket travel bans, the United Nations' public health body urges countries to apply an "evidence-informed and risk-based approach" when implementing new travel restrictions.

The WHO's advice comes after it said some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying the importation of the omicron variant.

In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, told ABC News' "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos this past Sunday that travel bans could "slow things down," but they won't prevent a new variant from coming into the country.

"What you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared," Fauci said. "And that's the thing that people need to understand. If you're going to do the travel ban the way we've done now and that we're implementing right now, utilize the time that you're buying to fill in the gaps."

Fauci's remarks notably came before the U.S. confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in California on Wednesday.

"Travel bans are a very weak measure at best, but they're most valuable very, very early on in the emergence of a new variant," said Dr. John Brownstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Travel bans can "buy you a little time," he said, but only if they are implemented quickly and uniformly.

"The problem that we have here is that detection doesn't mean being the epicenter of where the outbreak is," Brownstein said. "Just because South Africa had incredible capacity to detect sequence doesn't mean that necessarily this is where the most amount of cases occur."

Some South African officials and scientists are calling the travel bans aimed at their country discriminatory and punitive.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed the WHO's sentiments in remarks to reporters while traveling to Nigeria on Tuesday, saying South Africa should not be "punished" for travel bans after being transparent with its omicron detection and research.

"These bans must be removed, they must be lifted," Ramaphosa said. "And in fact, we have advanced in the world to a point where we now know when people travel, they should be tested like I was tested last night, and I'm happy to be tested when I arrive again. We've got the tools we've got the means to be able to deal with this."

Ramaphosa added that the open travel is critical for the tourism industry around the world, which he said has been "really devastated."

"And for us, the tourism industry is one of the key industries for southern Africa as well," he said. "So, this is unfair, this is discriminatory against us, and they are imposing a very unfair punishment."

One of the South African scientists who helped identify the omicron variant similarly blasted the travel bans imposed on southern African countries as a result of their discovery.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in Stellenbosch, South Africa, tweeted Monday night that he had "spent a big part" of his day speaking with genomic and biotech companies because "soon" his team "will run out of reagents as airplanes are not flying to South Africa."

In a series of tweets last week, de Oliveira urged the world to "provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it."

"We have been very transparent with scientific information. We identified, made data public, and raised the alarm as the infections are just increasing. We did this to protect our country and the world in spite of potentially suffering massive discrimination," he tweeted.

In an interview with the New Yorker, de Oliveira added that he was "very upset" with the events that took place after the discovery, specifically related to travel bans.

"The U.K., after praising us for discovering the variant, then put out this absolutely stupid travel ban, and it has hoarded vaccines for the last year," he told the outlet. "It’s trying to put the blame on vaccine hesitancy. It’s looking for a reason to fault Africa."

Brownstein, who also noted that countries would feel penalized, rather than incentivized, for reporting new variants, suggested that testing pre- and post-travel and "intense surveillance" would be "incredibly helpful and probably more valuable than the travel restrictions." Travel bans, he said, are "not the best tool."

"We have really robust testing, we have other tools at our disposal," he said. "We should be in a position where we don't need to implement these things."

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in remarks Tuesday that it was "deeply concerning" that countries "are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing."

"I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand," he said. "But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities."

Ultimately, Ghebreyesus called on nations to take "rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations."

"The global response must be calm, coordinated and coherent," he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is "deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

In the most urgent warning yet, Blinken said the U.S. and its NATO allies would impose a steep cost on Moscow if it attacked its neighbor.

But that cost would be economic and political, with the top U.S. diplomat threatening "a range of high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using in the past." But he and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stopped short of mentioning the use of force to defend Ukraine, which is not a member of the military alliance.

"We don't know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know he's putting in place the capacity to do so in short order," Blinken said -- the clearest statement to date of Western worries of an invasion, as Russia masses approximately 100,000 troops, along with heavy equipment, near Ukraine's border.

Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of a summit on European security Thursday, as well as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

It will be the latest high-level engagement between the U.S. and Russia amid heightened concern about Russia threatening Ukraine. President Joe Biden deployed his CIA Director Bill Burns to Moscow last month to convey U.S. concerns in person, Blinken said, declining to specify whether he would lay out precisely what those "high-impact" sanctions would be with Lavrov.

Russia has denied it is mounting any attack on Ukraine and instead accused Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO of menacing forces near its borders. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday his government is seeking guarantees from the West that it not move troops or weapons systems "in close vicinity to the Russian territory," while Lavrov called the presence of Ukrainian troops "alarming."

Blinken literally laughed off that latter comment, telling reporters after a two-day NATO summit in Latvia that it was "perplexing," "profoundly wrong" and "misguided."

"The idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia would be a bad joke if things weren't so serious," he added, warning that Russia may "claim provocation for something that they were planning to do all along."

To that end, Blinken said, Russia has not only massed combat forces, it's also "intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor" -- increasing anti-Ukrainian propaganda by more than tenfold to levels not seen since its 2014 invasion.

Russia's "plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large-scale military operations," he added -- the former, a possible reference to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's claim that Russia is behind a potential coup attempt to overthrow his government. The top U.S. diplomat for Europe said last Friday that the U.S. was in touch with Ukrainian authorities "to obtain additional information" and verify Zelenskiy's statement.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

iStock/chonticha wat

(NEW YORK) -- Scientists are continuing to discover ways in which climate change is already affecting animal species around the world -- including how it's changing the phenology, or timing of biological events.

Grey seals are the latest species to see phenological shifts due to warming ocean waters, a new study published Tuesday in the Royal Society Journals has found.

Researchers who monitored grey seals in the U.K.'s Skomer Marine Conservation Zone for three decades found that climate change has caused older seal mothers to give birth to pups earlier, an observation that favors the hypothesis that climate affects phenology by altering the age profile of the population.

When the researchers first began surveying grey seals in 1992, the midpoint of the pupping season was the first week of October. By 2004, the pupping season had advanced three weeks earlier, to mid-September, according to the study.

Warmer years were also associated with an older average age of mothers, the scientists found. Grey seals typically start breeding around 5 years old and can continue for several decades after. But the older the seals got, the earlier they gave birth, the researchers said.

The changes were not isolated to the U.K. There have been observable changes in the timing of seal life throughout the Atlantic and the world, according to the study.

Climate change has also recently been linked to a rising divorce rate in albatross couples, which mate for life, and to the shrinking of dozens of species of Amazonian birds, which are evolving to have smaller bodies and longer wing spans.

The causes and consequences of phenological shifts across ecosystems and geographical regions as a result of climate change have become a major area of interest in recent years, according to the study.

These changes can have a domino effect. Since species do not live in isolation, phenological changes can cascade through biological communities through trophic, competitive and mutualistic interactions, according to the study. This can be especially apparent in "mismatches in seasonal events," such as those between predator and prey populations or flowering plants and their pollinators.

Eventually, phenological shifts in life-history events, such as breeding and pupping, can decouple biological communities and lead to critical transitions in population structure and even the collapse of ecosystems, the scientists said.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

Oleksii Liskonih/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- Iran returned to negotiations over its nuclear program on Monday -- meeting for the first time in over five months, with the country's new hard-line government now in control.

Its chief negotiator emerged from closed doors bullish, as Tehran demands its concerns about continued U.S. sanctions be addressed first after former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal.

But the U.S. and the deal's European signatories are warning that after months of stalling, Iran is facing its last opportunity to revive the 2015 deal that placed constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief.

A top European Union diplomat who is coordinating the indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran expressed some guarded optimism afterward -- and much urgency.

"There is clearly a will on all the delegations to listen to the Iranian positions brought by the new team, and there is clearly a will of the Iranian delegation to engage in serious work to bring JCPOA back to life," said Enrique Mora, the senior EU diplomat, using an acronym for the nuclear deal's formal name -- the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks to come," Mora added after delegations from Iran, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany met in Vienna, Austria.

Whether or not the U.S. and its European allies are willing to wait weeks is an open question -- especially since Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's new president who is a conservative cleric close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has delayed the resumption of talks since he won election in June.

"These talks are the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table and agree the JCPOA," British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Monday. "We will look at all options if that doesn't happen."

Patience is all but out in Israel, whose defense minister warned Monday that Iran is "dashing towards a nuclear weapon."

Israeli officials shared intelligence with the U.S. and other allies showing that Iran is nearing a nuclear weapon, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said.

Since Trump's exit, Iran has increasingly taken steps in violation of the deal, including by enriching more uranium, enriching uranium to higher levels, using more advanced centrifuges and more of them, and enriching uranium metal. The United Nation's nuclear watchdog -- the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA -- reported this month that Iran has enriched 39 pounds of uranium to 60%, which is a short technical step from weapons-grade 90%.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran's enrichment was capped at 3.67% for 15 years.

The State Department declined to comment on reports that Iran may be moving toward 90% enrichment levels, but deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters that "obviously would be a provocative act, and I'll just underscore that we've made clear that Iran's continued nuclear escalations are unconstructive and they're also inconsistent with what's stated in the goal of returning to a mutual compliance with the JCPOA."

But ahead of talks resuming, Iran has used sharper language rejecting the idea of "mutual compliance" -- increasingly arguing that the U.S. must act first because it was Trump that first exited the deal back in 2018.

"The principle of 'mutual compliance' cannot form a proper base for negotiations since it was the U.S. government which unilaterally left the deal," Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, wrote in an editorial Sunday, calling for a "clear and transparent mechanism to ensure that sanctions will be removed" and U.S. "compensation for the violation of the deal, which includes the removal of all post-JCPOA sanctions."

The Biden administration has said it will not lift sanctions first, and the idea of compensating Iran for U.S. sanctions is politically toxic in Washington.

It's unclear if those demands are just Iran posturing before sitting down, or if those are red lines. Out of Monday's meetings, Bagheri claimed a "considerable achievement" by saying the remaining parties to the deal agreed to address U.S. sanctions first. But that doesn't mean they agreed those sanctions need to be lifted before Iran's own non-compliance is addressed. The working-level discussions will address U.S. sanctions on Tuesday and Iran's nuclear program Wednesday, according to Mora.

The State Department has not yet provided a readout from special envoy for Iran Rob Malley's meetings in Vienna, where the previous six rounds of talks were held as well.

Beyond Mora's optimism, Russia's envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said the talks "started quite successfully" and reached agreement on "further immediate steps," without specifying what they were.

Any optimism has run face first into dire warnings from Israel, whose Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has vocally opposed the restoration of the nuclear deal.

"Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals, and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality. I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran's nuclear blackmail," Bennett said Monday.

Malley told NPR last week the U.S. and Israel don't agree on the deal, but do agree on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon: "We're not going to wait and see them get so close," he said, but the U.S. hopes "that this could be resolved diplomatically, and it should be."

Amid warnings that Iran could stall by prolonging these talks, Malley added the U.S. will not "sit idly by" if the country moves toward a nuclear bomb.

But the U.S. and European allies have pulled their punches at the IAEA, declining again last week to censure Iran for not just its violations of the deal but its growing obstruction of the IAEA's work.

Iran has barred inspectors from accessing certain sites, harassed inspectors with invasive security searches and failed to explain still the detected presence of uranium at three undeclared locations, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the U.N. body last Wednesday.

Grossi visited Tehran last week -- his first trip under the Raisi government -- but he did not reach a deal to address these issues, he told reporters Wednesday. A previous ad-hoc arrangement with Iran to keep international eyes at its declared nuclear sites is coming apart, he warned. Iran agreed to keep IAEA cameras and other monitoring equipment in place and turn the tapes over to the agency when a deal was reached. That equipment needs servicing to "guarantee continuity of knowledge," Grossi said, but Iran has blocked IAEA inspectors so far.

"Such a long period of time without us getting access, knowing whether there are operational activities ongoing, is something in itself that would prevent me from continuing to say I have an idea of what's going on," he said at a press conference. "We must reach an agreement. We must do it."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

Facebook/Tan Hill Inn

(LONDON) -- A British inn and pub officially bid “fond farewell” to 61 guests Monday after a blizzard stranded them for days inside.

Located 270 miles north of London, Tan Hill Inn in Yorkshire, England, had arranged an event for an Oasis tribute band on Friday. Later that night, however, the region was hit hard by a late autumn storm which blocked local roads with heavy snow.

“The last time we had our costumers locked in was four or five years ago, but that was just for one night. This time it was a very different experience with four days,” Nicola Townsend, the pub manager, told ABC News.

The staff and guests came up with spontaneous ideas “to kill the boredom,” Townsend said. They organized a movie event, a quiz night and karaoke.

“Customers started to develop bonds from the second day on by hanging out, making friends and exchanging numbers. And they were so cooperative in running the affairs. Like they felt home indeed,” she said, adding, “Our staff are exhausted, but very happy that our guests had fun. Some of them said they had so much fun that they did not want to go back home when the roads were cleared.”

Now the group has agreed to a reunion next year.

The storm, named “Arwen,” also left thousands in Scotland without power for several nights.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

kali9/iStock

(JOQUICINGO, Mexico) -- At least 19 people are dead and dozens more injured after a bus crash in central Mexico Friday.

The accident occurred on a highway in Joquicingo, a township in the State of Mexico that's approximately 45 miles southwest of Mexico City.

A tour bus heading to a religious site in the State of Mexico crashed into a building after the brakes went out, the State of Mexico's Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Officials said 19 people were reported dead and 32 injured following the crash.

Six people, including two minors, were flown to a hospital in Toluca, while others were transported to several hospitals in the region, officials said. Those injured included multiple women and children, with injuries ranging from broken bones to head trauma, according to the Ministry of Health.

Multiple agencies responded to the site of the crash, including the Red Cross and the Emergency Service of the State of Mexico.

Alfredo Del Mazo, the governor of the State of Mexico, said in a statement on Twitter that he has instructed the heads of the Civil Protection, Security, Rescue and Health agencies to support the impacted families.

Officials said the bus was with the tourism company Turismo Tejeda and was heading from the municipality of Sahuayo, Michoacán, and bound for the Santuario del Señor de Chalma, a place of worship that is a Christian pilgrimage site.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

Okan Celik/iStock

(BERLIN) -- Germany passed a grim milestone on Thursday: 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. In recent weeks, the situation has spiraled out of control as cases have spiked and intensive care beds have become scarce in some regions.

The country has one of the lowest rates vaccination rates in western Europe -- only 68% of the population has been vaccinated, according to recent health statistics.

"Sadly, the coronavirus still hasn’t been beaten. Every day we see new records as far as the number of infections are concerned,” newly elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a press conference on Wednesday.

As of Friday morning, the country’s disease control agency, the RKI, said a record 76,414 cases had been reported in the past 24 hours.

With winter around the corner, Europe has once again become the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported deaths due to COVID-19 had reached 4,200 a day, double the death rate at the end of September. The organization warned that a further 700,000 people in the European region could die by March given the current trend.

The rise in cases is mainly do to the more contagious Delta variant and the fact that more people are staying indoors as winter begins. The number of people who remain unvaccinated is around 54%, according to WHO Executive Director Robb Butler.

“Let me be absolutely clear, the majority of people in ICU, in intensive care units and ICU today, are the unvaccinated" Butler said in an interview with Sky News.

Germany, like many countries around Europe, has moved ahead with stricter measures to cope, some of which apply to the entire country. Most blanket rules affect the unvaccinated population, which now need to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test to enter public transport. Germany already had rules in place requiring similar proof when entering indoor spaces like bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities.

Yet each of Germany’s 16 states can also choose to implement their own measures. In Bavaria and Saxony where vaccination rates are low and hospitalization rates are rising to worrying levels, stricter lockdowns have been put in place. The seasonally popular Christmas markets were canceled for the second year in a row.

In Bavaria, a region with 13 million residents, politicians face grave crises in dealing with the growing number of cases.

“The situation is overwhelming and just keeps escalating,” the region’s leader, Markus Söder, told reporters. News agency DPA reported that a military plane will fly seriously ill patients from the Bavarian town of Memmingen to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday afternoon.

Söder is a proponent of making vaccinations mandatory.

“Compulsory vaccination does not violate the right to freedom -- far more, it is a precondition for us to win back our freedom," he wrote in an op-ed with politician Winfried Kretschmann of German region Baden-Württemberg in Tuesday's newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Germany is mulling compulsory vaccination after Austria became the first European country to announce a vaccine mandate. It will go into effect February 2022. The announcement brought tens of thousands of people out to protest on the streets of Vienna last weekend.

On Monday, the country went into its fourth national lockdown, set to last for 10 days and likely to be extended to 20 days. Although less strict than previous lockdowns of 2020, citizens may only leave their houses for specific purposes, such as buying groceries, exercising or going to the doctor. Only 66% of the country of 8.9 million people have been vaccinated.

With the rise in COVID cases, particularly in northern Europe, and the introduction of new measures restricting access of unvaccinated people from public life, tensions seem to be flaring up in certain populations. Belgium and the Netherlands saw violent protests against lockdown measures last weekend.

Complicating matters is a worrying new virus variant B.1.1.529 which been discovered in southern Africa. As of Friday morning, a number of countries have implemented travel bans, including Germany, Italy and the U.K.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

Manuel Chinchilla/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Honduras teeters on the edge of democracy.

In one of the most consequential elections in the Western Hemisphere, in one of Central America's poorest countries, Hondurans head to the polls Sunday to choose a new president, new lawmakers, new mayors and new city council members.

"The elections this Sunday, November 28th, definitely present our golden opportunity, the only one, to rescue democracy in this country," Clara López, a voter in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, told ABC News. "It's now or never."

Honduras' recent history of election-related violence has many on edge. Among them, President Joe Biden's administration will be watching for a peaceful election outcome, a possible new partner to work with, and any effect on migration issues to the southern U.S. border.

The State Department also deployed a top U.S. diplomat to Honduras this week, who told ABC News the U.S. is prepared to act if there are any irregularities in the election.

There are 11 candidates in total for the presidency, but the race has really come down to two: Tegucigalpa's mayor Nasry Asfura, who would extend the right-wing party's hold on power, but faces allegations of corruption; and Xiomara Castro, a popular former first lady who has united a left-wing coalition and could become Honduras's first female leader and Latin America's only current female head of state.

But tensions have risen across Honduras, with a recent spate of election-related violence, including assassinations of candidates. Looming large over the elections, too, are last year's back-to-back hurricanes and history's shadow -- a 2009 coup that forced Castro's husband from power and the 2017 elections, riddled with irregularities, according to the Organization of American States, the region's bloc.

Despite the OAS' call for a new vote in 2017, presidential incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the winner, sparking protests that led to days of violent, deadly clashes.

Amid apparent concerns over the potential for more violence, the U.S. deployed the top diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, to Honduras for a three-day trip. But after his meetings, including with both Castro and Asfura, Nichols expressed optimism that the country can hold free and fair elections.

"We will call things as we see them. We believe this is going to be a free and fair process that reflects the will of the Honduran people. If we see something that deviates from that -- well, then we'll take the appropriate steps, but I'm confident that this is going to be a peaceful, free, fair election," Nichols told ABC News in an exclusive interview.

To many Hondurans, however, recent years have chased away any confidence. Just 30% of Hondurans believe democracy is preferable to all other forms of government, according to Latinobarometro's 2021 report -- the lowest in all of Latin America -- while four-fifths of Hondurans believe the country is on the wrong path.

"The people are in a critical state," Salvador Nasralla, Castro's running mate and Hernández's opponent in 2017, told ABC News. "I do not dismiss the possibility of a civil war in the country."

In the 2017 elections, Nasralla was ahead in the polls and largely expected to win, making the Supreme Electoral Tribunal's declaration that Hernández won after a delayed count that much more suspicious to many Hondurans. But the Trump administration backed Hernández's claim to victory, dismissing concerns from the OAS and other international election observers about irregularities.

This time around, Nasralla, a popular former sportscaster, said he felt compelled to join Castro's ticket to try to ensure a left-wing victory.

"It wouldn't be winning if I subtracted votes from the opposition, and that would've made me a bad Honduran," he told ABC News in his only interview with an English-language outlet.

Castro herself has become a force in Honduran politics, leading the movement against the 2009 coup where the military deposed her husband Manuel Zelaya after he pushed a referendum to change the constitution and abolish its one-term limit.

Backed by her new liberal party, she has been ahead in the polls in recent weeks, especially after Nasralla's surprising endorsement.

But Asfura remains a potent opponent, boosted by his own party's hold on government and promises "to create jobs and opportunities so that people can bring food to their homes, health, and education," as he said in a recent rally.

Asfura's popularity comes despite allegations against him in the recent Pandora Papers which revealed he used offshore tax loopholes, and local officials accused him of embezzling funds from the capital city's municipal government.

They're not the first charges against the ruling National Party's leaders. Hernández was named by a U.S. federal court as a co-conspirator in a huge narcotics trafficking case that saw his brother, former congressman Tony Hernández, sentenced to life in prison. The president has denied wrongdoing and has not faced criminal charges.

Despite those allegations, the Biden administration has tried to work with Hernández and other Central American governments to stem migration from the region, which has surged during his presidency. Nearly 1.7 million migrants reached the southern U.S. border in fiscal year 2021, which covers October 2020 through September 2021, and one-fifth of them -- 308,931 in total -- were Honduran.

"Honduras doesn't guarantee its citizens a dignified life within its territory, and it forces them to flee," said López, the Tegucigalpa voter who is backing Castro's campaign.

During his own 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, Biden pledged to invest $4 billion in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- sometimes called the Northern Triangle countries -- to improve the quality of life, including the rule of law and countering corruption, and give their citizens reasons to stay in their communities.

PHOTO: The president of the National Electoral Council of Honduras, Kevin Izaguirre (R), and the Chief of the Armed Forces of that country, Tito Livio Moreno, carry a box with electoral material for the elections in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 23, 2021.

Gustavo Amador/EPA via ShutterstockGustavo Amador/EPA via Shutterstock

The president of the National Electoral Council of Honduras, Kevin Izaguirre (R), and the...

While that money has started to flow, corrupt and increasingly power-grabbing political leaders in all three countries have made it difficult for the U.S. to find partners to work with.

Free and fair elections, a peaceful transfer of power and a new leadership partner in Honduras are important to Biden's agenda, particularly because if the situation deteriorates, even more Hondurans could flee in search of a better life to the north.

"Everything is at stake here. For the first time, you have a very clearly differentiated path that is being put forward by the proposals of both parties," said Sergio Bahr, a Honduran sociologist. "This election will define the direction in which the country goes in the next 10 to 20 years."

That's why the State Department deployed its top diplomat for the region to Honduras. Nichols, the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, met with Honduras' national electoral council, its chief of defense, and its attorney general, among others, saying he was assured they're taking "all measures necessary" to secure the election and prevent violence like 2017.

"We certainly will be looking to Honduran electoral authorities to carry out their responsibilities professionally and transparently, and they've assured their own people as well as the international community of the same," he told ABC News.

For voters like Ela Rubio, that's all that they want, she said.

"We want democracy. We want transparent elections," said Rubio, an Asfura supporter." We don't want to regress. We want to move forward. We want to keep going, and to show the world that not everything in Honduras is bad."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

beyhanyazar/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government is warning American citizens in Ethiopia even more starkly to leave the country now, as the conflict there continues to deteriorate.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is heading to the front lines to lead the federal government's forces, he announced, urging his fellow citizens to join him and "lead the country with a sacrifice."

On the other side, forces from Ethiopia's Tigray region, now aligned with other ethnic-based groups, are marching toward the capital Addis Ababa, pledging to end Abiy's blockade of their region one year after fighting there burst open decades-old wounds.

Now the conflict in Africa's second-most populous nation is increasingly existential for both sides, potentially "ripping the country apart and spilling over into other countries in the region," as Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned in recent days.

The U.S. special envoy for the region said he still had hope for a ceasefire and a negotiated resolution after some "nascent progress," but he warned the fast-moving conflict threatened to swiftly sweep away international diplomatic efforts and cause "a bloodbath situation or chaos."

That fear has driven fresh warnings from foreign countries, including France and Turkey, urging their citizens to depart the country immediately while commercial flights remain. The United Nations announced it was evacuating its staff's dependents on Tuesday, too.

Since Nov. 5, the U.S. embassy in Addis has been on ordered departure, evacuating non-emergency staff and diplomats' families and leaving a smaller team behind. While the mission remains open and continues to provide services like passports and repatriation loans, the U.S. military is maintaining a "state of readiness," according to U.S. Africa Command, in case there are issues "related to the safety of our diplomats where the security environment has deteriorated."

But after the unprecedented, chaotic evacuation effort from Afghanistan, the State Department has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure U.S. citizens in Ethiopia know military flights like those out of Kabul will not be coming to rescue them.

"There should be absolutely no expectation of the military becoming involved," a senior State Department official said Monday. For months now, the agency has issued travel warnings, urging Americans to leave now while Addis's international airport continues commercial flights.

This week, their warnings have employed even stronger language: "We just want to make sure that we don't get into a situation where U.S. citizens are waiting for something that's never going to happen," the senior State Department official added. "We need them to remember what the norm is, and the norm is leaving via commercial while that's available."

The official and others have declined to speak to any plans to close the embassy or evacuate American diplomats, except to say that they're "engaged in contingency planning for hypotheticals" with the Pentagon.

The Pentagon declined to comment on any troop movements to ABC News after a report that the U.S. had put Navy ships in the region on "standby" and deployed a small number of Army Rangers to the neighboring country Djibouti. The Pentagon's East African Response Force -- a team trained to move within 24 hours to assist U.S. embassies in the region with additional security or an evacuation -- is based in the small African country.

Despite the increasingly grim developments on the battlefield, the State Department made clear it has not yet given up on a diplomatic resolution.

"There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process, but what concerns us is this fragile progress risks being outpaced by the alarming developments on the ground... by the military escalation on the two sides," Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, special envoy for the Horn of Africa, told reporters Tuesday.

In particular, Tigrayan forces said this week they are now some 130 miles northeast of Addis, while Abiy declared Monday that he would go to the front lines to lead troops directly.

"Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goals by military force and believe they are on the cusp of winning," Feltman said Tuesday, back in Washington after days of meetings in Addis. He met not just Abiy and Tigrayan leaders, but also the African Union's special envoy for the conflict, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

From those meetings, Feltman said he sensed a "greater willingness to brainstorm with us about how you could put together the pieces of a deescalation and negotiated ceasefire process" -- instead of an outright refusal to even consider any other means but force.

What the two sides say they want can be achieved at the same time, too, Feltman added: Abiy wants to return Tigrayan forces to Tigray region, and Tigrayan forces want Abiy's de facto blockade of the region to end.

"The tragedy is, the sadness is that both sides have in mind the same type of elements. ... They just need to muster the political will in order to pivot from the military to the negotiations, and we're not the only ones encouraging them to do so, but we can't force them to the table," Feltman said.

As of now, U.S. and international pressure, Obasanjo's mediation and the humanitarian suffering of the Ethiopian people have not yet been enough for leaders to come to the table. Feltman said Abiy also told him in their meeting Sunday that he had "confidence" he could achieve his goals militarily -- and the seasoned U.S. diplomat warned the incitement of ethnic-based violence is spiraling out of control.

That means there's "no sign" that direct negotiations are "on the horizon," but perhaps some back-channel diplomacy is possible -- and Feltman and Obasanjo will continue to pursue that, according to the U.S. diplomat.

"Right now, both sides are still pursuing military options, but they are also engaged on other ways to pursue their objectives... And that's what I find marginally encouraging, but again, I don't want to overstate the case," Feltman said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

metamorworks/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- When the world's leaders arrived in Glasgow for COP26 earlier this month, they knew what needed to be done: keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius at all costs.

The climate pledges were made, many more ambitious than ever before. But now that the dust has settled and the private jets have left Scotland, what comes next?

Determining where the money to pay for all of these new climate initiatives will come from will now be instrumental in the fight against climate change, experts told ABC News.

Funding initiatives to combat climate change is expected to cost about $50 trillion by 2050, according to a report published in 2019 by Morgan Stanely.

But trillions of dollars over the coming decades is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the challenges and potential damage the world faces when addressing climate change, and the money to pay for some of the necessary changes certainly exists, Kathy Baughman McLeod, former Bank of America global executive for environmental and social risk, told ABC News. McLeod attended COP26 through her current role as director of the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.

"The array of climate finance mechanisms, strategies and pathways is stunning," McLeod said.

This is where the experts say the money to fund the climate initiatives will come from:

The private sector

While government and philanthropy will have significant roles to play in funding, the majority will need to come from the finance sector, according to the experts.

There are already trillions of dollars in the private sector just "looking for a place for investments," McLeod said. The question is not whether the money exists, but which projects to invest in.

The energy sector presents one of the largest opportunities for investment because putting money into clean energy, such as solar and wind, "makes perfect sense," McLeod said, given that there is a major demand for sustainable energy infrastructure.

"Someone's going to pay for the power," she said.

Players in the finance industry are also paying attention as the as the industry focus shifts from extracting fossil fuels to clean energy and other ways to decarbonize every major economic sector, Jennifer Pryce, CEO of Calvert Impact Capital, a global nonprofit investment firm, told ABC News. According to the Mckinsey Institute, decarbonizing the four major sectors will cost $21 trillion by 2050 -- an opportunity to cash in on change.

"We look at transportation, and agriculture, and shipping and building materials, concrete, steel, and all of those have plans," she said. "That helps us figure out what is the best way to decarbonize those sectors."

The next step is figuring out how to decarbonize those sectors -- whether the technology exists and whether the technology is scalable, McLeod said. Once the return on investment is determined and interested investors are located, the process of adapting to more sustainable practices begins, she added.

One example is electric cars, where governments and companies are now tasked with scaling up existing technologies, presenting an opportunity to build the infrastructure of the future.

If private capital is invested effectively, it can create economic opportunities, more jobs and better quality of life, Pryce said, comparing the investment in climate infrastructure to the sudden emergence of modern communication.

"How we went from landline to cellular and digital...how we have all benefitted from that change," she said. "But, you know, it was not apparent at the time we were going from a landline to a digital backbone for communication, for technology."

The leaders of finance are now acting with urgency to tackle the climate challenge, because majority of the money is going to come from finance, Pryce said. The world will rely on finance experts, more so than slow-moving governments, to provide the capital for all of these climate initiatives.

"I think people are starting to understand to that carbon, like money, has a time value," she said, comparing the compounding effects of carbon to funds to investment interest. "It's not linear, taking the carbon out and reducing the impacts of climate change. We've got to do things now."

Government

Private capital will not succeed without government regulation to steer the capital "so that we can get to outcomes that really work for a better planet for important better outcomes for people," Pryce said.

The U.S. federal government is already spending trillions of dollars annually due to the effects climate change has on intensifying natural disasters, McLeod said.

Worsening extreme heat alone is expected to cost the U.S. $500 billion annually by 2050, according to a report published in August by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

"The trillion dollars, we're spending it on hurricanes, fires, floods, melting infrastructure, supply chain disruption," McLeod said. "It's a reference point that we have to get past, because what we're spending to protect ourselves or repair from the shocks and stressed of climate change is way beyond a trillion dollars."

President Joe Biden's $1.7 trillion infrastructure package contains $555 billion for climate and clean energy investments, and according to Democrats, measures have been put into place to ensure the legislation pays for itself without raising taxes.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has assessed that for every dollar spent to protect from future climate disasters, about $10 is saved in rebuilding efforts, McLeod said.

"So it is the smartest investment we could contemplate," she said.

The federal government could also help to come up with significant funding to help developing countries to be able to transition to a decarbonized world, Jim Harmon, chairman of the World Resources Institute and chairman of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, a firm that invests in private enterprises in Egypt that contribute to long-term, sustainable economic growth, told ABC News.

Enterprise funds, not for-profit, privately managed investment funds authorized by the U.S. Congress to promote private sector development in developing countries, could be the answer to funding climate initiatives in the U.S. without putting too much of a burden on American taxpayers, Harmon said.

An estimated $10 billion new enterprise funds authorized by the government to invest in low-carbon projects in developing countries, accompanied by a $10 billion match from the private sector, could help close the gap in U.S. climate financing, potentially generating trillions of dollars if enterprise funds were invested in a region such as Central America, Harmon said. A similar program implemented in the 1990s to invest capital in Egypt was successful and could prove successful again, Harmon added.

"If every one of the major countries created enterprise funds and brought the private sector along with them, you could get to the goal," of enough funds for climate initiatives, Harmon said.

Philanthropy

"It'll take trillions of dollars to make a dent in climate change," Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said when asked by ABC News' Maggie Rulli about his own $10 billion pledge for climate change.

Bezos is not the only billionaire to donate significant sums to the climate fight. Elon Musk announced earlier this year that he would donate a $100 million prize for a competition to remove carbon from air and water. Bill Gates pledged $1.5 billion for climate change as long as long as the sweeping infrastructure bill was passed. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised $500 million, Stewart and Lynda Resnick $750 million and Laurene Powell Jobs $3.5 billion.

The United Nations Environment Programme 2020 Emissions Gap Report found that the richest 1% of the world's population is responsible for 15% of emissions due to their extensive investments fossil fuels and high-carbon life, so the ultra-wealthy bears the "greatest responsibility" in climate change initiatives, according to the report.

Historically, philanthropies have allocated "relatively small sums" to address climate change, but it is now time for philanthropy to "step up" in the fight against climate change, according to McKinsey and Company's Sustainability Practice and Philanthropy service line.

In 2020, U.S.-based grant makers disbursed nearly $64 billion, but just $320 million of those funds went directly toward mitigating global warming, according to the report.

In addition, just 1.4% of U.S. philanthropic grant funding went to climate change in 2020, compared to 21.4% to health, 15.6% to public safety and 11.6% to community and economic development, according to the report.

While much of the capital to fight climate change will come from companies, governments and investors, philanthropies can also play a "vital role" by targeting the locations, industries and solutions that need the most support, according to the report.

"Simply putting more money into climate solutions won’t be enough," the report states.

It will be important to invest funds equitably, experts say

World leaders and those in the finance and philanthropy industries need to ensure the funds are distributed as equitably as possible, Pryce said.

As climate change is addressed, it is imperative that no one is left behind, "whether that's people in our own country...or developing and emerging markets around the globe," she said.

G20 countries will also have to consider practices such as blended finance and social safety nets when it comes to rebuilding efforts for the escalated natural disasters that are already impacting developing regions, McLeod said.

"Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, lots of parts of Latin America, when communities are obliterated by storms, floods, heatwaves, who pays for that?" McLeod asked. "And society pays for that."

However, more and more, solutions will need to be localized, McLeod said. Not every solution will work for every community, and it's not enough to wait on the federal government to pass sweeping legislations, she added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

DeAgostini/Getty Images

(LUXOR, Egypt) -- After more than seven decades of stop-start attempts to excavate a nearly 2-mile ancient walkway in the southern city of Luxor, Egypt will finally open the 3,000-year-old Avenue of Sphinxes to the public Thursday in a glitzy ceremony.

The full stretches of the 1.7 mile long and about 250 feet wide avenue, which connects Karnak Temple with Luxor Temple, have been uncovered in the ancient city of Thebes, with its distinctive sphinxes and ram-headed statues lined up on both flanks.

In recent years, Egypt has stepped up its efforts to promote its archeological discoveries as it strives to revive its ailing tourism industry, which took a fresh battering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One element of this approach has been recreating ancient settings in flamboyant ceremonies, which were first introduced when Egypt held what was dubbed a "royal procession" to parade 22 mummies through the streets of Cairo as they were being conveyed to a newly inaugurated museum last April.

Construction of the Avenue of Sphinxes began during the New Kingdom era and was completed during the reign of 30th Dynasty ruler Nectanebo I (380-362 B.C.), but the road was buried under layers of sand over the centuries.

"The amount of rubble that was removed over the decades was up to 8 meters high. Every layer of sand tells us a story about that avenue," Mostafa el-Sagheer, the head of Karnak's Antiquities Department who oversaw the project to excavate the last stretch of the avenue, told ABC News.

The first trace of the avenue was found in 1949 when Egyptian archeologist Mohammed Zakaria Ghoneim discovered eight statues near the Luxor Temple, el-Sagheer said, with 17 more statues uncovered from 1958 to 1961 and 55 unearthed from 1961 to 1964 -- all within a perimeter of 250 meters.

From 1984 to 2000, the entire route of the walkway was finally determined, leaving it to excavators to uncover the road. It was never a walk in the park, however.

Urban development meant hundreds of homes, as well as mosques and a 115-year-old Evangelical church, had to be demolished to make way for the road.

The political turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising in Egypt further complicated efforts to complete the restoration project, stalling it for several years before it was resumed in 2017.

"From 2017 to 2021, the final 20 or 25% of the road was excavated," el-Sagheer said.

Most of the original 1,057 statues in the avenue have been recovered. They are divided into three shapes, the first being a body of a lion with ram's head that was erected over a nearly 1,000-foot area between the Karnak Temple and the Precinct of Mut during the reign of New Kingdom ruler Tutankhamen, famously known as King Tut.

The second shape is a full ram statue, built in a remote area during the reign of the 18th dynasty's Amenhotep III before being later moved to the Temple of Khonsu in the Karnak complex.

The third shape, which comprises the biggest chunk of the statues, is one of a sphinx (a lion's body and a human's head), with the statues stretching over a mile from the Precinct of Mut to the Luxor Temple. They were erected during the tenure of Nectanebo I.

El-Sagheer said the ancient Opet festival would be also relived during Thursday's celebrations.

The festival primarily involved a procession in which shrines of the "triad of deities" -- supreme god Amun-Re, his consort Mut and their son Khonsu -- were paraded by priests on wooden barques from Karnak to Luxor in a symbolic recreation of their marriage.

"During this journey, people of Thebes would line up on both sides, with military marches and music playing, dancers performing and oblations offered," el-Sagheer said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

Bettmann/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- A rare manuscript by Albert Einstein that changed the course of modern science was just sold for over 13.3 million euros (over $15 million), including fees, beating all predictions.

The 54-page, handwritten document outlines calculations that led to his theory of relativity. One of two existing copies went on sale at Christie's auction house in Paris on Tuesday evening. It was expected to fetch $2.4 million to $3.5 million. The manuscript was being sold as part of a judicial sale, and had to be handled by a special judicial commissioner. It was bought over the phone by an anonymous buyer.

"This is without a doubt the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to come to auction," Christie's said in a statement ahead of the sale.

The iconic German physicist co-wrote the manuscript with a lifelong friend, the Swiss engineer Michele Besso, in Zurich from June 1913 into early 1914, according to Christie's, which is hosting the sale on behalf of Aguttes auction house.

Although this copy isn't the final draft, the Einstein-Besso manuscript shows the trial and error that went into the calculations. When equations about the relativity of rotational movements proved correct, Einstein excitedly wrote in the margins of one of the pages, "Stimmt!" That's German for, "It works!"

While the document contains mistakes, it ultimately led to Einstein's theory of general relativity, which states that gravity is not a force happening between objects in space but rather a deformation of space and time geometry. The final theory was published in 1915, about a year after the Einstein-Besso manuscript.

The manuscript consists of 26 pages of Einstein's handwriting, 25 pages of Besso's and thjree pages that appear to have been written together. Some portions are crossed or torn out, and pages have rust stains, according to Christie's, which described the document as depicting "a crucial stage in the development of the general theory of relativity."

"Even today, in 2021, when we study cosmology, or even when we study fusions of black holes, gravitational waves, pulsars, we still use Einstein's equations," French astrophysicist Etienne Klein explained in a video on the Einstein-Besso manuscript, released by Christie's ahead of the sale. "Over a century after being laid down on paper by Einstein, they are still the right equations for describing any gravitational phenomenon."

Einstein and Besso met at a concert while both students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where Einstein studied physics and Besso engineering. Friends for life, Besso described their collaboration as one between an eagle (Einstein) and a sparrow (Besso), saying the sparrow could fly higher under the eagle's wing, according to Carl Seelig's 1956 biography of Einstein.

Einstein, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for 1921, was known for destroying most of his work. But Besso preserved the manuscript for posterity.

"A good scientist is someone who makes mistakes, discovers and corrects them," Klein said in Christie's catalogue of the sale.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

DIMITAR KYOSEMARLIEV/AFP via Getty Images

(MOSCOW) -- At least 45 people, including a dozen children, were killed after a tourist bus from North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in Bulgaria early Tuesday, officials said.

The accident occurred on the Struma highway near the village of Bosnek in western Bulgaria at around 2 a.m. local time. Emergency teams rushed to the scene, where 45 people were confirmed dead, according to a statement from the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior.

Seven people who sustained injuries from the crash were transported to a hospital for treatment, the ministry said.

The bus, carrying 53 people, was heading back to North Macedonia's capital, Skopje, after a tourist trip to Istanbul, Turkey, according to Monika Markovska, an official at the North Macedonian Embassy in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. The Bulgarian Ministry of Interior confirmed that the bus was registered in North Macedonia.

Most of those on board were Macedonian, apart from one Belgian national. Twelve children were among the dead, Markovska told ABC News.

The seven people who were hospitalized were admitted to Pirogov Hospital in Sofia.

The patients -- four men and three women -- suffered from burns and lacerations but were all in stable condition, Dr. Ljubo Topkov of Pirogov Hospital told ABC News.

The cause of the crash was unclear and is under investigation.

Traffic was stopped in both directions on the highway as first responders and investigators worked on scene.

The Macedonian travel agency that owns the bus, Besa Trans, did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

Samir Hussein/WireImage

An eight-year-old boy's quest to save Australia's threatened Great Barrier Reef received a welcome boost from one of his heroes -- Billie Eilish.  The young activist contacted Billie in hopes that he could use her song, "Ocean Eyes," for an upcoming social media campaign...and she said yes.

Elijah Richardson has been part of the nonprofit Coral Watch since last year and the organization says he felt Billie's 2016 breakout song was the perfect fit for his new conservation campaign, titled "Come Join Our Watch."

The avid snorkeler shared the impassioned video, titled "An Open Letter to Billie Eilish," last October and the message went viral.  The video not only states Billie's song can inspire others to use their "Ocean Eyes" to "look out for the reef," but politely asks her to lend a helping hand.  "Not physically, we'd just love you to Zoom or FaceTime.  Just let us know by email.  We don't have your address, so we had to do this to get you ours," the message states.

Elijah says the message eventually found its way to Billie and, when talking to WIN News about their partnership, he called it a "dream come true" to receive her blessing.

"If the Great Barrier Reef dies, then all that marine life dies with it," Elijah warned.  The reef, the most biodiverse in the world, is home to more than 1,500 species of fish.

The young activist is concerned about the critical rate of bleaching, or loss of algae, that is killing the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Watch reports it "takes many years for coral to grow back," but a "third mass coral bleaching event" is threatening to undo recovery efforts.

You can lean more about Elijah's campaign on his Instagram, Elijahsworldqld.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Two of the Christian missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti last month have been released, according to the ministry.

Nineteen people -- including 17 missionaries, five of them children -- were kidnapped by a Haitian gang on Oct. 16 during an airport run, a source at the U.S. embassy told ABC News last month.

The Ohio-based ministry the missionaries are affiliated with, Christian Aid Ministries, announced in a statement Sunday that two of the hostages have been released and "are safe, in good spirits, and being cared for."

"We welcome reports that two individuals held hostage in Haiti have been released. We do not have further comment at this time," a White House official told ABC News.

The Haitian National Police also confirmed the release of the two hostages to ABC News.

The ministry could not provide the names of those released, the reasons for their release or their current location, according to the statement. Further details about the remaining hostages were not provided.

"We encourage you to continue to pray for the full resolution of this situation," the statement read. "While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the fifteen people who are still being held. Continue to lift up the remaining hostages before the Lord."

The Haitian government suspects the gang known as 400 Mawozo to be responsible for the abductions, the source at the U.S. embassy said last month. The FBI made contact with the 400 Mawozoa on Oct. 18 and was assisting in negotiations, the agency told ABC News.

The group, which included 16 Americans and one Canadian, was abducted while on a trip to an orphanage, according to the ministry.

The country is experiencing a rise in gang-related kidnappings, many demanding ransom, which stalled after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that killed more than 2,200 people.

The U.S. State Department issued a warning in August about the risk of kidnapping for ransom in Haiti.

ABC News' Joshua Hoyos contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

fstop123/iStock

(BIALYSTOK, Poland) -- In a dark, cold Polish wood, Ahmad Al Hasan's coffin was lowered into a freshly dug grave. It was early evening but already pitch black in the cemetery outside the village of Bohoniki, a few miles from Poland's eastern border.

The 19-year-old Syrian's final resting place among the birch trees was thousands of miles from his homeland. His family wasn't present, instead watching from a mobile phone held up by a local man. Those attending were a crowd of international media and two local women, who wept.

Al Hasan drowned this month as he tried to cross from Belarus into Poland, one of the thousands of people, mostly from the Middle East, caught up in the migration crisis orchestrated by Belarus' authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who's accused of funneling migrants to European neighbors in an effort to retaliate against the European Union for supporting Belarus' pro-democracy movement.

Since early autumn, the forests between Belarus and Poland have become the arena of what can at times resemble a nightmarish survival test: Thousands of people trying to cross find themselves trapped between Polish border guards stopping their entry and Belarusian security forces blocking their retreat. The result is people find themselves stranded in the forests, without food or shelter, often for weeks.

The crisis in recent weeks has become increasingly dangerous as temperatures have fallen to freezing. The official death toll from Polish authorities stands at 12, but human rights activists believe the number is higher.

After Belarus escalated the crisis two weeks ago, the largest group of migrants -- estimated at more than 2,000 -- was trapped in a makeshift camp pressed up against the border fence on the Belarusian side. Following violent clashes on Monday, which Belarusian security forces are accused of inciting, Belarus has now finally moved most of the migrants to a nearby warehouse. It did so after calls between Lukashenko and Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, had raised some hopes the crisis may be easing.

But for now conditions remain grim, and there is little sign the migrants' situation will be resolved rapidly. The Belarus government has said there are 7,000 migrants still in the country.

The warehouse housing the 2,000 migrants is now overflowing, according to people there. Videos from Belarusian media show hundreds sleeping on the floor among packing shelves. An Iraqi Kurdish woman, who identified herself as Dnya, said by phone Friday that there were not enough toilets and some people were still sleeping outside because the building was too crowded.

Iraq's government on Thursday began voluntary repatriation flights from Minsk, flying home nearly 400 people. But many migrants have said they want to wait for Europe to take them and that they face death at home.

It's unclear how many migrants remain in the forests, but activists say they fear it is hundreds. Poland's authorities on Saturday again accused Belarus of helping hundreds of people to try to cross overnight.

Activists in the area fear each night there could be more deaths. Volunteer medics from the Polish Center for International Aid, or PCPM, who are now working in the area, on Wednesday night said a 1-year-old Syrian child had died in the forests. The child's family had been in the woods for a month and a half, according to the medics.

Al Hasan, the 19-year-old whose funeral was held this week, had drowned after Belarusian border guards forced him to swim across a river, even after he pleaded he couldn't swim, according to Kassam Shahada, a local doctor who helped organize the burial.

Members of the local Polish Tatar community, a Muslim minority, took it on themselves to give Al Hasan an Islamic funeral. Men from the community dug the grave and an imam conducted the ceremony.

The suffering in the forests has prompted a mobilization in Poland among refugee rights groups and local residents to help, despite opposition from Polish authorities.

Poland's government has declared a state of emergency at the border and sealed off a 3-kilometer-wide zone along it, keeping media and humanitarian organizations out -- a deliberate tactic that critics say is to conceal illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers.

But despite that, groups from across the country are still trying to help. Most nights, activists go into the forests trying to reach people, giving them warm clothes and food. Inside the security zone, they risk arrest and must wait until people make it outside it before they can get to them.

Medici na Granicy, a volunteer medical group that finished a month-long stint at the border this week, said it repeatedly found people who would have died without their intervention. Jakub Sieczko, a medic from the group, said they had found pregnant women, in one case conducting an ultrasound there on the forest floor.

"In the 21st Century, in a democratic country, that this is happening is simply unacceptable," he said via a translator.

The group said it's also faced harassment, with the air having been let out of their ambulance's tires and, on the final night of their deployment, unknown attackers using axes to break their vehicle's windows.

Activists have criticized Poland's government for refusing to ask major international humanitarian organizations to assist. Instead the work is falling on tiny volunteer groups.

Sonja Orlewicz, a filmmaker from Warsaw, came with a group of friends for a week. Each night, the group was going into the woods with soup and clothes, taking on the role of rescue workers.

"Personally, I just couldn't stand anymore of the helplessness," said Orlewicz, 31. "I couldn't stand being unable to do anything."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Donations have poured in from thousands of "World News Tonight" viewers in the wake of our report on Southern Madagascar, a country on the verge of the world's first climate change-induced near-famine in modern history.

Unlike other countries, where extreme hunger and near-famine conditions are caused by war, conflict, or isolated weather events, southern Madagascar is facing these conditions because of a years-long drought caused by climate change.

The conditions there make the land here too arid to farm and leading to crop failure. The severe lack of rain has led to depleted food sources and dried-up rivers. Climate change has also led to sandstorms affecting these lands, covering formerly arable land and rendering it infertile.

 

"World News Tonight" anchor David Muir and his team traveled to Madagascar to report on the worsening situation, as aid organizations and the Malagasy government rush to fill in the gaps of food and water in this region.

Since our report aired Monday, the World Food Programme said they received support from more than 25,000 donors, raising $3.4 million, which will go towards helping the people of southern Madagascar.

Arduino Mangoni, the deputy country director of the World Food Programme in Madagascar, told ABC News he had "never seen people, especially children, in this situation that we’re seeing here."

"As they cannot plant, it’s affecting their food security," Patrick Vercammen, the World Food Programme's emergency coordinator here, told Muir during a visit to Akanka Fokotany, an affected village. "Having sandstorms in this kind of landscape is not something usual and having the effects of sandstorms shows that nature is changing, the environment is changing, and the climate change is affecting this area more than the rest of Madagascar."

The situation has led to widespread malnutrition affecting more than 1 million people, and pockets of what the United Nations classifies "catastrophic" food insecurity signaling deepening hunger.

Madagascar has produced 0.01 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions in the last eight decades, but it is suffering some of the worst effects.

"It is not fair...these people have not contributed to climate change because they do not have electricity, they do not have cars etc., and they’re paying probably the highest price in terms of the consequences of climate change," Mangoni said.

The children are the most affected, with at least half a million kids under the age of five expected to be acutely malnourished, according to the World Food Programme and UNICEF.

In fact, the agencies say about 110,000 children are already in severe condition, suffering irreversible damage to their growth.

As the country enters the lean season - that dangerous time during which people wait for the next successful harvest -- the need to provide food to those at risk of starvation has become more urgent. Aid workers warning that, without action, they could run out of food resources by the end of the year.

The World Food Programme is working together with the Malagasy government to alleviate some of the most acute needs in this region; prevent and treat children experiencing malnutrition; and build infrastructure and knowledge to make the population of southern Madagascar more resilient in the face of drought. They're supporting more than 700,000 people in dire need, and the need is expected to grow.

Click here for more information about the U.N. World Food Programme’s lifesaving support in Madagascar.

Click here to help families in Madagascar.

The World Food Program says:

$7 provides a month of school meals for a child in need

$15 provides a month’s worth of lifesaving nutrition to small-scale farmers

$25 provides 50 mothers with nutritious meals

$50 provides a child with a year of school meals

$75 feeds a family of 5 for one month, providing staples like rice, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, flour, beans, and lentils

$1,000 can feed a family of 5 for one year.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more

  • Updated

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The wife of an American held hostage by Islamist militants in Africa broke years of silence on Wednesday to criticize U.S. government efforts and to make a plea to the leader of an al-Qaida-affiliated group to release her husband.

Els Woodke's husband, Jeffery Woodke, is a Christian humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped in October 2016 in Niger, where he had worked for decades aiding nomadic peoples in the Sahel region. She has largely avoided public comments other than several pleas to the captor networks, as her family and U.S. officials worked quietly to bring him home -- but now she has decided to speak out.

"That situation has changed, and I'm now asking for help from my brothers and sisters in Christ, from the public, and from the governments of Mali and the United States," said Woodke, a teacher's assistant in McKinleyville, California.

Els Woodke appears in the new ABC News feature documentary "3212 UN-REDACTED" on Hulu to tell her husband's story and reflect on an ill-fated U.S. Special Forces mission in 2017, which a former commanding general of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) claimed publicly was tied to finding Woodke.

On Wednesday she said her family has grown deeply frustrated with the U.S. government's failure to secure her husband's release. Woodke's captivity has now spanned three U.S. administrations.

"I have been repeatedly threatened [by U.S. officials] that if I disclosed certain information that came from certain sources that I would no longer receive any information. I have also had so many restrictions imposed by the U.S. government that any meaningful attempt to raise a ransom is effectively prohibited," Els Woodke said in her prepared remarks.

U.S. officials have shared with Els Woodke details of her husband's captivity drawn from classified intelligence under condition of strict secrecy, sources involved in hostage recovery have told ABC News in the past.

Els Woodke disclosed that her family now has reason to believe from their own sources in Africa that her husband has been transferred from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) to an al-Qaida affiliate in northwest Africa known as JNIM -- which would offer hope because the JNIM leader in the past has negotiated the release of Western hostages in the Sahel. In August, French forces killed Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahrawi, the ISIS leader in northwest Africa, which Els Woodke said offers hope for a negotiation with JNIM.

"According to multiple sources of information, we believe that at some point prior to the death of Walid, Jeff was moved from the custody of ISIS-GS to the custody of JNIM," she said in her remarks. "The circumstances of that movement aren't understood yet."

Jeffery "was alive this summer," she said, adding that she was asking fellow Christians to help her raise funds for a ransom because foreign governments have shared that the captors want to be paid "millions."

Addressing her husband directly, she said, "Jeff, I hope you hear that we are working hard for your release. Do not lose hope. We love you. Stay strong. Stay strong."

Woodke also released a new video plea in French addressed to JNIM's leader, Sheik Iyad ag Ghali.

"I believe that you have kept Jeff safe and healthy and I thank you for that. I believe that you also desire that Jeff should be returned to his home and his work on behalf of the Tuareg and other nomadic people of the region," Els Woodke said in the video. "You are the only one with the power to make that happen. Releasing Jeff will require compassion and mercy, but these are the characteristics of a strong and courageous leader."

U.S. counterterrorism and hostage recovery officials have disagreed over intelligence about who kidnapped and held Woodke captive, pivoting more than a year ago toward a belief that JNIM had taken custody of the aid worker, officials have told ABC News. JNIM has held most of the Western hostages kidnapped in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for motives that range from acquiring ransom to using them as political bargaining chips.

In Woodke's case, years went by without any communication or ransom demands by the captor network, sources involved in the case have told ABC News.

After a Green Beret team was ambushed leaving four U.S. soldiers dead in October 2017, then-AFRICOM commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser made the startling claim that the team was attacked by ISIS near the village of Tongo Tongo after they had searched an empty ISIS campsite looking for intelligence on Woodke's whereabouts. The claim shocked officers in the chain of command and in hostage recovery, whistleblowers say in the new documentary.

"I think it's important to underscore why, then, was that mission undertaken? Why was it so important to send those people up there?" Waldhauser said at a Pentagon press conference in 2018. "We've had an American citizen by the name of Jeffery Woodke who has been captured and held hostage somewhere in that area for the last year and a half, and there was a possibility that what they might find at that target would be a piece of the puzzle of the whole-of-government approach, to try to return an American who's been held hostage."

"I had never heard that," former Assistant Secretary of Defense (Acting) for Special Operations Mark Mitchell said in the ABC News film, regarding the Woodke connection to the ill-fated missions of the American team. "So I'm not sure where that characterization came from."

Intelligence, military, FBI, and Trump White House officials have told ABC News that despite Waldhauser's statements, the mission was never pegged to or driven by any efforts to find or recover Woodke and his name appears nowhere in AFRICOM's 268-page investigative report, Mitchell and others have told ABC News.

Els Woodke and her two sons have wondered, however, if efforts to free her husband somehow led to the loss of the four American special operations soldiers.

"If this [mission] was indeed on my husband's behalf, I would have to say, 'Thank you so very much.' Still, I am very sorry it happened," she said in the documentary. "It's a terrible burden to know that people [could] die in the attempt to rescue my husband ... I don't take that lightly."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved. Read more