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Climbers caught between rock and a hard place at Olympics

The first Olympic climbing champion will be crowned on Thursday, when eight male climbers scramble up a series of walls in search of a gold medal.Yet few of those taking part in the sport’s Olympic debut believe the winner will be the best climber in the world. “The term [itself] is a nonsense,” Czech competitor Adam Ondra told the Financial Times.The 28-year-old, who is considered among the world’s greatest climbers, believes the sport’s appearance at the Tokyo Games is more of an opportunity for it to gain global recognition than a contest determining who is the best.Ondra and his peers say the rules of the competition imposed by the International Olympic Committee misunderstand the nature of their sport. Instead of a contest of pure climbing ability, the Olympics’ debut reflects the IOC’s desire to showcase a series of new entrants into the Games, such as skateboarding, BMX freestyle and surfing. The effort to expand the Olympic programme is a reaction to younger viewers’ lack of interest in many of the Games’ traditional sports, such as swimming and Greco-Roman wrestling, in favour of other entertainment offerings from Netflix and YouTube. That trend represents a threat to the IOC’s broadcasting rights, which made up the bulk of revenues worth $5.7bn in the four years running up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The climbing at Tokyo’s Aomi Urban Sports Park is taking place amid bright lights and a thumping soundtrack of dance and heavy metal music. Commentators on loudspeakers eschew impartial analysis in favour of screaming platitudes such as: “Come on!” Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi competes in the women’s sport climbing lead qualification © Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images Amid this din, athletes must focus on three tests. The first is “speed”, a vertical sprint up a 15m high wall set at an angle of 95 degrees. The made-for-social-media spectacle is over in a few seconds. “It must be one of the quickest events in the Olympic calendar,” said Australia’s Tom O’Halloran. “Surely the discus stays in the air longer than we’re climbing up that wall.”The other two disciplines are more complex. In “bouldering”, athletes are set four complex routes — known as “problems” — to solve in four minutes. Then, in “lead,” climbers must clamber as high as possible on a 15m high overhanging wall in six minutes. Those tasks reward patient athleticism and problem solving, but are initially difficult to fathom for newcomers watching at home.The controversy over the Olympic competition lies in it combining all the events to determine a champion. Climbers will get a score for the position they finish in each discipline, with the three scores multiplied to get a final result. The lowest scorer wins. But climbers tend to specialise in a single skill, given their different demands, rather than excel at all of them. South Africa’s Christopher Cosser said this meant the competition was closer in spirit to the triathlon, where athletes must run, swim and cycle. “You’ve got to be a well-rounded athlete, you can’t just focus on one,” he said.The flaws in the system were evident in Ondra’s performance in qualifying. He finished 18th out of 20 climbers in the speed round, but was among the best performers in his favoured lead and bouldering rounds. “It feels a little bit like others are starting 100m ahead, because there’s this speed climbing in which I’m definitely not talented,” said Ondra. “I’ve been trying really hard over the last two years to improve . . . let’s see if there’s any chance of not being last.”Marco Scolaris, president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing, the global governing body, said the Olympic scoring system was a result of the IOC’s insistence that climbing should only be awarded one set of medals for each of the men and women’s events.But Scolaris, who spearheaded a years-long lobbying campaign for climbing to become an Olympic sport, added: “We have to enter the Olympic Games in order to show the world what [climbing] is, and then grow . . . into a new dimension.”Participation in climbing has exploded in recent years thanks to the proliferation of indoor wall complexes and the popularity of climbing documentaries such as The Dawn Wall and Free Solo.The controversy over the Olympics’ climbing rules will be partially addressed at the Paris Games in three years’ time, when speed climbing will be split from lead and bouldering over two separate medal events. But no decision has been made as to whether climbing will remain in the Olympics beyond 2024.Scolaris hopes it captures enough attention at the Tokyo Games to become a permanent fixture. The competitors in Japan accept their role as ambassadors for their sport, even if few believe the Olympics represents its pinnacle.“Whoever wins will be the best climber that day and the first Olympic champion,” said Ondra. “That’s something you can’t take away.”

Biden administration proposes $750 million weapons sale to Taiwan in a move likely to anger Beijing

The administration gave notice about the intended sale on Wednesday, according to a State Department spokesperson, two congressional sources, and a notification from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The deal includes 40 M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer Systems and related equipment. "If concluded, this proposed sale will contribute to the modernization of Taiwan's howitzer fleet, strengthening its self-defense capabilities to meet current and future threats," the spokesperson said.One of the congressional sources told CNN that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez had already cleared the sale as part of the informal review process -- a common practice in which the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees get a heads-up on planned sales, allowing committee leadership to raise concerns, give their input or place holds. This source said Menendez sees it "as yet another statement of the Biden administration's serious intent to get strategy in the Indo-Pacific right, and its commitment to stand with our ally Taiwan."The United States has long provided arms to the island under the terms of the decades-old Taiwan Relations Act, and there is bipartisan support for supplying Taiwan with weapons. Last October, the Trump administration notified Congress of a proposed $1.8 billion in advanced weapons systems sales to Taiwan, and the administration had previously approved several major arms sales to Taiwan valued at more than $13 billion, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets, M1A2T Abrams tanks, portable Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and MK-48 Mod6 torpedoes.Beijing has lambasted those sales, calling them a violation of China's sovereignty. The country's communist government views Taiwan as part of its territory, though the two have been governed separately since the end of a bloody civil war in 1949.New guidelinesIn April, President Joe Biden dispatched an unofficial delegation to Taiwan in a show of support for the island, according to a senior administration official and a State Department spokesperson.The State Department also announced in April that the agency had "issued new guidelines for U.S. government interaction with Taiwan counterparts to encourage U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship."At the time, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "The guidance underscores Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and an important security and economic partner that is also a force for good in the international community."These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations, and provide clarity throughout the Executive Branch on effective implementation of our 'one China' policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances," Price said.Shortly before leaving office in January, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States was lifting decades-old restrictions on interactions between American and Taiwanese officials.

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Illinois will require everyone in schools to wear masks indoors and has mandated jabs for state employees in high-risk settings to combat rising Covid-19 cases. “Far too few school districts” have indicated they plan to follow recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when the new academic year begins, governor Jay Pritzker said.The New York International Auto Show has been cancelled for a second straight year, a casualty of tighter restrictions in the city and concerns over the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19. The announcement on Wednesday came a day after New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said patrons of indoor public places, such as gyms, restaurants and entertainment venues, will be required to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 in order to gain entry from August 16.Organisers of a popular beer festival in Chicago have cancelled this year’s event. “With increasing Covid-19 cases and associated risks, we do not believe it is the right choice to move forward with the festival at this time,” organisers of Hyde Park Summer Fest said after consulting with “various stakeholders”.Israel will bring back outdoor mask use for large groups, send half of its public sector employees home and ask people to refrain from unnecessary indoor gatherings as a surge of the Delta variant tests one of the world’s most vaccinated nations. New cases surged to over 3,000 Tuesday, up from a few dozen a day just a month ago, and health minister Nitzan Horowitz said the country may have to impose a fresh lockdown over the coming High Holy Days if severe hospitalisations continue to climb.The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been extended to 16- and 17-year-olds, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said on Wednesday. “After carefully considering the latest data, we advise that healthy 16 to 17-year-olds are offered a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine”, Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, said.Walgreens has reported a surge in vaccinations in US states where overall take-up rates had lagged, a sign that concerns over the Delta variant and a recent wave of new cases is fuelling demand. Demand for shots has jumped more than 30 per cent over the last several weeks “in key areas of the country that have previously been slower to vaccinate,” the company said. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas are among the states that have registered the “most notable” gains in vaccination rates.The UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus has urged the government to fix “chaotic scenes” at airports, as the country approaches the next review of its travel restrictions. “The government’s border policy is leading to chaotic scenes at UK airports and leaving the country dangerously exposed to new variants,” said Caroline Lucas, the group’s vice chair.The European Commission has ordered 200m doses of Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine to bolster its arsenal of jabs, despite the US drugmaker’s vaccine having not yet been approved. The deal covers the purchase of 100m doses, with the option to get an extra 100m doses up to 2023. Novavax shares jumped 12 per cent in New York trading.The World Health Organization has called for a global moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September amid a severe shortage of vaccines in lower-income countries. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said that the Geneva-based health body was calling for the moratorium to allow at least 10 per cent of people in every country in the world to be vaccinated.China has tightened its border controls by temporarily blocking new passports being issued to most citizens, as the country grapples with an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant. China’s National Immigration Administration on Wednesday announced that it would no longer issue new travel documents including passports for non-essential trips outside the country.

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Belarusian dissidents fear the regime will put them into detention camps. It may have already built one

These are the indications, according to videos seen by CNN and witness statements, of a possible prison camp for political dissidents, recently constructed around an hour's drive from the Belarusian capital Minsk, near the settlement of Novokolosovo. It sits on the site of a Soviet-era missile storage facility, which spans over 200 acres. It is unclear how much of the site has been refurbished. Belarus's opposition activists have voiced fears for some time that the authoritarian regime might resort to crude detention camps, if conventional prisons fill up. Concerns are also rising about another wave of crackdowns and arrests in response to demonstrations marking the August 9 anniversary of the disputed presidential election that sparked last year's protest movement. Further unrest may surround a constitutional referendum planned for later this year or early 2022. .m-infographic_1628096928790{background:url(//cdn.cnn.com/cnn/.e/interactive/html5-video-media/2021/08/04/bealrus-camp-375px.png) no-repeat 0 0 transparent;margin-bottom:30px;width:100%;-moz-background-size:cover;-o-background-size:cover;-webkit-background-size:cover;background-size:cover;font-size:0;}.m-infographic_1628096928790:before{content:"";display:block;padding-top:247.14%;}@media (min-width:640px) {.m-infographic_1628096928790 {background-image:url(//cdn.cnn.com/cnn/.e/interactive/html5-video-media/2021/08/04/bealrus-camp-780px.png);}.m-infographic_1628096928790:before{padding-top:109.55%;}}@media (min-width:1120px) {.m-infographic_1628096928790 {background-image:url(//cdn.cnn.com/cnn/.e/interactive/html5-video-media/2021/08/04/bealrus-camp-930px.png);}.m-infographic_1628096928790:before{padding-top:96.23%;}}Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, viewed the footage and told CNN: "It is not surprising that [President Alexander Lukashenko] is trying to build something like a regular prison camp, because a new wave of protest will come up anyway. It can be triggered by his statements, it can be triggered by the economic situation. But it will come. He understands that, and he also wants to be prepared more than last year in 2020."Belarusian dissidents in August 2020 said police held them for several days in a prison camp, temporarily fashioned from an addiction treatment facility. In October, an activist group of former security officers, ByPol, released a recording they alleged to have been made of the deputy interior minister, Mikalay Karpyankou, in which he said "resettlement" prison camps needed to be built for more "sharp-heeled" protesters to reform them. In the recording, Karpyankou proposed building a camp out of an existing penitentiary in the town of Ivatsevichy. The Belarusian government decried the recordings at the time of their release as "fake" news. The government did not respond to CNN's request for comment for this article.CNN has not been able to access the interior of the facility near Novokolosovo, and there are no signs the camp has yet housed prisoners. A western intelligence official told CNN the use of the facility as a prison camp was "possible," although they did not have direct evidence to that effect. Locals in the town of Novokolosovo refer to the facility as "the camp." One resident, told to leave the area by military guards recently when he approached the site, said: "My friend Sasha, a builder, told me they refurbished this place. There are three levels of barbed wire, and its electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a military man came up to me and said that I can't walk there." Two other witnesses also observed military patrols. #video_1628097112784{margin:20px 0;} #video_1628097112784 video,#video_1628097112784 img{margin: 0; position: relative; width: 100%;} .cap_1628097112784{-webkit-font-smoothing:antialiased;padding:0 0 5px 5px; font-size:16px; color:#595959;} .cap_1628097112784:before{content:"";display: block;height: 1px;margin-top: 10px;margin-bottom: 10px;width: 80px;background-color: #C5C5C5;} .cap_1628097112784 >span{color:#C5C5C5;} The images of the camp emerge after a weekslong crackdown against the remaining independent media inside Belarus, and after heightened international attention on the crisis inside the authoritarian country. On Sunday, Olympic athlete Kristina Timanovskaya said she was forced to the airport in Tokyo after criticizing Belarusian Olympic officials on Instagram, and had to seek Japanese police help to prevent her being put on a flight back to Minsk. She landed in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday where she has been offered refuge and a humanitarian visa. The Belarus National Olympic Committee has said she was taken off the Olympic team because of emotional and had psychological issues, which she denies. On Tuesday, fears for Belarus's growing diaspora of dissidents grew when activist Vitaly Shishov was found dead in a park outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, apparently hanged, with abrasions on his body. Police are investigating the possibilities of suicide or murder. In May, the country's regime brazenly diverted a passenger plane to Minsk and arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, in an incident described by some Western leaders as "state-sanctioned hijacking." Belarus's protest movement has been significantly reduced owing to police brutality, causing many demonstrations now to take the form of a flash mob, filmed and posted online. Yet there are signs activists are adopting new measures of active disruption.CNN has spoken to activists who say they have taken the step of sabotaging railway lines run by the Belarusian government. They sent CNN a series of videos which show them using an established technique of delaying trains without causing damage. CNN is not revealing the location or nature of the tactic, and has not been able to independently confirm the effectiveness of the protest actions.One of the organizers, who said their activities have caused trains to slow to about 20 km an hour (12 mph) in some areas, told CNN: "The main goal is to cause economic damage to the regime, because the delays cause them to pay huge fines."Many of the railways that pass through Belarus ferry goods from China to the European Union, meaning frequent delays could have wider significance across the continent and for international trade, hitting Lukashenko's regime hard in the pocket.

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