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Finland orders 64 Lockheed F-35 fighter jets for $9.4 bln

Finland has chosen US defense giant Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters to replace ageing F/A-18 combat jets and plans to order 64 planes with weapons systems in a $9.4 billion deal, the government said on Friday.

Lockheed Martin competed in a tender for the deal with Sweden’s Saab, US rival Boeing, France’s Dassault and Britain’s BAE Systems.

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The procurement from Lockheed, including weapons as well as service and maintenance until 2030, is estimated to cost 8.378 billion euros ($9.44 billion), the government said.

The construction of hangars and other equipment will add a further 777 million euros, and 824 million euros will be reserved for the final optimized weapons package and to control future contract amendments, it added.

“When comparing military performance, the F-35 best met our needs,” Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen told a news conference.

Military plane makers have been vying for the deal since late 2015, when the Finnish defense ministry began the search for a new jet to replace Finland’s old Hornet fighter bought in 1992 from McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing.

Finland is the 14th nation to opt for the F-35. It will begin phasing in the F-35 from 2027 onwards, said Airforce Commander Pasi Jokinen.

The choice strengthens the small Nordic nation’s defense cooperation with its allies, most significantly the United States and Norway, said researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“Finland and Norway already train together in the north so it will be a political decision to determine what intelligence is shared and when,” he told Reuters, referring to the potential for the jets to share data in real time.

Unlike Norway, Finland is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) but it has forged stronger ties with the organisation in recent years and chosen military equipment compatible with NATO members.

In 2014 Finland and Sweden, which is also not a NATO member, signed an agreement to train together and allow NATO assistance in crisis situations.

“The F-35 will provide Finnish industries unique digital capabilities that leverage 5th generation engineering and manufacturing,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 programme.

“The production work will continue for more than 20 years, and the F-35 sustainment work will continue into the 2070s,” Lauderdale said in a statement.

Rival jet maker Boeing said it was disappointed with Finland’s decision, adding that the company still sees significant international interest in its F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.

Sweden, a neighbour to Finland and home to Gripen maker Saab, said it regretted the outcome while also respecting the decision.

“Our excellent defence cooperation will of course continue.

Finland will continue to be our closest security and defence policy partner,” Sweden’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

Reuters reported earlier on Friday that Lockheed Martin was set to win the contract.

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Roche develops monkeypox PCR tests

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said Wednesday it had come up with PCR tests that can detect monkeypox, as the virus spreads outside endemic countries.

Roche and its subsidiary TIB Molbiol have developed three test kits which are for use by researchers in most countries worldwide, the Basel-based firm said.

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The first kit detects viruses in the wider orthopoxvirus group. The second detects monkeypox viruses only, while the third detects both simultaneously.

“Roche has very quickly developed a new suite of tests that detect the monkeypox virus and aid in following its epidemiologic spread,” said diagnostics chief Thomas Schinecker.

“Diagnostic tools are crucial for responding to and ultimately controlling emerging public health challenges as they advance response measures such as tracing efforts and treatment strategies.”

Roche said the research test kits could assess the spread of the virus and help monitor the potential impact of treatments, vaccines and public health measures.

The World Health Organization said that as of May 22, more than 250 confirmed and suspected cases had been officially reported to the UN health agency from 16 countries outside endemic nations in west and central Africa.

The WHO says a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is the “preferred laboratory test given its accuracy and sensitivity”. For this, optimal samples are from skin lesions and dry crusts.

It says PCR blood tests are usually inconclusive and should not be routinely collected from patients.

The WHO says antigen and antibody detection methods do not distinguish between orthopoxviruses.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said Wednesday that countries had been sharing information that was allowing the agency to better understand the spread of monkeypox.

He said its origins at the animal-human interface had not been properly controlled, “and we’re paying a price now in monkeypox for an unmanaged, endemic disease which we do not fully understand.”

“We have not put in place preventive measures and we’re now dealing with a multi-country event directly related to our inability, or unwillingness, to manage those risks earlier,” he said.

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World

Moscow says Mariupol port reopened after demining

Russia said Wednesday that the port of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol has reopened after Moscow’s troops took control of the city on the Azov Sea.
Defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a press briefing that the port has “started functioning normally” after demining.
The strategic port city in southeast Ukraine fell to Moscow recently after a devastating siege.
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Mariupol’s new Moscow-appointed city chief, Konstantin Ivashchenko, said on Russian television that a ship carrying around 3,000 tons of metal products will soon depart from the port to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
Ivashchenko said that “demining is taking place in the city, particularly in the commercial sea port and its waters.”
The port has taken on 4,000 workers, Ivashchenko said.
“Practically all the rubble has been removed, the rubbish has been removed, and what’s most important, the port is preparing to ship the first cargo in liberated Mariupol. The shipment will leave in the next few days,” Ivashchenko said.
He added that the port could also be used to receive construction materials to rebuild the city.
The Russian army said Tuesday that it had demined an area measuring 1.5 million square meters in the port, with sappers working in the docks and on ships moored there.
The United Nations has urged Russian authorities to release grain stuck in Ukrainian ports to avert global food shortages.
Russian deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko said earlier Wednesday Moscow was acting in “cooperation with the UN” and is prepared to escort vessels to safety if Ukrainian forces clear mines from around their ports.
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Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14

A series of explosions shook Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban said, including a blast inside a mosque in the capital of Kabul that killed at least five worshippers and three bombings of minivans in the country’s north that killed nine passengers.
The Kabul Emergency Hospital said it received 22 victims of the mosque bombing, including five dead. There were no further details on the blast that struck the Hazrat Zakaria Mosque in the city’s central Police District 4, according to Khalid Zadran, a Taliban police spokesman in Kabul.
“The blast took place while people were inside the mosque for the evening prayers,” Zadran said, adding that they were waiting for an update.
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The minivans were targeted in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after explosive devices were placed inside the vehicles, according to Mohammad Asif Waziri, a Taliban-appointed spokesman in Balkh province. He said the explosions killed nine and wounded 15.
All the victims in Mazar-e-Sharif were from the country’s minority Shia Muslims, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to give details to the media.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosions, but they had the hallmarks of the regional affiliate of ISIS, known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province, or IS-K.
The ISIS affiliate, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014, is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country’s new Taliban rulers. Following their takeover when they seized power in Kabul and elsewhere in the country last August, the Taliban have launched a sweeping crackdown against the ISIS headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.
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ISIS claims bombing targeting Shias in north Afghanistan

Blast kills more than 50 worshipers at Kabul mosque

ISIS claims attack on Kabul mosque

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