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Turkey’s health workers protest low wages, harsh conditions amid a currency meltdown

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Five Turkish healthcare unions representing more than 250,000 health workers, doctors and other medical personnel went on a one-day strike on Wednesday, protesting poor wages and harsh working conditions amid a currency meltdown.

Hundreds of health workers, including doctors, nurses, medical staff and laboratory assistants gathered in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and called on the government to resign.

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Medical personnel across all 81 provinces of Turkey joined the strike, according to the sector’s leading union, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB).

Turkey has recently been recording around 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 180 deaths per day, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca. He said on Saturday that six cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Turkey.

“We want to live and make others live,” “Free and equal healthcare for everyone,” and “We cannot breathe” were some of the slogans chanted by the protesters in Istanbul.

Health workers complained about the difficulty of making ends meet, as inflation soared with the lira losing half its value against the dollar this year.

“The health ministry is not keeping its promises. We are demanding a pay rise that matches inflation, at least. We demand that the coronavirus is recognized as an occupational illness,” said laboratory worker Aydin Erol at the protest.

The TTB says health care workers have grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of transparency in data on infections and deaths due to COVID-19 and measures to protect health personnel.

Many medical professionals have sought to leave the country due to low salaries, long hours and the risk of violence, it added. More than 100,000 doctors have been physically and verbally assaulted in the last 11 years and at least 10 have been killed by patients, it said.

“The government is doing nothing to stop the violence towards medical workers. We don’t feel safe in hospitals,” said one doctor who attended the protest, saying his colleagues were looking for ways to move abroad.

“Strikes will continue, and resignations from public hospitals will only increase.”

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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