Britain’s Queen Elizabeth returned to work Friday following her first overnight stay at a hospital in years for what Buckingham Palace called “preliminary investigations.”
According to the palace, the 95-year-old monarch spent Wednesday night in the private King Edward VII’s Hospital, undergoing tests after canceling an official trip to Northern Ireland to mark the 100th anniversary of its creation.
The palace has said Queen Elizabeth accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. She returned to Windsor Castle by lunchtime Thursday. The matter was unrelated to COVID-19, and she remains in “good spirits,” stated the palace late Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, sending his best wishes, spoke about the queen’s return to her duties Friday. “I am given to understand that actually Her Majesty is, characteristically, back at her desk at Windsor as we speak,” Johnson told reporters.
Prior to her hospital stay, the monarch hosted a reception for top business leaders Tuesday night after Prime Minister Johnson held a green investment conference preceding the COP26 climate summit. Guests included Bill Gates and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. The queen’s son, Prince Charles, 72, and grandson Prince William, 39, greeted guests along with her.
Queen Elizabeth’s stay in the hospital was notable considering that the last time she is thought to have done so was in 2013, when she was experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis. She underwent surgery in 2018 for eye cataracts and a knee operation in 2003.
Next year marks the monarch’s platinum jubilee, 70 years on the throne. The queen has taken on fewer duties in recent years but is said to maintain a full schedule. In less than two weeks, she will host world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press and Reuters
Presidential ill health, police raids and corruption allegations, some involving caretaker Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, have thrown the Czech Republic into a surreal political crisis.
The jarring turn of events could not have come at a worse time — the unnerved country is already in the grip of an acute energy crunch, like its European neighbors, and it is facing an alarming uptick in coronavirus infections.
The Czech Republic has been in post-election limbo since Tuesday, when a Senate committee stripped President Miloš Zeman of his powers. The decision came after doctors at a military hospital in Prague, the Czech capital, who are treating the president for liver failure, said Zeman was “incapable of fulfilling any of his working responsibilities.”
The 77-year-old Zeman was due to name a new prime minister to head a coalition government following elections earlier this month in which the populist billionaire Babiš’ Action for Dissatisfied Citizens party won the most votes, but lost overall control to two opposition blocs, led by Petr Fiala. Babiš’ defeat was put down to the willingness of opposition parties to put aside their ideological differences and join to drive the populist leader out of power.
On Wednesday the state prosecutor added to the swirling political mix by requesting the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of Parliament, remove Babiš’ immunity as a lawmaker so he can be prosecuted for fraud and misuse of $2 million of European Union funds involving a spa resort owned by members of his own family.
Shortly before the elections Babiš featured in the so-called Pandora Papers, a huge trove of documents detailing the secret offshore financial dealings of hundreds of politicians, public officials and celebrities. The papers published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how Babiš had used shell companies to buy property, including a chateau on the French Riviera in 2009, prompting money-laundering and tax-evasion accusations from opposition politicians. He has denied the Pandora allegations, saying he has done nothing wrong and that the charges against him are just smears.
“I think that the request by the Prague prosecutor to lift Babiš’ immunity is an interesting development, simply because if the prosecutor had decided that Babiš should not be sent to court, should not be prosecuted, he would probably not ask for this,” political scientist Jiří Pehe told Prague Radio midweek. “His move seems to suggest that he is seriously thinking about sending Mr. Babiš to court,” he added.
In the meantime, if the Senate and House of Deputies confirm the committee’s vote to strip Zeman of his authority, some of his powers will be transferred to Babiš and one of his political allies, Parliament Speaker Radek Vondráček. In theory they would then decide who should be the next prime minister.
Babiš has promised to name Fiala, and he may have his eyes set more on running for the presidency to replace Zeman than in trying to hang on as prime minster, some Czech commentators say.
Zeman was a onetime Babiš ally, but there are signs their alliance is breaking up. The Czech Republic’s second-largest newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes, which is owned by Babiš, headlined a story this week saying the prime minister is aiming to “clean Zeman’s men out” of power.
Babiš has publicly demanded the resignation of Zeman’s chief aide, Vratislav Mynář, following allegations he and others in the presidential entourage had been trying to conceal the true state of the president’s health. Police have said they are investigating the allegations, which they have described as “criminal offenses against the republic.”
“The police of the Czech Republic will initiate an investigation into a possible illegal act, in which signs of criminal offenses against the republic can be seen,” Czech police tweeted. It is unclear what offenses may be involved but local media say the crimes could include treason and subversion. Mynář told reporters in Prague midweek that no laws had been broken and he criticized the Senate committee for its vote to strip his boss of his presidential powers.
The president’s wife, Ivana Zemanová, said Thursday that people should stop speculating about her husband’s illness as “treatment will take time.” Mynář remains defiant, telling reporters in Prague Thursday, “The President of the Republic is Miloš Zeman, who appointed me to the position and is the only one who has the right to dismiss me.”
But Babiš told iDNES.cz, a Czech news site, midweek that Mynář should resign, and that if doesn’t he would remove him after presidential powers are transferred. Parliament will vote on the issue in the first week of November.
Czechs have been left reeling at the twists and turns of the bizarre chain of political events.
Like other Europeans they are struggling to recover from a pandemic that seems far from over. Coronavirus infections have started to surge again in the country with over 3,000 new cases recorded on both Tuesday and Wednesday, doubling the tallies seen on the corresponding days last week.
Health Minister Adam Vojtěch, announced new pandemic restrictions Wednesday, which will come into force next week. They include mandatory mask-wearing at work and checks for digital vaccination certificates to enter bars and restaurants.
A visit by a group of French senators to Taiwan earlier this month is just the latest sign that European countries are willing to engage with the East Asian democracy even at the risk of angering China, according to regional experts.
The lawmakers from the Taiwan Friendship Group, led by Senator Alain Richard, arrived in Taiwan on October 6 for a five-day trip. They met the following day with President Tsai Ing-wen, who awarded Richard with a national medal during a brief reception. Richard is a former French defense minister.
Richard, who previously visited in 2015 and 2018, praised the friendship between France and Taiwan. He notably referred to Taiwan as a “country,” in an unusual move for a sitting parliamentarian as France does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. China maintains that Taiwan is a wayward province that will one day be united with the mainland.
News of the French senators’ trip to Taiwan, originally planned for March, was met by anger from the Chinese embassy in Paris, which said the group would give support to “pro-independence forces in Taiwan,” according to Taiwan media.
Marc Cheng, executive director of the EU Center in Taiwan, said the trip was a sign that some European countries like France may be less wary of Beijing despite its often angry rhetoric about Taiwan. “This means that even under more pressure from China, European countries are still willing to maintain contact or exchange with Taiwan,” he said.
The trip was also notable for its visibility, as Taiwan’s engagement with non-official allies often occurs with less media fanfare. An estimated 45 French parliamentarians visited Taiwan between 2017 and 2020, according to Mathieu Duchâtel, director of the Asia Program at Institut Montaigne in France, including study groups and a delegation from the French National Assembly.
“If the Chinese embassy had not politicized the visit, it would have gone completely unnoticed,” Duchâtel said of the recent trip. “It’s symbolic but overall what really made it important and unusual this time was the harsh reaction of the Chinese embassy.”
Duchâtel said China’s representatives may have been particularly sensitive because in May, the French Senate passed a resolution calling for Taiwan to participate in U.N. agencies like the World Health Organization, the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Interpol.
Due to Taiwan’s disputed political status, it lacks representation at the U.N. and affiliates at the behest of China. In years past, Taiwan has participated in organizations like the World Health Assembly as an observer but it has been blocked since 2016 by China.
Taiwan’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, and experience with SARS, brought fresh attention to its lockout and led to a first-ever statement of support from the “G-7” countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
European countries have also begun to pay more attention to Taiwan as part of a greater pivot toward Asia. Earlier this year, the European Union passed its first strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which makes plain concerns about the rise of China in the region and the future security of the Taiwan Strait.
The EU policy follows in the footsteps of France, Germany and the Netherlands, which all have drafted individual Indo-Pacific strategies in recent years. French President Emmanuel Macron considers France an Asia-Pacific player due to its territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, according to the EU Center in Taiwan’s Cheng, and has worked to raise its visibility in Asia.
Beyond western Europe, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – all former Soviet bloc countries with limited investment from China – have also warmed to Taiwan and even become outspoken advocates for the democracy. They are also three of Taiwan’s major COVID-19 vaccine donors alongside the U.S. and Japan.
On Wednesday, a Taiwan trade delegation of more than 60 representatives departed for Europe to boost its trade with the three countries as well as Central and Eastern Europe.
Deep divisions over the European Union’s legal order and energy took an EU summit into late Thursday, with eastern member states Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic standing in defiance against Brussels.
The rule of law issue was especially thorny, with the potential to shake the very foundations of the 27-nation bloc.
The east-west divide was set to continue Friday, when leaders would return to discuss migration, a topic that turned Europeans bitterly against each other when Germany opened its doors to asylum-seekers fleeing war in 2015.
Poland again defended an October 7 ruling by its Constitutional Court that said EU law applied only in specific, limited areas and Polish law prevailed in all others.
The European Commission and countries including the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium countered that the position undermined EU cohesion and was legal cover for Warsaw to strip independence from its judicial branch and roll back democratic norms.
But under the authority of heavyweights France and Germany, a measure of calm prevailed in the row, as they pressed for dialogue with Poland.
Just before the summit started, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held one-on-one talks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Macron urged Morawiecki “to find a solution in line with our principles and common rules,” according to an Elysee official.
Leaders then held a relatively short two-hour discussion on the issue, kicked off by Morawiecki.
“The debate took place in a serene atmosphere,” an EU official said on condition of anonymity. The debate “was a step that should help lead to solutions,” the official added.
But that was preceded by four hours of wrangling over energy, which was the original main agenda item when the summit was organized.
Europe is struggling to find ways to cope with a global energy crunch while sticking to goals to mitigate climate change.
Diplomats said that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, backed by Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, refused to sign off on the summit conclusions on energy, wanting to get new language on the EU’s landmark carbon emissions system, which he opposes.
Orban and Babis are allies of Morawiecki, and Hungary and Poland have a pact to veto any EU moves to punish the other.
The friction from the two disputes soured an EU summit that was likely to be the last for Merkel, who is bowing out to hand over the reins to a new German government being formed following September elections she did not contest.
A group photo of the leaders, socially spaced, nevertheless presented a show of unity that belied the disagreements behind closed doors.
Arriving for the talks, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that “it’s very clear that a red line has been crossed” with Poland’s stance on the bloc’s legal order.
“This discussion really goes to the heart of Europe,” he said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin both said it was time to get tough with Warsaw.
They and several other leaders said Brussels should not release 36 billion euros ($42 billion) in pandemic recovery money that Poland badly wants while the issue stood unresolved.
A few said all EU budget money for Warsaw should be subject to an untested conditionality mechanism tying disbursement to member states upholding the rule of law.
One EU diplomat warned that the commission was preparing the mechanism and that “the moment of truth was getting close” for Warsaw.
As he arrived, Morawiecki showed no sign of backing down.
While he said he was “ready for dialogue” he warned: “We won’t act under the pressure of blackmail.”
Orban gave him his full support, saying the pressure on Poland was a “witch hunt.”
Merkel, who has always urged a cautious approach in her 16 years of EU summits, said she did not want to see the disagreement with Poland end up before the European Court of Justice.
“A cascade of legal disputes before the European Court of Justice is not a solution to the problem of how the rule of law can be applied,” she said.
Queen Elizabeth II spent a night in the hospital for tests after being forced to cancel a visit to Northern Ireland this week, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.
“Following medical advice to rest for a few days, The Queen attended hospital on Wednesday afternoon for some preliminary investigations, returning to Windsor Castle at lunchtime today, and remains in good spirits,” a palace statement said.
Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency said the trip to the hospital was unannounced as it was expected to be a short stay, and also to protect the 95-year-old monarch’s privacy.
The overnight stay was for “practical reasons,” it added.
Elizabeth was seen by specialists at the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London, where her late husband, Prince Philip, spent four weeks from February this year for treatment for a preexisting heart condition.
Philip, who was married to the queen for 73 years, died in April just a few weeks before his 100th birthday.
The queen, who has been on the throne since 1952 and is Britain’s longest-serving monarch, was said to be back at her desk on Thursday afternoon, undertaking light duties.
She had been due to attend an ecumenical service in the border town of Armagh on Thursday to mark the 100th centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.
But the palace said on Wednesday morning that she had “reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for the next few days.”
The decision was not related to the coronavirus, and she was said to have been resting at her Windsor Castle residence, west of London.
The queen has had a busy schedule since returning from her remote Balmoral estate in northeast Scotland at the start of October.
She has resumed public engagements since the funeral of Prince Philip, either alone or accompanied by other senior royals.
Last week, she delivered a speech at the opening of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, and on the weekend spent a day at Ascot Racecourse.
On Monday, she held a virtual audience with the new governor-general of New Zealand, and on Tuesday received two ambassadors, also by video link.
On Tuesday evening, she hosted a reception at Windsor for international business leaders attending a government investment summit, including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, and senior British ministers.
At that reception, the queen appeared cheerful as she, her eldest son and heir Prince Charles, 72, and grandson Prince William, 39, mingled with guests, none of whom were wearing face masks.
Coronavirus restrictions were lifted in Britain in July, but an increase in cases has prompted calls for measures to be reimposed to prevent further close-contact transmission.
Daily virus cases crossed the 50,000 mark on Thursday, according to the latest government figures, the highest since July 17.
Elizabeth and Philip moved to Windsor in March last year as the coronavirus outbreak took hold.
They decided to self-isolate because of the increased risk of infection due to their age, although she has since been vaccinated.
The queen is still expected to join other senior royals for a series of events linked to the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Glasgow next month.
She was seen last week at a major public event using a walking stick, but royal officials said it was not linked to any specific health condition.
But news that she stayed overnight in a hospital will inevitably raise fears for her health, given her advanced age, and questions about whether she should slow down.
Next year she is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee to mark 70 years on the throne.
A group of mixed-race women who were abducted as children by state officials in what was then Belgian Congo is suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the case comes as Belgium struggles to reconcile with its brutal colonial past.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting calls by some public health officials to implement new COVID-19 restrictions, despite a surge of new infections hitting the nation.
The Health Ministry reported 52,000 new infections on Thursday, with a daily average the past week of more than 44,000 — a 16% increase from the previous week.
The World Health Organization reported this week that Britain has among the highest number of daily new infections in the European region, the only part of the world that saw an increase in new cases last week.
Speaking to reporters, Johnson said the government is going to stick to a plan it laid out earlier this year which called for a series of steps to allow the country to reopen and lift the restrictions.
Johnson said officials are carefully watching the COVID-19 numbers and said while the figures are high, they are within the parameters that government experts predicted.
Johnson said the best thing people can do now is get a booster shot. Almost 80% of British residents 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, and everyone over 50 is being offered a booster.
Johnson said, “Ninety percent of the adult population has antibodies right now. But we must fortify ourselves further.”
Critics of the government plan say the booster campaign is moving more slowly than the infection. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday the booster shot campaign is currently vaccinating about 165,000 people a day and that it should be closer to 500,000 per day.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.