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Republicans renew complaints Twitter stifles president, conservatives

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. Republican lawmakers accused Twitter on Wednesday of being biased against conservatives and demanded information about the social media platform’s reactions to two tweets by President Donald Trump.

Representatives Jim Jordan and James Sensenbrenner, in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, said Twitter’s content moderation was not neutral and that it more often took aim at conservatives.

“Twitter’s discrimination against conservative voices is extremely alarming. These actions give rise to concerns that the company is systematically engaged in the disparate treatment of political speech and is deceiving users of the platform by not uniformly applying its terms of service,” they wrote.

The two men complained in particular about Twitter’s decision in late May to “fact check” Trump’s assertion linking mailed ballots with voter fraud. Twitter at the time said in a statement that it had added a label to two Trump tweets because they “could confuse voters.”

They also objected to Twitter’s treatment of a Trump tweet saying he would use “serious force” to keep protesters from creating an autonomous zone in Washington, D.C. Twitter said the tweet violated a policy against abusive behavior but did not take it down.

The lawmakers also accused a Twitter official, whom they did not name, of using insulting language to talk about the president and a White House official.

A Twitter spokesman confirmed the company received the letter, but declined to comment further.

The two representatives asked Twitter to provide an accounting of content moderation decisions affecting Americans in the past year, as well as documents and communications regarding Twitter’s treatment of the Trump tweets.

Jordan is the top Republican on the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary committee and Sensenbrenner is the top Republican on its antitrust subcommittee.

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Disney says Walt Disney World reopening is on track for Saturday

(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co will stick to its plans to reopen its Walt Disney World theme parks in Orlando, Florida, to a limited number of guests on Saturday, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

Florida’s coronavirus cases have soared in the last month, with the state’s daily count topping 10,000 three times in the last week. The death rate from COVID-19 rose nearly 19% in the last week from the week prior, bringing the state’s death toll to more than 3,800.

Some workers have signed a petition asking Disney to delay Walt Disney World’s reopening. The resort, home to the world’s most-visited theme parks, was closed to guests in March.

In a statement on Tuesday, Disney’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, said new requirements from temperature checks, to face coverings and extra sanitation would enable guests to enjoy Disney World “responsibly.”

“While COVID-19, and the risk of contracting it, is present in public places, there are many important ways that we can all help promote each other’s safety,” Hymel said.

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Why Comcast's Peacock is betting aggressively on free users with a model that's more Spotify than Netflix

  • NBCUniversal's flagship streaming service, Peacock, lands nationally on July 15, with a free tier and two subscription plans.
  • Peacock chairman Matt Strauss said its Spotify-like freemium model is even more relevant amid the global pandemic, as economic uncertainty looms and people spend more time streaming in lockdown. 
  • Strauss said Peacock is working to strike deals to make the paid version of platform available to more people for free, as well.
  • After three months of testing the service among Comcast customers, Strauss said Peacock is also doubling the number of linear channels in the platform, and rethinking how it programs its Trending section.
  • Strauss said Peacock surpassed in 60 days its year-end targets for metrics including monthly active users, though did not share specific numbers. The company previously said it aimed to reach 30 to 35 million monthly active users by 2024.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit, the team behind NBCUniversal's upcoming flagship streaming service, Peacock, began holding virtual all-hands meetings twice a week.

A topic of discussion during the meetings was the mindset that consumers might be in when the platform rolled out nationally on July 15, amid growing economic uncertainty and a crowded streaming-video market.

The Comcast-owned platform had announced in January plans for a freemium model, similar to Spotify, that would include a free tier of content with ads, as well as a $5-per-month subscription with more programming including originals like the upcoming series "Brave New World," and a $10-per-month version without ads.

The company says it's even more confident in that strategy now with the current economic instability.

"This notion of launching a free service that's premium, we think is incredibly relevant," Matt Strauss, chairman of Peacock and NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, told Business Insider. "It's more relevant now than even where we thought six or so months ago."

Peacock has been pushing its free offering heavily in its launch marketing. Its tagline is: "Watch for free. Upgrade for more."

https://www.youtube.com/embed/GEQmNlkbBps

 

Rival subscription services like HBO Max, Disney Plus, and Apple TV Plus are available for free or cheap through distribution deals or limited promotions to some customers, but they are paid platforms at their cores. Peacock is hoping to the avoid the subscription fatigue it suspects competitors are facing by offering a free way to watch with little-to-no strings attached.

"There's just a lot of friction that we were identifying in the market," Strauss said. "We saw through research that people were getting frustrated with how many services they had to subscribe to. They were kind of popping in and out of these services, based on whether they want to watch a buzzy original … or they might've been getting it on a promotion and not realizing it was a promotion."

Peacock is also beefing up its library, which includes NBCUniversal-owned movies and TV shows and content licensed from third parties, to make sure free offering is robust.

The free version was expected to launch with 7,500 hours of programming, half the volume in the paid plan, but Strauss said the volume of free content in July will be "significantly higher" than what was announced. The company recently struck a licensing deal with ViacomCBS that will add to the programming on both Peacock's free and paid tiers, for example.

Peacock is also trying to make its "paid" platform available to more people for "free" through bundling deals.

Strauss, who was previously an exec at Comcast, said Peacock is working to bundle its premium version with other services. It has deals in place with with its cable-giant parent Comcast, and Cox, which Strauss says will reach 24 million people in the US combined.

"Fast forward 12 to 18 months, we really believe that you're going to see a very large portion of the country that's going to have access to the premium version of Peacock for free through bundling," Strauss said.

After its Comcast trial run, Peacock leaned into linear channels and rethought how to program its Trending section

Peacock has been testing its service for the past three months among certain Comcast customers who pay for its Xfinity X1 cable service or use its Flex streaming device with its broadband offering. Those roughly 15 million customers have been able to access the paid, ad-supported version of Peacock for free since April 15. The Peacock app is automatically loaded onto those devices and integrated into the programming guides, the way apps including Netflix and Hulu are.

Free seems to be working for those customers, too. Strauss said Peacock surpassed within 60 days its year-end targets for metrics, including monthly active accounts, time spent viewing, and frequency and repeat usage. He did not share the figures, however. 

Previously, the company said it was targeting 30 million to 35 million monthly active accounts on Peacock by 2024.

Strauss said Peacock's test run likely benefitted from the rise in streaming viewing during lockdown that has helped others in the industry, as well as the company's marketing, product, and content strategies.

As part of a cable company, Peacock been trying to toe the line between streaming video and the legacy-TV ecosystem that the broader business relies on. The platform strives to serve as both a complement to traditional-TV packages, and a destination for cord-cutters who get their entertainment primarily from streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

To better reach cord cutters, Strauss said Peacock is leaning more into programmed channels that are dedicated to properties, like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Office," or talent like Jimmy Fallon. The concept, which Strauss likens to Spotify playlists, is similar to the linear channels offered by free, ad-supported streaming-TV services like Pluto TV and Xumo. (Comcast also acquired Xumo this year.)

Strauss said usage of Peacock's channels was ten times higher among Comcast's Flex customers (who don't have a traditional TV package) as its X1 cable customers during the beta period.

"X1, if you're familiar with X1, is really geared towards the pay-TV subscriber," Strauss said. "What we didn't know was that if we created these linear channels, would they resonate or not with a cord cutting segment? And what we found is that they are over-indexing."

Peacock created 20 channels, but now plans to launch closer to 40 by July, and up to 60 by year's end, Strauss said.

However, Peacock could be in the same pickle AT&T's HBO Max was at launch if it isn't available on major streaming devices Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. The company has said it will be accessible on Apple and Android devices, among others, but has not yet announced distribution on Roku and Amazon devices. 

Peacock's leadership has demonstrated its ability to pivot in other areas. Peacock found from its initial roll out that it needed to rethink how it programs its Trending section, which is editorially driven but will become personalized to users over time. When the pandemic hit, for example, people were watching the news more often, but many viewers also wanted an escape. 

The company quickly struck a deal with Seth McFarland to produce a daily variety show that was featured in the Trending section, and worked with "Saturday Night Live" to incorporate some of its most popular sketches and monologues.

"We've learned a lot and we've had to make changes along the way," Strauss said, "but I think one of the strengths of a new organization is having that flexibility to be able to make those kinds of pivots, and do it in a way where you can quickly learn and make changes."

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Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback becomes ‘first half-billion dollar player’

NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been described as “the first half billion dollar player” after agreeing a contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mahomes tweeted “here to stay” following the announcement of the deal which is reported to be worth up to $503m (£403m).

Steinberg Sports, the agency which represents him, posted on Twitter: “Congrats to @PatrickMahomes on agreeing to terms on a 10-year extension worth $503 Million.

“He gets $477m (£382m) in guarantee mechanisms and ability to have outs if guarantee mechanisms aren’t exercised. No trade clause. First half billion dollar player in sports history. History made.”

The deal, which runs to 2031, is worth $450m (£360m) over the 10-year period and could be worth up to $503m, league sources told the sports news service ESPN.

The first three years of the contract are fully guaranteed with Mahomes making $63m (£50m) when he signs the contract and $103.5m (£83m) by March 2021, according to ESPN.

The report added the deal is the richest contract in the history of North American team sports and includes an injury guarantee of $140m (£112m).

Mahomes, 24, was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2018 and guided the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship last season.

The Chief’s CEO Clark Hunt had said the quarterback would be with the team long-term prior to the monumental win in February.

Mr Hunt said before the Super Bowl: “There will be a right time sometime in the next 12 to 15 months to extend Patrick, and when I say right time, I mean right time for both the player and the club.

“I don’t want to say necessarily it has to be this off-season, but I will say that it’s a priority to get him done. I hope Patrick is here for his entire career, and that’s going to be our goal.”

The extension means Mahomes will play for the team for another 12 seasons and will earn at least $477m (£382m).

This surpasses the 12-year $426.5m (£341m) contract signed by Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout in March of 2019.

Mahomes has a 24-7 record in his first 31 games with the Chiefs and has completed 76 passes which have led to a touchdown.

The NFL’s highest-paid quarterback had been Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who signed a four-year $140m (£112m) deal in April 2019 for an annual average value of $35m (£28m).

Forbes ranked tennis star Roger Federer as the world’s highest paid athlete, with yearly earnings of $106.3m (£85m) through a mix of winnings and endorsements.

Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is in second place, with earnings of $105m (£84m) through a mix of his salary and endorsements.

Ronaldo signed a four-year deal with an annual salary of €30m (£27.5m) with Juventus in 2018, Bloomberg reports.

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Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom completes treatment for rare bone cancer – The Denver Post

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom has completed radiation treatments for a rare form of bone cancer.

The Flyers tweeted video Thursday showing Lindblom ringing the bell at Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, which signifies that he has completed his radiation treatments. The 23-year-old was diagnosed in December with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones.

— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) July 2, 2020

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” Lindblom said. “It feels like having my birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to get back to normal life again and feel like I’m living.”

His girlfriend, Alma Lindqvist, hugged Lindblom after he rang the bell and they were cheered by nurses who treated him.

“MY LOVE IS CANCER FREE,” she wrote on social media.

Lindblom, his girlfriend and the nurses, all in masks, posed for photos and he presented the staff with his autographed No. 23 jersey. The rising star, who had 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games this season, thanked everyone for the support.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much that meant to me, especially at the start,” Lindblom said. “It was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better and calm and (it was) a real help.”

Lindblom recently skated at the Flyers’ complex in Voorhees, New Jersey. He has been ruled out of playing should the NHL season resume. The Flyers finished in second place in the Metropolitan Division and wait for the start of the round-robin tournament.

“I’m just happy that I’m alive and I caught it early,” he said.

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Exclusive: Hong Kong activists discuss 'parliament-in-exile' after China crackdown

LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy activists are discussing a plan to create an unofficial parliament-in-exile to keep the flame of democracy alive and send a message to China that freedom cannot be crushed, campaigner Simon Cheng told Reuters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was convulsed by months of often violent pro-democracy, anti-China protests last year against Chinese interference in its promised freedoms, the biggest political crisis for Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets again in defiance of new, sweeping security legislation introduced by China to snuff out dissent.

The law pushes China’s freest city and one of the world’s most glittering financial hubs on to a more authoritarian path. China, which denies interfering in Hong Kong, has warned foreign powers not to meddle in its affairs.

Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen, worked for the British consulate in the territory for almost two years until he fled after he said he was beaten and tortured by China’s secret police. Cheng, who has since been granted asylum by Britain, describes himself as pro-democracy campaigner.

“A shadow parliament can send a very clear signal to Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities that democracy need not be at the mercy of Beijing,” he told Reuters in London. “We want to set up non-official civic groups that surely reflect the views of the Hong Kong people.”

He said that while the idea was still at an early stage, such a parliament-in-exile would support the people of Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement there. He declined to say where the parliament might sit.

“We are developing an alternative way to fight for democracy,” Cheng said. “We need to be clever to deal with the expanding totalitarianism: they are showing more powerful muscle to suppress so we need to be more subtle and agile.”

He said more and more people were “losing hope that it is effective to go out on to the streets or run for election” to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or mini-parliament.

“We should stand with the Hong Kong people and support those staying in Hong Kong,” he said.

‘VERY GOOD SIGNAL’

Asked about HSBC’s (HSBA.L) support for the sweeping national security law, Cheng said the British government should speak to senior British capitalists to make them understand the importance of democracy.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered millions of Hong Kong residents the path to British citizenship following China’s imposition of the law, hundreds of thousands of people would come to the United Kingdom, Cheng said.

“The UK has given a very good signal,” Cheng said. “At least hundreds of thousands of people will come.”

Almost 3 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the so called British National (Overseas) passport. There were 349,881 holders of the passports as of February, Britain said.

“One day we will be back in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

Hong Kong returned to China 23 years ago with the guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including its independent legal system and rights to gather and protest, under a “one country, two systems” formula.

Huge protests calling for democracy, especially on the anniversaries of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown, were common and brought major streets to a standstill for 79 days in the Umbrella movement of 2014.

The national security law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allows extradition to the mainland for trial.

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China, pro-Beijing activists condemn Hong Kong 'meddling'

Trump: Coronavirus ‘shouldn’t have been sent’ from China

President Trump, in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with FOX Business’ Blake Burman, reiterates how coronavirus should have not spread so easily from China and won’t answer whether he’d sign another trade deal with the country as he is currently unhappy with them.

HONG KONG — China's government and pro-Beijing activists in Hong Kong condemned what they called foreign meddling in the territory's affairs on Thursday, as countries moved to offer Hong Kongers refuge and impose sanctions on China over a new security law.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said no amount of pressure from external forces could “shake China’s determination and will to safeguard national sovereignty and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

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He urged the U.S. to abide by international law and stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, and not sign a sanction bill into law.

His comments came after the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday joined the Senate in approving a bill to rebuke China over its crackdown in Hong Kong by imposing sanctions on groups that undermine the city’s autonomy or restrict freedoms promised to its residents.

HONG KONG POLICE MAKE ARRESTS UNDER NEW SECURITY LAW

If the bill becomes law, “China will definitely take strong countermeasures, and all consequences will be borne by the U.S. side,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

Meanwhile, dozens of pro-Beijing activists and lawmakers protested outside the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong to demand that the U.S. stop meddling. The group said it gathered 1.6 million signatures online in support of its call.

Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said on public broadcaster RTHK on Thursday that the new security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong was not harsh. If it were, no one would dare violate the law, he said.

His comments came a day after thousands of protesters marched against the security law, which took effect in Hong Kong late Tuesday.

The security law outlaws secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts, as well as any collusion with foreign forces in intervening in the city’s affairs. Critics say the law effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

The maximum punishment for serious offenses under the legislation is life imprisonment, and suspects in certain cases may be sent to stand trial on the mainland if Beijing deems that it has jurisdiction.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION WARNS US BUSINESSES ON CHINA OPERATIONS, CITING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

The law takes aim at actions that occurred during anti-government protests last year. It says destruction of government facilities and utilities would be considered subversive, while damaging public transportation facilities and arson would constitute acts of terrorism.

About 370 people were arrested during and after Wednesday’s protests, including 10 on suspicion of violating the new security law. Some of those arrested allegedly possessed materials that advocated Hong Kong’s independence.

Hong Kong police arrested a man on a London-bound flight early Thursday on suspicion of having stabbed a police officer in the arm during Wednesday's protests.

CHINA'S NATIONAL SECURITY LAW COULD PROMPT COMPANIES TO RETHINK HONG KONG HEADQUARTERS, ROSS SAYS

The 24-year-old man, surnamed Wong, was arrested on a Cathay Pacific flight after police received an anonymous tip-off about his travel plans, police said.

Wong had purchased a ticket on Wednesday and boarded the flight with no check-in luggage, police said. He did not respond to the crew when they called him by name, and was not in his designated seat. Police identified him after conducting a sweep of the plane.

Meanwhile, two protesters were sentenced to four weeks in jail on Thursday for vandalizing a ticketing machine at a rail station in September last year. They were among nearly 9,000 arrests by police in connection with the anti-government protests between last June and May this year.

The central government's passage of the security law for Hong Kong has triggered concern from the territory's former colonial ruler, Britain, and other countries.

Britain announced Wednesday that it is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports, stressing that it would uphold its historic duty to its former colony. Those eligible will be able to live and work in the U.K. for five years before applying for settled status and then again for citizenship.

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Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, condemned the move, saying that before the return of Hong Kong to China, Britain had made a commitment not to grant BNO holders the right of abode in the U.K.

“All Hong Kong compatriots, including those holding British National Overseas passports, are Chinese citizens,” Zhao said. “The British have violated their own commitment by now allowing BNO passport holders the option of staying and naturalizing in the U.K.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday his government is considering a similar move to provide a “safe haven” to Hong Kongers, and Taiwan opened an office to help Hong Kongers move to Taiwan for employment and other purposes.

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Russia vote: President Putin could stay in power until 2036 as Russians approve constitutional reforms

A majority of Russians have voted to approve amendments to the country’s constitution which would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, despite protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Election officials said that with 98% of all precincts counted, nearly 78% had voted for the constitutional amendments.

The results mean that Mr Putin, who has effectively been in power for more than two decades, has won the right to run for two more terms. This means he could be president for another 16 years.

Yet the referendum was tarnished with reports of pressure on voters and rallies to protest against the changes.

Polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout – a first for Russia – which critics say was used as a tool to manipulate the outcome of the vote. Russian authorities said the week-long vote was to reduce crowds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Russians were also encouraged to vote with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments to be made in the same bundle, including pensions protection and a ban on same-sex marriages.

Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said he voted for the amendments, explaining: “We need radical changes and I’m for them.”

But others were less enthusiastic. Another voter, Lyudmila, said: “I didn’t read about the amendments if I’m honest.

“What’s the point of voting if they’ve already decided for you. It’s like that in our country – read something and vote. I voted.”

On Russia’s easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, full preliminary results showed 80% of voters supported the amendments, while over 70% of voters backed the changes in other parts of the Far East.

But some Kremlin critics and independent election observers are sceptical about the official figures.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the independent election monitoring group Golos, said: “We look at neighbouring regions, and anomalies are obvious – there are regions where the turnout is artificially [boosted], there are regions where it is more or less real.”

Mr Putin himself voted at a Moscow polling station, as several hundred people gathered in the city’s central square to demonstrate against the amendments – defying a ban on public gatherings due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Police did not intervene and instead handed out masks to the participants.

In Saint Petersburg, people displayed copies of the old version of the constitution before they were forced off the Palace Square by police and National Guard troops.

Mr Putin first proposed the constitutional changes in January.

He initially offered to broaden the powers of parliament and redistribute authority among the branches of government, but it later became clear the amendments could be used to allow Mr Putin to run two more times.

The Russian president has been in power longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and has said he will decide later whether to run again in 2024.

He has argued that resetting the term count is necessary to keep officials focused on their work instead of “darting their eyes in search for possible successors”.

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Novartis settles U.S. fraud lawsuit over sham speaker programs

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Novartis AG (NOVN.S) agreed to pay $678 million to settle a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the U.S. government accusing the Swiss drugmaker of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe its cardiovascular and diabetes drugs.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the settlement late on Wednesday to resolve charges that Novartis violated the federal False Claims Act and an anti-kickback statute.

Novartis was accused of organizing tens of thousands of sham educational events where it provided doctors with exorbitant speaker fees, lavish dinners and expensive alcohol to induce more prescriptions.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan called the incentives “nothing more than bribes,” and said federal healthcare programs paid hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursements for the tainted prescriptions.

“Giving these cash payments and other lavish goodies interferes with the duty of doctors to choose the best treatment for their patients and increases drug costs for everyone,” Strauss said in a statement.

Novartis admitted and accepted responsibility for many of the allegations and agreed to scale back its speaker programs.

The payout includes $591.4 million to the U.S. government as damages under the False Claims Act, a $38.4 million forfeiture for violating the anti-kickback statute, and $48.2 million to various U.S. states, the Justice Department said.

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UK says China's security law is serious violation of Hong Kong treaty

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom said China’s imposition of a security law on Hong Kong was a “clear and serious” violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration and that London would offer around 3 million residents of the former colony a path to British citizenship.

Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested nearly 200 people as protesters took to the streets in defiance of sweeping security legislation introduced by China that they say is aimed at snuffing out dissent.

“The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday.

Johnson said Britain would stand by its pledge to give British National Overseas (BNO) passport-holders in Hong Kong a path to British citizenship, allowing them to settle in the United Kingdom.

Almost 3 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the passport. There were 349,881 holders of the passports as of February.

Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, after more than 150 years of British rule – imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War. China had never recognised the “unequal treaties” allowing Britain’s rule of Hong Kong island, the Kowloon peninsula and later its lease of the rural New Territories.

HONG KONG ROW

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain had carefully assessed China’s national security legislation since it was published late on Tuesday.

“It constitutes a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong, and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people, and therefore I’m afraid to say it is a clear and serious violation of the Joint Declaration treaty between the United Kingdom and China,” Raab told Reuters and the BBC.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.

Raab said he would set out shortly the action Britain would take with its international partners.

“China, through this national security legislation, is not living up to its promises to the people of Hong Kong,” Raab said. “We will live up to our promises.”

Asked about how the West should deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Raab said:

“Obviously, China is a leading member of the international community. And it is precisely because of that, that we expect it to live up to its international obligations and its international responsibilities. For trust in China’s ability to do that, today has been a big step backwards.”

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