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Swedish artist threatened for Muhammad sketch dies in crash

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since making a sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body in 2007, died in a weekend crash along with two police bodyguards, police said Monday. He was 75.

Vilks and two plainclothes police officers were killed in a head-on crash with a truck on Sunday afternoon, said Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden. All three died on the spot. The 45-year-old truck driver was flown to a hospital with serious injuries.

Persson said the police car, which had left Stockholm and was heading south, veered into the path of the truck and both vehicles burst into flames. The accident occurred near Markaryd, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city.

“There is nothing else for now that indicates that it was something else but a traffic accident,” Persson told a press conference.

Sweden’s top police chief, Anders Thornberg, said an investigation would take place, but was expected “to take a relatively long time.”

Sweden’s Culture Minister Amanda Lind called called it “an extremely tragic traffic accident.”

Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before 2007, when he drew a sketch of Muhammad with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Al-Qaida put a bounty on Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden.

Since that time Vilks was forced to live under police protection. As Lind put it Monday, “due to the fact that he made use of his freedom of expression and his artistic freedom.”

Over the years he continued to face threats to his life.

In 2014, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to kill him.

The following year, a free-speech seminar that Vilks attended in Copenhagen, Denmark, was attacked by a lone gunman who killed a Danish film director and wounded three police officers.

Vilks, who was widely believed to have been the intended target of that 2015 attack, was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards. The gunman later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and wounded two more officers before he was killed in a firefight with police.

Police said Monday they did not know why the car drove into the wrong lane but they were investigating whether a tire might have exploded. The car transporting Vilks had puncture-proof tires, police said.

The accident happened on the north-south E4 highway Sunday afternoon. The unmarked police car apparently ploughed through a cable guardrail separating the north and south-bound lanes, senior police officer Stefan Siteus said at the news conference.

“We have found residues of tire on the E4 before the accident, and we are looking into the possibility that there could have been some kind of tire explosion,” Siteus said.

The vehicle weighed 4.5 tons, which could explain how the vehicle could drive through a cable guardrail, Siteus said. He added that the speed limit at the site was was 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour). An ordinary large vehicle weighs less than 2 tons.

Born in 1946 in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, Vilks worked as an artist for almost four decades, and rose to fame for challenging the boundaries of art through several controversial works.

His most famous pieces included “Nimis” — a sculpture of driftwood built without permission in Sweden’s Kullaberg nature reserve — as well as Prophet Muhammad drawings, including the one that showed the prophet as a dog.

Vilks initially planned to display the drawing at an exhibit at a Swedish cultural heritage center, but the drawing was removed over security concerns.

It went largely unnoticed until a Swedish newspaper printed the drawing with an editorial defending freedom of expression.

Several of his works, including driftwood sculptures and Mohammad drawings, including the one showing the Muslim prophet’s head on the body of a dog, are currently on display in Warsaw, Poland. The works are being shown as part an exhibition curated by a right-wing director which aims to challenge left-wing political correctness.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

The Associated Press

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CFL leaves door open for Argos' quarterback Bethel-Thompson playing in East final

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TORONTO — The CFL has left the door open to McLeod Bethel-Thompson playing in the East Division final Sunday.

The Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback was held out of practice and sent home Friday after attending the Toronto Raptors 97-93 home win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night.

That violated the CFL’s COVID-19 protocol, which would’ve normally meant Bethel-Thompson having to quarantine for four days and provide two negative tests before being able to resume team activities.

But Toronto hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the conference final Sunday afternoon at BMO Field.

The CFL announced Friday afternoon Bethel-Thompson will be allowed to play Sunday if he produces negative COVID testing following a 48-hour quarantine at his residence.

Argos Dexter McCoil, Charleston Hughes, Llevi Noel and Jeff Richards also attended the basketball game and will be subject to the same requirements as Bethel-Thompson.

Toronto (9-5) finished atop the East Division standings to secure home-field advantage for the conference final.

Bethel-Thompson was 7-2 as Toronto’s starter this season.

Both the Argos and Raptors are owned by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.

If Bethel-Thompson can’t play, Antonio Pipkin will start for Toronto on Sunday.

The six-foot-three, 225-pound Pipkin started Toronto’s season-ending 13-7 home loss to Edmonton on Nov. 16, completing 10-of-22 passes for 111 yards and an interception while rushing for 78 yards and a TD on nine carries.

Video of Bethel-Thompson holding his infant daughter at the NBA game was carried on the Argos’ Twitter account Thursday night but was no longer available Friday.

But it was present long enough for Hamilton receiver Brandon Banks to notice.

“Wow when I tried to go to raptors game the @cfl told me I couldn’t go!” Banks tweeted. “I ain’t snitching but shit fishy ! #Protocol #tier1.”

Bethel-Thompson also appeared on TSN’s broadcast of the Raptors-Bucks game.

TSN is the CFL’s broadcast partner.

“So lemme get this straight,” TSN’s Kayla Grey, who interviewed Bethel-Thompson during the broadcast, tweeted Friday. ” … a starting quarterback goes on a national broadcast to promote an East Final that he is now forced to miss because the league is forcing him to quarantine for going to a game to promote said East Final?

“Baby what a mess.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Canada buying up to 1.5 million courses of oral antiviral drugs to fight COVID-19

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OTTAWA — Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi says Canada has signed agreements to buy up 1.5 million courses of oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

The government has signed up for an initial one million courses of antiviral treatment, once Health Canada endorses their safety and efficacy.

Pfizer submitted a request for Health Canada approval earlier this week.

Canada has also purchased 500,000 courses of Merck’s oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19, with the option to purchase another 500,000 once Health Canada approves the drug.

The drugs are designed to block the enzyme essential for viral replication.

Merck’s clinical trial showed a 50 per cent reduced risk of hospitalization or death compared to placebo patients with mild or moderate COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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