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Omicron was in Netherlands days earlier than first thought; Barbados drops British monarchy; plus other top news

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Today is Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Let's get caught up.

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Omicron was in Netherlands days earlier than first thought

The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world hoping it had left the worst of the pandemic behind.

The Netherlands' RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn't stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has urged against them, noting their limited effect.

Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

The Dutch announcement Tuesday further muddies the timeline on when the new variant actually emerged. Previously, the Dutch had said they found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday — but these new cases predate that.

More on the new omicron variant:

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Barbados bids farewell to British monarchy, becomes republic

Barbados stopped pledging allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday as it shed another vestige of its colonial past and became a republic for the first time in history.

Several leaders and dignitaries, including Prince Charles, attended the ceremony that began late Monday in a popular square where the statue of a well-known British lord was removed last year amid a worldwide push to erase symbols of oppression.

Fireworks peppered the sky at midnight as Barbados officially became a republic, with screens set up across the island so people could watch the event that featured an orchestra with more than 100 steel pan players and numerous artists. It was also broadcast online, prompting a flurry of excited messages from Bajans living in the U.S., Canada and beyond.

“Happy Independence Day and freedom to all,” wrote one viewer.

The drive to become a republic began more than two decades ago and culminated with the island’s Parliament electing its first ever president last month in a two-thirds majority vote. Barbados Governor General Sandra Mason was sworn in before dawn on Tuesday as the island marked its 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.

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Iran strikes hard line as talks over nuclear deal resume

Iran struck a hard line Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated.

Speaking to Iranian state television, Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, referred to everything discussed thus far as merely a “draft.” It remained unclear whether that represented an opening gambit by Iran's new president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60% purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.

President Joe Biden has said America's willing to re-enter the deal, though the negotiations continue with U.S. officials not in the room as in previous rounds of talks since Washington's withdrawal.

More of today's top news:

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