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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union said Tuesday that it wants China to release “verifiable proof” that tennis player Peng Shuai is safe and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into her sexual assault allegations.

Peng, a three-time Olympian and former top-ranked doubles player, dropped out of public view after accusing a former Communist Party official of sexual assault.

Peng only has had a few direct contacts with officials outside China since she disappeared from public view earlier this month. She told Olympic officials in a Nov. 21 video call from Beijing that she was safe and well.

“Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.

Peng made the sexual assault allegation online against a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli. The tennis player’s post was removed within minutes, and she stopped appearing in public.

“The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat,” the EU said in a statement. “In this spirit, the EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, well-being and whereabouts. The EU urges the Chinese authorities to conduct a full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.”

Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared from public view in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

“The EU strongly opposes the use of the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention…and calls upon China to comply with its human rights obligations under national and international law,” the EU said.


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BERLIN (Reuters) – Bavarian soccer teams including Bayern Munich could be forced to play in empty stadiums again, after the German region’s premier Markus Soeder called for matches to go ahead without fans due to the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Soeder said he hoped that in a meeting he is attending on Tuesday, German federal and regional officials would agree to stop fans from attending matches nationwide, but if that was not the consensus, Bavaria would go it alone and implement the step.

The move would affect the high-profile group-stage meeting between Bayern and Spanish giants Barcelona in the Champions League on Dec. 8, followed by their Bundesliga clash with Mainz three days later.

Bayern are away at Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

Fellow Bavarian clubs like Augsburg and Greuther Fuerth would also be affected by a decision to keep fans away.

“Football matches should be without spectators again. Bavaria will do that,” Soeder said on Twitter, adding that allowing fans in stadiums is too dangerous at the moment as it encourages people to travel.

“Football has a great role model function. We must now reduce contacts everywhere.”

Clubs in Germany played in empty stadiums last year when play resumed following a shutdown due to the pandemic.

Bavaria, one Germany’s hardest hit regions in the new wave of the coronavirus, last week introduced a rule that soccer stadiums – including the home of Bayern Munich – could only allow 25% capacity at matches.

Stadiums were only allowed to admit people who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, and only if they could show a negative test.

Germany reported 45,753 new infections on Tuesday while another 388 deaths were recorded – the highest daily figure since early March which brought the overall death toll to 101,344.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson, additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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(Reuters) – Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk was unlucky to suffer a serious knee injury in last season’s Merseyside derby against Everton but has bounced back brilliantly this term, manager Juergen Klopp said before the teams meet again on Wednesday.

Van Dijk sustained an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury following a reckless challenge by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during the match in October 2020, which required surgery nL8N2H90L8 and sidelined him for the rest of the season.

The Dutch international’s layoff hit Liverpool hard as they finished third, failing to retain the Premier League title.

But he has helped Liverpool keep eight clean sheets in 13 league games this season, providing solidity in central defence.

“We are all human beings so it’s probably difficult to ignore something like that (the injury),” Klopp told reporters on Tuesday. “The situation wasn’t (one) that can always happen in football… But Virgil is very experienced.

“He has to be completely free of all things that he could have in his mind because of one issue in the past… He has come back brilliantly (this season). He had a full pre-season which is absolutely helpful.

“Three games in a week, he looked fine but we gave him a break… Some things are not exactly that they used to be, but that’s only a matter of time because of his quality.”

Liverpool are third on 28 points, 13 points ahead of their local rivals Everton who are languishing in 14th spot.

However, Klopp said Liverpool will treat Wednesday’s derby at Goodison Park like any other match.

“We know there are some special things around derbies but it’s a football game as well, that’s how we approach it,” he said.

Joe Gomez (calf) and Naby Keita (hamstring) are expected to return to training next week, but Roberto Firmino (hamstring) and Curtis Jones (eye) remain sidelined.

(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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