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UK Court Backs Meghan in Dispute over Privacy with Publisher

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

The Duchess of Sussex on Thursday won the latest stage in her long-running privacy lawsuit against a British newspaper publisher over its publication of parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling that the publisher of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website unlawfully breached the former Meghan Markle’s privacy by reproducing a large chunk of the handwritten letter she sent her father, Thomas Markle, after she married Prince Harry in 2018.

Associated Newspapers challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month. Dismissing the appeal, senior judge Geoffrey Vos told the court Thursday that “the Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter. Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.”

The publisher said it was “very disappointed” and was considering an appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.

In a statement, Meghan, 40, condemned the publisher for treating the lawsuit as “a game with no rules” and said the ruling was “a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.”

“What matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create,” she said.

Associated Newspapers published about half of the letter in five articles in August 2018. Their lawyers disputed Meghan’s claim that she didn’t intend the letter to be seen by anyone but her father.

They said correspondence between Meghan and her then-communications secretary, Jason Knauf, showed the duchess suspected her father might leak the letter to journalists and wrote it with that in mind.

The publisher also argued that the publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle’s right to reply following a People magazine interview with five of Meghan’s friends alleging he was “cruelly cold-shouldering” his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.

But Vos said that the article, which the Mail on Sunday described as “sensational,” was “splashed as a new public revelation” rather than focusing on Thomas Markle’s response to negative media reports about him.

In their appeal, Associated Newspapers had also argued that Meghan made private information public by cooperating with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, authors of “Finding Freedom,” a sympathetic book about her and Harry.

The duchess’ lawyers had previously denied that she or Harry collaborated with the authors. But Knauf said in evidence to the court that he gave the writers information, and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.

Knauf’s evidence, which hadn’t previously been disclosed, was a dramatic twist in the long-running case.

In response, Meghan apologized for misleading the court about the extent of her cooperation with the book’s authors.

The duchess said she didn’t remember the discussions with Knauf when she gave evidence earlier in the case, and said she had “absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court.”

Meghan, a former star of the American TV legal drama “Suits,” married Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.

Meghan and Harry announced in early 2020 that they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They have settled in Santa Barbara, California, with their two young children.

In her statement Thursday, Meghan said she had been subject to “deception, intimidation and calculated attacks” in the three years since the lawsuit began.

“The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public [even during the appeal itself], making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers — a model that rewards chaos above truth,” she said.

Associated Newspapers had argued the case should go to a trial on Meghan’s claims against the publisher.

Associated Newspapers said in a statement Thursday that it believed “judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial,” especially since “Mr. Knauf’s evidence raises issues as to the Duchess’s credibility.”

Lawyer Mark Stephens, who specializes in media law and is not connected to the case, said he believed the publisher will appeal, though it would be unusual for Britain’s Supreme Court to take such a case. He said the publisher could also try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

“There’s an issue of principle here, which is whether this case should be finished before a trial without disclosure, without testing the evidence,” Stephens said. The ruling did not settle questions about whether the letter to Thomas Markle was “always intended for Meghan’s side to publish and to leak and to use as briefing material,” he added.

Associated Newspapers “have a right to this trial, and I think that that is just going to protract the pain for Meghan Markle,” Stephens said.

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Germany to Tighten COVID-19 Restrictions on Unvaccinated

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her likely successor, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, Thursday announced new restrictions on the nation’s unvaccinated in an effort to fight the surge in new COVID-19 infections.

Merkel and Scholz told reporters in Berlin that under the new rules, the unvaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores and cultural and recreational venues. They made the announcement following a meeting with the governors of Germany’s 16 states.

Merkel said parliament will also consider imposing a general coronavirus vaccine mandate as part of the country faces a fourth wave of infections. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI) says the nation once again Thursday exceeded 70,000 new cases in a 24-hour period.

The infection rate stood at just more than 439 cases per 100,000 people, down for the third consecutive day.

Merkel said the fact the nation was in the middle of such a strong fourth wave was depressing, “especially when I look at certain regions. That’s why I have worked hard up until the end so that we can break this fourth wave as quickly as possible.”

Merkel called the tougher measures an “act of national solidarity,” as hospitals in the country are near capacity.

Both Merkel and Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, have expressed support for a vaccine mandate. If passed by parliament, it would take effect in February.

About 68.7% of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, below the minimum goal of 75% set by the government.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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US Calls on Russia to Cool Tensions with Ukraine 

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

A top U.S. defense official says Washington will not be alone if it needs to take action in response to Russia’s massive troop buildup along its border with Ukraine. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials, said Thursday that while he would not speculate on how Washington will respond to Russia’s provocations against Ukraine, Moscow should know the U.S. will not be alone. 

“Whatever we do will be done as a part of an international community,” Austin said during a news conference with his South Korean counterpart, further calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “lower the temperature in the region.” 

“The best case, though, is that we won’t see an incursion,” the U.S. defense secretary added, noting Russia’s “substantial” troop presence in the border areas is only part of the problem. 

“We also see troubling rhetoric, rhetoric in the info space,” Austin said. “We’ve heard President [Volodymyr]Zelenskiy expressed concern about efforts to undermine his administration.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with NATO counterparts in Latvia Wednesday, warned the U.S. was preparing to ratchet up economic sanctions against Moscow, if needed. 

“We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from using in the past,” he said. 

Blinken is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later on Thursday in Stockholm. 

Ukrainian officials have said Russia has positioned at least 90,000 troops along the border and in Crimea, which Moscow seized illegally in 2014. 

But Russian officials have accused Ukraine of conducting its own military build up. 

Earlier this week Russian President Vladimir Putin also repeated concerns about U.S. and NATO exercises in the Back Sea, and warned NATO against installing what he described as “strike systems” on Ukrainian soil. 

“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way,” he said at an investment forum in Moscow. “We can do that now.” 

Information from Reuters was used in this report. 

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Paris Archbishop Who Had ‘Ambiguous’ Relationship Resigns

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris after he admitted to an “ambiguous” relationship with a woman in 2012.

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said in a statement Thursday that he offered to step down “to preserve the diocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust are continuing to provoke.”

The Vatican said in a statement that the pope accepted Aupetit’s offer, and named Monsignor Georges Pontier to serve in the archbishop’s place.

The resignation comes amid great upheaval in the French Catholic Church. A shocking report in October found some 3,000 French priests had committed sexual abuse over the past 70 years, and last year, the pope accepted the resignation of a French cardinal in connection with the coverup of sexual abuse of dozens of boys by a predatory priest.

Aupetit wrote to Francis offering to resign following a report in Le Point magazine saying he had a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman. Aupetit told Le Point he didn’t have sexual relations with the woman.

The article in Le Point relied on several anonymous sources who said they had seen a 2012 e-mail Aupetit sent by mistake to his secretary. Aupetit denied being the author of the email.

Roman Catholic prelates take vows of chastity. At the time of the alleged relationship, Aupetit was a priest in the archdiocese of Paris. He became Paris archbishop in 2018.

“I ask forgiveness of those I could have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayers,” Aupetit said in his statement. He said he was “greatly disturbed by the attacks against me.”

In an interview last week with Catholic radio Notre Dame, Aupetit said “I poorly handled the situation with a person who was in contact many times with me.” Calling it a “mistake,” he said he decided no longer to see the woman after speaking with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the then-Paris archbishop, in 2012.

Only the pope can hire or fire bishops, or accept their resignations. At 70, Aupetit is five years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.

The pope has refused to accept resignations from other prelates caught up in scandals that many would see as more egregious..

The former archbishop of the French city of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, offered to resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report a pedophile priest. Francis initially refused Barbarin’s offer, but accepted it more than a year later.

More recently, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases. Francis refused to accept it and Marx remains in office.

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Kurdish Family Laments Young Migrant Daughter Drowned in English Channel

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Last week, a small inflatable boat capsized in the English Channel killing 27 migrants who were attempting to cross from France to the United Kingdom. The family of one of the victims spoke to VOA’s Ahmad Zebari from Soran, Iraqi Kurdistan, about the tragedy’s impact. Rikar Hussein narrates the story.

Camera:  Ahmad Zebari 
Produced by:  Ahmad Zebari

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Blinken Warns Russia Invasion of Ukraine Will Have Consequences

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warns Russia Wednesday that any military action in Ukraine will have severe consequences. He plans to meet separately Thursday with both the Ukrainian and the Russian foreign ministers in Stockholm to discuss the heightened border tensions. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Putin Demands NATO Guarantees Not to Expand Eastward

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow would seek Western guarantees precluding any further NATO expansion and deployment of its weapons near his country’s borders, a stern demand that comes amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Ukrainian and Western officials have worried about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it could signal Moscow’s intention to attack. Russian diplomats countered those claims by expressing concern about Ukraine’s own military buildup near the area of the separatist conflict in the eastern part of the country. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, noting that Putin could quickly order an invasion of Ukraine, warned that Washington stands ready to inflict heavy sanctions on Russia if he does. 

Speaking at a Kremlin ceremony where he received credentials from foreign ambassadors, Putin emphasized that Russia will seek “reliable and long-term security guarantees.” 

“In a dialogue with the United States and its allies, we will insist on working out specific agreements that would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory,” Putin said. 

He charged that “the threats are mounting on our western border,” with NATO placing its military infrastructure closer to Russia and offered the West to engage in substantive talks on the issue, adding that Moscow would need not just verbal assurances, but “legal guarantees.” 

“We aren’t demanding any special conditions for ourselves and realize that any agreements must take interests of Russia and all Euro-Atlantic countries into account,” Putin said. “A calm and stable situation must be ensured for all and is needed for all without exclusion.” 

Putin’s statement came a day after he sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represented a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response. 

Tensions have been increasing in recent weeks over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, which worried Ukrainian and Western officials, who saw it as a possible sign of Moscow’s intention to invade its former Soviet neighbor. NATO foreign ministers warned Russia on Tuesday that any attempt to further destabilize Ukraine would be a costly mistake. 

The Kremlin insists it has no such intention and has accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the concentration of Ukrainian troops looks “alarming,” adding that he was going to raise the issue during a ministerial meeting in Stockholm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. 

Speaking Wednesday in Riga, Latvia, Blinken said that “we don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade.” 

“We do know that his is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide,” Blinken told reporters. “We must prepare for all contingencies.” 

The U.S. has “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past,” he said. 

Blinken gave no details on what kind of sanctions were under consideration if Russia did invade Ukraine. 

In April, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution to cut off Russia from the so-called SWIFT system of international payments if its troops entered Ukraine. Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system, even though Moscow has developed its own parallel system in preparation for such a move. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine has amassed about 125,000 troops — about half of the size of its military — near the conflict zone. She also pointed at an increasing number of violations of a cease-fire in the east. 

Amid the tensions, Moscow on Wednesday launched drills in southwestern Russia involving over 10,000 troops. A smaller exercise also began in Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad on the Baltic, involving 1,000 personnel from armored units. 

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country’s Kremlin-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests. Moscow also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting. 


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Russia Orders Some US Diplomatic Staff to Leave as Embassy Spat Expands

On December 2, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Russia said on Wednesday it was ordering U.S. Embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to fly home by January 31, a retaliatory move for a U.S. decision to limit the terms of Russian diplomats.

The step, the latest in an escalating diplomatic row, comes after Russia’s ambassador to the United States said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the United States and would leave on January 30.

Washington says the diplomats were not expelled but had been in the country for longer than a new three-year limit.

“We … intend to respond in the corresponding way. U.S. Embassy employees who have been in Moscow for more than three years must leave Russia by January 31,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a briefing.

The RIA news agency reported that Zakharova said the new U.S. rules meant Russian diplomats who had been forced to leave the United States were also banned from working as diplomats in the United States for three years.

“Before July 1 next year, unless Washington waives the three-year rule and compromises, more [U.S.] workers [in Russia] will leave in numbers commensurate with the number of Russians announced by the State Department,” she said.

Washington informed Russia over a year ago that its diplomats would be allowed to stay for only three years but could be replaced by other diplomats, according to a State Department spokesperson.

“I want to be clear, this is not an expulsion,” the spokesperson said, adding the rule change was designed to have Russia rotate its diplomats with similar frequency to that of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Further reductions in U.S. Embassy staff in Moscow would put pressure on an operation that Washington has already described as being close to a “caretaker presence” amid tit-for-tat expulsions and other restrictions.

The embassy is the last operational U.S. mission in the country after consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg were closed, and it has shrunk to 120 staff members from about 1,200 in early 2017, Washington says. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was not too late for Washington to stop Moscow from following through on the new expulsions if it abandoned its own plans to force out Russian diplomats. 

Ties between Washington and Moscow, at post-Cold War lows for years, are under pressure due to a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.

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French Military: Forces Did Not Fire into Crowd of Nigerien Protesters

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

A French military spokesperson has denied an accusation that French soldiers shot into a crowd of protesters in Niger late last month. The deteriorating security situation in Africa’s Sahel region has been accompanied by protests against the French forces sent to help African governments battle the Islamist militant groups who are increasingly active in the region. 

Demonstrations against the French are driven by misinformation spread online that French forces are arming groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida — the same groups the French were deployed to fight in the Sahel nearly a decade ago.

On November 26, a French military convoy, which was stranded in Burkina Faso for more than a week as protesters blocked its progress, passed into Niger. The next day, as had happened in Burkina Faso, Nigerien protesters blocked the convoy, demanding to know what was being transported. 

Nigerien authorities say two protesters were killed and 16 injured on November 27, while eyewitnesses told the French TV station TV5 Monde that they saw French soldiers firing into the crowd.

In an interview with VOA, Colonel Pascal Ianni, the spokesman for the French Army Chief of Staff, was asked if the French troops had fired on protesters.

“I repeat what I just said, the French forces did not shoot at the crowd,” he said. “French forces fired above the crowd and fired in front of the crowd, at the feet of the crowd, to stop the most violent demonstrators.” 

Ianni said that the French troops and Nigerien military police needed to take action against the protesters, armed with stones and battens, to prevent the convoy being burned and looted. 

Regarding the deaths and injuries reported by the Nigerien authorities, he said, “I cannot confirm or affirm the results which were announced by the Nigerien authorities.” 

Asked if there would be an investigation, since it was unclear what had happened, the colonel said that would be up to authorities in Niger. 

“I think they will collect testimonies; they will recover all the videotapes or photos that were taken on this occasion, and they will try to determine exactly who is responsible,” Ianni said. 

Philippe M. Frowd, associate professor at Ottawa University and an expert on the Sahel, said anti-French sentiment has been growing in the Sahel for years.

“So, many of these fault lines and much of this sentiment, very sort of generic anti-French sentiment, has found a much clearer expression when it comes to blocking this convoy,” he said. 

Frowd also pointed out that the Nigerien president said last month that French military support is essential to state security. 

“The French presence is indispensable and if the French were to leave their base in Gao, in Mali, there would be chaos, so I think that this reflects some sense of the calculus of the Sahel states, looking at French intervention as something that’s actually primordial in terms of assuring the security of the state,” Frowd said. 

Asked if the next French military supply convoy headed for Niger and Mali via Burkina Faso would take a different route, Ianni said officials were “studying different options.” 


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EU Leaders Consider Mandatory Vaccinations to Fight Omicron Variant

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

European Union leaders said Wednesday they are considering a number of public health options, including vaccine mandates, to address the growing threat posed by the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said little is currently known about the variant, but enough is known to be concerned. She said they expect scientists to have a handle on the nature of the variant in about two to three weeks, but in the meantime are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. 

Von der Leyen said the best use of that time is to get more people vaccinated, and those who are inoculated should get booster shots. She said more than one-third of the European population — 150 million people — are not vaccinated.

The European Commission president said that while not everyone can be vaccinated, the majority of people can.

“This needs discussion. This needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think has to be had,” she said. 

Von der Leyen said Pfizer-BioNTech has indicated it can accelerate the production and distribution of its children’s vaccine, which will be available to European children beginning December 13.

She also said Pfizer and Moderna are set to deliver 360 million more doses of their vaccines by the end of March 2022, and that boosters are available to those who received their initial shots. 

The commission also urged EU members to commit to a day-by-day review of travel restrictions and a readiness to impose all necessary controls, including decisive action, if clusters of the omicron variant are found. 

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. 


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NATO Shows Unity Against Russian Aggression Toward Ukraine

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

After expressing solidarity against any Russian aggression toward Ukraine, NATO foreign ministers are closing two days of talks in Latvia on Wednesday with a focus on the situations in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Afghanistan.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged NATO to pursue a three-prong strategy to deter Russia that includes preparing economic sanctions and boosting military support to Ukraine.

Discussing Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday there is “no clarity about exactly what are the Russian intentions.”

“You can discuss whether the likelihood for an incursion is 20% or 80%, it doesn’t matter. We need to be prepared for the worst,” Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia that “any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”


Following the conclusion of the NATO talks in Riga, Blinken is traveling on to Stockholm, Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

Karen Donfried, the top U.S. diplomat for European Affairs, told reporters in a telephone briefing Friday that Blinken would also use the OSCE talks to raise the issue of Russian occupation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories, as well as the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

On Tuesday in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his military may be forced to respond to the Western-led expansion of Ukraine’s military infrastructure if “red lines” were crossed by NATO.

“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” said Putin.

“We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” Putin added.

The Russian leader noted his military had just successfully tested a new sea-based hypersonic missile that would be in service at the beginning of next year.


Donfried also said while in Stockholm Blinken would also be discussing the situation in Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize those countries. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken said Tuesday the U.S., in coordination with the EU, is preparing additional sanctions against Belarus for what he called “its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.”

In response to a question from VOA, Blinken said he and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics focused “on the actions unfortunately Belarus has been taking both in terms of repressing its own people and their democratic aspirations as well as using migration as a weapon to try to sow division and destabilization in Europe.”

“We are in close coordination with the European Union preparing all U.N. sanctions,” Blinken told reporters.

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Blinken Warns Russia as NATO Deliberates Response on Ukraine

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has again warned Russia of “serious consequences” for any escalatory actions toward Ukraine, as he meets with NATO allies during a trip to Latvia and Sweden. VOA’s senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Migrant Crisis Front and Center in Pope’s Greece-Cyprus Trip

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

When Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016, he was so moved by the stories he heard from families fleeing war in Iraq and Syria that he wept and brought a dozen refugees home with him.

Speaking to reporters on the way home that day, he held up a drawing handed to him by a child from the island’s sprawling refugee camp.

“Look at this one,” he said, revealing a bird neatly decorated in colored pencil, the word “peace” scrolled in English underneath it. “That’s what children want: Peace.”

Francis is returning to Lesbos this week for the first time since that defining day of his papacy, making a repeat visit to the island where hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have passed through on their journey to Europe. 

But he will find attitudes toward migrants here have only hardened in the intervening five years, as they have elsewhere in Europe, with tensions flaring on the border between European Union country Poland and Belarus and more deadly crossings — most recently in the English Channel. 

Francis will first stop in Cyprus, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country in the Mediterranean that is also coping with a rise in refugees so significant that the government is seeking to stop processing asylum claims.

As he did in Lesbos five years ago, Francis has arranged for around 50 would-be refugees in Cyprus to travel to Italy after his visit, Cypriot officials say. And Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni wouldn’t rule out that Lesbos-based migrants might also be transferred after the visit.

“They are our brothers and sisters,” Francis said in a video message to Greek and Cypriot faithful before the trip. “How many have lost their lives at sea! Today our sea, the Mediterranean, is a great cemetery.” 

The pontiff starts his five-day trip on Thursday in Cyprus before heading to Greece on Saturday. He returns home on Monday. 

While Francis’ renewed messages of compassion and welcome for migrants isn’t quite resonating in European capitals, they are a welcome salvo for the migrants themselves.

“His presence here will strengthen us, spiritually, and give us hope, some comfort,” said Christian Tango Muyaka, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Congo who is due to participate in a Sunday service with the pope at a new migrant camp on Lesbos.

“It gives us faith, it strengthens our faith,” he said.

Muyaka was separated from his wife and youngest daughter a year ago on the Turkish coast when they scrambled to board a boat bound for Greece. He has had no news of what happened to them since.

The north coast of Lesbos, just 10 kilometers (six miles) from Turkey, served as the main landing point for boats crossing into Europe during the 2015-16 migration crisis.

Piles of discarded orange life vests covered beaches, local fishermen helped daily rescue operations, and island residents took pride in setting up campaigns to provide hundreds of refugees arriving daily with food and clothing.

Fast forward five years, and the welcome mat is gone. 

Migrants reaching the eastern Greek islands are now being held in detention camps, newly built and funded by the EU. Coast guard patrols are instructed to intercept dinghies and boats heading west and send them back to Turkey.

The overcrowded camp on Lesbos that Francis was taken to in 2016 burnt to the ground last year during protests against pandemic restrictions. 

And along Greece’s land border with Turkey, a new steel wall and hi-tech sensor network have been installed to stop illegal crossings. 

Eva Cosse at Human Rights Watch said Francis’ visit will serve as an urgent reminder of the human nature of the crisis.

“At a time when people are suffering and their rights are threatened, having the pope standing up for them and expressing these concerns is more important than ever,” she told The Associated Press. “Since the pope’s last visit, Greece continues to host large numbers of asylum-seekers while failing to protect their rights.

“Thousands seeking refuge in Greece are violently pushed back to Turkey. Migrant children face homelessness and a lack of access to health care, education and food. And nongovernmental groups face legislative restrictions and criminal harassment by officials.”

Greek authorities deny allegations of summary deportations. They argue that tougher border policing is necessary to counter hostility by several EU neighbors accused of exploiting the crisis and to limit arrival numbers to manageable levels.

“(Francis’) message is that we are one world, that we don’t have borders, that everybody is a child of God. Look, this is the religious point of view,” said Dimitris Vafeas, the deputy director of Mavrovouni migrant camp on Lesbos where the pope will visit.

“In practical terms, I think Greece has delivered … so I think (Francis) will see calm faces. I don’t dare say happy faces, but calm for sure.”


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Polish Parliament Rejects Unlimited Media Access to Belarus Border 

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Poland’s president on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would limit the access of aid charities and journalists to its border with Belarus as the country grapples with a simmering migrant crisis. 

The law is a blow to the opposition parties that advocated for unlimited media access, an amendment approved by the upper house of parliament on Friday but rejected by the lower house. 

Under the state of emergency declared in the border region in September and ending at midnight, the media and aid charities were completely banned. The opposition said the ban was intended to cover up rights abuses and had sought unfettered access. 

The government said the restrictions were necessary for security reasons. 

Under the new rules, the interior minister can limit access to the border zone after consulting with the head of the Border Guard. However, journalists and NGOs may be able to enter at the discretion of local Border Guard heads. 

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said on Tuesday night he would order a temporary ban on entering areas around the border. 

The European Union accuses Minsk of engineering the migrant crisis to hit back at sanctions. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accuses the EU of deliberately provoking a humanitarian crisis. 

Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman has criticized the new law, saying it gives the interior minister the right to limit freedom of movement and to limit access to information about what is happening on the border indefinitely. 

While the situation on the border has calmed since mid-November, when Polish security forces fired water cannon at migrants throwing rocks, there are still nightly attempts by groups to force their way through barbed wire fencing on the frontier. 

The Polish Border Guard said there were 134 attempts to cross the Belarus border on Monday. 


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Migrant Advocates Accuse EU of Flagrant Breaches of Geneva Convention

On December 1, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

The migrant crisis on Poland’s border, which Western powers accuse Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of engineering, caught international attention in November. But asylum seekers on the Poland-Belarus border aren’t alone in being shunted back and forth across Europe’s land and sea borders, say rights organizations and other monitors.

Throughout the year, irregular migration to Europe has been increasing, with more than 160,000 migrants entering the European Union this year, mostly through the Balkans and Italy. That’s a 70% jump from 2020, when pandemic travel restrictions are thought to have impacted the mobility of would-be migrants, and a 45% increase over the previous pre-pandemic year.

And with irregular migration picking up again, rights campaigners say the EU and national governments are increasingly skirting or breaking international humanitarian laws in their determination to prevent war refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from entering or remaining on the continent.

They say European leaders appear determined to avoid a repeat of 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia arrived in Europe, roiling the continent’s politics and fueling the rise of anti-migrant political parties.

Reports have multiplied of refugees and migrants being forcibly pushed back over the EU’s external borders. So, too, have reports of refugees being prevented from filing asylum applications. Poland passed a law in August stipulating that migrants who cross the border are to be “taken back to the state border” and “ordered to leave the country immediately,” preventing them from making an asylum application.

Pushbacks breach both European human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention, which outline the rights of refugees as well as the legal obligations of the 146 signatory states to protect them.

Signatory states aren’t allowed to impose penalties on refugees who enter their countries illegally in search of asylum, nor are they allowed to expel refugees (without due process). Under the convention, refugees should not be forcibly returned, technically known as “refoul,” to the home countries they fled. Asylum seekers are meant to be provided with free access to courts, and signatory states are required to offer refugees administrative assistance.

The EU, its border agency, Frontex, and the bloc’s national governments, say they do observe international humanitarian law, but according to several recent investigations by rights organizations, the rules are now being flouted routinely and systematically.

“EU member states have adopted increasingly restrictive and punitive asylum rules and are focusing on reducing migration flows, with devastating consequences,” Amnesty International warned recently.

“We are witnessing tremendous human suffering caused by the EU-Turkey deal and by the EU-Libya cooperation, both of which are leaving men, women and children trapped and exposed to suffering and abuse,” the rights organization says in reference to deals struck with Turkey and Libya to block migrants heading to Europe and readmit them when they are ejected from Europe.

In the case of Libya, migrants are often returned to detention camps run by militias where Amnesty International and others have documented harrowing violations, including sexual violence against men, women and children. In a report published earlier this year, Amnesty noted, “Decade-long violations against refugees and migrants continued unabated in Libyan detention centers during the first six months of 2021 despite repeated promises to address them.”

Lighthouse Reports, a Dutch nonprofit journalism consortium, has documented dozens of instances in which Frontex surveillance aircraft were in the vicinity of migrant boats later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard. “There is a clear pattern discernible. Boats in distress are spotted, communications take place between European actors and the Libyan Coast Guard,” Lighthouse researchers said in a report this year.

Frontex has routinely denied the allegations but lawmakers in the European Parliament accused the agency, after a four-month investigation, of failing to “fulfill its human rights obligations.” In the Balkans, the Border Violence Monitoring Network and other NGOs say they have gathered testimony from hundreds of refugees who allege they have been beaten back into Bosnia-Herzegovina across the Croatian border by baton-wielding men whose uniforms bear no insignia.

Europe’s peripheral countries have also been erecting border fences and building walls with the prospects of more Afghan refugees appearing on their borders acting as a spur. Greece has completed a 40-kilometer wall along its land border with Turkey and installed an automated surveillance system to try to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Europe. Other countries are following suit and have been pushing the EU to help with funding.

Critics say the wall-building now contrasts with the criticism European leaders leveled four years ago against then-U.S. President Donald Trump over his plan to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico. “We have a history and a tradition that we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” admonished Federica Mogherini, then the EU’s foreign policy chief.

While migrant advocates complain of rights violations, calls are mounting in Europe for changes to be made to both the Geneva Convention and the bloc’s humanitarian laws. Critics of the convention say it was primarily drawn up to cope with population displacement in Europe in the wake of the Second World War. They say it fails to recognize the nature and scale of the much more complex migration patterns of the 21st century, which could see numbers swell because of climate change.

Last week in Budapest, Balázs Orbán, a deputy minister in the Hungarian government, said the current EU migration laws should be replaced. The current legal system is “catalyzing the influx of illegal migrants, and not helping to stop them on the borders,” he said. “This framework was created during the time of the Geneva Convention in 1951, when refugees from the Soviet Union needed to be accommodated for. Now, times have changed,” he added. 

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German Court Convicts Ex-IS Member of Murder, Role in Yazidi Genocide

On November 30, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

A German court Tuesday convicted a former Islamic State member of the 2015 murder of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl.

Taha al-Jumailly, an Iraqi national, was also sentenced to serve life in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was ordered to pay the victim’s mother, who survived captivity, $57,000.

It is the first genocide verdict against an Islamic State member.

“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”

German prosecutors said al-Jumailly bought the mother and child as slaves in Syria in 2015. He then took them to Fallujah in Iraq where he beat them and didn’t give them enough food.  

In 2015, al-Jumailly chained the girl to window bars in a room where the temperature reached 50 degrees Celsius. The girl died.

In 2019, al-Jumailly was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany, where authorities took the case using the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Al-Jumailly’s German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for her involvement in the case. She was a witness for the prosecution in al-Jumailly’s trial.

In 2014, IS rampaged through the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq. In many cases, it forced young women into sex slavery. Many in the Yazidi community, which numbers more than half-a-million, were displaced.

In 2016, a U.N. commission declared the IS treatment of the Yazidis inside Syria as a genocide.

“We can only hope that [this case] will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Islamic State group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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As Syrian Rebels Face Defeat, Calls Grow for Turkey to Restore Ties with Assad

On November 30, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

With Syrian rebels facing defeat, Turkey – one of the rebels’ main backers – is now facing growing calls to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

On November 30, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

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Belarus Migrant Crisis Divides Polish Society

On November 30, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Thousands of migrants continue to wait in Belarus to enter the European Union through Poland, a crisis in the central European country that has sharply divided its society between those who want to assist migrants and those who refuse to open their borders. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Warsaw.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina

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Turkey’s Economic Turmoil Threatens to Stoke Refugee Tensions

On November 29, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Last week’s 10% drop in the value of the Turkish currency plunged it to historic lows, threatening an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has dropped 45 percent this year, prompting concerns that economic turmoil could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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