European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has criticized those, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who praise Britain’s secession from the European Union (EU), and champion similar movements in other member nations. Leaders of the European People’s Party met on Malta Thursday, a day after Britain triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, officially starting the process known as Brexit. Zlatica Hoke has more.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has criticized those, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who praise Britain’s secession from the European Union (EU), and champion similar movements in other member nations. Leaders of the European People’s Party met on Malta Thursday, a day after Britain triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, officially starting the process known as Brexit. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Hundreds of ships are switching off their tracking devices and taking unexplained routes, raising concern the trafficking of arms, migrants and drugs is going undetected.
Ninety percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea. Every vessel has an identification number administered by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization or IMO. But crews are able to change the digital identity of their ship, making it possible to conceal previous journeys.
The Israeli firm Windward has developed software to track the changes. Its CEO, Ami Daniel, showed VOA several examples of suspicious shipping activity, including one vessel that changed its entire identity in the middle of a voyage from a Chinese port to North Korea.
“It’s intentionally changing all of identification numbers. Also its name, and its size, and its flag and its owner. Everything that’s recognizable in its digital footprint. This is obviously someone who is trying to circumvent sanctions [on North Korea],” says Daniel.
Transfers at sea
In a joint investigation with the Times of London newspaper, Windward showed that in January and February more than 1,000 cargo transfers took place at sea. Security experts fear traffickers are transporting drugs, weapons, and even people.
Suspicious activity can be highlighted by comparing a vessel’s journey with all its previous voyages. In mid-January a Cyprus-flagged ship designed to carry fish deviated from its usual route between West Africa and northern Europe to visit Ukraine, deactivating its tracking system on several occasions.
“It’s leaving Ukraine, transiting all through the Bosphorus Straits into Europe, then drifting off Malta,” explains Daniel, as the Windward system plots the route of the reefer [refrigerated] vessel on the screen. “On the way it turns off transmission a few times … then it comes into this place east of Gibraltar. This area is known for ship-to-ship transfers and smuggling, because of the proximity to North Africa.”
Under global regulations all vessels must report their last port of call when arriving in a new port.
“But as you can understand, when it does ship-to-ship transfers here, it doesn’t actually call into any port, right, because it’s the middle of the ocean. So it’s finding a way to bypass what it already has to report to the authorities,” Daniel said.
Finally the vessel sails to a remote Scottish island called Islay, but again it anchors around 400 meters off a tiny deserted bay. The specific purpose of this voyage hasn’t yet been identified.
Lack of political will
Daniel shows another example of a vessel leaving the Libyan port of Tobruk before drifting just off the Greek island of Crete, raising suspicions that it is involved in people smuggling.
But he says using information like this to investigate suspicious shipping activities requires political will as well as technological advances.
“Regulation, coordination, legislation. And then proof in the court of law. And not all of this necessarily exists. The high seas, which means 200 nautical miles onwards by definition, are not regulated right now. The U.N. is still working on it.”
Meanwhile the scale of smuggling around the United States’ coastline was underlined this month, as the Coast Guard intercepted 660 kilos of cocaine off the coast of Florida, with a street value of an estimated $420 million.
Hundreds of ships are switching off their tracking devices and taking unexplained routes, raising concern that the trafficking of arms, migrants and drugs is going undetected. New technology enables authorities to follow the routes of suspect vessels, but security experts say taking on the smugglers will require greater coordination. Henry Ridgwell reports.
While much attention is on Russia’s policy toward the Baltic states, some experts say Russia’s growing influence in the Balkans poses more of a danger to Western interests in that region. They say Moscow’s aim is to counter Western interests by preventing Balkan states from being integrated into the Euro-Atlantic institutions. VOA’s Jane Bojadzievski has more.
Russian high school student Roman Shingarkin had some explaining to do when he got home after becoming one of the faces of anti-Kremlin protests at the weekend. His father is a former member of parliament who supports President Vladimir Putin.
At the height of a protest in Moscow on Sunday against what organizers said was official corruption, 17-year-old Shingarkin and another young man climbed onto the top of a lamp-post in the city’s Pushkin Square.
Hundreds of protesters in the square cheered and whistled as a police officer, dressed in riot gear, shinned up the lamp-post and remonstrated with the two to come down. They refused, and the police officer retreated, to jubilation from the protesters down below.
As images of the protests, the biggest in Russia for several years, ricocheted around social media, Shingarkin’s sit-in on top of the lamp-post was adopted by Kremlin opponents as a David-and-Goliath style symbol of defiance.
Shingarkin was eventually detained when, after the protest in Pushkin Square had dispersed, police persuaded him to climb down. He was taken to a police station but as a minor, he could not be charged. From the police station, he had to ring his father to ask to be picked up.
His father, Maxim Shingarkin, was from 2011 until 2016 a lawmaker in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. He was a member of the LDPR party, a nationalist group that on nearly all major issues backs Putin.
Putin last year gave the party’s leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a medal for services to Russia. With Putin standing next to him, Zhirinovsky proclaimed: “God protect the tsar.”
Shingarkin had not told his father he would be going to the protest, but the former lawmaker quickly guessed what had happened.
“When I rang my dad from the police station, he immediately understood why I was there,” Shingarkin, wearing the same blue and black coat he had on during the protest, said in an interview with Reuters TV.
“I went there [to the rally] out of interest to see how strong the opposition is, how many people would take to the streets, and at the same time to get a response from authorities to a clear fact of corruption.”
He decided to climb up the lamp-post because he “could see nothing from the ground.”
Contacted by telephone on Wednesday, Shingarkin senior said he was sympathetic with his son’s motives for attending the protest.
“He has a social position, against corruption, I support it completely,” Maxim Shingarkin said.
But he emphasised that his son’s actions did not mean that he or the family were opponents of Putin.
The Russian leader, Shingarkin senior said, is popular among voters and there is no one to replace him, but he is let down by the officials around him.
Roman Shingarkin said for now he would not attend any more protests unless they were approved by the authorities.
He said he might venture to a non-approved demonstration once he turns 18, because if he gets into trouble then, the police will charge him and not involve his parents.
The United States is examining its next steps in the campaign to defeat Islamic State militants and stabilize the refugee crisis with regional allies, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarks on trips to Turkey and NATO headquarters this week. The top U.S. diplomat will press NATO allies to demonstrate a clear path to increase defense spending, in his first meeting with counterparts from this security bloc.
U.S.-led forces are increasing their campaign to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State militants. Stabilizing areas where militants have fled and allowing refugees to return home is high on the agenda for the U.S. and its anti-Islamic State coalition partners.
In Turkey, Tillerson will try to build on progress from last week’s meeting of coalition partners in Washington.
“While a more defined course of action in Syria is still coming together, I can say the United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al-Qaida, and will work to establish interim zones of stability through cease-fires to allow refugees to go home,” he said, using a common acronym for Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL and Daesh.
But it could be a tall order, according to Middle East expert Daniel Serwer.
“The Turks would like to have safe zones; they have been proposing them for years,” he said. “But they are, in fact, extraordinarily difficult to create, and to defend, and to maintain.”
Days before Tillerson’s first meeting with NATO foreign ministers, Tillerson met with his counterparts from the Baltic states. They expressed confidence in Washington’s support for NATO.
“We’re passing what we consider very important messages of the need to develop transatlantic security and economic links, so it was, overall, a very good introductory meeting,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told VOA’s Ukrainian Service.
After Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, NATO agreed to send troops to Lithuania and to Estonia, Latvia and Poland, in a move to deter potential Russian aggression.
“I wouldn’t say the military presence is insignificant,” Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Misker told VOA’s Russian Service. “These are very well-trained, well-equipped forces. But when you look at the numbers, the presence is slightly modest compared to what Russia has in place on the other side of the border. So it shouldn’t be viewed as escalatory in any way … but I think it’s sufficient to make Russia change its calculus. It makes clear to Russia that they should not launch a provocation and think that they can do it with impunity.”
Tillerson is going to the NATO talks before he goes to Moscow, a move that ends the controversy over his earlier decision to skip the event.
“[NATO allies] want the commitment by Tillerson to maintain sanctions [on Russia for its actions] on Ukraine; they want a commitment from Tillerson that his president isn’t going to sell out the alliance to the Russians,” Serwer said.
Tillerson will make it clear that it is no longer sustainable for the United States to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense spending. He also will consult with allies about their shared commitment to improve security in Ukraine and the need for NATO to push Russia to end aggression against its neighbors.
NATO member states have until 2024 to meet a shared pledge to contribute 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
Estonia is the only Baltic nation to spend 2 percent of the GDP for defense purposes. Lithuania and Latvia have pledged to reach that level by 2018.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Russian and Ukrainian services.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to sign off on a delivery of fighter jets, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia, the Balkan country’s defense minister said Tuesday, in what could worsen tensions with neighboring states and trigger an arms race in the war-weary region.
Defense Minister Zoran Djordjevic said that Putin agreed to approve the delivery during a visit by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to Moscow on Monday. He said six MiG-29 fighter jets, 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armored vehicles will be delivered soon.
“The president of the Russian Federation said he will sign that decree, and when it’s signed, we will act accordingly,” Djordjevic said. “We are waiting for the process to be finalized in Russia and see how (the equipment) will be delivered to Serbia.”
The jets would have to fly over NATO-member countries before reaching Serbia. Or, they would have to be taken apart and flown in transport planes, if the neighboring countries approve.
Djordjevic said that the jets, tanks and fighting vehicles — donated from Russian arms reserves for free — will be “fully modernized and refurbished” in Serbia by Russian technicians for an undisclosed sum. It is estimated that the overhaul of the MiGs alone would cost Serbia some 200 million euros ($216 million.)
Djordjevic said earlier that Serbia is also interested in buying a Russian air defense system as well as opening a repair center for Russian MIL helicopters which, analysts believe, would be tantamount to opening a Russian military base on its territory.
Serbia formally has been on the path to join the European Union, but under political and propaganda pressure from Moscow has steadily slid toward the Kremlin and its goal of keeping the countries in the Balkan region out of NATO and other Western integrations.
EU officials have voiced their alarm over increasing Russian influence in the western Balkans, which has seen a bloody civil war in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s archrival and NATO-member Croatia is shopping for a new fighter to replace the nation’s aging MiG-21s.
The two leading contenders for the planned contract reportedly include American Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen.
Scotland’s Parliament voted Tuesday to seek a new referendum on independence from Britain, clearing the way for the country’s first minister, its top lawmaker, to ask the British government to approve such a vote.
The legislature in Edinburgh voted 69-59 to seek Britain’s parliamentary endorsement, which is required, for a referendum that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold within two years — before Britain has completed its departure from the 28-nation European Union.
British voters narrowly approved a departure from the EU last year, and London will begin the formal process leading to Britain’s exit from the union on Wednesday.
Despite the overall vote last year in favor of leaving the EU — based on ballots cast in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — nearly two-thirds of Scottish voters elected to remain in the bloc. Since then, Sturgeon has insisted that independence is the only way for Scotland to maintain its formal EU relationship.
Scottish voters chose not to declare independence from London in a referendum three years ago, but that was months before discussions began about Britain’s possible departure from the Brussels-based EU.
Sturgeon has argued that last year’s Brexit vote necessitates a new independence referendum. On Tuesday, she said “it would be democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable” for London to block a new Scottish vote.
Sturgeon first predicted a push for a new independence referendum last year, hours after British voters elected to leave the EU. She said it would be “unacceptable” for Scotland to be forced to leave the EU along with the rest of Britain, in light of Scots’ strong support for remaining in the bloc.
For her part, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not support a new Scottish vote until Britain has formally departed the EU — a process of negotiations that experts say could take take several years.
“Now is not the time,” May said of a new Scottish referendum, adding that Britons “should be working together, not pulling apart,” as the Brexit unfolds.
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has criticized Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, calling it a hostile act.
Cheney said Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a serious attempt to interfere in the 2016 election and other democratic processes in America.
In a speech at a speaker’s conference in New Delhi, Cheney said, “In some quarters, that would be considered an act of war.”
Cheney’s accusation comes at a time when both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees are investigating possible Russian interference in the election that brought President Donald Trump to power.Read More
Violent clashes in Paris between baton-wielding police and protesters outraged at the police killing of a Chinese man in his home injured three police officers and led to the arrest of 35 protesters, authorities said Tuesday.
The tensions have prompted China’s Foreign Ministry to express its concern to French authorities over the killing of the man, who it says was shot by a plainclothes officer.
Demonstrators from the Asian community gathered Monday night outside the multicultural 19th district’s police station in Paris’ northeast, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, of the Paris Prosecutor’s Office.
They were angry at rumors the man was shot in his home in front of his children while cutting up fish and had not hurt anyone. Police say an officer fired in self-defense during a raid because the victim wounded an officer with a “bladed weapon.”
With chants of “murderers” and candles that spelled “opposition to violence” lining the road Monday night, scores of demonstrators broke down barricades, threw projectiles and set fire to cars during the brutal clashes with police that lasted several hours.
Authorities said 26 demonstrators were held for participating in a group planning violence, six for throwing projectiles, and three others for violence against police that saw a police car damaged by arson.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said that, according to witnesses, one man of Chinese origin was injured in the clashes.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China had summoned a representative of the French embassy in Beijing Tuesday and urged French officials to “get to the bottom of the incident as soon as possible.”
Hua said Chinese authorities “hope that Chinese nationals in France can express their wishes and demands in a reasonable way.”
France is home to Europe’s largest population of ethnic Chinese, a community that routinely accuses police of not doing enough to protect them against racism.
“Chinese are victims of racist attitudes in France — especially from other ethnic groups like Arabs. They are targets for crime because they often carry cash and many don’t have residence permits, so can be threatened easily. They’re angry with police for not protecting them enough,” said Pierre Picquart, Chinese expert at the University of Paris VIII.
“Chinese people do not like to protest or express themselves publicly, so when we see them like this it means they are very, very angry. They’ve had enough of discrimination,” he added.
He estimated that there are 2 million people living in France of Chinese origin.
Last September, 15,000 people rallied in the French capital to urge an end to violence against the Asian community after the beating to death of Chinese tailor Chaolin Zhangh called new attention to ethnic tensions in Paris suburbs. The victim’s lawyer said the August 2016 attack was ethnically motivated, and the area’s Chinese immigrant community says it is routinely targeted by armed robbers and violence.
The recent killing and clashes also come just days after thousands marched in Paris in a show of anger over the alleged rape in February of a young black man by police. The alleged incident in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois turned the 22-year-old, identified only as Theo, into a symbol for minorities standing up to police violence.
Violent clashes in Paris between police and protesters angry at the police killing of a Chinese man in his home have left three police officers injured and 35 protesters arrested, authorities said Tuesday.
Demonstrators, who were from the Asian community, had gathered in the multicultural 19th district on the French capital’s northeastern edge, police official Agnes Thibault Lecuivre said.
They were paying homage to a Chinese man killed Sunday by a police officer, outraged by reports that he was shot in his home in front of his children while he was cutting up fish. Police say the officer fired in self-defense during a raid because the victim, whom Chinese media say is Chinese, wounded an officer with a bladed weapon.
With candles spelling “violence” lining the road Monday evening, scores of protesters broke down barricades, threw projectiles and set fire to a car during the clashes with police that lasted several hours.
The latest violence comes just days after several thousand people marched in Paris against police violence, in a show of anger sparked by the alleged rape in February of a young black man with a police baton, and other police abuse. Anarchists faced off with riot police at the end of that march, and tear gas was fired. But clashes remained limited in scope and violence.
The alleged police rape of Theo in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois turned the 22-year-old into a symbol for minorities standing up to police violence. His last name hasn’t been publicly released.
The leader of Bulgaria’s Socialist party has conceded defeat after exit polls showed her party placing second in the parliamentary election held Sunday.
Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova congratulated former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov’s GERB party as the election’s winner.
An Alpha Research exit poll said GERB won 32.2 percent of the vote, with the Socialist Party coming in second with 28 percent. A separate exit poll by Gallup International Balkan had GERB with 32.8 percent and the Socialists with 28.4 percent.
Official results are expected Monday.
The election had been seen as a test of Bulgaria’s loyalties to the European Union and to Russia, with which it has historic political and cultural links. Bulgaria is set to take over the bloc’s presidency in 2018.
GERB and the Socialists both campaigned to revive economic ties with Russia to benefit voters in the European Union’s poorest nation. But the Socialists vowed to go further, even if it meant upsetting the country’s European Union partners.
GERB did not win enough votes to govern alone, and will likely form a coalition government with the United Patriots, an alliance of three nationalist parties that the exit polls showed placing third.
The Socialists ruled out any option of serving in a coalition government. But Ninova said her party would look at options for forming a government should the center-right GERB party find it cannot do so on its own.
Borisov, 57, resigned as prime minister after his party lost the presidential election last year. Parliament was dissolved in January, and the president appointed a caretaker government that will stay until a new government is formed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party won a state election by large margin, exit polls said Sunday, in an early setback to center-left hopes of unseating her in the September national vote.
Early results from the voting in Saarland state had Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) leading with 40 percent while the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) had around 30 percent.
The SPD was facing its first electoral test since nominating Martin Shultz to face off against Merkel in September.
The party has seen a recent surge in popularity.
Merkel is expected to run for fourth term as chancellor.
The U.S. State Department has “strongly condemned” the detention of hundreds of protesters throughout Russia including the country’s opposition leader on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated in cities across the country in support of a call by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny for accountability among Russia’s elite. Nearly 500 people were detained around Moscow’s Pushkin square, including Navalny, for protesting without permission.
“Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
He said the United States was “troubled” by the arrest of Navalny, who has announced plans to run for president in the 2018 election.
Navalny, a Kremlin critic, was detained as he arrived to join the Moscow rally. Reports from the scene say police put him in a truck that was surrounded by hundreds of protesters who tried to open its doors and halt the arrest.
The protests appeared to be the largest coordinated outpouring of dissatisfaction since the massive 2011-2012 demonstrations following a fraud-tainted parliamentary election.
“This is an important event! We came here to express our position as citizens,” said one protester who just gave her first name-Alina. “We came to remain citizens of our country.”
“By my presence here, I stand against the corruption of the incumbent power,” said another protester who only gave his first name-Maxim. “The authorities do not feel like talking to their people, they communicate only through force-applying methods.”
Navalny called the demonstrations after publishing a detailed report earlier this month accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing a collection of mansions, yachts and vineyards through a shadowy network of non-profit organizations.
The report has been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube. Medvedev has not reacted to it so far.
Navalny said on his official website that 99 Russian cities planned to protest, but that in 72 of them local authorities did not give permission.
There was scant coverage of the demonstrations on Russia’s official media. A short report on Tass said a police officer was injured during an “unauthorized” rally in Moscow.
Navalny, who has announced his intention to run for president in next year’s election, has been rallying supporters in major Russian cities in recent weeks.
A state election Sunday in western Germany offers Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives a tough test against their resurgent center-left rivals six months before Merkel seeks a fourth term in a national vote.
The election for the state legislature in Saarland, a region of just less than 1 million people on the French border that Merkel’s Christian Democrats have led since 1999, is the first of three regional votes before Germany’s September 24 national vote.
Test for Merkel, Schulz
It’s being watched closely as the first electoral test since the center-left Social Democrats nominated Martin Schulz as Merkel’s challenger in January.
Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament but a newcomer to national politics, has boosted his party’s long-moribund poll ratings and injected it with new self-confidence. He’s offering a classic though often vague center-left pitch of tackling economic inequality at home.
That boost means that a fourth Merkel term no longer looks inevitable — and it also has tightened the race in Saarland.
Conservative governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer until recently looked certain to win a new five-year term. But Social Democrat rival Anke Rehlinger now hopes to finish first, and polls suggest she could win a majority for an alliance with the opposition Left Party.
The two women currently govern together in a “grand coalition” of the biggest parties, an alliance similar to Merkel’s at the national level.
Governor’s race important
Kramp-Karrenbauer is one of only five conservative governors in Germany’s 16 states. Losing her would be a worrying signal for the national campaign and for two bigger state elections in May — in Schleswig-Holstein and Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, both led by the Social Democrats.
Merkel has barely mentioned Schulz so far, but warned at a rally in Saarland on Thursday against a left-wing coalition there.
“We don’t want the clocks to go back on Sunday; we want the clocks to be put forward,” she said.
Francois Fillon’s aides used an umbrella to shield him from eggs thrown by protesters in southwest France on Saturday as the beleaguered conservative fell further behind centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-rightist Marine Le Pen in opinion polls.
The contrast between former front-runner Fillon, embroiled in a financial scandal, and new poll favorite Macron was striking as both candidates campaigned 29 days before the first round of France’s unpredictable presidential election.
Addressing a rally in the French island of La Reunion, in the Indian ocean, Macron departed from typical campaign speeches by inviting members of the audience — including a 6-year old who asked him “How do you get to be president?” — on stage to ask questions on a wide range of issues.
“It’s historic, we need to decide whether we want to be afraid of the century that has just started … or want to bring fresh ambition to France,” the 39-year-old former investment banker said to chants of “Macron President!”
Macron, a former economy minister to Socialist President Francois Hollande, set up his own centrist party last year.
Macron leads in polls
He has shot to first place in opinion polls since Fillon was put under investigation over suspicions he misused public funds by paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros as a parliamentary assistant for work she may not have done. Fillon denies any wrongdoing.
Fillon slipped to 17 percent in a BVA poll published Saturday, which saw Macron getting 26 percent of the first-round vote, up 1 percentage point from a week ago with Le Pen at 25 percent, down one point.
The number of undecided voters for the first round remains high, with 40 percent of voters still undecided.
The poll showed Macron winning a second round vote with 62 percent of the vote versus 38 percent for Le Pen, who is to hold a rally in the northern France city of Lille on Sunday.
The poll was carried out partly before a TV interview Thursday night in which Fillon, 63, accused Hollande of leading a smear campaign against him.
Voters throw eggs, bang pans
Met by some 30 protesters throwing eggs and banging pots and pans to shouts of “Fillon in prison” in the southwest France town of Cambo-les-Bains, Fillon told reporters: “Those protests are an insult to democracy … the more they protest, the more French voters will support me.”
Meanwhile, a faction of the centrist UDI party, which is allied with Fillon’s The Republicans, was kicked out of the party Saturday for rallying behind Macron.
The BVA poll also showed far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon gaining ground in the first round, up 2 points from a week earlier to 14 percent, now 2.5 points ahead of the ruling Socialist Party’s candidate Benoit Hamon.
Tens of thousands of pro-EU demonstrators rallied in London, despite heightened concerns about the terrorism threat, to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary — just days before Britain’s exit from the EU is expected to formally begin.
Organizers said about 80,000 people joined the march calling for Britain to stay in the EU on March 25.
The demonstration came four days before British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would formally start Britain’s exit negotiations by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
Hundreds of blue EU flags were carried by protesters in the procession as it stretched through central London.
Banners carried by the demonstrators had slogans like “I am European,” and “I’m 15 — I want my future back!”
The protesters fell silent as they moved through Parliament Square, where a British-born terrorist earlier this week drove a car through crowds of people before crashing into a fence and stabbing a police officer to death.
One banner raised in front of Britain’s Parliament said, “Terrorism won’t divide us — Brexit will.”
About 10,000 EU supporters also marched in Rome on March 25 while about 4,000 gathered in Berlin.
Some material for this report came from AFP, BBC and AP.
U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has revised and retracted statements it used to buttress claims of Russian hacking during last year’s American presidential election campaign. The shift followed a VOA report that the company misrepresented data published by an influential British think tank.
In December, CrowdStrike said it found evidence that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, contributing to heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with pro-Russian separatists.
VOA reported Tuesday that the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which publishes an annual reference estimating the strength of world armed forces, disavowed the CrowdStrike report and said it had never been contacted by the company.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has stated that the combat losses and hacking never happened.
Some see overblown allegations
CrowdStrike was first to link hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors last year, but some cybersecurity experts have questioned its evidence. The company has come under fire from some Republicans who say charges of Kremlin meddling in the election are overblown.
After CrowdStrike released its Ukraine report, company co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch claimed it provided added evidence of Russian election interference. In both hacks, he said, the company found malware used by “Fancy Bear,” a group with ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
CrowdStrike’s claims of heavy Ukrainian artillery losses were widely circulated in U.S. media.
On Thursday, CrowdStrike walked back key parts of its Ukraine report.
The company removed language that said Ukraine’s artillery lost 80 percent of the Soviet-era D-30 howitzers, which used aiming software that purportedly was hacked. Instead, the revised report cites figures of 15 to 20 percent losses in combat operations, attributing the figures to IISS.
The original CrowdStrike report was dated Dec. 22, 2016, and the updated report was dated March 23, 2017.
The company also removed language saying Ukraine’s howitzers suffered “the highest percentage of loss of any … artillery pieces in Ukraine’s arsenal.”
Finally, CrowdStrike deleted a statement saying “deployment of this malware-infected application may have contributed to the high-loss nature of this platform” — meaning the howitzers — and excised a link sourcing its IISS data to a blogger in Russia-occupied Crimea.
In an email, CrowdStrike spokeswoman Ilina Dmitrova said the new estimates of Ukrainian artillery losses resulted from conversations with Henry Boyd, an IISS research associate for defense and military analysis. She declined to say what prompted the contact.
CrowdStrike defends report
“This update does not in any way impact the core premise of the report that the FANCY BEAR threat actor implanted malware into a D-30 targeting application developed by a Ukrainian military officer,” Dmitrova wrote.
Reached by VOA, the IISS confirmed providing CrowdStrike with new information about combat losses, but declined to comment on CrowdStrike’s hacking assertions.
“We don’t think the current version of the [CrowdStrike] report draws conclusions with regard to our data, other than quoting the clarification we provided to them,” IISS told VOA.
Dmitrova noted that the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community have also concluded that Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.
The release of embarrassing Democratic emails during last year’s U.S. political campaign, and the subsequent finding by intelligence agencies that the hacks were meant to help then-candidate Donald Trump, have led to investigations by the FBI and intelligence committees in both the House and Senate.
Trump and White House officials have denied colluding with Russians.
U.S. officials say Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with members of the NATO alliance next week, following criticism over his initial decision to skip a NATO foreign ministers meeting.
State Department officials say Tillerson will meet NATO members on March 31 in Brussels. Foreign ministers from NATO countries were originally scheduled to gather in Brussels on April 5-6. It is not clear if the new meeting will replace the April dates.
There was no official statement from NATO.
Voices of support for NATO
Earlier this week, Tillerson’s office said he would not be able to attend the April meeting of the 28-member alliance, raising fears about the U.S. administration’s commitment to NATO.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed NATO as “obsolete,” though his vice president, Mike Pence, voiced staunch U.S. support for the alliance during a news conference in Brussels last month and Tillerson has also expressed his support for NATO, as has U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.
After meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week at the White House, Trump said Germany owes “vast sums of money to NATO and the United States,” voicing a charge he has repeatedly made that allies do not pay their fair share.
Tillerson to visit Turkey
U.S. State Department officials said Tillerson will travel to Brussels after his trip to Ankara, Turkey. They said more details about his schedule will be released soon.
Tillerson is also expected to to attend Trump’s meeting on April 6-7 with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that Trump will attend a summit of NATO heads of state set to be held May 25 in Brussels, and will host NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg for talks on April 12.
As police race to identify what motivated a 52-year-old British-born father to carry out Wednesday’s attack at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, a debate is simmering in the country over issues of identity, religion and immigration — already hot topics in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell reports.
London police said Friday they have made two more arrests in connection with the attack near Parliament.
Counter-terrorism commander Mark Rowley characterized the arrests as “significant,” though he did not provide any details. He said nine people are currently in custody and one person has been released.
Police officials identified the attacker who killed four people near Parliament as Khalid Masood, a Briton who converted to Islam and had a lengthy criminal record for weapons possession and other charges.
Rowley said Masood’s birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao and appealed to the public for any information about him.
“We remain keen to hear from anyone who knew Khalid Masood well, understands who his associates were and can provide us with information about places he has recently visited,’’ Rowley said. “There might be people out there who did have concerns about Masood but did not feel comfortable for whatever reason in passing those concerns to us.’’
Islamic State said Masood, who was 52, was a “soldier” of the extremist group who responded to its call to attack civilians and the military in countries allied with the United States in battling IS.
Masood had never been convicted of terrorist offenses, but British security officials said he had been investigated in the past “in relation to concerns about violent extremism.” Authorities say they believe he was acting alone Wednesday when he ran down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, a Thames River crossing leading to the Houses of Parliament, crashed his rented vehicle into a gate and fatally stabbed a policeman who tried to stop him.
Armed police shot and killed Masood moments later.
In the hours after Wednesday’s attack in the heart of London, police conducted raids around the country in search of anyone who may have given support to Masood. Eight men and women were arrested Thursday on suspicion of planning terrorist acts.
The dead assailant, who was older than most Islamist attackers involved in recent spectacular terror attacks in Europe, had been a teacher of English and was known as a fanatical bodybuilder.
One of the civilians who was run down on the bridge, a 75-year-old man, died Thursday in a hospital, raising the casualty toll to four victims and Masood.
Although Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, a statement posted online did not implicate the group in the planning or execution of the attack.
An Italian tourist who witnessed the carnage told reporters he saw Masood attack the policeman with two knives. “He gave [the officer] around 10 stabs in the back,” the visitor said.
Valiant efforts to resuscitate Constable Keith Palmer at the scene failed. The 48-year-old officer was a 15-year police veteran.
One American was among the dead – 54-year-old Kurt Cochran of Utah, who was in London with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. His wife, Melissa, was among the 30 people injured. Masood’s vehicle hit the Cochrans as they crossed Westminster Bridge.
The remaining victim of the attack was a British school administrator, Aysha Frade, 43.
Mourners gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square Thursday evening, about one kilometer from the crime scene, for a candlelight vigil. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told the crowd of thousands that”those trying to destroy our shared way of life will never succeed.”
Khan said the vigil in the most recognizable public plaza in London was meant to honor the dead and injured, but also “to send a clear, clear message: Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.”
Rowley, head of counterterrorism efforts for London’s Metropolitan Police Service, said the eight people arrested Thursday were picked up during searches at six separate locations, and that investigations were continuing in London, Birmingham and other parts of England. He declined to say whether or how those detained were involved in Wednesday’s attack.
“It is still our belief, which continues to be born out by our investigation, that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism,” Rowley told reporters.
Prime Minister Theresa May struck a defiant tone in discussing the attack before Parliament Thursday, telling British lawmakers that what London experienced was “an attack on free people everywhere.”
“Yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy, but today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism,” she said.
May thanked Britain’s friends and allies around the world “who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.”She said the victims include nationals of France, Romania, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Ireland, China, Italy and Greece, as well as the United States.
The United Nations Security Council in New York, chaired by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, observed a moment of silence Thursday for the London victims.
Tense London Carries on After Islamic State Attack
“You may know that today there are victims in London from 11 nations. Which goes to show that an attack on London is an attack on the world,” Johnson said. “I can tell you from my talks here in the United States with the U.S. government and with partners from around the world that the world is uniting to defeat the people who launched this attack and defeat their bankrupt and odious ideology.”
In London, Parliament’s session began with a minute of silence Thursday. Police officers stood in silence nearby outside the headquarters of the city’s Metropolitan Police.
Friday marks the United Nations’ World Tuberculosis Day, aimed at raising awareness of a disease that kills an estimated 1.8 million people every year. Six countries account for nearly two-thirds of the cases: India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.
The date commemorates the day in 1882 when German scientist Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the cause of the disease, the TB bacillus. It remains the most deadly infectious disease in the world.
“Every single day 5,000 people lose their lives because of tuberculosis. TB hits particularly those vulnerable populations that include migrants, refugees, prisoners, people who are marginalized in their societies,” said Mario Raviglione, the World Health Organization’s Global Tuberculosis Program Director.
On World Tuberculosis Day, Doctors Warn of New Drug-Resistant Bacteria
In recent years drug-resistant strains of TB have taken hold around the world, posing an increasingly urgent public health threat. These strains often go undetected and are spread across populations.
“In South Africa, for example, TB is the commonest cause of death and the disease is out of control in Africa,” said Dr. Keertan Dheda, head of the Division of Pulmonology at the University of Cape Town.
But there is new hope as a small number of new drugs have become available.
“For the first time after about four to five decades, we have two drugs. One is called bedaquiline,” Dheda said. “That has now been registered in South Africa and is available to treat many patients with drug-resistant TB. And there’s another new drug called delamanid, that’s not yet licensed in South Africa but is available in other countries.”
New drugs must be used carefully
In a report published in the Lancet medical journal, Dheda and his co-authors warn that the effectiveness of these new drugs could be rapidly lost if they aren’t used correctly.
“There are several case reports globally of patients that have already become resistant to both delamanid and bedaquiline. We need to change our strategy,” Dheda said. “We need to go out into the community and find these cases. We have to address the major drivers of TB, which are poverty and overcrowding, nutritional deprivation, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and biomass fuel exposure,” Dheda added in a VOA interview Thursday.
The report warns the new drugs must be prescribed as individually targeted treatments with clear dosing guidelines, to prevent further resistant TB strains from emerging.
A month before the first round of France’s presidential election, 43 percent of voters are hesitant about who to vote for, a poll said Friday, underlining the uncertainty surrounding the volatile election campaign.
Opinion polls show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen likely to lead in the first round of the election April 23 and that these two candidates would go through to a May 7 run-off that Macron would win easily.
But an opinion poll by Odoxa for franceinfo radio found that 43 percent of voters were still hesitating between several candidates, which it said reflected an “uncertainty unprecedented in (French) electoral history.”
“The level of voter indecision about the candidates is completely exceptional,” Odoxa said.
Investors have been jittery about the possibility of Le Pen, leader of the anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front, winning the election and taking France out of the euro.
On the right, more sure
The poll found that potential voters for right-wing candidates — Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon — were more settled in their choices than potential voters for Macron and the leading left-wing candidates, Benoit Hamon of the ruling Socialist Party and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Sixty percent of Le Pen’s potential voters and 57 percent of Fillon’s had definitely decided on their candidate compared with 47 percent for Macron, 44 percent for Melenchon and 40 percent for Hamon, the poll found.
Fillon slipped in polls
Fillon, once the front runner, has slipped in the polls since media reports in late January that he had paid his wife, Penelope, and two children hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for work they may not have carried out.
Fillon accused President Francois Hollande in a television interview on Thursday of being involved in what he alleges is a government plot to spread damaging media leaks about his affairs to destroy his chances of being elected.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May solemnly listed the diverse nationalities of those injured in Wednesday’s lone wolf attack in London, underlining the global nature of the British capital and its diversity. She emphasized the attacker was British-born.
But some British nationalists and nativists have been quick to blame whole communities for the attack, accusing migrants and liberals for having created the conditions for Islamist terrorism.
Two narratives are being fought over in newspapers and social media following the attack that left four dead and 40 injured. One emphasizing the importance of unity and embracing plurality, the other tarring foreigners as the threat and blaming migrants and freedom of movement in the European Union for terrorism.
“In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks,” May told a subdued House of Commons.
“A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather to celebrate what it means to be free. And he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children,” said May.
WATCH: May addresses House of Commons
“We are united by our humanity,” responded Britain’s main opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
But shortly after the exchanges between lawmakers emphasizing the importance of diversity, Nigel Farage, one of Britain’s leading Brexiters, struck a different tone.
Despite May confirming police believe the assailant was British born, Farage used the London attack to blame politicians who embrace multiculturalism and lambasted immigration mainly from the Middle East for “inviting in terrorism.”
“We’ve made some terrible mistakes in this country, and it really started with the election of Tony Blair back in 1997, who said he wanted to build a multicultural Britain,” said Farage, the former leader of Britain’s UK Independence Party.
“The problem with multiculturalism is that it leads to divided communities … We have now a fifth column living inside these European countries. I do actually think that the moment has come for us to actually point the blame. What these politicians have done in the space of just 15 years may well affect the way we live in this country over the next 100 years,” he added.
Defend ‘our culture’
Katie Hopkins, a TV personality and newspaper columnist, was more scathing, arguing the English must defend “our culture.” “London is a city so desperate to be seen as tolerant … Liberals convince themselves multiculturalism works because we all die together, too,” she wrote in a column for the right-wing tabloid the Daily Mail just hours after the attack.
She added, “This place is just like Sweden. Terrified of admitting the truth about the threat we face, about the horrors committed by the migrants we failed to deter, because to admit that we are sinking, and fast, would be to admit that everything the liberals believe is wrong. That multiculturalism has not worked.”
In Birmingham, the Midlands city that saw law-enforcement raids late Wednesday on the homes of people suspected of being connected in some way to the London attacker, locals fear they will be tarred as terrorists and there will be a backlash.
Britain’s top counterterror officer, Mark Rowley, has acknowledged that Muslim communities “will feel anxious at this time”, but has said police will work with community leaders to ensure protection. Birmingham is home to large South Asian and Muslim communities, and last year hosted Europe’s largest celebrations for the Eid festival, a major Muslim holiday.
Thursday, local police assisted Birmingham’s Central Mosque in distributing more than 50,000 copies of a booklet explaining the Muslim faith, entitled “Terrorism Is Not Islam,” to schools and shops.
Mosque chairman, Mohammed Afzal, said the attacker’s motives had nothing to do with true Islam. “Whoever the attacker is and whatever the cause may be, nothing justifies taking lives of innocent people, which is completely against the good of humanity,” he said. “We call upon those that may have even a shred of sympathy for the like-minded terrorists to shake their conscience and realize that such acts are the work of evil and not the work of God-fearing people.”
David Aaronovitch, an author and broadcaster, believes the attack should not be allowed to “trigger a wholesale tarring of Muslim communities in Britain with the terrorist brush.”
In his column in The Times he argued it is important “not to cede political space to the fanatics, the extreme nationalists, the fundamentalists. To always think, despite the temptations just to react.”
Others, though, are keen to react, determined that a nativist, anti-Islam narrative becomes dominant. Tommy Robinson, a far-right activist, rushed Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament as emergency crews were assisting the wounded and claimed Britain is at “war” with Muslims and labeled the attack the work of a foreigner. “This is the reality. The reality is these people are waging war on us,” he said.
Bystanders, and even some reporters, denounced him for what they saw as an opportunistic intervention at the site of an atrocity, one designed to inflame.
In advance of World TB day (March 24), the World Health Organization is warning the battle to wipe out the global tuberculosis epidemic will not be won unless stigma, discrimination and marginalization of TB patients is brought to an end. VOA was in Geneva at the launch of new WHO ethics guidance for the treatment of people with tuberculosis.
Progress is being made toward achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of ending the global TB epidemic by 2030. The World Health Organization reports 49 million lives have been saved since 2000.
But, much remains to be done.
Data from 2015 show more than 10.4 million people fell ill and 1.8 million died of tuberculosis, with most cases and fatalities occurring in developing countries.
The World Health Organization says stigma and discrimination against TB patients hamper efforts to wipe out this deadly disease.
WHO Global TB Program medical officer Ernesto Jaramillo says vulnerable people, such as migrants, prisoners, ethnic minorities, marginalized women and children are most likely to suffer abuse, neglect and rejection.
He says this prevents them from seeking treatment for tuberculosis.
“Having new tools for diagnosis, and treatment of TB is not sufficient if there are not clear standards to ensure that vulnerable people can have access in a matter of priority to these tools in a way that the end TB strategy can really serve the interest not only of individuals, but also the interests of public health in general ,” said Jaramillo.
WHO Global TB program director Mario Raviglione tells VOA no country, rich or poor, is immune from getting tuberculosis. He warns marginalizing patients with TB is dangerous.
“You cannot eliminate a disease like TB thinking that you build walls or you isolate your country,” said Raviglione. “TB is an airborne disease. It travels by air. So, you have a Boeing 747 that leaves Malawi tonight and it comes to Switzerland tomorrow morning and there you go. So, it has to be faced from a global perspective.”
New WHO ethical guidance includes actions to overcome barriers of stigma, discrimination and marginalization of people with tuberculosis. The agency says protecting the human rights of all those affected will save many lives and will make it possible to end this global scourge.
Pope Francis is making five more child saints: two Portuguese shepherd children who said the Virgin Mary appeared to them in Fatima 100 years ago and three Mexican adolescents who were killed for their faith in the 16th century.
Francis signed the canonization decrees Thursday.
In the case of the Mexicans, Francis declared the three Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala worthy of sainthood without having a miracle attributed to their intercession, once again sidestepping the typical saint-making process. The boys, Cristobal, Antonio and Juan, were converted to Catholicism by missionaries in the early 1500s.
Francis followed the rules in approving a miracle for Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the Fatima siblings, just two months before he is to travel to the Fatima shrine to mark the centennial anniversary of their apparitions.Read More
Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch connected in press reports Wednesday to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, has a long history of connections with senior U.S. politicians, including Senator John McCain and former senator Bob Dole.
Deripaska was listed by Forbes magazine in 2008 as Russia’s richest oligarch, with a fortune the business magazine then assessed at $28 billion. He is suddenly back in the news, despite the fact that Forbes now estimates his wealth at a mere $5.1 billion.
The reason? The Associated Press reported Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked with Deripaska a decade ago to advance Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests and proposed a strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition in former Soviet states.
Manafort has confirmed the AP’s report that he represented Deripaska almost a decade ago “on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” but says his work for Deripaska “did not involve representing Russian political interests.”
Oleg Deripaska began building his business empire in the 1990s, a period that saw a wild scramble to grab the most valuable assets of the moribund Soviet economy – a contest that was often accompanied by violence.
Russia’s post-Soviet metals sector saw a particularly violent division of spoils, and the bloodshed which accompanied the fight to control the country’s aluminum smelters – involving ambitious young businessmen like Deripaska, organized crime hitmen and their numerous victims – became the stuff of legend.
Deripaska has admitted that, while navigating this Hobbesian world, he made protection payments to criminal gangs and local police, and set up a security force consisting of former KGB agents and soldiers.
“The first time I was directly threatened … two weeks later my commercial director was shot two times in the head,” Deripaska told London’s Telegraph in 2012. “This was how, finally, I decided it was better to pay for the moment to stay alive and for my people to stay alive… I hated having to pay but there was no other safe choice, for me or my staff.”
As a Russian metals analyst told Britain’s Spectator magazine in 2007: “Many people were killed during the aluminium wars. Deripaska survived, and won.”
In 2000, Deripaska and fellow Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns Britain’s Chelsea soccer team, created Russian Aluminum (RusAl), which is now the world’s sixth largest aluminum company. Deripaska owns a controlling share of RusAL and is its president. He also owns Basic Element, a Russian holding company with assets in the energy, manufacturing, financial services, agriculture, construction and aviation sectors.
Deripaska is married to Polina Yumashev, the daughter of Valentin Yumashev, former President Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff. After her birth, Valentin Yumashev married Tatyana Dyachenko, the younger daughter of Yeltsin.
Some of Deripaska’s past has apparently come back to haunt him. He was reportedly barred for years from entering the United States because of alleged ties with organized crime, and while that ban was lifted in 2005, it was reimposed in 2006.
Deripaska enlisted help to try to overcome these hurdles. For example, he reportedly paid $560,000 in the early 2000s to Alston & Bird, the law firm of Bob Dole, the former U.S. Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, which was able to get Deripaska’s U.S. visa reinstated, at least for a time.
In addition, the Washington Post reported in January 2008 that Rick Davis, who was then the manager of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, helped arrange a drinks-and-dinner meeting in January 2006 between Deripaska and a small group of U.S. senators, including McCain, near Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum was taking place.
According to the newspaper, seven months later, in August 2006, Davis, McCain and Deripaska attended a dinner in Montenegro, whose governing party had a contract with the lobbying firm that Davis ran together with Paul Manafort.
“Afterward, a group from the dinner took boats out to a nearby yacht moored in the Adriatic Sea, where champagne and pastries were served, partly in honor of McCain’s 70th birthday,” the Washington Post reported.
The newspaper quoted a spokesman for McCain as saying neither the senator nor Davis recalled Deripaska being on the yacht after dinner.
The spokesman, Mark Salter, told the Post that McCain’s meetings with Deripaska took place during official overseas trips by U.S. senators and that any contact with the Russian tycoon was “social and incidental” and did not constitute a “private meeting.”