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Lawyer Says Independent Journalist Abducted in Georgia

An independent Azerbaijani journalist has been abducted from Georgia, where he had been living, and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

A court in this former Soviet republic was due to hold a hearing later on Wednesday to arrest Afgan Mukhtarli, who is facing charges of smuggling and crossing the border illegally.

 

Mukhtarli, who is also a civil rights activist, had been living in neighboring Georgia for two years. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told The Associated Press the journalist was abducted outside his home Monday evening, beaten up and taken to the land border between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Sadigov claimed that the journalist’s captors planted 10,000 euros ($11,180) on him, which led to the charges.

 

Eldar Sultanov, spokesman for the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office, said the journalist was detained late on Monday “after illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border” with a large sum of money.

 

Mukhtarli left Azerbaijan in 2015, around the time when several Azerbaijani journalists working for foreign or local independent media faced charges of tax evasion.

 

Mukhtarli’s wife, Leila Mustafayeva, told the AP she was waiting for her husband at home Monday evening but he never showed up. Mustafayeva said her husband had been investigating Georgian business ties of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family.

 

“Naturally, this created resentment in the presidential family,” she said, insisting that her husband’s disappearance is connected to his investigation.

 

Several dozen journalists rallied in the capital, Tbilisi, demanding that Georgian authorities explain how they allowed the reported abduction to happen.

 

Giorgi Gogia, Human Rights Watch director of South Caucasus, in a statement described Mukhtarli’s disappearance as another step in the Azerbaijani government’s “relentless crackdown on critics.”

 

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Kushner, Merkel Top Questions at Contentious Briefing

Days after President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip, the contentious relationship between the news media and the White House was on full display. Embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly cut short the first post-trip press briefing after once again lecturing reporters about their treatment of the president. It comes as reports circulate of an impending shakeup among White House communications staff, as VOA’s Bill Gallo report.

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Flynn to Provide Senate Committee Documents in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has agreed to hand over documents to the Senate intelligence committee in connection with its investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Flynn had previously refused a subpoena from the committee, with his lawyers asserting the request was too broad in what it was seeking. 

The committee filed a more narrow subpoena, and Flynn is now expected to provide some personal documents and those related to two businesses by next week.

The House intelligence committee is conducting its own investigation, and on Tuesday Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, turned down a request to provide information, calling it “poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered.”

The U.S. Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel in another investigation that also includes whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia.

Trump has rejected those allegations and dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the November election with a desire to help Trump’s chances of beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News,” Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

Later, at a White House briefing for reporters, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump “is frustrated … to see stories come out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see, quote, unquote, fake news, when you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact.”

Trump’s Russia comment came as news reports continued to focus on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, and his reported attempt to establish a back-channel communications link to Russian officials in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration in January.

Some foreign affairs experts said the move, while former President Barack Obama had weeks left in his term, worried them that it could undermine U.S. security, and some opposition Democrats have suggested Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.  Other experts say exploring the creation of “backchannels” is commonplace, even during presidential transitions.

Spicer deflected several questions about Kushner’s actions, telling one reporter his inquiry “presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.”

The White House also is bracing for the upcoming congressional testimony of former FBI chief James Comey.  Trump fired Comey after allegedly asking him to drop the probe into Flynn and his close ties to the Kremlin.

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Cyprus President Rebukes UN Envoy for Gas Search Comment

The president of Cyprus on Tuesday rebuked a United Nations envoy for speaking of a possible crisis over the ethnically divided country’s search for offshore oil and gas, calling the remark “unacceptable” and a “threat” amid faltering reunification talks.

The envoy, Espen Barth Eide, was quoted in the Greek newspaper To Vima as expressing concern about the issue. In similar remarks earlier this month, Eide said an “international crisis” could lead to a collapse of the ongoing talks aiming at reunifying Cyprus as a federation.

“I regret that I’m being harsh about it, but I’ve made complaints directly that I consider such remarks unacceptable, especially if they’re made in the form of a threat,” President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.

It’s the second time this month that Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, has leveled strong criticism at Eide, accusing him of bias.

Turkey and the Cypriot government are sharply divided over the energy search.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece.

Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, opposes what it calls a unilateral Greek Cypriot project which flouts the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots. In March, the Turkish Foreign Ministry warned that it would “take all necessary measures to protect its interests” in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey is also said to claim part of gas exploration areas, or blocks, off Cyprus’ western and southern coast.

French energy company Total is scheduled to drill an exploratory well off Cyprus’ southern coast in mid-July.

Peace talks are at a standstill after Eide called off mediation efforts last week when Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci failed to find common ground on holding a final summit in Geneva, Switzerland. Anastasiades insists on prioritizing at the summit an agreement on withdrawing more than 35,000 troops that Turkey has kept in the island’s breakaway north since 1974. Akinci maintains that all issues should be discussed in a give-and-take process.

Anastasiades said Tuesday there would be no point to a Geneva summit if Turkey isn’t ready to discuss the security issue.

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Ex-Gitmo Inmate Among 6 Detained from French Jihadi Network

A French judicial source says a former Guantanamo Bay inmate is among six people from an alleged jihadi recruiting network linked to the Islamic State group who have been detained.

The official said Tuesday that the suspects arrested in Bordeaux included Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar, who was freed from the U.S. detention center in Cuba in 2009 after France agreed to accept him.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

Lahmar was one of six Algerians detained in Bosnia in 2001 on suspicion of plotting to bomb the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo. The Justice Department later backed off the allegations, but held the men at Guantanamo for years.

The French official said Lamar, at age 48, is the oldest of the group of four men and two women arrested.

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BA Debacle Puts Spotlight on Airlines’ Old IT Systems, Cuts

The catastrophic IT failure at British Airways that ruined travel plans for 75,000 people has raised questions about some older airlines’ focus on costs to the detriment of investment in new computer systems.

As British Airways resumed full service Tuesday, shares in its parent company, International Airlines Group, dropped 3 percent as investors appeared to worry that the company’s quality of service may have been undermined by recent efforts to save money.

 

Disaster struck on Saturday, when the company’s computer systems went down and there was no functioning back-up. The airline cancelled all flights and only managed to resume full service on Tuesday.

 

“Although cost cutting has been good for the share price in the last year, it will come back to bite IAG if it stops them from doing what they are supposed to do: Fly passengers to their destinations,” said Kathleen Brooks, the research director at City Index.

 

IAG has been battling tough competition, even as it has faced pressure on its earnings from a weaker pound following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The company issued a profit warning following the Brexit vote nearly a year ago.

 

Cost pressures aggravated an already complicated situation. Renewing IT systems is complex, time-consuming and expensive — a factor that prompts many companies to put it off as long as possible, said Loizos Heracleous, a professor of strategy at Warwick Business School.

 

The problem with IT systems is recurring across the industry, particularly among established airlines. In August, Delta Air lines cancelled hundreds of flights when a power outage likewise knocked out its computer systems worldwide.

 

Airlines face challenges with their IT systems also due to linkages across their systems. There’s further demand on the system when companies consolidate — as has been the case among airlines — since “IT issues get heightened and any vulnerabilities are exposed.”

 

Such troubles give an advantage to newer airlines such as Ryanair, a cost-cutting BA rival that focuses on short haul budget flights.

 

“The ability to set up an airline from scratch by-passes a lot of the legacy issues, because you can go for state-of-the-art systems,” Heracleous said. “Newer airlines can also invest in IT systems that are more easily upgradeable and scaleable. An airline such as Ryanair, that is also financially successful, has more leeway to divert needed resources towards upgrading its IT systems.”

 

Capitalizing on BA’s troubles, Ryanair said it had seen “strong bookings” over the weekend. Its Twitter account rubbed salt into the wound with tweets that poked fun and added the hashtag “ShouldHaveFlownRyanair.”

 

The company’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, admitted on the BBC “we had a bit of fun on social media.”

 

“We don’t take social media seriously but we do take IT very seriously and that is why we’ve never had an outage,” he told the BBC.

 

Ryanair posted a 6 percent increase in annual profits Tuesday to 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion) despite “difficult trading conditions,” caused by terror attacks in European cities and a sharp decline in the British pound.

 

BA, meanwhile, is counting up the cost of an IT debacle that some have estimated could run into the tens of millions. There are also all those news clips of passengers swearing they will never fly the airline again.

 

“The whole sorry episode has undeniably put a dent in BA’s reputation for delivering a premium service,” said George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

 

 

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Moreno: Assange is a ‘Hacker’ But Will Continue to Receive Haven

Ecuador’s new President Lenin Moreno described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a “hacker” but said he would continue to receive asylum in the South American country’s embassy in London.

“Mr. Assange is a hacker. That’s something we reject, and I personally reject,” Moreno told journalists on Monday. “But I respect the situation he is in, which calls for respect of his human rights, but we also ask that he respects the situation he is in.”

Moreno’s tone is a sharp break from that of his predecessor Rafael Correa, who had said Assange was a “journalist and granted him asylum in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. And Moreno’s right-wing opponent in the election had promised to kick Assange out of the embassy if he won.

Since taking power, Moreno has also warned Assange “not to intervene in the politics” of Ecuador or its allies.

Assange, who denies the allegations, feared Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.

Even though Sweden dropped the charges earlier this month, authorities in London have warned Assange that he would be arrested if he left the embassy that his been his home for five years.

 

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Paris Mayor Says ‘Solution’ Found for Black Feminist Event

The mayor of Paris said Monday that a “clear solution” has been found with organizers of a festival for black feminists, an event that had aroused her ire because four-fifths of the festival space was to be open exclusively to black women.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo had strongly criticized and threatened to cancel the upcoming Nyansapo Festival a day earlier because it was “forbidden to white people.”

 

In a new series of tweets on the topic, Hidalgo said her “firm” discussion with organizers had yielded a satisfactory clarification: the parts of the festival held on property would be open to everyone and “non-mixed workshops will be held elsewhere, in a strictly private setting.”

Three-day event

 

MWASI, the Afro-feminist collective sponsoring the three-day event, responded to the mayor’s latest comments by saying it hadn’t changed the festival program “an inch.”

 

“That’s what was planned from the beginning,” the collective said of how the public and private spaces would be assigned.

Anti-racism associations and far-right politicians in France both had criticized the event over the weekend for scheduling workshops limited to a single gender and race.

 

France defines itself as a country united under one common national identity, with laws against racial discrimination and to promote secularism to safeguard an ideal that began with the French Revolution.

Paris mayor steps in

On Sunday, Hidalgo had said she would call on authorities to prohibit the cultural festival and might call for the prosecution of its organizers on grounds of discrimination.

“I firmly condemn the organization of this event in Paris (that’s) ’forbidden to white people,’” Hidalgo had written.  

 

Telephone calls to MWASI were not immediately returned Monday.

 

The group describes itself on its website as “an Afro-feminist collective that is part of the revolutionary liberation struggles” and is open to black and mixed-race women.

The program for the first annual Nyansapo Festival, which is set to run July 28-30 partly at a Paris cultural center, stated that 80 percent of the event space only would be accessible to black women.

Rights group condemns festival

Other sessions were designed to be open to black men and women from minority groups that experience racial discrimination, and one space was scheduled to be open to everyone regardless of race or gender.

 

Organizers said on the event’s website that “for this first edition we have chosen to put the accent on how our resistance as an Afro-feminist movement is organized.”

Prominent French rights organization SOS Racism was among civil rights groups condemning the festival, calling it “a mistake, even an abomination, because it wallows in ethnic separation, whereas anti-racism is a movement which seeks to go beyond race.”

 

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), meanwhile, called the festival a “regression” and said American civil rights icon “Rosa Parks must be turning in her grave.”

 

 

‘Burkini party’

 

Identity politics remain a recurrent hot potato in a nation where collecting data based on religious and ethnic backgrounds is banned and the wearing of religious symbols — such as face-covering veils — in public is prohibited.

This approach, known to the French as “anti-communitarianism,” aims to celebrate all French citizens regardless of their community affiliations.

Last week, several women attempting to stage a “burkini party” were detained in Cannes after a ban against the full-body beachwear favored by some Muslim women was upheld in a fresh decree.

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Manchester Bomber’s Mosque Comes Under Scrutiny

The mosque where the Manchester bomber prayed is coming under the spotlight after it emerged at least two other British recruits of the Islamic State also worshipped there.

One of the recruits, Khalil Raoufi, died fighting in Syria in 2014. The other, Ahmed Ibrahim Halane, is living in Denmark, where he holds citizenship and is banned from re-entering Britain.

Halane’s sisters, Zahra and Salma Halane, who traveled to Syria to become “jihadi brides,” are believed also to have worshipped at the mosque, say local Muslims.

Last week, trustees of the Didsbury Mosque and Islamic Center issued a statement condemning as an act of cowardice the Manchester Arena bombing by 22-year old British-Libyan Salman Abedi. The bombing left 22 people dead and 100 injured.

The trustees detailed clashes Abedi had with imam Mohammed Saeed over sermons he delivered denouncing IS in 2015. Saeed said Abedi looked at him “with hate” after he gave a sermon criticizing IS and militant Libyan group Ansar al-Sharia. Saeed said most of the mosque’s members supported the condemnation of IS, although a few signed a petition criticizing him.

Saeed said he reported his worries about Abedi’s friends to the police. Manchester police say the mosque is not under investigation.

Inconsistent statements

Mosque elders have been inconsistent in their remarks about Salman Abedi and his attendance at the mosque. Saeed acknowledged the suicide bomber was a regular worshipper until the 2015 argument over IS. But mosque chairman, Muhamad el-Khayat, said last week while other family members were regulars, Salman Abedi “himself we did not know, maybe we have seen him once.”

The bomber’s father Ramadan was a member of the anti-Gadhafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that had ties to Osama bin Laden but whose

leaders insist they never affiliated to al Qaida . Ramadan called worshippers to prayer at the Manchester mosque before he moved back to Libya after the ouster of Muammar Gadhafi. He is being held by a vigilante militia in Tripoli along with one of his sons, who the militia says has confessed to IS membership and was involved in a plan to assassinate U.N. envoy to Libya Martin Kobler.

Mosque elders have also appeared defensive. They have refused to allow the media into the mosque and tried to block a Muslim reporter from the BBC from entering to pray.

During Friday prayers, el-Khayat told worshippers the media interest in the mosque, which has been receiving threats and hate mail and is being guarded by police, had been overwhelming. He said the elders fear being misinterpreted.

“We strongly continue to condemn the horrendous crime that was committed,” he said. He praised Britain as a hospitable country for Muslims.

But his remarks aren’t silencing mounting criticism from Muslim activists opposed to militant Islamic ideologies. They say the mosque must bear some responsibility for Abedi’s radicalization because of the conservative Salafi brand of Islam it espouses.

Providing platform for hate

Maajid Nawaz, who helped found the London-based counter-extremist group, Quilliam, has accused the Didsbury mosque of hosting preachers who expressed anti-Semitic and anti-liberal views.

Speaking on London radio station LBC, Nawaz, a British-Pakistani, refused to praise the mosque for its condemnation of IS, saying “the biggest danger to our community at the moment is extremist preachers like this, using mosques that tolerate extremist preachers like this, that breed jihadist terrorists.”

“Until we can separate these extremists from our community and isolate them, don’t blame the rest of society for wondering whether every Muslim is an extremist, when our mosques are hosting the extremists themselves,” he added.

There has been fierce debate in Britain in recent years about the role mosques play, unwittingly or not, in the process of radicalization. In 2015, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, claimed most radicalization is happening online and not at mosques.

But two British government reports have warned extremists take advantage of mosques and other institutions, including universities, to spread a “poisonous narrative.”

In a recent study of British IS recruits for the Henry Jackson Society, British research institute analyst Emma Webb warned some mosques have “functioned as spaces in which extremists could socialize with each other and form relationships” and where extremists can begin the process of recruitment.

She told VOA some family members of British IS recruits complain that by providing a platform, even for non-violent Salafi ideology, some mosques are playing a role in the radicalization process.

“It isn’t so much that they recruited them,” she argued, “but that they gave them an ideology that allowed them to think it was okay to kill Shi’ites and okay to hate certain people, so it made it easier for them to be recruited subsequently.”

 

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Trump Sends Mixed Messages During First Foreign Trip

Donald Trump is back in Washington after wrapping up his first international trip as president. The nine day trip was free of any major controversies abroad, but did produce several eyebrow-raising moments. VOA’s Bill Gallo reports.

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New French President Promises Tough Talk at First Putin Meeting

New French President Emmanuel Macron is promising tough talk at his first meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday, following an election campaign when his team accused Russian media of trying to interfere in the democratic process.

Macron, who took office two weeks ago, has said that dialogue with Russia is vital in tackling a number of international disputes. Nevertheless, relations have been beset by mistrust, with Paris and Moscow backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war and at odds over the Ukraine conflict.

Fresh from talks with his Western counterparts at a NATO meeting in Brussels and a G-7 summit in Sicily, Macron will host the Russian president at the palace of Versailles outside Paris.

Amid the baroque splendor, Macron will use an exhibition on Russian Tsar Peter the Great at the former royal palace to try to get Franco-Russian relations off to a new start.

“It’s indispensable to talk to Russia because there are a number of international subjects that will not be resolved without a tough dialogue with them,” Macron said.

“I will be demanding in my exchanges with Russia,” the 39-year-old president told reporters at the end of the G-7 summit on Saturday, where the Western leaders agreed to consider new measures against Moscow if the situation in Ukraine did not improve.

Strained relations under Hollande

Relations between Paris and Moscow were increasingly strained under former president Francois Hollande. Putin, 64, cancelled his last planned visit in October after Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria.

Then during the French election campaign the Macron camp alleged Russian hacking and disinformation efforts, at one point refusing accreditation to the Russian state-funded Sputnik and RT news outlets which it said were spreading Russian propaganda and fake news.

Two days before the May 7 election runoff, Macron’s team said thousands of hacked campaign emails had been put online in a leak that one New York-based analyst said could have come from a group tied to Russian military intelligence.

Moscow and RT itself rejected allegations of meddling in the election.

Putin also offered Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen a publicity coup when he granted her an audience a month before the election’s first round.

Macron decisively beat Le Pen, an open Putin admirer, and afterwards the Russian president said in a congratulatory message that he wanted to put mistrust aside and work with him.

Hollande’s former diplomatic adviser, Jacques Audibert, noted how Putin had been excluded from what used to be the Group of Eight nations as relations with the West soured. Meeting in a palace so soon after the G-7 summit was a clever move by Macron.

“Putin likes these big symbolic things. I think it’s an excellent political opportunity, the choice of place is perfect,” he told CNews TV. “It adds a bit of grandeur to welcome Putin to Versailles.”

The Versailles exhibition commemorates a visit to France 300 years ago by Peter the Great, known for his European tastes.

Frank conversation

A Russian official told reporters in Moscow on Friday that the meeting was an opportunity “to get a better feel for each other” and that the Kremlin expected “a frank conversation” on Syria.

While Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad, France supports rebel groups trying to overthrow him. France has also taken a tough line on European Union sanctions on Russia, first imposed when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and cancelled a $1.3 billion warship supply contract in 2015.

During the campaign, Macron backed expanded sanctions if there were no progress with Moscow implementing a peace accord for eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

Since being elected, Macron appears to have toned down the rhetoric, although he noted the two leaders still had “diverging positions” in their first phone call.

Macron has said his priority in Syria was crushing the Islamic State group, which will resonate with Putin.

One French diplomat said Macron was insisting on talking more after several years when everyone took France’s hard line for granted, making compromise difficult.

“Macron gave himself enough wiggle room, which opens up a new diplomatic and political window,” said the diplomat.

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Norway Demands Return of Funds From Palestinian Authority

Norway is demanding that the Palestinian Authority reimburse it for funds donated to a women’s center on the West Bank because the center was named after a female militant who participated in an attack in Israel that killed 37 civilians.

 

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry says the country “will not allow itself to be associated with institutions that take the names of terrorists.”

 

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials applauded Norway’s move and urged “the international community to check closely where the money that it invests in the Palestinian Authority goes.”

 

The women’s center was named for Dalal Mughrabi, a member of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). She participated in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in Israel and died during the attack.

 

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Pope says Egyptian Copts Killed by IS Were ‘Martyrs’

For the second day in a row, Pope Francis has expressed his solidarity with Egypt’s Coptic Christians following an attack on a bus carrying Coptic pilgrims to a remote desert monastery.

 

Francis led thousands of people in prayer Sunday for the victims, who Francis said were killed in “another act of ferocious violence” after having refused to renounce their Christian faith.

 

Speaking from his studio window over St. Peter’s Square, Francis said: “May the Lord welcome these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, in his peace and convert the hearts of the violent ones.”

 

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, which killed 29 people.

 

On Saturday during a visit to Genoa, Francis prayed for the victims and lamented that there were more martyrs today than in early Christian times.

 

 

 

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Congo Militiamen Free One French, 3 Congolese Mine Workers

Militiamen have a freed French national and three Congolese who were kidnapped in March during an attack on Banro Corp’s Namoya gold mine in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

“The president of the republic welcomes the news of the liberation of our compatriot kidnapped on March 1 in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo,” said a statement from the office of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The militiamen had kidnapped five workers, including the French national, a Tanzanian and three Congolese.

The Tanzanian had already been freed. The remaining four hostages were all freed on Saturday, the Congolese Interior Ministry said in a statement.

New York and Toronto-listed Banro’s four gold mines in eastern Congo have faced hazards both from illegal miners squatting on site and by armed groups that are a legacy of a regional conflict which officially ended in 2003.

Armed robbers attacked Banro’s Twangiza gold mine in neighboring South Kivu province in February, killing three police officers.

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Europe Left Uneasy by Trump’s Message

White House press spokesman Sean Spicer declared Saturday night Donald Trump’s first overseas trip as U.S. president had been a success in a tweet posted as the American leader was flying back to Washington “after very productive 9 days.”

Just hours earlier President Trump told American troops stationed in Sicily he had strengthened bonds with allies.

That isn’t how Europe leaders and most of the continent’s media see it.

European reaction — especially in the key capitals of Berlin and Paris — to the Trump visit is very different from the White House’s characterization; and “success” isn’t a word being used.

European officials say the transatlantic allies are no more united now than they were before Trump came and that they now are convinced Europe will have to go it alone more — something they expected would be the case after Trump was elected.

For them, Washington is no longer the dependable ally. And that broadly has been the view of Europe’s press. Headlines all week have been providing a counterpoint to the White House version of meetings. Belgium’s Le Soir headlined one front-page story: “Trump shoves his allies.”

And Germany’s financial newspaper Handelsblatt dubbed him “Boor-in-Chief.”

Disappointment

The Europeans had hoped Trump’s visit might mark a reset in transatlantic relations roiled by his election — that the U.S. president would be persuaded to see the world through their eyes more. But from Brussels to Sicily, there were uneasy smiles, awkwardness and no disguising rifts on a range of issues — from trade and immigration to sanctions on Russia and climate change.

European leaders and officials complained to the media that Trump and his advisers were ignorant of basic facts, notably on transatlantic trade. “Every time we talked about a country, he remembered the things he had done,” one official told Belgium’s Le Soir. “Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two-and-a-half years to get a license and that did not give him a very good image of the EU.”

German officials told Süddeutsche Zeitung that Trump and his aides were under the impression America had separate trade deals with each individual EU country.

‘America First’ message

France’s Le Monde newspaper said: “During this visit, President Trump maintained his line ‘America First,’ refusing to take a step to improve U.S.-European relations.” It faulted him for failing to make a clear statement reaffirming Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, guaranteeing mutual assistance in the event of armed attack, and for lecturing European leaders on financial burden-sharing.

The German magazine Der Spiegel pounced on the closing photo-op of a midweek meeting between Trump and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron in which the two men appeared locked in a hand-wrestling match as a visual metaphor of the U.S. president’s European trip.

WATCH:  Trump Meets French President Macron

“The Frenchman grabbed Trump’s hand and squeezed hard,” the magazine noted. “Trump squeezed back. For a moment, they looked like opponents locked in a wrestling match. Trump wanted to let go, but Macron squeezed even harder until his knuckles turned white,” was the Der Spiegel’s description of an iconic almost sumo-like standoff between the two leaders.

Body language

Other European media outlets focused their attention on the shove President Trump gave Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, in order to position himself to the front for a group photo-opportunity of NATO leaders.

Aside from body-language, European media attention Saturday focused on the brevity of the communiqué concluding the two-day G-7 summit in Sicily Saturday — half-a-dozen pages long, compared to 32 pages last year — which many editorial writers saw as advertising the absence of consensus between the U.S. and the other G-7 members.

Trump’s refusal to reaffirm the 2015 Paris pact on climate change aimed at reining in greenhouse gas emissions was the headline dispute of the G-7 summit in the cliff-top town of Taormina on Sicily’s Ionian coast, but European commentators noted that across the board there was very little meeting of minds.

Italian newspapers noted the disappointment of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in his efforts to get U.S. backing for a new partnership between G-7 nations and Africa involving aid and investment in a bid to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

Deadlock over climate change

European newspapers have now taken to dubbing the G-7 as “G-6 plus one” — a characterization prompted partly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks on the summit deadlock over climate change.

“The whole discussion on the topic of climate was very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory,” Merkel said as the summit of the leaders of the world’s most economically advanced nations was drawing to a close. “Here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris accord or not,” she added.

The Guardian newspaper’s Jon Henley, the paper’s European affairs correspondent, argued in his assessment of Trump’s visit: “It may, mercifully, have passed off without apocalyptic mishap, but Donald Trump’s first transatlantic trip as U.S. president still left European leaders shaken.”

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Scuffles Break Out, Tear Gas Fired at End of G-7 Protest

A group of protesters sought to break through a police cordon at the end of a protest march against world leaders meeting on the island of Sicily on Saturday, scuffling with security forces, who fired tear gas to disperse them.

After hundreds of people had peacefully marched through the streets of the seaside town of Giardini Naxos, down the hill from where a Group of Seven meeting had been held, a smaller group of about 100 people peeled off from the pack and challenged riot police.

When they tried to flank them by running along the beach, police charged and fired tear gas. Protesters washed their eyes out with water and an ambulance appeared to take away at least one injured person.

Italy had massive security measures in place for the protesters who accused world leaders of ignoring the interests of ordinary people.

Though some 3,500 were expected to turn up, the actual turnout appeared to be about half of that.

Salvatore Giordano, a Sicilian high school professor, blamed the low turnout of in part on heavy security. He was stopped by police multiple times and blocked for a half-hour at the highway exit before finally being let through. Police were also stopping buses and searching them, he said.

“They are criminalizing our dissent,” Giordano said. “We’re pacifists. We’re not here to break windows, but to protest against Sicily being turned into a giant aircraft carrier for the world’s military powers.”

 “CAMPAIGN OF FEAR” U.S. President Donald Trump and the heads of Italy, France, Britain, Germany, Canada and Japan had been meeting in Taormina, which sits on a rocky hilltop just north of Giardini Naxos.

Bus loads of police lined the route of the march in what is normally a sleepy town of beach-going tourists, while a police helicopter circled above.

Giordano came to air his opposition to the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), part of an ultra-fast satellite communications network for the American military that he says poses a health risk to people living near the infrastructure.

Another group of protesters carried red flags bearing the communist hammer and sickle symbol.

Alessandro D’Alessandro, the coordinator of Sicily’s communist party, said there had been a media campaign of fear against the protesters, which kept numbers low.

“It was hard to get here,” D’Alessandro said. “But we came to tell the world’s most powerful people that we oppose their military and capitalistic worldview. We’re here to defend the interests of the weakest.”

Fears of violent protests like the ones seen during a G7 summit in the northern Italian city of Genoa in 2001 prompted the mayor of Giardini Naxos to order all local businesses to close for the day.

Sixteen years ago throngs of protesters in Genoa clashed with authorities in street battles spread out over two days, and police shot dead an anti-globalization protester during some of Italy’s worst-ever riots.

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Poll: UK Conservative Party’s Lead Narrows to 10 Points

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party’s lead over the opposition Labor Party has narrowed to 10 percentage points, according to an Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper on Saturday.

Opinium said May’s lead had slipped from 13 percentage points on May 16 and 19 percentage points at the start of the campaign.

The Conservatives were on 45 percent, down one percentage point since Opinium’s last survey, and Labor were on 35 percent. The online poll of 2,002 people was carried out between May 23 and 24.

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Computer Outage Grounds British Airways Flights From London

British Airways canceled all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

The airline said it was suffering a “major IT systems failure” around the world. It didn’t say what was causing the problem but said there was no evidence of a cyberattack.

Several hours after problems began cropping up Saturday morning, BA suspended flights up to 6 p.m. (1700GMT) because the two airports had become severely congested. The airline later scrapped flights from Heathrow and Gatwick for the rest of the day.

Passengers at Heathrow reported long lines at check-in counters, flight delays and failures of BA’s website and mobile app.

One posted a picture on Twitter of BA staff writing gate numbers on a white board.

“We’ve tried all of the self-check-in machines. None were working, apart from one,” said Terry Page, booked on a flight to Texas. “There was a huge queue for it and it later transpired that it didn’t actually work, but you didn’t discover that until you got to the front.”

Another traveler, PR executive Melissa Davis, said she was held for more than an hour and a half on the tarmac at Heathrow aboard a BA flight arriving from Belfast.

She said passengers had been told they could not transfer to other flights because “they can’t bring up our details.”

Passenger Phillip Norton tweeted video of an announcement from a pilot to passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, saying the problem affects the system that regulates what passengers and baggage go on which aircraft. He said passengers on planes that have landed at Heathrow were unable to get off because there was nowhere to park.

Heathrow said the IT problem had caused “some delays for passengers” and it was working with BA to resolve it. Some BA flights were still arriving at Heathrow Saturday afternoon, while many were listed as “delayed.”

The problem comes on a holiday weekend, when thousands of Britons are travelling.

BA passengers were hit with severe delays in July and September 2016 because of problems with the airline’s online check-in systems.

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EU: Turkey Tensions Ease on Erdogan Visit

A picture of a smiling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flanked by EU President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker adorned much of Turkey’s pro-government media this week.

“Erdogan got his picture of his handshake in Brussels, which is really only what he wanted,” said political science professor Cengiz Aktar, “because he is looking for legitimacy in his new position as strongman of Turkey.”

Erdogan’s narrow referendum victory extending his presidential powers remains mired in vote-rigging allegations. EU leaders, unlike U.S. President Donald Trump, had refrained from endorsing his success.

During the referendum campaign, Turkey’s relations with the EU plummeted, with Erdogan describing some EU members as behaving like Nazis because they refused to allow Turkish ministers to campaign among Turkish diaspora voters.

“The pictures that emerged with Juncker and Tusk suggest a reduction of tensions and a more relaxed atmosphere,” said Semih Idiz, political columnist of the Al Monitor website. But Idiz played down any talk of any new rapprochement in relations.

“Bottom line is nether side wants to go to some kind of nasty severance of ties or divorce. There are too many issues that require cooperation. I think they will muddle through, and I think that is the message that came out. Although both sides had theirs, in terms of issues that are important, the main thing is that they are not going to escalate tensions,” said Idiz.

“We discussed the need to cooperate,” Tusk said following the meeting in a tweet.

Turkey plays its part

Monday’s suicide bombing of a pop concert in Manchester, England, served as a reminder of Turkey’s importance in countering terrorism, with a Turkish official confirming the suspected bomber had traveled through Turkey to Britain. With Turkey bordering Syria and Iraq, Europe’s security forces depend heavily on Ankara in sharing intelligence and monitoring those traveling to Europe.

The EU is also dependent on Ankara to continue to honor last March’s agreement to stem the flood of refugees and migrants into Europe. “This is perhaps one of the few and certainly important pieces of leverage Ankara has over Brussels,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institute in Brussels. “We have been hearing from Ankara over the past few months that if the EU does not fulfill its end of the bargain and does not deliver on visa freedom, even under current circumstances Turkey will not continue with the refugee deal.”

Before leaving for Brussels, Erdogan pointedly reminded the EU of its commitments. “We don’t aim to break away from the EU, but the EU shall take its responsibilities, too. The EU cannot see Turkey [as] a beggar. It does not have such a right,” he said.

 

 

Turkey crackdown to continue

Brussels insists any visa free travel is dependent on Ankara’s narrowing of its legal definition of terrorism to harmonize it with EU law. Tens of thousands of people in Turkey have been prosecuted for terrorism offenses in a crackdown since last July’s failed coup.

But Erdogan has ruled out any letup in the crackdown, or lifting of emergency rule introduced after the coup. On Friday, Ankara’s governor, under emergency powers, issued a decree imposing a night curfew on any acts of protests, including chanting or playing music, or issuing of press statements.

Tensions with Washington could also be a factor in Ankara’s wanting to avoid a collapse in EU ties. Trump’s decision to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered by Ankara as terrorists, in their fight against Islamic State has strained bilateral ties. Those strains weren’t alleviated by Erdogan’s visit this month to Washington.

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Ariana Grande to Return to Manchester for Benefit Show

U.S. pop singer Ariana Grande says she will return to Manchester, England, to play a benefit show to raise money for the 22 victims and families of this week’s terrorist attack.

Grande had just finished her show Monday night when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowded lobby of the Manchester Arena. She was unharmed, although deeply shaken by the attack, and canceled her concert dates for the next two weeks.

No date has yet been set for the benefit concert, which Grande announced in a letter posted on Twitter Friday:

“Our response [to the bombing] must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder, and to live more kindly and generously than we did before. I’ll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend some time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honor of and to raise money for the victims and their families.”

She said she would share details of the concert as soon as they are confirmed.

Grande is expected to resume the European portion of her world tour next month, with shows in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Manchester native Salman Abedi, 22, killed himself in the Manchester attack, detonating a bomb filled with nuts and bolts that he carried in a backpack. In addition to the 22 dead, at least 116 children and adults were wounded.

Many of the victims were young girls, who make up a large part of Grande’s fan base. Others were parents who had gone to arena to meet their children after the concert. The youngest victim was 8 years old.

British authorities detained eight people in connection with the attack, and Abedi’s father and a brother, who live in Tripoli, Libya, were taken into custody there. Details on how they may be tied to the bombing have not been released.

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British-Libyans Express Anger, Fear Following Manchester Bombing

How to stop people who are determined to kill and maim is again the focus of debate in Britain following the Manchester bombing, the worst terrorist attack in the country in more than a decade.

While visiting hospitalized children injured in the attack, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth determinedly stressed Thursday how “everyone is united” in the aftermath of the attack, dubbing the bombing “dreadful, very wicked.”

Not everyone, though, is emphasizing the importance of unity.

Allison Pearson, a columnist with Britain’s biggest-selling broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph, has maintained that the only way to prevent more jihadist killings is by rounding up and interning thousands of terror suspects “now to protect our children.”

In a tweet in the aftermath of the bombing, controversial Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins urged “Western men” to act.

“These are your wives. Your daughters. Your sons,” she wrote. “Stand up. Rise up. Demand action. Do not carry on as normal. Cowed.”

Hopkins, who has 730,000 followers on Twitter, also tweeted the call for a “final solution” to address Islamic terrorism. The tweet prompted London radio station LBC to fire her Friday as a talk-show host. “Final solution” was a phrase used by the Nazis to refer to their campaign to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

Muslims fear a rise in Islamophobia, stoked, they say, by tabloid press commentators like Hopkins.

Fear — and anger

For Britain’s Muslims — especially British-Libyans — the bombing has again raised the specter of being treated differently, of having to look over their shoulders and of being fearful about their future in a country where they were born or that gave them or their families refuge from oppression and intolerance elsewhere. They fear being treated as menacing strangers or potential terrorists in the place they call home.

On Thursday, a crowd paying tribute to the 22 people who were killed in the May 22 bombing at the Ariana Grande concert spontaneously pushed back on talk of retribution and retaliation, picking up the song “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” by the Mancunian rock band Oasis.

But there is anger, and it is being expressed on social media sites and radio talk shows, and in bars and streets, as Britain reels at the slaughter of innocents, prompting some counterterror analysts and civil libertarians to fear that another major bombing could provoke the kind of backlash Islamic State terror strategists hope to engineer.

On Facebook and other social media sites, British-Libyans have been expressing their horror at the attack and denouncing 22-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber. “Bloody fool! Why would you kill innocents? Can’t believe he was Libyan — it’s bad enough he was a Muslim!” commented a British-Libyan psychologist from the town of Loughborough in the English Midlands.

British-Libyans have also been sharing their fears about what the consequences of the bombing could be for them — especially those living in Manchester, Britain’s largest Libyan community and one of the most closely knit in the country.

“I have mixed Libyan/English heritage and have lived in Manchester my whole life,” posted Fatima Derbi. “I am completely sickened by this!! Unfortunately this may have a negative impact on the 25,000 Libyans living in this city.”

Threats and slurs

Mohamed Shaban, who was born in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but brought up in London and is now a legal adviser, worries that Abedi will be seen by many Britons as somehow representative of British-Libyans.

“Libyans in the U.K. come in different shades,” Shaban said. “There are those who have excelled in their fields, in medicine, science, law and commerce. Others invest their time and money in charity work, while others have made it as professional footballers at elite English clubs. Unfortunately, one or two have lost their way, and the tragedy is that this abysmal excuse of a human being who mass murdered children at a concert is going to be misdescribed as a representative of all Libyans in the U.K. Sad on so many levels.”

Some Muslims say they are already on the receiving end of threats and slurs. “People will retaliate obviously,” a Manchester Muslim told British broadcaster Channel Four News, adding, “There is a risk. It’s all about ignorance, all about awareness; we need to make sure people are aware of what Islam is really about, because that’s not what our Islam teaches us.”

Some British-Libyans say the onus is on them to be more outspoken in condemnation and much more proactive to argue against those in their own community who are determined to fan the flames of hatred.

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Turkish Forces Kill Nearly 30 Kurdish Militants

Turkish security forces killed 29 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in an operation in a mountainous area of eastern Turkey’s Agri and Van provinces, the Agri governor’s office said Friday.

Turkey’s army said Thursday three Turkish soldiers and a member of the state-sponsored village guard militia had been killed in the operation, launched in the Tendurek mountain area along the border of the two provinces, near the Iranian border.

A ceasefire between the Turkish state and the militants broke down in July 2015 and the southeast subsequently saw some of the worst violence since the PKK insurgency began in 1984.

More than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed in the conflict. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

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Trump Rebukes NATO Leaders to Their Faces

On his first NATO summit as U.S. president, Donald Trump lectured NATO leaders for spending what he sees as insufficient money on defense, and said the group should be more focused on terrorism. The president’s remarks came Thursday at a meeting of European leaders in Brussels, as VOA’s Steve Herman reports.

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Defying Pessimists, NATO Summit Ends on Positive Note

NATO has moved into brand new, shiny headquarters – projecting a modern, forward looking image that counters the characterization that President Trump and other critics of the alliance have previously made of the organization.  Amid the anxiety felt by some European leaders about the future, some see Thursday’s summit – where discussions were driven largely by the latest spate of terrorist attacks in Europe – as a possibility for a new direction for the alliance. VOA’s Luis Ramirez reports.

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OPEC, Non-OPEC Nations Poised to Extend Output Cuts

OPEC and other oil nations meeting Thursday appeared set to extend their production cuts in an effort to shore up prices. But the intended impact could be short-lived.

That’s due to U.S. shale producers. With crude prices above $50 a barrel from lows of last year, they are increasingly moving back into the market. Their output already is partially offsetting the cuts, and even more U.S. companies are poised to return if prices rise further.

 

The upshot is that the price of oil — and derived products like fuel — is unlikely to increase much in coming months, analysts say. That will be welcome news to consumers and energy-hungry businesses worldwide but could continue to strain the budgets of some of the more economically-troubled oil-producing nations, like Venezuela and Brazil.

 

The latest reductions have been in effect since November, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day. Non-OPEC countries led by Russia chipped in with a further 600,000-barrel reduction.

 

Ahead of the meeting, the organization announced that Equatorial Guinea had joined, expanding OPEC membership to 14.

 

With the deal due to expire at the end of June, OPEC oil ministers appeared ready to prolong it up to nine months even before they sat down to make a formal decision.

 

Saudi Oil Minister Khalid A. al-Falih spoke of a “9-month straight” extension going into Thursday’s meeting. Iran’s Bijan Namdar Zanganeh floated possible extensions of three months, six months or even a year and said his country had “no difficulty” with any of the options, while Jabbar Ali Hussein al-Luiebi, his Iraqi counterpart, mentioned “the scenario of a nine-month freeze.”

 

Al-Falih said that the cuts had achieved a key aim. “Inventories are drawing down,” he told reporters.

 

But even with the reductions, oil prices have risen less than OPEC hoped for from last year’s levels. At over $50 a barrel, benchmark crude sits substantially below the highs reached in 2014, but is priced high enough to bring back into the market U.S. producers who eased back as prices tumbled last year. U.S. shale production requires a higher price to be profitable.

 

U.S. output since last year has increased by nearly a million barrels a day to a daily 9 million barrels. That already puts American producers in the league with oil giants Saudi Arabia and Russia and cuts further into OPEC’s past ability to play a role in setting prices and supplies.

More than 400 oil rigs are now working U.S. shale fields — an increase of more than 120 percent compared with a year ago. And U.S. producers are poised to expand more, even if prices tick upward only moderately as a result of an oil-cut extension by OPEC and its partners.

 

Commerzbank cited data from the U.S. Department of Energy saying U.S. production was roughly 540,000 barrels per day higher in mid-May than at the start of the year.

 

“This offsets nearly half of OPEC’s production cuts,” it noted.

 

Even a decision to maintain oil cuts thus is likely to only kick the can down the road from Thursday’s meeting until OPEC ministers convene again late this year. Crude prices are unlikely to rise substantially — and that means the era of windfall profits appears to be over for member nations, at least for now.

 

While analysts at research firm IHS Markit expect OPEC revenues to rise modestly this year after dropping from their peak of $1.2 trillion in 2012, “the total will be less than half the level of 2012, when prices were more than double current levels.”

 

 

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Concerns Grow About Libya Connection to Manchester Bombing

British counter-terror officers have been conducting raids and making arrests in the wake of the concert bombing earlier this week that killed 22 people, including children. The raids are reassuring on the one hand, showing the police are moving fast. But they are adding also to a sense of alarm among Manchester residents.

That alarm is slowly morphing into anger as it has emerged British security services missed several opportunities to identify the Manchester suicide bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, as a high-risk militant. Several people have stepped forward — from neighbors to mosque leaders and community workers — to complain about the lack of action by authorities after they reported their worries about him to counter-terror officials.

One community worker says he contacted authorities after Abedi said “being a suicide bomber was OK.”

Another community leader, Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “People in the community expressed concerns about the way this man was behaving and reported it in the right way using the right channels. They did not hear anything since.”

Neither Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 nor the Manchester police have responded to the claims, but they are likely to be taken up by lawmakers demanding to know why Abedi was seen just as a peripheral figure rather than a threat requiring surveillance and investigation.

British authorities are focusing also on the international connections of the Manchester suicide bomber, who was born in Britain to Libyan parents after they fled to Britain in 1980 to escape the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya trip

Abedi travelled back to Manchester last week from Libya after visiting his mother, father, younger brother and a sister, who moved full-time to Libya after Gadhafi’s overthrow. His father, Ramadan, was at one time a member of the anti-Gadhafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or LIFG, a militant Islamist band that was invited to join al Qaida by Osama bin Laden when its leaders were based in Afghanistan. Western media have taken to describing LIFG as an “al Qaida subsidiary” — a description rejected by former senior leaders, who say they declined bin Laden’s invitation. LIFG subsequently split with some members joining al Qaida.

The whereabouts of Ramadan are currently unknown. On Wednesday night masked gunmen detained him while he was responding to media phone calls. Salman’s younger brother, 20-year-old Hashem was also detained Wednesday night, by an Islamist militia in Tripoli known as the Rada Special Deterrence Force.

A spokesman for the 700-strong militia, a self-appointed vigilante force that has a fearsome reputation for harshness, said Rada had been monitoring Hashem for more than a month on suspicion he had ties with the Islamic State terror group, which has a powerful affiliate in Libya.

In a statement Wednesday, the militia said Hashem had confessed to IS membership, saying his brother, Salman, was a member, too. The militia claimed Hashem admitted he knew in advance about the plans for the Manchester bombing.

But a spokesman for Libyan authorities in Tripoli had a different version, telling British news media Hashem “felt there was something going on there in Manchester and he thought his brother would do something like bombing or attack. So after that, he told us, ‘Having internet, I see the attack in Manchester and I knew that’s my brother.’”

Link to Manchester

A strong Libyan connection to the Manchester bombing is a troubling prospect — not only for the British security services but for their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. If the Manchester bombing was directed by Islamic State’s Libyan affiliate, it would be the first time the group had managed to pull off a terrorist act in Europe using the North African state.

And it raises the possibility of more jihadists with Libyan connections and British passports bringing their fight to Britain and Europe, complicating the challenge European intelligence services already face with hundreds of European-born jihadist returnees from Syria.

But an Italian security official who’s been working on Libyan issues told VOA the government in Rome remains wary of some post-bombing claims being made by the warring parties in Libya, seeing them as agenda-pushing. Midweek the prime minister of one of the rival governments in the country, Abdullah Thinni, who heads a government based in Beida, eastern Libya, said he’d warned the British government it was harboring Libyan terrorists and sought to link the bombing to the Muslim Brotherhood.

No connection so far has been found to the Muslim Brotherhood, say British intelligence officials.

The Libyan connection to the bombing will likely have a major impact on European Union policy-making when it comes to the migrant flow into Europe from Libya. The interior ministers of German and Italy have been urging the EU to set up a mission along Libya’s border with Niger in a bid to stop mainly African migrants from reaching Europe. Italian as well as other European authorities have long worried about jihadists infiltrating southern Europe as migrants, seeding themselves among thousands of sub-Saharan Africans making the Mediterranean crossing from Libya.But there is resistance from some EU member countries to the Italian-German recommendation.

 

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Obama Gets Rock Star Welcome in Berlin, Praises Merkel

Barack Obama received a rock-star welcome in Berlin as he appeared at a public debate Thursday with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he praised as one of his “favorite partners” during his presidency.

Security was tight in front of the German capital’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, where Obama and Merkel appeared on a podium before thousands of people attending a gathering marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Police helicopters patrolled the skies and snipers with balaclavas watched the scene from nearby rooftops.

 

After lauding Merkel as someone who had done “outstanding work,” Obama launched a defense of his own presidency and the values of liberal democracy championed by both leaders.

Citing the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in parts of the world, Obama told the crowd that “we have to push back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms.”

 

In a veiled reference to his successor Donald Trump, Obama also spoke of the need to see development aid and diplomacy as essential aspects of national security policy.

 

“We can’t isolate ourselves. We can’t hide behind a wall,” he said, to cheers from the audience.

 

Merkel, who hosted Obama at the same spot four years ago, was due to travel to Brussels later Thursday for a meeting with leaders of fellow NATO member states, including President Trump.

 

Thursday’s appearance with Obama was criticized by some German opposition politicians as a publicity stunt ahead of September’s general election, in which Merkel aims to win a fourth term.

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Brother, Father of Alleged Manchester Bomber Arrested in Libya

A brother and father of the alleged Manchester suicide bomber have been arrested in Libya, according to a spokesman for the country’s anti-terror force.

Security spokesman Ahmed bin Salem said alleged bomber Salman Abedi’s younger brother, Hashim, was arrested in Tripoli Tuesday.

Bin Salem told the Reuters news agency the two brothers had been in contact recently, and Hashim knew of the attack plans.

“We have evidence that he is involved in Daesh (Islamic State) with his brother. We have been following him for more than one month and a half,” he said.

The alleged bomber, Abedi, was born in England to Libyan parents. His father, who lives in Tripoli, has also been detained.

British police said Wednesday it was “clear” the suicide bomber who attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester did not act alone.

“It’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said during a news conference.

5 arrested

British police have arrested five people in connection with the attack, so far, as they continue to conduct armed raids throughout Manchester.

Greater Manchester Police said the fifth suspect was detained Wednesday evening in Wigan, a town to the west of Manchester.

Officers also arrested three men earlier Wednesday after executing warrants in South Manchester. There was no information about how the five men might be involved in the attack.

British interior minister Amber Rudd said Wednesday the alleged suicide bomber, Abedi, was “known” by British intelligence services before the bombing.

The blast at the conclusion of the concert at Manchester Arena killed 22 people and wounded 59 others. The attacker also died at the site.

Tracking Abedi’s last days

Investigators are now trying to figure out what Abedi was up to in his last days before the attack Monday.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told BFM television on Wednesday that British and French intelligence have information that Abedi had likely traveled to Syria.

According to Collomb, Abedi “grew up in Britain and then suddenly, after a trip to Libya and then likely to Syria, became radicalized and decided to carry out this attack.”

“In any case, the links with Daesh (Islamic State) are proven,” he said.

Islamic State is claiming it was behind the attack, but neither British nor U.S. intelligence have confirmed that.

Terror level raised

Britain raised its terrorism alert level to critical – the highest step – after the blast, signaling that another attack was highly likely and could be imminent.

The change is most visible in the deployment of soldiers to help guard certain areas, including major events such as concerts and football matches, in order to free up police officers.

Hopkins said an off-duty police officer was among those killed in the suicide attack, but it will take up to five days for authorities to identify all the victims.

“Due to number of victims the Home Office post-mortems are likely to take four to five days. After this we will be in a position to formerly name the victims,” he said. “We have spoken to all of the families of those who lay injured in our hospitals.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in an address to the nation late Tuesday that authorities will do everything possible to protect the public and asked people to remain vigilant.

Many of the victims of the blast were young girls, with the youngest identified so far being just 8-year-old.

Video from the arena showed the joy in the audience at the end of the concert turning to confusion and then to panic and a scramble to get out of the building as the realization of what just happened spread.

Witness say they saw blood covered bodies on the floor while others, badly wounded, staggered toward the exits of the building.

The scene outside the concert hall was also chaotic, with traffic snarled and parents rushing to the scene.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth held a moment of silence at a garden party at Buckingham Palace. French President Emmanuel Macron signed a condolence book at the British embassy in Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack only strengthens Germany’s resolve to work with the British.

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