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Watchdog: Sarin Nerve Gas Used in Deadly Syrian Attack

An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed Friday that sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly April 4 attack on a Syrian town, the latest confirmation of chemical weapons use in Syria’s civil war.


The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province left more than 90 people dead, including women and children, and sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.


“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”

The investigation did not apportion blame. Its findings will be used by a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team to assess who was responsible.


The U.S. State Department said in a statement issued Thursday night after the report was circulated to OPCW member states that “The facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”


President Donald Trump cited images of the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun attack when he launched a punitive strike days later, firing cruise missiles on a Syrian government-controlled air base from where U.S. officials said the Syrian military had launched the chemical attack.


It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.


Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons. His staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said earlier this month that he believed the attack was “a provocation” staged “by people who wanted to blame him (Assad) for that.”


Both the U.S. and the OPCW were at pains to defend the probe’s methodology. Investigators did not visit the scene of the attack, deeming it too dangerous, but analyzed samples from victims and survivors as well as interviewing witnesses.


The Syrian government joined the OPCW in 2013 after it was blamed for a deadly poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb. As it joined, Assad’s government declared about 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals, which were subsequently destroyed in an unprecedented international operation.


However, the organization has unanswered questions about the completeness of Syria’s initial declaration, meaning that it has never conclusively been able to confirm that the country has no more chemical weapons.

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German Parliament Legalizes Same-sex Marriage

German lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage in their last session before the September election.

Lawmakers voted 393 for legalizing “marriage for everybody,” and 226 against with four abstentions. 


The measure brought to a vote in Friday’s session was fast-tracked after Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” freeing members of her conservative coalition, which has been against same-sex marriage, to individually vote for the measure.

Merkel said she voted against same-sex marriage because she believes the country’s law sees it as between a man and a woman, but that the opposite view must be respected. 

She said “for me marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman” but she continues to see the interpretation as a “decision of conscience.” 


The measure, which is expected to see legal challenges, also opens the door for gay couples to adopt, which Merkel says she supports.


Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but same-sex marriages remained illegal.


All of Merkel’s potential coalition partners after the Sept. 4 election, including the center-left Social Democrats of her challenger, Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalized. 

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EU Pledges Support, Italy Threatens to Close Ports in Surge of Migrants

The European Union has pledged to support Italy as it continues to admit thousands of migrants who are crossing the Mediterranean every day from North Africa. 

So far this year nearly 80,000 people have made the journey, and more than 2,000 have died

Poor health

Most of the tens of thousands of people plucked from the Mediterranean this week have been taken to ports on the Italian coast. They are severely dehydrated, usually malnourished and suffering from infections and skin diseases. But there are other troubling signs.

Marcella Kraay of Doctors Without Borders spoke to VOA via Skype from the group’s rescue ship, Aquarius, as it disembarked more than a thousand migrants at the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro.

“We also see the results of people actually being physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, tortured,” Kraay said.

Help from EU

Italy’s representative to the European Union has warned the situation is “unsustainable,” and threatened to stop vessels of other countries from bringing migrants to its ports. 

Kraay sympathizes with Italy’s position.

“We have not in any way formally been informed of this by the Italian government. But my first impression of this is that the main thing here is that it is actually a cry for help coming from the Italian government. And it would be actually good for other EU member states to take a bit more responsibility.”

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos offered Italy his support.

“Italy is under huge pressure and we are not going to leave this country alone.”

Italy legally bound

But Italy is obliged to take in the migrants, says refugee law expert Professor Geoff Gilbert of the University of Essex, also via Skype.

“The law of the sea, international refugee law, and international human rights law are all coming into play together. While I have a lot of sympathy for the Italian situation, I do not believe Italy can send back boats, even boats that are seaworthy, into the Mediterranean.”

Gilbert says Rome is likely trying to force the implementation of the 2015 EU agreement to share refugees across the bloc, which has so far made little progress.

This week more than 400 migrants in Italy clashed with police at the French border, demanding to be allowed through.

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Europe Sees Spike in Nigerian Women Trafficked for Prostitution

Police and aid groups say more than 60 percent of illegal prostitutes in Belgium are trafficked from Nigeria. Many are only teenagers and almost all come from Benin City, a city in the south of Nigeria.

Rosa was sexually exploited by Nigerian traffickers and had to prostitute herself on the streets of Spain, Norway, France and Belgium. But Belgian police saved her after two years.

“The police took me and asked me question if I want to talk. If I talk they are going to make a better way for me. They will give me document, I say yes because the stress is too much,” she said.

Rosa – not her real name – was struggling in Nigeria, making ends meet for herself and her daughter. She was told she could marry a man in Europe. After crossing Morocco and reaching Spain by boat, she was told to repay a $55,000 debt and forced into prostitution.

Europol said last year that Nigerian human trafficking rings are one of the biggest challenges for European police forces.

Police now see those who were trafficked as victims, whether they have documents or not.

After speaking to the Belgium police, Rosa ended up in Payoke, a shelter for victims of sexual exploitation. There are three similar shelters in Belgium. Payoke has helped at least 4,000 women and witnessed a rise in Nigerian women from the early 1990s.

Payoke founder Patsy Sorenson says the shelter only helps victims who agree to file charges against the traffickers.

“The reason also that we ask their cooperation, is that we like to fight also against the traffickers,” she explained. ” It is a win-win situation also for them. When they cooperate we are able to offer them a lot of things. So that they are able to start a new life.”

Citizenship offered

A court case usually takes about two to three years. In that time, the shelter helps the girl get her life organized and after five years the victims can apply for Belgian citizenship.

Police commissioner Franz Vandelook says another big challenge is that most Nigerian illegal prostitutes end up trafficking and exploiting other girls once they have paid of their debt, meaning they will no longer be seen as a victim.

“They know very well what they have suffered in the past, and of course at a certain moment they decide to transform themselves to a madam too, because of the money of course,” he said. “And they need money to feed the family who is still in Nigeria. So I can understand the situation, but in our society, in our European society, we can not accept the situation.”

Sorensen of Payoke says the women still face many challenges once they have decided to start a new life. Their family in Nigeria still needs money, their health is often a concern, many are still scared of the traffickers, and they often feel lonely while dealing with their traumatic experiences.

Rosa says when she started the court procedures, friends of the traffickers in Nigeria would beat her mother so badly she needed hospital treatment.

Despite the challenges, Rosa feels it was worth it.

“I can say now I am very happy because I am getting a good life now. Because before I was having a lot of stress, but now my stress is gone down. I can really say that I am very OK,” she said.

The International Organization for Migration says last year about 37,000 Nigerians arrived by boat in Europe, about one-third of them women. It is estimated more than 8,000 of them will end up in prostitution.


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European Leaders Renew Commitment to Paris Accord Ahead of G-20

European leaders stressed their commitment to the Paris climate accord Thursday, despite the American decision to pull out of the deal, ahead of a G-20 summit.

Following a meeting in Berlin hosted by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor told reporters that European G-20 participants are committed to the Paris climate deal and will discuss it at the summit next month.

“We deplore, at least I say that for Germany, that the United States of America has decided to leave this agreement,” Merkel told reporters. “But we will obviously also address issues of climate change during the summit meeting.”

French president Emmanuel Macron echoed Merkel’s statements, saying that European leaders had “reaffirmed their very strong commitment to the Paris accord”.

Macron added, however, that “it is no use isolating a state.” Merkel also spoke about the importance of the U.S. being in the group of 20 nations.

President Donald Trump announced last month that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, which seeks to limit carbon emissions and reduce the rising global temperatures.

Trump calls the pact unfair to the U.S., saying it would hurt the economy while doing next to nothing to prevent global warming. He has proposed renegotiating the Paris accord. But other world leaders say that would be impossible.

Angela Merkel will host the Group of 20 economic powers in Hamburg on July 7 and July 8, where the world leaders are expected to discuss a number of issues in addition to climate change.

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5 Found Guilty for Murder of Russian Opposition Leader Nemtsov

A Moscow court has convicted five people for the murder of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.

Nemtsov was an opponent of the Russian government, and was especially critical of Moscow’s support for Ukrainian separatists. He was shot dead late at night in 2015 as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin.

The official TASS news agency reported that the jury found Zaur Dadayev, a former officer in the Chechen security forces, guilty for shooting Nemtsov. Four others were found guilty of involvement in the murder.

The five men – all Chechens – were allegedly promised cash for carrying out the assassination. Nemtsov’s allies have questioned the investigation and asked why officials have failed to probe the role Chechen officials may have played in bankrolling the murder.


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Italy Threatens to Block Ships Carrying Migrants

Italian officials say their government has told the European Commission in Brussels it is considering stopping ships that are not Italian-registered from disembarking at its ports migrants who were rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

The dramatic move comes after nearly 11,000 asylum-seekers and economic migrants, mainly from African nations, arrived on Italian shores in a four-day period from war-wracked Libya. In a letter to the commission, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said the situation has become “unsustainable.”

In a meeting Wednesday, Massari informed Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s commissioner for migration, that his government is now considering denying landing rights to any ships that aren’t flying the Italian flag or are not part of the EU interdiction and rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

Libya as migrants’ gateway to Europe

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of “looking the other way,” and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Libya has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees from across sub-Saharan Africa, and also from the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh.

Many are fleeing war and persecution, but most who are using Libya are seeking to escape poverty. Italy has become the main point of arrival for all of those rescued off the coast of Libya. Stranded refugees often are picked up by boats operated or funded by private charities and non-government organizations.

An intense debate has erupted in Italy about whether ships operated by mainly international NGOs have effectively been in league with the people-smugglers, and thus inadvertently enabling the trade to continue

Nearly 11,000 arrivals in four days

There has been a dramatic rise, partly thanks to good weather, in the number of migrants attempting the short but perilous Mediterranean crossing. In the four-day period through Tuesday (June 24-27), 8,863 migrants landed in Italy, including more than 5,000 on Monday alone, according to the International Office for Migration. Another 2,000 landed on Tuesday.

In the first five months of this year, 60,228 migrants arrived in Italy by boat. The IOM reported that 1,562 died at sea. At the current rate, and with months of good sailing weather ahead, the number of migrants is on track to exceed the 200,000 who landed in Italy in 2016.

Around 15 percent of those arriving this year are Nigerian. Twelve percent are Bangladeshi; Guineans account for 10 percent and nine percent are Ivorians.


Other EU nations have closed their borders to migrants, hoping to block them from moving north. Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum seekers to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another front line country. Greece has seen a huge decline in asylum-seeking numbers since the EU concluded a deal with Turkey to curb refugees and migrants using Turkish territory to head to Europe.

The surge in migrants this week prompted Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, to cancel a trip to Washington to address the growing humanitarian crisis, which is quickly morphing into a political one for the country’s left-leaning coalition government. In municipal elections this month the coalition lost ground to center-right parties such as Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, which has called for a “stop to the invasion.”

Domestic opposition growing

Italy’s right-wing Forza Italia party has campaigned for the denial of landing rights to ships carrying migrants. And even the maverick radical Five Star Movement is moving to a more anti-immigrant position, calling for a halt to any new migrants being lodged in Rome.

Italy is now asking for the European Commission to change EU asylum procedures and allow Italy to stop new migrant landings or reduce them dramatically. But it is not clear whether a denial of landing rights would comply with international seafaring law or commitments Italy made when it signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.

After meeting Ambassador Massari on Wednesday, EU migration commissioner Avramopoulos praised Italy’s exemplary behavior to date and agreed: “Italy is right that the situation is untenable.” 

Other EU member states must “step up” and contribute financial support to Italy, Avramopoulos said, along with aid to African nations like Libya to try to reduce the numbers of people leaving for Europe.

“Now is the moment to deliver, and we will hold them to this,” the commissioner said.

Avramopoulos made almost exactly the same remarks in February, and similar promises have been made by other EU officials. The bloc’s 28 national leaders also agreed last week that “front line” countries Italy and Greece should receive more help with the arrivals.

Last month, the interior ministers of Germany and Italy urged the European Union to set up a border mission along Libya’s frontier with Niger in a bid to stop mainly African migrants from reaching Europe. In the past, the EU has tried to curb the migrant flow by working with various authorities in Libya, which is divided between rival governments and their militia backers, but to little avail.

In a sign of the deepening chaos in the north African country, a five-vehicle United Nations convoy was ambushed Wednesday 30 kilometers from the Libyan capital Tripoli. Several U.N. employees were held for a while, then released. Local media reported the ambush was staged in an attempt to gain the release of three drug-runners arrested by a vigilante force in Tripoli.

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Pope Tells New Cardinals: Be Humble, Help Poor, Fight Injustice

Pope Francis elevated five senior clerics from outside Italy and the Vatican to the top rank of cardinal on Wednesday, urging them to be humble and not forget refugees and victims of war, terrorism and injustice.

Appointing new cardinals is one of the most significant powers of the papacy, allowing a pontiff to put his stamp on the future of the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Cardinals are the pope’s closest advisers in the Vatican and around the world and those under 80 years old are known as “cardinal-electors” because they can choose his successor.

Humble servants

The new cardinals come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador and all five are under 80 years old. All of those countries, except for Spain, are getting their first cardinal.

With their elevation at a ceremony, known as a consistory, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis has now named nearly 50 cardinal-electors of a total 121.

During the ceremony where the new cardinals received their red hat, known as a “biretta,” the pope said they were called to be humble servants of others and not “princes of the Church.”

They had to “look at reality” and care for “the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism.”

Swiss bank account

They should combat “the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.”

The new cardinals are Archbishop Jean Zerbo, 73, from Mali, Archbishop Juan Jose Omella, 71, from Spain, Bishop Anders Arborelius, 67, from Stockholm, Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, 73, from Laos, and Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, from San Salvador.

The Church in Mali has denied recent French media reports about alleged irregularities concerning a bank account reportedly held by the Mali Church in Switzerland. A statement this month denied that it was involved in embezzlement but did not comment directly on the Swiss bank account.

The fact that none of the five are Italian and none hold Vatican positions underscores Francis’ conviction that the Church must be a global institution that should become increasingly less Italian and Europe-centric.

It was Francis’ fourth consistory since his election in 2013 and he has used each of them to show support for the Church in countries where Catholics are in a minority, in this case Sweden, Mali and Laos.

Chavez, the new cardinal from El Salvador, was a close associate of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980. Francis is keen to see Romero made a saint during his pontificate.

Boost of morale in Sweden

The naming of Arborelius, the Swede, was significant because Sweden is where the Lutheran World Federation was founded in 1947 and because this year marks the 500th anniversary of protestant Martin Luther’s Reformation. Francis, who visited Sweden last year, is keen to further Catholic dialogue with Protestant churches.

Sweden is also one of the world’s most secular countries and the naming of a cardinal there will boost the morale of the tiny Catholic population.

After the ceremony in the basilica, the five new cardinals went to pay their respects to 90-year-old former Pope Benedict, who resigned in 2013 and is living on the grounds of the Vatican.


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Red-hot Iceland Keeps Some Investors Out in the Cold

Iceland spent nearly a decade trying to keep foreign money in the country after a financial collapse, now it is trying to keep some of it out.

The economy is booming again and hedge funds and other foreign investors want exposure to a surging tourism sector, banks, property, infrastructure and the soaring krona currency.

Most capital controls from the 2008 banking crisis were lifted in March, allowing money to flow in and out of the country more freely.

But with over 20 financial crises since 1875 and warnings from economists about the risk of overheating again, the government is being cautious.

It has left in place restrictions making it prohibitively expensive to buy government bonds which offer returns of 4.5 percent, the highest of any developed economy.

On Monday, the central bank took another step to try and break the cycle of boom and bust on the isolated North Atlantic island, clamping down on derivatives and other avenues it was worried were being used to bet on the krona.

“There are a bunch of people I know who would love to put money into Iceland but they simply can’t because of restrictions on the inflows,” said Mark Dowding, who runs a hedge fund at BlueBay Asset Management and bought into the Icelandic government bond market in 2015, before the central bank rules were introduced.

The government is preparing other steps to make Iceland less attractive — a contrast to other economies recovering from crisis which have welcomed inflows of money.

The government is preparing to raise taxes for the tourism industry which has been growing at 20 to 25 percent a year as foreigners flock to its volcanoes, glaciers and geysers. It is also considering a currency peg for the krona.


Iceland offers other exciting investment opportunities.

Growth of more than 6 percent is forecast this year and the krona is up 20 percent versus both the dollar and euro over the last 12 months.

The central bank has cut interest rates four times in the last year and analysts say it would need to cut further if it wants to slow the rise of the currency. That could further stimulate the economy.

“Once every decade or two, I come across a market overseas which is most attractive and is worth considering,” said Gervais Williams, a portfolio manager at London-based Miton Group. “That last happened in 1995 in Ireland, and Iceland is the market I now like.”

Cumulative net capital inflows have gone from almost nothing to 150 billion crown ($1.45 billion) in two years.

New cars sales are at the highest in 10 years, Marriott will open Iceland’s first five-star hotel next year. Data center firms are also moving in as the climate and cheap geothermal energy cut the costs of cooling huge server stacks.

A potential float of Arion Bank, the domestic arm that emerged from the collapsed Kaupthing bank, meanwhile is expected to lead to a surge of new foreign money into the stock market which currently lists just 17 firms.

Several hedge funds — Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, Taconic Capital Advisors and Attestor Capital — bought stakes in Arion privately, after the bulk of capital controls were lifted earlier in the year.

On the back of the shifts, London and Iceland-based fund firm GAMMA Capital Management launched its first two funds — including one hedge fund — for foreign investors in November last year after requests from abroad.

“We have been getting a lot of interest … but investing in Iceland brings a lot of hurdles, so we created a simple conduit,” said Hafsteinn Hauksson, economist at GAMMA. Both funds have more than doubled in size this year, he said.

Red hot

Nevertheless, there are concerns that Iceland could overheat again.

The International Monetary Fund said in a report last week that there was a need for “vigilance with regards to credit growth and the real estate sector, labour market tightening and wage increases.”

It called for capital inflows to be managed carefully.

Iceland has a history of spectacular booms and bust.

The head of Iceland’s central bank regularly describes its 2007-2008 banking bust — when the top-three banks, Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki collapsed under heavy debts — as “the third-biggest bankruptcy in the history of mankind.”

A 2015 report by Bank of Iceland economists noted that this was not Iceland’s first financial crisis.

“In fact, over a period spanning almost one and a half century [1875-2013], we identify over twenty instances of financial crises of different types,” it said. “Recognizing that crises tend to come in clusters, we identify six serious multiple financial crisis episodes occurring every fifteen years on average.”

The report said the crises typically involved a sudden collapse in the currency and capital inflows.

Glacier bonds

Wary of its history and nervous that the end of capital controls would bring a wave of foreign money, the central bank brought in a rule in May 2016 forcing buyers of its bonds to park additional money in a low interest account.

That costly “special reserve ratio” arrangement has meant foreign investment in Icelandic debt has dropped close to zero.

Along with repeated interest rate cuts, it has taken some of the steam out of the crown over the last month.

“In the current domestic and global circumstances, the risk of excessive and volatile carry-trade type capital inflows was becoming significant,” a central bank spokesman said of why the measure was brought in.

Monday’s decision to scale back some exemptions aimed to make it harder for foreign investors to bet on the krona.

Those exemptions had made it possible to conduct carry trades by issuing krona-denominated bonds — nicknamed Glacier bonds — and entering derivatives contracts with domestic banks.

“Experience has shown that capital inflows in connection with foreign issuance of krona-denominated bonds [Glacier bonds] could weaken monetary policy,” the central bank said.

Iceland also still has controls in place that prevent proceeds from the sale of pre-crisis bonds leaving the country unless the investor signs up to the terms of the central bank’s buyback arrangement, which offer a punitive exchange rate.

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Can US Learn From Europe’s Approach to Terror?

Despite recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, U.S. congressional leaders are looking to lessons learned in Europe to combat the growing threat of extremism in the West. VOA’s congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more on the tough questions Capitol Hill will have to answer as they consider new approaches to counterterrorism.

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US House Overwhelmingly Backs NATO Mutual Defense

The U.S. House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously on Tuesday to reaffirm the NATO alliance’s guarantee that all members defend each other, weeks after President Donald Trump raised doubts about Washington’s support for the agreement.

The vote was 423-4 in the House, where Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 48-seat majority, for a resolution “solemnly reaffirming” the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

It also supports calls for every NATO member to spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

During a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels in May that was part of his first overseas trip, Trump pointedly did not mention U.S. support for that critical portion of the NATO charter, rattling allies. Instead, he used a speech there to demand that member states pay more for the alliance’s defense.

Trump later said he backed the mutual defense agreement, and other senior officials rushed to express U.S. support.

“With all the threats we and our partners face around the globe, a strong and secure NATO is more important than ever before,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Ryan and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as the number two Republican and Democrat in the chamber, and the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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Mali Archbishop to be Elevated to Cardinal Despite Scandal Rumors

The Vatican says an archbishop from Mali will be appointed a cardinal in Rome on Wednesday despite a potential financial scandal.

There was speculation in Mali and Rome that Pope Francis had decided not to elevate Archbishop Jean Zerbo because of questions surrounding church funds in Mali. But Vatican officials confirmed Tuesday that Zerbo will be present at Wednesday’s ceremony along with candidates from four other countries.

Reports say Zerbo and other Malian church officials have opened more than $13 million in Swiss bank accounts.

While opening foreign bank accounts is legal, it is unclear where the money came from.

Another Malian bishop told The Associated Press that Zerbo and other prelates have “nothing to hide,” but he declined to provide additional information.

Zerbo helped negotiate the 2015 peace agreement between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels.

He is one of the highest-ranking Christians in Mali, where the population is overwhelmingly Muslim.

The other cardinals being appointed Wednesday are from El Salvador, Laos, Spain and Sweden.

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EU Fines Google $2.7 Billion

EU antitrust regulators fined Google $2.7 billion Tuesday for unfairly boosting search results for its online shopping service.

The European Union said Google began efforts in 2008 to boost the service now known as Google Shopping by making its results show up higher in search results, while demoting the search results of rival companies.

The result, according to regulators, was the most highly ranked rival services appeared on average on the fourth page of the results, an area few consumers ever reach.

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Google has created many innovative products, but in this case abused its market dominance in internet searches.

Google said it will review the EU decision as it considers an appeal to the decision.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you are looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products. That is why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both,” Kent Walker, a Google senior vice president, said in a statement.

Vestager said Google denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate, and denied European consumers a genuine choice of service.

In addition to the fine, Google is required to give rival comparison shopping services equal treatment, and the company must explain how it will accomplish that.


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France’s New Lawmakers Open First Parliament Session

France’s newly elected lawmakers, most of them from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, are gathering their first parliament session.

Macron’s 14-month-old party, Republic on the Move!, won 308 of the 577 seats at France’s lower house of parliament in legislative elections earlier this month. His allies in Modem took 42 seats, giving the government a wide majority.


During the opening session Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers are choosing the president of the National Assembly, a key player in organizing legislative business and debates.


Experienced lawmaker Francois de Rugy, a former Green who joined Macron earlier this year, is the favorite to win the vote.


After Macron vigorously campaigned on a promise to renew France’s political landscape, other parties also made efforts to promote new faces.


Three-quarters of the lawmakers are starting their first term at the National Assembly and 38 percent are women — the highest proportion in France’s modern history.


Some previously had local political experience, but many are newcomers to politics.


The lawmakers’ average age is down from 55 in the previous term to 49 now. The youngest is 23, the oldest 79.


They expect to get to work quickly tackling the government’s proposed law on expanding police powers and a labor reform making it easier to hire and fire.


The conservative Republicans and their center-right allies are deeply divided over their political strategy: 94 lawmakers claim they are the main opposition to Macron’s majority, while about 40 others describing themselves as “constructive” say they are ready to vote for government laws legislation which they consider going in the right direction.


The Socialist Party, which dominated the outgoing Assembly, won only 30 seats.


Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon’s party took 17 seats.


Far-right figure Marine Le Pen is going to enter the National Assembly for the first time as a lawmaker. Her National Front party won eight seats, including hers, up from two in the outgoing Assembly.



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Senior Ukrainian Intelligence Officer Killed in Car Bombing

Ukrainian authorities say that a senior military intelligence officer has been killed in a car bomb in the country’s capital.

Police said in a statement that the driver of a luxury car was killed instantly as the vehicle blew up at a Kyiv intersection Tuesday morning. Photos released by Kiev police showed the mangled car in the middle of the road. Kyiv police say that a passer-by was hospitalized with injuries.

The Defense Ministry later identified the victim as Col. Maxim Shapoval of the Chief Directorate of Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukrainian media reported that Shapoval was chief of military intelligence’s special forces.

Police said they were treating the explosion as a terrorist attack.

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Poll: Russians View Stalin as ‘Greatest’ Figure in History

A recent poll of Russian opinion shows that a majority of the population thinks former dictator Josef Stalin was the greatest figure in history.

Current President Vladimir Putin came in a joint second with beloved Russian writer Alexander Pushkin.

The poll was conducted in April by the Levada Center, a Russian independent research organization not affiliated with the Russian government. The poll asked participants to make an order of the 10 greatest individuals of all time.

The order was not limited to Russian figures.

The poll said 38 percent chose Stalin as their top individual, with Putin and Pushkin coming in a close second with 34 percent. Former Soviet statesmen Mikhail Gorbachev came in last with 6 percent.

The results were vastly different than that of a similar poll done in 1989, where 12 percent chose Stalin.

It is estimated that more than 1 million people were killed during the Stalin regime, with millions more dying in forced labor camps or as a result of mass deportations and starvation.

In a 2012 poll, Stalin led with even higher numbers, indicating that his victories in World War II were more memorable than the countless executions under his rule.

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Swede Held by Al-Qaida in Mali Freed After 6 Years

A Swede held hostage by al-Qaida in Mali since 2011 was released, the Swedish Foreign Ministry announced Monday.

Forty-two-year-old Johan Gustafsson is doing well and can return to Sweden, although he is “overwhelmed by everything going on,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement after having spoken with him over the phone.

Gustafsson was abducted in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 along with South African national Stephen McGowan and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke, who was freed in April 2015 by French special forces. The fate of McGowan was not known.

Wallstrom did not provide further details about how Gustafsson’s release was negotiated.

A Swedish newspaper reported that he was already on a plane bound for Europe.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed responsibility for kidnapping the three men, who were taken by a group of armed men from the terrace of their hotel along with Rijke’s wife, who managed to escape, and a German who was killed while trying to resist abduction.

AQIM took a number of Western hostages in the north of Mali in 2012 before the French military deployed its forces in early 2013.


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Trump Eager For Big Meeting with Putin, Some Advisers Wary

President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.


Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time — and interact only with great caution.


But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.


Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions.

The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.


Russian reaction

Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that “the protocol side of it is secondary.”

The two leaders will be attending the same event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so “in any case there will be a chance to meet.” Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering out the details of the meeting has been made yet.


There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict.

Potential risks

There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as “wholly appropriate.”


In addition, many observers warn that Putin is not to be trusted.


Oleg Kalugin, a former general with Russia’s main security agency, known as the KGB, said Putin, a shrewd and experienced politician, has “other priorities” than discussing the accusations that Russia hacked the U.S. election with Trump, such as easing sanctions, raising oil prices, as well as next year’s presidential elections in Russia.


“Putin knows how to redirect a conversation in his favor,” Kalugin said.


Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian affairs professor at the New School, said Trump is in an “impossible position.”


“He can’t be too nice to Putin because it’s going to be interpreted in a way that suggests he has a special relationship with Russia,” she said. “He can’t be too mean because Putin has long arms and KGB thinking. So Trump needs to have a good relationship with him but he also needs to fulfill his campaign promises of establishing better relations with Russia.”


The White House said no final decision has been made about whether a meeting will take place. It did not respond to questions about the opposing views within the administration.


Bilateral meetings are common during summits like the G-20, where many world leaders and their advisers are gathered in one place.

The meetings are typically highly choreographed affairs, with everything from the way the two leaders shake hands to the looks that they exchange and the actual words spoken offering glimpses into the state of affairs.


The last U.S.-Russia bilateral meeting was a 2015 encounter between Putin and President Barack Obama that began with an awkward handshake and ended with progress on the brutal civil war in Syria.

That 2015 meeting, the first in two years, involved a 90-minute sit-down at U.N. headquarters. Putin and U.S. officials later said the two leaders had made progress on issues related to Syria, which had strained their already tense relationship. For the Obama administration, cautious engagement was the name of the game, with the U.S. working tirelessly to find middle ground with Moscow on Syria, Ukraine and other issues.

The disconnect between Trump and his advisers in the State Department and National Security Council over Russia runs deeper than the debate over a G-20 bilateral.


More careful approach urged

A former administration official who spoke anonymously to discuss classified information said that frustration is growing among foreign policy advisers over the failure of the White House to embrace a more cautious and critical approach to Russia. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind last year’s hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.


Trump has to directly “say to Putin, ‘We’re not happy about you interfering in our election,'” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “If you don’t say that, you are going to get hammered by the press and Congress and you can guarantee Congress will pass sanctions legislation against Russia.”


“They also need to keep their expectations very, very modest,” added Pifer. “If they aim for a homerun in Hamburg, my guess is they’ll strike out.”



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Italy’s Center-right Wins Big in Mayoral Elections

Italy’s center-right parties were the big winners in mayoral elections on Sunday, partial results showed, in a vote likely to put pressure on the center-left government ahead of national elections due in less than a year.

In the most closely watched contest, the northern port city of Genoa – a traditional left-wing stronghold – seemed certain to pass to the center-right for the first time in more than 50 years.

The candidate backed by the anti-immigrant Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party will get around 54 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for the candidate backed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD), according to final projections based on the vote count.

The elections are a setback for PD leader and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who took a back seat in campaigning after seeing his party roiled by internal divisions this year.

“The wind is blowing for the center-right from the north to the center to the south, this is an extraordinary victory,” said Renato Brunetta, the lower house leader of Forza Italia.

Around 4.3 million people were eligible to vote in 110 municipalities that were up for grabs after no candidate won more than 50 percent in the June 11 first-round election.

Although Sunday’s vote was one of the last before the general election, local factors mean it may not provide a clear reflection of parties’ national popularity.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which is Italy’s most popular party nationwide according to some opinion polls, performed very badly in the first round and only made the run-off in one of the 25 largest cities.

The turnout was also very low, at around 47 percent.

PD problems

Nevertheless, Sunday’s result could serve as a call for unity among the center-right parties, which are in competition at the national level. Their strong showing suggests if the parties can unite under a single leader they would be a force to be reckoned with at the general election.

That must be held by May 2018 but the broad coalition backing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and political analysts say an early vote this autumn cannot be ruled out.

“We have clearly lost these elections,” said the PD’s lower house leader Ettore Rosato.

Around 10 provincial capitals held by the center-left going into the elections looked set to pass to the center-right.

Genoa is the latest of a string of recent defeats in the PD’s traditional strongholds. Last year it lost Turin, Italy’s third-largest city, and the capital Rome, to 5-Star.

The partial count on Sunday also put the center-right ahead in the northern cities of Verona, Como, Piacenza, Monza and Pistoia and in Catanzaro in the south.

It also seemed sure to win in the central city of L’Aquila, another recently center-left stronghold where the center-left candidate had led after the first round.

The PD seemed set to score significant successes in Taranto in the south and Padua in the north.

The northern city of Parma went to the incumbent mayor who was elected as 5-Star’s first ever mayor in 2012 but ran as an independent after falling out with the movement’s leadership.

5-Star, which was only founded nine years ago, looked set to add eight mayors to its modest national tally, including a victory in the Tuscan city of Carrara.

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Low Turnout as Albanians Head to the Polls

Albanians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday as the country looks to bolster its democratic credentials ahead of potential European Union membership talks.

After polls closed, officials said preliminary turnout was just over 45 percent based on data from more than half of the polling stations, compared to 53.5 percent four years ago. 

Preliminary election results are not expected until Monday.


The ruling Socialists and the rival Democrats are the leading parties looking to gain an outright majority in the parliament of the NATO-member country of 2.9 million people.

The country gained EU candidate status in 2014, but movement has been slowed by its perceived lack of reforms, including those involved with the election process.

Eighteen political parties are running for 140 seats in parliament in Sunday’s vote. The main contenders are Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha.

Opinion polls showed the Socialists slightly ahead of the center-right Democratic Party. 

 All main parties campaigned on a reform agenda, pledging faster economic growth, pay increases and lower unemployment, which stands at about 14 percent. 


Some 6,000 police officers were on duty for election security, while more 300 international observers came to monitor the vote.

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Forest Fire in Spain Threatens Renowned National Park

A forest fire in southern Spain forced the evacuation of at least 1,000 people and threatened a national park famous for its biodiversity and endangered species, authorities said Sunday.

The fire started on Saturday night on Spain’s southern coast, then advanced east to reach the Donana Nature Reserve, one of the country’s most important wildlife sanctuaries and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994.

“The fire has entered in the limits of the reserve, and that is where we are focusing our efforts,” Jose Gregorio Fiscal Lopez from the regional Andalusian authority in charge of the environment told Spanish national television.

The reserve protects over 107,000 hectares (264,403 acres) considered of extreme ecological value for their mix of ecosystems, including wetlands, dunes and woods. It is a key stop for migratory birds home to a variety of animals, including about a fifth of the 400 remaining Iberian lynxes.

Ecologists who work in the park are concerned that the fire could wipe out some of the area’s prized species and terrain.

“We are worried because the impact could be huge,” Carlos Molina, an ornithologist who works inside the reserve, told The Associated Press by phone from his home nearby.

“Donana is probably one of the most important areas for birds in all of Europe, and we just happen to be in a nesting season for several species,” Molina said.

While Molina said the reserve’s endangered Iberian imperial eagle should not be in danger, the area in immediate threat from the fire is territory for the extremely endangered lynx.

Juan Sanchez, director of the Andalucia’s forest fire prevention unit, said the fight was “in its critical phase” due to strong winds whipping up the flames.

“Right now the fire is developing how we expected. The wind is shifting, gaining strength, which is normal as we get to the afternoon,” Sanchez said. “We are managing it, but a change in the direction of the wind could alter the situation.”

Susana Diaz, the regional president of Andalusia, said no people have died in the blaze and “there’s no risk to the population” after about 1,000 were evacuated from campsites and houses near the town of Moguer, where the fire started on Saturday night.

Diaz said fighting the fire was proving difficult due to hot, dry weather, with temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), and shifting winds. Over 550 firefighters, soldiers and police officers supported by 21 air units were combating the blaze Sunday.

“It’s still very early, but we are not ruling out the human factor” as a possible cause of the fire, said Diaz.

Spain’s interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said from a control post near the fire that since “we are taking special measures, even though the wind is pushing the fire toward (the reserve) to keep the damage to a minimum.”

The fire comes a week after wildfires killed 64 people in neighboring Portugal, which like Spain is suffering from a lack of rain and high temperatures.

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Polish Protesters Demand Halt to Logging in Primeval Forest

Hundreds marched in Warsaw on Saturday to protest widespread logging in Europe’s last primeval forest, a project undertaken by Poland’s conservative government.

The ruling Law and Justice party has allowed increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest, a vast woodland that straddles Poland and Belarus, alarming environmentalists who say it threatens a natural treasure. The forest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The government says it has increased logging to fight an outbreak of bark beetle, which has infected many spruce trees. But ecologists see that as a pretext to increase timber production for profit, saying authorities have been felling not only infected trees but also healthy ones, some 100 years old. Young trees are to be planted in their place.

Speakers at the rally organized by Greenpeace and other groups said they want the entire forest to be declared a national park to ensure its protection. They fear the virgin forest, home to a complex ecosystem of bison, woodpeckers and many other species, is being transformed into what will be essentially a tree plantation.

Robert Cyglicki, director of Greenpeace in Poland, called the logging “a crime against our heritage.”

Protesters rallied in central Warsaw and then marched to the Environment Ministry.

Currently only the forest’s core is protected as a national park on the Polish side.

The march came several days after Environment Minister Jan Szyszko called for Bialowieza to lose its UNESCO natural heritage status.

“The Bialowieza forest was granted UNESCO natural heritage status illegally and without consulting the local community,” Szyszko said. He said a complaint was lodged with prosecutors over the decision, which occurred under a previous government.

Last year he approved a decision to triple logging above a level that had been considered environmentally sustainable.

The European Union says the increased logging is illegal under EU law.

In recent days, protesters have sought to stop logging in the forest, at times by trying to block the heavy equipment.

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British Parliament’s Email Network Hit by ‘Sustained’ Cyberattack

Britain’s Parliament was investigating a “sustained and determined” cyberattack on its email user accounts Saturday.

Parliamentary officials said the attack seemed designed to identify weak email passwords.

As a precaution, remote email access for MPs was disabled, said a statement released by the House of Commons.

“Earlier this morning we discovered unusual activity and evidence of an attempted cyberattack on our computer network,” an email sent by parliamentary officials to those affected said. “Closer investigation by our team confirmed that hackers were carrying out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in an attempt to identify weak passwords.”

It was not immediately clear how many people were affected or what the extent of the damage was. The National Cyber Security Center and the National Crime Agency were investigating.

Liam Fox, Britain’s international trade secretary, told ITV News the attack was “a warning to everyone. We need more security and better passwords. You wouldn’t leave your door open at night.”

Passwords for sale?

The incident followed reports in the past few days in British media that hackers were selling MPs’ passwords online.

“We’ve seen reports in the last few days of even Cabinet ministers’ passwords being for sale online,” Fox said. “We know that our public services are attacked, so it’s not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails.”

Just over a month ago, a massive global cyberattack disrupted Britain’s health care services and targeted vital computer systems in as many as 100 other countries.

It appeared to be the biggest cyberextortion attack in history and exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that was identified in leaked documents by the U.S. National Security Agency earlier this year.

The hackers attempted to trick victims into opening malicious attachments to spam emails by saying they contained invoices, job offers, security warnings and other seemingly legitimate files.

The extortionists then demanded payments of $300 to $600 to restore access once computers were crippled by the scam. Cybersecurity firms said criminal organizations were probably behind the attack.

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Ukraine Says Two Soldiers Killed Despite Cease-Fire

The Ukrainian military has said that two soldiers were killed and two wounded in the eastern part of the country despite a cease-fire that began Friday.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Saturday, the military accused anti-government rebels of firing artillery rounds in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The statement did not provide details about the casualties.

The two sides and representatives of Moscow and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed on the cease-fire on June 21. It is intended to last until August 31 to allow locals to harvest crops.

Representatives of the Russia-backed rebels on June 24 accused government forces of violating the cease-fire 10 times, adding that information about the purported violations had been sent to the OSCE monitors. 

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it began in early 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Some information for this report came from AFP.

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EU Agrees to Defense Cooperation, Little Progress on Migration, Brexit 

With snipers on the roof and armored vehicles surrounding the Council building, Europe’s leaders met in Brussels with security topping the summit agenda. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said leaders had agreed on greater cooperation in intelligence sharing and defense spending.

“We are spending half of the military budget of the U.S. but our efficiency is 15 percent. So there is room for improvement and that’s exactly what we decided today,” Juncker said.

Migrants issue

Outside a band of refugees called “Syrians Got Talent” aimed to send a musical message to EU leaders — that they should stand up for migrant rights.

Not all of Europe shares that sentiment. The EU is taking legal action against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to accept refugee quotas.

More than 81,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in 2017, and close to 2,000 have died so far.

French President Emmanuel Macron, attending his first EU summit, said Europe would look to address the causes of the crisis.

He said it is a long-term challenge whose long-term solution is to stabilize Africa, and the near and Middle East.

WATCH: EU agrees to defense cooperation

Optimism in the EU

Despite the challenges there is a renewed optimism in the bloc, says Professor Anand Menon of the U.K. in a Changing Europe program at Kings College London.

“And the Eurozone’s growing again. So all that looks good,” Menon said. “But what I would say is the fundamental structural problems that confront the European Union, whether it’s the migration crisis, whether it’s the Eurozone crisis, whether it’s the problem of democratic backsliding in countries like Hungary and Poland, are no nearer being solved than they were last year. And they will come back again.”

Britain’s exit from the bloc was also discussed. EU leaders described Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer on the future rights of European citizens living in Britain as “below expectations,” signaling tough negotiations ahead.

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EU Agrees to Defense Cooperation, But Little Progress on Migration, Brexit

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to greater cooperation on defense and intelligence as the continent grapples with a series of terror attacks. But little progress was made on Brexit and the migration crisis. The latest numbers show 81,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2017, with more poised to make the challenging journey. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Srpska Mufti: Acute Poverty, Jobless Youth Imperil Stability

The Muslim leader in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska says security is improving for his followers, although harsh poverty remains an intractable issue as they prepare to observe Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

“There is no more desecration of the Muslim tombstones, which used to happen often after the war,” Mufti Osman Kozlic told VOA’s Bosnian Service in an exclusive interview.

However, if Muslim youths remain impoverished, he said, they’ll be increasingly vulnerable to extremist ideologies and recruitment by radical groups such as the Islamic State (IS).

​Hundreds had gone to Syria

In previous years, IS leaders tailored their propaganda to lure impoverished young Muslims affected by the small Balkan nation’s high youth unemployment rate and intermittent political paralysis.

Hundreds of Bosnians traveled to Syria to fight alongside IS militants before Bosnia banned travel to Syria and Iraq in 2013; that same year, Sarajevo began prosecuting fighters returned home from the battlefield.

Since 2016, according to Bosnian security officials and counterterror experts, Bosnian Muslims have all but stopped traveling to fight.

“The biggest problem among Muslims in Srpska is poverty, they can barely make ends meet,” Kozlic said, adding that both preventing radicalization, and deradicalizing returning extremists, requires cooperation by all regional stakeholders.

“It is not up to the Muslim leaders only,” he said.

​Restoring mosques

The 2016 “restoration and reopening of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka was significant symbol not only for Muslims in Srpska, but for all Muslims, for all citizen’s of Srpska,” Kozlic told VOA. “It is so because it meant a big step in reconciliation, and peace.”

On May 7, reconstruction of Arnaudija, a 16th century Ottoman-era mosque, the last of 15 that were destroyed during the 1992-95 war in Banja Luka, finally got underway.

Both Arnaudija and Ferhadija mosques were under the protection of UNESCO until the war, but were both razed May 7, 1993. During the war, almost all of the mosques in parts of Bosnia held by Bosnian-Serb forces were destroyed.

“The holiday after the holy Ramadan arrives is happiness,” Kozlic said. “If one is a real Muslim, during the Ramadan fast you must detoxify together with one’s body and one’s soul as well, by getting rid of hatred, envy, bad deeds toward any living being.”

In Bosnia, where Muslims represent the largest faith community, militant Islam was nearly nonexistent until the 1990s Balkan wars, when radicalized Arab Muslim mercenaries intervened to help battle Serb forces. Some foreign extremists who stayed in Bosnia embraced a radical brand of Islam that Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic has adamantly opposed.

The 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the bloody 1990s conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, split the country into two semi-independent entities, the Republika Srpska and a Muslim-Croat Federation, linked by a weak federal government.

This story originated in VOA’s Bosnian Service. Some information is from Reuters.

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Turkey: Israel Paid Compensation to Families of 2010 Flotilla Raid Victims

Israel has paid total compensation of $20 million to the families of the victims of an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla that killed 10 people in 2010, Turkish media quoted Turkey’s Finance Minister Naci Agbal as saying on Friday.

The payment, which will be divided among the 10 families, comes some nine months after Israel, which had already offered apologies for the raid — one of Ankara’s conditions for rapprochement — agreed to pay the families of those killed.

“Compensation has been paid to the families of those who lost their lives during the Mavi Marmara attack,” Turkish broadcasters quoted Agbal as saying.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in 2010 when Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli commandos enforcing a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The soldiers raided a ship, the Mavi Marmara, leading a flotilla towards the Islamist Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

In June 2016 however, the two countries said they would normalize relations — a rapprochement driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals as well as mutual fears over security risks in the Middle East.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan named a new ambassador to Israel in November last year, reciprocating a move by the Israelis, in a move towards restoring diplomatic ties between the once-close allies.

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