Tag Archives: Europe

Lukashenko plans to meet with Medvedev in December, media reports say

 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko plans to meet with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who may come to Minsk for this specific purpose, before the end of the year, the Belarusian leader said on Tuesday at a meeting with the head of his administration Igor Sergeyenko and Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly Natalya Kochanova, the news agency BelTA reported.

During a conversation with the Russian prime minister, they agreed to meet ahead of the New Year, he said.

“He (Medvedev) was pleased to agree that we’ll meet somewhere and find time for it. He says that he might even come to Minsk. I think we’ll find a place to meet,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader stated that it is important to synchronize watches on the integration agenda not just with the Russian president but with the prime minister as well. “There are issues which concern our governments. I’d like the conversation with Dmitry [Medvedev] to be held on certain issues,” Lukashenko said.

On December 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held a lengthy meeting in Sochi at which they discussed avenues for further integration between Moscow and Minsk. The heads of state agreed to continue dialogue on this issue on December 20.


Protests in various cities following suspension of judge

The suspension of judge Paweł Juszczyszyn triggered protests, involving his fellow judges, lawyers and artists in numerous Polish cities on Sunday.

Protestors were voicing their criticism of the judiciary reforms, which Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) have been enacting since 2015.

The protests took place in Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań, Gdańsk, Łódź, Lublin, Katowice, Częstochowa, Bydgoszcz, Wrocław and Szczecin. Some of the demonstrators carried EU flags and placards with slogans supporting the independence of courts.

The judge, Paweł Juszczyszyn, was suspended when, following an earlier EU Court of Justice ruling, he demanded insight into support lists for candidates to the Polish Judiciary Council (KRS).

The latest reforms mean that KRS members are appointed by MPs and not, as before, by judges. The new appointment regulations have raised doubts as to the council’s independence from political pressure. The ruling PiS holds a majority in the Lower House.

Mr Juszczyszyn, who took part in the Warsaw demonstration, told protesters that judges could not bow to political demands. “I believe law and honesty will ultimately win. I appeal to judges, don’t let yourselves be intimidated, be independent, be brave,” Juszczyszyn said on the steps of the Justice Ministry building.

The government maintain that the judicial reforms are necessary to raise the efficiency of courts and rid the justice system of the remnants of the communist era.

Among the supporters of the protests was Nobel-winning author Olga Tokarczuk and the Civic Platform (PO) party’s possible presidential candidate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.

Warsaw police have not revealed the number of protesters.

According to Poland’s private broadcaster Polsat, the protests were organised by the Association of Polish Judges “Iustitia”.

The judiciary reforms have caused friction between the EU and the PiS government. The European Commission have stated that the reforms infringe on judicial independence.

However, in the recent case of the Polish Supreme Court’s (SN) Disciplinary Chamber, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) took a step back in late November, ruling that it is the SN’s responsibility to examine the independence of the new Disciplinary Chamber to determine whether it can hear disputes regarding judges.


Black boxes from France’s ill-fated helicopters found in Mali

The black boxes from two French military helicopters that collided and killed 13 soldiers during an operation against alleged militants in Mali have been recovered, France has announced.

French military spokesman Colonel Frederic Barbry told BFMTV on Wednesday that the boxes “will be handed over to the relevant authorities to be analyzed.”

A French Tiger attack helicopter and a Cougar military transport helicopter collided under yet unknown circumstances on Monday, during an operation — also involving a third helicopter and a squadron of Mirage jets — to provide air cover for ground troops pursuing alleged militants.

All the 13 soldiers on board the two aircraft were killed in the incident.

Barbry did not rule out any scenario as to the cause of the crash. But he seemed to suggest that the collision might have taken place due to low visibility. It was a moonless night, he said, and flight conditions at the time were “extremely difficult.”

The deaths brought to 41 the number of the French troops killed in the Sahel region since France intervened purportedly against militants in northern Mali in 2013.


UK trade experts urge politicians to stick to the facts

Trade policy experts are warning U.K. politicians campaigning in next month’s election that they are promising unattainable trade benefits and setting “arbitrary deadlines’’ for sealing a deal with the European Union after Brexit.

A dozen signatories to a letter published in the Daily Telegraph Wednesday urged leaders to supplant rhetoric with fact-based discussions about Britain’s future outside the EU trading bloc – or risk deals the public won’t support.

The letter says, “engines are being revved towards striking new (free trade agreements) by arbitrary deadlines with little sense of what we actually want to achieve.’’

The bipartisan letter, whose signatories include Alan Winters of the U.K. Trade Observatory and David Tinline, a former senior adviser to the World Trade Organization’s director-general, criticizes politicians on both sides of the Brexit issue.


Russia explains protests in Iran by US sanctions

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday the protests in Iran have been caused by U.S. sanctions against the country.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Zakharova said the decisions, taken by the Iranian leadership about raising petrol prices, were provoked by Washington’s pressure on Tehran.

“All this was provoked by the absolutely illegal and massive sanctions pressure that the U.S. is exerting on this country.

“And, in general, because of Washington’s actions, the fundamental human rights and legitimate interests of the Iranian population to freely receive food, medicines and all kinds of necessary products are violated,” she said.

Demonstrations broke out across Iran last week after the government imposed petrol rationing and raised fuel prices at least 50%.

At least 100 banks and dozens of shops have been set ablaze during the protests, the semi-official Mehr news agency said, quoting security officials.

Although there are no official figures on the arrests, the Fars news agency said more than 1,000 protesters have been detained.

Also speaking about a recent military purchase spat between Egypt and the U.S., Maria Zakharova denounced the American threats of sanction on this country.

She said the U.S. threats to sanction over purchase of Russian weapons is an example of “aggressive behavior” and “unfair trade”.

The spokeswoman insisted that the best way to compete on the arms sales market is to prove the competitive advantages of goods and not blackmailing.

“The method of threats discredited itself completely. Trying to put pressure on other countries, the U.S. only undermines their confidence and make the world once again think about the need to abandon trade payments in U.S. dollars,” she said.

After years of fruitless efforts to buy U.S. F-35 fighter jets, Cairo turned to Moscow and in March sealed a contract with Russia on delivery of the Russian analogue of F-35, Su-35 fighter jets.

The move was protested by Washington, and on Nov. 13, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Egypt that by buying Russian Su-35 aircrafts, the country risks to fall under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act suggesting slapping sanctions on buyers of Russian arms.


UK political parties seek business sector support

The main British political parties will today make their pitch to British businesses, as part of the campaign for the December 12 general elections in the United Kingdom.
According to the BBC, both conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, will speak Monday at the annual conference of the powerful Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Johnson promises to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU) on January 31, should he obtain a parliamentary majority on December 12, and will try to convince British businesses that his party will guarantee them good dividends once Brexit is finalized.

In that sense, he will assure the institution that brings together more than 190,000 British companies that the future Tory government will reduce sector taxes and increase credits, among other benefits.

‘With a Conservative majority government you can be sure we will get Brexit done and leave with the new deal that is already agreed – ending the uncertainty and confusion that has paralysed our economy,’ Mr Johnson is expected to say, as reported by the BBC.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will present his plans to create 320,000 new apprenticeships in construction, manufacturing and design, and implement the Green Industrial Revolution, with which Labour will use public funds to promote green jobs and combat the climate emergency.

Swinson, on the other hand, will take advantage of the anti-Brexit position of her party to insist before the business community that the best thing for the country is to reverse the EU withdrawal process, and will also criticize the spending plans of her rivals.

General elections are held every five years in the United Kingdom, but this will be the third time since 2015 that the British public is called to the polls to elect the 650 members of the House of Commons.

The inability of the Conservative government to realize Brexit, after 51.9 percent of the electorate voted in favor of leaving the European Union (EU) in the June 2016 referendum, has seen the country increasingly divided, and forced Johnson tocall a snap election, in an attempt to achieve the parliamentary majority he needs to finalize the withdrawal on January 31.

In addition to Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, Scottish nationalists, Greens and the europhobic Brexit Party, funded by populist Nigel Farage, are standing candidates.

British troops may be investigated over alleged war crimes

War crimes allegedly carried out by the British military may for the first time be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Killings of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq have been covered up by the state, a BBC news programme will report on Monday.

The United Kingdom’s ministry of defence denied the allegations.

But children were killed, civilians tortured, and British troops were complicit with evidence reportedly contained in a series of leaked documents sourced from within the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT).

That team, and Operation Northmoor – which investigated war crime allegations in Afghanistan – were shut down by the UK government in 2017 after Phil Shiner, a solicitor who had taken more than 1,000 cases to IHAT, was struck off from practising law amid allegations he paid people in Iraq to find clients.

But some former investigators said Shiner’s actions were used as an excuse to close down the inquiries.

No case investigated by IHAT or Operation Northmoor has led to a prosecution.

The ICC said it has taken the accusations “very seriously”, according to the BBC, whose Panorama: War Crimes Scandal Exposed will be broadcast at 21:00 GMT on Monday evening.

“The ICC said it would independently assess the BBC’s findings and would begin a landmark case if it believed the government was shielding soldiers from prosecution,” the corporation reported on Monday morning.

The ICC previously concluded it was credible that British troops committed war crimes in Iraq related to the mistreatment of detainees.

The year-long investigation claims to have found evidence of murders by a special forces SAS soldier, as well as deaths in custody, beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch.

A senior SAS commander was also referred to prosecutors for attempting to pervert the course of justice, the investigation found.

Palpable outrage

When allegations of troop abuses first emerged in the years after the invasion of Iraq, the outrage was palpable. In 2006, video was published of abuse being carried out two years previous – British soldiers grabbing four Iraqi boys off the street and dragging them away for a beating, goaded by the soldier filming.

In the southern city of Basra, the video sparked mass protests with the burning of Union flags. Back home, there were calls for soldiers’ prosecution, but a year later the case was dropped by prosecutors as the statute of limitations expired.

But after similar stories began to emerge in subsequent years, the media outrage shifted to focus on the prosecutions instead of the abuses. Investigations into soldiers’ actions were deemed “witch-hunts” by influential right-wing tabloid newspapers. Former prime minister Theresa May blasted “activist, left-wing human rights lawyers” for causing distress to serving and former military personnel.

When IHAT, set up under a Labour government, was shut down by a Conservative government only 20 cases were taken forward. The other 3,400 on IHAT’s books were shelved indefinitely.


OSCE Says ‘Fundamental Freedoms Were Disregarded’ In Belarusian Vote

MINSK — International observers have concluded that “fundamental freedoms were disregarded” in snap parliamentary elections in Belarus in which opposition candidates failed to win a single seat.

“Obstacles to political party registration, fees and limited space for holding public gatherings, and criminal sanctions for defamation” tarnished the snap polls, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on November 18.

The statement also cited “a lack of safeguards” in the administration both of election day and early voting procedures.

“These elections have demonstrated an overall lack of respect for democratic commitments,” said Margareta Cederfelt, leader of the OSCE’s short-term observer mission.

“In a country in which the power and independence of parliament is limited and fundamental freedoms are restricted for both voters and candidates, parliamentary elections are in danger of becoming a formality,” she added.

Activists of the Helsinki Committee in Belarus and the Vyasna Human Rights Center said the November 17 elections were marred by blackmail, pressure, and manipulation.

None of the parliamentary and presidential elections held in Belarus during the quarter of a century that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been in power has been recognized as fair by international observers.

Earlier in the day, Belarus’s election authorities published preliminary results of the latest vote showing that the 110 elected candidates belonged to parties loyal to Lukashenka.

The list includes 66 men and 44 women who are members of the Communist Party, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, the Patriotic Party, the Agrarian Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Thirty members of the previous parliament were reelected to new four-year-terms.

The Central Election Commission put turnout at 77 percent.

All 110 seats in the lower house of the National Assembly were being contested by more than 500 candidates. More than 200 other candidates, many of them affiliated with the opposition, were barred, mainly for allegedly not submitting enough valid signatures.

Lukashenka has ruled the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million people since 1994 and is currently serving his fifth presidential term. The country abolished presidential term limits in a referendum in 2004.

As Belarusian voters cast their ballots, he confirmed to journalists in Minsk he would seek another term in the 2020 presidential election.

Lukashenka announced the election on August 5, about a year before the current parliament’s mandate was due to expire.

His critics say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media.


Spotlight: Trump-Erdogan summit far from eliminating problems in ties: analysts

The recent meeting between the Turkish and U.S. presidents at the White House simply served to temporarily decrease strain in bilateral ties without settling any of the major problems between the two NATO allies, Turkish analysts said.

“I don’t think this meeting would have any significant impact, positive or negative, on bilateral ties,” said Haldun Solmazturk, who chairs the Incek debates at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.

“The problems remain as before,” he told Xinhua.

In a bid to sort out the growing problems in bilateral relations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“The encounter ended with little progress to show, yet the leaders succeeded in giving an appearance of harmony and agreement,” said Faruk Logoglu, a former senior diplomat.

Turkey-U.S. ties have soured in recent years due largely to Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense system, rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow and Washington’s military support to the Kurdish militia in Syria.

A cross-border military operation Turkey launched last month against the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Syria, which Ankara sees as terrorists, further heightened tension in ties.

“The visit gave the two leaders a temporary respite, useful at home but it is one that simply delays the ultimate day of reckoning,” Logoglu told Xinhua, saying nothing concrete appears to have come out of the summit.

Addressing a joint press conference following the summit, Trump said Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 “creates some very serious challenges” for Washington, while Erdogan did not touch on the issue.

The bilateral ties cannot flourish unless the S-400 issue is settled, a written White House statement said later in the day.

The only way for Turkey to avoid U.S. sanctions is to keep the S-400s inactivated, stated Solmazturk, a former general.

In his view, Erdogan may now change attitude regarding the Russian missiles.

The U.S. signaled earlier that it may be acceptable for Washington if the S-400s would remain out of service.

However, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin indicated on Friday that Ankara’s attitude would not change.

“There is no stepping back. Turkey will activate the S-400,” he told the state-run TRT Haber news channel, underlining that the missiles would not be integrated into the NATO system.

“The possibility of a modus vivendi reached on the S-400 issue in a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders is not to be ruled out,” remarked Logoglu.

Jim Risch, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Thursday that it would be best for the Senate not to pass a sanctions bill on Ankara for the moment amid talks on the Russian missiles between the two sides.

“We think that there’s going to be movement relatively soon on the S-400s,” he said.

In response to the arrival of the S-400 system on Turkish territory in July, Washington kicked Ankara out of the stealth F-35 fighter jet project in which Turkey was a production partner.

It also put on hold the scheduled delivery of four F-35 jets to Ankara, while the U.S. Congress has passed sanctions bills against Ankara since July.

Ankara announced in early November that the delivery of a second batch of the S-400 system may be delayed amid talks on joint production and technology sharing.

It looks as if Turkey may give up on buying the second batch by stating its expectations as regards technology sharing are not being met by Moscow, said Solmazturk.

During the press conference, Erdogan once again tried to convince his U.S. counterpart to give up militarily supporting the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Trump said, however, the U.S. has great ties with the Kurds in Syria and he talked as if Ankara’s military operation targeted the Kurds as a whole rather than the YPG, a distinction to which Turkey is very much sensitive.

Washington continues to see the YPG as an ally and a legitimate actor in Syria rather than a terror group, said Solmazturk.

“The U.S. got what it wanted,” he said, arguing Washington’s main objective was to dissuade Ankara from continuing with the military operation so that the YPG could emerge as a Kurdish political entity in Syria.

Just days before leaving for Washington D.C., Erdogan implied that Ankara could go ahead with the military operation as the YPG failed to honor a cease-fire deal concluded by Turkey and the United States on Oct. 17.

While at the press conference, the Turkish leader said Ankara would continue to respect the deal with Washington.

Still, Ankara may relaunch the military offensive if Erdogan thinks it would politically strengthen his hand at home, maintained Logoglu.

To punish Ankara for the cross-border operation, the U.S. House of Representatives passed highly offending resolutions against Ankara at the end of last month.

One is the recognition of the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians during the First World War as genocide, which, though legally non-binding, is the first in the history of the U.S. Congress.

A bill passed by the House calls for financial sanctions against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank and instructs the U.S. State Department to prepare a report on the personal finances and dealings of Erdogan and his family around the world.

“Coming at a critical time in the wake of two different House of Representatives resolutions targeting Turkey, it was in a sense a make-or-break summit for the two sides,” stated Logoglu.

Erdogan’s visit had more to do with fending off the sanctions targeting himself and the Halkbank, maintained Solmazturk. “With the visit, Erdogan appears to have eliminated the threat of an investigation into his and his family’s financial assets,” he said.

However, both analysts feel the larger sanctions threat against Turkey is always there, waiting to be reactivated in case of fresh disagreements with Washington.

Erdogan expressed resolve to open a new page in bilateral ties with Washington, but the analysts are skeptical about it.

Trump’s vision of increasing bilateral trade volume to 100 billion U.S. dollars, up from around 20 billion dollars, is not realistic either, according to the analysts.

“The 100-billion-dollar trade volume target or Trump’s call on Europe to help Turkey with the Syrian refugees are niceties with no real chance of realization,” said Logoglu.


French police ratchet up evidence search in Epstein probe

French police are launching a fresh appeal for witnesses and victims to come forward to aid their probe of Jeffrey Epstein and allegations that one of the financier’s associates drugged and raped young models.

Police hope the new appeal issued Friday will have a broader reach than a similar call for witnesses they issued on Facebook and Twitter in September.

Women who say they were raped and sexually assaulted by one of Epstein’s associates, modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, had this week told The Associated Press they were disappointed with the limited scope of police efforts to track down witnesses.

Brunel has denied wrongdoing and said via his lawyer he is willing to talk to investigators.

The French probe was launched in August after Epstein took his life while awaiting trial.