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Plastic: If It’s Not Keeping Food Fresh, Why Use It?

The food industry uses plastic to wrap its products in many places around the world. Plastic manufacturers say that keeps produce and meat fresh longer, so less goes bad and is thrown away. But, according to a new European study, while the annual use of plastic packaging has grown since the 1950s, so has food waste. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Plastic: If It’s Not Keeping Food Fresh, Why Use It?

The food industry uses plastic to wrap its products in many places around the world. Plastic manufacturers say that keeps produce and meat fresh longer, so less goes bad and is thrown away. But, according to a new European study, while the annual use of plastic packaging has grown since the 1950s, so has food waste. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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ETA Separatists Apologize for ‘Pain,’ ‘Harm’ It Caused

The Basque separatist group ETA apologized Friday for the suffering caused by its decades-long campaign of violence to create an independent state and appealed to its victims for forgiveness.

“We have caused a lot of pain and irreparable harm. We want to show our respect to the dead, to the wounded and to the victims of the actions of ETA. … We sincerely regret it,” the militant group said in a statement published by Basque newspapers Beria and Gara.

ETA is committed “to finally overcome the consequences of the conflict and to not fall into its repetition,’’ the statement said.

The statement comes as ETA, an acronym for the phrase “Basque Homeland and Liberty,” is expected to announce its final dissolution early next month.

ETA, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government, has been blamed for the deaths of more than 850 people since the late 1960s in its quest for an independent homeland out of territory in northern Spain and southwestern France.

The group has been weakened by attrition and a string of high-profile arrests in the late 1990s and 2000s. The last known murder victim of ETA was a French police officer killed in Paris in 2010.

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Blocks of Berlin Cleared for WWII Bomb Disposal

Berlin police were evacuating thousands of people from a central area of the German capital Friday and shutting down the main train station in preparation for the removal of an unexploded World War II bomb found during recent construction work.

Some 10,000 residents and workers were being forced to leave a two-square-kilometer (almost a square mile) area, including the train station, while bomb experts defuse the 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) British bomb dropped during the war.

Trains were prevented from stopping at the busy station from 10 a.m., and through traffic was being shut down at 11:30 a.m. before experts begin their work, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

Rail traffic is tentatively planned to resume about 1 p.m. but it’s not clear how long the bomb disposal operation will take. Some 300,000 travelers use the station daily, according to Deutsche Bahn.

The evacuation area, a circle around the construction site north of the train station where the bomb was discovered, also includes a hospital, the main office of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, and parts of both the economy and transportation ministries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and Germany’s parliament building are close by, but outside the zone.

Common discovery

Even 73 years after the end of the war, such discoveries remain common in major German cities.

Downtown Berlin was largely reduced to rubble in hundreds of Allied bombing raids during the war and street-to-street fighting between the Nazi and Soviet armies in the final days of the conflict.

Experts estimate that more than 5 percent of the bombs dropped on Berlin failed to explode for a variety of reasons, including faulty fuses, poor assembly and bad angle of impact. The city estimates at least 3,000 bombs, grenades and other munitions are still buried.

In one of the more sensational finds, a 250-kilogram (550-pound) British bomb was found in 2002 beneath the lower ring of seats during renovation work at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where tens of thousands of fans regularly watch the city’s Hertha BSC soccer club play its home games.

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Macedonia ‘Back on Track’ Toward EU Membership  

Macedonia is “back on track” toward European Union membership, the EU foreign policy chief says, urging Macedonia to keep carrying out recommended EU reforms.

The EU’s Federica Mogherini congratulated Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev during a visit to Skopje Wednesday.

“You’ve gone a long way and, yes, the good news is … that you’re back,” Mogherini said. “I think this is a major achievement you have to be proud of. You can celebrate.”

But the EU official urged Zaev to deepen and maintain the recommended economic reforms needed to meet EU standards.

She also said she believes it is “definitely possible” for Macedonia and Greece to resolve the long-standing name dispute before the next scheduled EU summit in June.

Greece has been holding up EU and NATO membership for Macedonia because of their feud over the name Macedonia — used by both the former Yugoslav republic and the ancient region of northern Greece. 

Many Greeks say allowing the neighboring country to use the name Macedonia insults Greek history and implies a claim on Greek territory.

Macedonians say changing their country’s name or even modifying it in a deal with Greece would be like committing treason.

Greek and Macedonian leaders have opened talks on a settlement after years of unsuccessful efforts by the United Nations.

Among the proposals is calling the country New, Upper, or North Macedonia.

Macedonia has already changed the name of the main airport from Alexander the Great Airport — for the ancient Greek hero — to Skopje International Airport.

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Zuckerberg Under Pressure to Face EU Lawmakers Over Data Scandal

Facebook Inc’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg came under pressure from EU lawmakers on Wednesday to come to Europe and shed light on the data breach involving Cambridge Analytica that affected nearly three million Europeans.

The world’s largest social network is under fire worldwide after information about nearly 87 million users wrongly ended up in the hands of the British political consultancy, a firm hired by Donald Trump for his 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani last week repeated his request to Zuckerberg to appear before the assembly, saying that sending a junior executive would not suffice.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who recently spoke to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, said Zuckerberg should heed the lawmakers’ call.

“This case is too important to treat as business as usual,” Jourova told an assembly of lawmakers.

“I advised Sheryl Sandberg that Zuckerberg should accept the invitation from the European Parliament. (EU digital chief Andrius) Ansip refers to the invitation as a measure of rebuilding trust,” she said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Zuckerberg fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers last week and emerged largely unscathed. He will meet Ansip in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Another European lawmaker Sophia in’t Veld echoed the call from her colleagues, saying that the Facebook CEO should do them the same courtesy.

“I think Zuckerberg would be well advised to appear at the Parliament out of respect for Europeans,” she said.

Lawmaker Viviane Reding, the architect of the EU’s landmark privacy law which will come into effect on May 25, giving Europeans more control over their online data, said the right laws would bring back trust among users.


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US and Russia Want to Avoid Syrian Escalation, But Are They in Control?

The U.S. and its Western allies avoided triggering a wider war in Syria last Saturday when they retaliated with precision missile strikes against President Bashar al-Assad for an alleged chemical weapons attack. But there are plenty of hazards ahead that could draw the big powers, as well as neighboring countries, deeper into the Syria quagmire — and into direct conflict with each other, however determined they are to avoid it, analysts said.

Washington and its allies may have given up on seeking the removal of Assad from power, and the rebels may now control only a few pockets of the north near the Turkish border and in the south adjacent to Jordan, but the Syria conflict remains far from over.

Microconflicts abound — although they are less “micro” from the point of view of those involved — with a struggle intensifying over the consolidation of spheres of influence. Several outside powers are determined not only to shape post-war Syria, but to retain significant long-term roles for themselves, as well as to maintain territory they currently control.

In the north, Turkey is continuing to press an offensive against America’s Syrian Kurdish allies and is threatening to expand it. Sunni Arab rebels and Kurds are at each other’s throats, risking drawing in the U.S. Al-Qaida remains a menacing and influential force. And remnants of the Islamic State group have yet to be mopped up.

Aside from Turkey, substantial territory is occupied by Iranian-controlled militias, including Tehran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, which has developed a number of military bases in the country, and Iranian-led Shi’ites from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And the biggest challenge all foreign powers face in Syria is how to control their proxies and ostensible partners in a complex multisided struggle involving an array of militias and fighters and countries, all with conflicting agendas.

There was a sense of relief among Western political and military leaders in the hours after the U.S., France and Britain launched a barrage of 105 cruise missiles to obliterate three Syrian government facilities. The worst-case scenario of the Russians responding to the punitive strikes hadn’t materialized. And the Syrian military’s efforts to shoot down incoming missiles failed — despite claims to the contrary by both Moscow and Damascus, said Pentagon officials.

​Israel and Iran

But the threat of escalation remains, despite its absence Saturday, and one of the biggest risks, said analysts, rests with a menacing threat dynamic unfolding between Israel and Iran in Syria.

“The scale of Tehran’s military expansion across Syrian territory and the resulting threat that this poses both to Israel and regional security has become unsustainable, and the risk of a major conflagration and a potentially uncontrollable cycle of escalation has never been higher,” said Charles Lister, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based research organization, and author of the book The Syrian Jihad.

Israel has launched dozens of cross-border airstrikes targeting mainly Hezbollah in the past few years, with the latest earlier this month, when at least seven Iranian military personnel, including a top commander, were killed in an Israeli missile strike on an Iranian drone base in Homs province.

On Tuesday, Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, threatened reprisal, warning, “Tel Aviv will be punished for its aggressive action. The occupying Zionist regime will, sooner or later, receive an appropriate response to its actions.”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned after the missile strike on the drone base that Israel “will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria, no matter the price to pay. We have no other option. Allowing Iran to strengthen itself in Syria is like accepting that the Iranians strangle us.”

Lister said the U.S. needs to include the issue of the military presence of Iran and Hezbollah “within its broader strategic calculations on Syria policy, and in coordination with allies, it should seek to aggressively contain and deter Iran and prevent the worst-case scenario from becoming truly inevitable.”

U.S. options

It remains unclear, though, how Washington can do that — at least, without courting the danger of being drawn deeper into a conflict that’s threatening to spill over in all directions, more so now than at any other time in the seven-year conflict. Containing Iran would also seem impossible, if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through on his stated aim of withdrawing soon the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in northern Syria, where they are tasked with mopping up IS fighters but are serving also as protectors of the Syrian Kurds.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that one idea being raised by the Trump administration is to assemble a coalition force drawn from Gulf Arab states and Egypt to replace the U.S. military in northeast Syria, with the aim of it combating extremist groups and containing Iranian influence.

But analysts caution any Arab troops deployed would find themselves directly confronting Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Shi’ite militias, prompting the likelihood of war spreading across the Middle East.

Turkey would also be unlikely to welcome Egyptian, Saudi or Emirati forces arrayed along its southern border, said analysts, and it is unclear how the force would be able to operate, as Egypt is supportive of the Assad government, while Saudi Arabia and the Emirates aren’t.

Even without throwing an Arab force into the equation, the endgame of the Syrian conflict is fraught with increasing unknowns and dangers. Despite a display of unity between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran at a recent conference in Ankara hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there are signs that the current understanding between the three may not have long to run.

Both Russia and Iran are pressing Turkey to relinquish control of the Kurdish city of Afrin and to hand it over to the Syrian government. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was the most explicit, expressing disapproval of Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria and complaining it is in violation of Syria’s “territorial integrity.”

“Tehran appears to be increasingly concerned about Turkey’s plans in the north of the country,” according to Hamidreza Azizi, a political scientist at Iran’s Shahid Beheshti University.

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