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European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

French, Polish Leaders Meet to Mend Strained Ties

French president Emmanuel Macron is hosting Poland’s prime minister for talks ranging from Europe’s security to workers posted by their employer in another country, a contentious issue between the two European Union nations.

 

Bilateral ties are tense after Poland canceled a major deal to purchase French-made helicopters and after Macron criticized the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and bypassed Poland during a visit to the region in the summer.

 

Macron gave Szydlo a warm welcome at the Elysee Palace on Thursday. Their talks are to include terms for workers from Eastern Europe working in richer EU countries; defense cooperation and armaments; the future of the EU after Britain leaves the 28-member bloc; and Poland’s concerns over Russia’s plans for a second gas pipeline on the Baltic Sea bed.

 

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Amnesty International’s Turkey Chief to be Held Pending Trial

An Istanbul court ruled Wednesday that Amnesty International’s Turkey director should remain in jail. The anti-terror case includes 10 other human rights defenders and is drawing increasing international condemnation.

The decision by the Istanbul court to continue detaining Taner Kilic pending trial on charges of seeking to overthrow the government has drawn swift condemnation by human rights defenders. The case has become an international focal point of growing concern over the prosecution of human rights activists in Turkey.

Andrew Gardner, a Turkey researcher for Amnesty International, criticized the court’s decision.

“Really this flies in the face of all reason. There is a wealth of evidence that he was innocent of all the charges,” he said. “There was frankly nothing to suggest he was guilty. But despite this, he is again spending another night in a Turkish prison. He already has been detained for six months. The next hearing is going to be on 31st January, 2018. Really, it’s a pretty desperate day for justice in Turkey.”

Kilic also is accused of being linked to those involved in a failed coup last year. The Turkish Amnesty chief is only person currently being held in pre-trial detention after the other 10 human rights activists were released following a hearing last month.

Among those currently on trial are two foreign nationals and other leading members of Turkey’s civic society.

Addressing the court, Kilic said he was being held in an eight-person cell with more than 20 people.

The case has drawn international condemnation. Ahead of the Wednesday hearing, more than 70 leading musicians and artists from around the world called for his release in an open letter. Numerous international human rights groups and European parliamentarians attended the hearing.

Critics say the case is aimed at silencing human rights activists in Turkey. But the government has strongly defended the prosecution, saying the judiciary is independent and that the country is continuing to face an unprecedented threat after the failed military takeover.

A state of emergency remains in force and a crackdown continues against those accused of being involved in last year’s coup attempt, with more than 50,000 people being jailed.

 

 

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Kremlin Vows to Defend Russian Oligarch Who Is Under Arrest in France

Russia said Wednesday it will make every effort to defend Russian billionaire businessman and Senator Suleiman Kerimov, who was arrested in France Monday in connection with a tax evasion case.

A  public prosecutor said in Nice Wednesday Kerimov would appear in court to be formally placed under judicial investigation, which frequently results in a trial in France.

“We will do everything in our power to protect his lawful interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

A French judicial source said Kerimov faces accusations of purchasing several luxury homes on the French Riviera using shell companies, which would have enabled him to reduce his tax obligations to France.

Kerimov’s arrest prompted an angry response from Russian members of parliament, who approved a resolution denouncing it as a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 TV station cited an unnamed source as saying Kerimov had denied any guilt.

Kerimov’s family controls Polyus, Russia’s biggest gold producer. The  51-year-old Russian billionaire built Polyus during the privatizations that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union through debt, risk and political connections.

Forbes magazine listed Kerimov as Russia’s 21st richest person with a net worth of about $6.7 billion.

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Asylum Seekers Stranded on Greek Islands Face Winter Death Threat

Winter could bring death to asylum seekers stranded on crowded Greek islands with only summer tents for shelter, aid groups said on Wednesday, urging a mass relocation to the mainland.

More than 10,000 people, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, have massed on the Greek islands that lie closest to Turkey, since the European Union agreed a deal with Ankara in March 2016 to shut down the route through Greece.

Authorities say the terms of the agreement prevent them from traveling to the Greek mainland until their asylum applications are processed. Those who do not qualify are deported.

But this has forced thousands to live in squalid conditions unfit for humans, the 20 aid groups said in a joint statement.

“We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost ‘again’ this winter unless people are allowed to move, in an organized and voluntary fashion, to the mainland,” said Jana Frey, who leads Greek operations for the International Rescue Committee.

Exposure to bad weather is a key risk, along with overcrowding, lack of basic services and a reliance on dangerous and impromptu measures to keep warm, the groups said.

Last year, a 66-year old woman and 6-year-old child died in Lesbos after a cooking gas canister exploded in a tent.

“Nothing can justify trapping people in these terrible conditions on the islands for another winter,” said Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The government has moved 2,000 people to camps on the mainland after the groups wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last month, but conditions for those remaining on the island have since deteriorated, they said.

Crowded camps on Lesbos, Samos, and Chios are holding two to three times more people than they should, including single women and children, the aid workers said. Some women are also sharing tents with unrelated men, further jeopardizing their safety.

“European countries and Greece should urgently work together and move asylum seekers off the islands,” said Gabriel Sakellaridis, director of Amnesty International in Greece.

On Monday, residents on Lesbos went on strike, shutting businesses, shops, municipal offices and nurseries to protest against policies that they say have turned their island into a “prison” for migrants and refugees.

About 30,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, a fraction compared to the nearly 1 million who arrived in 2015. Greek authorities in London and Athens did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.

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Finns Want to Look for Remains of Arctic Meteorite

The remains of a blazing meteorite that lit up the dark skies of the Arctic last week are believed scattered near a lake in northern Finland, amateur Finnish astronomers said Wednesday.

The Ursa astronomical association says their calculations show the parts would have crashed in a remote area near the Norwegian and Russian borders.

The meteorite – which Norwegian scientists said gave “the glow of 100 full moons” – was seen in northern Norway and Russia’s Kola peninsula on Thursday for about five seconds.

Marko Pekkola, a scientist with Ursa, said it likely landed in the wilderness almost 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north of Helsinki. He believed it weighted between 100 kilograms and 300 kilograms (220 pounds and 660 pounds) before it entered the atmosphere, and flew at a speed of 30 kilometers per second (18.6 miles per second) – “in the low end for meteorites.”

Pekkola said the meteorite likely broke into pieces when it entered the atmosphere, producing a blast wave that felt like an explosion. The parts are believed to be spread over an area of about 60 square kilometers (24 sq. miles).

“We don’t know many pieces are out there, it is [exceptional] to find something,” Pekkola said. “I can say that finding one or two pieces is possible.”

The group says it wants to start searching for the remains, though it hasn’t set a date yet.

In 2013, a meteorite streaked across the Russian sky and exploded over the Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring about 1,100 people. Many were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows, curious about what had produced such a blinding flash of light.

The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite was estimated to be about 10 tons when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph). It shattered into pieces about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above the ground but some meteorite chunks were found in a Russian lake.

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UN Tribunal to Decide Fate of ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Mladic

United Nations judges in The Hague will decide within hours on a verdict in the trial of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who is accused of war crimes stemming from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

Mladic, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is the last former military leader to face war crimes charges in the court, which was set up to deal with the aftermath of the Bosnian war that raged from 1992 through 1995.

Mladic, who has been on trial since 2012, has been charged with 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in leading sniper campaigns in Sarajevo and the 1995 killings of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica — the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

Prosecutors have asked the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to sentence Mladic to life in prison. Last year, attorney Alan Tieger said anything less than a life sentence would be “an insult to the victims, living and dead, and an affront to justice.”

Mladic’s defense lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, has accused prosecutors of seeking to make the former general a “symbolic sacrificial lamb for the perceived guilt” of all Serbs during the war. He called for Mladic, 75, to be acquitted on all charges.

At the end of the war in 1995, Mladic went into hiding and lived in obscurity in Serbia, protected by family and elements of the security forces.

Mladic was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity but evaded justice for 16 years. He was eventually tracked down and arrested at a cousin’s house in rural northern Serbia in 2011.

The Bosnian Serbs’ political leader, Radovan Karadzic, was found guilty of war crimes in March 2016 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

The U.N. tribunal is scheduled to initiate proceedings to deliver the verdict Wednesday.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

 

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Trump, Putin Agree to Support UN in Syrian Peace Process

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Tuesday to support the U.N. effort to “peacefully resolve” the nearly seven-year-long Syrian civil war.

The White House said the two leaders talked for more than an hour and stressed the importance of ending the humanitarian crisis in which millions of Syrians have been displaced from their homes. Trump and Putin said the displaced Syrians should be allowed to return and “the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens” should be ensured.

Trump talked by phone with Putin a day after the Russian leader held discussions in Russia with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad about a political resolution to the civil war, which has killed 400,000 people.

The White House said Trump and Putin “affirmed the importance of fighting terrorism together throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and agreed to explore ways to further cooperate in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.”

In addition, they discussed ways “to implement a lasting peace in Ukraine,” where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting troops loyal to Kyiv, and how to keep international pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapon and missile development programs.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that it had called Assad to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks with Putin about Russia’s peace proposals for Syria, ahead of Putin’s summit Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Russia has bolstered Assad’s rule with airstrikes since late 2015 against groups trying to overthrow his regime, with Iranian fighters also supporting Damascus, and Turkey backing the Syrian opposition.

His power ensured, Asssad said he expressed his gratitude to Putin “for all of the efforts that Russia made to save our country.”

Putin, according to the Kremlin, told Assad that Russia’s “military operation is coming to an end. Thanks to the Russian army, Syria has been saved as a state. Much has been done to stabilize the situation in Syria.”

He praised Assad, predicting terrorism would suffer an “inevitable” defeat in Syria.

The Kremlin quoted Assad as saying, “It is in our interest to advance the political process. … We don’t want to look back. And we are ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement.”

U.N.-led peace talks about Syria are scheduled for November 28 in Geneva.

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