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European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz Tipped to Become World’s Youngest Leader

Sebastian Kurz, leader of Austria’s conservative People’s Party (OVP), is set to become the world’s youngest leader after declaring his party’s victory in Sunday’s general election. At 31, Kurz is believed to be younger than North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and France’s Emmanuel Macron who is approaching 40. With most of the votes counted, The People’s Party won more than 31 percent of the vote and is expected to form a coalition with right-wing Freedom Party (FPO).VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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France to Strip Movie Mogul Weinstein of Legion of Honor

There is more trouble for disgraced U.S. movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday he has started the process to strip Weinstein of the Legion of Honor — the highest honor in France and one of the world’s most prestigious awards.

France presented Weinstein the honor in 2012 in recognition of his efforts to promote French and other European cinema around the world.

Four French actresses are among the 13 who accuse Weinstein of sexually assaulting or harassing them over several decades.

This latest blow against Weinstein came a day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, voted to “immediately expel” Weinstein from the academy.

The vote by the 54 member Board of Governors was overwhelming, saying it wants “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”

It called the allegations that Weinstein traded professional favors for sexual ones “a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.”

The British film academy suspended Weinstein’s membership last week.

Weinstein was fired by the board of his production company, the Weinstein Co., following an explosive New York Times report just days earlier, in which 13 women accused him of sexually harassing or assaulting them.

History of transgressions

At least three women accuse him of rape. Among the actresses who have leveled accusations of sex abuse against Weinstein are such major stars as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rosanna Arquette.

The New Yorker magazine reports 16 current and former employees The Weinstein Co. and Miramax, which Weinstein co-founded with his brother Bob, either witnessed of knew of Weinstein’s sexual abuse. According to the report, all of those employees said Weinstein’s sexual deviancy was widely known within the two companies.

The 65-year-old Weinstein oversaw production of many popular films over the past 30 years, including Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies and Videotape, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting and The Butler.

Weinstein said in a statement “the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” Later, he claimed some of accusations reported in the media were false and said he would sue for defamation.

Weinstein has been a big donor in recent years to Democratic politicians in the U.S., including twice-failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. But with the sexual harassment revelations, Democratic political figures scrambled over the weekend to distance themselves from the disgraced filmmaker.

Several Democrat politicians, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have promised to donate money they received from Weinstein to charities supporting women.

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Innsbruck Won’t Bid For 2026 Winter Games After Referendum

Innsbruck no longer plans to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics after its promise to organize low-cost and sustainable games failed to convince residents.


The province of Tyrol said Sunday it will drop plans to host the games after 53.35 percent of voters had rejected the idea in a referendum. In Innsbruck, the capital of the province, 67.41 percent of residents said “no” to a possible bid.


Results from postal voting will be announced Monday but were not expected to significantly change the outcome.


“The decision stands,” Tyrol governor Guenther Platter said. “I was, and still am convinced that our offer for re-dimensioned games would have been a chance, not only for Tyrol but also for the Olympic movement.”


A feasibility study presented in June suggested Innsbruck could host the games on a budget of 1.175 billion euros ($1.3 billion).


The host city would have avoided building new permanent infrastructure with sports being spread over existing venues in the Tyrol region as well as in southern Germany and northern Italy. The Alpine skiing events would have taken place in St. Anton, biathlon in Hochfilzen, Nordic combined in Seefeld, hockey in Bolzano, Italy, and ice skating in Inzell, Germany.

IOC reform program dealt blow

Also, the concept refrained from building a central Olympic Village as athletes would have been located close to their respective venues.


In sharp contrast to the overall outcome, residents in St. Anton (85.12 percent), Hochfilzen (80.71) and Seefeld (65.40) easily voted in favor of a possible bid.


The rejection deals a blow to the International Olympic Committee as Innsbruck’s plans closely followed the guidelines of Agenda 2020, the IOC’s reform program that allows more flexibility in hosting the games, including the possibility of using venues in other cities, and even in neighboring countries.


Peter Mennel, general secretary of the Austrian Olympic Committee, said he was “personally disappointed.”


“We have been fighting hard for this chance over the last couple of months because we are convinced that the time was right for this low-key bid by Tyrol,” Mennel said.


After Innsbruck hosted the Winter Games in 1964 and again in 1976, its residents have voted against another bid two times before, in 1993 and again in 1997. Since then, Austria had several failed bids, most recently with Salzburg for the 2014 Games.


In 2013, the last time Austrian citizens were asked about hosting Olympics, Vienna had to drop plans to bid for the 2028 Summer Games after more than 70 percent of its residents rejected the idea.


The formal bidding process for the 2026 Olympics will start next year with the hosting rights to be awarded in July 2019.

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Yes or No? Catalan Separatists Face Critical Answer to Spain

Catalonia’s president is facing a critical decision that could determine the course of the region’s secessionist movement to break away from Spain.

The Spanish government has given Carles Puigdemont until Monday morning to clarify if he did or didn’t actually declare independence earlier this week.

Puigdemont told Catalan lawmakers Tuesday that he had “accepted” a mandate for independence based on the results of a disputed referendum, but that he wanted parliament to delay its implementation “for a few weeks” to give one last chance to open negotiations with Spain.

If Puigdemont replies “Yes” to Madrid on Monday, then Spain’s government has given him until Thursday to back down or else Catalonia’s ample self-rule could be temporarily suspended.

But if Puigdemont replies “No,” he will face rebellion from hardliners inside the secessionist camp which could topple his government and force a regional election for Catalonia. The far-left CUP party said on Saturday that it will withdraw its support from Puigdemont’s government if he fails to make a firm statement for a declaration of independence and deliver on that promise in the regional parliament.

Puigdemont gave no hints on what his answer will be when he briefly spoke on Sunday at a traditional memorial to former Catalan leader Lluis Companys, who was executed in 1940 by the troops of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

“In place like this and on a day like this, my government wants to reiterate its commitment to peace … and democracy ahead of the decisions we must make,” Puigdemont said after placing flower arrangements at the site where Companys was shot and at his tomb in Barcelona.

Moderates in the secessionist bloc are backing Puigdemont’s attempt to talk with Madrid, despite its repeated rejections of even considering the possibility of Catalonia splitting away.

The European Union supports a united Spain and no foreign country has voiced support for Catalonia’s separatists, meaning a declaration of independence would likely only garner a robust response from Spanish authorities.

Puigdemont claimed he had the mandate to declare an independent Catalonia after an overwhelming “Yes” vote in a Oct. 1 referendum that Spain’s top court had suspended on grounds that it was likely unconstitutional. Spain’s Constitution says that matters of national sovereignty are the jurisdiction of the Spanish parliament. Parties against secession boycotted the vote on grounds that it was illegal and lacked basic guarantees such as an independent electoral board.

Only 43 percent of eligible voters cast ballots amid a Spanish police crackdown that Catalan officials said injured hundreds. Spanish authorities said the police response was proportionate and that hundreds of officers were also injured in the violence.

Polls taken before the referendum showed roughly half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents don’t want to leave Spain. Long silent compared to the well-organized secessionists, pro-union forces have held large rallies in Barcelona over the last week.

The political crisis has also led to an exodus of business and banks from the prosperous northeastern region. Hundreds have relocated their headquarters to other parts of Spain to avoid being cast out of the European common market.

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Refugee Food Festival Aims to Sweeten the Way to People’s Hearts

A Refugee Food Festival showcasing the cooking talents of refugee chefs from five different countries has won the hearts of Geneva residents by connecting through the food of their national cuisines. 

Over the past week, local chefs have turned their kitchens over to their refugee counterparts from Syria, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Nigeria.

Nadeem Khadem al-Jamie smiles broadly as clients at this high-end restaurant applaud his culinary skills. Nadeem, a 29-year-old Syrian refugee, says cooking is his passion. An interpreter explains that he learned how to cook from his uncle and worked in his family restaurant in Damascus before he was forced to leave the country in 2015.

“And, he went to Turkey and from Turkey to Greece and then he walked all the way to Germany and then to the Swiss border,” the interpreter said. 

Nadeem’s wife and two daughters eventually joined him through a family reunification program. He hopes this spot as guest chef will land him a job. 

Force behind the festival 

Louis Martin, the co-founder of Food Sweet Food, a nongovernmental organization that initiated the Refugee Food Festival in 2016 in partnership with the U.N. refugee agency, says the project has two main objectives. 

“The first one was to change the way we look at refugees by valorizing talents and skills, culinary skills,” he said, “and the second was to create a professional accelerator for the refugee chefs participating … and we asked to every restaurant … to recommend the chef to his network and then create professional opportunities for him.”

Martin says he was struck by the negative image conveyed by the arrival of thousands of desperate refugees to Europe in the summer of 2015. That, he says, inspired him and his Food Sweet Food partner, Marine Mandrila to create the festival.

“So, we thought, how can we leverage food, how can we leverage all that we have learned through our travels and food documentaries … to create a better understanding between citizens and refugees,” Martin said.

U.N. gets involved

Martin and Mandrila brought their idea to the United Nations refugee agency in Paris. Celine Schmitt, UNHCR senior public information officer, tells VOA she was immediately captivated.

“Food is a great way to create connections,” she said. “It is also a great way to change the way people see refugees because if someone eats well, he will maybe have another idea, perspective afterwards. But, also, it is a way to integrate refugees.”

The festival caters to different tastes and different pocketbooks. Nadeem’s five-course Syrian menu is served in an elegant dining room in one of Geneva’s luxury hotels for $90. People with less money to spare can enjoy delicious Nigerian or Ethiopian food at two lakeside refreshment bars for about $20.

Schmitt says one of the great aspects of the festival is the collaboration between the restaurant’s usual chef and the refugee chef.

“The chefs who have invited the refugee chefs,” she said, “they have all told us that they want to start again and that they learned something. And, they were so happy to be able to learn from another chef because food has always been inspired by different cultures and different spices, tastes.”

When the applause dies down, Nadeem goes back to the hotel’s spotless kitchen.There he gets together with restaurant chef, Michael Coquelle. He happily looks on while Nadeem demonstrates how to make a Baba ghanouge, an eggplant puree with sesame cream, which is out of this world.

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Austria Votes in Poll That Could See Resurgence by Conservatives

Polls are open in Austria where voters are casting ballots in a snap election that analysts say could result in a resurgence by conservatives.

Opinion polls favor Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old charismatic conservative party leader and current foreign minister, who observers say has succeeded in reinventing the conservative party and galvanizing the Austrian right, including the far right, following the breakdown of a coalition between conservatives and socialists.

The campaign has been dominated by the issue of immigration. Austria, with a population of just less than 9 million, accepted 90,000 asylum seekers, most of them Muslim, during the 2015 migrant crisis, fueling support for right-wing politicians who favor tougher immigration laws.

Conservatives suffered a blow in December 2016 when Norbert Hofer was narrowly defeated in an election also dominated by the issue of immigration, but in which voters chose a Green party candidate, Alexander van der Bellen.

Now, analysts say the conservative People’s Party, led by Kurz, has soared to No. 1 in the polls, leaving the far-right Freedom Party and the socialists vying for second place. 

Observers say the poll represents a chance for the far right to join a coalition government for the first time in years and mark a shift to the right in Austrian politics.

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Millions of People in Ukraine Are in Desperate Straits as Winter Approaches

The United Nations warns some 4 million people across Ukraine are facing a desperate situation as winter approaches and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance to survive the bitterly cold months ahead.

Ukraine is into its fourth year of war, a war that the United Nations estimates has killed about 10,000 people and injured more than 23,500 others. No resolution is in sight to what has become a frozen conflict between the Kyiv government and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

This is causing immense suffering to millions of people living in zones close to the contact line that separates the areas controlled by each side. The UN reports some four million people need food, health services, shelter, water and sanitation and protection as winter approaches.

Jens Laerke is spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He says most of the people in urgent need of aid live in the rebel-controlled areas in the east, though pockets of need also exist in Government-controlled areas throughout the country.

“One of the results of this deteriorating crisis is that we now estimate that 1.2 million people in Ukraine on both sides of the contact line…are food insecure. So, that is certainly a concern,” said Laerke.

Laerke says some 600,000 people, most living in separatist east Ukraine, are unable to access their pensions, which are critical for their survival.

He warns aid agencies will not be able to provide the humanitarian aid needed to help Ukraine’s millions of vulnerable people this winter without more money. He notes only 26 percent of this year’s $200 million U.N. appeal for Ukraine has been received.

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Vatican Trial Traces Money That Feathered Cardinal’s Retirement Nest

The Vatican trial over $500,000 in donations to the pope’s pediatric hospital that were diverted to renovate a cardinal’s penthouse is reaching its conclusion, with neither the cardinal who benefited nor the contractor who was apparently paid twice for the work facing trial.


Instead, the former president of the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital and his ex-treasurer are accused of misappropriating 422,000 euros from the hospital’s fundraising foundation to overhaul the retirement home of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state under Pope Benedict XVI.


Prosecutors have asked for a guilty verdict, a three-year prison term and a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,910) for the ex-president, Giuseppe Profiti. They asked to dismiss the case against the ex-treasurer, Massimo Spina, for lack of evidence.


The trial, which began in July and resumes Saturday with the defense’s closing arguments, exposed how Bertone bent Vatican rules to get his retirement apartment in shape for him to move into after Pope Francis was elected in 2013 and named a new secretary of state.


Retirement nest 

After retiring in 2013, Bertone was assigned a 400 square meter (4,305 square feet), top-floor apartment in the Vatican-owned Palazzo San Carlo, which sits on the edge of the Vatican gardens and offers fabulous views of St. Peter’s Basilica and overlooks the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.


During the trial, Bertone was shown to have personally engineered the unprecedented maneuver to get an old friend, Gianantonio Bandera, to do the renovation. Bertone’s project jumped the queue for Vatican real estate repairs, and avoided the normal external bidding process required for such an expensive overhaul, presumably because he promised to foot the bill himself.


And Bertone did indeed pay some 300,000 euros ($355,000) out of his own pocket. The problem is the hospital foundation also paid Bandera’s firm 422,000 euros for a job that totaled 533,000 euros, including communal repairs to the palazzo’s leaky roof.


The chief engineer of the Vatican’s building maintenance office, Marco Bargellini, testified that Bertone’s August 2013 request for renovations was unique. Bargellini said he had never seen a case where a tenant proposed a project with the construction firm already chosen, since the Vatican has a list of contractors who would normally bid for the contract.


Bandera’s firm, Castelli Re, originally estimated the renovation at 616,000 euros, a fee Bargellini said was excessive compared to market rates. But he said the Vatican approved it after Bandera offered a 50 percent discount up-front.


In the end, Castelli Re went bankrupt, and the hospital’s 422,000 euros were sent instead to another Bandera company located in Britain. 

A donation made

The only hint of a potential kickback from Bandera’s apparent double-billing involved a proposed six-figure “donation” from Bandera to the hospital foundation. Profiti said he “didn’t exclude” that he had sought such a donation, and Spina testified that he tried to get the money out of Bandera. Bandera, however, pleaded financial hardship after his company went bankrupt and never paid up.


Neither Bertone nor Bandera were indicted in the case, though it’s possible prosecutors in the Vatican and Italy now have the evidence they need to mount a case against the builder over the apparent double billing.


At the trial, Bandera testified that he never billed twice for the work, though he acknowledged he was no longer fully in control of the company after it went bankrupt in early 2014.


Bertone has insisted he knew nothing of the hospital’s payment. After the scandal came to light in late 2015, Bertone quickly made a 150,000 euro ($177,300) “donation” to the hospital. He insisted it wasn’t a payback but a gesture of goodwill.


Profiti, for his part, admitted he used foundation money to spruce up Bertone’s flat because he planned to host hospital fundraising soirees there. None were ever held.


Profiti’s replacement as hospital president, Marella Enoc, testified that “it’s not my style to have fundraising dinners in the homes of cardinals or celebrities.”

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