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Landmark Abortion Vote in Ireland May Change Constitution

An abortion debate that has inflamed passions in Ireland for decades will come down to a single question on Friday: yes or no?

The referendum on whether to repeal the country’s strict anti-abortion law is being seen by anti-abortion activists as a last-ditch stand against what they view as a European norm of abortion-on-demand, while for pro-abortion rights advocates, it is a fundamental moment for declaring an Irish woman’s right to choose. couple

If the “yes” side prevails and the constitutional ban on abortions is repealed, the government plans to introduce legislation that would allow abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and later in specific cases when the woman is at grave risk or the fetus is likely to die in the womb or shortly after birth. Parliament would then debate this plan.

Opinion surveys suggest a continuing change of attitudes in Ireland, a traditionally Roman Catholic country that surprised many by voting in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015. Both sides generally agree that the frenzied campaign ahead of Friday’s vote has not produced the dramatic shift in public opinion that anti-abortion campaigners were hoping for.

Still, David Quinn of the socially conservative Iona Institute says the “no” forces opposed to abortion rights still have “a fighting chance,” and recalled other recent political upsets.

“Remember: Brexit wasn’t supposed to pass, and Donald Trump wasn’t supposed to get elected,” he said.

Activists from both sides have put up thousands of emotional signs pleading their case and there were small demonstrations in Dublin on Wednesday as the vote neared.

Friday’s poll will be the fourth time in as many decades that Irish voters have been asked to decide on the issue of abortion.

But this time the debate has been roiled by two factors that voters have not faced before: The extraordinary power of social media and the increased availability through telemedicine websites of new drugs that allow women to make profound decisions over whether to end a pregnancy in the privacy of their homes.

Facebook and Google have both taken steps to restrict or remove ads relating to the referendum in a move designed to address global concerns about social media’s role in influencing political campaigns, from the U.S. presidential race to Brexit.

At the heart of this vote is whether or not to reverse a far-reaching 1983 referendum that inserted an amendment into Ireland’s constitution that committed authorities to equally defend the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus from the moment of conception.

The issue has been revisited repeatedly after heartrending “hard cases” that, abortion rights activists say, exposed vulnerable women to miserable choices — and even, at times, death.

Abortion is legal in Ireland only in rare cases when the woman’s life is in danger, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to terminate pregnancies in neighboring Britain. That number has fallen dramatically in recent years as women turned to online websites to illegally import drugs that end pregnancies.

The Irish Times said in its editorial Thursday that the constitutional abortion ban must be repealed because it has left doctors confused as to what is legal, and led women to travel abroad “in secrecy and shame” for abortions.

It cited as the type of  “grotesque spectacle” the ban has caused the case of a 14-year-old who became pregnant and suicidal after being raped. She had to go to the Supreme Court after the government blocked her from traveling to get an abortion.

Pro-abortion rights activists have sought to focus public attention on the difficult cases, including the fate of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who had sought and been denied an abortion before she died after a miscarriage in a Galway hospital on Ireland’s west coast in 2012. The man who led the Irish health service’s inquiry into her death has called for the constitutional ban on abortion to be repealed.

In an effort to neutralize the “hard cases” argument, some prominent anti-abortion campaigners have lately shifted their stance, even suggesting that new laws could be enacted to permit abortions in certain limited cases.

But that compromise was dismissed by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a medical doctor who favors repealing the constitutional ban. He said it is the country’s “hard laws that create hard cases.”

Friday’s referendum has placed the abortion debate on center stage, with many on Dublin’s crowded city streets wearing buttons or T-shirts that align them with the “yes” or “no” side.

Jessie Carton was walking down O’Connell Street last week in a “Repeal the Eighth”‘ T-shirt, a reference to the amendment behind the constitutional ban. The 17-year-old is too young to vote — but she would vote “yes” if she could.

“My auntie was forced to maintain her pregnancy, even though they told her the baby would die,” Carton said, adding that she would vote to repeal “so other women don’t have to go through what she did.”

An elderly Dublin man, John Byrne, wore a “no” button on his lapel.

“I believe in life. I believe God is the giver of life,” the 78-year-old said, adding that he credits God with helping him overcome alcohol addiction.

“I drank, and I remember sleeping in the bushes in Merrion Square. God bailed me out. … It’s high time I did something for him,” he said. “We’ve gone too liberal in Ireland altogether, and we would be better off if we respected our Christian values.”

The “no” forces are fearful that the urban vote in cosmopolitan Dublin could overwhelm their bid to keep the constitutional ban in force.

Quinn, the “no” backer from Iona Institute, says that if turnout is high in Dublin, the “yes” side is likely to triumph. A high rural turnout would keep the ban in place, he predicted.

Even if “yes” prevails, there will not be an immediate change in abortion rules. It will be up to parliament to enact a new law — a debate widely expected to be fractious.

 

 

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Yulia Skripal: Nerve Agent Recovery Slow, Painful

Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with her ex-spy father in a nerve agent attack, said Wednesday that they’re lucky to be alive and recovery has been slow and painful, in her first public statement since the poisoning.

Skripal, 33, and her 66-year-old father, Sergei, spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition after they were found unconscious in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Britain blames Russia for poisoning them with a military-grade nerve agent — a charge Russia vehemently denies. The poisoning has sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.

Yulia Skripal was discharged from a local hospital last month, and her father last week. Both have been taken to an undisclosed location for their protection.

In a statement, Yulia Skripal said she and her father are “so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination.”

She said their recovery had been “slow and extremely painful.”

“I don’t want to describe the details, but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing,” she said.

Sergei Skripal is a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain before coming to the U.K. as part of a 2010 prisoner swap. He had been living quietly in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London, when he was struck down.

Britain says the Russian state poisoned the Skripals with a Soviet-designed nerve agent dubbed Novichok. Moscow accuses Britain of failing to provide any evidence and stonewalling Russian requests for information.

Russia’s ambassador to Britain has accused the U.K. government of effectively kidnapping the Skripals and of breaking international law by not granting Russia consular access to them.

Yulia Skripal said that “in the longer term, I hope to return home to my country.”

“I’m grateful for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services,” she said.

“Also, I want to reiterate what I said in my earlier statement that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

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Macron Heads to Russia to Save Iran Nuclear Deal

French President Emmanuel Macron heads to St. Petersburg Thursday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose support is key on matters ranging from salvaging the Iran nuclear deal to securing steady European gas supplies.

Business also is high on the agenda of Macron’s two-day visit, which coincides with a key economic forum in St. Petersburg.

Some observers say Macron’s trip comes within a broader context of thawing European relations with Russia, as seen in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Sochi last week, and deepening differences with Washington.

But as he pursues a policy of engagement with Putin — like he did with U.S. President Donald Trump — France’s 40-year-old leader has said repeatedly he is not naive.

“I do believe we should never be weak with President Putin,” he told Fox News in an April interview. “When you are weak, he uses it.”

Still, a number of analysts doubt Macron will make much headway during his Russia visit. Some say the growing divide between the European Union and Washington will weaken his hand with the Russian leader during discussions that also are expected to include Ukraine and Syria.

Even boosting trade ties with Russia first demands “overcoming political obstacles, and they are numerous,” wrote economic journalist Jean-Marc Sylvestre in Atlantico.

“I think the Russians will do whatever they can to use Macron’s visit to their advantage, to their propaganda ends, and try to break the Atlantic alliance,” said political history professor Anton Koslov of the American Graduate School in Paris, referring to broader EU-US ties.

Tense Russia-EU landscape

Macron’s trip comes a year after hosting Putin at Versailles palace, shortly after his election, which was marred by claims of Russian interference. Since then, EU relations with Moscow, already tense over Ukraine and Crimea’s annexation, have sunk even lower.

In March, France joined the U.S. and nearly two dozen EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats in response to a nerve attack in Britain on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Even so, Macron kept his Russia visit on his agenda. Both Skripals have since left the hospital and are at an undisclosed location.

On Syria, the EU and Russia remain far apart. While Russia supports the Syrian regime, Macron joined Washington and Britain last month in striking Syrian military targets. The action followed a suspected chemical weapons attack, which Paris said it had “proof” took place.

The EU and Russia also remain key rivals closer to home, notably in the Balkans, where the Europeans worry about growing Russian influence. Yet the EU is divided over ramping up membership talks with six Balkan nations, promising only closer ties for now during an EU-Balkans summit last week in Bulgaria.

And while Russia is a close ally of Iran, France and other EU members separate their backing for the nuclear deal from their many differences with Tehran.

Washington’s pullout of the Iran agreement, however, is scrambling the diplomatic landscape. The Europeans will need Russian and Chinese support as they race to save the agreement.

Still, Koslov, of the American Graduate School, is skeptical Macron will make headway with Putin. “I don’t think he’ll be able to secure anything on Iran,” he said.

Business ties

In an interview earlier this month with France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Macron described establishing a ‘strategic dialogue” with Putin and strengthening “Russian ties to Europe and not leaving Russia to fold in on itself.” The spread of Russian media propaganda in France, which Macron denounced last year, has lessened, he said.

Those ties also appear to include business deals. Bilateral trade has picked up since the EU first imposed sanctions in 2014, and the French business leaders accompanying Macron to St. Petersburg include the heads of energy company Total, food giant Danone, and Societe Generale bank.

Today, France is Europe’s second largest investor in Russia after Germany, and bilateral trade reached a reported $15.5 billion in 2017— up from $13.3 billion the year before.

Paris is not alone in its business overtures. Earlier this week, the EU’s energy chief Maros Sefcovic said he had reached out to Ukraine and Russia to resume stalled gas talks that also would help secure European access to Russian gas beyond 2019.

And after her own talks with Putin in Russia last week, Germany’s Merkel said despite their differences, the two sides need to “come closer to discuss the facts.”

“Merkel wanted to let Washington know that Germany does not wholly depend on the U.S. for international issues,” Josef Janning, Berlin office head for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told Britain’s Independent newspaper.

Still, a recent ECFR study finds EU nations still consider Russian actions destabilizing — or potentially so — both at home and abroad, and the bloc is broadly united in pushing back, including by maintaining sanctions.

“By trying to exploit Europe’s domestic divides and weaknesses,” wrote author Kadri Liik, “Russia has created urgent incentives to address them.”

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Reports: Russian FM Lavrov Plans to Visit North Korea

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to visit North Korea, Russian news agencies quoted a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying on Wednesday.

Dates for the trip have yet to be agreed, she said. Earlier, the RBC news portal wrote that Lavrov would travel to North Korea on May 31.

That would mean him visiting before a proposed summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Tuesday, Trump cast doubt on plans for that meeting, which has been scheduled for June 12.

Russia is considered an ally of North Korea, but has supported United Nations sanctions against it over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Lavrov accepted an invitation to visit North Korea last month.

 

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US Extends Deadline for Sanctions on Russian Van-Maker GAZ

The United States on Tuesday gave American customers of Russia’s biggest van manufacturer GAZ more time to comply with sanctions, further backing away from its initially uncompromising stance on GAZ’s owner, Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

The United States slapped sanctions on Deripaska and his companies — including GAZ — and some other Russian tycoons in April, in response to Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and what Washington called other “malign activities.”

Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters previously that sanctions on GAZ could affect its contracts with German carmakers Volkswagen and Daimler, as well as with U.S. firm Cummins Inc.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday gave Americans until Oct. 23 instead of June 5 to wind down operations and contracts with GAZ and said it would consider lifting the sanctions if Deripaska ceded control of the company.

GAZ declined to comment. The company competes with firms including a joint venture between Ford Motor Co and its Russian partner Sollers.

The same extension was previously given and the same mechanism for potential lifting of sanctions was described by the United States for Deripaska’s main asset, the world’s second-biggest aluminum producer Rusal.

The move was preceded by a lobbying campaign from Europe as the sanctions against Rusal caused a turmoil in the aluminum market.

Deripaska has already said he agreed in principal to reduce his influence in another company which controls Rusal.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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Japan, Russia, Turkey Bring Potential US Tariff Retaliation to $3.5 bln

Japan, Russia and Turkey have warned the United States about potential retaliation for its tariffs on steel and aluminium, the World Trade Organization said on Tuesday, bringing the total U.S. tariff bill to around $3.5 billion annually.

The three countries detailed their compensation claims in notifications to the world trade body, following similar moves by the European Union, India and China. Each showed how much the disputed U.S. tariffs would add to the cost of steel and aluminium exports to the United States, based on 2017 trade.

Russia said the U.S. tariffs, which President Donald Trump imposed in March, would add duties of $538 million to its annual steel and aluminium exports. Japan put the sum at $440 million. Turkey added a further $267 million.

China, the 28-nation EU and India have put their claims at $612 million, $1.6 billion and $165 million respectively.

They all reject the U.S. view that the import tariffs – 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium — are justified by U.S. national security concerns and are therefore exempt from the WTO rules.

They say the U.S. tariffs have all the hallmarks of “safeguards”, a trade restriction that can be legitimately used to protect a struggling industry from an unforeseen surge in imports.

A country using safeguards must compensate other WTO members who stand to lose out from the restriction on their trade, normally by rebalancing their trading relationship with a net increase in imports of other goods.

But the United States denies its tariffs are safeguards and has offered no compensation, prompting the retaliatory action.

The compensation would normally take years, but because the U.S. steel and aluminium sectors were not facing an absolute increase in imports, the WTO rules permitted retaliation in just 30 days’ time, they said.

Japan said it was free to impose at least $264 million of its retaliation after 30 days, suggesting that the rest might be delayed, since some of the U.S. products covered by the tariffs were subject to an absolute increase in imports from Japan.

Neither Russia nor Japan specified how they might retaliate against U.S. exports, but Turkey listed 22 U.S. goods that it was planning to target, ranging from nuts, rice and tobacco to cars and steel products.

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Gay Man Says Pope Told Him: ‘God Made You Like This’

A gay Chilean man who survived abuse by a Catholic priest said Pope Francis told him that his sexual orientation “doesn’t matter” to him and that “God made you like this.”

Juan Carlos Cruz said he spoke to the pope about his homosexuality during their recent meetings at the Vatican. The pope invited Cruz and other victims of a Chilean predator priest to discuss their cases last month.

“Juan Carlos, that you are gay doesn’t matter,” Cruz said Pope Francis told him, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. “God made you like this and loves you like this, and it doesn’t matter to me. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”

The Vatican has refused to confirm or deny the remarks, citing its policy not to comment on the pope’s private conversations.

Cruz, who was abused as a child by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, told the paper that his sexual orientation came up during the discussion because he has been targeted for being gay after speaking out about his abuse.

Whether the pope’s comments will bring about change within the Catholic Church is debatable. Pope Francis has sought to make the church more welcoming to gays, most famously with his 2013 comment, “Who am I to judge?”

He also has spoken of his own ministry to gay and transgender people, insisting they are children of God, loved by God and deserving of accompaniment by the church.

While the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with “homosexual tendencies” “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” it also calls a “deep-seated” homosexual inclination and its acts “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.”

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