PolEU, Author at POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Abortion Restrictions Set to Take Effect in Poland

A Polish law limiting abortion to cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s health or life is at risk was expected to go into effect Wednesday following an October court decision deeming abortions due to fetal defects illegal. The court’s decision set off protests across the mostly Roman Catholic country. More protests were expected as the law goes into effect. “See you in front of the Constitutional Tribunal today at 6:30 p.m.,” the Women’s Strike protest group, which organized many of the October protests, said on Facebook, according to Bloomberg News. FILE – Police secure the road as demonstrators try to block traffic during a pro-choice protest in the center of Warsaw, Nov. 28, 2020.Opponents of the ruling allege the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) Party, which took power in 2015, influenced the court. The party denies the charge.  “No law-abiding government should respect this ruling,” Borys Budka, leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, told reporters, according to Reuters.  Polish President Andrzej Duda said he supports the decision. “I have said it many times, and I have never concealed it, that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life,” he said in an interview last October with Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.  Legal abortions have reportedly been declining in Poland, as some doctors are refusing to perform the procedure based on religious grounds, Reuters reported. 
 

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German Parliament Marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

A German survivor of the Holocaust Wednesday urged lawmakers during a special session of the German Parliament to “take care of our country.”Charlotte Knobloch, 88, told lawmakers that the lives of Jews in Germany are still far from normal, nearly eight decades after Nazis murdered 6 million European Jews in the Shoah — another name for the Holocaust.Knobloch also warned of democracy’s fragility and asked lawmakers to protect the achievements of the last decades for Jews and non-Jews and defend Germany against extremists. She said right-wing extremism is the greatest threat of all.Resurgence of Antisemitism Haunts UN Holocaust Memorial CeremonySomber United Nations ceremony in tribute to those who perished in Nazi death camps is dominated by fear that lessons of Holocaust were being lost and forgottenThe session was held to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 76 years after the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.At one point in her speech, Knobloch addressed members of the hard-right Alternative for Germany political party, Parliament’s largest opposition group with nearly 100 seats. She accused many of the group’s members of “picking up the tradition” of the Nazis.”I tell you — you lost your fight 76 years ago,” Knobloch said. “You will continue to fight for your Germany, and we will keep fighting for our Germany.”Knobloch is the former leader of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community that survived the Holocaust.Also attending the session was Marina Weisband, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who also warned about resurging anti-Semitism in Germany.In the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other officials, Rabbi Shaul Nekrich wrote the last 12 letters of the Sulzbacher Torah Scroll, one of Germany’s oldest torah scrolls.Since 1996, Germany has officially marked Holocaust Remembrance Day every January 27 with a solemn ceremony at the Bundestag, featuring a speech by a survivor and commemorations across the country. 

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Tensions Escalate Between EU, AstraZeneca Over Vaccine Delivery

Tensions escalated Wednesday between the European Union and the British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca regarding the company’s failure to meet a target to deliver 400 million doses of its COVD-19 vaccine to the regional bloc.The two sides had been scheduled to meet again Wednesday, to further discuss the issue but there are conflicting reports. EU officials had said the company backed out of the meeting and that it had been rescheduled for Thursday, but a company official later issued a statement saying the meeting was going to be held as scheduled Wednesday.
 
The firm had signed a deal with the European Commission to supply 400 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, which is expected to get EU approval Friday.
 WHO Chief Presses Case Against COVID-19 ‘Vaccine Nationalism’ Tedros says inoculation gap between rich, poor nations grows larger each dayBut last week, AstraZeneca told the EU that due to a production shortfall in the firm’s European plants, the firm will miss its target, while still meeting a separate contract it signed with Britain. EU officials this week said that explanation was inadequate and demanded details on the company’s vaccine production.
 
In an interview late Tuesday with the Italian Newspaper La Repubblica, AstraZeneca CEO Pascale Soriot said Britain had signed its contract three months before the EU and that had given the firm time to iron out “glitches” in British plants. He said they were three months behind in making those fixes at their European plants.
 
Soriot also said that in its agreement with the EU, AstraZeneca would only make its “best effort” to deliver the vaccines. An EU official told the Reuters news agency Wednesday that “best effort” was a standard clause in a contract for a product that does not yet exist.  
 
The official said that the clause means the signee must still show “over all” effort to deliver its product and they would hold the company to its contract.
 
The EU’s medical regulatory body, the Europe Medincines Agency was expected to give its approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use by the end of this week.  

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Auschwitz Survivors Mark Anniversary Online Amid Pandemic

Tova Friedman hid among corpses at Auschwitz amid the chaos of the extermination camp’s final days.
Just 6 years old at the time, the Poland-born Friedman was instructed by her mother to lie absolutely still in a bed at a camp hospital, next to the body of a young woman who had just died.
As German forces preparing to flee the scene of their genocide went from bed to bed shooting anyone still alive, Friedman barely breathed under a blanket and went unnoticed.
Days later, on Jan. 27, 1945, she was among the thousands of prisoners who survived to greet the Soviet troops who liberated the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Now 82, Friedman had hoped to mark Wednesday’s anniversary by taking her eight grandchildren to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site, which is under the custodianship of the Polish state. The coronavirus pandemic prevented the trip.
So instead, Friedman will be alone at home in Highland Park, New Jersey, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yet a message of warning from her about the rise of hatred will be part of a virtual observance organized by the World Jewish Congress.
Across Europe, the victims were remembered and honored in various ways.
In Austria and Slovakia, hundreds of survivors  were offered their first doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus in a gesture both symbolic and truly lifesaving given the threat of the virus to older adults. In Israel, some 900 Holocaust survivors died from COVID-19 out of the 5,300 who were infected last year, the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported said Tuesday.
Pope Francis warned from the Vatican that distorted ideologies can “end up destroying a people and humanity.” Meanwhile, Luxembourg signed a deal agreeing to pay reparations and to restitute dormant bank accounts, insurance policies and looted art to Holocaust survivors.
Institutions around the world, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum in Poland, Yad Vashem in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. have online events planned. The presidents of Israel, Germany and Poland were among those planning to deliver remarks of remembrance and warning.
The online nature of this year’s commemorations is a sharp contrast to how Friedman spent the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation  last year, when she gathered under a huge tent with other survivors and dozens of European leaders at the site of the former camp. It was one of the last large international gatherings before the pandemic forced the cancellation of most large gatherings.
Many Holocaust survivors in the United States, Israel and elsewhere find themselves in a state of previously unimaginable isolation due to the pandemic. Friedman lost her husband last March and said she feels acutely alone now.
But survivors like her also have found new connections over Zoom: World Jewish Congress leader Ronald Lauder has organized video meetings for survivors and their children and grandchildren during the pandemic.
More than 1.1 million people were murdered by the German Nazis and their henchmen at Auschwitz, the most notorious site in a network of camps and ghettos aimed at the destruction of Europe’s Jews. The vast majority of those killed at Auschwitz were Jews, but others, including Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war, were also killed in large numbers.
In all, about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Germans and their collaborators. In 2005, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an acknowledgement of Auschwitz’s iconic status.
Israel, which today counts 197,000 Holocaust survivors, officially marks its Holocaust remembrance day in the spring. But events will also be held Wednesday by survivors’ organizations and remembrance groups across the country, many of them held virtually or without members of the public in attendance.
While commemorations have moved online for the first time, one constant is the drive of survivors to tell their stories as words of caution.
Rose Schindler, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz who was originally from Czechoslovakia but now lives in San Diego, California, has been speaking to school groups about her experience for 50 years. Her story, and that of her late husband, Max, also a survivor, is also told in a book, “Two Who Survived: Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust.”
After Schindler was transported to Auschwitz in 1944, she was selected more than once for immediate death in the gas chambers. She survived by escaping each time and joining work details.
The horrors she experienced of Auschwitz — the mass murder of her parents and four of her seven siblings, the hunger, being shaven, lice infestations — are difficult to convey, but she keeps speaking to groups, over past months only by Zoom.
“We have to tell our stories so it doesn’t happen again,” Schindler told The Associated Press on Monday in a Zoom call from her home. “It is unbelievable what we went through, and the whole world was silent as this was going on.”
Friedman says she believes it is her role to “sound the alarm” about rising anti-Semitism and other hatred in the world, otherwise “another tragedy may happen.”
That hatred, she said, was on clear view when a mob inspired by former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some insurrectionists wore clothes with anti-Semitic messages like “Camp Auschwitz” and “”6MWE,” which stands for “6 million wasn’t enough.”
“It was utterly shocking and I couldn’t believe it. And I don’t know what part of America feels like that. I hope it’s a very small and isolated group and not a pervasive feeling,” Friedman said Monday.
Still, the mob violence could not shake her belief in the essential goodness of America and most Americans.
“It’s a country of freedom. It’s a country that took me in,” Friedman said.
In her recorded message that will be broadcast Wednesday, Friedman said she compares the virus of hatred in the world to COVID-19. She said the world today is witnessing “a virus of anti-Semitism, of racism, and if you don’t stop the virus, it’s going to kill humanity.”

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Biden, Putin Hold First Phone Discussions

For the first time since his inauguration, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, expressing concerns about the arrest of dissident Alexei Navalny, Moscow’s cyber-espionage campaign and bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, two senior Biden administration officials said.Biden’s stance appeared to mark another sharp break with that of former President Donald Trump, who often voiced delight at his warm relations with the Kremlin leader. At the same time, according to U.S. accounts of the call, Biden told Putin that Russia and the United States should complete a five-year extension of their nuclear arms control treaty before it expires in early February.There was no immediate readout of the call from Moscow, but Russia reached out to Biden in the first days of his four-year term in the White House. The U.S. leader agreed but only after he had prepared with his staff and had a chance for phone calls with three close Western allies of the U.S. — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.People gather in Pushkin Square during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Jan. 23, 2021. Russian police arrested hundreds of protesters.It was not immediately known how Putin responded to Biden raising contentious issues between the two countries.Biden told reporters Monday that despite disagreements with Moscow, “I find that we can both operate in the mutual self-interest of our countries as a New START agreement and make it clear to Russia that we are very concerned about their behavior, whether it’s Navalny, whether it’s SolarWinds or reports of bounties on heads of Americans in Afghanistan.”Shortly before his call with Putin, Biden spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, reassuring him of the United States’s commitment to the West’s post-World War II military pact that was formed as an alliance against the threat of Russian aggression.During his White House tenure, Trump often quarreled with NATO allies, complaining they were not contributing enough money for their mutual defense.FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a their bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.The former president was often deferential to Putin, rejecting claims in the U.S. from opposition Democrats that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help him win — a years-long saga that Trump derisively dismissed as “the Russia hoax.”Last year, Trump also questioned whether Russia was involved in the hack of software manufactured by the U.S. company SolarWinds that breached files at the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Energy.Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia was “pretty clearly” behind the cyberattack, but Trump claimed the attack was being overplayed by the U.S. media and that perhaps China was responsible.Before taking office, Biden said, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”Trump had also dismissed claims that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, another issue Biden pressed Putin on.Despite his conciliatory approach to Russia, Trump imposed sanctions on the country, Russian companies and business leaders over various issues, including Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine and attacks on dissidents.The Biden-Putin call followed pro-Navalny protests in more than 100 Russian cities last weekend, with more than 3,700 people arrested across Russia.Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s fiercest critic. He was arrested January 17 as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for nearly five months after a nerve-agent poisoning he claims was carried out by Russian agents, an accusation the Kremlin has rejected. 

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European Leaders See Promise on Digital Tax

The U.S. Senate’s confirmation of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has raised hope on the other side of the Atlantic. Yellen said the U.S. administration remains committed to working to resolve digital taxation disputes, a remark that Europeans are reading optimistically.In this file photo taken on Dec. 1, 2020, Janet Yellen speaks during a cabinet announcement event at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware.Overall, Yellen explained that the new administration supports the call for tech companies to pay more taxes, a statement that won praise from French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who spoke at the World Economic Forum.“I think it is very good news that the new Secretary for the Treasury Janet Yellen just explained that she was open about the idea of thinking about a new international taxation with the two pillars: First of all, digital taxation and, of course, also a minimum taxation on corporate tax,” Le Maire said. “I think we are on the right track. There is a possibility of finding an agreement on this new international taxation system by the end of this spring 2021.”German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a press conference following talks via video conference with Germany’s state premiers in Berlin on Dec. 13, 2020.The comments echoed those by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. He told Reuters on Tuesday he hopes an international agreement on digital taxation will happen by summer.Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are dubbed as GAFA in France by those who criticize what they say are the multinationals’ longstanding avoidance of European taxes.For years, former U.S. president Donald Trump had opposed any proposal to tax the tech giants.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) hosted the international talks over digital taxation. Members postponed a deadline for an agreement into 2021 after the U.S. pulled out of talks in June last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.The French finance minister said it is a matter of fairness.“The winners of the economic crisis are the digital giants,” Le Maire said. “How can you explain to some sectors that have been severely hit by the crisis and that are paying their due level of taxes that the digital giants will not have to pay the same amount of taxes? This is unfair and also inefficient from a financial point of view.”Last October, the OECD warned that tensions over a digital tax could trigger a trade war that could wipe out one percent of global growth every year.

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Britain Surpasses 100K COVID-19 Deaths

Britain’s health department reported Tuesday the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 100,000 people.  
In a televised news briefing from his office, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives the missed chance, even to say goodbye,”   
The health department said more than 100,000 Britons have died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The government figures show Britain has the fifth highest death toll globally and reported a further 1,631 deaths and 20,089 cases on Tuesday.  
Britain is the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 virus-related deaths, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, and is by far the smallest in terms of population.
The U.S. has recorded more than 400,000 COVID-19 deaths, the world’s highest total, but its population of about 330 million is about five times Britain’s. Worldwide, more than 2.1 million people have died from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Britain is speeding up its vaccine distribution with more than 6.8 million people receiving their first dose of vaccine and more than 472,000 receiving both doses as of Monday.

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Netherlands Police, Protesters Clash for 3rd Straight Night Over COVID-19 Restrictions

Police and protesters in the Netherlands clashed for a third consecutive night Monday after the government imposed a curfew to slow the spread of COVID-19.
At least 150 people were arrested across the country Monday as protests turned to rioting with demonstrators in some areas setting fires, throwing rocks and looting stores.
In the city of Rotterdam, police responded with tear gas and similar scenes played out in Amsterdam, where water cannons were used on rioters. Unrest was reported in smaller municipalities as well, including Haarlem, Geleen and Den Bosch. Officials say 10 police officers were injured in Rotterdam.
The protests began Saturday after the government imposed the first curfew since World War II.  Officials took the action following a warning by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) regarding a new wave of infections due to a more easily transmissible variant strain of the coronavirus, originally identified in Britain.  
But many argued the steps were not necessary as the nation has seen steady overall declines in new infections over the last several weeks.
Monday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte condemned what he called the “criminal violence” “What we saw has nothing to do with fighting for freedom. We didn’t take all these measures for fun, we did so because we are fighting against the virus and it’s the virus which is actually robbing our freedom.”
Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have been closed since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier.
More than 966,000 confirmed cases and 13,600 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic.

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