Category: Europe

news from Europe

Russian Authorities Arrest 17 Protesters in Moscow

At least 17 people, included journalists, were detained Friday in Moscow, after protesting in front of the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters over criminal charges leveled against a Russian journalist.Prosecutors in Pskov requested a six-year prison term for Svetlana Prokopyeva, who wrote an article on the blast outside a branch of Russia’s FSB in Arkhangelsk in 2018.People have gathered here today because the prosecutors have asked for an impossible six years of prison for her article,” said journalist Irina Dolinina. “But they can’t express their opinion because they are detained and taken to the police car before they can take out their banners.”Protesters have expressed fear that Prokopyeva’s case could be followed by more repression in the country, as people are unable to freely protest because the coronavirus restrictions are still in effect.”Hereafter the society will be decaying, and the repressions will strengthen until people start expressing their anger,” said Moscow resident Alexander Matskevich. “I don’t know how far it (the repression) can go. We have an example of North Korea. I doubt anyone wants to have the same here.”Russian authorities had identified the attacker in Arkhangelsk as a local 17-year-old man and treated the case as an act of terrorism.In her article, Prokopyeva wrote that the attacker’s motives were linked to the political climate in Russia.After the publication, authorities accused Prokopyeva of publicly justifying terrorism.The court is expected to announce the final verdict on Monday. 

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Trial in Killing of Journalist Khashoggi Opens in Turkey

A trial of those charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi opened Friday in Turkey, but none of the 20 Saudi nationals accused in the killing were in attendance.The fiancee of Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, told the court in Istanbul that the accused used “great betrayal and deception” to lure the journalist to his death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.Cengiz told reporters outside the courthouse that “we will continue seeking justice not just in Turkey but everywhere we can.”Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident, went to the consulate in 2018 to pick up documents that would allow him to marry Cengiz, who is Turkish. He was killed inside the consulate while Cengiz waited outside, sparking global outrage.The journalist, who wrote columns for The Washington Post, was a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.The 20 defendants, including two former aides of the crown prince, have all returned to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has rejected Turkey’s request for their extradition.Some of the men have been tried in Saudi Arabia behind closed doors.Turkish prosecutors allege the men were sent to Turkey from Riyadh to confront Khashoggi.Rogue operatives blamedSaudi Arabia has given varying accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance, eventually saying the killing was the work of rogue operatives.The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has concluded with “medium to high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the killing. The crown prince denies he was involved.The remains of Khashoggi have not been found. Turkish and Saudi prosecutors allege the Saudi agents dismembered his body after the killing.A handyman at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Zeki Demir, told the Turkish court Friday that he had been asked to light a tandoor oven less than one hour after Khashoggi entered the building. He described the Saudi agents as having an “air of panic.”The trial was adjourned Friday until November 24.

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France’s Macron Picks Little-known Civil Servant as New Prime Minister

French President Emmanuel Macron named Jean Castex, a senior civil servant, as his new prime minister on Friday as he acted to recast his presidency and take back control of policy ahead of elections in 2022.Macron wants to start afresh after the coronavirus crisis reversed some of the hard-fought gains earned from moves to liberalize the economy, and is aware he needs to win back disillusioned voters.Outgoing premier Edouard Philippe gave Castex a “namaste” welcome greeting outside the prime minister’s Matignon office, having earlier tendered his government’s resignation ahead of an anticipated reshuffle.”The economic crisis is already here,” Castex said. “Priorities will therefore have to evolve, ways of working will have to be adapted. We will have to unite the nation to fight this crisis that is setting in.”Macron is reshaping his government as France grapples with the deepest economic slide since World War II, a sharp downturn that will shrink the economy by about 11% in 2020 and bring about big job losses.Castex, 55, hails from the center-right, a career technocrat with experience in local politics who most recently has been known as “Monsieur Deconfinement” for his role bringing the country out of lockdown measures.Also the mayor of Prades, a town in southwest France, he speaks with a local lilt and will help Macron connect with provincial France, Elysee insiders hope.Investors will be watching to see if Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who has overseen reforms to liberalize the economy and spent big to keep companies like Air France and Renault afloat during the crisis, keeps his job.FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during the closing press conference at the G5 Sahel summit on June 30, 2020, in Nouakchott.”The return from summer holidays will be difficult, we must get ready,” Macron said on the eve of his government’s resignation.Taking controlPhilippe’s popularity had grown as he steered France through the coronavirus crisis with calm, leaving Macron with a tough decision over whether to jettison his prime minister and opt for a new team.As he did with Philippe, Macron plucked Castex from relative obscurity. The new prime minister, an alumni of France’s top administrative school for politicians and public servants, has held civil servant positions at all levels of government, including as a senior adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy.The appointment of a civil servant with a low profile showed “Macron’s willingness to exert full control over the policy agenda in the coming months,” said Antonio Barroso at risk advisory firm Teneo.An Elysee source confirmed Macron had imposed his choice of chief of staff on Castex but rejected suggestions this was an attempt to reduce Matignon’s influence over decision-making.LoyaltyMacron said in mid-June that he wanted to “reinvent” his presidency as France emerges from its coronavirus slump. Then came his party’s dire showing in nationwide municipal elections on June 28.The president’s first three years in office have been mired in social unrest and the elections showed surging support for the Green party and underlined Macron’s troubles connecting with ordinary folk. His ruling party failed to win a single big city, depriving the president of a local power base ahead of 2022.The most notable win was Philippe’s success in Le Havre. His exit from the government clears the way for him to be mayor of the northern port, from where he could emerge as a rival to Macron in two years.Macron aides said Macron and Philippe were leaving on warm terms. Philippe will be tasked with rebuilding Macron’s majority ahead of 2022, a sign Macron may want to ensure he keeps his former prime minister close to him.”I don’t think Philippe’s loyalty has ever been called into question,” the Elysee official said.

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English Pubs Are Reopening — They Won’t Be the Same

Asking people in English pubs to keep their distance is going to be tough after they’ve had a few of their favorite tipples.Pub managers will have to be resourceful come Saturday when they and other parts of the hospitality industry in England open their doors to customers for the first time since March 20, provided they meet COVID safety requirements.The British government has been accused of being reckless in allowing pubs to open again, given coronavirus infection and death rates are still high and amid evidence that reopening bars in countries like the U.S. has led to new outbreaks. The U.K. has recorded nearly 44,000 virus-related deaths, third behind the United States and Brazil.Closing Bars to Stop Coronavirus Spread is Backed by ScienceAlcohol lowers inhibitions, so people forget precautions, Natalie Dean, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Florida saysMany cash-starved pubs will take the plunge anyway, though they will be very different from what they were when they shut down given the need to ensure everyone is safe — from registering customers upon entrance to making sure tables are far enough apart to meet social distancing rules.”I’m nervous,” said Are Kolltveit, who runs the Chandos Arms in north London with his wife Emily. They have turned around the fortunes of the pub in the past few years by taking it back to the community, offering activities like live music — in addition to a finely poured pint of ale. It was voted Best Local in the 2019 British Pub Awards.”It won’t be the same, but we’ll do our best to make it just as great as ever,” he said.The pandemic is an existential threat to most of England’s 37,500 pubs. The Chandos, and countless others, have benefited from government measures, notably a wage support scheme that prevented mass firings. Around 90% of pub staff were furloughed under the scheme, according to the Beer and Pub Association.Reopening — as early as 6 a.m. if they wish, the government confirmed Friday — offers hope to publicans like Kolltveit, but margins are tight.Kolltveit wants to think people will abide by the rules, given the pandemic is still ongoing, and says his pub can survive for around five months without further help — provided it runs at 50% of maximum capacity and there’s no second spike in contagions or a new lockdown on businesses.”The best pubs are extensions of the landlord’s personality and the atmosphere of the pub is going to be massively challenged, but I think the best publicans will find ways of reinventing it in some way,” said Pete Brown, an award-winning beer writer.When they reopen, pubs will need to ensure table service, a move that halts the cherished tradition of the English boozer — crowding and chatting around the bar. Guests will be limited to groups of six and, where possible, sit side by side to reduce any risk of contagion that may come from shouting too loudly.They will be spaced at least one meter (3.3 feet) apart and be encouraged to take other measures to keep safe, such as using hand sanitizers. Wearing masks, even by staff, is optional.  Pub staff will also have to register the names of customers at the door — and keep them for 21 days — to assist in any efforts to trace virus contagions.Tim Sheehan, co-owner of Franklins, a pub and restaurant in southeast London, is annoyed by the effective enrolment of the hospitality industry in the effort to track and trace contagions and wonders how he is meant to verify anyone’s health or identity.”How many Mr. and Mrs. Presleys are we going to get? And how do you go about asking people personal questions?,” he said. “I’m dreading it in that respect.”He’s also concerned it will be “like New Year’s Eve” in some pubs, particularly those that cater to younger people, and that social distancing guidelines “may go out of the window after people have had a few shandies.””We are moving to the stage where the advice is to essentially use common sense,” said Jon Cross, a 40-year-old accountant in north London.”Most people will trust their local to make the right choices,” added Cross who said he’d happily frequent his local pub, The Wrestlers, if it isn’t busy.The guidelines are the same whatever the size and layout of the pub. But the challenges are likely to be very different for a huge venue like JD Wetherspoon’s The Moon Under Water in Manchester and a quaint country pub like The George at Burpham, tucked between a church and a cricket pitch in southern England.Pubs like The George are inherent to the rhythm of their rural surrounding. It is starting with an outside barbecue on Saturday, followed by a traditional Sunday roast service indoors and out.”Not since the Duke of Norfolk opened Arundel Railway Station on his land in August 1863 has a summer event been more eagerly awaited by Sussex locals than the re-opening of The George,” said Robert Essex, a 59-year-old marketing services executive and one of the locals who bought the pub in 2013.Not everyone is reopening. The Tollington Arms, a pub near Arsenal’s soccer stadium in north London thinks the government is ignoring expert scientific advice and voiced worries about “contributing to a second wave of this pandemic.”Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that people are “appreciably less likely now to be in close proximity” with someone with the virus and that the latest easing of the lockdown had been carefully thought through.”Let’s not blow it now,” he said.

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Blast Rocks Turkey Fireworks Factory

Turkish state media reports an explosion at a fireworks factory in northwestern part of the country.  The Associated Press reports there were between 150 to 200 people in the building at the time of the blast Friday. There were no immediate reports of casualties following the explosion in Sakarya province.Television video footage showed a huge cloud of smoke over the blast site. 

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US Strategic Partners Urge More Attention to Black Sea

Top diplomats from Ukraine, Georgia and Romania are urging the United States and NATO to step up their presence in the Black Sea region to discourage Moscow from advancing its aggressive agenda.Ambassadors from the three countries, all of which border the sea, voiced their concerns Thursday at an event organized by the Middle East Institute’s newly inaugurated Frontier Europe Initiative.Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the Black Sea has been fought over for centuries, noted Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko. More recently, Russia has enlarged its footprint around the strategically vital waterway by directly or indirectly seizing territory from Georgia in 2008 and from Ukraine in 2014.“We alone don’t have the capability to stand up to Russia,” acknowledged Yelchenko, who was joined in that assessment by Georgian Ambassador David Bakradze. Both urged the United States to bolster its presence in the region and to strengthen its allies and partners.Greater US, NATO presenceThe U.S. and NATO presence in the Black Sea region “skyrocketed” immediately after the Crimea crisis in 2014 but has since tapered off, said Heritage Foundation analyst Luke Coffey in an interview with VOA.In a paper published earlier this year, Coffey described the Black Sea as “having been fought over by some of the world’s major empires. Throughout history, it has proven to be one of the most geopolitically and economically important locations in the broader Eurasian region.”FILE – Shipping containers are seen in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, Nov. 4, 2016.Fuel, shippingOil and gas pipelines, as well as fiber-optic cables, run along the bottom of the sea, while hundreds of ships crisscross its surface daily moving people and goods, said Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at Heritage.For Russia, the sea is also the maritime gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and strategic points beyond.Coffey argued for a continuous NATO presence in the region, saying “every single day of the year, there should be at least one NATO ship” in the Black Sea.He acknowledged that NATO countries presently lack the ships and possibly the political will to maintain such a robust presence, especially with budgets constrained by the coronavirus pandemic. “Surface warships are very expensive defense capability.”He called for “creative solutions,” looking at how air and land assets could accompany a projection of naval force. The situation needs to be looked at “holistically,” he said, taking into account the differing levels of enthusiasm in the region for any alliance with the U.S. and its NATO partners.Romania, Coffey said, is the most enthusiastic NATO member among the countries that border the Black Sea, whereas Turkey wields the most maritime power in the region after Russia.Ankara support seen vitalThe ambassadors from Georgia, Romania and Ukraine agreed that no regional initiative is likely to bear fruit without the support of Ankara. “We would like to see Turkey more engaged,” said George Maior, Romanian ambassador to the United States.FILE – Romanian soldiers take part in a joint exercise with U.S. troops during Argedava Saber 17, a stage in Saber Guardian 17 exercises, in Bordusani, Ialomita, Romania, July 16, 2017.Romania, he said, has worked diligently and consistently with the Pentagon to increase and enhance the U.S. military presence, both on land and at sea.Several participants in the forum expressed hope that the United States and NATO would devote the same attention and resources to the Black Sea region as they have to the three Baltic states, all NATO members since 2004.While NATO membership still seems a distant prospect for Georgia and Ukraine, Coffey said that should not be ruled out.“If you were to ask people in the early 1990s what the prospect of Poland, Latvia joining NATO was, the answer you would likely get was ‘impossible,’ ” he said. Today both are not only alliance members but among the staunchest supporters of the institution.“We shouldn’t let Russia have the unofficial veto” over Georgia and Ukraine, he said.

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Another ‘Annus Horribilis’ for British Royals as Legal Woes Mount

The arrest Thursday in the U.S. state of New Hampshire of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and long-time friend of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, is ringing legal alarm bells thousands of miles away in Buckingham Palace, former royal advisers say. Maxwell, 58, has long been wanted for questioning by the FBI over allegations that she supplied underage girls to Epstein and his closest friends, including Prince Andrew, reputedly the favorite son of Queen Elizabeth. Maxwell has publicly denied procuring girls for Epstein and his circle of intimates. Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, was forced to step down in November from public life over his friendship with Epstein amid allegations that he’d had sex with a 17-year-old girl who had been arranged for him by Maxwell. The prince has denied the claim. Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a news conference to announce charges against Ghislaine Maxwell, in New York, July 2, 2020.Elizabeth’s legal advisers will be trying to assess what ramifications Maxwell’s arrest may entail for the beleaguered 60-year-old prince, a former Buckingham Palace official told VOA. Maxwell was charged by New York federal prosecutors Thursday with six counts in connection with an ongoing investigation into Epstein’s accomplices, according to court documents, including enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury. “In particular, from at least in or about 1994, up to and including at least in or about 1997, Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18,” the indictment states. FILE – Jeffrey Epstein is seen in this March 28, 2017, photo provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry.Epstein was found dead last year in a New York prison cell, where he was being held on charges of trafficking girls as young as 14 years old. His death, ruled a suicide, has not stopped a wide-ranging federal probe that is drawing in Epstein’s friends. The prince has been locked in a transatlantic dispute since January with U.S. prosecutors who say he has failed to assist them in their long-running probe into Epstein’s history of sexual abuse, and the possible complicity of others, despite the prince’s pledges to do so. “Certainly, the worry will be that Andrew will be thrust back into the glare of the public spotlight, and that the arrest will embolden the federal prosecutors to press for Andrew’s cooperation,” a former palace official said. “This does risk wider political ramifications, including Britain’s political relations with the U.S, as well as how the British public will view the royal family moving forward,” he added. ‘Megxit’The deepening Epstein saga is adding to the mounting woes buffeting Britain’s royals. Buckingham Palace is also focused on trying to contain the fallout from the decision last year by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to move to the United States and carve out an independent life for themselves free from the protocol constraints of royal life. FILE – Britain’s Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London, March 9, 2020.The palace is braced for a string of upcoming books on the so-called “Megxit” of the young couple from royal life. The pair reportedly assisted some of the authors, and the lurid revelations are likely to deepen an alleged widening rift between royal family members, including between the Duke and his elder brother, Prince William — the sons of Prince Charles, the heir apparent. Hours before Maxwell’s arrest, Britain’s media was focused on claims by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, that she felt shut out by the royal family and that the palace failed to protect her while she was pregnant with her first child, Archie, in 2019.  The claim was made in documents released as part of a High Court battle between the duchess and the Daily Mail newspaper, which she is suing for breach of privacy. Andrew’s legal woes — as well as the semi-public squabbling between members of the royal family, nicknamed “the firm” — is shaping up to turn 2020 into a year comparable to the series of troubles that rocked Buckingham Palace in 1992, which the queen dubbed an “annus horribilis” (horrible year).  That year included the public breakup of the Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and disclosures about their infidelities, followed by a fire at Windsor Castle that destroyed large parts of the 11th century building.   Questioning Andrew In June, the U.S. Department of Justice invoked America’s Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Britain, a rare legal move, to demand a formal face-to-face interview with Andrew. British media reports suggest that so far, Andrew has only offered to provide written answers to questions posed by federal prosecutors — and to do so without taking an oath. He has publicly denied any wrongdoing and dismissed allegations that he slept with Virginia Roberts Giuffre at the billionaire’s luxury apartments in London and New York and at his Caribbean retreat when she was a teenager. FILE – A combination photo of the front-pages of British newspapers headline the scandal surrounding Britain’s Prince Andrew, Nov. 21, 2019.Asked during a Fox News interview last month whether the U.S. would officially ask Britain to hand over the duke for questioning, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said there were no plans to seek his extradition. “I don’t think it’s a question of handing him over. I think it’s just a question of having him provide some evidence,” he said. Andrew’s friendship with Epstein first came under intense scrutiny in 2010 when photographs emerged of the two together in New York when Epstein was already a registered sex offender. The prince, who has been accused in the past of forming ill-judged friendships and had a reputation as a hard-partying royal when younger, said in a BBC interview last year that he only visited Epstein at the time to tell him their friendship was over. The 45-minute TV interview, in which he failed to express sympathy for the teenagers trafficked and exploited by Epstein, was widely condemned and prompted a backlash from businesses sponsoring his charities. The immediate impact was Andrew’s announcement he was stepping down from royal duties — a move reportedly insisted on by his elder brother Charles during a family conference. Speaking at a press conference in New York, U.S. Deputy District Attorney Audrey Strauss said she would not comment on the status of Andrew in the investigation, but added, “We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in and speaking with us.” 
 

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Jeffrey Epstein Associate Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested on Sex Abuse Charges

U.S. federal investigators they have arrested British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, longtime companion of the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein on charges she solicited minors for sex with Epstein.The Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecutors confirmed 58-year-old Maxwell was taken into custody Thursday in the U.S. state of New Hampshire, where the FBI says they had been monitoring her.FILE – This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein.At a news conference in New York City, Acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss detailed how Maxwell, beginning “in at least 1994,” enticed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein. Straus said Maxwell sometimes would participate in the sex acts herself.  Strauss said Maxwell would develop a rapport with the victims, and “then tried to normalize sexual abuse with a minor victim though a process known as grooming. For example, Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the victim and undress in front of the victim or be present for sex acts involving the minor victims and Epstein.”The 66-year-old Epstein apparently hanged himself in a federal detention center in New York last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.FILE – Virginia Giuffre, an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein, leaves after the hearing in the criminal case against Epstein, at Federal Court in New York, Aug. 27, 2019.The daughter of late British media tycoon Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell has been accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. She repeatedly denied the accusations and, until now, had never been charged.Maxwell was expected to make a court appearance in New Hampshire later on Thursday. 

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Rights Activists Say Danes Unaware of Racism in Their Nation

Rights activists on Thursday accused Danish officials of being unable to recognize racism after authorities said the killing of a biracial man by two white men was not racially motivated.
 
“In Denmark, white people are colorblind. They cannot see that racism exists. That is embarrassing,”said Jette Moeller, head of the Danish chapter of SOS-Racism, an international association.  
“Of course, racism exists (in Denmark). We know that. It has been documented for years,” said Mira Chandhok Skadegaard, an assistant professor at Aalborg University in northern Denmark.
A biracial man was killed last month on a Danish Baltic Sea island. The Danish police, prosecutor, a defense lawyer and a white friend of the victim all say a personal relationship that went wrong  between the victim and the perpetrators was the reason for the slaying, not racism.  
The 28-year-old victim, who had Danish and African roots, was found on the island of Bornholm on June 23. Two white brothers in their 20s whom the victim reportedly knew have been detained until July 22 on suspicion of murder. None have been named by authorities.  
Speculation that the killing could be racially motivated began after it emerged that the victim’s death bore some similarities to that of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even as Floyd pleaded for air. Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world demanding racial justice and condemning police brutality.
The Danish chapter of Black Lives Matter wrote on Facebook that “two brothers committed a racial murder on Bornholm” and posted a photo of a swastika tattoo, claiming it was on one suspect’s leg.  
“Let a judge decide” whether the slaying was racially motivated, Moeller told The Associated Press in an interview. “But it should be investigated as a racially motivated crime. Knowing those who killed him doesn’t rule out it could include some racial elements.”
Activists like Moeller see a pattern of denial in Denmark, which they attribute to rising anti-immigrant attitudes in the Nordic country. She also points out that Denmark’s freedom of expression should not be used to denigrate people, and the miss-use of that right has previously brought the Scandinavian country of 10 million into the crosshairs of Muslims around the world.
“Racism is about the effect it has on other people … One cannot use the liberty of expression as an excuse to taunt others, like Rasmus Paludan does by burning copies of the Quran,” she said.
For months, Paludan, a far-right provocateur, has been touring the country and tossing copies of the Islamic holy book in the air before burning them before immigrants. This has sometimes led to brief confrontations between onlookers and police who have been protecting Paludan.
Last month, Paludan was convicted of racism, among other things, with a court ruling that “his statements were derogatory and degrading toward a population group.” He was given a three-month prison sentence, of which two were suspended, and his licence to practice law was suspended in part for three years. He has appealed the sentence.
In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons showing the Prophet Muhammad. This caused wide outrage among Muslims, who generally hold that any depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous and prompted often violent protests in Muslim countries. The newspaper — one of Denmark’s largest — said it had wanted to test whether cartoonists would apply self-censorship when asked to portray Muhammad. No Danish laws were violated with the cartoons’ publication.  
It was the same daily that in January published a cartoon with the Chinese flag with what resembles viruses instead of the normal stars, sparking China’s anger. In both cases, the Danish right to freedom of speech was invoked.  
In 2017, a 16-year-old Afghan boy was set on fire by four schoolmates but race was ruled out as factor. The four teenagers were found guilty of gross violence and the Afghan boy survived with burns on his legs and chest.  
A 2018 report by the European Union pointed out that hate crimes in Denmark had quadrupled over 11 years, from 35 reported cases in 2007 to 140 cases in 2016.
In Europe, “Denmark belongs to the tough group,” Moeller told the AP. “I believe that we’re on the right track as we start to discuss it, address it.”  
She noted that a racial justice demonstration in Copenhagen on June 7 drew at least 15,000 people.  
Chandhok Skadegaard, who has been studying discrimination for decades, said Danes “are far behind when it comes to recognizing racism in our society. Sweden is several steps ahead of Denmark … as is Norway, and Finland and England.”
“People tend to not report discrimination, because they find it is not acknowledged or taken seriously by the authorities,” she said.
In 2016, Denmark made international headlines when a law was passed requiring asylum-seekers to hand over valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,500), to help cover housing and food costs while their cases were being processed. Although the center-right government behind the move said it was in line with rules for unemployed Danes seeking benefits, critics denounced the law as inhumane.  
Still, the law has not been changed under Denmark’s present Social Democratic government. 

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Top Intelligence Officials Set to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress Thursday on what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) FILE – American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan.Credible reports
New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, July 1, 2020, in Washington.Pompeo downplays concerns
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, July 1, 2020.Not taken lightly
Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

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British Judge Denies Venezuela Access to Gold in Bank Vault

A British judge on Thursday refused to give Venezuela control of over $1 billion in gold sitting in a Bank of England vault, ruling that it is unlawful to give it to the President Nicolás Maduro since Britain does not recognize him as the president.
Maduro has demanded the gold to help his cash-starved nation fight the coronavirus pandemic.
But the central bank for the United Kingdom, whose government recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as his country’s legitimate leader, had refused to hand it over to Maduro’s socialist administration.
Guaidó has sought to preserve the gold stash at the Bank of England to keep it out of the hands of the Maduro government.
Banco Central de Venezuela sought to release the gold, which it wants to sell for food and medical equipment that is desperately needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lawyer representing Maduro’s side promised to appeal.
Sarosh Zaiwalla said in a statement that the judgment “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground” in Venezuela.
“Mr Maduro’s government is in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions, and only it can ensure the distribution of the humanitarian relief and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people whose lives are at risk.” 

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White House Sending Top Intelligence Officials to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress about what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House on Wednesday confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone would meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight on Thursday.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020″We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” the president said.”The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” he added. “I think it’s a hoax based on the newspapers and the Democrats.”New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, told Business Insider when asked about the bounties. “These are criminal groups that work alongside the mujahedeen and give us a bad reputation.”Mullah Manan Niazi, a onetime spokesman for former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, told The Daily Beast such a program would not be unusual.“The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces — and on ISIS forces ù in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present,” he said.U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long been concerned about Russian interference in Afghanistan, complaining repeatedly that Moscow has been providing the Taliban with weapons and training.A new Pentagon report released Wednesday, while making no mention of the alleged bounties, warned Russian involvement is growing.“Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter ISIS [Islamic State terror group] operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report said.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter demanding Pompeo testify before Congress.Other Democrats were even more critical.“If this does not count as treason, I don’t know what does,” Democratic Representative Seth Moulton said during a call with reporters Wednesday. “If the most junior officer in the United States military ignores an intelligence report delivered to him or her, as we know this intelligence report was delivered to the commander in chief, then that junior officer would absolutely be in prison.”Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

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White House Sending Top Intelligence Officials to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress about what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House on Wednesday confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone would meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight on Thursday.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020″We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” the president said.”The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” he added. “I think it’s a hoax based on the newspapers and the Democrats.”New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, told Business Insider when asked about the bounties. “These are criminal groups that work alongside the mujahedeen and give us a bad reputation.”Mullah Manan Niazi, a onetime spokesman for former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, told The Daily Beast such a program would not be unusual.“The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces — and on ISIS forces ù in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present,” he said.U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long been concerned about Russian interference in Afghanistan, complaining repeatedly that Moscow has been providing the Taliban with weapons and training.A new Pentagon report released Wednesday, while making no mention of the alleged bounties, warned Russian involvement is growing.“Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter ISIS [Islamic State terror group] operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report said.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter demanding Pompeo testify before Congress.Other Democrats were even more critical.“If this does not count as treason, I don’t know what does,” Democratic Representative Seth Moulton said during a call with reporters Wednesday. “If the most junior officer in the United States military ignores an intelligence report delivered to him or her, as we know this intelligence report was delivered to the commander in chief, then that junior officer would absolutely be in prison.”Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

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