Category: Europe

news from Europe

Trump to Speak With Leaders of Italy, Ukraine

Donald Trump is expected to speak by phone Saturday with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the second consecutive weekend the U.S. president will converse with world leaders.

The conversation with Italy’s prime minister comes one day after a European Union summit in Malta where leaders discussed the future of the European bloc. Gentiloni and the other EU leaders promised to remain defiant of Trump, whose criticism of the union is thought by some to threaten the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance. Summit participants discussed ideas that will be included in a declaration on the EU’s future when bloc leaders will gather in March in Italy’s capital to observe the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community, the precursor of the EU.

Gentiloni said Friday he saw a “great opportunity” for the EU if the Trump administration focuses primarily on domestic issues, giving Europe the chance to establish the “number one trade superpower in the world.”

The EU leaders also embraced a plan to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The plan was approved after an agreement was reached on the eve of a summit between Italy and Libya. Its success is largely dependent on Europe’s ability to help Libya stop more migrants from crossing into Libya’s southern desert and preventing smugglers from sending migrants from the poorly patrolled Mediterranean coast toward Europe.

Ukraine crisis

Trump’s first post-inauguration call with Ukrainian President Poroshenko comes amid a surge in fighting in the eastern Ukraine war zone between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed insurgents. Dozens of people have been killed in the past week as the level of violence escalated to levels not seen since 2015.

Poroshenko has argued that the outburst is a reason to continue Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its actions against Ukraine. Trump’s repeated promises to strengthen relations with Russia have stoked Ukrainian concerns the U.S. could drop some sanctions.

Earlier this week, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, and said U.S. sanctions would remain in place.

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EU-Tripoli Migrant Deal Ignores Political Chaos in Libya, Warn Analysts

The European Union has agreed to a deal to support security forces in Libya, to try to cut the number of migrants arriving on the continent’s southern shores. But analysts warn the EU risks cementing political divisions within Libya – and aid groups have criticized the deal for failing to recognize the dangers faced by migrants in the country. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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US Sounds Warning Over Ukraine Clashes, Which Claim Top Separatist

The U.S. State Department is voicing “deep concern” about renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government troops, saying the fighting near the Russian border has caused dozens of military and civilian casualties.

A statement Tuesday said the fighting, which erupted Sunday at the Promzona industrial park outside Avdiivka, near the rebel stronghold city of Donetsk, has left 17,000 civilians, including 2,500 children, without water, heat or electricity. It also called for an immediate cease-fire.

Hours earlier, the European Union called the fighting a “blatant violation” of the so-called 2015 “Minsk Protocols”—a truce negotiated with the help of German and French leaders that was designed to include the pullback of heavy weaponry from frontlines.

Since then, there have been reports of numerous truce violations, leading to several new negotiations and new cease-fires. The latest such deal was brokered in the Belarussian capital last August, after a spike in frontline firefights.

Both sides blame the other for the current violence, with Kyiv accusing rebels of using tanks and Grad multiple grenade launchers against government troops. Grad launchers were among the heavy caliber weapons that were to have been withdrawn from frontlines under the original deal.

For their part, rebel leaders in Donetsk, who have battled for autonomy from Kyiv since 2014, are reporting major damage to civilian infrastructure, in media dispatches that mirror the U.S. assessment released Tuesday.

Multiple Ukrainian and Russian news outlets are reporting that a top rebel deputy commander—Ivan Balakai, call sign “Greek,” of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR)—was killed by Ukrainian forces during intense fighting on Sunday.

“The situation in the area of Avdiivka greatly deteriorated,” said Ukrainian news site 112.ua. “[Pro-Russian] militants attempted to storm the industrial zone … and killed seven Ukrainian servicemen. [Ukrainian] forces managed to eliminate the commander of the DNR battalion with the call sign ‘Greek’ and to occupy strategically important positions. The fight for the city has continued for a third day.”

Speaking by video-chat from the frontlines near Avdiivka, Anastasia Stanko of the Kyiv-based Hromadske Internet television described the fighting as constant.

“It’s been ongoing since Sunday, it hasn’t stopped,” she told VOA’s Ukrainian Service. “But the fighting is localized. The thousands of people in Avdiivka are leading more or less normal lives. They don’t have water, they don’t have electricity and it’s 16 degrees Celsius, but they’re not totally evacuating, because the fighting is outside of town in the special industrial zone. People aren’t underground yet.”

Nearly 10,000 people—more than half of them civilians—have been killed in fighting that erupted in April 2014, a month after Russia unilaterally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, and two months after lengthy pro-Western protests in Kyiv forced Ukraine’s pro-Russian president into exile.

Moscow repeatedly has been accused of arming and supplying the rebel force, and in 2015 was accused of sending Russian forces across the border and into battle.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discounted those claims, saying any Russian troops found on Ukrainian soil were there as volunteers.

The 2014 annexation sparked widespread protests from Western governments and the United Nations and led to a series of crippling economic sanctions against Moscow by the West that remain in effect nearly three years later.

Ukraine has in recent weeks voiced increasing concern that international pressure on Moscow to end its support for rebels could weaken under the leadership of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly voiced support for a thaw in U.S.-Russian relations.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Ukrainian Service.

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Questions About Turkish Military’s Syrian Incursion Grow

A video of hundreds of Turkish-trained Syrian police chanting “God is great — long live Erdogan” at their graduation this month has raised new questions about Turkey’s long-term goals in Syria.

The police are set to deploy to Syrian towns recently captured from Islamic State during a Turkish military incursion into Syria launched in August.

The video led observers to wonder where the newly trained Syrian police place their loyalty — with Syria or Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That adds to the growing questions about the ultimate goal of Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s military incursion into Syria.

“Turkey’s armed forces’ stay in Syria will be for the long term, as it was in northern Iraq since the early ’90s,” said Aydin Selcen, former senior Turkish diplomat who has served widely across the region. He noted Turkey’s military has been in Northern Cyprus since the middle of the 1970s.

Turkish exit

“I do not see how and when the Turkish armed forces will be able to leave, to extricate themselves,” Selcen said. “It is not in the Turkish army’s tradition to die for a cause and then relinquish it to another.”

Turkish forces have lost more than 40 soldiers in Syria, most battling to capture the town of al-Bab. Speculation about Turkish intentions is increasingly focused on the town.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus ruled out returning the town to Damascus, saying it would go back to the Syrian people. Meanwhile, Turkish forces are continuing to try to oust Islamic State from the strategically important town, which is the gateway to Raqqa, the jihadists’ self-declared capital.

Russia may also be concerned about Turkish intentions.

“You cannot be an ally of Moscow and move beyond its wish,” former diplomat Selcen said.

Moscow appears already to be making its intentions clear, with reports of Russian jets intervening on behalf of Syrian government forces advancing toward al-Bab. Analysts warn a military showdown could be looming.

“The Russians have cleared the path on the southern part of the city for the Syrian army to take it,” said Soli Ozel, an international relations expert with Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “If the Syrian military is advancing against al-Bab from the south and [the] Turkish military from the north and the east, I think there can be a confrontation if both of them try to enter the city center. …  At the end of the day, it is Syrian territory.”

PYD seeks al-Bab

Experts point out control of al-Bab is key to Ankara’s bid to thwart Syrian Kurdish ambitions. The Syrian Kurdish forces of the PYD are seeking to control the town, which would open the door for them to a connection with the last remaining isolated Kurdish canton of Afrin.

That is a red line for Ankara, which accuses the PYD of secessionist aspirations and being allied to the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state.

If Syrian government forces capture al-Bab, it could open the door to the PYD.

“If al-Bab is taken over by the Syrian forces, are they going to keep it for themselves or are they going to leave it to the PYD, like they did in Qamishli and Hasaki at the beginning of the civil war in 2011?” Selcen asked.

The battle for control of al-Bab symbolizes the increasingly difficult situation Ankara is facing in Syria. According to international relations expert Ozel, Ankara has a difficult hand to play.

“At the end of the day, unless Turkey wishes to remain an occupying power in the north of Syria, I don’t see how they can keep al-Bab, if the Syria government wants its own territory back,” Ozel said.  “It will be very, very complicated, and I am not convinced at all Turkey has the upper hand on this.”

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Trump Presidency Thus Far? Russia, for One, Is Pleased

Russians have largely greeted Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House with high hopes for a new era of improved relations with the United States. And judging by this week’s reaction, the first telephone call between Presidents Trump and Putin has done nothing to diminish those expectations.

 

In his influential weekly news program Vesti Nedeli, anchor Dmitry Kiselev praised the 45-minute conversation as the “most awaited phone call on Earth.”

 

“Donald Trump is fulfilling his election promises and getting rid of Obama’s pathetic legacy,” Kiselev said during the broadcast.

 

Kremlin officials have been more circumspect, if only slightly.  

 

On Monday, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the conversation as “constructive” with both men showing a desire to resolve “complex issues through dialogue.”

 

Peskov said such cooperation was not possible under the Obama administration, with whom the Kremlin sparred bitterly over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, military support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and allegations of interference in the U.S. presidential election, among other issues.

 

Indeed, following the phone call, statements from both the Kremlin and White House stressed a desire to find common ground.

 

Sanctions relief?

 

The Kremlin said the leaders expressed an interest in closer cooperation in fighting Islamic State terrorists, as well as dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran nuclear deal, and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. There was no indication that the presidents discussed the charges that Russia tried to interfere with the U.S. election.

 

Nor do the two appear to have discussed Western sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, although the tone of the call fed into speculation that they could soon be eased.  

 

Key European allies – in line with the former Obama administration – have proposed partially lifting the sanctions only if Moscow fulfills its obligations under the Minsk Peace Accords aimed at ending the fighting in east Ukraine between Kyiv government forces and pro-Russian separatists.  

 

President Trump has suggested he could lift sanctions in exchange for a reduction in Russia’s nuclear arsenal or a commitment to fight the Islamic State.

 

In his press call Monday, Kremlin spokesman Peskov insisted sanctions were not raised during the Trump-Putin call.

 

A shift in tone

 

But many observers pointed hopefully to a Kremlin statement that the two leaders expressed a desire improve “economic cooperation.”

 

“To fully develop economic ties, it’s necessary to create the right climate and legal conditions,” said Russian lawmaker Dmitri Novikov in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.  “That requires canceling sanctions.”

 

Kremlin allies also contrasted the apparently warm rapport between Trump and Putin to the Russian president’s frosty relationships with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francoise Hollande.

Indeed, some argued that the budding Trump-Putin friendship had the potential to shake traditional U.S. allies to the core.

 

“Kyiv, Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Warsaw, Oslo, Stockholm, NATO – they’re all horrified by the results of the Putin-Trump call,” crowed Alexey Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker and former head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs committee in a post to Twitter.

Hacking charges

 

Yet hovering over any budding detente are the accusations the Kremlin meddled in the U.S. election with the aim of helping Trump win the White House.

 

So, too, are unsubstantiated claims the Kremlin possesses compromising sexual material on Trump from a visit to Moscow in 2013.

 

A U.S. investigation also is continuing into whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign team and Russian officials during the election campaign.

 

Moscow has repeatedly denied the hacking charges, and angrily dismissed related allegations as attempts to sabotage a new era in U.S.-Russian relations.

 

Still, the hacking scandal gained new intrigue with recent Russian news reports that two intelligence officers from the FSB’s cybersecurity unit were among six Russian nationals arrested and charged with treason.

According to sources quoted by the Interfax news agency, those arrested are suspected of providing information to the CIA – raising questions of its possible connections to the U.S. investigation into Russian hacking.

Kremlin officials have yet to comment.

 

Who is playing whom?

 

Warranted or not, the hacking scandal has made the Trump team sensitive to charges it is beholden to Moscow.  

 

Some Russia analysts point to the White House’s decision to release photos of Trump on the phone with Putin surrounded by Vice President Mike Pence and other advisors as a sign of the administration’s concerns over the optics of Russian rapprochement.

 

But Russian political analyst Feodor Krashenninkov argues the “Trump as Putin’s puppet” theory is overblown.  

 

In an interview with VOA, Krashenninkov noted that Trump’s actions are hemmed in by Republican lawmakers who favor a hardline approach to Russia.

 

“Putin – by contrast – can give away anything,” says Krashenninkov, who noted – in a twist – that it is Putin who would be more likely to embrace the title of Trump’s bestseller, The Art of the Deal.

 

Krashenninkov argued that Trump, in his introductory conversation with the Russian leader, borrowed from another book of American tycoon lore:  Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Wherever U.S.-Russian relations head next, some in Moscow were reveling in the domestic controversy arising during Trump’s first week in office – including mass protests against the administration’s decision to temporarily ban admission to the United States of all refugees and most citizens of seven Middle Eastern countries.

 

Maxim Shevchenko, a pro-Kremlin journalist, urged his government to enjoy – if not stoke – the chaos.

“Trump is a symbol of the deep, insurmountable and not easily defined confrontation of the societal, political, and economic split in America… therefore, greetings Trump!’  Shevchenko wrote in a post to his Facebook account.

 

“The more chaos, anger, and confrontation they have the better.”

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Irish Cabinet ‘Fully in Favor’ of Retaining US Customs Pre-Clearance

Ireland’s cabinet is fully in favor of retaining U.S. customs pre-clearance arrangements at the country’s airports, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said on Tuesday, a day after calling for a review of the arrangements.

Ireland’s Dublin and Shannon airports are among a handful of locations outside North America where passengers can clear customs and immigration before traveling to the United States under an international agreement between the two governments.

Kenny has ordered a complete review of the arrangements following what the government described as the concern caused by President Donald Trump’s curbs on immigration that are being carried out by U.S. officials at the two airports.

“The cabinet this morning were very fully in favor of retaining our pre-clearance and the Attorney General has confirmed that the issue in so far as the legality is concerned is a matter entirely for the United States courts,” Kenny told parliament.

“In so far as Ireland is concerned, we are in compliance with human rights legislation and in accordance with our own constitution.”

There has so far been one case where a person was refused pre-clearance to the United States at either airport. Kenny said that person was working in Ireland and she was therefore entitled to remain in the country.

The Dutch government said on Tuesday it had ended talks with the United States over allowing pre-clearance of passengers traveling from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport following the Trump administration’s decision to ban travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

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EU Condemns Ukraine Clashes

The European Union on Tuesday condemned recent clashes in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government forces, calling the fighting a “blatant violation” of the Minsk truce.

“The intense fighting around Avdiivka in the last few days, involving heavy shelling with proscribed weapons and leading to a considerable number of casualties, is a blatant violation of the cease-fire, as stipulated by the Minsk agreements,” the EU said in a statement.

The rebels and government troops began fighting three days ago around the town of Avdiivka. The confrontation escalated Monday night into Tuesday morning with the heaviest shelling seen in months.

Both sides say at least eight people have died in the reignited conflict.

The shelling Monday night damaged an electricity substation in nearby Donetsk, disabling the elevator at the Zasyadko coal mine and temporarily trapping more than 200 mine workers underground.

The miners were freed several hours later when local authorities were able to power the elevator with a back-up generator.

The renewed conflict has cut off water for most of Avdiivka and the town was left without heat in the dead of winter.

Government authorities in Donetsk are reportedly planning an evacuation of 12,000 residents in Avdiivka, though no official plan has been put in place.

In 2015, both sides in the conflict signed a cease-fire and agreed pull back heavy weaponry, but both sides have violated the agreement several times since then.

 

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Iran Refuses to Confirm Conducting Missile Test

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday refused to confirm whether his country recently conducted a missile test, saying the Iranian missile program is not part of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The White House said on Monday that it is studying the details of an Iranian ballistic missile test.

During a joint news conference with visiting French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was asked if Iran had conducted a recent missile test.

“The missile issue is not part of the nuclear deal. As all signatories to the nuclear deal have announced, the missile issue is not a part of” the deal, he said.

Iran’s missiles, he added are, “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead … Our ballistic missile was designed to carry a normal warhead in the field of legitimate defense.”

A U.S. defense official said Monday that the missile test ended with a “failed” re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. The official had no other details, including the type of missile. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was looking into whether the ballistic missile test violates a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution.

Zarif on Tuesday said he hopes the issue is not used as, “an excuse for some political games by the new U.S. administration. The Iranian people would never allow their defense to be subject to the permission of others.”

Iran has long boasted of having missiles that can travel 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles), placing much of the Middle East, including Israel, in range. Iran says its missiles are the key to deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack.

In a video posted on his Facebook page Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he planned to discuss Iran in his upcoming meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington.

“I intend to raise with him the renewal of sanctions against Iran, sanctions against the ballistic missiles and additional sanctions against terror and also to take care of this failed nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu said.

In May 2016, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan issued a vague denial after a media outlet close to the Revolutionary Guard reported that the country had test-fired a ballistic missile with a 2,000-kilometer range. The powerful Revolutionary Guard is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Deghan said that no missile had been tested “with the range that was published in the media,” but he did not deny that a ballistic missile had been tested.

In March, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles – one emblazoned with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew – setting off an international outcry.

A 2015 Security Council resolution adopted after Iran reached its nuclear deal with world powers calls on Iran not to take any actions related to ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Zarif has said that its ballistic missile launches are not banned under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 because the prohibition only applies to missiles specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads. Iran has long argued that general missile tests are not banned, nor are those applying to ones capable of carrying nuclear warheads – so long as that was not their designated purpose.

The U.S., which still maintains its own set of sanctions against Iran, has argued that previous ballistic missile launches are in defiance of the ban.

Meanwhile, the European Union called on Tehran to “refrain from activities which deepen mistrust.”

EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said that a ballistic missile test would not be a violation of the nuclear deal with world powers. However she said it was “inconsistent” with Resolution 2231.

“Whether it constitutes a violation is for the Security Council to determine,” she said.

 

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8 Killed in Fighting in Eastern Ukraine

Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least eight people overnight, injuring dozens and briefly trapping more than 200 coal miners underground, the warring sides reported.

 

Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk. The mine is notorious for its safety standards; 33 people were killed there in 2015 by a methane blast.

 

With elevators not working, the miners had been trapped underground for several hours before local authorities found the backup generators outside the mine to get the elevators working. By midday on Tuesday, at least 152 of 200 men had been able to get out.

 

Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin, in an interview with Russian state Rossiya 24 television on Tuesday, denied reports that separatist shelling cut power lines and heating stations in Avdiivka, saying they had been damaged earlier.

 

The artillery shelling, which appears to be the worst in many months, was concentrated around the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, home to a giant coking plant. Its director said on Monday that preparations were being made to stop production, something rarely done throughout the conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014. A cease-fire deal struck in Minsk in 2015 has helped to reduce but not stop the fighting.

 

Oleksandr Turchynov, chairman of the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council, said on Tuesday that heavy shelling around Avdiivka, on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, killed at least three troops and injured 24 more. The press office of the Ukrainian government’s operation in the east reported an unspecified number of civilian casualties. It also said the rebels turned down the government’s offer to cease fire to allow the removal of the dead and wounded.

 

In Donetsk, the rebels’ Donetsk News Agency reported four rebel fighters died and seven were injured overnight as well as three civilians. One civilian was killed in shelling in Donetsk, Basurin told Russian news agencies.

 

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday accused the Ukrainian government of provoking the crisis. The Kremlin has “reliable information” that Ukrainian volunteer battalions crossed the front line Monday night and tried to capture rebel territory, Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

 

Salvos of heavy-caliber artillery were heard throughout the night and late morning in Avdiivka, where several thousand people have been without electricity for days. Fighting has cut water supplies for most of the town and it was left without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures plunged to -18 Centigrade (0 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday morning.

 

The local hospital was flooded overnight with injured soldiers, who were operated on and taken to a town further away from the front line, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Several private houses were damaged in the shelling.

 

Kyiv-based independent political analyst Vadim Karasyov said an escalation in the east could be beneficial to both the separatists and the Ukrainian government.

 

“Kyiv is eager to win support of the new Trump administration, and for this they need to show that separatists and the Kremlin are derailing the peace accords,” he said. “For the Kremlin, it’s important to show that it holds war and peace in its hands – if the new U.S. administration wants peace in Ukraine, it needs to offer something in return.”

 

Local water supply company Water of Donbas said on Monday the Donetsk Water Filtration Station, a crucial source of clean water for both sides of the conflict, came under shelling. About 10 projectiles landed in a reservoir that feeds the filtration plant, the company said. It was not immediately clear whether this affected supplies to customers.

 

Both sides in the conflict committed to cease fire and pull back heavy weaponry under a 2015 truce which they have violated several times.

 

Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said on Facebook his office was working on a plan to evacuate 12,000 residents from Avdiivka.

 

Donetsk News Agency cited the rebel military command accusing government troops of attacking their positions Tuesday morning in the south of the conflict zone, to the east of Mariupol.

 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had cut short his visit to Germany on Monday because of the fighting.

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UN Chief Hopes US Refugee Ban Only Temporary

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he hopes the United States will soon put protecting refugees back high on its agenda, following an executive order by President Donald Trump banning refugee entry for 120 days.

“The U.S. has a large tradition of refugee protection, and I strongly hope that measures that were taken will be only temporary,” Guterres told reporters at an African Union conference Monday in Addis Ababa.

Guterres, the U.N.’s former refugee chief, said it is “absolutely essential to guarantee” the protection of refugees.

Current U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Monday people are “anxious, confused, and heartbroken” after being told they cannot come to the U.S. after having undergone a lengthy application process.

Grandi said in a statement from his Geneva office that he is “deeply worried” about what will happen to thousands affected by Presided Donald Trump’s temporary ban on resettlement.

“Refugees share the very same concerns about security and safety that Americans have,” the statement says. “They themselves are fleeing war, persecution, oppression and terrorism.”

The UNHCR estimates that 20,000 refugees in “precarious circumstances” would have been able to come to the U.S. during the 120-day period that refugees are barred.

The commissioner says he hopes they will be able to come to the U.S. and rebuild their lives in safety and dignity as soon as possible.

Also Monday, the U.N. Children’s Fund said 28 million children worldwide whose lives have been destroyed by violence and terror need help.

The United States has a “long and proud tradition of protecting children,” it said, adding that it hopes the ban on refugees will, in fact, be temporary.

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Ukraine Reports Surge in Deadly Fighting with Pro-Russian Separatists

Ukraine says at least seven people have been killed in a two-day outbreak of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and government troops in war weary eastern Ukraine.

Both sides blame the other for the latest violence, which the government said erupted Sunday on several fronts in the Russian-speaking east, including the rebel controlled bastion of Donetsk and other territory near the Russian border.

Kyiv accused rebels of sparking the clashes with tanks and Grad multiple grenade launchers.  Grad launchers are among the heavy caliber weapons that were to have been withdrawn from frontlines under terms of a 2015 truce that has dramatically reduced casualties in the contested region.

Water, electricity cut off by fighting

In Donetsk, rebel leaders seeking autonomy from Kyiv reported major damage to civilian infrastructure, and said water and electricity were cut to several outlying villages.

Nearly 10,000 people — more than half of them civilians — have been killed in fighting that erupted in April 2014, a month after Russia unilaterally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, and two months after lengthy pro-Western protests in Kyiv forced Ukraine’s pro-Russian president into exile.

Moscow has been repeatedly accused of arming and supplying the rebel force, and in 2015 was accused of sending Russian troops across the border and into battle.

Putin discounts allegations

Russian President Vladimir Putin discounted those allegations, and said any Russian troops found on Ukrainian soil were there as volunteers.

The 2014 annexation sparked widespread protests from Western governments and the United Nations, and led to a series of crippling economic and trade sanctions against Moscow by the West that remain in effect nearly three years later.

Ukraine has in recent weeks voiced increasing concern that international pressure on Russia could weaken under the leadership of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly voiced support for a thaw in U.S.- Russian relations.

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US, Polish Troops Hold First Joint Training in Poland

The first joint training exercises in Poland for freshly deployed U.S. troops and their Polish counterparts are underway.

 

A U.S. armored brigade of 3,500 troops from Fort Carson, Colorado arrived this month in Zagan, southwestern Poland, as a deterrence force on NATO’s eastern flank.

 

Exercises that started Monday at the Zagan Military Training Area involved land troops, tanks and armored vehicles of the U.S. and Polish armies.

 

Polish President Andrzej Duda and the U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones observed the training. They stressed that the U.S. troops’ presence was strengthening the region’s security and also bilateral ties.

 

Duda said: “God bless Poland, God bless America, God bless American soldiers.”

 

Jones noted that the armored brigade is among the best of the U.S. armed forces.

 

The force comes as reassurance to nations in the region that are nervous about Russia’s growing military activity.

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US, Polish Troops Hold First Joint Training in Poland

The first joint training exercises in Poland for freshly deployed U.S. troops and their Polish counterparts are underway.

 

A U.S. armored brigade of 3,500 troops from Fort Carson, Colorado arrived this month in Zagan, southwestern Poland, as a deterrence force on NATO’s eastern flank.

 

Exercises that started Monday at the Zagan Military Training Area involved land troops, tanks and armored vehicles of the U.S. and Polish armies.

 

Polish President Andrzej Duda and the U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones observed the training. They stressed that the U.S. troops’ presence was strengthening the region’s security and also bilateral ties.

 

Duda said: “God bless Poland, God bless America, God bless American soldiers.”

 

Jones noted that the armored brigade is among the best of the U.S. armed forces.

 

The force comes as reassurance to nations in the region that are nervous about Russia’s growing military activity.

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