All posts by MPolitics

Israel, Greece Sign Record Defense Deal

Israel and Greece have signed their biggest ever defense procurement deal, which Israel said Sunday would strengthen political and economic ties between the two countries as their air forces launched a joint exercise.The agreement includes a $1.65 billion contract for the establishment and operation of a training center for the Hellenic Air Force by Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems over 22 years, Israel’s defense ministry said.The training center will be modeled on Israel’s flight academy and will be equipped with 10 M-346 training aircraft produced by Italy’s Leonardo, the ministry said.Elbit will supply kits to upgrade and operate Greece’s T-6 aircraft and also provide training, simulators and logistical support.”I am certain that (this program) will upgrade the capabilities and strengthen the economies of Israel and Greece and thus the partnership between our two countries will deepen on the defense, economic and political levels,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.The announcement follows a meeting Friday in Cyprus between the UAE, Greek, Cypriot and Israeli foreign ministers, who agreed to deepen cooperation.The Israeli and Greek air forces on Sunday launched a joint exercise in Greece, the Israeli military said.In at least one past exercise over Greece, Israeli fighter planes practiced against an S-300 posted on Crete. The Russian-made air defense system is also deployed in Syria and Iran, Israel’s foes.A source in the Hellenic National Defense Command said the S-300 had not been activated in the joint exercise that began Sunday.
 

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Russia Expels 20 Czechs After Blast Blamed on Skripal Suspects

Moscow expelled 20 Czech diplomats on Sunday in a confrontation over Czech allegations that two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were behind an earlier explosion at a Czech ammunition depot that killed two people.On Saturday, Prague ordered 18 Russian diplomats to leave the country, prompting Russia to vow Sunday to “force the authors of this provocation to fully understand their responsibility for destroying the foundation of normal ties between our countries.”Moscow gave the Czech diplomats just a day to leave, while Prague had given the Russians three days.The Czech Republic said it had informed NATO and European Union allies that it suspected Russia of causing the 2014 blast, and European Union foreign ministers were set to discuss the matter at their meeting Monday.The U.S. State Department commended Prague’s firm response to “Russia’s subversive actions on Czech soil.”The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of decades of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989.It also adds to growing tensions between Russia and the West in general, raised in part by Russia’s military buildup on its western borders and in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, after a surge in fighting between government and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s east.Russia said Prague’s accusations were absurd as it had previously blamed the blast at Vrbetice, 300 kilometers (210 miles) east of the capital, on the depot’s owners.It called the expulsions “the continuation of a series of anti-Russian actions undertaken by the Czech Republic in recent years,” accusing Prague of “striving to please the United States against the backdrop of recent U.S. sanctions against Russia.”Arms shipmentCzech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the attack had been aimed at a shipment to a Bulgarian arms trader.”This was an attack on ammunition that had already been paid for and was being stored for a Bulgarian arms trader,” he said on Czech Television.He said the arms trader, whom he did not name, had later been the target of an attempted murder.Bulgarian prosecutors charged three Russian men in 2020 with an attempt to kill arms trader Emilian Gebrev, who was identified by Czech media as the same individual. Reuters was unable to reach Gebrev for comment.Czech police said two men using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov had traveled to the Czech Republic days before the arms depot blast.FILE – A still image taken from video footage and released by Russia’s RT international news channel Sept. 13, 2018, shows two Russian men identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov during an interview at an unnamed location.Those names were the aliases used by the two Russian GRU military intelligence officers wanted by Britain for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018. The Skripals survived, but a member of the public died.The Kremlin denied involvement in that incident, and the attackers remain at large.Czech Interior and acting Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said police knew about the two people from the beginning, “but only found out when the Salisbury attack happened that they are members of the GRU, that Unit 29155.”Hamacek said Prague would ask Moscow for assistance in questioning them but did not expect it to cooperate.‘Dangerous and malign’British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the Czechs “have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations.”A NATO official said the alliance would support the Czech Republic as it investigated Russia’s “malign activities,” which were part of a pattern of “dangerous behavior.””Those responsible must be brought to justice,” added the official, who declined to be named.The United States imposed sanctions against Russia on Thursday for interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other actions, prompting Moscow to retaliate.On Sunday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had told Moscow “there will be consequences” if Alexey Navalny, the opposition figure who almost died last year after being given a toxin that Western experts say was Novichok, dies in prison, where he is on hunger strike.The 2014 incident has resurfaced at an awkward time for Prague and Moscow.The Czech Republic is planning to put the construction of a new nuclear power plant at its Dukovany complex out to bid.Security services have demanded that Russia’s Rosatom be excluded as a security risk, while President Milos Zeman and other senior officials have been supporting Russia’s case.In a text message, Industry Minister Karel Havlicek, who was previously in favor of including Russia, told Reuters: “The probability that Rosatom will participate in the expansion of Dukovany is very low.” 

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In Pakistan, Clashes Between Police, Islamists Reportedly Leave 2 Dead   

Clashes between a recently banned Islamist party and police in Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, reportedly left at least two people dead and scores of others wounded Sunday.Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was demanding that Pakistan expel the French ambassador over the French president’s remarks defending freedom of expression regarding caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Police from Punjab province said Sunday’s action was in response to the TLP attacking a police station, trapping officers and Rangers, members of a paramilitary force, inside, kidnapping a senior police officer, and stealing an oil tanker containing 50,000 liters of fuel.  “The miscreants were armed and attacked Rangers/Police with patrol bombs,” a tweet from Punjab police’s official Twitter handle said. The entire episode unfolded on social media as the mainstream news outlets, especially the country’s dozens of 24/7 television channels, were ordered not to report it. “Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority banned coverage of TLP,” tweeted senior journalist Hamir Mir, the anchor of a prime-time current affairs show on Pakistani Geo News TV channel.  Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority banned coverage of TLP TV channels are not covering the operation against TLP in Lahore but all information and videos are available on social media so PEMRA ban is now useless media will lose its credibility https://t.co/5Yi0ozVjhL
— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirPAK) FILE – The coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty is carried away in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university during a national memorial event, Oct. 21, 2020 in Paris.The incident came days after Paty showed his class controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet in a discussion on freedom of expression. The cartoons had been published in satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which came under a terrorist attack in January 2015. Many Muslims considered the images blasphemous. The October incident took place less than a month after a Pakistani immigrant stabbed two people outside Charlie Hebdo’s old Paris headquarters. In both cases, the suspects appeared to retaliate against the publication of the cartoons, which originally inspired the 2015 attack. French President Emmanuel Macron called Paty a hero and vowed to defend the country’s liberal values and freedom of expression, including the right to mock religion. His statement caused an uproar in parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan, where the TLP led the charge in demanding Pakistan boycott French products and sever diplomatic ties with the country. After banning the TLP in his country, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday demanded the Western nations criminalize insulting Islam’s prophet in the same way that some countries make it a crime to deny the Holocaust occurred.    Those in the West, incl extreme right politicians, who deliberately indulge in such abuse & hate under guise of freedom of speech clearly lack moral sense & courage to apologise to the 1.3 bn Muslims for causing this hurt. We demand an apology from these extremists.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 17, 2021 

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Russian Opposition Calls for Protests as Navalny’s Health Worsens  

Allies of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny announced nationwide protests for this Wednesday — after the opposition figure’s family and personal doctors released blood analysis results that suggested Navalny was at high risk of cardiac arrest or kidney failure barring immediate care.  The planned protests fall on the same day that President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address from just outside the Kremlin — all but ensuring a tense standoff between Navalny supporters and police in the capital, Moscow. Navalny’s chief strategist, Leonid Volkov, announced the protests in a post to YouTube — arguing there was no time to lose.  “They’re murdering Alexey Navalny — in a terrifying way right before our eyes,” said Volkov.  Over the weekend, Navalny’s doctors said that blood tests — provided by the opposition figure’s lawyers to his family — showed Navalny’s potassium count had reached a “critical level.”   “This means both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute,” said the letter, which was signed by Navalny’s personal physician, Anastasia Vasilyeva, and three other doctors.  “If they don’t start treating Navalny, he will die within days,” warned his other physician, Alexander Polupan.   As of Sunday afternoon, prison authorities had yet to respond to their appeal for emergency medical care. A still image from CCTV footage published by Life.Ru shows what is said to be jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny speaking with a prison guard at the IK-2 corrective penal colony in the town of Pokrov, Russia, in this image released Apr. 2, 2021.Also sounding the alarm is a group of leading western academics and cultural figures — including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Hollywood director J.J. Abrams, award-winning author Salmon Rushdie, and Radiohead singer Thom Yorke — who published an appealFILE – National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington.On Sunday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that “there will be consequences” if Navalny dies.  On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden called the Kremlin’s treatment of Navalny “totally unfair and totally inappropriate.”    The Kremlin has rebuffed Western demands and sanctions as attempts to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs.     Authorities in Moscow also maintain that any questions regarding Navalny’s treatment are to be directed to the prison authorities but said that his basic needs will be met.    

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Germany Calls for Unity as it Mourns COVID Dead  

Germany held a national memorial service on Sunday for its nearly 80,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic, with the president urging the country to put aside deep divisions over COVID restrictions to share the pain of grieving families.  Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined an ecumenical service in the morning at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a memorial against war and destruction, before attending a ceremony later at the capital’s Konzerthaus concert hall.  “Today, as a society, we want to remember those who died a lonely and often agonizing death during this dark time,” said Steinmeier.  “I have the impression that we as a society do not make ourselves aware that behind all the numbers there are human fates, people. Their suffering and their deaths have often remained invisible to the public,” he said.  With pandemic curbs still in force restricting the number of people who can attend, the ceremonies were being broadcast live on public television.  As debate raged in Germany over measures put in place by Merkel’s government, including the limitation of social contact to halt contagion, Steinmeier said it was a “bitter truth” that such COVID restrictions had “also brought about suffering.”  Besides the pain of losing a loved one, restrictions in place mean that relatives are often unable to even hold their family members’ hands as they lay dying.  Others have been left grieving on their own, as funerals or memorials are curtailed.  “We have restricted our lives to save lives. That is a conflict where there can be no way out without contradiction,” admitted Steinmeier.  But he also defended the actions, saying that “politicians must make difficult, sometimes tragic decisions to prevent an even greater catastrophe.”  “My request today is this: let us speak about pain and suffering and anger. But let us not lose ourselves in recriminations, in looking back, but let us once again gather strength for the way forward.”  Candles of hope 
 
Anita Schedel, the widow of a 59-year-old doctor who died from the virus, spoke of the ordeal of watching her husband first be hospitalized and then succumb to the disease.  “After he arrived in hospital, my husband phoned me to say ‘Don’t worry, I’m in good hands. We’ll see each other again’. Those were his last words,” she said at the ceremony.  “Until today, my memory is haunted by those long hospital corridors, the beeping machines and my husband marked by the illness,” she said.  Regional leaders had urged citizens to join in the remembrance including by lighting candles by their windows from Friday to Sunday.  “We want to be aware of what we lost, but we also want to find hope and strength together,” the premiers of Germany’s 16 states said in a statement.   ‘Only makes it worse’ Sunday’s ceremony comes as health authorities warn that many more will succumb to the virus.  Europe’s biggest economy had come out of the first wave relatively unscathed but has struggled to take decisive action to end the current one fueled mainly by the more contagious British variant.  Another 19,185 new infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the disease control agency RKI, with the numbers of deaths also rising by 67 to 79,914.  Merkel’s government is seeking greater powers to impose tougher measures such as night-time curfews, in a bid to circumvent Germany’s powerful regional authorities, some of whom have resisted implementing tough restrictions.  But the amendment still has to be approved by parliament, where opposition parties like the pro-business FDP have vowed to vote against it.  Even junior coalition partner SPD is still seeking modifications, including for people to be allowed to go on walks during curfew hours.  Merkel urged swift and decisive action.  “The virus doesn’t let you negotiate with it — it only understands one language, the language of resolve,” she told the Bundestag lower house on Friday at the start of a debate on the law amendment. 

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Pope Calls on Russia, Ukraine to Seek Reconciliation

Pope Francis on Sunday voiced apprehension over a recent Russian troop buildup near the border with Ukraine and called for efforts to ease tensions in the 7-year conflict in eastern Ukraine pitting Ukrainian forces against Russia-backed rebels.Ukrainian authorities say cease-fire violations have become more frequent in recent weeks, with nearly 30 troops killed this year. They accused Russia of fueling tensions by deploying 41,000 troops near the border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 to Crimea, where Russia maintains a large naval base.”I observe with great apprehension the increase of military activities,” Francis said in remarks to the public gathered in St. Peter’s Square.”Please, I strongly hope that an increase of tensions is avoided, and, on the contrary, gestures are made capable of promoting reciprocal trust and favoring the reconciliation and the peace which are so necessary and so desired,” Francis said.”Take to heart the grave humanitarian situation facing the population, to whom I express my closeness and for whom I invite prayers,” the pope said before praying aloud for his intentions.Ukraine accuses Russia of fueling tensions with its troop deployment, while Russia has sought to justify the buildup as part of readiness drills organized in response to what it claims are NATO threats.The United States and NATO say the concentration of Russian troops is the largest since 2014, when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and the separatists in eastern Ukraine.  Beside contending there are threats from NATO, Russia has cast the buildup as a necessary security precaution amid what it described as Ukraine’s provocations along the line of control.
 

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Italy’s Salvini to Stand Trial for 2019 Migrant Standoff 

A judge on Saturday ordered former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to stand trial on kidnapping charges for having refused to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock in an Italian port in 2019, keeping the people onboard at sea for days.Judge Lorenzo Iannelli set September 15 as the trial date during a hearing in the Palermo bunker courtroom in Sicily.Salvini, who attended the hearing, insisted that he was only doing his job and his duty by refusing entry to the Open Arms rescue ship and the 147 people it had saved in the Mediterranean Sea.”I’m going on trial for this, for having defended my country?” he tweeted after the decision. “I’ll go with my head held high, also in your name.”FILE – Former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini leaves the Senate prior to a vote on lifting his immunity for a trial on the August 2019 Open Arms case, in Rome, July 30, 2020.Palermo prosecutors have accused Salvini of dereliction of duty and kidnapping for having kept the migrants at sea off the Italian island of Lampedusa for days in August 2019. During the standoff, some migrants threw themselves overboard in desperation as the captain pleaded for a safe, close port. Eventually after a 19-day ordeal, the remaining 83 migrants still on board were allowed to disembark in Lampedusa.Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, had maintained a hard line on migration as interior minister during the first government of Premier Giuseppe Conte, in 2018-19. While demanding that European Union nations do more to take in migrants arriving in Italy, Salvini argued that humanitarian rescue ships were only encouraging Libyan-based human traffickers. He claimed that his policy of refusing them port actually saved lives by discouraging the risky trips across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.His lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, said she was serene despite the decision, saying she was certain the court would eventually determine that there was no kidnapping.”There was no limitation on their freedom,” she told reporters after the indictment was handed down. “The ship had the possibility of going anywhere. There was just a prohibition of going into port. But it had 100,000 options.”‘Historic’ decisionOpen Arms, for its part, hailed the decision to put Salvini on trial and confirmed it has registered as a civil party in the case, along with some survivors of the rescue, the city of Barcelona where Open Arms is based, and other humanitarian aid groups.The group’s founder, Oscar Camps, said the decision to prosecute Salvini for actions taken when he was interior minister was “historic,” showing that European political leaders can be held accountable for failing to respect the human rights of migrants.”This trial is a reminder to Europe and the world that there are principles of individual responsibility in politics,” Camps told a press conference Saturday. The decision to prosecute shows “it’s possible to identify the responsibility of the protagonists of this tragedy at sea.”Salvini is also under investigation for another, similar migrant standoff involving the Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti that he refused to let dock in the summer of 2019.The prosecutor in that case in Catania, Sicily, Andrea Bonomo, recommended last week that Salvini not be put on trial, arguing that he was only carrying out government policy when he kept the 116 migrants at sea for five days.Italy and other southern EU nations like Spain and Greece have long argued that other members of the 27-nation bloc must do more to help them cope with an influx of migrants.

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Russia Arrests Two Alleged Belarus Coup Plotters 

Russia’s main security agency says it has arrested two Belarusians who it said were preparing a plot to overthrow Belarus’ government and kill authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.One of the men arrested, Aleksandr Feduta, is a former Lukahsenko spokesman who later joined the opposition. The other, lawyer Yuras Zyankovich, has dual Belarusian-U.S. citizenship.The Federal Security Service said Saturday that the two had been handed over to Belarus. Russian authorities were alerted to information about the men’s plans by the Belarusian security service, the KGB.The Russian agency said the two suspects came to Moscow to meet with opposition-minded Belarusian generals, whom they told that “for the successful implementation of their plan, it was necessary to physically eliminate practically the entire top leadership of the republic.”Alleged details”They detailed the plan for a military coup, in particular, including the seizure of radio and television centers to broadcast their appeal to the people, blocking the internal troops and riot police units loyal to the current government,” the Russian agency said.Lukashenko told Belarusian television Saturday that investigators found evidence of foreign involvement in the alleged plot, “most likely the FBI, the CIA.”When nationwide protests against Lukashenko broke out last year after his disputed election win, he repeatedly alleged that Western countries were  plotting his downfall or even preparing for a military intervention.The protests, some of which attracted as many as 200,000 people, started in August after an election that official results say gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opposition members and even some poll workers said the results were fraudulent.Security forces then cracked down hard on the demonstrations, arresting more than 34,000 people, many of whom were beaten. Most prominent opposition figures have fled Belarus or have since been jailed.

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Navalny’s Doctor: Putin Critic ‘Could Die at Any Moment’ 

A doctor for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, says his health is deteriorating rapidly and the 44-year-old Kremlin critic could be on the verge of death.Physician Yaroslav Ashikhmin said Saturday that test results he received from Navalny’s family showed him with sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidneys.”Our patient could die at any moment,” he said in a Facebook post.Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union, said on Twitter that “action must be taken immediately.”Navalny is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most visible and adamant opponent.His personal physicians have not been allowed to see him in prison. He went on a hunger strike to protest the refusal to let them visit when he began experiencing severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. Russia’s state penitentiary service has said that Navalny is receiving all the medical help he needs.Navalny was arrested on January 17 when he returned to Russia from Germany, where had spent five months recovering from Soviet nerve-agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Russian officials denied any involvement and even questioned whether Navalny had been poisoned, though it was confirmed by several European laboratories.He was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison on the ground that his long recovery in Germany violated a suspended sentence he had been given for a fraud conviction. Navalny said that case was politically motivated.

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