Category Archives: World

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After Big Election Victory, Armenia’s Leader Calls for Reconciliation

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is calling for reconciliation after winning a snap election held in a bid to unite a nation deeply polarized in the wake of its defeat in a recent conflict with Azerbaijan.  Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Pablo Gonzalez in Yerevan and Ricardo Marquina in Moscow.Camera: Pablo Gonzalez 
Produced by: Ricardo Marquina  

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EU Investigates Google’s Advertising Business

The European Union announced Tuesday it is once again investigating Google for what could be anti-competitive activities in digital advertising.The investigation will try to determine if Google is harming competitors by restricting third party access to user data that could better target advertising.”We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.Google said it would cooperate in the investigation.”Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day. They choose them because they’re competitive and effective,” a Google spokesperson said.The EU has fined Google more than $9.5 billion over the past decade for restricting third parties from online shopping, Android phones and online advertising.In the past year, online ads generated $147 billion in revenue for the U.S.-based company.Google’s ad business also is facing scrutiny in the U.S., where several states and the U.S. Justice Department are suing the company for alleged anti-competitive behavior.  

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Spain to Pardon Catalan Separatist Leaders

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his government on Tuesday would pardon nine jailed leaders of the Catalonia region’s 2017 move for independence.
 
Sanchez told a group of civil society leaders in Barcelona that his Cabinet would approve the pardons.
 
Opposition parties have said they would challenge the pardons in court. Opinion polls showed a slim majority of the public opposed the pardons.
 
Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to jail in 2019 for sedition and other offenses, with the sentences ranging from nine to 13 years.
 
The government in Madrid had banned Catalonia from holding its independence referendum, but the leaders went ahead with the vote anyway. The pro-independence side scored an overwhelming victory. The poll was boycotted by most unionists.
 
Sanchez said in his address Monday that for the two sides to move forward, “someone must make the first step.”
 
The current regional leader in Catalonia, Pere Aragones, welcomed the pardons as an initial move, but said he would push for amnesty and a new, authorized independence referendum.
 
The pardons do not affect the status of former regional leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium shortly after the 2017 referendum and was not among those convicted.

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Hitler’s ‘War of Annihilation’ Caught Stalin by Surprise

“On Saturday, the day before the war, we met with friends in the park,” Red Army engineer Col. Il’ya Grigoryevich Starinov noted years later. “Orchestras and brass bands played, people danced, and we were happy. It was lovely and pleasant,” he wrote in his memoir Over the Abyss. It was 21 June 1941 and Starinov was in the town of Brest — a strategic town earmarked to be captured on the first day of Operation Barbarossa, the code name for the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Within hours, Brest would be rocked by infantry gunfire and artillery bombardments. Eighty years ago Tuesday more than three million German soldiers advanced on an 1,800-mile front from Estonia to Ukraine and invaded communist Russia, taking autocrat Joseph Stalin by surprise, despite warnings from Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill and from some Soviet military commanders and spies. Stalin reckoned Adolf Hitler wouldn’t invade for another year and he had only started a few weeks earlier to redeploy Red Army divisions to the western front. Operation Barbarossa was the biggest military operation in history and Hitler and his generals started the meticulous planning for it nine months earlier. As far as Hitler was concerned, it was to be a “war of annihilation” — against Jews and Slavs, both considered subhuman by the German Führer.  Eight decades on, Germany has been marking the 80th anniversary of an invasion some military historians say lost Hitler the Second World War. Buoyed by the ease of their Blitzkrieg victories over France and Poland, Hitler and his senior generals underestimated the caliber of the Red Army, the superiority of Russian tanks and the resolve of ordinary Russians, says British broadcaster and author Jonathan Dimbleby in a new book on the invasion, Barbarossa: How Hitler Lost the War. But Hitler’s strategic miscalculation was far from the mind of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Friday when opening a Barbarossa exhibition in Berlin. He said the anniversary offered an opportunity to rethink events in 1941 when German soldiers unleashed “hatred and violence” and the war moved “towards the madness of total annihilation.”German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses the media at his residence Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, Friday, May 28, 2021. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier announces he will seeks for a second term.“From the very first day, the German campaign was driven by hatred: by antisemitism and anti-Bolshevism, by racial mania against the Slavic and Asian peoples of the Soviet Union. As difficult as it may be for us, we must remember this,” he said. An estimated 27 million people, including 14 million civilians, were “murdered, beaten to death, allowed to starve to death or worked to death” by the Wehrmacht and SS Death Squads, or Einsatzgruppen, Steinmeier said. Germany, he added, had for too long suppressed the “unprecedented brutality and gruesomeness” of its soldiers during the war with the Soviet Union. “It weighs on us that our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers were involved in these crimes,” he said.  Muted remembrance While Germany has had high-profile events to mark the anniversary, Russian commemorations Tuesday will be more low-key and muted — in contrast to the pomp and circumstance afforded other notable wartime events, especially of Red Army triumphs.  In 2018, the 75th anniversary of the Russian victory at Stalingrad was marked with somber memorials and patriotic military parades with President Vladimir Putin highly visible throughout the ceremonies as well as during the lead up to them. On Friday, a Kremlin spokesman said the media would be informed of any special events in due course, but supplied no details of any major commemoration plans for Putin.  Even so, as in other years, the anniversary of Barbarossa, known as the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow, will be marked with candlelit parades and the laying of wreaths in most Russian towns and cities. Some commentators suggest Operation Barbarossa doesn’t fit so well with the Kremlin’s efforts the past few years to rehabilitate Stalin. Nine days before the invasion, the Kremlin ordered Moscow radio to assure listeners there was no prospect of a German invasion. An official TASS report dismissed “rumors” of a coming German attack as “clumsy propaganda” spread by countries hostile to Soviet Russia. Even as the offensive unfolded, Stalin still thought it was a provocation by German generals. “I’m sure Hitler isn’t aware of this,” Stalin told military aides. In the months preceding the invasion, which was originally codenamed ‘Otto,’ Hitler and his generals massed seven armies, consisting of 120 divisions, along a line stretching from the Gulf of Finland to the Black Sea. The invasion force included 600,000 vehicles, 750,000 artillery pieces and nearly two thousand aircraft. More than a hundred landing strips were prepared in Nazi-occupied Poland for an invasion that would trigger three and half years of bloodshed and barbarity.  German officers and men were told little of where eventually they would be heading, but many guessed. Secrecy was the order of the day. To try to disguise what was happening from the Soviets, German troops in some populated areas were ordered to wear civilian clothes; tanks and troop movements were made under the cover of darkness. “We ourselves became aware around 20 June that war against the Russians was a possibility,” infantrymen Gerhard Gortz noted in a journal quoted by historian Robert Kershaw in his book War Without Garlands. That was just two days before the invasion got underway. “There was a feeling in the air. No fires were allowed, and one could not walk about with torches or cause any noise,” he added.  As he scribbled in his diary, Russian trains were still transporting raw materials and agricultural produce to Germany, exports agreed in the nonaggression pact Hitler and Stalin struck in 1939. German infantryman, Theo Scharf, observed on the eve of battle: “Oil tank trains rolled continuously westward, past us, from the oil fields on the Soviet side.” Russian military commanders bordering the frontier were aware of the German military buildup, according to Kershaw, but no orders were issued by Moscow for them to raise their state of readiness and “where measures were taken on the initiative of individual staffs, they were ordered to be reversed,” he says.  Russian historian Dimitrij Wolkognov, who was a Red Army officer during the war, later wrote: “Stalin was like God on earth. He alone said, ‘the war will not happen now.’ It was his isolated belief, and he wanted to believe it.”  As bombs rained down on Soviet positions and Wehrmacht infantrymen and German tanks launched their assault, Russian units on the front were ordered to observe and not to act as the attack was still viewed in Moscow as a provocation. Nazi forces advanced quickly into Russia rapidly. But within six months the hubristic offensive sputtered after the Wehrmacht suffered at least 800,000 casualties and the Soviets six times that number. The winter took its toll of German soldiers who had not been supplied with cold-weather clothing.  As the invasion got underway, a German platoon commander noted in his journal that almost 129 years before, Emperor Napoleon had launched his Russian campaign. “We all know what happened. Will we do better?”  They didn’t and Hitler’s gamble failed, sealing Germany’s fate in the Second World War. 

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US Seeks to Extradite Turkish Businessman Over Fraud Charges

The United States will seek to extradite a Turkish businessman from Austria so he can appear before a U.S. judge in Utah, where he is facing charges of conspiring to commit money laundering and wire fraud, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.   Sezgin Baran Korkmaz laundered more than $133 million in fraud proceeds through bank accounts that he controlled in Turkey and Luxembourg, the Justice Department said in a statement. Korkmaz, it said, was arrested in Austria on Saturday at the department’s request, following the unsealing of a superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding. Reuters was not immediately able to identify Korkmaz’s lawyers for comment. The businessman is also being investigated by Turkey, where prosecutors in December detained 10 executives working at Korkmaz’s companies, after Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) said the companies were used for money laundering, Turkish state-news agency Anadolu reported. The Turkish ambassador to Austria told Dogan News agency on Sunday that Korkmaz was detained on Saturday in a town about 260 kilometers (160 miles) from Vienna and that Turkey had initiated an extradition process with Austrian authorities.   The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not return a call for comment.   It was not immediately clear where Korkmaz would be extradited. He is believed to have left Turkey in December before the police raids. U.S. prosecutors say the fraud proceeds stemmed from a scheme involving the filing of false claims for more than $1 billion in renewable fuel tax credits for the production and sale of biodiesel by Utah-based Washakie Renewable Energy LLC. Washakie could not immediately be reached for comment. Korkmaz and co-conspirators allegedly used the proceeds from the scheme to buy the Turkish airline Borajet, hotels in Turkey and Switzerland, a yacht named the Queen Anne and a villa and an apartment on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the Justice Department said. 

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Brazil’s Congress Passes Bill to Privatize Electric Utility

Brazil’s Congress passed a bill Monday paving the way to privatize the biggest electric utility in Latin America, state-controlled company Eletrobras, in a victory for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s privatization agenda. The bill, which sets up a share issue that will dilute the government’s stake in the company, passed the lower house by a vote of 258 to 136. Lawmakers must still vote on a series of amendments before sending it to Bolsonaro. It had already passed in the Senate. The legislation will reduce the government stake in Eletrobras from 51.82% to 45% via a share issue penciled in for early next year that the state estimates will raise around $5 billion (25 billion reais). The government will, however, retain a “golden share” in the company, giving it the final say on strategic matters. Created in 1962, Eletrobras is one of Brazil’s “big four” state-controlled firms, along with oil company Petrobras and banks Banco do Brazil and Caixa Economica Federal. Bolsonaro’s ultraliberal economy minister, Paulo Guedes, has said the privatization will save Brazilians up to 7.4% on electricity. 
 

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Millions Join Mexico Quake Drills After Pandemic Eases

Millions of people across Mexico on Monday took part in earthquake simulation drills for the first time since they were suspended last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The resumption of the emergency exercises follows a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases and deaths in Mexico, one of the countries worst hit by the virus. The drills, held regularly before the health crisis, aim to prepare the country for the inevitable next major tremor to strike one of the most seismically active regions on Earth. This year the authorities urged people to wear face masks and socially distance to avoid infection with the coronavirus, which the government says has killed more than 231,000 people in Mexico. People take part in an earthquake drill, the first since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Mexico City on June 21, 2021.In the capital, the exercises simulated an 8.1-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter off the coast of the southern state of Guerrero that was strongly felt in Mexico City. According to the authorities, around 6 million people participated in the capital, many of them evacuating buildings and pouring into the streets after warnings over the city’s more than 12,000 loudspeakers. About 200 of the devices failed, according to authorities. The warning system uses seismic monitors with the aim of giving Mexico City’s 9 million residents advance warning of earthquakes with epicenters along the Pacific Coast. “We must be prepared whenever earthquakes happen. Since we practice often, we already knew what to do,” Jose Ramirez, a 32-year-old head waiter, told AFP. On Reforma avenue, home to major hotels, corporations and government offices, thousands of people evacuated buildings when the alert sounded. People take part in an earthquake drill, the first since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Mexico City on June 21, 2021.Civil Protection helicopters flew overhead, and firefighters deployed as part of the simulation in a country sitting atop five tectonic plates, including three major ones. On September 19, 1985, an 8.1-magnitude quake killed more than 10,000 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings in Mexico City. Shortly after residents held a practice drill on the anniversary of that earthquake in 2017, a 7.1-magnitude tremor left 370 people dead, mainly in the capital. In other states with no seismic risk, such as Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico, Monday’s exercises simulated a fire. 
 

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EU, US, UK, Canada Join Forces to Slap Sanctions on Belarus

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada joined forces Monday to impose sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus over the forced diversion to Minsk of a passenger plane traveling between two EU countries last month. Asset freezes and travel bans were also imposed on a number of officials linked to the security crackdown that continues to rock the country some 10 months after President Alexander Lukashenko was returned to power in elections branded by the EU and others as “fraudulent.” “We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law,” the four said in a joint statement. FILE – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with top officials in Minsk, Jan. 26, 2021.”We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they said. The EU hit seven people and one entity over the “forced and unlawful” landing of the Ryanair plane, which was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers.  The four called on Minsk to cooperate with an international probe into the incident, immediately release all political prisoners, and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society. FILE – Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich gestures while speaking at a news conference at the National Press Center of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk, Belarus, June 14, 2021.Among those targeted by the United States were close Lukashenko associates, those accused of helping to violently suppress peaceful protests since last year and others alleged to have orchestrated fraud during the elections. At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also prepared a series of economic measures that are aimed at hitting Lukashenko and his allies. EU leaders are expected to endorse them at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. The EU has gradually ratcheted up sanctions since Lukashenko — dubbed the last dictator in Europe — won a sixth term last August.  But the 27-nation bloc has taken a harder approach since the Ryanair incident, and over the country’s alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has provided a safe-haven to Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics. Among their actions Monday, the ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarus officials and froze the assets of 8 “entities,” which are usually companies, banks or associations. It means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures. “This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists,” a statement said. FILE – European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a news conference at the European Council building, in Brussels, May 10, 2021.EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said the economic sanctions “are going to hurt … the economy of Belarus heavily.” The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash — a common fertilizer ingredient — tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others. “We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions — meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back,” Maas said. Maas said the 27 EU countries stand united on sanctions. “We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today — nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months,” he said. FILE – Gabrielius Landsbergis speaks to the media in Vilnius, Lithuania, Oct. 11, 2020.Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that “the mood is different now.” Landsbergis accused Minsk of “weaponizing” migration flows. He said about 500 people are sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger who fled Belarus after the vote, welcomed the new measures, saying that “the EU and the entire civilized world have set a goal to stop Lukashenko and the escalation of violence.” “The EU sanctions would raise not only external, but also internal pressure on Lukashenko … and will make it more costly for his main sponsor, the Kremlin, to maintain the Belarusian regime,” she said. Tsikhanouskaya said the Ryanair incident shows that “Lukashenko’s regime has become a threat not only to citizens of Belarus but also to international security.” 
 

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France’s Far Right Suffers Setback in Regional Vote  

Europe’s surging far-right has suffered election setbacks recently — in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony, where Chancellor Angela Merckel’s ruling conservatives prevailed … and in France, where the National Rally party did less well than expected in the first round of regional polls Sunday. From the eastern French town of Montbeliard, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA that a year before presidential elections, the vote was marked by record-low turnout.Camera: Lisa Bryant

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