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Romania Activist Urges People to Do Something Good Every Day

A gentle hero to many in Romania, Valeriu Nicolae says that, at heart, he is more like former NBA star Michael Jordan — highly competitive and eager to improve in what he does best. In Nicolae’s case that is helping others.The Romanian rights activist has earned praise for his tireless campaign to improve the lives of the Balkan country’s poorest and least privileged residents, particularly children.This is a daunting task in the country of 19 million where hundreds of thousands of children lack basics and are unable to attend school. Romania is a member of the European Union but bad management and widespread corruption have stalled economic and social progress.Nicolae told The Associated Press that for society to change, individuals should, too. He also thinks it should become mandatory for politicians to help someone before they take public office.Valeriu Nicolae carries a box containing basic food, hygiene and medicinal products in Nucsoara, Romania, Jan. 9, 2021.”It should be the basics: do good things for others!” he said. “Even a tiny bit of good for someone around you, and no bad at all.”Since starting in 2007, Nicolae’s humanitarian organization Casa Buna, or Good House, has taken upon itself to support and supervise 315 children. The group provides aid and backing for the children and their families, including clothes, computers or books — but on condition they do not drop out of school.Nicolae is a strong advocate of education to keep children off the streets and prevent them from straying later in life into alcohol or drugs. His work has gained further importance during the coronavirus pandemic that has increased social isolation and made life even harder for the poorest around the world.On a frosty and snowy day this month, Nicolae’s team visited villages at the foot of the Carpathian mountains, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Bucharest, to deliver aid such as flour, sugar or hygiene products to people enduring the cold winter weather.Many holding children, the residents of Nucsoara came out of their homes to greet Nicolae. Most of the houses in the village are unfinished, and families live cramped in small rooms. Among the necessities Nicolae brought along were toothbrushes, and he showed some of the children how to use them properly.”There is nothing better than seeing you’ve changed the life of a child for the better,” he said. “I don’t think there are many people more rewarded by what they do than me.”Himself coming from a poor background among Romania’s Roma, or Gypsy, community, Nicolae said he also was motivated by the help he received as a child which he said pushed him forward later in life. Throughout the Balkans, Roma minorities routinely face discrimination and remain among the poorest and most neglected communities.Painfully aware of the anti-Roma sentiments that are widespread in his country, but also of global racism, Nicolae was among the initiators of the Respect anti-racist campaign during the soccer 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He has won international awards in recognition for his children’s education bid.”I was successful in helping many children and adults. I am stubborn and don’t do things just for one day,” he said. “I also failed thousands of times but that has placed me in a position to succeed (the next time). I never failed in the same way twice.”A rare failure was Nicolae’s bid as an independent candidate in Romania’s December parliamentary election, when he fell just 17 votes short of a winning a seat after being denied a recount. Nicolae had hoped to press for education reforms to enable access to basic schooling, and also for better management of public money.”I want to be a better person, a little better every year if possible,” he said. Jokingly, he added: “I don’t want to be a saint, because saints tend to have a tragic end.”

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Merkel Sees Broader Scope for Agreement with Biden

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she sees more opportunity for agreement with new U.S. President Joe Biden than the previous administration, but she also continues to believe Germany and Europe cannot rely on U.S assistance as much as in the past.Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Merkel said just by looking at the executive orders Biden signed Wednesday after being sworn in, she can see “there is just a broader space for agreement with Biden.”  European, Other World Leaders Welcome Joe BidenThere were words of welcome Wednesday from across the world for Joe Biden as he was sworn in as America’s 46th presidentShe cited Biden’s decision to remain in the World Health Organization, rejoining the Paris climate agreement and his views on migration as areas where the U.S. and Germany can work together. But she added she is fully aware she cannot expect full political agreement with a new U.S. president on everything.   Merkel, who had, at best, a strained relationship with former U.S. President Donald Trump, said she came to the realization during his term that Germany and Europe cannot rely so much on the United States diplomatically and militarily. She said Thursday she still feels that way.  She added, “But the good news is: We in Germany are ready and so is the European Union. But overall, cooperation is once again based on common conviction.”

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Latin American Leaders Congratulate Biden, Harris

Latin American leaders from Peru, Venezuela and Colombia are extending congratulations to U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.Colombian President Ivan Duque described Biden’s inaugural speech as transcending, saying his call for unity among the people of the United States and his call for the construction of common goals in the midst of differences has important repercussions in the world.Duque also said the 200-year-old diplomatic relationship between the United States and Colombia continues to strengthen toward common goals.Peruvian President Francisco Sagest said, his country is optimistic about a future of greater cooperation, investment, and trade with the United States.Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro wished Biden luck with a direct appeal to change the U.S. policies toward Venezuela.Biden has not commented publicly on U.S. policy toward Venezuela since taking office Wednesday, but his nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, showed support for Maduro’s rival, Juan Guaido during his Senate confirmation hearing, according to ABC news.The U.S. and several western nations have favored opposition leader Guaido as Venezuela’s recognized leader, following the disputed 2018 presidential elections.

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Chile Approves Emergency Use of Second Coronavirus Vaccine

Chile is getting a new weapon to help in its fight against the spread of the coronavirus.Health regulators approved the emergency use of the CoronaVac vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.Heriberto Garcia, director of Chile’s Public Health Institute, said very encouraging data from late-stage trials and the Health Institute’s independent investigations suggested CoronaVac was a “safe and effective vaccine to fight the pandemic.”Chile paid $3.5 million to host a clinical trial of the Sinovac vaccine and has ordered 60 million doses of the vaccine, according to Reuters.Garcia said Sinovac will arrive in Chile at the end of the month. Chile has already inoculated more than 29,000 people with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which arrived in the country late last month.Leaders of Chile’s Public Health Institute are also weighing approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use and have already signed a deal to purchase 14.4 million doses.So far, Chile has confirmed more than 677,000 COVID infections and 17,573 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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In Belarus, a Press Badge Makes You a Target

Beatings, arrests, court cases, internet blocks and revocation of press credentials — being an accredited journalist is no longer a guarantee of protection for independent media in Belarus.Four members of Press Club Belarus, a network that focuses on journalism, have been in pre-trial detention since December 22, when club founder Yulia Slutskaya, program director Ala Sharko, financial director Sergei Olszewski and operator Pyatro Slutski, Yulia’s son, were FILE – Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks to the media in Berlin, Dec. 14, 2020.Statistics by Press Under Pressure, a project run by the press club, say journalists have been detained almost 400 times since the election. Figures show 81 journalists arrested and 15 facing criminal cases.Human rights activists have rejected the line from Belarusian officials that members of the press club were involved in wrongdoing, calling the charges retaliatory.On January 13, a joint statement by human rights organizations in Belarus called Slutskaya, Sharko, Olszewski, Slutski and Lutskina political prisoners.The use of economic-related charges against human rights and political prisoners is a tactic that was used regularly during the Soviet era.ProsecutionsThe arrests at Press Club Belarus came one day after the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus opened criminal cases against opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya and members of the opposition Coordinating Council, accusing them of “creating an extremist formation” and conducting “activities with the aim of seizing state power unconstitutionally.”Meanwhile, prosecutors said they would prosecute all those who “contributed to the extremist formation.”Nadezhda Belokhvostik, editor in chief of press club-linked Media-IQ magazine, said members were shocked by the arrests.”We didn’t expect all this. We were preparing for the New Year. We had to have a holiday, Belokhvostik told VOA’s Russian Service. “Yulia Slutskaya was returning that day from vacation with her daughter and grandchildren. I was in the office and left maybe half an hour before the search and detention, when Sergei Olszewski and Pyatro Slutski were detained.”Her colleagues’ whereabouts were unknown for hours, said Belokhvostik, who learned of their detention only when state-run Belta News Agency reported the press club members were suspected of tax evasion.“Lawyers who were admitted more than 24 hours later were forced to sign for nondisclosure agreements,” Belokhvostik added. “This is a typical practice in Belarus to prevent lawyers from saying anything.”The duty officer at the Belarus Embassy in Washington referred VOA to the Foreign Ministry in Belarus. The ministry did not respond to VOA’s email requesting comment.FILE – Demonstrators rally in solidarity with arrested journalists, in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 3, 2020. The poster, depicting some of the detained, reads: “They [only] did their job.” (Svaboda.org – RFE/RL)’It makes you a target’Natalia Belikova, manager of the press club’s international projects, called the tax charges and detentions a direct result of the organization’s mission to serve as a platform for professional development of independent media and journalists.”The press club has always supported its journalism colleagues, has always been in solidarity with colleagues,” Belikova said. “Since August, pressure on independent media in Belarus has increased very much, and we have recorded it.”Journalists are detained. Some are deprived of press credentials,” she added. “I think that the attack on the press club, among other things, is connected with the fact that we were in solidarity with all those journalists who are now working in desperate conditions.”Belikova also said authorities were irritated by the international resonance of their reporting and have responded with increasingly repressive tactics.”The work of journalists who have been deprived of press accreditation is by and large outlawed,” she said, explaining that they can’t cover protests without risking arrest for participating in illegal or unauthorized events.A portion of the home page of Minsk-based Tut.by. (Web screenshot)Belokhvostik, of Media-IQ, said the repression “is monstrous.”Belokhvostik said journalists who covered rallies have been detained for up to 25 days. She also highlighted that Katerina Borisevich, who reported for Tut.by on the fatal beating of a 31-year-old artist and teacher by plainclothes police, was being held in the same detention center as those detained from the press club.“The same ‘press’ vest, which all accredited journalists are obliged to wear in Belarus, doesn’t save anyone,” she told VOA. “On the contrary, it makes you a target.”Growing supportDespite the crackdown, Belikova said, sound reporting in Belarus continues.”There are editorial offices that have moved their main offices abroad in order to be able to continue working in Belarus,” she told VOA. “Their teams of journalists are in Belarus — let’s just say the head organizations have moved.”Public support for journalists is on the uptick.In early October, when reporters for the Minsk-based Tut.by faced a three-month suspension of press accreditation for covering anti-government protests, demonstrators shouted words of praise and support while marching past its offices. Others sent in information over apps like Telegram to help the news site stay updated.But working in the face of persecution comes at a cost.”To some extent, there’s some sense of unity in adversity, that people feel they’re all in it together,” said Belikova. “But at the same time, it is necessary to remember that the government doesn’t stop repression, which is only increasing. The cost of participation in actions related to your civic stance increases every day.”This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service.    

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European, Other World Leaders Welcome Joe Biden

There were words of welcome Wednesday from across the world for Joe Biden as he was sworn in as America’s 46th president. They were mixed with parting shots from some leaders aimed at his predecessor, Donald Trump, who left Washington hours before the swearing-in. 
  
As the inauguration has been atypical — with no crowds and the Capitol guarded by thousands of National Guardsmen — so, too, the reaction has been out of the ordinary from overseas leaders.  
  
Some European leaders who had tempestuous relations with Donald Trump did not hold back on their relief at seeing President Biden installed.  
 
“Once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday. 
  
“This new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been waiting for so long. Europe is ready for a new start with our oldest and most trusted partner,” she told European lawmakers in Brussels. She said she hoped Biden would be able to repair divisions in the United States and that his inauguration would be “a message of hope for a world that is waiting for the U.S. to be back in the circle of like-minded states.”European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen addresses European lawmakers during a plenary session on the inauguration of the new U.S. president and the current political situation, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Jan. 20, 20 Europe welcomes Biden 
  
German President Frank Walter Steinmeier called Wednesday “a good day for democracy.”  
 
 “I am relieved that Joe Biden is sworn in as president today and coming into the White House. I know that this feeling is shared by many people in Germany,” he said in a statement.  
  
Steinmeier praised the strength and endurance of American democracy, saying, “In the United States, (democracy) held up against a lot of pressure. Despite internal hostility, America’s institutions have proven strong — election workers, governors, judiciary and Congress.” 
  
Other European leaders avoided referring to past difficulties and appeared to be trying to make sure they are seen as good allies for the incoming administration.  
 
“In our fight against COVID and across climate change, defense, security and in promoting and defending democracy, our goals are the same and our nations will work hand in hand to achieve them,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.  
  
Johnson told the House of Commons he looked forward to welcoming the new U.S. president to Britain later this year for a G-7 summit of the world’s leading nations and for a climate conference to be held in Glasgow.  
  
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was also focused on the future. 
 
“We are looking forward to the Biden presidency, with which we will start working immediately in view of our presidency of the G-20,” he told Italian lawmakers on Tuesday. “We have a strong common agenda, ranging from the effective multilateralism that we both want to see, to climate change, green and digital transition and social inclusion.” 
  
But Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez did not mince his words about what he thinks Biden’s election win means. 
 
“The (election) victory of Biden represents the victory of democracy over the ultra-right and its three methods, the massive deception, the national division and the abuse, even violent, of democratic institutions,” he said at a public event. “Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later, we realized he jeopardized nothing less than the world’s most powerful democracy.” 
  
The Trump administration and EU leaders clashed on several issues, including international trade and climate change, a reflection of deeply different world views. FILE – A NATO and a US flag flutter in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels.Reaffirming NATO ties 
 
Trump upbraided Europeans for not spending enough on their defense, an issue that’s also likely to be raised by the Biden administration, but probably more diplomatically. At times, Trump painted Europe as a foe and sometimes questioned the value of NATO, a clear break with traditional transatlantic relations since World War II.   
  
Trump’s combative style, as well, was very different from what Europeans have experienced from other post-WWII American leaders.  
 
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted congratulations to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, adding: “Today is the start of a new chapter for the transatlantic Alliance. … A strong NATO is good for both North America and Europe.”I congratulate President @JoeBiden on his #InaugurationDay. A strong #NATO is good for both North America & Europe, as none of us can tackle the challenges we face alone. Today is the start of a new chapter & I look forward to our close cooperation! https://t.co/cUB90k7XaW— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) January 20, 2021Biden is widely seen as the most pro-Atlanticist American president since George H.W. Bush. 
  
Two years ago, at a security conference in Munich, European leaders were tugging at Biden’s sleeves in the margins urging him to run for office. After enduring a rough-and-tough “America First” speech from then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, their nerves were soothed by Biden, when he quipped in his address: “This too shall pass. We will be back.”  
  
Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic say they are now determined to repair frayed relations and to steady democracies roiled by unprecedented domestic political turmoil and challenged by authoritarian powers. 
 Asia reacts to President Biden 
  
Strengthening democracy, though, was not in the mind of China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, who told a press briefing Wednesday: “In the past four years, the U.S. administration has made fundamental mistakes in its strategic perception of China … interfering in China’s internal affairs, suppressing and smearing China, and causing serious damage to China-U.S. relations.” 
  
She said China’s leaders hope that the Biden administration will “meet China halfway and, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, push China-U.S. relations back to the right track of healthy and stable development as soon as possible.” 
  
Also, in Asia, around 100 Japanese supporters of Trump took to the streets of Tokyo Wednesday, waving American and Japanese flags and unfurling banners with false claims that Trump was “the true winner” of last November’s presidential election.  
 
“We wanted to show that many people in Japan are supporting President Trump,” the organizer, Naota Kobayashi, told Reuters. “We all chanted together so that our voice can fly over the Pacific Ocean and reach the U.S.” 
  
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani focused on the 2015 nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the United States, saying he hoped Biden would reenter the pact and lift American sanctions imposed on Iran.  
 
“The ball is in the U.S. court now. If Washington returns to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact,” Rouhani said in a televised Cabinet meeting. 
 US-Russia ties 
  
Reaction from Russian officials has been muted. Ahead of the inauguration, Russian leader Vladimir Putin remained silent, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a press briefing that he did not foresee a change in American-Russia relations. 
  
“Nothing will change for Russia. Russia will continue to live just the way it has lived for hundreds of years, seeking good relations with the U.S.,” he told reporters. “Whether Washington has reciprocal political will for that will depend on Mr. Biden and his team.” 
 
The Kremlin-controlled daily Izvestia newspaper noted “the prospects for Russian-U.S. relations under the new U.S. leader do not encourage optimism so far.” 
  
But Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s final leader, called for Moscow and Washington to repair strained ties. 
 
“The current condition of relations between Russia and the United States is of great concern,” Gorbachev told state-run news agency TASS. “But this also means that something has to be done about it in order to normalize relations. We cannot fence ourselves off from each other.” 
  
  

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France’s Macron: No Repentance Nor Apologies for Algeria Occupation During Independence War

French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that France is neither regretful nor apologetic about the atrocities committed in its former colony, Algeria, ahead of a key report on France’s colonial past. 
 
Between 1954 and 1962, Algerian revolutionaries and French forces engaged in a bloody war in which both sides committed war crimes but that ultimately led to the independence of the North African country. 
 
Macron said France has “no repentance nor apologies” for its occupation of Algeria or its actions during the eight-year war. He said the French government instead will undertake “symbolic acts” to make up for its past deeds. 
 
Nearly 60 years on, the war continues to strain French-Algieran ties, prompting France to put in efforts at restoring cordial relations. 
 
So far, Macron has been the only French president to recognize France’s criminal involvement in colonial Algeria. 
 
During his presidential campaign in 2017, he described France’s 132-year colonization of Algeria as a “crime against humanity” during an interview with an Algerian television channel. Macron’s comment caused a stir in France and was widely criticized by the far right. 
 
In 2018, he acknowledged that French forces used torture during the Algerian war — the first time any French leader had made such an admission. 
 
He tasked a French historian, Benjamin Stora, to assess the European country’s dealings in Algeria and propose ways of reconciliation. The report is expected to be published later Wednesday. 
 
The Elysee Palace said Macron will take part in a three-day commemorative event next year to mark the 60th anniversary since the end of the war in Algeria. 
 

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British Government Looks Forward to Working with Biden

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labor Party opposition leader Keir Starmer expressed good wishes Wednesday to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on his Inauguration Day.  Speaking in Parliament during his weekly question time with lawmakers, Johnson said he is looking forward to working with Biden and with his new administration “strengthening the partnership between our countries and working on our shared priorities.” Johnson mentioned climate change, pandemic recovery and “strengthening our transatlantic security” as shared priorities between the two nations. Starmer also stood to welcome Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, calling their upcoming inauguration “a victory for hope over hate and a real moment for optimism in the U.S. and around the world.” In an editorial Wednesday in the British Daily Mail newspaper, former British Prime Minister Theresa May said Biden and Harris give Britain “partners for positive action to make the world a safer place.” May used the same editorial to sharply criticize Johnson, her successor as prime minister, saying his government had “abandoned global moral leadership.” 
 

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EU Welcomes Biden Inauguration

Leaders of the European Union Wednesday hailed the inauguration of Joe Biden as a “new dawn” in America.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels, ahead of Biden’s swearing-in as the 46th president of the United States, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “This time-honored ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol will be a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy and the resounding proof that once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”
European Council President Charles Michel was equally effusive but frank about how the U.S.-EU relationship changed under President Donald Trump. He said, “Today is more than a transition; today is an opportunity to rejuvenate our transatlantic relationship, which has greatly suffered in the last four years.”    
The European Council is the E.U.’s political arm. Michel invited Biden to attend the council’s “extraordinary council meeting in Brussels, that can be in parallel to a NATO meeting.” He said European leaders want to work with the U.S. on boosting multilateral cooperation, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling climate change, and joining forces on security and peace, among other issues.
The European leaders acknowledged the events of the last two weeks in Washington – the siege on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. Michel said Biden’s inauguration is evidence the attackers failed and called on Biden to work with Europe.
“On the first day of his mandate I address a solemn proposal to the new U.S. president: let’s build a new founded pact for a stronger Europe, for a stronger America and for a better world,” he said.

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