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Queen Elizabeth and Britain to Bid Farewell to Prince Philip

Queen Elizabeth will bid a final farewell to Prince Philip, her husband of more than seven decades, at a ceremonial funeral on Saturday, with the nation set to fall silent to mark the passing of a pivotal figure in the British monarchy.While the ceremony will include some of the traditional grandeur of a significant royal event, there will be just 30 mourners inside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle for the funeral service because of COVID-19 restrictions.There will be no public procession, all the congregation will wear masks, and the queen, who says the death has left a “huge void,” will sit alone.”She’s the queen, she will behave with the extraordinary dignity and extraordinary courage that she always does. And at the same time, she is saying farewell to someone to who she was married for 73 years,” said Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will help officiate at the service.He said he expected the funeral to resonate with the millions of people around the world who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.”I think there will be tears in many homes because other names will be on their minds, faces they’ve lost that they don’t see again, funerals they couldn’t go to as many haven’t been able to go to this one because it is limited to 30 in the congregation,” he said. “That will break many a heart.”He called on the British public to pray for the monarch.Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been by his wife’s side throughout her record-breaking 69-year reign, died peacefully at the age of 99 last week at the castle where the royal couple had been staying during a recent lockdown.A decorated Royal Navy veteran of World War II, his funeral, much of which was planned in meticulous detail by the prince himself, has a strong military feel, with personnel from across the armed forces playing prominent roles.Army bands, Navy pipers and Royal Marine buglers will take part, while his coffin will be conveyed from its resting place inside the castle to the chapel on the back of a specially converted Land Rover that he helped design himself.At 1400 GMT, before the service starts, there will be a minute’s silence.The congregation will be limited to members of the royal family and Philip’s family, with no place for political figures such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will watch the event on television where it will be broadcast live.The entire event will be held within the walls of Windsor Castle and the public have been asked not to congregate outside or at any other royal residences to show their respects.CrisesWith a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense attitude and a propensity for occasional gaffes, Philip was credited with helping his wife, who he married in 1947, modernize the monarchy in the changing postwar period, and to deal with the many crises that befell the institution.Last month, the royals faced their greatest such tumult in decades when Prince Harry, grandson of Elizabeth and Philip, gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey with his wife, Meghan, who is not attending the funeral as she is heavily pregnant and was advised not to travel.The couple, who moved to Los Angeles and quit royal duties last year, accused one unnamed royal of making a racist comment and said Meghan’s pleas for help when she felt suicidal were ignored.Much media attention will focus on the royals’ behavior towards Harry, as it will be his first public appearance with his family since that interview.He will walk apart from his brother Prince William in the procession behind Philip’s coffin, separated by their cousin Peter Phillips.A knitted top cover for a post box depicting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, in Windsor, England, April 16, 2021. It shows some of Philip’s favorites: the Royal Yacht Britannia and his hobby of carriage driving.Mourners will eschew the tradition of wearing military uniforms, with newspapers saying that was to prevent embarrassment to Harry.Despite serving two tours in Afghanistan during his army career, he would not be entitled to wear a uniform, having been stripped of his honorary military titles.”We’re not going to be drawn into those perceptions of drama, or anything like that,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said. “This is a funeral. The arrangements have been agreed, and they represent her majesty’s wishes.”‘Grandfather of the nation’The palace has emphasized that while the occasion would have the due pageantry that marks the passing of a senior royal, it remained an occasion for a mourning family to mark the passing of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.The couple’s second son, Prince Andrew, has said his mother was being stoic in the face of a loss that she had described as “having left a huge void in her life.””It’s a great loss,” he said. “I think the way I would put it is, we’ve lost almost the grandfather of the nation.”

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Details of Funeral Service Planned for Britain’s Prince Philip

Following are details of the funeral this Saturday of Britain’s Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, who died on April 9 aged 99.The funeralThe funeral, which will be broadcast live, will take place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle at 3 p.m. local time (1400 GMT).As planned, it will be a ceremonial royal funeral, rather than a state funeral, with most of the details in keeping with Prince Philip’s personal wishes.However, it has had to be scaled back because of COVID-19 restrictions. There will be no public access, no public processions and the funeral will take place entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle.The service will begin with a national minute of silence. At the end of the service Philip will be interred in the chapel’s Royal Vault.Who will attend?Only 30 mourners are permitted because of COVID-19 rules. These will include the queen, all senior royals including the duke’s grandchildren and their spouses, and members of Prince Philip’s family including Bernhard, the Hereditary Prince of Baden, and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.Members of the Royal Family will be wearing morning coat with medals, or day dress. The congregation will adhere to national coronavirus guidelines and wear masks for the 50-minute service.A choir of four will sing pieces of music chosen by the prince before his death and there will be no congregational singing. The queen will be seated alone during the service.The details(Note: all times local, GMT is one hour behind British Summer Time.)At 11 a.m., Philip’s coffin, covered by his standard (flag), a wreath, his naval cap and sword, will be moved by a bearer party from the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards from the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle — where it has been lying in rest — to the Inner Hall of the castle.At 2 p.m. the ceremonial aspect begins, and within 15 minutes military detachments drawn from Philip’s special military relationships such as the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Grenadier Guards, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the Intelligence Corps and the Highlanders will line up in the castle’s quadrangle.The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry will line up around the perimeter of the quadrangle.Between 2:20 p.m. and 2:27 p.m., the royals and members of Philip’s family not taking part in the procession will leave by car for St George’s Chapel.At 2:27 p.m., a specially converted Land Rover that Philip helped design will enter the quadrangle.At 2:38 p.m., the coffin will be lifted by the bearer party from the Inner Hall.Bands in the quadrangle will stop playing at 2:40 p.m. and the coffin will emerge from the State Entrance one minute later.The royals in the procession including Philip’s four children — Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward and Princess Anne, along with grandsons William and Harry — will leave the State Entrance behind the coffin, which will be placed onto the Land Rover.At 2:44 p.m., the queen, with a lady-in-waiting, will leave the Sovereign’s Entrance in a car known as the State Bentley. The national anthem will be played and as the car reaches the rear of the procession, it will pause briefly.At 2:45 p.m., the procession will step off with the band of the Grenadier Guards leading. The Land Rover will be flanked by pallbearers.As it moves to the chapel, Minute Guns will be fired by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and a Curfew Tower Bell will sound.The queen’s Bentley will stop outside the Galilee Porch, where she will be met by the dean of Windsor, David Conner, who will escort her to her seat in the quire of the Chapel.The coffin will arrive at the foot of the west steps of St George’s Chapel at 2:53 p.m. to a guard of honor and band from the Rifles. Positioned in the Horseshoe Cloister will be the Commonwealth defense advisers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago.The west steps will be lined by a dismounted detachment of the Household Cavalry. A Royal Naval Piping Party will pipe the Still once the Land Rover is stationery at the foot of the steps. A bearer party from the Royal Marines will lift the coffin from the Land Rover as the Piping Party pipe the Side.The coffin will pause for the national minute of silence at 3 p.m. A gun fired from the East Lawn will signify the start and end.The coffin will then be taken to the top of the steps where it will be received by the dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. As the chapel doors close, a piping party will pipe the Carry On.The coffin will move through the nave to the catafalque in the quire, with senior royals processing behind.Philip’s “insignia” — essentially the medals and decorations conferred on him, his field marshal’s baton and Royal Air Force Wings, together with insignia from Denmark and Greece — will be positioned on cushions on the altar.The funeral service will then be conducted by the dean of Windsor. After the coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, Philip’s “Styles and Titles” will be proclaimed from the sanctuary.A lament will then be played by a pipe major of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and The Last Post will be sounded by buglers of the Royal Marines.After a period of silence, reveille will be sounded by the state trumpeters of the Household Cavalry and then the buglers of the Royal Marines will sound Action Stations at the specific request of the Duke of Edinburgh, as Philip was officially known.The archbishop of Canterbury will then pronounce the blessing, after which the national anthem will be sung.The queen and the other mourners will then leave the chapel via the Galilee Porch.

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Matching US Sanctions, Russia Expels 10 American Diplomats

Russia announced late Friday it will expel 10 U.S. diplomats from Moscow in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s decision to send 10 Russian diplomats packing under a wide-ranging U.S. sanctions package levied against Moscow earlier this week.Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the retaliatory moves during a press conference with his Serbian counterpart in Moscow.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, April 16, 2021.”Ten diplomats were included in the list that was sent to us with a request that they leave,” said Lavrov in announcing the expulsions. “We will respond to this measure in kind.”In Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting via video conference outside Moscow, Russia, April 15, 2021.Less clear is what effect the diplomatic fallout will have on a U.S.-proposed summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.Biden suggested during a phone call with Putin earlier this week that the two leaders meet in a neutral third country.Following the sanctions announcement, he also suggested the two sides seek to deescalate tensions.”The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden said. “We want a stable, predictable relationship.”On Friday, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov signaled that Russia was weighing its options but had not yet ruled out a meeting.Putin “has repeatedly said we’re ready to develop dialogue as much as our counterparts are ready to do so,” said Peskov in comments to journalists.”In this sense it is probably positive that the views of the two heads of state coincide,” he added.  
 

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Castro Era in Cuba to End as Raul Confirms He’s Retiring

Raul Castro confirmed he was handing over the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party to a younger generation at its congress that kicked off on Friday, ending six decades of rule by himself and older brother Fidel.In a speech opening the four-day event, Castro, 89, said the new leadership would be party loyalists with decades of experience working their way up the ranks and were “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit.”Castro had said at the previous party congress in 2016 it would be the last one led by the “historic generation” who fought in the Sierra Maestra to topple a U.S.-backed dictator in the 1959 leftist revolution.He already handed over the presidency in 2018 to protege Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, who ran the party in two provinces before joining the national government.The new generation of leaders, which did not forge itself through rebellion, has no easy task. The transition comes as Cuba faces the worst economic crisis since the collapse of former benefactor the Soviet Union, while there are signs of growing frustration, especially among younger Cubans.”I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism,” Castro told hundreds of party delegates gathered at a convention center in Havana.The congress, the party’s most important meeting, held every five years to review policy and fix leadership, is a closed-door event but excerpts are being broadcast on state television.Castro himself became acting president when Fidel fell ill in 2006 and later in 2011 party leader, launching a raft of social and economic reforms to open up one of the world’s last Communist-run countries that later stalled.On Friday, he hailed Diaz-Canel as one of the new generation of leaders that was picking up where he left off.Castro’s olive-green military fatigues contrasted with the civil get-up of his protege, who is widely expected to succeed him as party first secretary, the most powerful position in Cuba’s one-party system.Older Cubans said they would miss having a Castro at the helm, although most acknowledged it was time to pass on the baton.”It’s another stage,” said Maria del Carmen Jimenez, a 72-year-old retired nurse, “but without a double we will miss him.”Castro denounced renewed U.S. hostility under former President Donald Trump. Incumbent President Joe Biden has vowed to roll back some of Trump’s sanctions, although the White House said on Friday a shift in Cuba policy was not among his top foreign policy priorities.Castro said Cuba was ready for a “new type of relationship with the United States without … Cuba having to renounce the principles of the revolution and socialism.”Pressure to reformCuba’s new leaders face pressure to speed up reform, particularly economic change, which is foremost on citizens’ minds, especially younger Cubans who have known only crisis, analysts say.A tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo and the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated a liquidity crisis in Cuba’s ailing centrally planned economy. Shortages of even basic goods mean Cubans spend hours lining up to buy groceries.And Havana has dollarized parts of the economy, leaving those who do not receive remittances from family abroad or did not earn hard currency from tourism struggling to get by. That has eaten away at equality, a pillar of the party’s legitimacy.Since the expansion of internet access in recent years, Cubans are increasingly using social media as a platform to express criticism, while online non-state media are challenging the state monopoly of mass media.Tight control of public spaces by the authorities means protests are still relatively rare and small-scale, but they are on the increase nationwide on issues as varied as excessive red tape to curbs on civil liberties.Castro said on Friday it was important to pursue reform with greater “dynamism,” denouncing — as he has in the past — “inertia, conformism, the lack of initiative” in state companies. The government has resumed a set of economic reforms the party agreed on at its 2011 congress in recent months, in particular eradicating Cuba’s dual currency, multiple exchange rate system in January.Yet Castro said reforms fomenting the non-state sector should not go beyond certain limits that would lead to the “very destruction of socialism and the end of national sovereignty.”Party militants like Rogelio Machado, a mathematics teacher, say they were confident the new generation was up to walking that tightrope.”Our country need changes and the new generation is more scientifically prepared to continue the path of socialism,” he said.But government critics like “artivist” Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, whom Havana accuses of being part of a U.S.-backed soft coup attempt, say the death knell is sounding for the revolution.”Raul is passing over the power to someone with little charisma and who does not have much popular support,” he said while staging his latest performance against the government, in which he sits in a garrote for the four days of the congress. “This takes us one step closer to democracy.”

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Rwandan Priest Arrested in France for Alleged Role in Genocide

A Rwandan priest was arrested in France this week on charges of providing, among other things, food to militiamen who massacred members of the Tutsi minority in his church during the 1994 genocide in the African country, authorities said Friday. Marcel Hitayezu, who was born in 1956, was charged on Wednesday with genocide and being an accomplice to crimes against humanity, according to the national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office. He was arrested the same day at his home in Montlieu-la-Garde, southwestern France, a source close to the case said. Prosecutors said Hitayezu was the priest at a church in Mubuga, in southern Rwanda, when the genocide took place and in April 1994 withheld food and water to Tutsis who had sought refuge in his church. He instead gave food to extremist Interahamwe militiamen who attacked the refugees, prosecutors added. “Marcel Hitayezu denied the charges at his initial appearance before a judge,” the prosecutor’s office said. Extradition requestRwanda had sought to extradite Hitayezu, but France’s Cour de Cassation, the country’s highest criminal court, in 2016 rejected the request, as it did similar requests by Kigali for others suspected of having taken part in the genocide that saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority. The genocide between April and July 1994 began after Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6. Extremist Hutu militias went on rampage, killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in a bloodbath that came after decades of tensions and violence between the two communities. French authorities had launched a probe into Rwanda’s accusations against Hitayezu in July 2019, three years after the extradition request. “He was until Wednesday vicar to the priest at the Montlieu-la-Garde church,” the regional archdiocese told AFP. ‘Excellent news’According to the daily La Croix, Hitayezu spent three years in refugee camps in eastern Congo before arriving in France in 1998 or 1999. He was given refugee status in France in 2011. “It’s excellent news,” Alain Gauthier, who has spent years hunting down people living in France suspected of having taken part in the genocide, told AFP on learning of the arrest. Gauthier in 2001 also co-founded an association, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda. “The church must examine how it gave responsibilities to people suspected of having taken part in the genocide,” Gauthier added. Another priest who has taken refuge in France, Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, was also accused of being implicated in the 1994 massacres. But his case was dismissed by the courts in France. 
 

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NATO Slams Russian Plan to Block Parts of Black Sea

NATO is accusing Russia of again ramping up tensions, calling Moscow’s plans to limit access to the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait starting later this month “an unjustified move.”
 
In a statement, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the planned restrictions appear to be part of “a broader pattern of destabilizing behavior.”
 
“Russia’s ongoing militarization of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are further threats to Ukraine’s independence, and undermine the stability of the broader region,” Lungescu said. “We call on Russia to ensure free access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and allow freedom of navigation.”
 
NATO, along with the United States and other Western allies, has been calling on Russia to de-escalate following what it has described as the Kremlin’s biggest military build-up since it seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
 
The top commander for U.S. forces in Europe, Air Force General Tod Wolters, said Thursday there is a “low to medium” risk that Russia will launch some sort of military operation against Ukraine in the next week or two.
 
“There is a very large ground domain force … There’s also a sizable air force, and there’s a notable maritime force,” he told members of the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing in Washington. “It’s of great concern.”
 
Ukraine’s foreign ministry first expressed alarm Thursday at Russia’s move to shut down some access to the Black Sea and Kerch Strait, while also accusing Russian boats of trying to block Ukrainian ships in the Azov Sea.#Russia illegally closing part of the Black Sea near the Kerch strait for foreign warships from next week until October, according to @MFA_Ukraine. https://t.co/eNd4buu5vw— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) April 15, 2021Russia’s RIA news agency reported Friday that Moscow plans to suspend access to the Black Sea for foreign warships and “other state ships” starting next week, and that the restrictions will remain in place for about six months.
 
RIA, citing a statement from the Russian defense ministry, said the restrictions would not affect the Kerch Strait, which is a critical transit point for regional trade. 

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Biden’s Afghanistan Decision Draws Mixed Reaction From British Veterans

“How can we cope with this?” That was Patrick Bury’s thought after attending his first in-country briefing in 2008 at the headquarters of British forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
 
Then a second lieutenant in the Royal Irish Regiment, Bury wrote in a subsequent memoir that he was left reeling by the three-hour briefing. “The situation is so complicated, there are so many tribal, cultural, political, religious and military dynamics, that I am overwhelmed,” he noted.
 
He added: “It seems that we soldiers, primarily trained to fight conventional wars, need to be friendly police, social workers, government representatives, aid workers, bomb detectors, engineers, killers, medics …the list is as endless as the problems we face.”   
 
The announcement this week by U.S. President Joe Biden that he intends to withdraw all American armed forces from Afghanistan has brought back the war memories for Bury and other British war veterans, and the American leader’s decision is drawing mixed reactions, with some questioning the whole mission, others saying it was worth the effort.   
 
President Biden said this week that it was time to end America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan.  
 
The drawdown will be completed on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which triggered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Britain says it will work in tandem with the U.S. and withdraw its remaining 700 troops. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance will withdraw about 7,000 military personnel from the country.
 
Britain sent forces to Afghanistan to contribute to the U.S.-led mission to root out al-Qaida and to prevent future terrorist attacks against the West being planned from Afghanistan, say British officials. At the height of the Afghan war, NATO had more than 130,000 troops from 50 nations deployed in Afghanistan.  About 9,500 of those were British.
 
Bury thinks the effort in retrospect was a “noble” one, despite the doubts he harbored while serving there when he struggled with the question of whether it was a country worth saving. “It is a deeply, deeply fragmented and troubled society, even if you can call it that,” he says. “The idea we could fix it was unrealistic. It is beyond the power of the West,” he adds.
 
Now an academic at Britain’s University of Bath, he told VOA that the announcement brought back memories of “what we went through.” Above all he thinks about the Afghans who he encountered during his tour. “I do remember the Afghan people and the kids especially, and the ones we tried to help.” And he is left wondering: “How are the cadets we trained, and the soldiers we worked with, and the decent people going to get on?”FILE – British troops prepare to depart upon the end of operations for U.S. Marines and British combat troops in Helmand, Afghanistan, Oct. 27, 2014.He adds: “But now, you know, you have to move on. Unless you want to go and live there, you have to let it go.” He accepts it is time for Western forces to leave. “You have to draw a line at some point, don’t you? Otherwise, it would just go on forever. There is never a perfect moment,” he says.
Bury’s reaction to the withdrawal announcement is echoed by other British veterans, including Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army commander who specializes in chemical and biological warfare.  
 
“I think it is probably correct as the greatest threat to the UK is jihadists in Syria and Iraq and our focus should be there,” he told VOA. “Like many military people I’ve lost friends and colleagues in Afghanistan and it’s a sad time but we must focus where the threat is highest now,” he says.  
 
He worries, though, that the Afghanistan experience is leading Western leaders to draw the wrong conclusions about Western interventions. “It appears that politicians are unwilling to get involved in Syria and Iraq and this would be an error in my opinion,” he says.
 
“It’s the Afghan interpreters and soldiers who I fought and patrolled alongside who I’ll be thinking of in the coming months …whose livelihoods and families will be at risk,” Robert Clark, another British veteran tweeted. Clark, now a research fellow at Britain’s Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, fears the gains made in the past 20 years by the Western intervention in Afghanistan likely will be undone when the allies withdraw in September.
 
He is not alone in forecasting the Taliban will be quick to exploit the weakness of Afghanistan’s government.  
 
Toby Harnden, author of the book Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan, says many British veterans believe this “withdrawal will lead to further bloodshed in Afghanistan, and the deaths of brave Afghans who worked with the U.S. and NATO forces.” That in turn is prompting a “sadness and a questioning of what all the sacrifices were for,” he told VOA.
 
“There’s also a fear that by leaving no residual force, there will be a vacuum that could be filled by al-Qaida and eventually lead to attacks on the U.S. — the very thing the invasion after 9/11 was designed to stop,” he says. “Soldiers have not forgotten how the hasty withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIS,” he adds.  
 
He and others are predicting that the U.S. and Britain will still be involved, by drone strikes and special forces, after September, especially if there are signs of an al-Qaida resurgence. “You can bet good money, they’ll get walloped,” says Bury.  
 
The Afghanistan campaign claimed the lives of 454 British servicemen. Several British veterans mentioned to VOA that on Saturday they will watch the funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip and it is lost on them that the “Last Post” bugle call for the queen’s husband will be sounded by Sergeant Jamie Ritchie. The 31-year-old Ritchie performed the Last Post for fallen comrades during his four-month tour of Afghanistan.
 
And as the Last Post sounds Saturday at Windsor Castle, they say, they will remember their fallen friends.

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US Broadcaster Asks European Court to Block Russian Fines

U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is asking the European Court of Human Rights to block Russia from enforcing penalties that could cost the broadcaster millions of dollars.
    
Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor last year ordered broadcasters designated as foreign agents to add a lengthy statement to news reports, social media posts and audiovisual materials specifying that the content was created by an outlet “performing the functions of a foreign agent.”
    
The law, which applies to non-governmental political organizations and media receiving foreign funding, has been widely criticized as aiming to discredit critical reporting and dissent. The term “foreign agent” carries strong pejorative connotations in Russia.
    
Since October, Roskomnadzor has filed 390 violation cases against RFE/RL and was expected to announce more Friday. The broadcaster says the fines could total the equivalent of $2.4 million.  
    
RFE/RL said it is asking the human rights court to order Russia to refrain from enforcing the fines until the court can make a full ruling on Roskomnadzor’s moves, which the broadcaster contends violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
    
“We are hopeful that the European Court of Human Rights will view these actions by the government of Russia for what they are: an attempt to suppress free speech and the human rights of the Russian people,” RFE/RL president Jamie Fly said in a statement Thursday.
    
Russia recently has stepped up actions that appear to be aimed at stifling dissent. Criminal charges were filed this week against four editors of an online student magazine that had posted a video connected to the nationwide protests in January calling for the release of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  
    
A court last week fined Twitter 8.9 million rubles, about $117,000, for failing to take down posts in which users called for minors to take part in unauthorized protests.
    
The statement that Roskomnadzor has ordered RFE/RL to place on its material reads: “This report (material) was created and (or) disseminated by a foreign mass medium performing the functions of a foreign agent and (or) a Russian legal entity performing the functions of a foreign agent.” 

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Greek, Turkish Foreign Ministers Clash at News Conference

Tensions between Greece and Turkey reached a new high this week when the two countries’ foreign ministers traded accusations during a live, televised news conference. The two NATO allies have been trying to rebuild relations after a dispute over a Turkish drilling ship pushed them to the brink of war last year.
 
At first, the talks looked like they were going well and the chances of re-booting relations between Greece and Turkey appeared positive.
 
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, in fact, got a surprise invite to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during Dendias’ trip to Ankara, and at a later news conference, said his country was keen to support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
 
But then, the climate instantly turned sour, when Dendias said Greece’s position was clear in that Turkey was violating international law and maritime rules in the Aegean Sea, adding that Ankara had to finally lift its threat to go to war with Athens if it moved to extend its territorial waters beyond the current six-mile range in the sea that divides them.
 
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu shot down the remarks, calling them unacceptable and a provocation. He said Turkey had never infringed on Greek sovereignty in its search and drilling work in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. And then he lashed out at Athens for allegedly pushing back more than 80,000 migrants in the Aegean over the past year.
 
In addition, Cavusoglou warned that if Greece wanted to continue lodging accusations and fanning tension, Turkey was ready to reciprocate.
    
Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a wide range of issues, ranging from competing claims in the Mediterranean, air space, energy resources, and the status of some uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea.
 
Tensions flared dangerously high last year when Turkey dispatched a drilling ship in contested waters in the Mediterranean – a move that brought the navies of the two countries to the brink of war.
 
The European Union and the United States have since pushed both sides to the negotiating table, but the talks have made little progress.  
 
Dendias’ trip to Ankara was intended to give the talks a boost.
 
But as sparks flew at the heated news conference Thursday, analysts in Athens, like Alexis Papachelas of the Kathimerini daily, wondered, “now what?”
    
Two scenarios, he said, can play out. Either both sides find a way to keep the talks moving, to show the West they are committed to the process without making any substantial concession. Or, Papachelas said, things can get ugly.
 
Greek intelligence officials contacted by VOA say they are already picking up chatter through social media that Turkey is mobilizing migrants and refugees to push into Greece – a move that strained relations between the two countries last year when President Erdogan lifted border controls for millions of refugees trapped in his country and seeking refuge in Europe.
 
Whether a new wave of migration materializes remains to be seen. Until then, Greece says it hopes to see Cavusoglu in Athens in the coming weeks for a second round of high-level talks.
 

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