Category Archives: World

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Former French President Sarkozy Faces Corruption Charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy went on trial Thursday to face corruption charges.  Sarkozy is accused of trying to bribe a judge to obtain information about an investigation into his 2007 presidential campaign.  The former head of state insists he is innocent.It is not every day that you see a former president walking into a courtroom with his lawyers to stand trial. This unusual scene is going on in Paris where Nicolas Sarkozy is facing charges of bribery and influence peddling.Jean-Claude Beaujour is a lawyer of the France-Ameriques association. He details the case for VOA.“It is very unusual for a former head of state in France to be prosecuted for corruption,” Beaujour said. “Former president Sarkozy is suspected for having attempted to bribe a high ranking judge in exchange for information in an ongoing judicial case concerning Nicolas Sarkozy itself.”Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised a plush job in Monaco to a judge, in exchange for inside information on a separate inquiry into claims he accepted illicit payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign. Sarkozy has always denied the accusations.Judges are basing their case on evidence recorded from wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer. They are part of another probe into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.The former one-term French president contests the legality of the wiretapping.  He defended himself earlier this month in an interview with French channel BFMTV.Sarkozy regrets that all his private life was wiretapped. According to him, it is scandalous that attorney-client privilege was not respected as phone conversations are protected per the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence. “I am not a crook and I am going through is a scandal,” Sarkozy insisted.The trial is expected to last three weeks.  If found guilty, Sarkozy could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of $1.2 million.

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Letter From Venezuelan Jail: ‘Give Me Freedom’ 

A U.S. oil executive jailed for three years in Venezuela said all he hopes for is a fair trial so that he can walk free with his name cleared and go home to his family in the United States.In a letter from prison provided exclusively to The Associated Press, Tomeu Vadell said it’s especially painful to be separated during the Thanksgiving season from his wife, three adult children and a newborn grandson he’s never held.”Before living this tragedy, these celebrations were very special times for our family,” Vadell wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving in 1999 from Caracas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a job with Venezuelan-owned Citgo. “Now, they bring me a lot of sadness.”It’s the first time Vadell or any of the other so-called Citgo 6 have spoken publicly since being arrested and charged with a massive corruption scheme. He’s held at a feared Caracas jail called El Helicoide.Despite his circumstances, Vadell held out hope for a brighter future.”During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell said in the four-page handwritten letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”2017 meetingVadell, 61, and the five other Citgo executives were summoned to the headquarters of the Venezuelan state-run oil firm PDVSA, the parent company of the Houston-based Citgo, for what they had been told was a budget meeting on November 21, 2017. A corporate jet shuttled them to Caracas, and they were told they’d be home for Thanksgiving.Instead, a cadre of military intelligence officers swarmed the boardroom, taking them to jail.Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place Thursday. That began a wait for the judge’s verdict.With their arrests, President Nicolás Maduro’s government launched a purge inside Venezuela’s once-thriving oil industry, built on the world’s largest crude reserves. It later arrested the head of PDVSA, a former oil minister and dozens of others.FILE – This undated photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by Venezuela’s foreign minister shows, from left, CITGO executives Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano in Caracas.The men accused along with Vadell are Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all now U.S. citizens, and Jose Pereira, a permanent resident.They’re charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.” They all have said they are not guilty.The trial has played out one day a week in a downtown Caracas court. Because of the pandemic, sessions are held in front of a bank of dormant elevators in a hallway, apparently to take advantage of air flowing through open windows.Reporters and rights groups have been denied access to the hearings. There was no response to a letter addressed to Judge Lorena Cornielles seeking permission for The Associated Press to observe.The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said in a statement to the AP that investigators found “serious evidence” that corroborates financial crimes potentially damaging to the state-run company.”The Citgo case has developed normally during all the stages established by the Venezuelan criminal process,” the statement said. “In the next few days, we’ll know the verdict.”Held for ‘all the wrong reasons’Vadell’s attorney, Jesus Loreto, said his client appears to have been caught up in a “geopolitical conflict” of which he’s not a part. He said Vadell’s name never appeared on any of the documents prosecutors read into evidence.”There’s nothing that refers to Tomeu in any way — directly or indirectly,” he said. “This is the story of a good guy being held against his will for all the wrong reasons.”Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of other Americans held by hostile governments, traveled to Caracas in July and met with Maduro.He didn’t win their freedom, but days later two of them — Cárdenas and Toledo — were freed from jail and put in house detention. Two weeks later, the long-delayed trial began.Richardson told The Associated Press that conversations with the Venezuelan government continue, despite his meeting with Maduro being “a little stormy.”Jesus Loreto, an attorney representing Tomeu Vadell, one of six U.S. oil executives jailed in Venezuela, shows a letter written by Vadell, in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 25, 2020.Richardson said he believes there’s an opening tied to President-elect Joe Biden’s election and a desire by Maduro to improve relations with Washington.”I think the Venezuelans have been straight with me, but more progress needs to be made,” he said. “My hope is to have something positive by Christmas.”It’s not clear what approach Biden will take toward Maduro. Trump aggressively pressed to remove Maduro through sweeping financial sanctions, and the U.S. Justice Department has indicted Maduro as a “narcoterrorist,” offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.Vadell’s letter steered clear of politics. He didn’t mention Maduro or speak about his jailers, though he did express concern about the “consequences” of speaking out.With encouragement from his family, Vadell broke his silence, taking a risk relatives said was necessary.’Light of hope illuminates us'”I believe it’s more important that the light of hope illuminates us,” Vadell wrote. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”The five other men did not respond to invitations The Associated Press made through their lawyers to comment.Vadell’s daughter, Cristina Vadell, 29, said in a phone interview from Lake Charles that her father isn’t the kind of person who seeks attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on work and his family.During his 35-year career with PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell ended up running a massive refinery in Lake Charles and then became vice president of refining. The letter attempts to expose this side of his life, she said.”I think he was willing to take some risks and open some hearts to allow him to come home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering, ‘What happened?’ He went to a work meeting and never came home.”She shared photos of the family with her father, standing around a Thanksgiving turkey. Each year, they would give it a name, something like Charlie or Phillip. The past three Thanksgivings just haven’t been the same without him, she said.Vadell wrote that he’s proud to be the son of Spanish immigrants to Venezuela, where he was educated as an engineer. He brought his family to the U.S., bringing the best of the two countries together, he said.”I’m now reaching an intersection where if justice is done, I will be able to rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” Vadell wrote. “The light is intense — the hope is great — give me freedom.”

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Argentines Remember Maradona as He Lies in State

Argentines crowded near the presidential mansion Thursday where football star Diego Maradona’s funeral is being held.Thousands of Argentines faced police officers and long lines to pay their respects to the legendary midfielder, who died of a cardiorespiratory issue at the age of 60 a day earlier.EN VIVO | Despedida a Diego Armando Maradona https://t.co/5o3InKTY5D— Casa Rosada (@CasaRosada) November 26, 2020Maradona lay in state, his casket draped in an Argentine flag and his number 10 jersey, at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires Thursday. Open visitation began at 6:15am local time, after a few private hours for family and close friends.The star’s family was hoping to bury Maradona Thursday evening in the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where his parents are also interred, Reuters reported.Tributes to Maradona flooded social media Wednesday and Thursday, with many of his old teams including FC Barcelona posting videos of his old plays with captions like “Thank you for everything, Diego” and “we’ll never forget you”. 💙❤ Always in our memory pic.twitter.com/FM2qPkekuI— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 25, 2020″He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” President Alberto Fernandez said on Wednesday.In 1986, Maradona, who came from humble roots, led the Argentine side to a World Cup title in Mexico. During the tournament, he scored what many consider one of the all-time greatest goals against England when he sliced through the English defense. In that same game, he scored the controversial “hand of God” goal when he got away with what appeared to be a handball leading to a score.  Playing for his home country, he scored 34 goals in 91 appearances. He appeared in four World Cups. During the peak of his club career, he played for European powerhouses Barcelona and Napoli, during which he helped the Italian side win two Serie A titles. 

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EU Parliament Backs Lobster Deal And EU-US Mini Trade Pact

Thanksgiving just got a little bit better for the Maine lobster industry.
The European Union parliament on Thursday approved a mini trade deal with the United States, which includes the elimination of customs duties on U.S. lobster imports. The passage with 638 votes for, 45 against and 11 abstentions was the last major political step for the deal to come into effect.
As a result, the 27-nation EU will drop its 8% tariff on U.S. lobsters for the next five years and work to make the move permanent.
U.S. lobster imports to the EU came to about $111 million in 2017 before falling off in the face of rising tensions between the trading partners, and an EU trade agreement with Canada that allowed its lobsters to enter the bloc tariff-free.
Because of it, said EU legislator Bernd Lange, “we have seen a drop in demand by 50% in Maine, which is obviously quite serious. So now we are making an offer to allow American lobster to come tariff-free into the EU.”
For its part, the U.S. agreed to cut in half tariffs on EU imports worth about $160 million a year, including some prepared meals, crystal glassware and cigarette lighters. The tariff cuts will be retroactive to Aug. 1.
The deal approved on Thursday covers only a tiny portion of trans-Atlantic trade with the U.S., but the EU hopes it will have some symbolic value. And for the lobster industry, already hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, every piece of good news is welcome.
For the EU, which has had acrimonious relations with the Trump administration, a sign of goodwill will never hurt.
“We have more in common than divides us,” said Lange. “This piece of legislation is an offer: it’s not about lobster for all. It’s about cooperation instead of confrontation.”

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British Journalists Say Abuse and Assault Becoming ‘Normalized’

Journalists in Britain say they are facing an increasingly hostile atmosphere, with intimidation, physical assault and online abuse now seen as routine and ‘part of the job’. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Camera: Henry Ridgwell

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Greece Rejects Turkey’s Renewed Call for Talks

Greece has rejected new calls by Turkey to start exploratory talks to settle their maritime differences, feeding into a long-running and dangerous energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean. The snub comes as Greece tries to increase pressure on its European allies to impose sanctions on Turkey during a summit next week. Beyond Europe, Greece is also shoring up international support, including in the Middle East, to press Turkey to back down from what it believes are irrational and unsubstantiated claims in the region.As the voice of Greek diplomacy, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is usually subtle and discreet in his remarks.Angered, now, however, by what he calls Turkey’s continued defiance of international rules and regulations, he has lashed out at Ankara, saying its high time for Europe to call it out and take punitive action against its dispatch of a survey ship to scout for gas and oil in regions claimed by Greece.He also believes Turkey’s bid to return to the negotiating table with Athens ahead of next month’s EU leaders summit is just a last-minute ploy.Turkey, Dendias said, missed its chance, when it unilaterally shut the door on talks, instead resending a survey vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to search for gas and oil in contested waters.He warned that the European leaders would not be fooled, as he put it, by Ankara’s about-face and newfound desire to restart the talks.Dendias’ remarks come less than two weeks before EU leaders convene anew to consider sanctions against Turkey.  However, to potentially stave off any action by Turkey and appease EU critics, Turkish President Recep Tayyip said this this week he would suspend his country’s contentious energy hunt in the eastern Mediterranean, in addition sending a top aide to Brussels to try and work out a compromise, face-saving deal with EU officials.Greece has been urging the EU to slap sanctions on Turkey since Erdogan ordered the first survey ship to the Eastern Mediterranean during the summer.Tensions have since then flared and a military buildup in the region has followed, as Erdogan has vowed to drill off the coast of a Greek island – a strip of seabed Athens says it alone has the right to exploit but which Ankara insists it has legitimate claims to because islands, as it argues, do not have continental shelves.Leading European nations, including Turkey’s biggest trade partner, Germany, have resisted sanctions against Ankara, especially as Turkey’s economy continues to be in free fall.However, like Greece, some U.S. officials are also growing frustrated with Turkey, as former U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said, “Turkey has become in many ways, for the EU and NATO, the largest problem because of its undue aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, because it continues to pick fights with Greece, along what Turkey believes is a contested border.”That leaves Greece extremely vulnerable.  In an effort to increase pressure against Turkey, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has moved in recent weeks to shore up international support from countries Ankara was once closely aligned with, including the United Arab Emirates.In a lightening visit to Abu Dhabi, Mitsotakis signed a defense and strategic partnership agreement with the crown prince.  While details of the pact have not been released, Athens analysts believe the deal drives a further wedge between Turkey and the Emirates , whose relations  have deteriorated because of Erdogan’s active support of the Libyan government Abu Dhabi is fighting through the Libyan National Army.In recent months, Greece has also bolstered ties with Israel and grown closer to Egypt in a bid to sideline Turkey in the region.That strategy, some suggest, may backfire, though.With the Turkish economy waning and EU member states remaining divided over punitive economic action against Ankara, analysts in Athens say Erdogan is being further emboldened, warning he may move to escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean to deflect the attention of his electorate. 

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Thousands Lining Up to Bid Maradona Farewell at Casa Rosada

Impatient fans were confronting police as thousands lined up to say goodbye to Diego Maradona on Thursday at the Argentine presidential mansion staging the funeral of one of football’s greatest stars.  
Fans threw bottles and metal fences at police near the Casa Rosada in the heart of Buenos Aires.
Open visitation started at 6:15 a.m. local time (0915 GMT) after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends.
Maradona’s wooden casket was in the main lobby of the presidential office, covered in an Argentine flag and a No. 10 shirt of the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams were thrown in by visitors who passed by in tears.
Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he recovered from a brain operation on Nov. 3.  
The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tévez, showed up, too.
The lines started outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed. Among those present were the renowned barrabravas fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, using crutches to move because of a disability. At the same time, a wave of people tried to get ahead and confronted police, who used tear gas to contain them.  
Bodyguards were stopping fans from taking pictures and controlling access to the building. Many fans were breaking down as soon as they left.
Fans who walked past the casket blew kisses into the air, struck their chests with closed fists, and shouted “Let’s go Diego.” Most, but not all, wore masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  
A giant black screen in front of the Casa Rosada is showing historic photos of Maradona as fans go.

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Argentine Soccer Legend Diego Maradona Dies at Age 60

Soccer legend Diego Maradona died Wednesday less than a month after celebrating his 60th birthday. Although worshipped by many for his soccer prowess, it was his personal demons that grabbed headlines later in life. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.
Producer: Robert Raffaele 

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Bulgaria: Parliament Rejects Draft New Constitution

The Bulgarian parliament on Wednesday rejected a controversial plan by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to rewrite the constitution, which he submitted in August in an attempt to defuse the political crisis.   This proposal, recently criticized by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s consultative body on constitutional matters, received only 110 votes in favor, while a qualified majority of 160 out of 240 deputies was needed to continue the procedure. The Conservative government had launched such an initiative to try to weaken the protest movement, which vehemently denounces its alleged links with the oligarchy. But this decision, seen as a maneuver to buy time and stay in power until the general elections were held in March 2021, provoked a strong reaction from the demonstrators. Clashes with the police left more than 45 injured in Sofia in early September.   The project brought for its detractors no limitation of the power of the Attorney General Ivan Geshev, today untouchable, whose resignation is demanded by the protesters.   Deploring “a missed opportunity,” the Venice Commission regretted, in a press release, “that the launch of the constitutional reform was not preceded by an appropriate public debate, that the project was drawn up within the majority Parliament, apparently without any external input, and that the reasons for certain amendments were not well explained.”    The demonstrations brought together thousands of people for more than 100 days, before becoming scarce in recent weeks, in particular because of the health situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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