Category Archives: World

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Merkel Urges Defense of Freedom on 30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Fall

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a series of commemorations in the German capital over weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city during the Cold War until 1989. The wall was built by Communist East Germany to prevent its citizens fleeing to the capitalist west. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the hope and optimism in the years following the wall’s destruction have been replaced with fears over the resurgent tensions between Russia and the West

Socialists Win Spanish Election but Far-right Party Surges

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists won Spain’s national election on Sunday but large gains by the upstart far-right Vox party appear certain to widen the political deadlock in the European Union’s fifth-largest economy.After a fourth national ballot in as many years and the second in less than seven months, the left-wing Socialists held on as the leading power in the National Parliament. With 99% of the votes counted, the Socialists won 120 seats, down three seats from the last election in April and still far from the absolute majority of 176 needed to form a government alone.The big political shift came as right-wing voters flocked to Vox, which only had broken into Parliament in the spring for the first time.The far-right party led by 43-year-old Santiago Abascal, who speaks of “reconquering” Spain in terms that echo the medieval wars between Christian and Moorish forces, rocketed from 24 to 52 seats. That will make Vox the third leading party in the Congress of Deputies and give it much more leverage in forming a government and crafting legislation.The party has vowed to be much tougher on both Catalan separatists and migrants.Abascal called his party’s success “the greatest political feat seen in Spain.”“Just 11 months ago, we weren’t even in any regional legislature in Spain. Today we are the third-largest party in Spain and the party that has grown the most in votes and seats,” said Abascal, who promised to battle the “progressive dictatorship.”Right-wing populist and anti-migrant leaders across Europe celebrated Vox’s strong showing.Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s National Rally party, congratulated Abascal, saying it was impressive how his work “is already bearing fruit after only a few years.”In Italy, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party tweeted a picture of himself next to Abascal with the text “Congratulations to Vox!” above Spanish and Italian flags. And in the Netherlands, anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders also posted a picture of himself and Abascal and wrote “FELICIDADES” — Spanish for congratulations — with three thumbs-up emojis.Sunday’s results means there will be no end to the stalemate between forces on the right and the left in Spain, suggesting the country could go many more weeks or even months without a new government.The mainstream conservative Popular Party rebounded from their previous debacle in the April vote to 87 seats from 66, a historic low. The far-left United We Can, which had a chance to help the Socialists form a left-wing government over the summer but rejected the offer, lost some ground to get 35 seats.The undisputed loser of the night was the center-right Citizens party, which collapsed to 10 seats from 57 in April after its leader Albert Rivera refused to help the Socialists form a government and tried to copy some of Vox’s hard-line positions.Sánchez’s chances of staying in power will still hinge on finally winning over the United We Can party and several regional parties, a complicated maneuver that he has failed to pull off over the past few months.“These elections have only served for the right to grow stronger and for Spain to have one of the strongest far-right parties in Europe,” said United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias. “The only way to stop the far-right in Spain is to have a stable government. We again extend our hand to Pedro Sánchez.”Vox has already joined forces with the Popular Party and Citizens to take over many city and regional governments in the past year. Those three groups would readily band together to oust Sánchez, who is seen by the right-wing opposition as too soft on the Catalan secessionist movement.Julia Giobelina, a 34-year-old web designer from Madrid, was angry at having to vote for the second time this year but said she cast her ballot in hopes of stopping the rise of Vox.“They are the new fascism,” Giobelina said. “We citizens need to stand against privatization of health care and other public services.”Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s after a near four-decade right-wing dictatorship under the late Gen. Francisco Franco. The country used to take pride in claiming that no far-right group had seats in the national Parliament, unlike the rest of Europe.That changed in the spring, but the Socialists’ April victory was still seen by many as a respite for Europe, where right-wing parties had gained much ground.Vox relied on its anti-migrant message and attacks on laws that protect women from domestic abuse as well as what it considers leftist ideology disguised as political correctness. Still, it does not advocate a break from the EU in the very pro-EU Spain.But it has flourished after recent riots in Catalonia by separatists, capitalizing on Spanish nationalist sentiment stirred up by the country’s worst political conflict in decades. Many right-wingers were also not pleased by the Socialist government’s exhumation of Franco’s remains last month from his gargantuan mausoleum so he could no longer be exalted in a public place.Dozens of people cheered and shouted “President! President!” on Sunday as Abascal voted in Madrid.“Only by getting rid of Sánchez we can preserve Spain as it is, not by reaching agreements with the (Catalan) separatists,” said Alfonso Pedro Monestilla, a 59-year-old civil servant who voted for Vox.The debate over Catalonia, however, promises to fester.The three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats on Sunday. Many Catalans have been angered by the decision last month by Spain’s Supreme Court, which sentenced to prison nine Catalan politicians and activists who led a 2017 drive for the region’s independence. The ruling has triggered massive daily protests in Catalonia that left more than 500 people injured, roughly half of them police officers, and dozens arrested.More protests are expected beginning Monday.Some of Catalonia’s 5.5 million voters said they wanted their vote to deliver a message that politicians had to resolve the situation.“We are a bit tired, but I hope that the Spanish government understands that there is no other remedy than taking us into account,” said Cari Bailador, a retired teacher in Barcelona.

Famed Russian Historian Accused of Dismembering Lover

A famed Russian historian who loved to dress up as his hero, Napoleon, is facing a murder charge after police fished him out of the Moika River with a backpack filled with a woman’s severed arms.A lawyer for Oleg Sokolov says he has confessed to killing his lover and is cooperating with police.The attorney describes his client as elderly and someone who may have been emotionally disturbed and under stress. He was taken in for questioning after spending Saturday night being treated for hypothermia.Police have identified the victim as Anastasia Yeshchenko, one of Sokolov’s students who collaborated on his writings about Napoleon. They found the rest of her hacked-up body in Sokolov’s St. Petersburg apartment, close to where he was pulled out of the river.Initial reports say Sokolov allegedly shot her in a rage Thursday night and kept her body concealed from guests for two days before he apparently tried to get rid of her body parts.It is unclear if he jumped into the icy Moika River in a suicide attempt or fell in while drunk when he tried to dispose of the backpack.Sokolov’s students describe him as an odd and eccentric teacher who liked dressing up as Napoleon and re-enacting the French emperor’s battles on horseback.Others say he was insulting, sometimes physically abusive to students, and an alcoholic who would holler in French.They also accuse St. Petersburg State University of doing nothing to rein in Sokolov, but say are shocked at the allegation he killed a lover.Sokolov was highly regarded in Russian academic circles and in 2003 was awarded the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor. 

Bolivian President Resigns Under Mounting Pressure

Bolivian president Evo Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday after weeks of protests around “irregularities” in last month’s elections.Earlier in the day, he agreed to call new elections after the Organization of American States released the results of its audit into the October 20 vote, which Morales narrowly won. The OAS found irregularities in nearly every area which it reviewed.But within hours, Bolivia’s military chief General Williams Kaliman said holding a new election was not enough.  “After analyzing the situation of internal conflict, we ask the president to resign, allowing peace to be restored and stability to be maintained for the good of our Bolivia,” Kaliman said.The announcements by Kaliman and the OAS led to the resignation of several senior ministers as well as the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.The United States welcomed the decision to hold a new vote.”Fully support the findings of the @OAS_official report recommending new elections in #Bolivia to ensure a truly democratic process representative of the people’s will. The credibility of the electoral system must be restored,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.Fully support the findings of the @OAS_official report recommending new elections in #Bolivia to ensure a truly democratic process representative of the people’s will. The credibility of the electoral system must be restored.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 10, 2019Morales, who is serving his fourth term as president, had previously called the protests around his election a coup.The long-time president did not indicate whether he would once again be running in the new elections. Despite Sunday’s announcement, opposition leaders have continued to call for him to step down.Latin America’s longest-serving leader went into the election needing a 10 percentage-point lead to avoid a runoff and secure his fourth term in office.Partial results released after the election had predicted Morales would face a December runoff election against his main rival, former President Carlos Mesa.Then, less than 24 hours later, the electoral commission released new numbers that showed with 95% of votes counted, Morales was just a 0.7 percentage point short of the 10 percentage-point mark.The announcement prompted opposition complaints of fraud, and triggered violent protests in several cities. 

Bolivia’s Evo Morales Resigns

Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced his resignation, seeking to calm the country after weeks of unrest over a disputed election that he had claimed to win.He made the move Sunday hours after the Organization of American States called for a new a presidential election, citing irregularities in the Oct. 20 vote.Bolivia’s political crisis deepened Sunday as the country’s military chief called on President Evo Morales to resign after his reelection victory touched off weeks of fraud allegations and deadly violence.The appeal from Gen. Williams Kaliman came after Morales, under mounting pressure, agreed earlier in the day to hold a new presidential election.“After analyzing the situation of internal conflict, we ask the president to resign, allowing peace to be restored and stability to be maintained for the good of our Bolivia,” Kaliman said on national television.He also appealed to Bolivians to desist from violence.Morales’ claim to have won a fourth term last month has plunged the country into the biggest crisis of the socialist leader’s nearly 14 years in power. The unrest has left three people dead and over 100 injured in clashes between his supporters and opponents.Morale agreed to a new election after a preliminary report by the Organization of American States found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election and said a new vote should be held.“We all have to pacify Bolivia,” Morales said in announcing plans to replace the nation’s electoral tribunal and urging the country’s political parties to help bring peace.Bolivians honked car horns and broke into cheers and applause in the streets as the OAS findings came out.“The battle has been won,” said Waldo Albarracín, a public defender and activist. “Now, the duty is to guarantee an ideal electoral tribunal.”Adding to the leadership crisis, however, the two government ministers in charge of mines and hydrocarbons, as well as the Chamber of Deputies president and three other pro-government legislators announced their resignations. Some said opposition supporters had threatened their families.Also Sunday, the attorney general’s office said it will investigate judges on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for alleged fraud following the OAS report.The man Morales claimed to have defeated, opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa, said the OAS report showed “monstrous fraud,” and he added that Morales “can’t be a candidate in new elections.”Morales did not say whether he will run again.“The priority is to choose a new electoral tribunal and figure out when we’ll have the new elections,” he told local radio Panamericana.Morales, 60, became the first president from Bolivia’s indigenous population in 2006 and presided over a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. The former leader of a coca growers union, he paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite into space and curbed inflation.But many who were once excited by his fairy-tale rise have grown wary of his reluctance to leave power.He ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. He was able to run because Bolivia’s constitutional court disallowed such limits.After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with Mesa. A 24-hour lapse in releasing results fueled suspicions of vote-rigging.The OAS sent a team to conduct what it called a binding audit of the election. Its preliminary recommendations included holding new elections with a new electoral body.“Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it’s not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results,” the OAS said in a statement.Pressure on Morales increased ominously on Saturday when police on guard outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandoned their posts and police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities.On Sunday, the police commander, Gen. Yuri Calderón, instructed protesting officers to get back on the street and prevent attacks by thugs loyal to the president. And Bolivia’s military said it ordered operations to counter armed groups that have attacked opposition supporters.During the unrest since the election, protesters have torched the headquarters of local electoral tribunal offices and set up roadblocks that paralyzed parts of Bolivia.“The question now is if the opposition will accept new elections called by Evo after he had already attempted to steal the election,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York and a senior research fellow at the Chatham House think tank.“They have good reason to be wary that this time will be cleaner. In fact, given what’s at stake and Morales’ actions up until now, there’s even more reason to believe that he’s going to pull out all the stops to ensure reelection.”

Thousands Protest Islamophobia in France

Thousands of people marched in Paris and other French cities against Islamophobia targeting Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.Muslims joining the march through the rainy streets of the capital say they have had enough.Mohamed, here with his sister Khadija, says the two feel completely integrated in French society. But he says he’s faced discrimination — including being asked to change his name during a job interview to something more traditionally French.A man (M) carries banner reading, French and Muslims, proud of our identity, Paris, Nov. 10, 2019. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)A recent IFOP poll finds four in 10 French Muslims also believe they are discriminated against because of their religion. Another survey finds more than 60 percent of respondents considered Islam incompatible with French values.While anti-Islamic attacks are not new, several recent events helped catalyze this protest. Last month, two Muslims were shot and seriously wounded outside a mosque in southwestern France.France’s conservative Senate also approved an amendment banning veiled women from accompanying their children on school outings. The lower house is unlikely to pass it. But it followed an incident where a far-right lawmaker demanded a woman visiting a regional council to remove her headscarf — leaving her son in tears.Wafa, a mother of three, says she’s had a similar experience. She’s a trained computer technician, but she says she can’t find a job because of her veil.Many non-Muslims joined the protests in Paris, Nov. 10, 2019. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Sixty-eight-year-old Julia Fernandez was among the many non-Muslims who joined the march.She likened the current climate to the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, before the Holocaust.Still the march was controversial, with some of the organizers accused of ties to fundamentalist Islam. A number of leftist politicians opted not to join the protest.

Judge Blocks 9 Government Lawyers From Quitting Census Fight

The Justice Department can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute over whether to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census without explaining why it’s doing so, a judge says.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, who earlier this year ruled against adding the citizenship question, put the brakes on the government’s plan on Tuesday, a day after he was given a three-paragraph notification by the Justice Department along with a prediction that the replacement of lawyers wouldn’t “cause any disruption in this matter.”
 
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone `satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote, noting that the most immediate deadline for government lawyers to submit written arguments in the case is only three days away.
 
The judge said local rules for federal courts in New York City require that any attorney requesting to leave a case provide satisfactory reasons for withdrawing. The judge must then decide what impact a lawyer’s withdrawal will have on the timing of court proceedings.
 
He called the Justice Department’s request “patently deficient,” except for two lawyers who have left the department or the civil division which is handling the case.
 
President Donald Trump tweeted about the judge’s decision Tuesday night, questioning whether the attorney change denial was unprecedented.
 
“So now the Obama appointed judge on the Census case (Are you a Citizen of the United States?) won’t let the Justice Department use the lawyers that it wants to use. Could this be a first?” Trump tweeted.
 
The new team came about after a top Justice Department civil attorney who was leading the litigation effort told Attorney General William Barr that multiple people on the team preferred not to continue, Barr told The Associated Press on Monday.
 
The attorney who was leading the team, James Burnham, “indicated it was a logical breaking point since a new decision would be made and the issue going forward would hopefully be separate from the historical debates,” Barr said.
 
Furman’s refusal came in a case that has proceeded on an unusual legal path since numerous states and municipalities across the country challenged the government’s announcement early last year that it intended to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.
 
Opponents of the question say it will depress participation by immigrants, lowering the population count in states that tend to vote Democratic and decreasing government funds to those areas because funding levels are based on population counts.
 
At one point, the Justice Department succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to block plans to depose Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Nearly two weeks ago, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the plans to add the census question, saying the administration’s justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”
 
Afterward, the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau began printing census questionnaires without the question and the Department of Justice signaled it would not attempt to continue the legal fight.
 
It reversed itself after Trump promised to keep trying to add the question.
 
The Justice Department then notified judges in three similar legal challenges that it planned to find a new legal path to adding the question to the census.
 
Furman said the urgency to resolve legal claims and the need for efficient judicial proceedings was an important consideration in rejecting a replacement of lawyers.
 
He said the Justice Department had insisted that the speedy resolution of lawsuits against adding the question was “a matter of great private and public importance.”
 
“If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time,” Furman said.
 
Furman said the government could re-submit its request to replace attorneys only with a sworn statement by each lawyer explaining satisfactory reasons to withdraw so late. He said he’ll require new attorneys to promise personnel changes will not slow the case.
       

Ivory Coast Passes Legislation Encouraged by Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump is applauding the recent passage of legislation in Ivory Coast related to changes she pushed during her April trip to Africa.

The country is in the process of updating its family code to make it more equitable to women — a move President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter and senior adviser praised as “a great step forward.”

“We are pleased to recognize and applaud the Ivorian government’s recent passage of the marriage law, which supports women’s equal management of household assets,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press.

While the legislation proposing the changes had already been in the pipeline at the time of Ivanka Trump’s visit, her team is pointing to it as a sign of the potential impact of the global women’s initiative she championed. It aims to empower 50 million women in developing countries around the world by 2025 by providing job training and financial support and supporting legal and regulatory changes. The White House’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative was launched in February and received an initial investment of $50 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In her conversations with Ivory Coast Vice President Daniel Duncan during her visit, Ivanka Trump said, she and her team encouraged the passage of legislation to advance women’s rights and legal status, including doing away with laws that restricted women from owning or inheriting property.

White House Advisor Ivanka Trump gestures as she speaks during the first Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) at the Sofitel hotel Ivoire in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 17, 2019.

Under the revised code, husbands and wives will have more equal say in managing household assets and making financial decisions. That’s in addition to other changes, such as new measures to ensure that widows are entitled to inheritances, additional protections against domestic violence, and setting the minimum age for marriage at 18 for both women and men.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara’s governing coalition dissolved in 2012 after some members resigned in protest of a proposed marriage law that would have made wives the joint heads of households. This time, however, the measures have drawn little protest.

W-GDP and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. foreign assistance agency, said in a joint statement that the laws’ passage “signals a new direction in Cote d’Ivoire that recognizes the critical role women play in advancing economic prosperity in their family, community, and for their country.”

Ivanka Trump has made women’s economic empowerment a centerpiece of her White House portfolio and has made a number of international trips to highlight the issue.

The president’s 2020 budget proposal requests an additional $100 million for the initiative, even as he has proposed cuts to other foreign aid.

Trump: Will Look ‘Very Carefully’ at Labor Secretary’s Role in Prosecuting Child Sex-Trafficking Case

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will be looking “very carefully” at how his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, agreed to a light sentence in a child sex trafficking case against billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago when he was a federal prosecutor in Florida.

As demands from lawmakers for Acosta’s resignation grow in Washington, Trump defended him, saying he has been “an excellent secretary of labor” for the last 2 1/2 years. The U.S. leader said that “many people” were involved in the Epstein case, but that in hindsight “what happened 12, 15 years ago…I would think maybe they wish they’d done it a different way.”

“We’ll be looking at it very carefully,” the U.S. leader said.

Trump spoke a day after federal prosecutors in New York brought new sex trafficking charges against the 66-year-old Epstein that could, if he is convicted, send him to prison for 45 years. Acosta, when he was the U.S. attorney in Miami, agreed in 2008 to an Epstein guilty plea agreement under which he served 13 months in a local stockade, but was freed half of most days to go to work at his office.

Two decades ago, Trump, years before he entered politics, posed for pictures with Epstein at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump in 2002 called Epstein a “terrific guy.” “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” 

United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in New York, July 8, 2019, announcing sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.

But on Tuesday, sitting alongside the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, at a White House meeting, Trump said of Epstein, “I was not a fan of his.” Trump said he had not spoken with Epstein in 15 years and had a “falling out” with him, but did not offer details of any dispute.

Acosta has defended his deal with Epstein, but said he is pleased that federal prosecutors in New York have brought new charges against him.

“The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that NY prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence,” Acosta said on Twitter. “With the evidence available more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors insisted that Epstein go to jail, register as a sex offender and put the world on notice that he was a sexual predator. Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”

Several lawmakers, including both leading congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, have called for Acosta’s resignation for his handling of the Epstein case in Florida, but so has a staunch Republican supporter of Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The White House has resisted.

Schumer said Epstein would have been behind bars for years were it not for the “sweetheart” deal agreed to by Acosta. Pelosi accused Acosta of engaging “in an unconscionable agreement” with Epstein “kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.” A judge has ruled that prosecutors wrongly failed to tell Epstein’s victims about their intention to resolve the case with a light sentence.

FILE – U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta speaks at JLS Automation, in York, Pennsylavania, June 6, 2019.

Pelosi said Acosta’s role in the Epstein case was known by Trump “when he appointed him to the cabinet.”

Cruz said he agreed Acosta should quit, calling Epstein’s conduct “despicable” and that “everyone who participated should be vigorously prosecuted.”

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pushed back on Pelosi’ call for Acosta’s resignation, saying, “It’s classic her and her Democratic Party to not focus on the perpetrator in hand, instead of focus on a member of the Trump administration. They’re so obsessed with this president that they immediately go to Alex Acosta rather than Jeffrey Epstein. As far as I can see, Jeffrey Epstein is the one who allegedly … sure looks a strong evidence to me is touching, if not raping young girls.”

In Monday’s indictment, Geoffrey Berman, a federal prosecutor in New York, accused Epstein of allegedly paying the girls hundreds of dollars for nude or partially nude massages from 2002 to 2005 that “increasingly were sexual in nature” at his mansion on New York’s Upper East Side and at his estate in Palm Beach.

The prosecutor said Epstein often paid some of the victims, some as young as 14, to recruit other underage girls that he then also abused.

Despite the fact that the allegations against Epstein stem from incidents that occurred more than a decade ago, Berman said, “We want to make sure (the accusers) have their day in court by bringing these charges.” In a court appearance, Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Epstein is a well-connected financier whose friends also included former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew, and numerous other celebrities.