Russian Far East Keeps up its Anti-Kremlin Protests

Thousands of demonstrators gathered again Saturday in Russia’s Far East city of Khabarovsk to denounce the arrest of the region’s governor a month ago, protests that are posing a direct challenge to the Kremlin.Sergei Furgal was arrested on July 9 on suspicion of involvement in murders and taken to jail in Moscow. The estimated 3,000 demonstrators on Saturday protested the charges, believing them to be politically motivated, and want him returned to the city for trial. Furgal has denied the charges.Furgal, who has been removed from his post, is a popular figure in the region bordering China about 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow. Since his arrest, daily demonstrations have been held in the city, with attendance peaking on weekends.Demonstrations in support of the Khabarovsk protesters were held in at least seven other cities in Russia. The OVD-Info organization that monitors political arrests said at least 10 people were arrested in those demonstrations.No arrests were reported in Khabarovsk, where authorities have not interfered with the demonstrations, apparently hoping they will fizzle out. 

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Venezuela Court Jails 2 US Ex-soldiers for 20 Years After Failed Incursion

A Venezuelan court sentenced two former U.S. soldiers to 20 years in prison for their role in a failed incursion aimed at ousting President Nicolas Maduro in early May, chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said late on Friday.Former Green Berets Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, admitted to participating in the May 4 operation, Saab wrote on his Twitter account.”Said gentlemen ADMITTED to having committed the crimes,” he wrote, adding that the trials were ongoing for dozens of others captured.Denman and Berry were charged with conspiracy, terrorism and illicit weapons trafficking, Saab wrote.Alfonso Medina, a lawyer for the two, said their legal team was not allowed into the courtroom. The two men were not available for comment.The sea incursion launched from Colombia, known as Operation Gideon, left at least eight dead.Maduro’s government said it arrested a group of conspirators that included Denman and Berry near the isolated coastal town of Chuao.U.S. special forces veteran Jordan Goudreau, who ran Silvercorp USA, a private Florida-based security firm, has claimed responsibility for the raid.Denman appeared in a video on Venezuelan state TV days after their capture, saying they had been contracted by Silvercorp USA to train 50 to 60 Venezuelans in Colombia, seize control of Caracas’ airport and bring in a plane to fly Maduro to the United States.Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s office said Guaido had known about the operation since October, but did not finance or order It.Maduro, who describes Guaido as a Washington puppet, has said that President Donald Trump’s government backed the Operation.The Trump administration has denied any direct involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the U.S. government would use “every tool” to secure the U.S. citizens’ return.

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US Expats in Canada Worry About Family Back Home

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages in the United States, Canada has seen a dramatic decline in cases, making the U.S. health crisis particularly upsetting to American expatriates enjoying the relative safety afforded in Canada.“This has all hit so hard, and it’s distressing to see what everyone is going through,” said Derek Brett, a lawyer who once worked on American political campaigns. Now a Canadian citizen, Brett lives and works in the Canadian city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.Brett said his sister in Florida works for a long-term care facility and was diagnosed with COVID-19 but has recovered and returned to work.“My mother in particular has been in a COVID lockdown for 150 days in her home. It doesn’t seem like there is going to be a relief in the foreseeable future,” he said, adding he is lucky to be in Canada. “I feel secure. I’m happy for my family here in Nova Scotia where we go for days without any cases.”In Canada’s remote, sparsely populated Atlantic region, cases are so rare that the four easternmost provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island – have formed a “travel bubble.” Residents of these provinces may visit the other three without self-quarantining for two weeks, unlike visitors from the rest of Canada, who are required to self-isolate as if coming from abroad.Meanwhile, the Canadian-U.S. border is closed to nonessential travel.“We would like to plan a trip back to the U.S. to see family,” said Michelle Sinville about herself and her husband, Geoffrey Sinville. “But not until the border is open and the virus is under control.”From New Hampshire originally, Sinville now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where she is a pharmaceutical industry consultant.Portapique and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia“I had a close family member pass away in June,” Sinville siad, “and we chose not to try to go back to the U.S., due to travel restrictions and virus transmission.”Coronavirus concerns aren’t limited to foreign travel. Some favor opening the Atlantic travel bubble to the rest of the country and eliminating the self-quarantining requirement. But the idea is unpopular in the travel bubble provinces, as infection rates in the rest of the country, while lower than in many parts of the world, are still higher than in the Atlantic region.“I think it’s a mistake to open up the Atlantic bubble,” Brett said. “I don’t believe it should open up to the rest of Canada. I think the Atlantic bubble should remain the Atlantic bubble. It doesn’t seem like Quebec and Ontario are ready.”Americans in the rest of Canada feel the same concern for family back home. Daniel Lopes works in Montreal for an American publishing company that works with Canadian libraries. He is from Boston originally and lives with his partner, Andrew Zageris, who works for a tax firm in Montreal.Lopes worries about his mother, who lives in Boston and lacks health insurance. “My mother is getting older, and … we thought about renting the apartment next to us so she can stay there.”Lopes said he has been strict about social distancing. “Over eight weeks I went on one walk with a friend, and I met with one friend on his porch.”He added that he feels for COVID-19 victims and does not wish to shame people who get sick.“At the end of the day it’s people’s grandparents and cousins and neighbors. They made perhaps dumb choices, but that doesn’t mean they deserved to die.”Canadians who work with Americans have found their businesses disrupted.“I am still conducting business in the U.S. but have no intentions of travelling across the border for the foreseeable future,” said David Gough, who directs the Atlantic Canada office of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada.Gough said Nova Scotia has been lucky during the outbreak and has been able to “stay smart.”“The problem will be in remaining smart.” 

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Can the Takuba Force Turn Around the Sahel Conflict?

Two years after a pan-European military initiative was first proposed to help tackle the Sahel’s Islamist insurgency, the Takuba task force is finally becoming reality, as its first troops arrive amid the coronavirus pandemic, political turmoil and spreading unrest.A group of roughly 100 Estonian and French special forces are the first on the ground to comprise Takuba, the Tuareg name for a sabre. Some 60 Czech troops are to join them in October, and another 150 Swedish ones by early next year. Estonia, Belgium and more recently Italy count among others to announce troops for the mission intended to help Mali and Niger forces fight extremist groups in the region.But for now, and likely in the future, the main foreign troop contributor in the region is France, analysts say, whose own 5,100-troop Barkhane counterinsurgency operation enters its seventh year.And despite recent military victories, they say, chances of eradicating the conflict are remote, unless the Europeans and Africans offer more holistic, long-term solutions.“If you have a gushing wound on your neck, you don’t put a plaster on it,” said Andrew Yaw Tchie, a senior Africa security expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, or RUSI.Victory possible?France thinks differently. At a June Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, French President Emmanuel Macron urged regional and international governments to intensify their military campaign against the Islamists.”We are all convinced that victory is possible in the Sahel,” Macron said, citing progress in recent months.Emboldening his stance was the early June killing of a key Islamist leader by French forces with the reported aid of a U.S. drone. Abdelmalek Droukdel, headed al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the main groups operating in the region.But other prominent jihadist leaders, including two linked to al-Qaida, remain at large, in a tangled conflict in which Islamist and local extremist groups have fueled and profited from inter-communal violence as well.Overall, the United Nations estimates terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets in three of the most vulnerable Sahel countries — Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger — has increased fivefold since 2016.In a recent interview with VOA, J. Peter Pham, the top U.S. envoy to the Sahel region, noted extremist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had increased 40 percent in the first quarter of this year alone.Asked whether counter-insurgency efforts were winning, Pham added, “It depends on what time horizon you use and what definition you use for winning.”While Droukdel’s death might be considered a “specific” success, he noted insecurity was expanding in Burkina Faso and central Mali, which “certainly cannot be counted a success.”Spreading threatExtremist groups are also spreading southward, deeper into sub-Saharan Africa — profiting from north-south ethnic and religious divides within countries, and more recently, analysts say, the coronavirus pandemic.Against this backdrop, there is no unified international military response, says Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute in Dakar.“Today, there are 19 different international strategies in the Sahel and no coordination,” Sambe said. “At a time when terrorist groups are beginning to coordinate, international partners are diverging.”The Takuba task force is intended to facilitate regional coordination, as well as to provide equipment and training to Malian and other G-5 Sahel forces, which also hail from Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad.Some observers see it as a test case for Macron’s broader goal of a more unified European Union defense, which a number of other EU member states are lukewarm about.It’s also unclear how many European countries will ultimately commit to the Sahel initiative. Some, including Norway and Germany, have already bowed out for a mix of reasons. Britain, which formally exited the EU last year, plans instead to dispatch 250 forces to beef up the U.N.’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.RUSI’s Tchie, who describes Britain as joining an “unwinnable fight in the Sahel” with its U.N. commitment, has similar reservations about the Takuba troops.“In essence, all you’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s deal with counterterrorism, and at some point, we’ll deal with the other stuff,’” he said, summarizing what he considers the European thinking.Yet such thinking, he added, fails to address interlinking problems, including climate change, corruption, poverty and underdevelopment that are fueling the conflict.Parallels with SomaliaAdding to the challenges is the current political turmoil in Mali, where West African leaders are trying to find an exit plan to a crisis in which protesters are calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to quit.Some regional forces have been accused of civilian abuses. For their part, extremist groups have capitalized on the coronavirus pandemic to further their interests, including staging attacks and recruiting new members, analysts say.France faces its own set of challenges. Its Barkhane force has lost 43 men in its Sahel operations since 2013. It also faces a negative image in some countries, where memories of its colonial presence linger.Takuba is partly intended to send the message that “France is not alone in the Sahel,” the country’s newspaper Le Monde wrote.The Timbuktu Institute’s Sambe sees it another way.“I think that wanting to realize Takuba is in itself an admittance that Barkhane and other foreign interventions have been a failure,” he said. “It’s been years that a purely security and military approach hasn’t functioned to eradicate terrorism.”In London, RUSI’s Tchie draws parallels between the Islamist groups in the Sahel and Somalia, where the al-Shabab terrorist group has grown and spread despite years of U.S. and other military efforts. In both regions, he says, extremist groups have scored points in local communities, he says, in ways national and foreign intervention has not.“It delivers justice, it delivers humanitarian relief to communities, and people feel more secure,” he said of al-Shabab. “It’s not that people want to go to al-Shabab. But when they need security, justice and things to work for them, al-Shabab delivers.”  

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Greek Island Locks Down as COVID-19 Infections Soar Across Country

Three months after easing nationwide restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the government in Athens has placed the tiny Greek island of Poros into fresh lockdown following a sudden flare-up of infections in scores of locals and tourists. The lockdown comes as the coronavirus pandemic spreads rapidly in Greece, tripling infections in the past 10 days alone and marring the country’s image as a near virus-free summer retreat.With a population of about 3,000, Poros, a one-hour jaunt from the Greek capital, has been a favorite destination this summer, attracting record numbers of tourists seeking a safe summer hideout from the coronavirus.But on Friday, most of Poros’ visitors were seen scrambling onto ferries bound for Athens or other islands.More than 30 people, mainly young Greeks, tested positive for COVID-19 within a 24-hour period, an outbreak officials fear could spread rapidly across the idyllic, pine-cloaked island.Scores of suspected cases are being examined with results likely by the end of the weekend.But authorities, concerned by the rising rates of COVID-19 infections across the country, are not taking any chances. They are taking aggressive action to contain the flare-up in Poros.Bars and nightclubs are barred from operating at late hours. Curfews now have been imposed. All social and religious events have been suspended. And beginning at dawn, text messages from homeland security offices have been ringing across Poros, notifying people to wear masks.It is not clear what exactly caused the Poros outbreak. Authorities have not tracked the infections to “patient zero.”Whatever the reason though, local officials, including Mayor Giannis Dimitriadis, blame authorities for being too lax in monitoring regulations that have been in effect for weeks.In every society, authorities set the example by observing regulations and keeping citizens vigilant, he said. Police here were not enforcing the rules, he said.Dimitriadis said he notified authorities more than a month ago, urging them to act against what he called recurring and serious lapses.But Poros is just one example of what critics are calling state neglect and reckless behavior by locals defying existing regulations across the country.“The rising rate has me extremely concerned,” Manolis Dermitzakis, a Greek professor of medicine in the University of Geneva said. “We’ve seen cases triple in a short period of time in Greece.” And ultimately, he said, it all boils down to the fact that measures are not being fully adhered to.What’s the point, he said, of having a mandatory mask order when most Greeks are wearing them under their noses, beneath their chins or dangling on one of their ears? This half-baked compliance is dangerous, he said.Since the Poros outbreak, authorities have intensified inspections, issuing steep fines against offenders.But if the measures fail to quash Greece’s rise in new coronavirus infections, the government may have no other option than to take tougher, nationwide measures, potentially reimposing a national lockdown.Until then, the U.S. State Department is urging American citizens to reconsider travel plans to Greece.

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Lukashenko’s Biggest Election Opponent: the Internet

In the closing days of the Belarus presidential election campaign, opposition candidates are holding mass rallies and incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko is visiting businesses, giving speeches to the Security Council and government – and lashing out at the news media.During a meeting with campaign staff, Lukashenko railed at local and international media, saying the Belarussian edition of Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda “will soon turn into a tabloid” and accusing foreign outlets, including the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, of being biased and calling for riots.Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, asked the Foreign Ministry to intervene.“There is no need whatsoever to wait until the end of the election campaign. Get them out of here if they do not comply with our laws and call people to Maidans,” he said on July 23, referring to mass protests in Ukraine in 2013 over the country’s move away from the European Union.In the months leading up to the August 9 vote, journalists and bloggers in Belarus have been arrested, harassed and even deported as Lukashenko faces an unexpectedly tough election amid discontent with the economy and his poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.The president, who says he People look at a presidential election information board in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 7, 2020.Opposition presidential candidates were also A man stands next to an election campaign poster during a rally held by supporters of Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a candidate in the upcoming presidential election and President Alexander Lukashenko’s main challenger, in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 6, 2020.Earlier in the campaign, Sergei Tikhanovsky was the main irritant for authorities, said Klaskovsky.“He traveled all over the country,” Klaskovsky said. “In small towns, he would give the microphone to disadvantaged people blasting the authorities. And the authorities felt that it was dangerous, because their biggest fear is the street, since the election commissions are staffed with loyal people and the counting of votes is completely under state control.”On May 6, authorities charged Sergei Tikhanovsky and seven others with “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order.”Boris Goretsky, deputy chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said arrests and oppression of journalists have increased, with over 60 incidents recorded during the campaign.“The authorities are afraid of freely disseminated information, as evidenced by the recent arrests of journalists after rallies,” Goretsky told VOA. “Authorities try to detain the maximum number of journalists so no one is there to provide video coverage and distribute it on the internet.“After all, information is what motivates people to act,” he said.In addition to the arrests, authorities are beating journalists at rallies and obstructing live broadcasts, said Natalya Radina, editor-in-chief of the news website Charter’97.Klaskovsky, of BelaPAN, added that bloggers and administrators of public and Telegram channels working under the “Country to Live In” brand have been hit hard, but the pressure is also felt by independent news websites, news agencies and publications whose editorial offices are abroad.These journalists are often not invited to press conferences or other official events, where the priority is given to state-owned press. And those covering mass gatherings risk being arbitrarily detained, having equipment broken or confiscated and, if they lack accreditation, being fined for “illegal fabrication of mass media products.”“The rest of the press finds itself in an information vacuum,” Klaskovsky said.The Belarus Embassy in Washington told VOA on Friday to send questions via email. The embassy did not respond to VOA’s emailed questions.‘Under supervision’Independent media in Belarus are still tightly controlled. Journalists need accreditation to access official events, and the State Security Committee — still known as the KGB, its Soviet-era name — regularly monitors the press, with officials calling reporters to discuss their work.FILE – Opposition supporters wearing protective masks amid the coronavirus disease outbreak wait in a line to put signatures in support of their potential candidates in the upcoming presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, May 31, 2020.Because of these officials — described by some journalists as “supervisors” — “it is very difficult to determine the degree of independence of a local outlet,” said Irina Khalip, a Belarus correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russia paper known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs.“All foreign journalists need to be accredited with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And this accreditation comes with lines you cannot cross,” Khalip said. “One step over and your accreditation is revoked.”In May, the Foreign Ministry stripped a Channel One correspondent of his accreditation and deported him to Russia. The ministry did not state the reason, but Channel One, a Russian state broadcaster, said it came one day Belarus citizens in Poland demonstrate during a solidarity rally in front of the Belarusian Embassy before the upcoming presidential election, in Warsaw, Aug. 7, 2020. Belarus will hold its presidential election on Aug. 9.The journalist was convicted of rioting after the 2010 election and authorities jailed her husband, Andrew Sannikov, who ran as an opposition presidential candidate.News websites based outside Belarus are a key source of information. Despite attempts by authorities to block the sites, readers are finding ways to access them online.The Charter’97 website has been blocked for over two years, editor-in-chief Radina said. “But people have learned to bypass the blocking via virtual private networks [and] anonymizers, and still read us because they need accurate information.”“It is impossible to completely cut off information, because these days not only journalists but everyone can record videos on their mobile phones and post them on the internet. Information on what happens in Belarus on August 9 and 10 will appear anyway,” Radina said.Goretsky, deputy chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said the internet, along with social media and Telegram channels, makes it faster and easier to share or access objective information.“People no longer watch TV day and night; they watch YouTube channels. This gave birth to the phenomenon of Sergei Tikhanovsky, who created his own channel, which was popular with the older generation as well,” he said.“While the government has been fighting all these years for print runs and compulsory subscriptions, independent publications have de facto taken over the internet,” Goretsky said. “And although many of them do not have accreditation and cannot attend official events, they have several advantages, including the internet.”This article originated in VOA’s Russian service.

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Report: Pompeo Warns Russia Against Taliban Bounties

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Russia’s foreign minister about alleged bounty payments to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.The Times reported Friday that Pompeo made the warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a July 13 phone call, citing unidentified U.S. officials.It said Pompeo’s warning was the first known rebuke from a senior U.S. official to Russia over the alleged bounties program.Pompeo has previous declined to say whether he specifically raised the bounty allegations with Russia. However, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that he has “raised all of the issues that put any Americans at risk” each time he has spoken to Lavrov.Trump has called the reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops “another Russian hoax” despite concerns about them from the intelligence community.Trump told reporters in Florida last month, “It was never brought to my attention and it perhaps wasn’t brought because they didn’t consider it to be real. And if it is brought to my attention, I’ll do something about it,” he said.During an interview with “Axios on HBO,” Trump said he had not raised the bounty allegations in a recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and, frankly, that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said.White House officials have said that Trump was not briefed on the suspected bounties because the assessment was not conclusive. However, several media outlets, including the Times, have reported that the issue was included in one of the president’s written daily briefings in February. Trump has said he was never personally told about the issue.Russia has denied that it paid bounties to Taliban militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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Canada to Impose Retaliatory Tariffs on US Goods, Hopes for Resolution

Canada will slap retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products after the United States said it would impose punitive measures on Canadian aluminum imports, a senior official said on Friday.Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow consultations with industry.The move marks the latest ruction in a choppy relationship between the neighbors and close allies since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.Trump moved on Thursday to reimpose 10% tariffs on some Canadian aluminum products on Aug 16 to protect U.S. industry from a “surge” in imports. Canada denies any impropriety.”At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic … a trade dispute is the last thing anyone needs – it will only hurt the economic recovery on both sides of the border. However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do,” said Freeland.”We do not escalate and we do not back down,” she said later, variously describing the U.S. decision as “entirely unacceptable,” absurd and ludicrous.The Canadian list of goods that might be subject to tariffs includes aluminum bars, plates, refrigerators, bicycles, washing machines and golf clubs. Trump is a keen golfer.”I think the very best outcome would be for the United States to reconsider,” said Freeland, adding that she was confident common sense would prevail.The list of goods subject to tariffs is narrower than the last time Ottawa struck back at Trump because the two sides agreed in 2019 to limit the scope of retaliation in disputes over steel and aluminum, said a Canadian government source who requested anonymity.In 2018, Ottawa slapped tariffs on C$16.6 billion ($12.5 billion) worth of goods ranging from bourbon to ketchup after Washington imposed sanctions on Canadian aluminum and steel.Ottawa may be calculating its measures will be short-lived. A source briefed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said Canadian officials are increasingly sure Trump will lose the Nov. 3 presidential election.Trump acted just weeks after a new continental trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect. The North American economy is highly integrated and Canada sends 75% of all its goods exports to the United States. 

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Germany, France Quit WHO Reform Talks Amid Tension With Washington, Sources Say

France and Germany have quit talks on reforming the World Health Organization in frustration at attempts by the United States to lead the negotiations, despite its decision to leave the WHO, three officials told Reuters. The move is a setback for President Donald Trump as Washington, which holds the rotating chair of the G-7, had hoped to issue a common road map for a sweeping overhaul of the WHO in September, two months before the U.S. presidential election. The United States gave the WHO a year’s notice in July that it is leaving the U.N. agency — which was created to improve health globally — after Trump accused it of being too close to China and having mishandled the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO has dismissed his accusations. European governments have also criticized the WHO but do not go as far as the United States in their criticism, and the decision by Paris and Berlin to leave the talks follows tensions over what they say are Washington’s attempts to dominate the negotiations. FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing executive orders on lowering drug prices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, July 24, 2020.”Nobody wants to be dragged into a reform process and getting an outline for it from a country which itself just left the WHO,” a senior European official involved in the talks said. The German and French health ministries confirmed to Reuters that the two countries were opposed to the United States leading the talks after announcing its intention to leave the organization. A spokesman for the Italian health ministry said that work on the reform document was still under way, adding that Italy’s position was in line with those of Paris and Berlin. Asked about the position of France and Germany, a senior Trump administration official said: “All members of the G-7 explicitly supported the substance of the WHO reform ideas.” “Notwithstanding, it is regrettable that Germany and France ultimately chose not to join the group in endorsing the road map,” he said. A spokesman for the British government declined to comment on the latest developments but added that Britain supported the WHO and urged a reform of the body “to ensure it remains flexible and responsive.” The talks on WHO reform began about four months ago. There have been nearly 20 teleconferences between health ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, and dozens of meetings of diplomats and other officials. A deal by the G-7, which also includes Japan and Canada, would facilitate talks at the G-20 and United Nations, where any changes would have to be agreed upon with China, Russia and other major governments not in the G-7. It is unclear whether a G-7 summit in the United States, at which Trump hopes leaders will endorse the road map, will now go ahead in September as planned. U.S. officials have not said what reforms Washington has sought. But an initial reform road map proposed by Washington was seen by many of its allies as too critical, with one European official involved in the negotiations describing it as “rude.” Despite changes to the original text, Washington’s push remained unacceptable, mainly to Germany, sources familiar with the negotiations said. Funding and ‘politicized management’ In the weeks before the collapse of the talks, negotiators had told Reuters positions were getting closer as Washington softened its approach and European negotiators started to see the reform process as a means to make the WHO more independent from political pressure.European governments had also begun to make skeptical remarks about the WHO in public, with Germany’s health minister urging the WHO to hasten a review of its handling of COVID-19.FILE – Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 28, 2020.In private, some Europeans have supported a tougher line, with some criticizing WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and what they see as politicized management of the pandemic. “Everybody has been critical of Tedros,” a negotiator from a European G-7 country told Reuters. A German government source said: “It must … be ensured in future that the WHO can react neutrally and on the basis of facts to global health events.” But European governments want to make the WHO stronger, better funded and more independent, whereas the U.S. withdrawal of funds is likely to weaken it — Washington is the largest contributor, providing 15% of the budget. Some Europeans see Trump’s criticism of the WHO as an attempt in the run-up to the U.S. election to distract attention from his handling of COVID-19, and Berlin’s ties with Washington have been strained by his decision in July to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany. Plans to reform the WHO are unlikely to be definitively shelved, especially if Trump is defeated in the November election. European governments want Washington to remain a WHO member and a financial supporter, and they have shown an interest in boosting their own funding to the body. 

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