Tag Archives: European Union

We’ve discussed new Russia sanction with EU – Navalny’s aides.

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…Navalny’s regional network and another associate Vladimir Ashurkov on Monday discussed via video link with EU states the bloc’s “next steps” on Russia.

Aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said they discussed possible sanctions against prominent members of President Vladimir Putin’s circle including business tycoons to ramp up pressure on Russia.

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Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional network and another associate Vladimir Ashurkov on Monday discussed via video link with EU states the bloc’s “next steps” on Russia.

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) /

The video call was hosted by Poland and included envoys from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ukraine, Poland’s mission in the EU said on Twitter.

Volkov wrote on the Telegram messenger late Monday that he and Ashurkov discussed “personal sanctions” against billionaires Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov.

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He said they also named the head of Russian state bank VTB Andrey Kostin and television executive Konstantin Ernst, among others.

Volkov did not say whether the meeting resulted in concrete agreements, but said Navalny’s team will promote personal sanctions against the Putin circle “in the coming weeks and months.”

The video call took place at a time of heightened tensions between the European Union and Russia, exacerbated by the arrest and jailing of Navalny.

Moscow on Friday expelled three European diplomats during the visit of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Russia for allegedly taking part in protests in support of Navalny.

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On Monday Germany, Sweden and Poland each ordered the removal of a Russian diplomat in retaliation.

EU foreign ministers have said they will debate punitive measures and possible sanctions against the Kremlin when they meet next on February 22.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: EU asks for donation of vaccines to Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s 43-year-old leader, who experienced mild symptoms of the coronavirus last year, said he was ready to get inoculated to encourage others to do the same.

The European Commission chief said on Monday she had called on EU member states to donate some of their coronavirus jabs to Ukraine, which is trying to launch a vaccination campaign.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has faced criticism at home for failing to source Western-made jabs and has called on the EU to help Ukraine source vaccines.

Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, would begin the first phase of the vaccination campaign later this month.

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The country of some 40 million is awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the United Nations Covax programme and up to five million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac jab.

“On top of Covax, I have also asked our member states to donate part of their doses to Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video address at a conference held in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

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“Thanks to Covax, Ukraine’s doctors and nurses will receive the first vaccines already this month,” she said, adding that “millions of other doses will reach Ukraine by the summer”.

Ukraine has not registered any vaccine so far and Zelensky has rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Russia’s Sputnik V jab.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 12, 2019 President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a European Union Summit at the Europa building in Brussels. – The EU commission chief has defended the slower Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the bloc as a “good decision”, saying the European Union would not put the safety of citizens at risk, in an interview published on February 2, 2021. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Last week, the post-Soviet country said it had also secured 12 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax.

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The total amount of the already secured doses is not enough to meet the needs of the country, however.

Speaking at the same conference on Monday, Zelensky also pointed to Ukrainians’ “mistrust” of vaccines, saying a “large part of the population” did not want to get vaccinated.

According to a recent poll conducted by the non-government Rating Group, more than half of Ukrainians said they were not ready to get inoculated, even for free.

Ukraine’s 43-year-old leader, who experienced mild symptoms of the coronavirus last year, said he was ready to get inoculated to encourage others to do the same.

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“As a majority of world leaders, I am ready to show people by personal example that vaccination is important, it is safe, it is needed,” said Zelensky.

With its run-down health system, Ukraine has recorded over 1.2 million cases and more than 23,000 deaths.

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#Newsworthy

Ireland open to modest prolonging to Northern Ireland Brexit grace period.

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Coveney was speaking ahead of talks on the issue next week in London between British Cabinet Office..

Ireland is open to “modest” extensions of waivers on the movement of certain goods from Britain into Northern Ireland after the British government asked the European Union to tweak post-Brexit rules, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

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Coveney was speaking ahead of talks on the issue next week in London between British Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, both of whom Coveney said he was in regular contact with.

“I would be open to advocating for modest extensions of grace periods,” Coveney told Ireland’s RTE Radio, but he said there was no question of scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol of Britain’s EU divorce deal.

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#Newsworthy

Embattled EU Chief faces fresh accusations.

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This follows other media reports that said that the raids on Frontex headquarters by OLAF investigators also turned up accusations of fraud and harassment of staff members.

Pressure is growing on the head of the EU’s border patrol agency after new accusations of abuses that were deemed “very worrying” by Brussels.

The damning reports against Fabrice Leggeri come at a time when the Frontex agency is taking on a greater frontline role in patrolling the EU’s borders.

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Migration is a hot-button issue across the EU and a rallying cry for far-right parties that are a rising force in some countries at the ballot box.

Leggeri is in charge of making sure his beefed-up agency can tighten control of Europe’s vast frontiers and he has been given an ever-increasing budget to do so.

But the Frenchman has been the subject of succeeding rounds of accusations both for the methods used to stop migrants as well irregularities in Frontex spending.

The agency is under investigation by OLAF, the EU’s independent corruption watchdog, over allegations of illegal pushbacks of migrants arriving in Greek waters from Turkey.

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MEPs and activists have called for Leggeri to resign over the operations, but he has refused to do so, insisting his agency is key to the fight against human trafficking.

“Investigations are underway and it is normal that we have to report to the political authority. We are becoming a police force,” Leggeri told France’s Europe 1 radio.

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More worryingly for Leggeri personally are accusations of spending irregularities and bad treatment of staff.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 21, 2017 Fabrice Leggeri, head of EU border agency Frontex is pictured during a joint press conference with EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos (unseen), in Warsaw, as Turkey threatens to renege on a deal to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to the bloc. – Frontex boss Fabrice Leggeri, called on February 5, 2021 by Brussels to improve the functioning of this agency, which plays a key role in border surveillance, after new accusations of abuses reported in the press. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

Documents revealed by ZDF, Le Monde and the Corporate Europe Observatory allegedly show that Frontex has been courted by dozens of defence and tech lobbyists in violation of EU transparency rules.

This follows other media reports that said that the raids on Frontex headquarters by OLAF investigators also turned up accusations of fraud and harassment of staff members.

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According to these reports by French daily Liberation and Germany’s Der Spiegel, the investigators are looking into, among other things, a contract with a Polish IT service provider, which is said to be tainted by irregularities.

The European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, said on Friday that the latest reports were “very concerning” for an agency that is “going to be, by far, the biggest EU Agency with a lot of power.”

“We need a strong, solid and well-functioning Frontex agency,” she told AFP.

With a mandate reinforced in 2019, Frontex is to have 10,000 agents by 2027 who will be directly employed by the agency and no longer seconded to the force by the member states.

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The Frontex management board — composed of representatives from member states and the European Commission — has set up a working group to investigate the case.

In an unprecedented move, the agency suspended its operations in Hungary at the end of January, following a European court ruling condemning the country’s asylum policy.

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#Newsworthy

European Union Foreign Policy Chief jets to Russia over Navalny’s controversy.

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European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell jets to Moscow on Thursday under pressure to confront the Kremlin over the jailing of Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters.

The visit — the first to Russia by a top EU envoy since 2017 — has drawn criticism from some European capitals worried Moscow will spin it as evidence Brussels is keen to return to business as normal.

But Borrell insists he will deliver “clear messages” to the Kremlin despite it blanking Western calls to release President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent Navalny, who was on Tuesday given a jail term of almost three years.

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“It is when things are not going well that you must engage,” the former Spanish foreign minister said on Monday.

The EU’s ties with Russia have been in the doldrums since Moscow seized Crimea and began fuelling the war in Ukraine in 2014 — and there are concerns about its involvement in Belarus, Syria, Libya, central Africa and the Caucasus.

Borrell is eager to sound out his veteran counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the chances of cooperation on issues including enlisting Russia’s help in reviving the Iran nuclear deal and tackling climate change.

But it will be the jailing of Navalny and detention of thousands of demonstrators across Russia by baton-wielding security forces that dominates his visit.

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Nonsense, says Kremlin
The EU foreign policy chief is under no illusions that he can pressure Moscow into freeing Navalny — and the Kremlin has already warned him off.

“We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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Moscow stands “ready to do everything” to develop ties with Brussels, but the Kremlin is “not ready to listen to advice” on the issue of Navalny, he said.

European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell speaks during press conference following a meeting with EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs at the EU headquarters, in Brussels, on January 25, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

The authorities have poured cold water on attempts to set up a meeting with Putin’s nemesis and Borrell will settle for talks with civil society representatives.

Back in Europe calls are growing from some nations for the EU to bulk up on sanctions it slapped on six Russian officials in October over the nerve agent poisoning that left Navalny fighting for his life in Germany.

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EU foreign ministers last week agreed they would revisit the issue if he was not released.

“After this ruling, there will now also be talks among EU partners. Further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert.

An EU statement said foreign ministers would discuss “possible further action” at a meeting on February 22.

Navalny himself called at the European Parliament last year — two months before his fateful return to Moscow — for sanctions to hit the oligarchs and money-men he accuses of protecting Putin’s wealth.

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But European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown.

There have also been calls for Germany to halt the highly contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring Russian gas to Europe.

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Continental powerhouse Berlin has rebuffed the clamour and Borrell insists Brussels has no power to make Germany pull the plug.

“I don’t think that it is the way to resolve the problem with Navalny,” Borrell said.

“The Russians won’t change course because we tell them we will stop Nord Stream.”

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For Moscow the visit looks set to be used as a chance both to deflect from its own issues and show that the West still wants to talk to it regardless.

‘Not a sign of weakness’
“On the one hand, the Kremlin is eager to portray the EU as a weak actor with a lot of internal problems,” said Susan Stewart from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“On the other hand, despite official rhetoric, the Kremlin is still keen to demonstrate that western actors are interested in cooperating with Russia, since this increases its status and legitimacy.”

But with European leaders set to debate their overall approach to Russia at upcoming summits in the next few months, diplomats in Brussels insisted this was the right time to visit Moscow.

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“There are reasons to go there to pass on messages,” one European envoy said.

“This mission is not a sign of weakness.”

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Pfizer pledges over 70,000,000 additional doses to EU.

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These included the completion of modifications at Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium.

BioNTech and Pfizer said Monday they will ramp up their coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the European Union, pledging to send up to 75 million extra doses to the bloc in the spring.

“Pfizer and BioNTech continue to work toward increased deliveries beginning the week of February 15, ensuring we will supply the full quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter we contractually committed to and up to an additional 75 million doses to the European Union in the second quarter,” they said in a statement.

The EU has ordered a total of 600 million doses of their Comirnaty vaccine.

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The statement came hours ahead of a national conference called by Chancellor Angela Merkel with vaccine manufacturers amid growing anger over the bloc’s sluggish inoculation campaign.

BioNTech and Pfizer, which will take part in the meeting, said that improvements in their production capabilities would allow them to speed up supplies.

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These included the completion of modifications at Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium. “Now, we are back to the original schedule of vaccine dose deliveries,” they said.

A healthcare professional draws up a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to be adminstered at a vaccination centre set up at Thornton Little Theatre managed by Wyre Council in Thornton-Cleveleys, northwest England, on January 29, 2021 as Britain’s coronavirus vaccination campaign continues. – Britain on Friday claimed its streamlined approach to developing Covid vaccines and support for biotech firms helped it to steal a march on other countries still struggling to implement a roll-out. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

BioNTech’s manufacturing site in the German city of Marburg has meanwhile received a licence to start production this month, as the companies have expanded their network of European supply partners to 13.

“We’re further strengthening this network, and are now in discussions with additional qualified partners on potential new agreements,” they said.

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Their announcement in mid-January that they would delay shipments of the jabs due to the necessary modifications at the Puurs factory sparked ire across the bloc.

Germany at the time urged the European Commission — which undertook joint procurement for the bloc — to “seek clarity and certainty” for upcoming shipments.

And six northern EU nations warned in a letter to the Commission that the “unacceptable” situation “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process”.

The news was followed last week by an announcement from British-Swedish company AstraZeneca that it could deliver only a quarter of the doses originally promised to the bloc this winter because of problems at one of its European factories.

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In the face of a political firestorm, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday that AstraZeneca had now agreed to increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30 percent.

An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.

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#Newsworthy

Breaking: Erdogan assures reconciliation of EU ties.

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The EU, in turn, has threatened Ankara with sanctions, including ones on arms exports, various times since August.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to improve relations with the European Union, following a longstanding dispute with Greece and recent feuds with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

During a televised meeting with EU ambassadors on Tuesday, Erdogan softened some of his toughest rhetoric and took a conciliatory tone.

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“We are ready to put our relations back on track,” Erdogan told the ambassadors, whom he addressed from his presidential compound in Ankara. “We expect our European friends to show the same goodwill.”


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On Monday, in another sign of easing relations, Turkey and Greece said they were willing to resume exploratory talks regarding their disputes over contested East Mediterranean waters and other issues.

“We believe that the exploratory talks … will be the harbinger of a new era,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.

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Regarding France, a country which Erdogan has severely criticised in recent months over its foreign policy and fragile relationship with the Muslim world, he added: “We want to save our relations with France from tensions.”

Last year, Erdogan said Macron needed “mental checks” over his plan to reform Islam in France, while Turkey’s foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and parts of the Middle East irked several EU countries.

But as Ankara and Athens looked set to address their longstanding disputes at the exploratory talks in Istanbul on January 25, hopes have risen for a more harmonious 2021.

This month’s meeting will be the first since negotiations between the two uneasy NATO neighbours were suspended in 2016 after 60 fruitless rounds of talks stretching back 14 years.

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Plans to restart of discussions last year foundered after disagreement about the Turkish seismic exploration vessel, Oruc Reis, deployed to disputed waters. The ship has since returned.

The two countries are at odds about the limits of their continental shelves, energy rights, air space and the status of some islands.

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Their dispute threatened to spill into open conflict when Turkish and Greek warships collided in August while shadowing Oruc Reis as it surveyed for oil and gas in the waters in west of Cyprus.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan – Turkish President

Turkey rejects the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, saying Ankara is in favour of resolving all issues through international law.

Turkey drives to join EU
Meanwhile, Ankara and EU officials are about to launch a rare round of shuttle diplomacy that could set their relations on a more cooperative course.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on January 21 while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel are expected in Turkey by the end of the month.

Erdogan noted on Tuesday that Turkey’s drive to join the EU – formally launched in 2005 but effectively suspended – could gain fresh impetus after the UK’s departure from the bloc.

“The uncertainty increased with Brexit could be overcome with Turkey taking its deserved place in the EU family,” Erdogan said.

“We have never abandoned full membership (goal) despite double standards and injustice.”

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Turkey’s accession talks have been sidelined by European concerns about Erdogan’s human rights record.

“It is in our hand to make the year 2021 a success in Turkey-EU relations,” he said on Tuesday.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: European Union begin vaccinations

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The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK.

European Union countries on Sunday embarked on a vaccination campaign hailed as the “key” to defeating Covid-19, as the growing spread of a new coronavirus variant intensified fears the pandemic could wreak further devastation.

The jab is a glimmer of hope for a continent still battling the pandemic in earnest, with infection rates again on the rise, lockdowns imposed and Christmas and New Year plans left in tatters for many.

The numbers vaccinated in the initial days with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab are largely symbolic and it will be months before enough are protected to envisage a return to normal from the pandemic that has killed 1.76 million people worldwide since emerging in China late last year.

An AFP count showed the world passed 80 million confirmed coronavirus cases early Sunday.

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In a sign of impatience, some EU countries began vaccinating on Saturday, a day before the official start, with a 101-year-old woman in a care home becoming the first person in Germany to be inoculated and Hungary and Slovakia also handing out their first shots.

A 96-year-old living in a care home in central Spain became the first person in the country to be vaccinated on Sunday, in an event broadcast by national television.

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She felt “nothing” from the shot, Araceli Rosario Hidalgo Sanchez said with a smile after being injected.

In Italy, the EU country worst hit by the pandemic with 71,000 dead, 29-year-old nurse Claudia Alivernini was the first to receive the vaccination Sunday morning.

“It is with deep pride and a deep sense of responsibility that I got the vaccine today. A small gesture but a fundamental gesture for all of us,” said Alivernini.

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“Italy is waking up today,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “This day will remain in our memory for ever.”

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video on her Twitter account that the campaign start was a “touching moment of unity and a European success story” and said the EU had “secured enough doses for our whole population of 450 million people.”

“The vaccination is the key to ending the pandemic,” added German Health Minister Jens Spahn. “This is a hopeful day for Europe.”

– ‘Watching hour by hour’- France is due to begin its campaign in two care homes for the elderly in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, a low-income area hard hit by Covid-19, and also in similar centres in the eastern city of Dijon.

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Focusing its strategy on protecting the elderly and thus taking pressure off the hospital system, the government wants one million of the most vulnerable to be vaccinated by the end of February and 15 million people by the summer.

China, Russia, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Serbia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia have also begun their vaccination campaigns.

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Britain, which last week finalised the deal on leaving the EU, began its vaccination campaign amid much fanfare on December 8, three weeks ahead of the bloc.

But it was also in Britain that a new strain of the virus emerged and has already reached several other European countries as well as Japan and Canada.

Echoing concerns from officials across the continent, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France has not ruled out imposing a third nationwide lockdown if coronavirus cases continue to rise after the holiday season.

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“We are watching the situation hour by hour,” Veran told the Journal du Dimanche with France registering around 15,000 new infections per day, triple the government’s target of 5,000.

– ‘Not the last pandemic’ – There is concern that wariness among Europeans over the vaccine could impede its effectiveness, with a poll published in the Journal du Dimanche saying 56 percent of French people don’t plan to take the jab.

China, accused of covering up the initial outbreak, has largely curbed the domestic spread of the virus. Its Communist leadership issued a statement hailing the “extremely extraordinary glory” of its handling of the crisis.

In authoritarian post-Soviet Turkmenistan, where the government says no coronavirus cases have been detected, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov claimed that licorice root could cure Covid-19.

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“Licorice stops the coronavirus from developing,” former dentist Berdymukhamedov said, without citing any scientific evidence but emphasising the country has “sufficient reserves” in place.

In a video message World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was time to learn the lessons from Covid-19 as “history tells us that this will not be the last pandemic.”

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#Newsworthy

Just in: Brexit trade deal successful on ‘final trial’

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The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will provide a briefing on the EU-UK negotiations, the spokesman said.

The United Kingdom and European Union have agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal after months of torturous negotiations, averting the prospect of a chaotic and acrimonious divorce at the end of this year.

The announcement on Thursday came just one week before the UK exits the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31.

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“The deal is done,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, as he posted a photo of himself with both thumbs raised in celebration.

Delivering a televised address, Johnson hailed striking what he called “the biggest trade deal yet”, adding that Britain had taken back control of its laws, borders, and fishing waters.

“We have completed the biggest trade deal yet, worth 660 billion pounds a year, a comprehensive Canada-style free trade deal between the UK and the EU,” he said.

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His comments came after a Downing Street source said the agreement was “fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK”.

“We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU,” the source said.

“We have delivered this great deal for the entire United Kingdom in record time, and under extremely challenging conditions, which protects the integrity of our internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

EU and British negotiators were up all night working on the deal, reportedly fuelled by takeaway pizzas, as they hashed out final details at the Berlaymont in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission.

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Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, meanwhile, spoke several times by phone.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” von der Leyen said in Brussels shortly after the deal was announced. “It is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe.

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“We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.

“It is fair, it is a balanced deal and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, speaking alongside von der Leyen, said: “Today is a day of relief, but tinged by some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead.

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“The clock is no longer ticking, after four years of collective effort and EU unity to preserve peace and stability on the island of Ireland, to protect the citizens and the single market, and to build a new partnership with the UK.”

The deal comes more than four years after a slim majority of Britons voted to quit the bloc in a June 2016 referendum on EU membership

The agreement document is said to be about 2,000 pages long. In essence, it is a narrow free trade pact surrounded with other agreements on a range of issues including energy, transport and police and security cooperation.

What next?

Both sides now have just days to get the pact ratified before January 1.

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The UK Parliament, in which Johnson’s governing Conservative Party has a strong majority, is expected to sign off on the deal before December 31, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Johnson said he hoped the agreement would be put to MPs for a vote next week, on December 30.

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But things are more complicated on the EU side, with the leaders of its 27 member states required to approve of any agreement before it can then be sent to the European Parliament for its consent – a challenge made more difficult by the Christmas holiday period and amid a worsening coronavirus crisis.

EU law does, however, include a provision for agreements to be provisionally approved by its 27 member states, without its parliament’s consent.

European Parliament President David Sassoli on Thursday confirmed the institution will analyse the deal “in detail” before deciding whether to give its consent in the new year.

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“We will act responsibly in order to minimise disruption to citizens and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario,” Sassoli said on Twitter.

European Union ambassadors will meanwhile meet at 10:30am CET (09:30 GMT) on Friday, Christmas Day, to begin reviewing the post-Brexit trade deal clinched on Thursday by the EU and Britain, an EU spokesman said.

“The German EU Council Presidency has just convened a COREPER meeting for tomorrow 10.30am. EU Ambassadors will start reviewing the EU-UK agreement,” an EU spokesman for Germany, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said on Twitter. COREPER is the name given to meetings of EU envoys.

News of a deal has meanwhile brought a sense of relief for many in the UK and across Europe.

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Had the UK and the EU failed to compromise, a no-deal Brexit scenario would have forced them to default to trading under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January 1.

WTO rules would have brought financial tariffs, quotas and other regulatory barriers to trade into play.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: European Union approves first ever vaccine

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The European Medicines Agency recommended the vaccine developed by US pharma giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech for use, and the European Commission formally approved it hours later.

The EU finally gave the green light for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday, paving the way for the first inoculations to start across 27 countries just days after Christmas.

The decision was rushed through under pressure from European governments after Britain and the United States authorised the jab weeks earlier.

The European Medicines Agency recommended the vaccine developed by US pharma giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech for use, and the European Commission formally approved it hours later.

The EMA added that the vaccine would “very likely” be effective against a new strain of the disease spreading through Britain.

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European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said vaccinations would start across the EU on December 27, adding that the vaccine was a “true European success story”.

“This is a very good way to end this difficult year and finally start turning the page on Covid-19,” von der Leyen said in Brussels.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the decision allowed a “road out of the crisis” while Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the EMA decision “is the news we have been waiting for”.

‘Historic scientific achievement’
The Amsterdam-based EMA, the drugs watchdog for the 27-nation EU, had moved the decision forward from December 29 under pressure from EU governments, particularly Berlin.

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“It is a significant step forward in the fight against this pandemic that is causing suffering and hardship,” EMA chief Emer Cooke told an online press conference as she announced the decision to recommend the vaccine.

“This is really a historic scientific achievement, within less than a year a vaccine will have been developed and authorised against this disease.”

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The urgency surrounding the virus has increased with the news that a fast-spreading variant is sweeping Britain, prompting a growing number of countries worldwide to suspend flights from the UK.

But EMA officials said they believed the Pfizer-BioNTech jab would be effective against it.

“At this moment there is no evidence to suggest this vaccine will not work against the new variant,” Cooke said.

The EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, Marco Cavaleri, added that while they were waiting for more data “for the time being we are not too worried”.

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“It is very likely that the vaccine will retain protection also against this new variant,” he said.

“What would scare us is if we see multiple mutations”, particularly on the “spike” that the virus uses to enter human cells, but those had not been seen yet, Cavaleri added.

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‘Cause for concern’
The EMA said it took longer than Britain — the former home of the agency — and the US because they used a special, short-term emergency authorisation.

The “conditional marketing authorisation” issued on Monday however lasts for one year and required more rigorous testing, it said.

The EMA also had to contend with a cyberattack in which data from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was stolen.

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Cooke said the agency had “worked night and day” to speed things up, but needed to make sure the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was safe and effective, in order to avoid any doubts that could affect uptake.

“We know very well that the speed at which these vaccines were developed and authorised is a cause of concern for many Europeans,” said Harald Enzmann, chairman of the EMA committee that took the final decision.

But he said the authorisation followed “one of the largest trials we have ever evaluated for a vaccine” and that it “met the standards for robustness and quality that we have set out”.

The authorisation is for over-16s only and says that the vaccine should be given to pregnant women on a case by case basis, the EMA said.

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Following a “small number” of reports of allergic reactions in Britain and the United States, the EMA had recommended that people should be kept under “close observation” for 15 minutes after vaccination.

A European decision on another vaccine, produced by US firm Moderna, is due by January 6.

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#Newsworthy

Update: Last strive to save “dying” Brexit deal

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European capitals have remained remarkably united behind Barnier through the fraught Brexit process, but some internal fractures have now begun to surface.

British and EU negotiators embark on probably their final two-day scramble to secure a post-Brexit trade deal Sunday, after failing to reach agreement for eight months.

Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost will resume talks in Brussels where they broke off on Friday, calling a pause after a fruitless week of late-night wrangling in London.

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“We will see if there is a way forward,” Barnier tweeted.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reportedly lobby European leaders, after a call with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday ended with the sides still facing “significant differences” on the key issues.

The pair’s next call will be on Monday evening and then the 27 EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit planned to tackle their own budget dispute, but which will now once again be clouded by Brexit worries.

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Johnson and von der Leyen’s issued a downbeat joint statement after their call.

“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved,” they said.

While much has been agreed, the sides cannot close out the thorniest debates over fishing rights, fair trade rules and an enforcement mechanism to govern any deal.

– ‘Anything is possible’ -Britain formally left the EU in January, nearly four years after a referendum on membership that split the nation down the middle and two months after Johnson won an election touting what he claimed was an “oven ready” Brexit deal.

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The UK is bound to the EU’s tariff-free single market until a post-Brexit transition period expires the end of the year — an immovable deadline by which time the two sides must try to agree on the exact nature of their future relationship.

“Anything is possible. The three open issues are linked by Britain’s intent to keep sovereignty a priority and Europe’s fear of UK freeloading,” a source with close knowledge of the talks told AFP.

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Without a deal, the bulk of cross-Channel trade will revert to World Trade Organization terms, a return to tariffs and quotas after almost five decades of close economic and political integration.

Talks through this year have finalised most aspects of an agreement, with Britain set to leave the EU single market and customs union, but the three core issues are unresolved.

Johnson has insisted Britain will “prosper mightily” whatever the outcome of the talks, but he will face severe political and economic fallout if he cannot seal a deal.

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“If we fail to get an agreement with the European Union, this will be a serious failure of statecraft,” influential Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat told the Lowy Institute in an interview published Saturday.

On Friday, France threatened to veto any deal that falls short of their demands on ensuring fair trade and access to UK fishing waters, where they have demanded a durable agreement, whereas Britain wants frequent renegotiations.

“We know that 100 percent access to fishing waters in the UK maritime zone is finished,” European Affairs minister Clement Beaune told le Journal du Dimanche.

“But we need lasting access. The British can’t have total access to our EU single market and exclude fish.”

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Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark share Paris’s concerns that the EU side could give too much ground on rules to maintain competition.

There are just days left to finalise a deal, with an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday looming large and the European Parliament repeatedly insisting that it needs time to evaluate and ratify any compromise.

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#Newsworthy

European Union might train forces from Mozambique to help resist Anti-Jihadists.

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Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva asserted his certainty regarding the support the European Union will provide to Mozambique in training its forces in the fight against terrorism — following a letter issued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique requesting aid in the anti-jihadist resistance in the country’s volatile Cabo Delgado region which has seen a rise in catastrophic insurgencies the last few years.

In an interview with the LUSA news agency in Bissau, Silva recalls that the European Parliament has already discussed the matter and that there was consensus among the deputies, “As Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country that will occupy the presidency of the Council of the European Union from January, I have already had an opportunity to have a formal meeting with the high representative Josep Borrel and one of the themes was the north of Mozambique, support for Mozambique. Based on all this information, I am sure that the European Union’s response will not be delayed, it will be positive, and naturally, Portugal will contribute to it quickly and positively.”

In a recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi outlined the wave of violent attacks by Islamic extremist groups in the country’s north, “They leave people displaced, destroy housing and socio-economic infrastructure, plunder community goods, keep children and women in captivity. As a result of these phenomena, over a thousand people have been murdered and around 250 thousand people are displaced in other districts within the country.”

The province of the gas-rich Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique has been the backdrop of debilitating armed attacks the last three years by forces classified as Islamist terrorists.


#Newsworthy…

EU-UK ‘free market’ pressure mount ahead fresh brexit talks.

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EU’s chief negotiator ‘worried’ as UK reportedly plans new law to override key parts of Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit trade talks have plunged into crisis on the eve of a penultimate round of negotiations in London, after the United Kingdom warned the European Union that it could effectively override the divorce deal it signed unless the bloc agrees to a free trade deal by October 15.

Tensions mounted on Monday, with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying he was “worried” about negotiations, and that he will seek clarification from London about plans to renege on commitments.

The UK is reportedly planning new legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – a step that, if implemented, could jeopardise a treaty signed in January and stoke tension in Northern Ireland.

Sections of the internal market bill, due to be published on Wednesday, are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the Financial Times newspaper said on Monday, citing three people familiar with the plans.

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If no deal is agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on”, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say later on Monday. In this scenario, the UK would have a trading relationship with the bloc like Australia’s, which would be “a good outcome”, Johnson will say.

Johnson will also say there is no sense in thinking about timelines beyond October 15.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he will say.

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As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit loomed, sterling fell against the dollar and euro.

The UK left the EU on January 31, but talks aimed at clinching a new trade deal before the end of a status-quo transition arrangement in December have so far snagged on state aid rules and fishing.

The UK is reportedly planning new legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement [File: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

Without a deal, nearly $1 trillion in trade between the UK and the EU could be thrown into uncertainty, including rules over everything from car parts and medicines to fruit and data.

European concern over UK’s reported plan
The reported plan to undermine the Withdrawal Agreement was condemned by parties on both sides of the Irish border and surprised some in Brussels.

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“If the UK chose not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing,” said one EU diplomat.

“Who would want to agree trade deals with a country that doesn’t implement international treaties? It would be a desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy,” the diplomat said.

“Without correct implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, I cannot imagine the EU would conclude a treaty with a country that does not abide by its treaty commitments,” said another EU diplomat.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who played a key role in negotiating the withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol, said on Twitter that the reported move “would be a very unwise way to proceed”.

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Senior members of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein and SDLP parties, the region’s two largest Irish nationalist groups, also criticised the UK’s reported plan.

Asked about the report in the Financial Times, British Environment Secretary George Eustice said there might be some minor “legal ambiguities” that needed to be tidied up over the Northern Irish protocol.

“We are not moving the goal posts,” he told Sky News broadcaster.

Barnier said everything that has been signed “must be respected”, as he planned to discuss the FT report with his British counterpart David Frost during this week’s talks.

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“The important thing for me is what the prime minister says and does, and what the British government itself says and does,” he said.

Regarding Northern Ireland, Barnier insisted that under the withdrawal deal it will continue to apply the EU’s single market rules, intended to avoid a “hard border” with Ireland but which would effectively create a trade border in the Irish Sea.

The move is meant to avoid reviving sectarian tensions between Ireland and Northern Ireland that were largely calmed by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

“No land border is the pre-requisite for peace since the end of the conflict … and it’s the pre-requisite for a united and coherent economy for the entire island, and also to respect the single market,” Barnier said.


#Newsworthy…

United kingdom sets deadline for ‘Free Trade’ deal with EU.

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Post-Brexit trade talks have stalled over the UK’s push for autonomy over state aid and fishing rights.

The United Kingdom has set a deadline of October 15 to strike a free-trade deal with the European Union, and if none is agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say on Monday.

The UK left the EU on January 31, but there has been little progress on a new trade deal after a status-quo transition arrangement ends in December. Failure to reach a deal could result in the imposition of trade tariffs and customs controls for goods moving between the UK and EU.

Talks, which have stalled over the UK’s insistence that it has full autonomy over state aid and fishing, are due to resume in London on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said an agreement on trade needed to be reached urgently and he blamed the stalemate on the UK’s attitude.

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Johnson will say there is no sense in thinking about timelines beyond October 15.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he will say, according to comments released by his office.

If no deal is agreed, the UK would have a trading relationship with the bloc like Australia’s, which would be “a good outcome”, Johnson will say.

The EU has been negotiating a trade agreement with Australia since 2018 but has yet to conclude a deal.

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‘Full control’
“As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it,” Johnson will say. “We will have full control over our laws, our rules and our fishing waters.”

The United Kingdom’s government is preparing legislation that could undermine a potential free trade agreement with the European Union, according to the Financial Times [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

In that case, the UK would be ready to find sensible accommodation with the bloc on practical issues such as flights, lorry transport or scientific cooperation, according to the excerpts.

The Financial Times newspaper reported that the British government is planning legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, risking the collapse of trade negotiations with Brussels.

Sections of the internal market bill, due to be published on Wednesday, are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the newspaper said, citing three people familiar with the plans.

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A source told the newspaper that the move could “clearly and consciously” undermine the agreement on Northern Ireland – a part of the UK – that Johnson signed last October to avoid a return to a hard border with the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.

The UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost said on Sunday that the British government was not scared of a no-deal exit at the end of the year.

Johnson will say there is still a deal to be had based on a standard free trade agreement if the EU is ready to rethink its current position.

“But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it,” he will say.


#Newsworthy…

European Union seeks peace in Libya.

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The European Union’s high representative Josep Borrell held talks in Liba with the warring sides in a bid to find a solution to end the conflict.

Chaos erupted after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Since 2014, the country has been split between the rival factions: the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) and General Khalifa Hafta, who controls the east.

Both sides are backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Fayez Sarraj, head of the GNA, announced a cease-fire on 21 August and called for demilitarising the key city of Sirte and the nearby area of Jufra, which would mean the withdrawal of forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter.

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Previous efforts to secure lasting cease-fires have stalled.

The two sides also agreed on the need of an “effective” international support to the political solution to Libya’s conflict, a statement said.

Hafter’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture Tripoli.

But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied militias, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of the city and other western towns.

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The two sides also agreed on the need of an “effective” international support to the political solution to Libya’s conflict, a statement said.

But that may prove difficult with countries split on which side they support.

Turkey, Italy and Qatar are among those who side with the GNA.

Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back General Haftar.


#Newsworthy…

Denis Mukwege calls on EU action against criminalities in DR Congo.

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Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege is calling on the European Union to implement a system that would allow people to raise the alarm “to prevent atrocities.”

Mukwege spoke to EU lawmakers on Monday via video-link.

“We need to create a system which allows people to raise the alarm. These individuals who are in different parts of the country do fantastic work to protect their populations and communities and to prevent atrocities,” Mukwege said.

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He also called on human rights defenders to be protected themselves.

Mukwege is known for founding that is renowned for its work treating survivors of sexual violence.

Congolese Nobel Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege

He has faced death threat.

The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called for a quick investigation into the death threats against Mukwege last week.

He praised him as a “true hero” for his work,

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The DRC’s eastern region has seen separate conflicts involving armed groups and government forces for the past year.

Thousands have been killed and half a million people have fled the violence.

In November, the International Criminal Court passed its highest ever sentence when it sent a Congolese warlord known as “The Terminator” to prison for 30 years for crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.

Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities during a bloody ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.


#Newsworthy…

Turkey blasts European Union on warning over East Mediterranean.

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Turkish VP refutes EU threat for sanctions as Turkish military gets ready to carry out military exercises off Cyprus.


Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has slammed a recent threat by the European Union to slap Ankara with sanctions as “hypocritical” as his country prepares to carry out a military drill off the coast of Cyprus amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Oktay’s comments on Saturday came a day after Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

“It is hypocritical for the European Union to call for dialogue and, simultaneously, make other plans regarding Turkey’s activities within our continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said on Twitter.

“We are proficient in the language of peace and diplomacy, but do not hesitate to do the necessary thing when it comes to defending Turkey’s rights and interests. France and Greece know that better than anyone.”

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The long-running dispute between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, flared after both agreed to rival accords on their maritime boundaries with Libya and Egypt, and Turkey sent a survey vessel into contested waters this month.

The EU’s measures, meant to limit Turkey’s ability to explore for natural gas in contested waters, could include individuals, ships or the use of European ports, Borrell said.

“We can go to measures related to sectoral activities … where the Turkish economy is related to the European economy,” Borrell told a news conference, referring to possible sanctions.

The EU would focus on everything related to “activities we consider illegal”, he said.

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Military exercise
On Friday, Turkey said it will hold military drills off northwest Cyprus in the next two weeks.

The Turkish military issued an advisory to mariners, known as a Navtex, saying it would be holding a “gunnery exercise” from Saturday until September 11.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo [Yoruk Isik/Reuters]

Greece and Turkey have both held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate into a confrontation.

Two weeks ago, Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Turkey’s Oruc Reis oil and gas survey vessel collided, and Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense said Turkish F-16 jets on Thursday prevented six Greek F-16s from entering an area where Turkey was operating.

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Greece and Turkey are at odds over the rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting claims about the extent of their continental shelves.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.

The agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access to areas in the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.

Turkey is a formal candidate to join the EU, but its talks with the bloc have been in a deadlock for several years now.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Don’t intervene – European Union urges Russia.

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The EU urged Russia on Friday not to intervene in Belarus after President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for the country’s embattled leader.

As EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin discussed the crisis, President Alexander Lukashenko — facing unprecedented protests calling for him to quit — accused the West of trying to topple him in order to weaken Moscow.

Meanwhile neighbouring Ukraine, which saw its own pro-Russian leader toppled after bloody protests in 2014, has offered refuge to Belarusians fleeing a regime crackdown.

The EU has rejected the official results of an August 9 presidential poll in Belarus, which saw Lukashenko re-elected with 80 percent of votes, and is preparing sanctions against his regime for electoral fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition protesters.

Putin on Thursday said he stood ready to send in his military to stabilise Belarus after weeks of huge demonstrations calling for Lukashenko, often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, to quit and hold new elections.

“I have heard many times from Russia the mantra that this is a domestic internal affair for Belarus and they do not want external interference. I suppose it’s also valid for themselves,” EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said.

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“It is solely for the Belarusian people to determine their own future,” he added, urging Russia to “respect the wishes and democratic choices of the Belarusian people.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was blunter, telling reporters in Paris that the “worst thing would be Russian intervention” in Belarus.

There “could be no repeat of what happened in Ukraine”, Macron added.

After an uprising in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and pro-Moscow forces declared breakaway republics in Ukrainian regions in the east.

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‘Springboard to Russia’
Putin on Thursday also called on the Minsk authorities and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully, but the threat of military intervention by the Kremlin has raised the spectre of the crisis on the EU’s doorstep taking a darker turn.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, renewed his claims that the West wanted to see the back of him for its own ends.

“Belarus is just a springboard to Russia, as always,” he said, according to the state news agency Belta.

“Unlike Hitler, who sent his army to Moscow, they are trying to destroy the government in place here and replace it with a new one that will ask another country for military assistance and deploy troops.”

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EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin gave their backing to a list of some 20 individuals to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans for their role in rigging the Belarus election or cracking down on demonstrators.

Borrell said the list would encompass “individuals at high political level”, but it looks unlikely to include Lukashenko himself, despite calls from some countries for him to be targeted.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talk before a press statement on August 28, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP

‘Deeply alarming’
The EU is supporting offers by the OSCE to broker a negotiated end to the crisis and hitting Lukashenko in person is seen as counterproductive to these efforts.

The OSCE on Friday described the post-election violence in Belarus as “deeply alarming” and called on Minsk to accept its offer to support dialogue and avoid a “nightmare”.

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The current OSCE chair, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, said the sooner dialogue started “the better it is for everyone”.

Macron said Putin had told him Russia was open to OSCE mediation but Lukashenko was opposed.

“He (Putin) has to make efforts to help us in this direction,” the French president added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Belarusians seeking to enter “Ukraine in an attempt to flee the crisis” would receive entry permits from his country’s border guards.

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He said they will be given preferential treatment and be exempt from a month-long entry ban over spiking coronavirus cases.

The demonstrations that erupted in Belarus after the election and the violent police crackdown that followed have prompted comparisons with Ukraine’s pro-Western uprising in 2014.

Lukashenko’s notorious security services violently broke up peaceful protests after the vote, arresting nearly 7,000 people in a clampdown that sparked widespread allegations of torture and abuse in police custody.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring EU country Lithuania after claiming she beat the 65-year-old leader and calling for the protests.


#Newsworthy…

European Union trade chief resignation sparks successor scramble.

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Ireland on Thursday scrambled to assemble potential candidates to succeed EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan after his resignation for breaching coronavirus guidelines.

Hogan, one of the bloc’s most senior officials and a powerful force in Brexit talks, quit on Wednesday after a week-long stream of revelations caused rising public anger.

European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia has stepped up to take over temporarily.

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Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke to Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin by phone, asked Dublin to submit one man and one woman as candidates to succeed Hogan.

Her spokesman said she wanted a replacement “rapidly”.

Von der Leyen meanwhile issued a stern warning to other commissioners to comply with Covid-19 rules.

As “Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect the members… to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations”, she said in a statement.

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– Rumoured replacements –

Martin told Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE on Thursday that he would meet his government coalition partners to discuss Hogan’s replacement.

He refused to be drawn on specific names, even as rumours swirled linking past prime ministers, current cabinet ministers and European parliamentary officials to the job.

But he added: “It’s fair to say that at this stage our shared objective will be that a person of very, very high calibre will be nominated by the Irish government.”

Yet there is no guarantee Ireland will retain the trade portfolio, which is regarded as a key asset protecting the Republic’s interests during Brexit trade talks with Britain.

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Among those touted in the Irish media as potential successors are former prime minister Leo Varadkar, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

But all three hold key positions in Martin’s two-months-old coalition government, and Donohoe was recently appointed head of the eurozone group of finance ministers.

Martin is also considered unlikely to want to weaken his administration, which has already been hit by a series of resignations and is facing a surge in coronavirus cases.

RTE raised European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness and former deputy prime minister turned MEP Frances Fitzgerald as possible replacements for Hogan.

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They were seen as figures who would not destabilise the coalition by prompting an unwelcome by-election.

Other names said to be in the frame include the former EU ambassador to the United States, David O’Sullivan, and former prime minister Enda Kenny.

The Irish Times, citing party sources, speculated candidates will come from the centre-right Fine Gael party Hogan served as an Irish lawmaker under the terms of the coalition deal.

It is thought the government may have already had a plan to replace Hogan — a former Irish government minister and EU agriculture commissioner — after he made a failed run for the head of the World Trade Organization in June.

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– Covid-19 breaches –

On Wednesday the Irish government said 60-year-old Hogan’s resignation was “the correct course of action”.

Martin piled pressure on Hogan to quit after it emerged he travelled through a county in a local lockdown and flouted guidelines for a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Ireland.

Hogan also attended a parliamentary golf club dinner on August 19 in breach of coronavirus restrictions on social gatherings announced just 24 hours earlier.

The sporting evening was attended by around 80 people — including a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and lawmakers from Ireland’s upper and lower houses of parliament.

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It is being investigated by police under legislation limiting gatherings to 50 and has prompted a series of high-level resignations, including agriculture minister Dara Calleary and deputy Senate chair Jerry Buttimer.

Hogan initially declined to apologise for his attendance at the event and details of his travels across Ireland emerged fitfully.

Embarrassment was compounded when it was revealed he was pulled over by an Irish police officer for using his phone while driving.

“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland … caused such concern, unease and upset,” Hogan said in his resignation statement.


#Newsworthy…

GBV: Let’s all stand together and speak out – Amina Mohammed says

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Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed says all persons must refuse to accept the conditions that make violence against women and girls possible.

The UN top official made the remarks in a pre-recorded video broadcast on Tuesday during a Spotlight Initiative townhall.

The Spotlight Initiative, a new, global, multi-year initiative from the European Union (EU) and the UN, is determined to eliminate all forms of such violence against women and girls (VAWG).

“Around the world, violence against women and girls, especially rape is skyrocketing,” Mohammed said. “Many incidents have triggered widespread outrage. Yet some keep trying to play the oldest game in the book; the blame game. Blame the COVID-19 pandemic, blame social and economic stress, blame uncertainty. Even outrageously, blame the victim – usually a woman or, worse still, a girl. Blame anything, everything but the perpetrator.

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“Let’s be really clear, sexual violence and any form of violence is violence. There is absolutely no excuse, there is no justification and there must be zero tolerance. All of us must stand together and speak out.”

A file photo of UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed. Credit: Twitter
A file photo of UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed. Credit: Twitter

The former Nigerian Minister of Environment called for more persons to support the Spotlight Initiative, which is designed to “bring focused attention to the issue, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Below is an excerpt from Mohammed’s speech at the town hall meeting:

I am the proud mother of four daughters, but the loudest voices urging me to speak up came from my sons and they said, ‘Mom, this is already a dangerous issue – it is in our chat spaces; you need to do something about it, people will listen.

I am not sure people will listen but if I can make a difference in one woman’s life, then it is worth speaking about it.

When I asked what they were hearing, they said it varies. Some say violent is not right, but others, appallingly, say women asked for it. Really? You and I know that men and boys who commit violence against women and girls are just simply not men. They are weak, it’s shameful. They are, sadly, the textbook definition of a coward.

And for those who turn a blind eye or deaf ears saying it is a private matter, know that you too are accomplices to violence. Now, we can agree to disagree, but because of these attitudes, women and girls face a clear and present danger of the threat of violence and rape every day at home, in school and, these days, online. Men and boys, fathers and sons, husbands, we must have this conversation. Take responsibility, speak up. Stand with women and girls.

Let’s join hands with survivors of violence including rape. Listen to their stories. Let’s call out victim blaming and shaming. Let’s rally our communities to say ‘No’ to gender-based violence. Let’s remember that if not for a woman, and her nine months of labour, I am not sure that you men will be here today.

So, let’s stand with our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our partners and, together, let’s declare in one voice, I am with her’.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: European Union to punish 15 to 20

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The EU is likely to sanction between 15 and 20 individuals for their role in electoral fraud and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus, a senior official said Tuesday.

The bloc has been preparing asset freezes and travel bans over the crisis that has unfolded in the ex-Soviet republic and after an emergency video summit last week EU Council President Charles Michel said a “substantial number” of people would be targeted.

The European Union is trying to find ways to get strongman President Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the unprecedented protests that followed his hotly disputed August 9 re-election, which the bloc has rejected as not free or fair.

EU foreign ministers meeting for informal talks in Berlin on Thursday and Friday are expected to give political approval to a list of targets, before the list is formally approved soon afterwards.

Asked how many names were on the list, a senior EU official said it would likely be “something between 15 and 20”, but the final total would depend on legal verification carried out by the EU’s lawyers.

Because sanctions listings can be challenged all the way up to the European Court of Justice, the EU subjects each one to rigorous checks to make sure they are legally watertight.

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European leaders including Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all sought to persuade Russia to help bring about a peaceful conclusion to the Belarus crisis.

The senior EU official said the “very interesting tango between Russia and Belarus” in recent years, in which Lukashenko has resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to get him to join a political-economic union, had disrupted the Moscow-Minsk dynamic.

After drifting away from Putin, Lukashenko was now suddenly seeking his support, the official said, complicating European efforts to get Putin to encourage the Belarus leader to start talking to the opposition.

“Is Putin usefully prodding Alexander Lukashenko in the way of this dialogue? My answer has to be no — he is in a different business,” the official said.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: EU Trade Commisioner Pleads For Breach

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European Union trade commissioner Phil Hogan apologised on Sunday as he faced calls to resign for attending an Irish parliamentary golf society dinner which breached COVID-19 guidelines.

The event — attended by a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and swathes of lawmakers — was held on Wednesday, just 24 hours after the government announced new coronavirus restrictions.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin urged Hogan, a former Irish government minister, to “consider his position” after revelations he was one of the 82 attendees at the dinner.

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In the face of a fresh surge in cases, Dublin specifically said there should be no “formal or informal events or parties” at hotel restaurants.

The dinner has sparked a series of resignations at the top tier of Irish politics and prompted Martin to decide Sunday to recall parliament.

“I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending,” Hogan said in a statement.

“I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.”

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Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and deputy chair of parliament’s upper chamber Jerry Buttimer have both already resigned for attending the event.

Hogan said he had spoken to Martin and respected his views, and said he had been reporting to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Later on Sunday, a Commission spokesman said von der Leyen was “following the situation closely” and had ordered Hogan to prepare a report detailing the event.

“It is important that facts are established in detail to carefully assess the situation,” the spokesman said.

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Hogan previously said he had been assured the dinner would comply with government coronavirus guidelines and did not offer an apology.

On Saturday, Martin and deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar — the head of Fine Gael, the party for which Hogan previously served — said in a joint statement that “the commissioner’s apology came late” and that he needed to “give a full account and explanations of his actions”.

The Irish Examiner newspaper — which revealed details of the dinner on Thursday — said guests sat at tables of 10 in breach of coronavirus guidelines, and organisers erected a room divider in a bid to skirt legislation banning gatherings of more than 50.

Police on Friday said they had opened an investigation into the event for alleged breaches of that same legislation.


#Newsworthy…

Mali crisis: EU condemns attempted coup de e’tat amid leaders’ arrest.

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The EU on Tuesday condemned an “attempted coup” in Mali after soldiers mutinied and arrested the crisis-torn country’s political leaders.

“The European Union condemns the attempted coup d’etat underway in Mali and rejects all unconstitutional change,” the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“This can in no way be a response to the profound socio-economic crisis which has been hitting Mali for some months.”

The EU, which has operated a mission training the armed forces in Mali since 2013, joined the UN and regional bloc ECOWAS in calling for dialogue.

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“A consensual outcome respecting constitutional principles, international law and human rights is the only way to avoid destabilising not only Mali but the whole region,” Borrell said in his statement

One of the leaders of the mutineering soldiers told AFP that “the president and the prime minister are under our control” after being “arrested” at Keita’s residence in the capital Bamako.

Keita and Cisse are now being held in an army base in the town of Kati, an official at the prime minister’s office said.

Their arrest comes after months of protests calling for Keita’s arrest that have rocked the crisis-torn country.


#Newsworthy…