From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved

    This file is attached to from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to King Of The North 2019 January-March or go to King Of The North 2019 July-September


  • Today Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north.    The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

  • Today Western Asia is 23 countries as a subregion: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Yemen.
  • Today Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent.    There is no consensus on the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations.    It is projected to be *Cyprus, *Czech Republic, *Estonia, *Hungary, *Latvia, *Lithuania, *Malta, *Poland, *Slovakia, Slovenia, *Bulgaria, *Romania and *Croatia.
        The above countries with an * in front of them are part of the European Union in todays world.
    • The Balkan peninsula or the region includes: (Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia) with Greece and Turkey excluded.
    • Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Moldova are part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) set up to help ex-communist states harmonise their economic and legal systems with EU demands.
    • On 2/6/2019 Macedonia the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic became the 30th member of a formal signing of the NATO accession protocol and expects Macedonia – now known officially as North Macedonia to formally join the alliance in 2020.    Three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as have other countries in the Balkan region including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.


4/1/2019 Vote count confirms comic’s lead in Ukraine elections by Matthias Williams, Pavel Polityuk, Polina Ivanova and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy flashes a victory sign following the announcement of the first
exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – A comedian with no political experience raced ahead in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, offering a fresh face to voters fed up with entrenched corruption in a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia.
(For election graphic click
    With over half of all ballots counted by Monday morning, 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, held a comfortable lead over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a vote deemed largely free and fair by the national electoral commission.
    A crowded field of 39 candidates has now shrunk to just two, with Zelenskiy and Poroshenko set to go head-to-head in a second round run-off on April 21.
    Propelled by his anti-establishment appeal, newcomer Zelenskiy must convince voters he is fit to lead a country that has been at war ever since protests in 2014 ejected a pro-Kremlin government and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.
    He has been criticized for being an unknown quantity and light on policy detail, and his victory speech on Sunday provided little further insight into what he would do if handed the top job in the second round vote.
    Both Zelenskiy and Poroshenko face firmly west, and neither wants to move Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.    But investors are also keen to see if the next president would push reforms required to keep the country in an International Monetary Fund bailout program that has supported Ukraine through war, sharp recession and a currency plunge.
    With 50.4 percent of ballots counted by 09:00 (06:00 GMT) on Monday, Zelenskiy held 30.2 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said.
    The result is a powerful challenge to the veteran politician Poroshenko, at 16.6 percent, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who trailed in third place with 13.1 percent.
    “I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all the Ukrainians who did not vote just for fun,” Zelenskiy told cheering supporters on Sunday.    “It is only the beginning, we will not relax.”
    In keeping with the laid-back style of his campaign, Zelenskiy’s election night venue provided a bar with free alcohol, table football and table tennis games.
    Poroshenko called the result a “severe lesson,” especially from younger voters, and urged their support in a second round.
    “You see changes in the country, but want them to be quicker, deeper and of higher quality. I have understood the motives behind your protest,” he said.
    Poroshenko sought to portray Zelenskiy as unfit to represent Ukraine abroad, especially when taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin in international talks.
    Putin “dreams of a soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically undecided president of Ukraine.    Are we really going to give him that opportunity?” Poroshenko said.
    Poroshenko said the vote was free and met international standards.    Tymoshenko said at a news conference she might yet challenge the result, adding that her team’s exit polling put her in second place.
    Stuart Culverhouse, head of sovereign and fixed-income research at investment bank Exotix, said Zelenskiy had tried to present himself more professionally by meeting business leaders and talking of orthodox economic policies.
    “That said, if the exit polls are confirmed in the official vote count, we would expect Zelenskiy to be put under greater pressure in the run-up to the second round to flesh out his policy agenda,” he said.
    Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military that is fighting Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east.
    Voting was a snapshot of Ukraine’s recent history.    Soldiers lined up to vote in makeshift polling stations in the east.
    Voters formed long lines outside polling stations in neighboring EU member Poland, where between one and two million Ukrainians have moved, many in search of jobs and higher wages.
    Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and instrumental in establishing a new independent Orthodox church, confectionary magnate Poroshenko, 53, has cast himself as the man to prevent Ukraine again becoming a Russian vassal state.
    But reforms to keep foreign aid flowing have been patchy.    Conflict in the eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years and rumbles on despite Poroshenko’s promise to end it within weeks.    Frustration over low living standards and pervasive corruption has left the door open for Zelenskiy.
    The majority of voters in separatist-held eastern Ukraine and Crimea were unlikely to take part in the election as they needed to undergo a special registration process on Ukraine-controlled territory.
    But Crimean residents who kept Ukrainian citizenship after the Russian annexation crossed the land border to mainland Ukraine, from where buses took them to polling stations.
    Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, a Gallup poll published in March showed.
    Zelenskiy has tapped into this anti-establishment mood, although his inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors wary.
    His campaign has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs of jokes, sketches and song-and-dance routines that poke fun at his political rivals.
    Zelenskiy’s campaign blurred the line between reality and the TV series in which he plays a scrupulously honest history teacher who accidentally becomes president.
    “He embodies the perceived need for ‘new faces’ in politics and could sway the young, pro-reform electorate to his side,” said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Agnese Ortolani.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova; Editing by William Maclean)

4/1/2019 Russia’s Rusal resumes aluminum supplies to U.S. market by Anastasia Lyrchikova
FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive of Russian aluminium giant Rusal Evgenii Nikitin gives an interview in
Krasnoyarsk, Russia March 29, 2019. Picture taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Anastasia Lyrchikova/File Photo
    KRASNOYARSK, Russia (Reuters) – Russian aluminum giant Rusal has resumed supplies to the U.S. market and aims to win back customers it lost due to sanctions by about September when the industry seals supply contracts for 2020, its chief executive said.
    Last autumn, Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer outside China, missed the traditional window for contracting sales for this year as it was still negotiating with the U.S. Treasury Department to be removed from a sanctions list.
    “We fulfilled all our obligations even during the period of sanctions, we did not allow ourselves a single failure.    Therefore, some of our former partners are already coming back, new partners are coming,” CEO Evgenii Nikitin said.
    “We hope that we will be able to bring back our clients toward September, the contracting period for 2020,” he added in an interview with Reuters.
    Rusal’s nine months of talks with Washington ended successfully in late 2018.    In January, Washington excluded Rusal from the sanctions list but kept founder Oleg Deripaska, who had to give up his control of the firm as part of the deal.
    During sanctions, Rusal lost some of its customers, including Novelis Corp, the world’s biggest producer of rolled aluminum products.
    The company is partially resuming deliveries to them but admits that it will have a chance to regain all its clients only when contracts for 2020 are signed.
    “We expect to restore lost positions in all the traditional markets for the company, including Asia and America, with which difficulties arose last year.    To date, we have already resumed deliveries to the American market,” Nikitin said.
    “Volumes for 2019 for most customers, including Novelis, are already contracted, but if there is a need for an increase, our partners will contact us.    The same applies to customers in Japan.”
    Asked if a new contract with Glencore was coming after the expiry of their long-term contract in late 2018, Nikitin said: “Glencore is one of our big customers. We are in negotiating positions with all clientsz.”
    Rusal planned to keep its 2019 production and investments stable at 3.8 million tonnes and $900 million, respectively, Nikitin said.
    Last week, the company launched new production at its Boguchansk aluminum smelter in Siberia, doubling its annual capacity to 298,000 tonnes a year.    The company is currently considering a further increase in Boguchansk’s capacity, Nikitin said.
    Rusal is also constructing the Taishet aluminum smelter, which it expects to launch in late 2020 and is discussing attracting financing for it from Russian and foreign banks.
    Rusal is confident both Taishet and Boguchansk will find demand for their product.    It expects global demand for aluminum to grow by 3.7 percent to 68 million tonnes in 2019 and maintain the same pace of growth in 2020.
    Nikitin also said that there were no issues with Russia’s alumina supplies from the Mykolaiv (Nikolayev) plant in Ukraine.
    He, however, said he did not know whether negotiations to sell the plant to Glencore, which were halted due to U.S. sanctions, would resume.
    Rusal also plans to keep its 20 percent stake in Australia’s QAL and is in talks with Kazakh firm ERG on a new alumina supply contract, Nikitin said, adding that in general, Rusal does not consider selling any of its assets in the near future.
    Nikitin has been with Rusal for more than 25 years and was offered the CEO job in May by the board, a month after the U.S. sanctions against Rusal.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Tom Balmforth and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
[Look what happened to this company because of the Muellar witch hunt and think what will happen if we start a "bitch hunt" to invesitgate the FISA corruption to Hillary and the Clinton Foundation.].

4/1/2019 Comedian faces scrutiny over oligarch ties in Ukraine presidential race by Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks following the announcement of the first exit
poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy is leading the race to become Ukraine’s next president thanks to an insurgent campaign that rails against corrupt politicians influenced by rich oligarchs.
    Yet it is his own relationship with one of the country’s wealthiest tycoons that could prove an Achilles’ heel.
    One of Ukraine’s most popular TV channels 1+1, owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, has given Zelenskiy a powerful platform in recent months during his meteoric rise to the brink of the presidency.
    On Saturday, a day before Zelenskiy won the first round of the presidential contest and set up a run-off with the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, 1+1 filled its schedule with back-to-back shows by the comedian and actor.
    The fact that Zelenskiy is a major star on the channel has stoked worries among some investors and voters, and accusations from his political opponents, that he is in the pocket of Kolomoisky.
    Both Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky say their relationship is strictly professional, and centered on the comedian’s TV work.    Both say no undue influence is being exerted by the oligarch, whose businesses range from banking and energy to aviation.
    “I’m more his puppet than he is mine,” Kolomoisky said last year.
    “It is impossible to influence me,” Zelenskiy told the news website Gordon in December.    “Neither Kolomoisky, nor any other oligarch, no one will influence me.”
    Zelenskiy said last month he was in the process of exiting all his businesses, which includes the production company whose shows run on 1+1.    Asked whether the relationship was a weak spot for him, Zelenskiy told Reuters: “We are working according to TV contracts and it is fine.    It is business.”
    However President Poroshenko has sought to make political capital out of the connection between the two men as he fights to make up ground to the comedian before the run-off vote on April 21.
    “In the past few weeks my opponents have poured on me rivers of shameless lies.    The main source of these lies in recent months – deplorable as it may be – has been 1+1.    1+1 has turned into the obedient implementer of the political assignments of its owner,” Poroshenko said.
    “Though the latter may have fled abroad, he still plays the pre-election political chessboard, sometimes moving the Ze (Zelenskiy) pieces, sometimes the Yu (former prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) pieces. Kolomoisky is motivated by a desire for revenge against the state,” he wrote on Twitter.
    Kolomoisky has lived abroad since clashing with Poroshenko over Ukraine’s largest bank, which he used to own.    In a November interview to Ukrainian news site, he worried Ukraine’s judicial system would stop him from leaving the country if he came back.
    Zelenskiy announced he was running for president on December 31 on 1+1, upstaging Poroshenko, who was giving a traditional New Year’s Eve address to the nation at the same time.
    On Saturday, the channel’s Zelenskiy-themed schedule included shows where he and fellow actors performed jokes, sketches and songs, and a documentary voiced by Zelenskiy about Ronald Reagan, a popular actor who became U.S. president.
    Poroshenko is part of the same wealthy elite as Kolomoisky, having made a fortune from confectionery that earned him the sobriquet of “Chocolate King.”
    “The strategic dilemma will be what do you prefer, an oligarch or someone possibly controlled by an oligarch, the puppet or a puppeteer?” said regional analyst and political consultant Radu Magdin.
    Kolomoisky makes no secret of his dislike for Poroshenko, and the two have clashed repeatedly over issues that threatened Kolomoisky’s businesses.
    No hard evidence has been presented by any of Zelenskiy’s opponents that Kolomoisky is indeed pulling the strings behind the campaign.
    But the ties between the two men have led some political analysts and Western diplomats to question how zealously Zelenskiy would try to implement reforms needed to speed up economic growth and keep foreign aid flowing if they clashed with Kolomoisky’s interests.
    In particular, the relationship puts the spotlight on the fate of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, which the government wrested from Kolomoisky in 2016 in a clean-up of the banking system under an International Monetary Fund bailout program.
    The government pumped billions of dollars into shoring up PrivatBank’s finances, saying money had been fraudulently siphoned off from the lender while Kolomoisky owned it.    Kolomoisky denied any wrongdoing and has challenged the nationalization in court.
    Asked if there were concerns about Zelenskiy’s ties to Kolomoisky, Edwin Gutierrez, head of Emerging Market Sovereign Debt at Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “That is there, but at the end of the day the oligarchs always rule the roost in Ukraine.”
    “Maybe this will be another Yanukovich moment where everyone gets excited but then in the end Ukraine disappoints,” he added, referring to former President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia after the 2014 Maidan street protests.
    Asked in a Reuters interview whether he would hand PrivatBank back to Kolomoisky if elected, Zelenskiy said in February: “Am I that crazy?    Do I want to lose my life, reputation?
    Accusations from Poroshenko and his allies that Zelenskiy is being controlled by an oligarch has lent an ironic twist to the presidential race.
    Zelenskiy’s campaign has been propelled by his TV show, Servant of the People, where he plays a scrupulously honest history schoolteacher who becomes president by accident.
    He challenges the old way of doing things, outwitting shadowy oligarchs and corrupt politicians.    The series blurs the line between fiction and reality, between the make-believe president and the real-life challenger.
    In the first scene of the first series, three shadowy power-brokers are surveying Kiev’s Maidan square from a rooftop balcony at night while sipping drinks and talking about how they spend money to bring their puppet politicians to power.
    “It’s one week before the election.    We worked hard for our candidates.    They’re almost neck and neck, now let the best man win,” says one.
    “What good will that bring me?” asks another.
(Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London; Editing by Pravin Char)
[I am waiting to hear someone say that the Russians made a comedian run against Poroshenko.].

4/2/2019 Merkel: Germany, like U.S., thinks Russia has violated nuclear arms treaty
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the Thomas-Mann High School as part of the
Europe-Project Day in Berlin, Germany, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany, like the United States, believes that Russia has breached the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has said Washington will withdraw from the 1987 INF treaty, this summer unless Moscow ends its alleged violations – an announcement that Merkel said she understood.    Russia denies violating the INF treaty.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

4/2/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow on Thursday
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a
news conference in Jerusalem April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Moscow on Thursday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Israeli leader’s office said on Tuesday.
    The statement did not elaborate on the intended topics of discussion.    The two leaders will meet five days before Israel’s April 9 election in which the right-wing Netanyahu faces a strong challenge from a centrist candidate.
    On Monday, Netanyahu told reporters he and Putin spoke by telephone about Syria, whose Russian-backed president, Bashar al-Assad, has been gaining ground in an eight-year civil war.
    Israel worries Assad’s Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements could set up bases to attack it from Syria, and has carried out scores of air strikes against them.
    Thursday’s meeting could also help Netanyahu in the closely contested election, in which he has played up his statecraft and security credentials in the face of the politically untested challenger Benny Gantz, a former military chief.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)
[Watch out Netanyahu the other party may claim Russian collusion help get you re-elected and start a probe.].

4/2/2019 Colombia rejects Russia warning against Venezuelan military action
Colombian President Ivan Duque speaks during the presentation of a security report, accompanied by the military
commands in the presidential palace, in Bogota, Colombia April 2, 2019. Courtesy of Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia on Tuesday rejected a Russian warning against foreign military intervention in Venezuela and said it supported a peaceful transition to democracy in the neighboring South American country.
    “Colombia reiterates that the transition to democracy must be conducted by the Venezuelans themselves peacefully and within the framework of the Constitution and international law, supported by political and diplomatic means, without the use of force,” Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in a statement.
    He was responding to a March 28 letter from the upper house of Russia’s parliament, forwarded to Colombia’s Congress by Russian Ambassador Sergei Koshkin, that said the “illegitimate use of military force against Venezuela by other states that support the opposition will be interpreted … as an act of aggression against a sovereign state.”
    Russia has emerged as a staunch backer of Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro as his nation descended into political turmoil this year.    The United States and dozens of other nations have backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
    Colombia, which supports Guaido, has repeatedly denied it has any intention of launching a military offensive across its border with Venezuela.
    But in his statement on Tuesday, Trujillo said military support for Maduro’s socialist government risked harming the transition to democracy while threatening regional peace and security.
    The March touchdown near Caracas of two Russian air force planes carrying some 100 Russian special forces and cyber-security personnel has raised international concerns about Moscow’s backing for Maduro. Russia, which has supplied fighter jets, tanks, and air defense systems to Venezuela, has dismissed U.S. criticism of its military cooperation with Caracas saying it is not interfering in the Latin American country’s internal affairs and poses no threat to regional stability.
    Colombia acted as a staging ground in February as the United States and other countries supported Guaido’s effort to transport hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid into Venezuela.    Maduro, who dismisses Guaido as a U.S. puppet, blocked the aid and Venezuelan troops pushed back protesters with tear gas.
    Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia to escape widespread food and medicine shortages in their chaotic homeland, seeking jobs locally and passage into other Latin American countries.
(Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Tom Brown)

4/2/2019 Slovakia’s president-elect boosts liberal parties, ruling leftists fall: poll
Newly elected Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova arrives to attend a televised
debate in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – The election of anti-graft lawyer Zuzana Caputova as Slovakia’s president has boosted her liberal, pro-European Union party’s prospects in EU elections, against the grain of rising populism across the continent, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.
    Caputova’s success has given a dose of optimism to Europe’s liberal camp ahead of the May elections, where eurosceptic parties are expected to make gains around the continent.
    Her Progressive Slovakia (PS) party, which will run in the EU election on a joint slate with Spolu (Together) party, saw their joint support double since February to 14.4 percent, an AKO agency poll of 1,000 people conducted on April 1-2 said.
    Neither of the two parties have any seats in the national or European parliaments at the moment.
    If successful, the PS candidates would join the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament while Spolu would join the European People’s Party (EPP).
    President-elect Caputova said she would quit PS in coming days in a nod to a tradition that the president, who does not wield day-to-day power, is usually non-partisan.
    On the other end of the political spectrum, the AKO poll also showed rising support for the anti-European, far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia which rose to 11.5 percent in April from 9.5 percent in February.
    Its leader, Marian Kotleba, had also run for president and together with another anti-system, anti-immigration candidate, supreme court judge Stefan Harabin, clinched 25 percent in the presidential election’s first round last month.
    The ruling leftist but socially conservative party Smer, whose candidate lost to Caputova in the run off vote on     Saturday, saw its support fall to 19.7 percent in the opinion poll, under 20 percent for the first time in more than a decade.
    Smer remains the biggest group in parliament but has seen losses since last year’s murder of an investigative reporter that triggered mass protests and led to the resignation of Smer leader Robert Fico as prime minister.
    The three-party coalition Smer leads would lose its parliamentary majority after junior partners, Slovak national party (SNS) and ethnic-Hungarian Most-Hid, also lost support.
    A national parliamentary election is due in a year.
    Slovakia’s daily Dennik N reported on Monday that outgoing President Andrej Kiska, who endorsed Caputova before the vote, would announce the launch of a new party this week.
    Kiska, who has been a staunchly pro-western voice in Slovak politics and has often clashed with Fico’s Smer, is Slovakia’s most trusted politician with an approval rating of 57 percent, according to a separate AKO poll this month.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, Editing by William Maclean)
[The E.U. has 28 nations and multiple parties, which must make it a nightmare to have a consistent belief.    Can you imagine the U.S. 50 states with each one having their own party what a nightmare the country would be in.    Its bad enough with two or three parties, no wonder the UK of 4 countries wants out if they could quit fighting each other border issues and trade.].

4/3/2019 Twelve Western nations urge Romania to ditch judicial changes
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila delivers a speech during a debate on the priorities of the Romanian presidency of the E.U.
for the next six months, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Twelve Western nations urged Romania on Wednesday to scrap two planned emergency decrees altering judicial legislation, in a rare joint intervention that underlined U.S. and EU alarm over the threat to the rule of law in the former communist nation.
    The embassies’ joint statement coincided with a warning from the European Commission in Brussels saying it would take swift action against Romania if it failed to address its concerns over the independence of the judiciary.
    Romania’s ruling Social Democrats want to reduce the statute of limitations covering several offences, a move which would automatically shut down a number of ongoing corruption cases.     They have also backed a second decree that would allow politicians and others convicted of graft since 2014 to retroactively challenge the verdicts handed down by the supreme court.
    “The expected changes carry the risk of breaching common values,” the embassies of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States said in their joint statement.
    “Furthermore, they might have a lasting negative effect on the country´s economic development.”
    The decrees “apparently under discussion have the potential to impact on the independence of Romania’s judiciary, which would undermine Romanians’ and partners’ trust in the justice system, and in Romania’s government as well,” they said.
    The decrees would benefit several high-level politicians, including Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who was unable to become prime minister due to a 2015 suspended jail term imposed in a vote-rigging case.
    His appeal against a second conviction for inciting others to commit abuse of office in a separate case is nearing an end, with the next court date scheduled for April 15.
    The decrees would be a culmination of a series of legislative and personnel changes the Social Democrats have made since they took power two years ago that are seen as threats to judicial independence and could further heighten EU concerns about democratic values in some of its eastern states.
    Responding to the ambassadors’ appeal, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said: “I would like to remind [them] that I have a direct dialogue with my counterparts.    Ambassadors don’t make the prime minister’s agenda in … any state.”
    Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/3/2019 Slovakia’s departing president plans to form a new political party
Slovakia's President Andrej Kiska speaks at the party headquarters of Slovakia's presidential candidate
Zuzana Caputova in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s outgoing president said on Wednesday he would form a new political party when his term expires in June, aiming to unite the country’s liberal, pro-European Union camps.
    Andrej Kiska had not run for re-election but endorsed the eventual winner, Zuzana Caputova.    A civic campaigner and anti-graft lawyer, her landslide victory last weekend encouraged the pro-EU liberals Kiska hopes to lead.
    “Slovakia wants change. We won this election, now we have to win the general election,” Kiska said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.    “I will start a political party, and I want to unite all decent and willing people and change our country for the better.”
    The Slovakian presidency is largely ceremonial, but Kiska made it an influential office. He sided with protesters who mounted massive demonstrations after the killing last year of Jan Kuciak, a reporter covering corruption, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova.
    The protests led to the resignation of Robert Fico as prime minister.    Fico’s ruling party, Smer, saw its support plunge after Kuciak’s and Kusnirova’s murders.
    Political analysts said it was not clear whether Kiska, the country’s most trusted politician, with an approval rating of 57 percent, can unify the disparate opposition or will further fragment the centrist pro-EU, anti-graft camp.
    An AKO agency poll of 1,000 people last month showed 9 percent of voters would certainly and 31 percent would probably vote for his party if he set one up.
    Its natural allies, Caputova’s Progressive Slovakia, which runs on a joint slate with Spolu (Together) party, saw their joint support double since February to 14.4 percent.    Caputova will quit her party in the coming days in a nod to a tradition that the president is non-partisan.
    The leftist but socially conservative Smer saw its support fall under 20 percent for the first time in more than a decade.    Support for anti-European, far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia rose to 11.5 percent in April from 9.5 percent in February.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova)

4/3/2019 Ukrainian government bans gas price hikes before vote
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman speaks during a parliament session to review
a proposal by President Petro Poroshenko to introduce martial law for 60 days after Russia seized Ukrainian naval ships
off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea, in Kiev, Ukraine November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The Ukrainian government has banned state-run gas producer Naftogaz from raising consumer gas prices, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said on Wednesday, a move likely to please voters but disturb the country’s creditors.
    The ban, which took effect retroactively from April 1, was announced as President Petro Poroshenko, a Groysman ally, tries to boost his chances ahead of the second and final round of a presidential election on April 21.
    Poroshenko narrowly qualified for the run-off by coming second in a first round vote last Sunday, but faces a tough task to beat frontrunner Volodmyr Zelenskiy, a TV comedian-turned-politician.
    While capping consumer gas prices at their current level of 8.55 hryvnia ($0.32) per cubic meter, Groysman said on Wednesday that the government was at the same time authorizing Naftogaz to cut prices if favorable market conditions prevailed.
    Groysman said last month he would urge the finance ministry and Naftogaz to start talks with the International Monetary Fund to try to prevent any future rise in gas tariffs for households.
    The IMF, a major lender to Ukraine, has repeatedly urged Kiev to raise gas tariffs to market rates, making it a condition of future financial aid for the war-hit country.
    The Ukrainian government raised gas prices by nearly a quarter in October, allowing it to secure a new $3.9 billion stand-by aid agreement with the IMF.
    Gas prices are a sensitive issue in a country where a large part of the population lives on the verge of poverty, and the increase in October dented Poroshenko’s popularity with some voters.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

4/4/2019 Exclusive: Kids’ camp on a defense base? How Russian firms masked secret military work by Rinat Sagdiev, Anton Zverev and Maria Tsvetkova
Map showing the location of military camps near the settlement of Molkino in southern Russia. REUTERS/Maps4News/Reuters Graphics
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Behind the perimeter of a defense ministry base in southern Russia stand three barrack buildings where two witnesses say they have seen private fighters being billeted before they are dispatched to fight in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad.
    Yet on paper, the barracks have nothing to do with the Russian defense ministry: court documents list them as a children’s vacation camp.
    And the construction of the buildings was commissioned by an obscure private company, Megalain, without the publicly available paper trail that is legally required for projects funded by public money.
    Megalain is a firm linked to Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has appeared on a U.S. sanctions blacklist for his dealings with the Russian defense ministry.
    Reuters was unable to establish Prigozhin’s role, if any, in the construction project and could not determine how Megalain was selected to build the facility or who paid for it.
    But the secrecy surrounding the purpose of the buildings erected on defense ministry land is an example of how companies involved in the covert campaign in Syria, where private fighters support Russia’s military, camouflage their activities.
    That military intervention has been decisive in turning the tide of the war in favor of Moscow’s ally, Assad.
    A significant part of the fighting is conducted by private military fighters who operate in coordination with the Russian defense ministry, dozens of people familiar with the deployment of Russian fighters to Syria have told Reuters.
    The barracks near the village of Molkino in southern Russia were a staging post for these fighters, according to one person close to them who stayed in the buildings, and a second person who visited the site.
    The person close to the fighters also said that a photograph shown to him by Reuters, which appeared on the website of one of the companies involved in the construction project, was of a building used by the fighters.
    Russian military officials did not respond to a request for comment on the purpose of the facilities in Molkino.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the presidential administration knows nothing about the construction of the barracks and that “it was not our issue.”
    Megalain did not respond to a written request for comment and there was no answer on any of the phone numbers listed for the firm.
    Concord Management and Consulting, Prigozhin’s main business, said questions submitted by Reuters “have no relation to reality.”
    “We consider the agency itself to be a biased media outlet,” it said.
    Reuters has documented over several years how private combatants are fighting and dying in Syria, and that they are using logistical support and infrastructure provided by the Russian defense ministry.
    Russian officials have previously denied that these fighters have any connection to the state.    They have said any Russians fighting in Syria on the government side are private citizens who are there as volunteers.
    The buildings, completed in 2015, are on the territory of a Russian military intelligence base, and to gain access to it vehicles have to pass through a checkpoint manned by armed soldiers in defense ministry uniforms, Reuters reporters observed when they visited the site.
    The existence of the buildings is disclosed in court documents seen by Reuters which describe a legal dispute between Megalain and a contractor called Sevzapstroi involved in the construction.
    In its ruling, the court describes one of the buildings as a “pioneer camp” — a reference to Soviet-era summer vacation camps for children — and the other two buildings as temporary accommodation for the vacationers.
    It cites an agreement between Sevzapstroi and TD Vivahaus, a sub-contractor on the project, as the source of the descriptions.
    A manager from Vivahaus, a construction firm which court documents show was hired by Sevzapstroi to carry out some of the work, told Reuters it was required to fake the purpose of the buildings in official paperwork it filed relating to the project.
    “We had an agreement with the client that we’d write it would be a beautiful pioneer camp near the Black Sea,” said the manager, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    He did not specify whether he was referring to his direct client Sevzapstroi or the ultimate client Megalain.
    According to the court documents, Megalain transferred 86 million rubles ($1.4 million at the time) to contractor Sevzapstroi to construct the three buildings at Molkino.
    Sevzapstroi has since ceased to exist and no one connected to the firm could be reached for comment.
    At the time of the payment, Megalain was 50 percent owned by a company called Lakhta and 50 percent held by Concord Management and Consulting, according to Spark database, which collates official data on businesses from the tax service and the state statistics agency.
    Concord Management and Consulting was majority-owned by Prigozhin from 2003-2011, according to the database.
    At the time of the transaction with the Molkino facility, Concord was owned by Prigozhin’s mother.    She is not listed any more.    From 2017, Prigozhin himself became the owner again, the database showed.
    The second Megalain co-owner, Lakhta, was founded in 2003 by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who at the time was the sole owner, the database showed.
    Lakhta was owned from 2013 to 2018 by Svetlana Sobirova.    She was sales manager of the Lakhta Park real estate project, which, according to Spark, is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s wife, Lyubov.
    Reached by telephone, Sobirova said she no longer works for Lakhta Park and declined to comment further.    An employee of Lakhta Park said he could not comment and the firm did not respond to a written request for comment.
    A manager for Vivahaus said on Thursday the firm could not comment because all the staff working in the company in 2015 had since left.
    Reuters received no response to requests for comment sent to Prigozhin’s wife and mother, via Concord.
    Prigozhin was put on a U.S. sanctions blacklist in 2016 for “extensive” business dealings with the Russian defense ministry.
    A U.S. federal grand jury last year indicted Prigozhin and 12 other Russians, alleging that he funded a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    Prigozhin has in the past told Russian media he was not worried about the U.S. measures against him because he has no business interests in the United States and does not plan to travel there.
    The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Treasury Department, which administers sanctions, did not respond to questions about Prigozhin.
    TD Vivahaus’s internet site, in a section showing off its portfolio of work to prospective clients, had a picture of a building exactly matching one of the structures in the court documents.
    The site said only that it was a “residential building” in Molkino, without giving details.
    Reuters showed the photograph to one of the two witnesses, a person close to the group that organizes the private combatants and who has stayed at the group’s camp in Molkino.
    He told Reuters the building in the photograph was part of the camp used for the fighters.
    The second person visited the camp on two occasions last year when he was looking for information about his son, who left for Syria to fight with private combatants.
    Later the father learned that he had died.    The father also had a friend working for military intelligence at the camp adjacent to the barrack buildings.
    The father described to Reuters the exact location of the facilities, and his description matched the location of the buildings paid for by Megalain.
    “Children’s camp” on a Russian military base:
(Editing by Christian Lowe and Mike Collett-White)

4/4/2019 Cuba cuts newspaper size due to paper scarcity as shortages bite by Sarah Marsh
Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket in Havana, Cuba April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba says a paper shortage is forcing it to cut back on pages and circulation at several state-run newspapers including the Communist Party daily Granma, highlighting the severity of the country’s cash crunch as scarcity of basic goods increases.
    The Communist government said on Thursday that it was halving the edition size of some weeklies as well as Granma on certain days due to the lack of newsprint, which it imports.    It will also no longer publish the Union of Young Communists’ newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, on Saturdays.
    It was the first time Cuba had taken such a measure since the 1990s depression spawned by the fall of former ally the Soviet Union.    It comes as Cubans are having to queue sometimes for hours for basics such as eggs and flour whenever they appear on store shelves.
    Last year’s introduction of mobile internet and a state app called “Donde Hay” (“Where there is”) have to some extent multiplied the mayhem as they have made it easier for Cubans to find out in real time when new stock has arrived.
    “There’s nothing at the moment, and when they finally put something in the shops there are huge queues and you have to fight for it,” said Niurka Fontana, 33, a Havana resident who works at an ice-cream parlor.    “Every day it’s worse.”
    While Cubans have long faced sporadic shortages of particular items due to external shocks to the state-run economy and often dysfunctional central planning, widespread scarcity of some basic goods has picked up over the past few months.
    First it was medicine and then flour, then vegetable oil and now eggs and meat.
    “I’ve had this prescription for renal antibiotics on me for two months now, but you can’t find them anywhere,” said pensioner Georgie Pi.
    The shortages have pushed up prices of some goods on the black market that not all Cubans can afford given the average state salary is around $30 per month.
    The government has acknowledged that some shortages, like medicines, are due to a lack of imports of goods necessary for production.
    Cuba announced austerity measures three years ago due to lower exports and liquidity problems as aid from key ally Venezuela shrank amid its own economic crisis.
    It has since also had to contend with a tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo under President Donald Trump and the end of medical services exports to Brazil following the election of far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president.
    It faces another threat to its exports of doctors and nurses as protests roil old friend Algeria.
    President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the National Assembly in December that the government would be increasing austerity this year.
    The Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez said last month that egg production had recently been affected by problems with the importation of avian feed.    Cuba would import more of certain basic goods in upcoming months and take measures to avoid hoarding, he added.
    Many state-run shops are already rationing sales, creating a new headache for private eateries that do not have access to wholesale markets.
    Most Cubans say they are used to shortages, although some fear they will only get worse.
    “If there is a crisis in Venezuela, it affects us directly,” said state worker Carlos Perez, 51.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

4/5/2019 NATO approves measures to counter Russia amid internal rifts
    WASHINGTON – NATO foreign ministers approved a series of measures aimed at countering Russia in the Black Sea region, an agreement that comes amid public rifts between the United States and several of the other 28 members on security and trade issues.    In a meeting in Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO, the ministers agreed to provide Georgia and Ukraine with increased maritime cooperation, patrols and port visits.    Both countries have faced Russian aggression and have aspirations to join the alliance.

4/5/2019 Ukraine presidential rivals undergo televised drug tests by Andrei Makhovsky and Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian presidential candidate and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks with journalists after undergoing
a drugs and alcohol test, which is a precondition to participate in a policy debate ahead of the second round of a
presidential election, outside a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The two remaining candidates in Ukraine’s presidential race underwent televised drug and alcohol tests on Friday, capping a week in which they traded jibes in tit-for-tat social media videos and goaded each other to agree to a live policy debate.
    President Petro Poroshenko is facing Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience who plays a fictional president in a TV series, in a run-off on April 21 after neither obtained a majority of votes in the first round last Sunday.
    Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko, but the incumbent is fighting back by painting his rival as a lightweight who would put Ukraine’s security at risk.
    The comedian had demanded they both be tested for drugs after he accepted Poroshenko’s challenge for a policy debate in an apparent attempt to up the ante in their rivalry.
    Early on Friday, Zelenskiy, 41, was shown in a livestream on his Facebook page undergoing a blood test at a private laboratory.
    “I took a blood test.    They pumped all sorts of blood out of me.    But thank God, I have enough of it.    Young blood,” he told reporters afterwards.
    An hour later, several television channels broadcast live footage of Poroshenko, 53, having his blood drawn by a medic in red scrubs in a room inside Kiev’s main football stadium.
    Poroshenko, 53, submitted blood, hair and urine samples to four different laboratories, said Volodymyr Yary, the chief doctor at a Kiev state hospital.    He announced that the preliminary results from Poroshenko’s test showed that “no psychoactive substance was found.”
    Poroshenko goaded Zelenskiy for not accepting his invitation to have the tests done at the stadium alongside him.
    “I’m at the stadium today,” Poroshenko told reporters.    “Volodymyr Oleksandrovych, as I understand it, was not.    I came, but you didn’t.    No matter, I am sure that he will pick up the courage and come here and the debate will happen.”
    On Wednesday, Zelenskiy accepted Poroshenko’s challenge to take part in a policy debate but set his own conditions, including that it be held at the football stadium.
    Poroshenko released another video overnight accusing Zelenskiy of setting many preconditions as a way of avoiding the debate altogether.
    Asked after Friday’s drugs tests why he had not accepted Poroshenko’s request to take the test at the stadium, Zelenskiy said: “There is no laboratory there.    It was a very strange invitation.”
    He also said he would receive his results in three days.
    “We will show you the results.    Everything is done officially,” he said.
    No date has been set for the debate between the two candidates.    In the video posted online overnight, Poroshenko told his rival: “Man up, come to the debates.    We agreed on the stadium, I am waiting.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/5/2019 Kremlin says Trump idea for deal to cut arms spending should be looked at
FILE PHOTO - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that an idea floated by U.S. President Donald Trump for a deal between the United States, China and Russia to reduce spending on weapons production deserved attention and should be discussed further.
    Trump on Thursday lamented the amount of money that the United States, China and Russia spend on arms production, including nuclear weapons, and suggested that such money could be better spent elsewhere.
    “Any call in favor of disarmament deserves attention and high regard.    It’s very important that this call is not limited to declarations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

4/5/2019 Estonia election winner downplays chance of becoming prime minister by Tarmo Virki
Reform Party Chairwoman, Kaja Kallas, attends the opening session of newly elected
Estonian Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    TALLINN (Reuters) – The leader of Estonia’s largest political party received a formal request from the president on Friday to form a government, but quickly she downplayed her prospects of becoming prime minister.
    Kaja Kallas, head of the center-right Reform, pulled off a surprise win over the center-left government in a March 3 vote for parliament, but fell short of a majority.
    While she won backing in coalition talks with the Social Democrats, she failed to also win support from the Fatherland party in Estonia’s fragmented 101-member assembly.
    “I recognize I might not have enough support in parliament,” Kallas said in a statement.
    Centre Party Prime Minister Juri Ratas on March 11 invited the far-right EKRE to coalition talks, reversing a promise to block the anti-immigration party from the cabinet, and is expected to announce his own three-party coalition this weekend.
    Still, Kallas said Reform and the Social Democrats, which together have 44 seats in parliament, would seek support from individual members of the Centre and the Fatherland parties, some of whom oppose Ratas’ plan to tie up with the far right.
    Kallas now has two weeks to present a plan for forming a cabinet.    If she fails, President Kersti Kaljulaid can turn to Ratas who has worked for weeks on his alternative.
    Populist parties have won ground across Europe ahead of elections in May to the European Parliament.
    EKRE, whose fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015, got 19 seats in the March 3 vote, more than double the number from the previous election, winning broad support in rural areas.
    Its leaders have promised street unrest if they were left out of the cabinet.
    Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, while left-leaning Centre got 26 seats, the conservative Fatherland party got 12 seats and the Social Democrats 10.
(Editing by Terje Solsvik and Angus MacSwan)

4/5/2019 Comedian rips up the play book in Ukraine election success by Matthias Williams and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
A volunteer of a team managing social media pages of Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate
Volodymyr Zelenskiy works on the candidate's Instagram page at the election campaign office in
Kiev, Ukraine April 3, 2019. Picture taken April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – As a comedian, TV host and actor, Volodymyr Zelenskiy knows how to start a show with a bang.    He proved that by beating all comers in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election.
    As he plans for the grand finale, a runoff against President Petro Poroshenko on April 21, aides say he is sticking to an unorthodox campaign routine that has torn up the play book.
    Appearing to turn the tables on Poroshenko, Zelenskiy on Wednesday evening accepted his challenge to take part in a policy debate.    In a slick video with pumping music, he set his own conditions and gave his rival 24 hours to respond.
    Poroshenko’s campaign team had hinted Zelenskiy would duck out because the comedian, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, would risk showing himself up.
    Within 45 minutes of Zelenskiy’s video being posted on Facebook, it had been seen 141,000 times, shared more than 22,000 times and attracted 3,300 comments.    It left a live countdown for Poroshenko to respond.
    “You called me for a debate, dreaming that I would run away, duck out, hide.    No.    I’m not you in 2014,” said Zelenskiy, in a reference to Poroshenko not holding a debate during the previous election five years ago.
    Poroshenko responded with a much more sober video in which he accepted Zelenskiy’s condition of holding the debate in a huge soccer stadium.    But he cautioned: “Debate is not a show … This is no time to joke around.    Being a president and commander in chief is not a game.”
    Zelenskiy’s response to Poroshenko offered a snapshot of how he has upstaged his more experienced rivals, winning nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round of the election on March 31.
    Shunning traditional campaign tactics such as mass rallies or erecting tents in the street to distribute leaflets, he has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs where he pokes fun at rivals, presenting himself as an everyman who stands up to corrupt elites — a man to whom Ukrainians can relate.
    At stake is the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following the 2014 annexation of the Crimea peninsula and war in eastern Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists in which 13,000 people have been killed.
    Part of Zelenskiy’s campaign team works in a large house in an upscale area of the capital, Kiev.    Inside, the offices have glass walls with messages scrawled on them and are filled with volunteers in their twenties bent over laptops.
    “All that we do is to not be like everyone else,” said 28-year-old Michael Fedorov, whose team manages various Facebook, YouTube and Instagram pages.    “We do not want to write typical posts.    We do not want to speak the words that all politicians use.    We want to get away from this as much as possible.”
    He said Zelenskiy had from the start opposed traditional ways of doing things.    “As a result, we have one platform only – that’s the internet,” he said.
    Zelenskiy invites suggestions from Facebook followers on tackling problems such as high utility bills or their choice of prime minister.
    Dmytro Razumkov, Zelenskiy’s political adviser, said the comedian would not hold mass rallies before the second vote because the focus was on ensuring he comes across as authentic and transparent.
    “This is a person who is not a weather vane and does not change his position depending on whether it is more comfortable for a voter or less comfortable.    You have to run for president, honestly stating your position and what will you do,” he said.
    One challenge is attracting voters who are not internet-savvy — bridging the gap between online and offline.
    Oleksandr Korniyenko, another senior member of Zelenskiy’s team, said one technique to get around this was emailing voters with campaign messages and encouraging them to print out the email and distribute it.
    Another was encouraging Zelenskiy’s many young supporters to show his social media videos to older voters such as parents, he said.
    Hoping a high turnout will favor Zelenskiy, his team is trying to ensure younger voters cast their ballots in email messages with headlines likely to make them click and read.
    “Our emails are not the typical ‘You joined such and such a political party.’    Instead we might have a crazy headline,” Fedorov said.
    In the first round, an email was sent out by Zelenskiy’s team with the subject line “You’ve been left out.”    The message itself said “everyone has already voted except you” and urged those who had voted to encourage others to vote, Fedorov said.
    “We are not afraid to be creative,” he said.
    Zelenskiy has 3.3 million followers on Instagram, more than French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte combined.    Poroshenko has 234,000.
    The comedian’s posts offer snapshots of his life such as working out in the gym or going for a run, and allow him to poke fun at his rivals’ expense.
    When former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was eliminated in the first round of voting, posted a video of herself eating a hot dog at a popular gas station chain to show her common touch, Zelenskiy posted a picture of himself and his team eating a hotdog at the same chain.
    “In order to not be considered as just a joke, we decided to be serious like everyone else,” he wrote underneath.
    Zelenskiy is likely to come under more scrutiny over policy before the runoff, including in the debate.    He is wealthy and the image of the fictional president he plays, humble and scrupulously honest, is likely to be challenged by Poroshenko.
    Zelenskiy has been accused during the campaign of being the puppet of a rich businessman whose TV channel airs his shows.    Zelenskiy and the oligarch deny this, and both say their relationship is purely professional.
    Razumkov says the campaign has shown Zelenskiy is his own man.
    “In the Zelenskiy campaign, everything is completely different.    When he launched his campaign, he said: ‘I want to show how you can become president, but remain a human being.'
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/5/2019 Russia’s WTO ‘national security’ victory cuts both ways for Trump by Tom Miles
FILE PHOTO: The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters are pictured in
Geneva, Switzerland, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Russia won a dispute about “national security” at the World Trade Organization on Friday, in a ruling over a Ukrainian transit dispute that may also affect global automobile tariffs that could be imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    The WTO panel ruling, the first ever on the right to a national security exemption from the global trade rules, awarded Russia a legal victory because it had successfully invoked national security.
    The panel also confirmed the WTO’s right to review national security claims, denting U.S. claims that national security was not subject to review, and said any such claim should be “objectively” true, relating to weapons, war, fissionable materials or an “emergency in international relations.”
    “An emergency in international relations would, therefore, appear to refer generally to a situation of armed conflict, or of latent armed conflict, or of heightened tension or crisis, or of general instability engulfing or surrounding a state,” it said.
    Opponents of Trump’s tariffs have ridiculed the White House’s assertion that “economic security is national security” and have retaliated against U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs imposed in March last year, saying they are mere protectionism, with no link to national security.
    Trump is considering using the same legal basis for a 25 percent tariff on global imports of cars, which the WTO has said would be a bigger economic shock than the U.S.-China trade war.
    Invoking national security was taboo at the WTO for decades after it was founded in 1995.    Diplomats referred to it as “Pandora’s box” which could never be closed once it was opened, and would undermine the discipline of the WTO’s widely accepted rules.
    But in the past three years, Russia has cited it in the dispute with Ukraine, Trump has invoked it, and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have cited it in a dispute with Qatar.
    Ukraine went to the WTO in 2016, complaining of a huge reduction in trade with Asia and the Caucasus region after Russian President Vladimir Putin banned road and rail transport from Ukraine unless the route also went through Belarus.
    Russia’s Economy Ministry said that Friday’s ruling had recognised Ukraine’s arguments to be unfounded, and said the issue was of systemic importance for the WTO.
    Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said the ruling added weight to Russia’s arguments against Trump’s metals tariffs.
    The ruling can be challenged on appeal by Russia or Ukraine.    The panel comprised Georges Abi-Saab, an Egyptian former head of the WTO’s Appellate Body, Ichiro Araki, a Japanese expert on WTO law, and Mohammed Saeed, a Pakistani expert on customs and trade.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)
[Well the head of the Beast has awoken and spoken against Trump as the one who opened Pandora's box and is changing the world economics.].

4/6/2019 Polish opposition kicks off election campaign with ‘Polexit’ warning
FILE PHOTO: Grzegorz Schetyna of Civic Platform walks prior to media conference at
the Parliament in Warsaw, Poland January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s biggest opposition front launched its campaign for next month’s European Parliament election on Saturday by warning that the ruling eurosceptic PiS party could eventually lead the country out of the EU.
    Poles overwhelming support remaining in the bloc, and the Law and Justice party (PiS) has never called for Poland to leave.    But opposition leaders say the party’s fierce anti-EU rhetoric and a series of disputes with Brussels bring “Polexit” a step nearer.
    Seeking to appeal to voters’ pro-European sentiment, leaders of the opposition European Coalition (KE) said May’s European election poses a stark choice about the nation’s future.
    “There’s a great choice ahead: either strong, rich, democratic Poland in a strong Europe, or what we see today — party state, on its way to leave the EU,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, head of the centrist Civic Platform (PO), which is part of the multi-party KE grouping.
        “We’re facing elections to the European Parliament that are the most important elections since 1989.    Now even more is at stake,” he told a KE convention on Saturday, referring to the election 30 years ago that marked the return of democracy.
    If Poland was to hold a referendum similar to Britain’s Brexit ballot, 88 percent of Poles would vote against leaving the bloc, according to an opinion poll published this month by IBSP.
    A voter survey by the IBRiS pollsters gave PiS support of 39 percent in the European elections, ahead of the KE on 36.5 percent.
    The ruling party, which has governed Poland since 2015, has retained solid support among voters despite a series of corruption scandals and opposition criticism that its legal and media reforms are a thinly veiled power grab.
    Much of the party’s appeal among lower-income Poles is linked to targeted welfare spending, political analysts say.
    At Saturday’s campaign launch, Schetyna promised pay rises for teachers and extra financial support for young workers.
    He pledged to spend billions on an anti-cancer program, to reinstate funding for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment among tens of thousands of infertile couples, and improve air quality by stopping the use of coal for household heating.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Anna Koper; Editing by Helen Popper)
[Poland is in the battle between good and evil so continue to read to see which way they go on "Polexit."].

4/6/2019 Three Estonian parties, including far-right EKRE, agree on coalition plan by Tarmo Virki
FILE PHOTO: Estonia's Prime Minister Juri Ratas attends the opening session of newly elected
Estonian Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas unveiled a three-way coalition agreement with the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE group, which could see him hold power despite his Centre party having come second in an inconclusive election.
    The three parties, which have a total of 56 seats in the fragmented 101-member parliament, approved the coalition plan on Saturday, stealing the momentum from Estonia’s largest political party, Reform, a day after the president had asked its leader to form a government.
    Ratas invited EKRE to coalition talks on March 11, breaking a promise to block the anti-immigration party from the cabinet.
    The 36-page coalition plan includes some of EKRE’s strict immigration polices and pledges Estonia will not take in any refugees as part of a European Union-wide quota.
    The parties agreed on wider use of referendums, and that Estonia will hold a referendum in 2021 on whether a marriage should be defined in law as between a man and a woman.
    The parties also shared ministries between them – with Finance, Interior, Environment, Rural Affairs and Foreign Trade going to EKRE.
    The coalition pact includes a decision to sell off state assets such as road maintenance company Eesti Teed, and an up to 49 percent stake in freight logistics firm Operail.
    Reform leader Kaja Kallas pulled off a surprise win over the center-left government in a March 3 vote for parliament, but fell short of a majority.
    She has two weeks to present a plan for forming a cabinet.    If she fails, President Kersti Kaljulaid can turn to Ratas’ coalition.
    While she won backing in coalition talks with the Social Democrats, she failed to secure support from Fatherland or Centre.
    Kallas said Reform and the Social Democrats, which together have 44 seats in parliament, would seek support from individual members of the Centre and the Fatherland parties, some of whom oppose the tie up with the far right.
    Populist parties have won ground across Europe ahead of elections in May to the European Parliament.
    EKRE, whose fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015, got 19 seats in the March 3 vote, more than double the number from the previous election, winning broad support in rural areas.
    Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, while left-leaning Centre got 26 seats – but one member has already left the party, the conservative Fatherland party got 12 seats and the Social Democrats 10.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Johan Ahlander and Alexandra Hudson)
[It is obvious that there is a rising group of countries who are against imigration overflow.].

4/6/2019 Russia wants politicians in Libya to agree between themselves
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov adjusts his earphones during a news conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister
Sameh Shoukry (unseen) after a meeting at Tahrir palace in Cairo, Egypt April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia wants all the political forces in Libya to find an agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday during a visit to Cairo.
    He also warned against foreign meddling in Libya in a televised briefing with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Mark Potter)

4/7/2019 Independent march in Havana believed first for communist-run Cuba, organizers say by Sarah Marsh
People carry a banner reading "Cuba against animal abuse," during a march in defence
of animal rights, in Havana, Cuba April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Fernando Medina
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Cubans marched peacefully through Havana calling for an end to animal cruelty on Sunday in what organizers believe was the first independent march authorized by the one-party state.
    Accompanied by their pets, the activists carried placards calling for an animal protection law and chanted “down with animal abuse” as they walked through the central district of Vedado to the surprise of curious onlookers.
    That the Communist government authorized ordinary citizens to stage the march could point to an expanding tolerance for Cubans to express their views and even make demands, albeit still within limits, analysts and participants said.
    Authorities still crack down on opposition attempts to hold demonstrations and detain dissidents who they say are subversives in the pay of the United States, however.
    It was ironic that the first authorized independent march would be in support of animal and not human rights, but it could be a pilot test for greater freedoms, some march participants said.
    “This could be the new Cuba,” said organizer Beatriz Batista, a 21-year-old communications student who received a permit for the march from the municipal authority of her Havana borough.
    Others were more skeptical.
    “This enables the government to say ‘look how permissive we are.’    But is it really?” said dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who was briefly detained last week over a piece he plans to show on the sidelines of the upcoming Havana Biennial.
    Previous marches have been largely restricted to those organized by the government to celebrate Cuba’s 1959 leftist revolution or criticize its Cold War foe, the United States, religious processions, and an annual march by gay rights activists under the umbrella of a government organization.
    While physical public spaces in Cuba remain tightly controlled, a recent expansion of internet access in what was long one of the western hemisphere’s least connected countries has allowed citizens to mobilize more in the virtual realm.
    Sunday’s event was publicized on social media and independent online media.
    “Social media has really brought about miracles,” Batista said.
    The government appears to have become more tolerant of and even responsive to online activity since Miguel Diaz-Canel last April replaced Raul Castro as president last April.
    In December, the government postponed the full implementation of a decree clamping down on the arts after an online campaign protesting the law, and rowed back on regulations governing the private sector after entrepreneurs and experts complained.
    Some participants said they hoped in Sunday’s march signaled that people would now be able to take to the streets as well as the web.
    “Let’s hope this opens the door for more people to be able to hold such initiatives,” said Cuban artist Abu Tamayo.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

4/8/2019 Polish teachers strike over pay after talks with government fail
An empty classroom is seen during teachers' strike at a primary school in Warsaw, Poland April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Teachers across Poland held a strike on Monday b>after the government and unions failed to agree on proposed wage increases, the leader of the biggest teachers’ union ZNP said.
    Talks between three teachers trade unions and the government ended on Sunday evening with the ZNP and another union sticking by their demand of monthly salary increase of 1,000 zlotys ($262).    Only one smaller union agreed to the government’s offer of a 15 percent monthly increase starting from September.
    Public sector workers in Poland stepped up calls for pay increases after the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) promised in February a hefty increase social spending as part of its election campaign.
    “Today, at 0800, starts the biggest strike in education since 1993,” ZNP leader Slawomir Broniarz told private broadcaster TVN24.
    Many teachers are also unhappy with what they say has been a chaotic education reform.
    “We are ready to convince the government that this strike is not only economically motivated, but that this strike is also to defend the quality of education, which has been damaged in recent years,” Broniarz said.
    According to the ZNP, almost 80 percent of Polish schools and kindergartens have declared they would take part in the strike, but the union has not said how long it would last.
    In March thousands of workers at Polish courts and prosecutors’ offices took to the streets of Warsaw to demand better pay and working conditions.
    Teachers’ salaries in Poland range between 3,045 zlotys and 5,603 zlotys per month.    Official data in February showed the average corporate salary in Poland stood at around 4,949 zlotys.
    Middle school children are due to sit exams starting on Wednesday.
    “We made an appeal to teachers yesterday, and let me appeal to them again.    Of course, if you believe that the strike is necessary, then okay.    But please, do come back to your students during the forthcoming days when there are exams,” Michal Dworczyk, the head of prime minister’s office told public radio station PR1.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/8/2019 Russia, Turkey will continue efforts to establish peace in Syria: Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a meeting
in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 8 April 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey will continue their efforts to establish peace in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow on Monday.
    Putin also said he and Erdogan discussed the supply of S-400 missile systems to Turkey.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Mark Potter)

4/8/2019 Inspired by migrant caravans, new wave of Cubans seek U.S. asylum by Julia Love
Cuban migrants, waiting for their appointment to request asylum in the U.S., work at a restaurant in
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
    CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) – Isel Rojas put his dream of leaving Cuba on hold when the United States ended a generous immigration policy for island residents.    But watching coverage of migrant caravans heading from Central America toward the United States on Cuban television last year, he began to see a new path.
    One morning in January, he woke up and told his wife he was finally ready.    Fifteen days later, he was gone.
    “i>If they can do it, why can’t we?” said Rojas, a 48-year-old who worked in agriculture in the eastern city of Holguin, recalling the images of young men and families traveling en masse to the Mexico-U.S. border.
    Rojas is now waiting to apply for U.S. asylum in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, which has become a magnet for Cuban migrants.
    Political repression and bleak economic prospects remain the primary reasons cited by Cubans for migrating from the Communist-ruled island, a Cold War foe of the United States.    But some in Ciudad Juarez say news of the caravans also motivated them, giving them the impression the United States was accepting migrants.
    Since early last year, the caravans have been a frequent target of U.S. President Donald Trump as he advocates for stricter immigration policies. Critics say the president’s statements about the caravans, including a series of angry tweets, have ironically enlarged the groups and publicized asylum as a possible avenue to legal status.
    “The person who created the media coverage and who drove the issue of the caravans has been President Trump,” Tonatiuh Guillen, the head of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, said on local radio last week.
    The addition of Cubans to those flows is adding to the pressure on already overwhelmed shelters and border authorities in Mexico and the United States. More than 100,000 people were apprehended or presented themselves to authorities in March, the White House said on Friday, calling it the highest number in a decade.    Trump has threatened a border shutdown or tariffs on Mexico in retaliation.
    What’s more, some say Trump’s harder line on Cuban relations has contributed to a sense of gloom on the economically weak and tightly controlled island.
    The White House and the Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Mexico’s migration institute declined to comment.
    Like Rojas, many Cubans who reached northern Mexico in recent months ultimately traveled with a smaller group, and caravans were not a factor for all who left. But a caravan of 2,600 migrants currently contained by authorities in southern Mexico, the largest this year, includes dozens from the island.    Mexican immigration officials said they flew some 60 Cubans home on Friday.
    In Ciudad Juarez, Cubans represent 75 to 80 percent of some 3,600 migrants in town, said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the state commission for population.    The wait to apply for asylum is about two months, shelter directors say.
    The bottleneck highlights a new reality: Cubans do not enjoy the same advantages they once did in the U.S. immigration system.
    “For the first time this year, Cubans are being treated like everyone else,” said Wilfredo Allen, a Miami-based lawyer who works with Cuban migrants.    “The special door for the Cubans has already closed.”
    In 2017, U.S. President Barack Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to stay but returned any intercepted at sea, triggering a decline in immigration from the island.
    In the first five months of fiscal-year 2019, 6,289 Cubans turned up at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border without papers.    That number is on track to nearly double the total for the whole of fiscal-year 2018, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
    While Cubans generally face slightly better chances of receiving asylum than Central Americans because their tales of political persecution are often more clear-cut, success is anything but assured, Allen said.
    Allen estimates only 20 to 30 percent of his Cuban clients will win their cases.
    That message has not reached those in Ciudad Juarez, many of whom sold their vehicles, businesses or homes to finance the trip.    Some have literally bet the farm.
    “They say that we have priority, that (the United States) will accept us in one form or another,” said Rojas, who sold almost half his cattle.    “They always accept us.”
    Cubans lucky enough to get a U.S. visa, to visit family for example, can fly there legally and are eligible to apply for residency after a year in the United States. For most though, reaching the United States is no easy feat.
    Even before “wet foot, dry foot” ended, Cubans began forging new routes, flying into countries in Central and South America with loose visa requirements and then heading north.    Only a few countries, such as Guyana, do not require visas for Cubans.
    Last year, Panama made it easier for Cubans to come to the country to shop, creating another opening for some from the island to reach Central America.
    Arasay Sanchez, 33, said she was browsing the internet in a park one day when she saw a story about the caravans.
    After selling her house and most of her belongings, Sanchez flew into Panama on Jan. 25, she said.
    She relied on a seven-page guide she inherited from Cubans who had traveled to the United States, detailing everything from where to sleep to where to buy a phone. On the trail, it was among her most valuable possessions – she carried it in her clothes.
    The route ended in Ciudad Juarez, regarded by many Cubans as a safer and more orderly place to seek asylum than other more crowded Mexican border crossings, despite its reputation as one of the world’s most violent cities.    Ciudad Juarez, just south of El Paso, Texas, received relatively few asylum seekers until late last year.
    Many are dismayed by the long wait they find, shelter directors say, and they are increasingly concerned about safety after reports of Cubans going missing in Mexico. Few leave the shelters, 10 migrants said in interviews.
    Sanchez and her partner arrived in Ciudad Juarez in late February, moving from shelter to shelter and struggling with spicy Mexican food.
    “Even the candy” has chile, she said, clutching the extra folds of fabric in her jeans to show she had lost weight.
    Experts do not expect the flow of Cuban migrants to ebb anytime soon.    Obama made it easier for Americans to travel to the island, generating new business.    But that money dried up after Trump tightened the rules, said Pedro Freyre, a lawyer who studies the U.S.-Cuba relationship.
    What is more, a gradual opening of the island’s private sector triggered a backlash from conservatives, creating headaches for small businesses, Freyre said.
    Reaching the United States would end a long quest for Reinaldo Ramirez, a 51-year-old construction contractor from the western town of Jaguey Grande.    Starting in 2006, he tried and failed to reach Florida seven times by boat – including the day Obama canceled “wet foot, dry foot.”
    The new route has been just as arduous. After flying into Guyana in September, Ramirez and his wife had to hike across the Darien Gap, a remote stretch of jungle straddling Panama and Colombia. After they crossed the first time, Panamanian authorities deported them to Colombia, forcing them to repeat the trek.
    Ramirez arrived in Ciudad Juarez about three weeks ago, and hundreds of asylum seekers are ahead of him in line.    But he cannot help but feel that he is close.
    “I’ve almost achieved my objective, my American dream,” he said.
(Reporting by Julia Love; additional reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez, Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Sarah Marsh in Havana, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney)

4/9/2019 Hungarians start European news agency with pro-Orban content by Marton Dunai
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban presents the programme of his Fidesz party for
European Parliament elections in Budapest, Hungary April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A small group of Hungarian business leaders and politicians close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban have founded an international news agency in London that aims to cover news especially in central and eastern Europe.
    Orban’s associates have gained control over a large chunk of Hungary’s media in recent years and his Fidesz party has taken total control of state media, provoking international accusations that they are weakening freedom of speech.     However, Orban has been unable to control international news coverage, which has been far more critical of him than local media.    The new agency’s early content suggests it is more sympathetic to him.
    The new company, called V4NA, was registered in London by Hungary’s ambassador to the UK, Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, on Dec. 31, 2018, according to company filings.
    Last month, Arpad Habony, Orban’s main spin doctor and eminence grise, acquired a 40 percent stake in V4NA via his London political advisory firm, Danube Business Consulting Ltd.
    Subsequently, New Wave Media Group, owned by KESMA, a foundation that controls most of Hungary’s pro-government media, acquired a 57 percent stake from Szalay-Bobrovniczky.
    Despite its huge role in the Hungarian media market, KESMA was exempted from regulatory scrutiny last year on grounds that it was a strategic national asset.
    V4NA’s name reflects a focus on the Visegrad Four countries – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.    It plans to focus more on other centers in the run-up to European Parliament elections due in May.
    “Our team of 50 journalists and rapid-response news teams are on location where the leading stories happen in Europe: London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bratislava, Warsaw,” the agency says on its web site,
    Most of the site’s content is behind a paywall, but the selection of front-page headlines resonates with the populism of Orban, one of the fiercest critics of immigration to Europe.
    “Migrant kills wife after she converts to Christianity,” says one headline from Monday.    A report about Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s League, anti-immigrant interior minister and ally of Orban, was headlined “Salvini: Citizens should control Europe.”
    “Hungarian minister on EP elections: Hungarian votes also matter” and “Immigration is a war of cultures and civilizations” were headlines that borrowed directly from Orban’s rhetoric.
    V4NA and KESMA did not immediately reply to Reuters’ questions.    Habony could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[Orban do what you have to do to get your message out because in the U.S. the news services are still under control of the Obama continued "FAKE NEWS" services from the Liberal Progressive Socialists and if it was not for One America News broadcasts I would not get the truth of what is going on in America.    So keep fighting them to get your message out.].

4/9/2019 Fincantieri, two others interested in patrol ship tender, says Bulgaria
FILE PHOTO: A rocket is launched from the Bulgarian navy frigate "Drazki" to simulate an attack on a mock submarine,
during the BREEZE 2014 military drill in the Black Sea July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Italy’s Fincantieri, German shipyard Luerssen and Bulgaria’s MTG Dolphin are expected to file bids in a tender to build two patrol ships for the Bulgarian navy, a senior official said on Tuesday.
    The Black Sea country is looking to replace its three aging Soviet-made patrol ships with the new vessels and has set April 16 as the deadline for bids.
    It raised the budget for the new ships by 20 percent to 984 million levs ($567 million) last year after a previous tender collapsed over financial terms.
    Rear Admiral Mitko Petev, commander of the Bulgarian Navy – which also has three Belgian frigates – said the patrol boats would be equipped with weaponry for air and underwater combat and helicopter landing platforms.
    He told public television BNT that Luerssen, Fincantieri and MTG-Dolphin had expressed interest in the tender.
    Bulgaria plans to spend about 4.5 billion levs in the next ten years to upgrade its armed forces with new ships, fighter jets and combat vehicles.
    Sofia hopes to seal a deal this summer with the United States for eight F-16 fighter jets to replace its aging Soviet-made MiG-29s and improve compliance with NATO standards.
($1 = 1.7354 leva)
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by John Stonestreet)

4/9/2019 European court rules Russia violated rights of opposition leader Navalny
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny pays respect to founder of Russia’s oldest human rights group and
Sakharov Prize winner Lyudmila Alexeyeva in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Russia violated the rights of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by placing him under house arrest in 2014 and imposing other restrictive measures on him.
    Navalny was held under house arrest for months from February 2014 while he and his brother Oleg were investigated for embezzlement in a case his supporters called politically motivated.
    The court in Strasbourg said in a judgment that the house-arrest order had not been justified and that tough restrictions on him communicating with the outside world had been out of proportion with the criminal charges he faced.
    It said it was “apparent he had been treated in that way in order to curtail his public activities.”
    “Victory,” Navalny wrote on social media in response to the ruling.    “I am sure this ruling will have important consequences for all those in Russia who are constantly subjected to this kind of lawlessness.”
    The 42-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is Russia’s most prominent opposition figure.    He sought to compete in Russia’s presidential elections in March 2018, but was barred because of a prior conviction.
    President Vladimir Putin won re-election by a landslide.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/9/2019 Russia asks Interpol to arrest Kremlin critic Bill Browder again: letter by Guy Faulconbridge
FILE PHOTO: Businessman Bill Browder speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman
Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the
Old Bailey, in London, Britain, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Russia has asked Interpol for the seventh time to arrest Bill Browder, a London-based Kremlin critic who leads a campaign to punish Russian officials for the 2009 death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
    Once the biggest foreign money manager in Moscow, Browder has become one of the most vociferous Western critics of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, Russia’s preeminent leader since 1999.
    Interpol’s Commission for the Control of Files wrote to Browder’s lawyers to say that Russia’s National Central Bureau had requested his arrest for charges including deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion.
    “The NCB of Russia has authorized the Commission to disclose to you its wish to request police cooperation for your client through an INTERPOL diffusion to arrest,” Interpol said in a letter dated Jan 21, 2019.
    Russia casts Browder as a criminal.    Browder casts Russia as a criminal state.    Russia has repeatedly asked Interpol to arrest Browder, who was sentenced in absentia by a Russian court to nine years in prison for deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion.
    Interpol has rejected the requests six times.    Browder says he is the victim of a vendetta by corrupt officials in the Russian state and denies all the charges.
    Such is Browder’s notoriety that Putin even suggested to U.S. President Donald Trump last year in Helsinki that Russian officials be allowed to question him for allowing associates to earn $1.5 billion without paying any proper Russian tax.
    Interpol’s eight-person Commission, which includes a Russian lawyer previously involved in drafting Russian state requests for assistance in pursuing Browder, will consider Russia’s request on April 15-19.
    “It is envisaged that the NCB’s request should be studied by the Commission during its 108th session which will take place 15 to 19 April 2019,” the letter said.
    American-born Browder, who made millions in Russian markets, has lobbied Western governments to adopt “Magnitsky Acts” to impose sanctions on Russian officials for corruption and rights abuses.
    “Something needs to be fixed at Interpol if dictators can go back unlimited times to chase their enemies with bogus warrants,” Browder said on Twitter.
(Editing by Kate Holton)
[The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.    Since 2016 the bill, which applies globally, authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S..].

4/9/2019 Russia expands reach in Venezuela despite warnings from U.S by OAN Newsroom
    Venezuela and Russia are joining together in the energy and finance sectors.    In a news conference Monday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza announced — what he called — strategic agreements made between the two countries.
    “13 agreements were signed, eight technical submissions were celebrated in the areas of transportation, culture, agriculture, education, science, industry, mining and commerce, finance, energy, and technical-military cooperation,” he announced.
    The bilateral cooperation seems to further the Russian-Venezuelan alliance despite President Trump’s warning late last month for the Kremlin to get out of Venezuela.
    The agreement comes after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuelan crude oil as well as officials tied to embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. (Photo/Reuters/Carlos García Rawlins)
    During the conference, Arreaza insisted the sanctions have not affected the country.
    “They say that Venezuela is isolated with the commercial and financial blockade, they try to give the impression that Venezuela is isolated — nothing is further from that,” he stated.
    The foreign minister resorted to accusing the U.S. of imperialism, which is a tactic the Maduro regime has used in the past to undermine U.S. intervention in the struggling nation.
    Russia and Venezuela are currently implementing joint investments in several sectors, including agriculture, energy and defense technology.

4/9/2019 Putin, on Mueller report: ‘We said from the start it would find nothing’ by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session of the International Arctic Forum
in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    ST PETERSBURG/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday commented for the first time on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s completed report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, saying Moscow had always said it would find nothing.
    U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a summary released last month that Mueller had found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the election.
    Putin, speaking at an Arctic forum in the Russian city of St Petersburg, said on Friday that Mueller’s findings were predictable for Moscow.
    “We said from the start that this infamous commission of Mr Mueller’s would not find anything because nobody knows this better than us.    Russia did not meddle in any elections in the United States.    There was no collusion, as Mr Mueller said, between Trump and Russia.”
    Putin said the original allegations of collusion were “complete nonsense” that had been invented for domestic U.S. political consumption and as part of what he described as America’s internal political struggle.
    The U.S. Attorney General told lawmakers on Tuesday that he intends to release the Mueller report to the public within a week.
    While the Mueller report cleared Trump of colluding with Russia it did not clear Moscow of trying to meddle in the 2016 vote.    U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia did interfere, with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord.
    When asked at the same event whether he wanted to see Trump re-elected next year, Putin declined to express a view, citing a long list of disagreements with the Trump administration and saying that the question of Trump’s possible re-election was purely a matter for the American people.
    But Putin, who has praised Trump in the past, said he hoped Moscow and Washington would be able to work together to try to resolve their many differences on the international stage once what he described as the U.S. political crisis was over.
    Putin in July last year said he had wanted Trump to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election because Trump had spoken of wanting to repair U.S.-Russia relations.
    Overshadowed by the Mueller report and disagreements over everything from Syria to Ukraine, relations between Russia and the United States have in fact got worse under Trump.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

4/9/2019 President Putin: Mueller’s probe validates Russia on no collusion by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in on the special counsels findings for the first time, saying it validates Moscow’s repeated denial of collusion with President Trump’s campaign.
    While speaking at a forum in Saint Petersburg Tuesday, Putin said claims of collusion by Democrats reflect their failure to accept the outcome of the 2016 election.    He called the allegations “complete nonsense,” and said he believes their attacks on the president is disrespect to voters and reflect a crisis in America’s political system.
    This comes after U.S. Attorney General William Barr reported that a summary of Robert Mueller’s probe found no evidence of collusion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at a plenary session of the International Arctic Forum
in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
    “Initially, we were saying that this notorious commission of Mr. (Robert) Mueller wouldn’t find anything, because nobody knew it better than us.    Russia didn’t interfere in any election in the U.S. That’s the first, and secondly, there was no kind of collusion between President Trump and Russia that Mr. Mueller was looking for.    We had never met with Mr. Trump.    Yes, he came to Moscow, but as a businessman." — President Vladimir Putin – Russia.
    When asked if Russia would support President Trump’s reelection in 2020, Putin said that Moscow would “respect the choice of the American people.”
[Wow, Democrats are being dissed by Russian president for their improper allegations and actions and may find themselves in their own convictions in the upcoming election in 2020.].

4/9/2019 France and Germany concerned about Polish judiciary
People carry Polish flags during a march marking the 100th anniversary of Polish
independence in Warsaw, Poland November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – France and Germany expressed concern over the independence of Polish courts at a meeting of European Union ministers on Tuesday, keeping up pressure on Warsaw to drop changes to the judiciary that the EU believes undermine the separation of powers.
    Last week, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland over a new disciplinary system for judges, which the Commission argues is meant to scare them into sentencing in line with the wishes of the ruling euro-sceptic and nationalist PiS party.
    “We hope that the infringement procedure launched by the European Commission last week regarding the new disciplinary regime for judges will allow some improvements, in particular regarding the right to an effective remedy before an independent and impartial court,” a Franco-German statement said.
    The Commission, guardian of the EU treaties, has already opened two infringement procedures against Poland, in mid-2017 and in mid-2018, over changes to retirement provisions for Polish judges and the possible impact on their independence.
    Poland is also already subject to an unprecedented EU rule-of-law procedure, called Article 7 from the article of the EU treaty it is based on, since 2017 over judiciary reforms.
    The process could in theory result in Poland losing its EU voting rights, though this is unlikely because all other 27 EU member states would have to agree.    Hungary, also under the same procedure, has vowed to veto such a move.
    “We want to seize the opportunity … to stress, once again, our concerns regarding the overall situation created by the reform of the judiciary system in Poland,” the joint statement said.
    “In our view, the combined effect of the legislative changes could put at risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland,” it said.
    Paris and Berlin said concerns over the rule of law in Poland that led to the launch of the Article 7 procedure had not been completely and properly addressed.
    “We reaffirm our support to the Commission in this regard… In view of the recent developments, we propose to hold a new session of the hearing of Poland after the European elections … in June.”
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Giles Elgood)
[Give them hell Poland and Hungary for their demand to control your thoughts against what you believe to be righteous.].

4/9/2019 U.S. aid agency plans ‘framework’ to counteract Russia influence globally
FILE PHOTO: Russian flag flies with the Spasskaya Tower of Moscow's Kremlin in the
background in Moscow, Russia February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development said on Tuesday the agency would soon unveil an effort to try to use U.S. assistance to counteract Russian influence around the world.
    “USAID will soon unveil a Framework to help us counter malign Kremlin influence, especially in Europe and Eurasia,” Mark Green said at a hearing of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
    Green said the USAID budget request for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020, included $584 million in State Department and USAID foreign assistance for that work, as well as efforts to “aggressively communicate” about what he called “authoritarian financing tools.”
    He provided no further details.
    Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has sought to deepen its international influence, including by granting loans to countries in Latin America and elsewhere.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

4/10/2019 Hungary will not soften laws to allow Soros college to stay by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO - Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in
London, Britain June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will not relax rules for international universities despite pressure from the European Union and offers from Germany to mediate in a row over a college founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros, the government spokesman said on Wednesday.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a nationalist who has often clashed with the European Union, has been accused of restricting academic freedom with his new higher education rules, which the Central European University said forced it out of the country.
    “There is no change in our core view,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Reuters.    “We will not change the laws and regulations that govern higher education in Hungary.    We still operate on that basis.”
    Central European University, set up by Soros, a Hungarian-born liberal philanthropist, will move part of its operations to Austria from September because of rules forbidding it to issue U.S. degrees.
    The dispute, often seen as a proxy for disagreements between Soros and Orban on migration, is one of the main issues that caused the European Peoples’ Party to suspend Orban’s Fidesz before European Parliament elections.
    At the initiative of Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate to head the EU executive after the May elections, the government of the German state of Bavaria and the Technical University of Munich stepped in to help.
    Offering three new professorships and new courses to augment CEU’s teaching, they said they would open a way for CEU to issue international degrees.
    A Hungarian government official told an opposition member of the Budapest parliament that Hungary considered Bavarian participation in the Hungarian higher education sector “a step that builds trust.”
    Balazs Orban, a state secretary on the prime minister’s staff, said the government was “ready to examine the possibility for issuing diplomas recognized in the United States and Germany as well as in Hungary.”
    But he reiterated that all universities had to comply with Hungarian law, and Kovacs also made it clear that Bavarian participation, while welcome, would lead to no legal amendments.
    CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff was not immediately available to comment.    He said in a statement last month that to reverse a plan to leave Budapest CEU wanted a clear political commitment from Orban that it could issue degrees freely.
    “This political commitment (must be) backed up by legislation that provides legally binding authorization for all of CEU’s operations in Budapest,” Ignatieff said.
    After the Bavarian offer and the EPP’s threat to oust Fidesz “a door has opened,” Ignatieff said subsequently, but legal guarantees were still critical.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Giles Elgood)
[Hungary built a wall to control immigration and they will enforce that as they want and all deals with E.U. will be based on their legislation only and Soros will not get his way in any form.].

4/10/2019 Castro says Cuba will not abandon Venezuela despite U.S. ‘blackmail’ by Sarah Marsh
Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro is seen on television, addressing members of the National Assembly during the
enactment of the new constitution, at a photo studio, in Havana, Cuba April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fernando Medina
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro said on Wednesday Cuba would never abandon its leftist ally Venezuela despite U.S. “blackmail,” even as the Trump administration threatened more sanctions over its support.
    In a speech to the national assembly, meeting to enact the new constitution, Castro said Cuba had been upping defense preparedness in recent months in view of increased U.S. hostility.
    The island nation had also been adopting economic measures to contend with the Trump administration’s tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, Castro told legislators.
    “We will never abandon our duty of acting in solidarity with Venezuela,” Castro said.    “We reject strongly all types of blackmail.”
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday the United States would announce additional action to hold Cuba accountable for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Cuban security and intelligence officials of propping up Maduro’s government.    Cuba denies those claims.
    “Cuba is being blamed for all evils, using lies and the worst kind of Hitlerian propaganda,” Castro said.    “We have told the U.S. administration Cuba is not afraid and will continue building the future of the nation without outside interference.”
    The enactment of the new constitution allows Cuba’s government to launch a modest revamp of its centrally planned single party system with dozens of laws expected on everything from the justice system to political structures.
    Many observers are hopeful the government will open Cuba’s still inefficient state-run economy further to free enterprise with a law recognizing private businesses, not just self-employment, although they do not expect that to be among the first pieces of legislation it tackles.
    That could give a boost to an economy which has had to contend with declining aid from Venezuela and a resulting cash crunch over the past three years, prompting the government to introduce austerity measures.
    Shortages of basic goods have increased recently, including flour, eggs and chicken, with the state even reducing the size and circulation of its newspapers due to a lack of newsprint.
    The situation could worsen further in coming months in view of the tightening U.S. trade embargo, Castro warned.
    That did not mean a return to the kind of deep crisis Cuba experienced following the 1991 collapse of its former benefactor the Soviet Union, however, as its economy had diversified since then, he said.
    Cubans overwhelmingly ratified the new constitution in a February referendum after a year of debate, updating its 1976 Soviet-era Magna Carta.     While it retains socialism as “irrevocable,” it codifies changes in Cuban society since 1991, like the opening of the economy to free enterprise, and includes a political restructuring among other changes.
    Analysts say the constitution gives some leeway as to how reformist the around 50 laws needed to bring the legal system in line with it should be.
    “The formation of a more open and democratic country depends on this process and not on the constitution,” said Cuban lawyer and legal columnist for independent media Eloy Viera Cañive.
    The constitution stipulates that the national assembly must approve a new electoral law to reflect the restructuring of government within six months.
    Within the following three months, it must elect a president, widely expected to remain Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Castro last April.    That president must then appoint provincial governors and a prime minister – a new post separating the role of head of state from head of government.
    The Magna Carta stipulates that within 18 months, new laws reflecting constitutional changes to the judicial system such as the presumption of innocence in criminal cases and habeas corpus should also be introduced.
    The process of a popular consultation and referendum on a new family code, that will address the controversial issue of gay marriage, should also be kicked off within two years.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and James Dalgleish)

4/10/2019 Ukraine presidential rivals to meet Macron, Poroshenko also sees Merkel
Ukraine's President and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko speaks after a drugs and alcohol test, which is a
precondition to participate in a policy debate ahead of the second round of a presidential election, conducted by the
Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    PARIS, France (Reuters) – The two remaining candidates in Ukraine’s presidential race will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday as Paris seeks to prepare for what happens after the run-off on April 21, a French presidential source said on Wednesday.
    President Petro Poroshenko is facing Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience who plays a fictional president in a TV series, in the second-round vote after neither obtained a majority of votes on March 31.
    France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine take part in the “Normandy” format talks, established to implement a peace agreement for eastern Ukraine brokered in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
    “These contacts will allow us to calmly prepare the next steps in the development of Franco-Ukrainian ties and joint work for security on the European continent,” the source said.
    Ukraine is at the heart of the West’s tussle with Moscow after the 2014 Maidan street protests ejected Poroshenko’s Kremlin-friendly predecessor, and Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed armed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbass region.
    Macron will meet Poroshenko and Zelenskiy separately on Friday afternoon.
    Poroshenko will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday in Berlin, German and Ukrainian sources said.
    Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman declined to comment on whether he would meet the two leaders.
    Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko, but the incumbent is fighting back by painting his rival as a lightweight who would put Ukraine’s security at risk.
(Reporting by John Irish, Marine Pennetier, Matthias Williams in Kiev and Thomas Escritt in Berlin)

4/11/2019 Top EU court should dismiss Czech bid to loosen gun laws: adviser
FILE PHOTO: An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is seen in the garage of a home outside
Christchurch, New Zealand, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top court should dismiss a Czech challenge to tighter EU controls on firearms introduced after the 2015 Paris attacks, the court’s legal adviser said on Thursday.
    The Czech Republic maintains that the tougher European Commission rules, which make it harder for EU citizens to obtain semi-automatic rifles, were unduly restrictive for law-abiding gun-owners such as hunters.
    It also says the Commission rules encroached on crime prevention policy, a matter for the national governments of EU member states.
    “The court should dismiss the Czech Republic’s action in its entirety,” Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston said in a statement.
    She said the EU directive mainly concerned the free movement of firearms and that this had an impact on crime prevention, but did not harmonize national crime prevention policies.
    She added that the Commission did look into the impact of its planned rules and that its actions, notably reclassifying certain firearms as prohibited goods, were in line with the principle of proportionality.
    Judges at the European Court of Justice follow the advice of their advocate generals in the majority of cases although they are not bound to do so.    The ECJ generally issues rulings within 2-4 months of an advocate general’s opinion.
    In 2017, the EU toughened laws against purchasing certain semi-automatic rifles like those used by Islamic State militants in the Paris attacks, and also made it easier to track weapons in national databases.
    The Czech Republic filed a lawsuit arguing that the directive would just shift weapons to the black market and do nothing to increase security in the country, where hunting is a popular pastime and gun attacks are rare.
    After 50 people were killed in a shooting at a New Zealand mosque on March 15, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned the sale of all military-style, semi-automatic and assault rifles.    The New Zealand parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday for tough new firearms laws.
(This story has been refiled to fix typo to “for” in last paragraph)
(Reporting by Clare Roth; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Heinrich)
[Fight them for your gun rights before you end up like Venezuela's socialist system.].

4/11/2019 Russian lawmakers approve second reading of ‘sovereign’ Internet bill
FILE PHOTO: The coat of arms of Russia is reflected in a laptop screen in this picture
illustration taken February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers backed tighter Internet controls on Thursday to defend against foreign meddling, in a preliminary vote on draft legislation that critics say could disrupt Russia’s Internet and be used to stifle dissent.
    Shrugging off an outcry from opposition politicians and rights activists, the 450-seat lower chamber of parliament voted in a second reading to pass a largely unchanged version of the bill that aims to beef up Russia’s Internet “sovereignty.”
    The legislation aims to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and to build a national Domain Name System to allow the Internet to continue working even if Russia is cut off from foreign infrastructure.
    The bill’s authors say the measures are needed to defend the country after the United States adopted what they described as aggressive new U.S. cyber security policies last year.
    The United States has accused Russia itself of meddling in its 2016 presidential election, an allegation denied by Moscow.
    The legislation also proposes installing network equipment that would be able to identify the source of web traffic and also block banned content.    It is expected to make the authorities more effective at blocking sites.
    Russia banned the Telegram instant messaging service and moved last year to block it, but the attempt failed and the service is still popular and widely used.
    If the measures are passed in a final third reading by parliament and approved by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin, they will become law and enter force on Nov. 1.
    The Agora human rights group warned in February that the legislation was one of several new bills drafted in December that “seriously threaten Internet freedom.”
    Stanislav Shakirov, an activist at the Roskomsvoboda group, said he believed the bill was the latest in a series of moves by authorities to clamp down on the Internet following Arab Spring uprisings and the revolution in neighboring Ukraine in 2014.
    “This law fits perfectly into this picture of restricting the Internet in order to stay in power.”
    Russia has introduced tougher Internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store user data on servers in the country.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin and Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by)
[You live in Russia which is a Communist country who controls what they want to, and unless you overthrow that system you will have to live with it, and if that takes effect you may not be able to see this page anymore.].

4/11/2019 Finland’s top candidate for prime minister says wants to raise taxes by Anne Kauranen
Social Democratic Party leader Antti Rinne listens during an interview in Helsinki, Finland
April 9, 2019. Picture taken April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Attila Cser
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s Social Democrats, who may be returned to power for the first time in 20 years on Sunday, plan to raise taxes to fund the country’s generous welfare system as it struggles to cope with a rapidly aging population.
    Antti Rinne’s Social Democrats have led in the polls for almost a year, with many Finns concerned over the future of public services and welfare due partly to the cost of caring for its growing ranks of pensioners.
    “We need to strengthen our welfare society – and that needs money,” Rinne, a former union strong man, told Reuters in an interview ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday.
    He said raising taxes would also help combat inequality in Finnish society.
    The left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SDP) topped the most recent poll with 19.0 percent support, Finland’s public broadcaster Yle reported on Thursday, although it would need to build a coalition to form a stable government.
    “We need to spread our tax base and we need to strengthen it.    That’s a big policy change here in Finland if we do that,” Rinne said.
    The current center-right government’s policies have hurt the income of less privileged groups such as pensioners, families with children, students and the unemployed, Rinne said.
    Since the last parliamentary elections, in 2015, centrist Prime Minister Juha Sipila has made preventing Finland from taking on more debt one of the government’s main goals together with pulling the country out of the three-year recession that eventually ended in late 2015.
    Last year, Sipila’s government managed to cut Finland’s outstanding debt for the first time in a decade.
    But the tight finances led to austerity measures and spending cuts such as reductions in unemployment benefits, pension freezes and cuts to public sector holiday pay, which made his government deeply unpopular.
    “That’s not a fair way to do it,” Rinne said, adding he would adopt a different strategy to balance the public finances.
    “We can collect a little bit over 1.5 billion euros more in taxes, but not via income taxes,” he said.
    He suggested raising some consumption taxes as well as the capital gains tax, which now stands at 30 percent and at 34 percent for gains above 30,000 euros ($34,000).
    Rinne’s talk of raising taxes is unlikely to drive off his supporters, many of whom value highly Finland’s huge welfare state.
    A poll commissioned by the tax authority in 2017 found 79 percent of Finns were happy with their taxes, up 10 percentage points from a similar poll four years earlier.
    One of Rinne’s election promises has been to increase all state pensions of less than 1,400 euros per month by 100 euros, a reform worth 700 million euros that would help “more than 55,000 pensioners escape poverty,” he said.
    But taxpayers’ solvency might have its limits in the coming years, not only due to the increasing costs of caring for a rapidly aging population, but also because Finland will have to spend an estimated 7-10 billion euros on renewing its equally aging fighter jet fleet.
    To Rinne’s disappointment, his party’s performance in the polls has declined in the weeks ahead of the election day, while the nationalist Finns Party has made significant gains, rising to second place, ahead of the SDP’s traditional opponent, the center-right National Coalition in the latest Yle poll.
    If the SDP wins on Sunday, Rinne will have to team up with at least one of his main rivals such as the National Coalition’s chair and finance minister Petteri Orpo – who has called Rinne’s economic policies “irresponsible” – or with Sipila’s Centre Party, to be able to form a majority government.
    Rinne has ruled out forming a government with the nationalists led by Jussi Halla-aho, an anti-immigration hardliner, who was fined by the Supreme Court in 2012 for blog comments linking Islam to paedophilia and Somalis to theft.
    “My values are not similar to Jussi Halla-aho’s values, and it seems very difficult (for us) to be in the same government,” Rinne said.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Additional reporting by Attila Cser; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
[Sorry about your luck Finland but you voted Socialist in and they do what they do which is raise taxes and control all areas of your government and they are like roaches hard to get rid of if you cannot get a service to remove them.].

4/11/2019 Poland broke EU law by lowering judges’ retirement age, court advisor says
FILE PHOTO - The flags of Poland and European Union flutter in front of the
Polish parliament in Warsaw June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Poland has failed to uphold the independence of its Supreme Court, the advisor to the EU’s top court said on Thursday, arguing that the lowering of judges’ retirement age breaks European Union law.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through a range of powers after coming to power in 2015 that rights groups and EU officials said threatened the rule of law and increased the government’s control over Polish courts.
    The PiS originally argued the changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of Communism.
    As an interim measure, the Court of Justice of the European Union had last December ordered Poland to suspend the law lowering the age of retirement, which the PiS had already agreed to scrap.
    However, a final judgment is still pending.
    “The court should rule that the provisions of Polish legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for supreme court judges are contrary to EU law,” Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev said in a statement.
    Tanchev said the measures are “liable to expose the Supreme Court and its judges to external intervention and pressure from the president of the Republic” and they also impair “the objective independence” of the court.
    Judges at the Court of Justice of the European Union, Europe’s top court, follow the advice of their advocate generals in the majority of cases although they are not bound to do so.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Keith Weir)

4/11/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy would win second round of Ukraine election – poll
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks following the announcement of the first exit
poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, is likely to win in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.
    The poll by Reiting research body, the first survey for the election’s second round, showed Zelenskiy on 61 percent of votes and incumbent Petro Poroshenko on 24 percent.
(Reporting by Andrey Makhovsky, writing by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

4/12/2019 Ukrainian comedian gets serious with investors in bid for presidency by Matthias Williams and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy flashes a victory sign following the announcement of the
first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – In a popular TV series, a fictional Ukrainian president gets so drunk at a dinner with the head of the International Monetary Fund that he throws her into a swimming pool.
    He then forces bystanders to drink water from the pool, thinking in his drunken stupor that it is champagne.
    Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the 41-year-old comedian who played the president, is now frontrunner to become Ukraine’s real head of state and his campaign team is trying to assure investors he would be able to keep the country’s IMF program on track.
    .Petro Poroshenko, who has led Ukraine for the past five years and faces Zelenskiy in an election run-off on April 21, paints his rival as a lightweight.
    With no prior political experience, Zelenskiy is an unknown quantity to investors and the stakes are high.    Ukraine’s economy, dragged down by a separatist conflict in the east, is dependent on IMF assistance worth billions of dollars.
    Zelenskiy’s team has brought in two former ministers as advisers and has been meeting business leaders, diplomats and IMF officials as he tries to win investors’ confidence.
    One of the advisers, former economy minister Aivaras Abromavicius, told Reuters that Zelenskiy would preserve the central bank’s independence and keep its governor, Yakiv Smoliy, in place if he won the run-off.
    He would also lobby a reluctant parliament to lift a moratorium on the sale of farmland and change how businesses are taxed, Abromavicius said. [nL8N21T24Q]
    Asked whether Zelenskiy still had a credibility gap to overcome with investors, Abromavicius said: “It’s all work in progress.”
    “Of course, he’s new to politics. He doesn’t answer all the questions the way every voter wants to hear but with every day we hear more and more concrete statements,” he said.
    Abromavicius, who fell out with Poroshenko in 2016, said Zelenskiy was committed to keeping cooperation with the IMF on track because the “IMF is an anchor of reforms in this country.    The IMF means macroeconomic stability.”
    Zelenskiy has met IMF officials and the two sides agreed neither wants Ukraine to be in an IMF program as such, Abromavicius said, but its departure depended on Ukraine being successful, implementing reforms, paying back debts and tapping into open markets rather than seeking IMF assistance.
    “And that of course will take some more time,” he said.
    The Zelenskiy policies outlined by Abromavicius include accenting cooperation with the IMF towards fighting corruption and reform of law enforcement bodies, including stripping them of their powers to investigate economic crimes.
    Zelenskiy came top in the first round of the election on March 31, running an unorthodox campaign that relied heavily on social media and comedy shows.
    Meeting smartly dressed businessmen and women from the American Chamber of Commerce (ACC) last month, Zelenskiy drew comment on social media by showing up in a gray t-shirt.
    “With Poroshenko, the business community, we pretty much feel we know what’s going to happen, we expect a business-as-usual approach,” said ACC President Andy Hunder.    “We know much less about candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy.”
    Zelenskiy and his advisers conveyed the message that investors can do business with them though he was sometimes short on detail, Hunder said.
    “We’ve looked at Zelenskiy’s program, we’ve asked him specific questions when we met him,” Hunder said.
    The answers were quite vague, he said, “but the message has been delivered clearly that the IMF program will continue — unlike what he did to the IMF in the TV show.”
    Investors who spoke to Reuters said they had been reassured that Abromavicius and former Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk were advising Zelenskiy but they have questions about the comedian’s relationship with the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.
    Some have asked whether a Zelenskiy presidency might help Kolomoisky win compensation for or regain ownership of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender.
    The government wrested PrivatBank from Kolomoisky’s control in 2016, saying billions of dollars were funneled out while he owned it.    Kolomoisky denies any wrongdoing.
    Zelenskiy denies he would return PrivatBank to Kolomoisky.    The two men say their relationship is strictly professional, based on Zelenskiy airing his shows on Kolomoisky’s television channel 1+1.
    Damien Buchet, Chief Investment Officer of the EM Total Return Strategy, Finisterre Capital, said Zelenskiy seems to say the “right things” and seems to be surrounded by the “right people” on the economy.
    “Whether they have the upper hand on shaping potential policy with him remains to be seen.    We have the Kolomoisky connection, which still worries people,” he said.
    Ukraine has pulled itself out of a steep recession in 2014-2015 but reforms were left unfinished in Poroshenko’s first term, leading to repeated delays in IMF money disbursements, and foreign direct investment remained tepid.
    Before he embarked on a political career, Zelenskiy’s troupe organized a social media campaign against the government’s decision to raise household gas prices in October, encouraging citizens to post pictures of their bills online.
    Asked if Zelenskiy would allow gas prices to rise to market levels, an IMF demand, Abromavicius said the decision ultimately lay with the government and not the president.    He said warmer weather this spring had lowered international gas prices and might lessen the need for Ukraine to raise them.
    On the night of the swimming pool incident in the TV series, Zelenskiy’s fictional president had gone on a charm offensive to persuade the IMF to allow him to defer reforms, including raising the pension age and utility prices.
    He ended up drunkenly acceding to them.
(Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London, Eidting by Timothy Heritage)
[Oligarch, a member or ruler of an oligarchy, a power structure where control resides in a small number of people (especially in Russia) a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence.].

4/12/2019 Cuba vows to continue trade with Venezuela despite sanctions by OAN Newsroom
    Venezuela says it will continue its trade relationship with Cuba.
    Cuba reiterates its firm and unwavering solidarity with Maduro, the Bolivarian Revolution and the civic-military union of its people.
    The country reportedly shipped out one million barrels of crude oil to Cuba, just after the U.S. slapped fresh sanctions on countries that do business with Caracas.
    In a statement shortly after, Cuba’s communist party leader Raul Castro said his country would never abandon its ally.
    According to a treaty signed between the two countries in 2000, Venezuela has agreed to send at least 53 thousand barrels of oil to Cuba per day.
    This as the Trump administration continues to aggressively levy penalties on countries that support Venezuela, in an effort to pressure president Nicolas Maduro to step down.

4/12/2019 Defiant Poroshenko: Ukraine’s voters will choose substance over style in election by Matthias Williams and Sergiy Karazy
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko leaves after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron
the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
    PARIS (Reuters) – Ukraine’s leader on Friday said he was confident of turning the tables on his inexperienced opponent in the second round of the presidential election, saying voters would choose a substantive program over his challenger’s dangerous populism.
    President Petro Poroshenko has been fighting for his political survival against Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no prior political experience, who has a commanding poll lead as the two go into a run-off on April 21.
    Vowing to take Ukraine into the European Union if he wins, Poroshenko has sought to paint Zelenskiy as a buffoonish lightweight whose victory would push Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.
    Poroshenko and Zelenskiy are due to hold a policy debate next Friday, where Poroshenko believes he can expose his opponent’s campaign as an “empty package.”
    “There is a rising demand for my opponent just (to) put (his) card(s) on the table,” he told Reuters in an interview on board his plane between whistle-stop visits to meet leaders in Berlin and Paris.    “i>I’m absolutely confident that my program is better, my support is strong.”
    A 53-year-old confectionary magnate, Poroshenko took office in 2014 after the Maidan street protests forced his Kremlin-backed predecessor to flee into exile and after Russia annexed Crimea.
    As president, he secured visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU, ramped up spending for the military fighting Kremlin-backed rebels, helped establish a new independent Orthodox church and successfully lobbied Western countries to keep sanctions on Moscow in place.
    But his popularity has fallen sharply amid widespread voter disillusion with Ukraine’s political class.    Critics say he has moved too slowly on implementing reforms and fighting corruption.
    Poroshenko has struck a contrite tone since the first round of the election, apologizing for mistakes and firing some of the people he appointed to high office.
    On Thursday he announced the launch of a special court to try corruption cases, part of a flurry of activity aimed at shoring up his reform credentials ahead of the run-off next week.
    Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Poroshenko stressed that his achievements, from strengthening the army to passing healthcare reforms, should not be overlooked.
    “It’s difficult to find any sphere where reforms have not been launched.    Definitely if you launch reform in such a big number of spheres, you make a mistake,” he said.
    Poroshenko has also been an energetic campaigner for Ukrainian integration into the EU and NATO.
    He has had more than a dozen meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Friday’s meeting could be their last with Poroshenko in office, if a survey by Ukrainian pollster Reiting is anything to go by.    Figures released on Thursday showed him at 24 percent compared with Zelenskiy’s 61 percent.
    On Friday, Merkel and Poroshenko discussed security in war-torn east Ukraine. Germany promised an additional 85 million euros ($96 million) for the construction of homes for Ukrainians displaced inside the country by the war, Poroshenko announced on Twitter on Friday.
    Poroshenko also shared a photograph with French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he met in Paris later that day. But not to be outdone, Zelenskiy traveled to Paris to meet Macron a few hours ahead of him.
    Poroshenko and Zelenskiy have traded insults in public statements, TV show appearances and tit-for-tat viral social media videos since the first round of the election on March 31.
    The show of rivalry culminated in them taking televised blood tests for alcohol and drug addiction.
    Poroshenko has painted Zelenskiy as a puppet of a powerful oligarch on whose channel Zelenskiy airs his comedy shows.    Zelenskiy in turn has hinted at his opponent’s corruption.
    But on Friday Poroshenko said that if Zelenskiy had any proof of his wrongdoing, he should go through the legal system.
    “If you have anything, you should go not to the TV show, but exactly to the law enforcement agency.    While they don’t have anything, this is just blah, blah, blah,” he said, gesturing with his fingers.
    If he wins a second term, Poroshenko said he would push ahead with measures to tackle corruption.    That includes introducing a new law to criminalize officials illegally enriching themselves. He also promised an overhaul of law enforcement agencies.
    Poroshenko also wants to launch Ukraine’s application for EU membership as early as 2023.
    One day, he said, he would like to fight in another election: European parliamentary elections once Ukraine is an EU state.
    “This is my dream,” Poroshenko said.
(Writing by Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/13/2019 Thousands rally in Belgrade to protest against Serbian president
Demonstrators protest against Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and his government, in
central Belgrade, Serbia, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Belgrade on Saturday to press demands for an end to the rule of President Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Party, greater media freedom and free and fair elections.
    The peaceful demonstration was organized by the Alliance for Serbia (SZS), a broad grouping of 30 parties and organizations, which started weekly protests in December.
    The Serbian Interior Ministry estimated the crowd’s size at up to 7,500 people. Organizers said numbers were far bigger.
    The SZS has accused Vucic and his allies of corruption and of stifling media freedom.    He denies this.
    On Saturday, the SZS accused the authorities of shutting down bus lines to Belgrade and of pressuring companies not to rent busses to opposition backers.
    Cedomir Cupic, a lecturer of at the Faculty of Political Sciences said Serbia must be liberated.
    “With him (Vucic) Serbia has no future … no country should depend from one man,” Cupic told the cheering crowd.
    “Over the last seven years (since Vucic came to power) we have devalued the country … snubbed institutions, and we have one man deciding about everything,” Bogdan Tatic, one of the protesters, said.
    Last month, protesters briefly occupied the state TV building and scuffled with police in Belgrade city center.
    The ruling SNS-led coalition has a majority of 160 deputies in Serbia’s 250-seat parliament.    Vucic has also staged a countrywide campaign and scheduled a major rally in Belgrade for April 19.
    Last month, the SNS party leadership said it wanted a snap vote but no decision has been made so far.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Jane Merriman)

4/13/2019 Poland’s Kaczynski says ‘no’ to the euro as part of election campaign
FILE PHOTO: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), delivers a speech during the
party's convention in Warsaw, Poland September 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says ‘no’ to the euro and believes Warsaw should only adopt the common currency when its economy is as big as Germany’s, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Saturday.
    Kaczynski was speaking at a PiS convention in Lublin, eastern Poland, ahead of the European Union election in May, which is seen as a test for the party and its major opponents ahead of a general election in Poland later this year.
    “We say ‘no’ to the euro, ‘no’ to European prices,” Kaczynski said.    “We will adopt the euro someday, because we are committed to do so and we are and will be in the European Union, but we will accept it when it is in our interest.”
    “It will be in our interest when we reach a level very close to Germany (in) GDP level, standard of living.”
    Poland is obliged under its EU accession commitments to join the euro zone at some point.
    PiS has said previously that Poland should not hurry to join the currency bloc, but it is now reiterating the argument to attract more supporters ahead of the vote.
    While most Poles support Poland’s membership of the EU, they are not so unanimous over the euro, opinion polls suggest.
    PiS has the backing of 38.7 percent of the electorate, while the European Coalition has 36.2 percent, an opinion poll by pollster IBRIS for private radio station ZET showed on Saturday.
    The European Coalition consists of the leading opposition parties, including PiS’ biggest political foe the Civic Platform, which united earlier this year against the ruling party.
    PiS has prevailed in most polls since taking power from the Civic Platform in 2015.
    The Coalition has not publicly declared its policy on joining the euro, though it is widely seen as taking a more positive stance than PiS.
    Civic Platform was co-founded by European Council president Donald Tusk, a supporter of the single currency before the euro zone financial crisis, but the party has said Poland needs a debate on adopting the euro.
    PiS has seen its popularity erode after a series of scandals, with local media accusing the party of allowing excessive pay at the central bank and running a murky real estate business. PiS denies any wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Jan Harvey)

4/13/2019 Russia, OPEC may ditch oil deal to fight for market share: Russian minister
FILE PHOTO: Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organised by the
Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) in Moscow, Russia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and OPEC may decide to boost production to fight for market share with the United States but this would push oil prices as low as $40 per barrel, TASS news agency cited Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying on Saturday.
    “There is a dilemma.    What should we do with OPEC: should we lose the market, which is being occupied by the Americans, or quit the deal?” Anton Siluanov, speaking in Washington, said, TASS reported.
    “(If the deal is abandoned) the oil prices will go down, then the new investments will shrink, American output will be lower, because the production cost for shale oil is higher than for traditional output.”
    Siluanov said oil prices could drop to $40 per barrel or even less for up to one year.
    The minister said there had been no decision on the deal yet and he did not know whether OPEC countries would be happy with this scenario.
    OPEC, Russia and other producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, are reducing output by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 for six months.    They meet on June 25-26 to decide whether to extend the pact.
    The combined supply cuts have helped to drive a 32 percent rally in crude prices this year to nearly $72 a barrel, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to ease its market-supporting efforts.    OPEC has said the curbs must remain, but there are signs that stance is now softening.
    Earlier this week, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that OPEC could raise oil output from July if Venezuelan and Iranian supply drops further and prices keep rallying, because extending production cuts with Russia and other allies could overtighten the market.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov. Editing by Jane Merriman)
[Go ahead OPEC+ because Trump will increase oil output anyway and if you bring oil to $40 a barrel U.S. gas prices will drop well below $2 a gallon and Iran will suffer from sanctions because they will not make any money from it.].

4/13/2019 Cuban president calls for strengthened defenses, economy in response to Trump threats by Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel talks to Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (not pictured)
at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam, November 9, 2018. Luong Thai Linh/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel accused the Trump administration on Saturday of dragging relations with the United States to their worst level in decades and called on Cubans to strengthen the Communist-run country’s defenses and economy.
    Diaz-Canel, in a speech closing the National Assembly, said the United States is engaging in an “asphyxiating financial persecution that makes the import of goods and resources of primary necessity particularly difficult.”
    The Cuban economy has stagnated in recent years in tandem with the implosion of strategic ally Venezuela, resulting in cuts in fuel and energy use by state entities and this year shortages of basic goods such as bread, chicken and eggs.
    An increase in U.S. sanctions under President Donald Trump is also making it even harder for cash-strapped Cuba to get credit from financial institutions.
    Cuba’s Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez earlier in the day called on the government to tighten belts further and seek alternatives to imports, as foreign exchange earnings decline and credit for supplies and investment become more difficult to find.
    “Exports are not growing as planned.    The levels of foreign investment that the economy demands are not materializing,” Gil said.    “We can forecast the import plan will not be fulfilled because the credits we need cannot be finalized due to the arrears of payments of debts.”
    Cuba relies on imports directly or indirectly for much of what it produces and consumes, including fuel and food, and purchases the supplies with foreign currency it earns from exports and obtains through credits.
    The government has been struggling to keep economic growth in the black and forecast a 1.5 percent increase in gross domestic product this year after a 1.2 percent increase last year.
    The Trump administration has said Cuba is responsible for the survival of socialist Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro and slapped new sanctions on Cuba, which is already under a crippling trade embargo, leaving the detente of former president Barack Obama in the dust.
    This month the United States sanctioned vessels and companies that ship oil to Cuba from Venezuela in exchange for health and other technical services, threatening the energy grid and transportation.
    The Trump administration says it soon may activate a long dormant law under which Cuban-Americans could sue foreign companies that profit from their properties nationalized during the first years of the 1959 Revolution.
    “Our response is no, imperialist gentlemen, we Cubans do not surrender,” Diaz-Canel said on Saturday, adding the situation meant “we have two absolute priorities: the preparation of our defense and the economic battle at the same time.”
    According to western diplomats and businessmen, Cuba has failed to pay suppliers on time for a number of years, piling up around $1.5 billion in short term debt.
    Trade fell around 25 percent from 2013 through 2017 and declined again last year, according to the government.
    In addition to the Venezuelan crisis, the advent of a far-right government in Brazil led last year to the scrapping of a doctors-for-cash deal valued at an annual $300 million.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Grant McCool)
[Which is more important helping your Cuban people or helping a Tyrant who will fall in the near future and you will still be hurting.].

4/14/2019 Hungary Holocaust march honours Scottish missionary by Krisztina Fenyo
People attend the annual "March of the Living" to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, including Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary
who refused to abandon her Jewish charges at a boarding school during World War Two, in Budapest, Hungary, April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians attended the annual March of the Living in Budapest on Sunday to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, including Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary who refused to abandon her Jewish charges during World War Two.
    Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem estimates that 565,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most of them deported to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland between May and July 1944.
    Haining, who had taught Christian and Jewish girls at a boarding school of the Church of Scotland’s Mission in Budapest, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and later died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
    “From April 5, we had to put on the yellow star.    Miss Haining called in the children and she cried with us,” said 83-year-old Agnes Rostas, one of Haining’s former Jewish pupils, who was eight at the time of the Scottish missionary’s arrest.
    “Miss Haining was a very warm-hearted human being. I have never met anyone like her all my life.”
    Within half an hour of Haining’s arrest, the remaining teachers packed up the children and shuttled them off to their parents, Rostas said.
    Haining was born in 1897 into a poor farming family in southwestern Scotland.    She did well in school and went on to business college in Glasgow.
    She was among the generation of women who were able to join the workforce due to World War One, according to Mary Miller, the author of a new biography of Haining’s life.
    She decided to pursue working with children, influenced by her experience teaching Sunday school in Glasgow.
    She was the only British person at the school when the Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944.    The Gestapo arrested Haining the following month on charges including political activity and espionage, which she denied.
    Reverend Aaron Stevens, the head of the Scottish mission to Budapest, said Sunday’s march remembering Haining presented an opportunity to speak up against prejudice, intolerance or fearmongering.
    “Sometimes when we look at the messages people are promoting today about foreigners, it is not that different from the messages that were being spread about Jews some 75 years ago,” Stevens said.
    “(Haining’s) example is a reminder to us to not become complacent or lazy,” he said.    “We also need to speak up and stand up in solidarity with those who might be victims of prejudice.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo and Lewis Macdonald, Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/14/2019 Finnish Social Democrats score first in advance voting in election
A voter casts her vote at Mantsala town hall during the Finnish parliamentary elections,
in Mantsala, Finland April 14, 2019. Lehtikuva/Emmi Korhonen via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s leftist Social Democrats won first place in advance voting ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election, with 18.9 percent of the votes, after 35.5 percent of ballots had been counted, justice ministry data showed.
    The centre-right National Coalition of outgoing Finance Minister Petteri Orpo came in second, with 17.2 percent of the advance ballots.    The Centre Party of outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila scored third, with 15.4 percent.
    The nationalist True Finns party came in fourth, with 15.1 percent of the vote.
    About 36 percent of voting-age Finns cast their votes in a seven-day advance voting period that ended on Tuesday.    The results from these votes are often skewed due to differences in voter behavior in different regions.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak)

4/14/2019 Finnish Social Democrat leader Rinne declares victory in election
Chairman of the Finnish Social Democratic Party Antti Rinne and his wife Heta Ravolainen-Rinnes attend the
election party in Helsinki, Finland April 14, 2019. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s leftist Social Democrat party (SDP) leader Antti Rinne has declared victory in Sunday’s general election, after partial results showed his party winning by a tight margin with 17.8 percent.
    The nationalist Finns Party was in second place with 17.6 percent, after more than 97 percent of votes were counted.
    “For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland … SDP is the prime minister party,” Rinne said.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki; editing by Justyna Pawlak)
[Another EU country went to Socialism.].

4/15/2019 Russia blocks news site for anti-Putin graffiti under new law
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a gala concert on the occasion of Cosmonautics Day, at the State
Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia April 12, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities blocked a regional news website over the weekend over a report about graffiti insulting Vladimir Putin, its chief editor said, under a new ban on insulting officials online.
    The legislation, which Putin signed into law last month, allows authorities to block sites that carry content deemed to show “blatant disrespect.”
    Kremlin critics say the measure is a form of direct state censorship.    The law’s authors say it is needed to preserve healthy public debate online.
    The 76.Ru news site in Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, was blocked by state media watchdog Roskomnadzor for more than 12 hours on April 12-13, Chief Editor Olga Prokhorova said.
    She said Roskomnadzor informed 76.Ru after the site had been blocked that its report about graffiti on the columns of a local police station crudely slurring Putin contained information that had been flagged under the law against insulting authorities.
    After the news site removed a photograph of the graffiti from the report and sent a screenshot to Roskomnadzor, the site was unblocked, Prokhorova said.    The amended report about the graffiti was accessible on Monday, but did not mention what it said.
    Roskomnadzor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Another Yaroslavl-based news site, Yarkub, said on Saturday it had also been blocked over a similar news item.    It removed all mention to Putin in the reports and was unblocked, it said on the Telegram messaging service.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

4/15/2019 Finnish election highlights Nordic dilemma about welfare state by Justyna Pawlak
FILE PHOTO:Chairman of The Social Democratic Party Antti Rinne speaks to media at the Finnish Broadcasting
Company Yle studios in Helsinki, Finland April 15, 2019. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Voters across the Nordics are telling politicians to safeguard their cherished, comprehensive welfare model but Sunday’s election in Finland shows how prohibitive costs and a surge in nationalism make it hard for parties to deliver.
    The Finnish Social Democrats, who played a significant role in the growth of public services after World War Two, won the ballot for the first time in two decades, feeding off a rising sense of insecurity among voters following years of austerity.
    Their victory was limited, however, by a strong showing by the anti-immigrant, nationalist Finns Party, which finished a close second at 17.5 percent of the vote behind the SDP’s 17.7 percent, final results showed.
    The split underscores the fragmentation of politics in Finland and elsewhere in the Nordics where populist parties are becoming mainstream, as well as divisions over how to tackle the soaring costs of healthcare and other welfare provisions.
    The Finnish left argues that tax hikes are inescapable at a time when care costs are rising and people are living longer.    Many voters in Finland agree, even though the nation has one of the highest taxation rates in the world.
    The nationalists, echoing a continent-wide backlash against migration over open European Union borders, say that reversing an influx of foreigners can relieve the pressure on services.
    That is a red line for Social Democratic leader Antti Rinne, a 56-year-old former trade union boss, leaving him just one option – seeking out coalition partners among center-right groups that favor reforming welfare to cut costs.
    “Our values are quite far apart at the moment,” Rinne said on private television broadcaster MTV on Monday, referring to Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho.    The far-right Halla-aho was fined in 2012 for blog comments linking Islam to paedophilia and Somalis to theft.    “I’ve read your blog,” Rinne said.
    In Finland, which struggles with one of the fastest rates of population aging in the world, public debt is expected to fall within EU limits this year after austerity steps by the outgoing center-right government of prime minister Juha Sipila.
    But social and healthcare costs are expected to jump to 26.5 billion euros per year ($30 billion) in 2035 from 18.7 billion in 2018.    That would jack up such costs as a share of gross domestic product to 9.6 percent in 2035 from 7.9 percent.
    At stake for the Finns is a wide array of services that now come nearly cost-free such as comprehensive health care, state pensions and home visits by nurses for the elderly.
    The state was even more generous in earlier decades, when deductibles on medicine costs were lower and the state would pay for nannies to help with childcare free of charge while another child in the family was in hospital.
    “Rinne has promised to raise the lowest state pensions, funded in part by higher consumption and capital gains taxes,” Capital Economics said in a research note.
    “We expect these plans will end up diluted as and when the reality of coalition politics bites.”
    In Denmark, opinion polls ahead of an election due no later than June forecast victory for opposition parties led by the Social Democrats who are calling for a partial rollback of welfare cuts.
    The Danish left has echoed some of the anti-immigration tilt of the nationalist Danish People’s Party, in what Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen said is an effort to ensure her party remains relevant.
    Running in first place with some 28 percent of popular support, the Danish Social Democrats endorsed a “jewelry bill” which, passed in 2016, allows police to confiscate refugees’ valuables to help pay their costs, among other measures.
    The Danish People’s Party is now polling at 14 percent, down from the 21 percent they had in 2015.
    While the jewelry bill has not itself ensured their lead in the polls, it lent nuance to the Social Democrats’ stance on immigration, winning back some voters from the populists.
    In Sweden, left-wing leader Stefan Lofven faced a similar dilemma.    His only route to retaining power after an inconclusive election last September was to join forces with reform-oriented liberal parties that, like his own Social Democrats, shun the fiercely nationalist Sweden Democrats.
    The price was a pledge to enact a string of largely right-wing reforms, including tax breaks for top earners and a scrapping of designs to curb the privatization of services, a decision that has appalled many rank-and-file Social Democrats.
    The scale of welfare financing woes varies across the Nordics.
    In Sweden, the region’s most populous nation, public finances are relatively healthy, with state debt at its lowest since the late 1970s.
    But governments are obliged to stick to a budget surplus target introduced after a banking crisis in the early 1990s, meaning any cost increases as baby boomers enter retirement need to be found through means other than deficit spending.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/15/2019 Estonian parliament rejects Reform’s Kallas as PM
Reform Party Chairwoman, Kaja Kallas, attendsÊthe opening session of newly elected Estonian Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia’s parliament rejected the leader of the center-right Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, as prime minister on Monday and the president was expected instead to tap Center Party head Juri Ratas to lead the Baltic country.
    Kallas, whose party won the largest number of seats in a March 3 parliamentary election but fell short of a majority, won 45 votes in Monday’s vote.    She had needed 51 votes to become Estonia’s first female prime minister and form a government.
    Former prime minister Ratas had blocked Reform’s path to power by agreeing a coalition between his left-leaning Center, the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE group, giving the three parties a majority in parliament.
    “The values we built this country on are under threat,” Kallas told reporters after the vote.
    President Kersti Kaljulaid has to nominate a new candidate for prime minister within seven days.    The president is currently abroad and is only expected back in Estonia on Friday.
    Earlier this month Ratas, who served as prime minister from late 2016, agreed a three-party coalition including EKRE, whose fiercely anti-immigrant message helped it win 19 seats in the March election, more than double its previous tally.
    Ratas had said during the campaign he would not do a deal with EKRE.    The far-right party will secure the finance, interior, environment, rural affairs and foreign trade portfolios if the coalition wins parliamentary approval.
    In the election, Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, Center got 26 seats – though one member has already quit the party – Fatherland 12 and the Social Democrats 10.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; editing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/15/2019 Czech president to appoint new ministers on April 30
Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman will appoint Karel Havlicek, the head of a small business association and deputy chief of the government’s science and research council, as new industry minister on April 30, a spokesman said on Monday.
    The president will also appoint lawyer Vladimir Kremlik as new transport minister, replacing Dan Tok who resigned after serving more than four years, a record tenure for the transport post.
    Havlicek’s main tasks will be regulating the telecoms market and preparing a project to boost the European Union country’s nuclear power capacity.
    Both ministries are controlled by Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO party, which leads the coalition government.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/15/2019 Slovakia to boost defense spending faster than planned: PM
Slovakia's Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini attends a debate on the future of Europe, at the
European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia will boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2022, achieving the NATO goal two years faster than planned, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said.
    “After raising defense spending to 1.73 percent of GDP this year we expect to reach the 2.0 percent level as early as 2022, compared with the originally planned 2024,” Pellegrini told a foreign policy conference on Monday.
    Slovakia, a member of the U.S.-led military alliance since 2004, will spend about 6.5 billion euros ($7.35 billion) by 2030 to modernize its armed forces and reduce its reliance on Russian equipment dating from its Communist past.
    It signed a $1.9 billion deal last year to buy 14 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to replace its aging Russian-made MiG-29s.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has pressed other NATO nations to lift their defense spending beyond the NATO-prescribed 2 percent level.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/16/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy would win second round of Ukraine vote, poll shows
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks with journalists after undergoing
a drugs and alcohol test, which is a precondition to participate in a policy debate ahead of the second round
of a presidential election, outside a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko -/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – The presidential candidate and comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy is likely to win Ukraine’s presidential election, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.
    The poll by the KIIS research firm showed Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, on 72.2 percent of the vote.    Incumbent Petro Poroshenko was on 25.4 percent.
    KIIS polled 2,004 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from April 9 to 14.
    Last week, a poll by Reiting research agency gave Zelenskiy 61 percent of votes and incumbent Petro Poroshenko 24 percent.
    Poroshenko and Zelenskiy will meet in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election, which will take place on April 21.    Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round, on March 31.
(Reporting by Andrey Makhovsky, writing by Pavel Polityuk, editing by Larry King)

4/16/2019 Poroshenko 2.0: Ukraine leader reboots campaign ahead of presidential run-off by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko speaks during an interview with Reuters on board his plane on the
way from Berlin to Paris at an unknown location in France, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Sergiy Karazy/File Photo
    PARIS/KIEV (Reuters) – Flanked by rock musicians wearing yellow overalls and black t-shirts with skulls on them, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko pumped his fist, danced to the music and waved to supporters outside a soccer stadium in Kiev on Sunday.
    Standing on a stage filled with young people, he sent a message to his absent challenger, the comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, ahead of a presidential election run-off on April 21.
    “I am pleased that so many young people are with us today.    Volodymyr Oleksandrovych, you hear the voice of Kiev, the voice of Ukraine, its youth.    The youth is with us.    The youth is the driving force of our state,” he said on Sunday.
    Poroshenko has rebooted his campaign after Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as him in the first round of the election on March 31, reaching out especially to younger voters disillusioned with corruption and the slow pace of change.
    The president apologized for past mistakes like installing business cronies to high office, promised to be more transparent in communicating decisions and pledged to bring more young people onto his staff if voters gave him another chance.
    At stake is the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people.
    If elected, Zelenskiy has promised to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, pursue reforms and tackle corruption.
    Investors view him as something of an unknown quantity but his team has tried to assure them he will keep the country’s loan program with the International Monetary Fund on track.
    In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Poroshenko said his strategy for the first round was reminding Ukrainians to be proud of their country and not listen to Russian depictions of its neighbor as a failed state.
    Doing so allowed him to trumpet achievements like securing visa-free travel for Ukrainians to European Union countries, strengthening the army and helping establish a national Orthodox church independent from the Russian clergy.
    But for the second round, he has struck a more contrite tone with voters while still painting Zelenskiy as a buffoonish populist.
    “First of all, some people are disappointed.    And we should open their heart, we should knock on their doors, we should deliver the information that ‘look, we hear what you mean.    We understand what you need,'” Poroshenko said.
    “Don’t believe populists, don’t believe in the simple decision to the complicated question.    May I remind you, we are the country in a state of war,” he said onboard his plane between whistle-stop visits to Berlin and Paris.
    Poroshenko has also sought to shore up his reformist credentials.    He rolled out a long-awaited special court to try corruption cases and fired a regional governor accused of incompetence.
    Asked if he had more surprises up his sleeve before the second round, Poroshenko replied: “You consider launching an anti-corruption court as a surprise?"    I think this is a part of my program.
    “The answer to your question would be definitely ‘yes.’    I have some surprise for the last week,” he said, declining to specify.    “Otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
    Poroshenko met civil society activists on April 6, promising an overhaul of law enforcement that includes stripping various organizations of their power to probe economic crimes, thus removing a weapon to extract bribes from businesses.
    “How useful such dialogue would have been for the president, for social activists, and for the whole of Ukraine, had it taken place sooner,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, wrote on Facebook after the meeting.
    “At the same time, I highly appreciate and respect the president for admitting his mistakes.    This is a strong step.    Mistakes can be corrected by real actions,” she said.
    Poroshenko believes he has time to close the gap on Zelenskiy but he will have to work fast.
    A survey by pollster Reiting last week showed Zelenskiy on 61 percent of votes and Poroshenko on 24 percent, and 41 percent of Zelenskiy voters said their vote was against Poroshenko rather than for the comedian.
    “The claims that he is going through a renewal are understandable.    The logic is to broaden his base, to show that the president is changing.    But words are not enough,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, director of Kiev’s Penta think-tank.
    “Where to get additional votes will be a big problem for Poroshenko.    That’s because the protest vote will continue to dominate.”
    A comedian with no prior political experience, Zelenskiy has run an unorthodox campaign that played particularly well with a more internet-savvy young generation.
    Eschewing traditional rallies, it relied instead on quirky social media posts, comedy gigs and allusions to a fictional TV series where he plays a schoolteacher who becomes president.
    Fighting for that space, Poroshenko launched a channel on the Telegram messenger app after the first round, announcing it on Twitter with a picture of two women taking a selfie with him.
    Zelenskiy began releasing slickly produced videos attacking Poroshenko on Facebook and Instagram, that featured pumping music and were reminiscent of his TV series.
    Poroshenko responded in kind, releasing his own videos on social media, though they were shot in a more somber style and had him looking straight to camera.
    Zelenskiy has also used social media to crowdsource suggestions from voters on anything from policy initiatives to who should be Ukraine’s next prime minister.
    In turn, Poroshenko posted a video calling on voters to sign up to a website or phone in their support on a special hotline for keeping Ukraine on a path towards European integration.
    Lawmaker and close ally Iryna Gerashchenko said the campaign changed communications strategy to bring out Poroshenko’s human side.
    Ukrainians should be able to see someone “who is open, who has a great sense of humor, subtle, who can joke in different languages, who can be sentimental when he watches (the war film) Cyborgs.    It is necessary to remind voters,” she told Reuters.
    It culminated with the appearance at the Olimpiyskiy soccer stadium.    Poroshenko and Zelenskiy had goaded each other about when and where they would hold a debate. Zelenskiy wanted it at the stadium but insisted the event take place next Friday.
    Poroshenko showed up anyway on Sunday, his preferred date, greeting the crowd before going inside to speak to the media next to an empty podium bearing Zelenskiy’s name.
    Zelenskiy took to social media on Monday to puncture his opponent’s rebranding exercise, saying it wasn’t enough for the president to indulge in theatrics or tell people he’s listening to their concerns.
    “A showman can become a president but it is sad that a president became a showman,” he said in a video.
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova, Andrei Makhovsky and Natalia Zinets in Kiev. Editing by Carmel Crimmins)

4/16/2019 Estonia president turns to Ratas to form a government
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid addresses the newly elected Estonian Parliament
in Tallinn, Estonia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia’s president turned on Tuesday to Center leader Juri Ratas to form a new government – a move that will likely bring a far-right party into the cabinet for the first time.
    “Now it is a task for Juri Ratas to form a government which as a whole, and whose every member individually, honors our constitution and the values which are in our constitution,” President Kersti Kaljulaid said in a statement.
    Estonia’s parliament rejected the leader of the center-right Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, as prime minister on Monday.    Kallas got 45 votes, while she needed 51 votes to form a government and become the country’s first female prime minister.
    Former prime minister Ratas had blocked Reform’s path to power by agreeing a surprise coalition between his left-leaning Center, the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE, giving the three parties a majority in parliament.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki in Tallinn; editing by Niklas Pollard)

4/16/2019 Mutual friends and borrowed cars: how Ukraine’s would-be leader is linked to tycoon by Polina Ivanova
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks with journalists before undergoing
a drugs and alcohol test, which is a precondition to participate in a policy debate ahead of the second round
of a presidential election, outside a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Volodymyr Zelenskiy, front runner to be the next Ukrainian president, has connections to one of the country’s wealthiest tycoons that are undermining his image as an insurgent who will sweep aside the powerful moneyed elite.
    Presenting himself as an anti-establishment outsider backed by spontaneous grass-roots support, Zelenskiy won the first round of voting last month, and opinion polls make him strong favorite in the run-off on April 21 against the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko.Zelenskiy’s ties to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky have, however, become an election issue.    Poroshenko has said that, if elected, Zelenskiy will do the businessman’s bidding, something the front runner denies.    In interviews, Zelenskiy has bridled at suggestions he is Kolomoisky’s “puppet.”
    The Ukrainian government has alleged that billions of dollars were fraudulently siphoned out of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s biggest lender, while Kolomoisky owned it.    It has since been nationalized.    Kolomoisky denied any wrongdoing.
    Zelenskiy’s celebrity was established by a comedy show – in which he played an everyman who accidentally becomes president – broadcast by 1+1, a TV network controlled by Kolomoisky.
    A study by Reuters of vehicle registration databases, company ownership documents and photographic records indicates that Kolomoisky and the Zelenskiy intersect in other ways.
    According to that evidence, the two men have business partners in common, Zelenskiy uses security staff also seen in the past accompanying Kolomoisky, a former Kolomoisky adviser is on Zelenskiy’s campaign team and at least two vehicles used by Zelenskiy and his entourage are owned by people or entities linked to Kolomoisky.
    None of the evidence demonstrates that Kolomoisky is financing Zelenskiy’s campaign or influencing him.
    Both Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky have said their relationship is strictly professional, and centered on the comedian’s TV work.    Both say no undue influence is being exerted by the oligarch.
    While Zelenskiy’s connections to Kolomoisky are not seen as swaying the election result, given the candidate’s popularity with voters, commentators question how the relationship would develop later.
    “The risks of influence are there, and they will most likely become evident in his hiring policies,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, political analyst and director of Kiev’s Penta think-tank.
    “If Zelenskiy becomes president, taking into account that he basically doesn’t have any people, or has very few, Kolomoisky can suggest different people to him (for government office) through whom he will then exert his influence on power.”
    Asked to comment on the connections documented by Reuters, Zelenskiy’s campaign did not reply. Kolomoisky did not reply to a request for comment sent to him via his 1+1 media company
    After one campaign stop on April 5, Zelenskiy squeezed through a scrum of journalists and climbed into a black bulletproof Mercedes that was registered, according to a vehicle ownership database, to an associate of Kolomoisky.
    The car is an example of a web of connections between Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky that have muddied the candidate’s image as an outsider.
    The Mercedes was registered in the name of a Ukrainian businessman called Timur Mindych, who is on the board of trustees of the Jewish Community of Dnipropetrovsk, a body of which Kolomoisky is president.
    Until recently Mindych shared ownership with Kolomoisky of Vision TV. In 2017 Mindych was registered as holding a 9 percent stake in Kolomoisky’s Belize offshore company, Harley Trading Limited, one of the firms via which Kolomoisky controls the 1+1 media empire.
    Mindych is also a part of Zelenskiy’s orbit.
    Cyprus and Ukrainian business registry records show that he is a co-owner of Cyprus-registered Green Family Ltd, founded by Zelenskiy and his partners in 2012.    Zelenskiy exited the company in January this year.
    Ukrainian business ownership records list Mindych as co-owner, with Green Family Ltd and other owners, of three companies involved in producing Zelenskiy’s TV shows, among other activities.
    Calls to a phone number listed for Mindych went unanswered.
    Some of the people helping Zelenskiy with his election campaign have worked in the past for Kolomoisky.
    A lawyer called Andrei Bogdan is on Zelenskiy’s staff, and represented him at a meeting with a government official last week, the official’s press office confirmed.
    Bogdan became Kolomoisky’s adviser in 2014, when the businessman was the governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, the lawyer told the Ukrainian Pravda newspaper in 2016.
    Dmytro Razumkov, an adviser to Zelenskiy’s campaign, declined to answer questions from Reuters about Bogdan’s role and declined to put Reuters in contact with him. Ukrainian media outlet Bihus quoted Razumkov as saying Bogdan was involved in Zelenskiy’s campaign “as his old friend.”
    At the appearance in April, Zelenskiy was accompanied by a man who appeared to be in his security detail.    The two were also photographed together during the campaign in the city of Lviv.
    Reuters has also found photographs from six different occasions when the same man was with Kolomoisky.
    Earlier this year, members of Zelenskiy’s security detail were filmed with him in a van owned by a company connected to Kolomoisky.    Asked for comment, Zelenskiy’s campaign and Kolomoisky’s representatives did not reply.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova, Natalia Zinets, Sergiy Karazy and Pavel Polityuk in KIEV, Rinat Sagdiev and Anton Zverev in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/17/2019 Hungry for change, Ukrainians set to elect comedian as next president by Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part in a production
of the Servant of the People television series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainians fed up with entrenched corruption and hungry for change are likely to elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no previous political experience, as their next president in a run-off vote on Sunday.
    The 41-year-old Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, has maintained a strong lead since winning nearly twice as many votes as the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in last month’s first round of the election.
    An opinion poll by the KIIS research firm on Tuesday showed Zelenskiy with 72 percent of the vote and Poroshenko with 25 percent.    Last week a different survey put them on 61 percent and 24 percent respectively.
    Zelenskiy’s rise fits a pattern of political insurgency across many parts of the world, from the election of President Donald Trump in the United States, to Brexit, to the Five Star Movement in Italy that was also propelled by a comedian.
    His victory would be a drastic departure from previous presidential elections since Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, which were won by experienced politicians including three former prime ministers.
    At stake is the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following the 2014 Maidan protests that caused Poroshenko’s Kremlin-backed predecessor to flee into exile, and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
    Poroshenko believes he can close the gap on Zelenskiy and there is an outside chance that at the last moment voters will choose a familiar face rather than a leap into the unknown.
    Zelenskiy has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course and has assured investors that he would push reforms, tackle corruption and keep the economy anchored to an International Monetary Fund loan program.
    But while he has begun releasing a policy agenda, he remains something of an unknown quantity and also faces scrutiny over his ties to a powerful oligarch who would like to see Poroshenko out of power.
    “The comedian capitalized on a broad rejection of the country’s political elites and Mr Poroshenko’s widespread unpopularity among the electorate,” said Agnese Ortolani, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
    “Mr Zelenskiy’s policy platform — beyond a focus on anti-corruption issues and a broad, pro-Western agenda — remains unclear,” she said, adding: “Our core forecast is that Mr Zelenskiy will defeat Mr Poroshenko in the second round.”
    A 53-year-old confectionary magnate, Poroshenko has portrayed his opponent as a buffoonish populist, unfit to lead a country at war against Kremlin-backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed 13,000 people.
    That message has resonated with some voters such as Iryna Zaitseva, a pensioner who stitches traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts in her retirement.
    “I want my country to be represented by a man who is wise, smart,” she said.    “Clowns and buffoons are also needed, but in a circus arena.”
    Poroshenko secured visa-free travel for Ukrainians to European Union countries. He implemented some reforms, helped establish a national Orthodox Church independent from Moscow, and successfully lobbied the West to keep sanctions on Russia.
    But critics say the pace of change has not matched the expectations of the Maidan protests, named after a central square in Kiev.    Poroshenko also did not keep a pledge to end the war in the east within weeks and living standards remain low in Ukraine, which has a population of 42 million and is one of Europe’s poorest countries.
    Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, a Gallup poll published in March showed.
    Zelenskiy tapped into this anti-establishment mood with an unorthodox campaign packed with jokes, comedy gigs and quirky social media posts to millions of online followers.
    His campaign also attracted well-known reformers, including two former ministers who fell out with Poroshenko.
    “Poroshenko has not delivered that justice which Maidan was all about,” Aivaras Abromavicius, a former economy minister who became an adviser to Zelenskiy, told Reuters.
    “And my main complaint to President Poroshenko is that he gave the hope that the country can be governed differently, and he buried that hope, unfortunately.”
(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/17/2019 Cuban president defiant in face of rising U.S. pressure
FILE PHOTO: Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks during the 16th Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our
America-Peoples Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) Summit in Havana, Cuba, December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Wednesday that no one could rip the island away from Cubans, after the Trump administration lifted a ban on U.S. lawsuits for the use of properties seized by Cuba’s government since its 1959 revolution.
    “No one will rip the (fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force,” Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter.    “We Cubans do not surrender.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Leslie Adler)

4/17/2019 Trump security adviser unveils new U.S. sanctions to pressure Cuba, Venezuela
FILE PHOTO: National Security Advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with NATO
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    MIAMI (Reuters) – U.S. national security adviser John Bolton announced a series of new sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela on Wednesday as the Trump administration sought to boost pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and the countries that support him.
    Bolton, in a speech to an association of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, said the United States was adding five names linked to Cuba’s military and intelligence services to its sanctions blacklist, including the military-owned airline Aerogaviota.
    Bolton said Washington planned new limits on remittances to Cuba and changes to end the use of transactions that allow Havana to circumvent sanctions and obtain access to hard currency.    He also announced new sanctions on Venezuela’s central bank to prohibit its access to U.S. dollars.
    “Under this administration, we don’t throw dictators lifelines.    We take them away,” Bolton said.
    Bolton’s announcement of the new sanctions came just hours after the Trump administration said it was lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
    The major policy shift, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars.    It is intended to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding an end to Cuban support for Venezuela’s Maduro.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by David Alexander; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)

4/17/2019 Ukrainian leader’s re-election drive to win the army vote stutters by Gleb Garanich and Serhiy Takhmazov
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's president and candidate in a presidential election next week, Petro Poroshenko,
speaks after a failed attempt to hold a debate with his opponent comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the
Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    NOVOLUHANSKE, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thought he could rely for his re-election in part on the votes of soldiers who have spent years fighting pro-Russian separatists.    But a visit to the frontline found low morale and little enthusiasm for him.
    Such views go some way to explaining why Poroshenko’s attempt is faltering to cast himself as the defender of Ukraine against what he calls Russian aggression.
    Polls show Poroshenko is on course to lose in a second round landslide on Sunday to Volodomyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a president on a TV show and who led convincingly in a first round on March 31.
    Poroshenko, who placed a distant second overall among 39 candidates in the first round, beat Zelenskiy among soldiers stationed at the front, but only barely: by less than 200 votes in the Donetsk region and just 55 votes in neighboring Luhansk.     “If there’s a new face, that’s no bad thing,” said Yevhen, a 22-year-old Ukrainian serviceman whose job is to keep tanks in a state of readiness in case a ceasefire breaks down.
    Fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014 when Russian-backed rebels rejected Kiev’s rule.    They now control large swathes of territory.    A shaky ceasefire ended major combat in 2015, but deadly clashes still take place regularly.    Around 13,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.
    Interviews with other soldiers in front line areas in eastern Ukraine indicated that troops were disappointed at what they saw as a failure under Poroshenko to invest properly in military hardware, and suspected that money meant for defense was being siphoned off through corruption.
    “We see how money is being stolen from the military budget, from the army,” said a member of the Azov battalion which comes under the command of Ukraine’s National Guard.    He declined to be identified, only giving his nom-de-guerre, Eydar.
    Speaking in another part of Donetsk region, near Novoluhanske, he did not name his preferred candidate, but said it should be someone who fights for his country, “and not for personal interests or the interests of some clan or other.”
    Such criticism shows how badly Poroshenko has been hurt by a corruption scandal involving the son of an ally accused of smuggling military equipment from Russia and selling it to the local armed forces at inflated prices.
    A fellow Azov battalion fighter said he wanted to see radical changes after the election, though he too did not say which candidate he favored.    He said he wanted to see a new government, and a new defense minister who would give the military the equipment and troops that it needed.
    “Because if the government continues at the same pace it has been moving, we cannot say how long this war is going to last,” said the serviceman, who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Takho.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Christian Lowe/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/18/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy keeps Ukraine presidential poll leadbr
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy flashes a victory sign following the announcement of the first
exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, has kept his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.
    The poll by research body Reiting showed Zelenskiy on 57.9 percent of votes and incumbent Petro Poroshenko on 21.7 percent.    Reiting polled 3,000 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from April 12 to 16.
    The previous poll made by Reiting in April 5-10 gave Zelenskiy 61 percent of votes while Poroshenko received 24 percent.
    Poroshenko and Zelenskiy will meet in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election, which will take place on April 21.    Zelenskiy won nearly twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round, on March 31.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/18/2019 Putin ally to Ukraine’s probable new leader: Do deal and get territory back by Andrew Osborn
Ukraine's politician Viktor Medvedchuk poses for a picture during an interview with
Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s new president could regain control over the separatist-controlled east of his country within months and get cheap gas and major investment from Russia if he does a deal with Moscow, the Kremlin’s closest ally in Ukraine said.
    Viktor Medvedchuk, a prominent figure in Ukraine’s Russia-leaning opposition, outlined the prospect in an interview before a presidential election runoff in Ukraine on Sunday which polls show political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy should easily win.
    He said the Kremlin was keen to know more about Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old Russian-speaking TV comedian who has no political experience, to understand if he is someone it could do a deal with, something it failed to do with incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
    “They don’t have any expectations in Moscow,” he said.    “They want to see what happens afterwards, who will be in his (Zelenskiy’s) entourage, and what he will do and with whom.”
    A Ukrainian citizen, Medvedchuk does not represent Russia, but his words carry weight due to his close friendship with President Vladimir Putin and track record as a go-between between the two nations.
    Medvedchuk said he had known Putin for 19 years, that the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter, and that he had held talks with Putin in Moscow as recently as two weeks ago.
    The Kremlin has made clear it will be glad to see the back of Poroshenko but has not commented on Zelenskiy, saying only that it is watching candidates’ statements closely and hopes any new president can implement a peace deal on Donbass, eastern Ukraine, which has been under separatist control since 2014.
    The Kremlin did not immediately respond when asked if Medvedchuk was acting on its behalf or if the outlines of his proposal were in line with its own thinking.
    Medvedchuk, who said he had only met Zelenskiy once “eight or nine years ago” and had no contacts with him, appears to be testing the waters however.
    Medvedchuk was head of then-Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s administration until 2005.    He has brokered prisoner exchanges between the two countries and held talks in Moscow last month with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about gas prices.
    At that meeting, he said he and an ally secured a pledge of a 25 percent discount for Russian gas if Kiev agreed to resume direct gas purchases from energy giant Gazprom instead of via European countries as it has done since the end of 2015.
    Russia’s main focus is returning separatist-held Donbass to Kiev on its own terms.    This could help Moscow win some relief from sanctions imposed by the European Union over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its backing for the pro-Russian Donbass uprising.
    Poroshenko balked at what he saw as the unfavorable terms of the so far unimplemented Minsk peace deal agreed at a 2015 summit with Russia, France and Germany which called for Donbass to be given a special status and for an amnesty for separatist fighters among other things.
    So far, Zelenskiy has said he wants peace in the east and to breathe new life into stalled talks, while saying he would not implement parts of the Minsk deal either.
    For now, said Medvedchuk, Zelenskiy was on the wrong policy track.    But he said there was hope he might alter his stance once elected after he’d had a chance to immerse himself in the subject.
    “Maybe he’ll come round to the idea that for the sake of peace you need to do this,” said Medvedchuk.    “Nobody is talking about having to make concessions or give something back.    We’re talking about the need to return people and territory.”
    Putin might be willing to release 24 captured Ukrainian sailors as a goodwill gesture, Medvedchuk said, adding that billions of dollars of Russian money would flow into Ukraine’s economy if economic ties between the two neighbors, which have been disrupted by sanctions, were restored.
    “We’re not saying that we have to kiss or hug each other again.    We’re talking about restoring pragmatic economic relations,” he said, adding that Ukraine had lost $20 billion a year in exports to Russia because of Kiev turning its back on Moscow after Russia’s actions in 2014.
    Medvedchuk’s pitch to patch up ties with Moscow is unpalatable for many Ukrainians who view Russia as a strategic enemy, particularly in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country.
    But it has support in the Russian-speaking south-east and is designed to appeal to those weary of a 5-year-old war estimated by the United Nations to have killed over 16,000 people.
    If pro-Russian separatists handed Donbass back to Ukrainian government control, some EU countries have suggested they would be ready to lift sanctions on Russia, though other countries only favor sanctions relief if Moscow returns Crimea as well.
    An agreement on how to implement a peace deal over eastern Ukraine could be reached “within several months” and implemented on the ground within “six to eight months,” said Medvedchuk, saying any talks on the matter should be between Kiev, Moscow and the two pro-Russian separatist breakaway territories.
    “We could do it all within a few months.    We need to sit down and talk.    It (the detail in the Minsk accord) has already been spelt out.    We just need to determine the order of doing things.”
    That would entail the Ukrainian parliament enacting several laws and approving a change to the constitution.
    Medvedchuk said he would advise Zelenskiy on the subject if asked and that his party, “Opposition Platform – For Life,” which is second in the polls, — would potentially be ready to cooperate with Zelenskiy in parliament after elections in October on a case-by-case basis.
    Zelenskiy has indicated he would not want to form a coalition with Medvedchuk’s party and has not said if he would be ready to work together on an ad hoc basis.
.     In the meantime, Moscow’s standoff with Kiev is deepening.    Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday he had signed a decree limiting Russian exports of some coal, crude oil and oil products to Ukraine in response to a recent Ukrainian embargo on some Russian goods.
    Cold economic logic now dictated the need for a rapprochement with Moscow, said Medvedchuk.
    “If we don’t do it and continue with this anti-Russian policy and hysteria our economic life will deteriorate further.”
(Refiles to fix dropped letter in second paragraph.)
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

4/19/2019 Belarus’ Lukashenko: presidential election will take place in 2020
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during "Big Talk" news conference in
Minsk, Belarus March 1, 2019. Nikolay Petrov/BelTA/Pool via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that the country’s presidential elections would be held in 2020 as planned.
    Speaking at his state-of-the-nation address, Lukashenko said parliamentary elections would be held later this year.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

4/19/2019 Thousands rally in Belgrade to support Serbia’s president Vucic by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac
Supporters of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burn flare as they wait for his arrival for his campaign rally "The Future of Serbia" in
front of the Parliament Building in Belgrade, Serbia, April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica. The Banner reads: "The future of Serbia."
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of people from all over Serbia flocked to Belgrade’s city center on Friday in a show of support for President Aleksandar Vucic, who has faced five months of opposition protests.
    In a lengthy speech to the rally, Vucic called for a dialogue with the opposition, adding, “But we are not going to take any ultimatums.”
    The crowd, rallied by a band of drummers, waved with signal flares and Serbian flags, chanting “Aco (Aleksandar abbreviated) the Serb” as Vucic took the stage in front of the country’s parliament building.
    “We have no man better suited to lead us than Vucic, he is the savior of Serbia,” said Nevenka, 28, a waitress from the southern city of Nis who gave only her first name.
    Vucic, an ultranationalist during the Balkan wars in the 1990s, embraced European values before coming to power in 2012.    In coalition with the Socialists of Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic he controls 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.
    The opposition, which started weekly protests in December, accuses him of stifling media freedoms and turning a blind eye to corruption and what they call the “criminal activities” of his close associates including his brother.    Vucic strongly denies the allegations.
    “Today is the day for our Serbia,” Vucic told the crowd.
    Some analysts said Friday’s rally, a grand finale of Vucic’s “The Future of Serbia” campaign, was an attempt to cement popular support ahead of a long-awaited landmark deal with Kosovo, Serbia’s former southern province.
    Predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after a bloody war there.    It won recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but not from Serbia or its big power patron Russia, and relations between Belgrade and Kosovo remain tense.
    A binding agreement on normalisation of ties is a precondition for both countries to join the European Union.
    “To sign any deal with Kosovo, he needs to show that he has strong popular support because nationalists will not like it,” said Djordje Pavicevic, professor at the Political Sciences Faculty.    “On the other hand if there is no deal, pro-EU forces in the country will complain.”
    Vucic said in an interview last month that failure to revive talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalising relations could destabilize the Western Balkan region, which is still recovering from the wars of the 1990s.
    Vucic is due to meet the presidents of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin in Beijing next week and a week later he is expected to meet the leaders of Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.    Local media have reported that Kosovo will be the main topic of the talks.
    Vucic is maintaining a delicate balancing act between Serbia’s EU aspirations and close ties with Russia and China.
    Many Serbs remain opposed to his rule.    Dragana, a nurse from central Serbia, said she did not come to Friday’s rally voluntarily.
    “I had a choice, to decline and lose my job in the (state) hospital, or to be here,” said Dragana, who declined to give her last name.
    “They cannot win my mind, I must be here, but tomorrow I will join our real (opposition) protest against injustice and … this ridiculousness.”
(Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/19/2019 Ukrainian presidential candidates trade insults in rowdy stadium debate by Polina Ivanova and Pavel Polityuk
Ukraine's President and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko attends a policy debate with his rival, comedian Volodymyr
Zelenskiy, at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The two men vying to be Ukraine’s next president traded insults in a raucous debate on Friday in front of thousands of supporters before an election that could put a comedian with no political experience in charge of a country at war.
    The debate, held in a hulking football stadium, was one of the last opportunities for incumbent President Petro Poroshenko to try to overhaul a significant lead in the opinion polls enjoyed by his challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comic.
    The event was light on policy and heavy on theatrics with supporters cheering and booing their respective candidates and shouting “Shame” and “Go away” in a gladiatorial atmosphere.
    At stake in Sunday’s election is the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Moscow following 2014 protests that caused Poroshenko’s Kremlin-backed predecessor to flee into exile, and foreshadowed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
    In a rare break from mutual mud-slinging, both men briefly knelt on stage at one point to honor the memory of Ukrainian soldiers killed in the country’s simmering 5-year war with Russian-backed separatists.
    Zelenskiy, 41, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, tried to cast Poroshenko, 53, as a rich out-of-touch leader who has overseen corruption and failed to end the war.
    “I’m not a politician,” Zelenskiy told Poroshenko.    “I’m just an ordinary person who has come to break the system.    I’m the result of your mistakes and promises.”
    He also questioned why living standards were in decline.
    “How is it that Ukraine is the poorest country with the richest president?
    Standing in front of a Ukrainian flag surrounded by army veterans, Poroshenko tried to portray Zelenskiy as an inept draft-dodger who would be unable to defend the country against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    “You’d be a weak head of state who would be unable to defend yourself from Putin’s blows.    I don’t believe that Mr Volodymyr (Zelenskiy) dreams of handing over Ukraine, of dragging Ukraine back into the Russian empire, but Putin has such a dream.”
    Zelenskiy was a front for other people, said Poroshenko, accusing him of wanting to further Russian interests and those of Ihor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen.
    He also leveled accusations of financial wrongdoing against Zelenskiy to which the comedian hit back:
    “I’m not at the prosecutor’s office, I haven’t done anything to find myself there, but maybe you’ll have to meet with the prosecutor.”
    Zelenskiy has put Poroshenko on the backfoot by running an unorthodox campaign that eschewed traditional rallies and relied on quirky social media videos and comedy gigs.
    The hour-long debate in the stadium, an unprecedented spectacle in Ukraine’s modern history, came after Zelenskiy challenged Poroshenko to meet him there.
    “I think this is the first and last time it’ll be this way in the history of such debates.    For them to be in a stadium? Never again.    The atmosphere is just super,” said Anya, a 25-year-old Zelenskiy supporter from the Poltava region.I loved it.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/25/2019 President Putin, Kim Jong-un meet in Russia by OAN Newsroom
    The leaders of North Korea and Russia have pledged to boost relations, following their meeting in Eastern Russia.    The delegations of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met behind closed-doors Thursday.
    Putin said he welcomed the idea of normalizing relations between the United States and North Korea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, center, pass honor guards officers during their meeting in
Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. President Putin sat down for talks Thursday with North Korean leader Kim, saying the
summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.(Yuri Kadobnov/Pool Photo via AP)
    Kim said the meeting could potentially help reach an agreement between the two countries regarding policies on the Korean peninsula.
    “As you’ve said before, I believe this meeting will be very useful in strengthening and developing relations between the two countries that share long history of friendship and traditions,” stated the North Korean leader.    “As world attention is focused on the Korean Peninsula, there will be very meaningful dialogue for us to jointly assess the Korean Peninsula policies and share, coordinate and study our views.”
    Putin said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, and would discuss the results with China and the U.S.

4/25/2019 State Dept. blasts Russia’s offer of citizenship to residents of Eastern Ukraine by OAN Newsroom
    The State Department is condemning Russia’s offer of citizenship to residents of the occupied regions of Eastern Ukraine.
    In a statement Wednesday, Department officials said the move is a provocative act, which could damage peace settlement in parts of the region.
    According to U.S. officials, the decision could hurt Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
FILE – People line up after crossing the contact line between pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian troops as they wait at
passport control in Mayorsk, Ukraine February 25, 2019. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo)
    Earlier in the day, Vladimir Putin signed a decree to expedite the naturalization of residents of Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine as Russian citizens.    Residents of those occupied areas welcomed Putin’s decision.
    “For people who live here, it is impossible to use their Ukrainian citizenship to the fullest.    Many do not have an opportunity to move to Ukraine.    It will be easier for them to get a Russian passport and enjoy all the benefits — the right to vote, to cross borders, even staying in Russia longer will be easier for those who will get passports.” — Donestsk resident
    The State Department also urged Russia to uphold its commitments to a peace settlement, and ease back its occupation of Eastern Ukraine.

5/2/2019 New Russian internet law stokes censorship fears
    MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a measure that expands government control over the internet and which critics say will lead to widespread censorship. The law, signed Wednesday, requires internet providers to install equipment to route Russian internet traffic through servers in the country.    Proponents said it is a defense measure in case the U.S. or other hostile powers cut off the internet for Russia.    Critics say that would increase the power of state agencies to control information.

5/2/2019 Exclusive: Wife of Ukraine president-elect got penthouse bargain from tycoon by Natalia Zinets, Polina Ivanova and Rinat Sagdiev
A view shows the Emperor's House residential complex in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, Crimea
April 15, 2019. Picture taken April 15, 2019. REUTERS/David Axelrod
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The wife of Ukrainian president-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy bought a luxury apartment for less than half the market rate from business tycoon Oleksandr Buryak, according to official income and property records.
    Zelenskiy, a comedian and TV star with no political experience, won the April 21 presidential election after campaigning as someone who stands apart from the wealthy elite that dominates Ukrainian business and politics.
    But the deal over the apartment — in the upmarket “Emperor” complex on the Black Sea coast — indicates that Zelenskiy’s family has benefited from a transaction with a member of that same wealthy elite.
    Reuters was unable to establish why the apartment was sold at below market prices.    Neither Zelenskiy nor his wife responded to requests for comment submitted via his campaign team and via companies he co-owns.
    In a statement issued after Reuters reported the apartment deal, Zelenskiy’s campaign office said all Ukrainian taxes and fees had been paid and that the property had been declared in line with the law.
    It also said that the apartment’s price had been consistent with the then market level.
    A second statement said the apartment’s price had been professionally assessed and compared to others in the area as part of the sale process.    The step was mandatory for the sale to be recognized by a notary, it said.
    Buryak, the businessman who, according to public property register documents sold the apartment, declined to comment on the apartment when Reuters contacted him by telephone, and did not respond to written questions.
    Zelenskiy’s wife, Olena Zelenska, bought the three-room penthouse apartment on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula for $163,893 in April 2013, according to the declaration of income and assets filed this year by her husband, and the Ukrainian property register.
    For the purchase, made the year before Russia annexed Crimea, she paid the equivalent of about $1,263 per square meter.
    A 2012 listing published on Ukrainian real estate site put the price for an apartment in the Emperor complex in a range of between $3,500 and $4,000 per square meter.
    A second listing for the same building, published in 2012 on the site, gave the minimum price as $2,800 per square meter.
    A Crimea real estate agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that apartments comparable to those in the Emperor complex usually sold in 2013 for between $2,500 and $3,000 per square meter but could go for up to $5,000.
    Buryak is a former member of the Ukrainian parliament who, with his brother Sergei, was controlling shareholder in Ukrainian lender Brokbiznesbank from at least 2010 until they sold the majority stake in mid-2013, according to data from Ukraine’s securities and exchange commission and a disclosure statement from the bank.
    Unnamed former Brokbiznesbank executives are under criminal investigation on suspicion that they embezzled money from the bank starting in 2012, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.
    As part of that investigation, prosecutors seized the assets of two companies suspected of benefiting from the alleged fraud, court documents show.
    Both firms, Seredynetske and Svarog-Bukovyna, are owned by Oleksandr Buryak and were owned by him at the time the alleged fraud took place, according to the official Ukrainian register of company ownership.
    Buryak did not respond to questions about the investigation.    Reuters could not independently confirm if he is being investigated.    A representative from Svarog West Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Seredynetske and Svarog-Bukovyna are parts of Svarog West Group.
    Zelenskiy’s opponents accuse him of being a pawn of Ihor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men whose media company has worked closely with the comedian’s TV production business.    Both Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky deny the president-elect is under the tycoon’s influence.
    Kolomoisky told Reuters he believed Buryak sold the apartment to Zelenska cheaply because his bank was short of liquidity and he needed to raise cash quickly. He did not offer evidence to support that claim.
    The Ukrainian central bank declared Brokbiznesbank illiquid on Feb. 28, 2014, 10 months after the apartment sale.
    In November 2013, six months after the apartment was sold, Ukrainian ratings agency “Expert-Rating,” in a report published on the Brokbiznesbank website, said the bank’s finances were robust and its liquidity was significantly above the average level for the sector.
    Buryak volunteered for Zelenskiy’s election campaign this year, according to data from the election commission.    He was delegated by the campaign to monitor for vote violations on polling day in Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskiy’s home region.
    Guarded by a pair of stone lions either side of its entrance, the Emperor complex sits in thickly-wooded parkland overlooking the Black Sea in the Crimean resort of Yalta.
    Next door is the Livadia Palace, where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed while attending the Yalta conference with Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Britain’s Winston Churchill at the end of World War Two.
    Zelenska is given as the current owner of the apartment in the Ukrainian property register.
    Her apartment was listed for sale with the Prichal 82 real estate agency in April at a price of $790,668, more than four times the purchase price in 2013 or the equivalent of $5,195 per square meter.
(Additional reporting by David Axelrod in YALTA, Crimea, and Anton Zverev in Moscow; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

5/3/2019 Bavarian, Austrian conservatives reject Orban’s call to work with populists
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban applauds as he presents the programme of his Fidesz party for
European Parliament elections in Budapest, Hungary, April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The leaders of Austria and Bavaria rejected on Friday a call by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for their center-right group in the European Parliament to ally with populist, nationalist parties ahead of EU elections later this month.
    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder both head parties that are part of the European People’s Party (EPP), the main conservative bloc in the European assembly.
    In March the EPP suspended Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party over accusations it had violated EU principles on the rule of law, freedom of the press and minorities’ rights.
    In the run-up to the European Parliament elections on May 23-26, Orban has called for the EPP to drop its aversion to the far right and forge an alliance after the vote.
    “No cooperation in Europe with right-wing populists, of course,” Soeder, who heads the Christian Social Union, the sister party of     Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told a joint news conference with Kurz after meeting in Vienna.
    “Nothing good would come of it,” he added.
    Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s far-right League, is trying to put together a Europe-wide alliance of nationalist, anti-immigration parties including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France.
    “I think nothing of cooperating with parties such as the AfD and Le Pen, which want to leave the European Union,” Kurz said.    “These parties have long ruled themselves out through their anti-European position.”
    He added, however, that one would have to see what alliances were possible after the European Parliament election later this month and that the priority for now was for the EPP to do as well as it can.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/4/2019 Pres. Trump: tremendous potential for U.S. relationship with Russia by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump reaffirms the United States’ relationship with Russia, despite what is portrayed in the mainstream media.
    On Twitter Saturday, the president reflected on a recent phone call he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Trump drew widespread criticism for his remarks at a joint press conference in Helsinki on Monday with
Russian President Vladimir Putin.    Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images
    The president said there is “tremendous potential” for the relationship between the two nations, adding not to listen to the fake news media, citing the recent ‘no collusion’ findings from the Mueller report.
    President Trump also called out the mainstream media over its coverage of unproven collusion with Russia, saying “when will the radical left-wing media apologize to me for knowingly getting the Russia collusion story so wrong.”
    He went on to question why the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC are allowed to be on Twitter and Facebook, when “so much of what they do is fake news.”
    Trump tweet: “Very good call yesterday with President Putin of Russia.    Tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia, despite what you read and see in the Fake News Media.    Look how they have misled you on 'Russia Collusion.'    The World can be a better and safer place.    Nice!

5/6/2019 Arctic nations to meet amid tensions over environment, resources by Simon Johnson
FILE PHOTO: An iceberg floats in a fjord near the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Top diplomats from the United States, Russia and other nations which border the Arctic meet in Finland on Monday to discuss policies governing the polar region, as tensions grow over how to deal with global warming and access to mineral wealth.
(Graphic: Rising global temperatures –
    Countries have been scrambling to claim territory or, like China, boost their presence in the region as thawing ice raises the possibility of exploiting much of the world’s remaining undiscovered reserves of oil and gas, plus huge deposits of minerals such as zinc, iron and rare earth metals.
    With time-saving Arctic shipping routes also opening up, the Pentagon warned on May 2 of the risk of Chinese submarines in the Arctic.
    That followed a sharp statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who will give a speech at the Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland on May 6 – rejecting a role for China in shaping Arctic policy.
    “The U.S. has realized that they cannot leave the Russians and Chinese to carve up the Arctic as they see fit,” said Niklas Granholm, deputy director of studies at Sweden’s Defence Research Agency.
    The Arctic Council is made up of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, with the region’s indigenous populations also represented.
    China has had observer status at the Council since 2013, and has been increasingly active in the region, outlining a plan for a “Polar Silk Road” last year.
    Russia has reopened military bases closed after the Cold War and is modernizing its powerful Northern Fleet.    In response, the U.S. has reconstituted its Second Fleet, whose area of responsibility will include the North Pole.
    The Arctic Council’s remit excludes military matters, but participants have already clashed, with the Washington Post reporting that the U.S. had refused to sign off on a final declaration, disagreeing with the wording on climate change.
    “There are different tones with which different countries want to approach climate change,” Finland’s Arctic Ambassador Aleksi Harkonen said.
    “It’s not about whether climate change can be mentioned or not.    It will be there, in the final declaration.”
    Surface air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and the ocean could be ice-free during the summer months within 25 years, according to some researchers.
(Graphic: Ocean tides and warming –
    That could have a profound effect on the world’s weather as well as on wildlife and indigenous populations in the polar region.
    President Donald Trump has frequently expressed scepticism about whether global warming is a result of human activity and has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.
    That agreement aimed to limit a rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times by 2100.
    Another flashpoint in Finland could be the meeting between Pompeo and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who will discuss the political crisis in Venezuela.
    Russia has accused the United States of trying to engineer a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, one of its closest allies in Latin America.
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told Russia to stop interfering in what he called America’s “hemisphere.”
    India, South Korea, Singapore, Italy and Japan have observer status at the Arctic Council in addition to China.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Andrew Osborne in Moscow and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; Editing by Jan Harvey)

5/7/2019 Exit from mainstream looms after Orban rejects EU conservative by Gergely Szakacs and Andreas Rinke
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures during a joint news conference with Austria's
Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache in Budapest, Hungary, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST/BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of Germany’s conservatives said she expected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party would quit Europe’s main center-right group after he withdrew support for the bloc’s candidate to head the European Commission.
    Orban, who has long flirted with far-right leaders from across the continent while professing loyalty to the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), said he could no longer support Manfred Weber after he “insulted” Hungarians.
    On Monday evening, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, signaled that the anti-immigrant, hard-right Orban had crossed a river.
    “With his behavior in the last few days and the meeting with (Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini), he has given a clear sign that he will leave,” she told Reuters.    The EPP had tried to build a bridge to Orban, she added, but he had chosen another route.
    Losing Fidesz, whose grip on Hungarian politics means it delivers a large bloc of legislators to the European Parliament, would weaken the EPP after May’s European Parliament election, potentially costing the bloc its say over who succeeds Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU’s Executive Commission.
    In March, Weber, a fellow German conservative, brokered a compromise under which Fidesz was suspended but not expelled from the EPP over concerns that it had violated EU principles on the rule of law.
    Orban did not say who he would back instead of Weber, but many analysts saw in the Salvini meeting a sign that the two anti-immigration populists wanted to set up a far-right group together in the European Parliament.
    Orban gave as his reason for dropping Weber a month-old interview that had been extensively reported in government-friendly Hungarian media at the time, making it plausible that Salvini’s visit last week was the real trigger.
    In the March 29 interview, Weber said he would not accept office as commission head if he needed the votes of Orban’s Fidesz party to do so, telling German ZDF television he wanted votes from across the spectrum to advance a centrist agenda.
    Orban cast Weber’s remarks, described by a Hungarian junior minister as an “insult to Hungarian voters” and widely reported in Hungarian media the day they were made, as an insult to the Hungarian people as a whole.
    “Weber has said he does not want to be commission president with the votes of the Hungarians,” Orban said, adding that this meant he could no longer support Weber – even though he was still describing Weber as an “outstanding” candidate five days after the original interview.
    Orban, who has cast the impending election as a choice between pro- and anti-immigration in Europe, has urged mainstream conservatives to forge an alliance with populist, nationalist groups after the vote.
    The EPP has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz.    Polls suggest it will lose seats but remain the biggest group.    Far-right, populist parties are expected to perform well.
    “Loyalty is an important political category,” Orban said.    “We would like to stick with the community where we have lived and worked so far. Unless this community tells us that our presence is no longer required.”
(Writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

5/8/2019 Finland’s Social Democrats aim to form center-left coalition government
FILE PHOTO: Social Democratic Party leader Antti Rinne listens during an interview in
Helsinki, Finland April 9, 2019. Picture taken April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Attila Cser/File Photo
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s Social Democrats said on Wednesday they would try to form a center-left coalition government with the Center Party and three smaller partners following a parliamentary election last month.
    The Social Democrats (SDP) won the April 14 election with a record low 17.7 percent of the vote, forcing them to partner up with other parties to form a government. [L5N21W080]
    The party’s chairman, Antti Rinne, said he would work on forming a coalition with outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Center Party as his main partner, while the other partners would be the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party.
    If Rinne secures the coalition behind a joint program, he would steer Finland a step left after Sipila’s center-right government, which included the right-leaning National Coalition.
    The Center Party came fourth in the election with 13.8 percent of the vote, a 100-year low, but Rinne, a former union boss, said he believed it would be easier to agree a joint program with the party than with the pro-austerity National Coalition.
    In his election campaign, Rinne promised tax hikes to preserve Finland’s vast public welfare state, while the National Coalition would like to lower taxes to boost the economy.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

5/8/2019 Broad coalitions key to fighting populism: Polish opposition by Marcin Goclowski and Justyna Pawlak
FILE PHOTO: Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of Civic Platform gestures during European Coalition meeting in
Warsaw, Poland, April 6, 2019. Picture taken April 6, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Adam Stepien/File Photo via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s newly formed broad opposition alliance should be an example to others in Europe hoping to stem a tide of rightist populism ahead of European Parliament elections on May 26, centrist leader Grzegorz Schetyna said in an interview.
    His European Coalition – comprising the Civic Platform formerly led by European Council President Donald Tusk and a motley of leftist and rural politicians – is polling a close second to the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.
    Set up in February, the grouping has emerged as the first potential challenge to PiS rule since the arch-conservative, populist party won power in 2015 and set Poland on a collision course with the European Union over democratic standards.
    The European Parliament ballot shapes up as a test ahead of the parliamentary election in Poland due in the autumn that will decide whether central Europe’s largest economy can overcome its growing isolation within the EU.
    “The example of Poland is being closely watched in Europe,” Schetyna said in an interview with Reuters.    If we manage to win, it will be a signal to all countries.”
    “This election, in Poland, will show that you can successfully combat populism, that you can effectively combat those who demolish democracy.”

    Like rising nationalist parties elsewhere in Europe, PiS has benefited from voter concerns over migration and a disenchantment with political elites many believe neglect poorer voters at the expense of big business.
    The PiS remains popular despite accusations that it is tilting formerly communist Poland back toward authoritarianism with a blend of vast social spending and nationalist rhetoric.
    A poll summarizing recent polls published by ONET portal put PiS support at 38.7 percent against 34.5 percent for the European Coalition, compared with 36.1 percent versus 34 percent in March.
    The polls indicate broadly, however, that an opposition coalition led by Schetyna could have a shot at forming a government after the parliamentary vote if it garners support by from new progressive group, Spring, founded by Poland’s first openly gay lawmaker, Robert Biedron, this year.
    The ONET poll put their combined support at 43.2 percent, compared with 43.9 percent for PiS and a small anti-establishment group.
    Schetyna said that, if successful, he would set up a commission to investigate whether PiS’ leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski violated the constitution as a de facto decision maker in Poland.    Kaczynski holds no official government jobs.
    A Schetyna-led government would also dismantle PiS reforms of the judiciary that have been criticized by the EU as a violation of the democratic separation of powers.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/9/2019 Putin, battling ratings slump, reviews Red Square military parade by Christian Lowe and Andrew Osborn
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend the
Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in
central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin watched intercontinental nuclear missile launchers roll across Red Square on Thursday as Russia put on its annual show of military might to mark the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory over the Nazis.
    Battling a ratings slump as Russia grinds through a sixth consecutive year of falling real incomes, Putin looked on as thousands of troops marched past and columns of tanks rumbled across the famous square in a display reminiscent of the Cold War era.
    Putin, whose term ends in 2024, reviewed the parade from a tribune packed with Soviet war veterans, some of whom wore rows of campaign medals and clutched red roses.
    “We have done and will do everything necessary to ensure the high level of readiness of our armed forces,”     Putin said.    “We call on all countries to recognise our common responsibility to create a security system that is effective and equal for everyone.”
    Russia’s ties with the West soured following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and Moscow has continued to challenge the United States through its staunch support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
    World leaders have attended in the past, but were conspicuous by their absence on Thursday, something the Kremlin played down.    Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned as Kazakh president in March after three decades in power, was the only notable foreign guest.
    The Kremlin said it had not invited foreign heads of state but next year’s 75th anniversary would be marked with greater pomp as a major milestone.
    The authorities, backed by state media, use the annual event to boost patriotic feeling at home, something that could help lift Putin’s approval rating which, though still high at 66 percent in April, is down from nearly 90 percent five years ago.
    The display of raw military power is also designed to show the world and potential buyers of military hardware how a modernization program has changed the face of the Russian military and arms industry.
    However, military experts say various problems mean Russia had yet to produce in large numbers some of its newest hardware, such as the T-14 Armata battle tank, despite their Red Square outings.
    Putin has sharply increased military spending over the nearly 20 years he has dominated Russian politics, handed the Russian military significant policy-making clout, and deployed Russian forces in Ukraine and Syria, stoking tensions with the West.
    As commander-in-chief, he has also at times donned military uniform himself and been filmed at the controls of a strategic bomber and on the conning tower of a submarine in photo opportunities designed to boost his man of action image.
    Weapons displayed on Red Square included Russia’s Yars mobile intercontinental nuclear missile launcher and its advanced S-400 air defense missile system, which Moscow has deployed in Syria to protect its forces.
    But this year’s parade was notable for the lack of major show-stopping new weapons or pieces of military hardware.
    Some politicians in former Soviet republics and satellite states regard the parade as crude sabre-rattling by a resurgent Russia they say poses a threat to Europe’s security.    Russia dismisses such allegations as nonsense.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jon Boyle)

5/9/2019 Russians, opposition figures sentenced over role in 2016 Montenegro coup attempt by Stevo Vasiljevic
Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic arrives at the High Court
in Podgorica, Montenegro, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Two Russian intelligence officers and two opposition politicians were among 13 people sentenced on Thursday over a 2016 election day plot aimed at toppling Montenegro’s government, killing the prime minister and bringing a pro-Russian alliance to power.
    The verdict given in the heavily guarded Montenegro court said that on Oct. 16, 2016, the accused planned to attack state institutions and kill then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has led the Adriatic country almost continuously, either as prime minister or president, for three decades.
    The two Russian nationals, identified in court as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov and described as Russia’s military intelligence officers, were sentenced in absentia to jail terms of 15 and 12 years respectively.
    Moscow has repeatedly dismissed accusations about their role as absurd.    All the accused denied wrongdoing.    Under Montenegrin law, they have the right to appeal to the higher court.
    The verdict said that one of the aims of the coup attempt was to prevent Montenegro, which became independent in 2006 after it split from Serbia, from joining NATO, which it did in June 2017. Montenegro also wants to join the European Union.
    “Every member of the criminal organization had a predetermined task and role,” Judge Suzana Mugosa said at the end of the 19 month trial.    “All included in the indictment are guilty for attempting an act of terrorism.”
    “In the functioning of (this) criminal group there was the readiness for the use of violence and intimidation,” she said.
    Montenegro’s opposition, which supports weekly anti-government protests in Podgorica, accused the authorities of fabricating the plot to secure the narrow election victory for Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists in 2016.
    Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, leaders of the Democratic Front, an opposition alliance that wants to depose Djukanovic, who has been the president since 2018, and seeks closer ties with Serbia and Russia, received five-year jail terms each.
    They were also absent from the court.     Earlier in the day Knezevic told local Vijesti TV that he and Mandic would await sentencing with their “most trustworthy men” somewhere in Podgorica.
    Bratislav Dikic, a retired Serbian police general, was sentenced to eight years in jail.
    Although the court building and the surrounding area was heavily guarded by police armed with submachine guns, there were no incidents.
(Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams)
[The above article reminds me of the story that Hillary Clinton and the DNC paid Fusion GPS who got a dossier from Steele of Russian collusion into a country that was trying to plot to secure an election and notice it occurred in October 2016, and I wondered if this is where the story came from with the names changed to be used in a FISA warrant.].

5/10/2019 Russia’s Lavrov says ‘extremely significant’ differences with Japan on peace deal: RIA
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomes his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in
Moscow, Russia May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow and Tokyo still have “extremely significant” differences over a World War Two peace deal that Japan hopes will end a territorial row between them, RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.
    Japan is seeking a deal with Russia to put an end to a dispute over islands off its northeastern coast that were seized by Soviet troops in the last days of World War Two, a disagreement that has soured bilateral relations for decades.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/10/2019 EU heads put climate, democracy and jobs at heart of future course by Gabriela Baczynska and Luiza Ilie
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrives for the informal meeting of
European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SIBIU, Romania (Reuters) – Fighting climate change, safeguarding the rule of law and finding a modern model for growth must be at the heart of the European Union, the bloc’s leaders agreed in Thursday talks meant to show unity despite the damage from Brexit.
    However, their informal gathering in the Romanian town of Sibiu did not produce clear decisions on how to achieve the ambitious goals, underscoring divisions in the EU along multiple fault lines and setting up battles ahead.
    The leaders of all members except Britain met on Europe Day in Sibiu, which has German and Hungarian roots, 15 years after the EU’s expansion east finally consigned to history the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two.
    Ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23-26, the 27 leaders also had a first look at assigning the bloc’s most powerful jobs later this year.
    “In 15 days, some 400 million Europeans will choose between a project … to build Europe further or a project to destroy, deconstruct Europe and return to nationalism,” Macron told the gathering.
    “Climate, protection of borders and a model of growth, a social model… is what I really want for the coming years.”
    On climate change, France and eight other EU countries proposed getting to “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” by 2050 and the bloc will now fight about how to frame and finance any transition to more environmentally-friendly policies.
    “Nothing has changed when it comes to divides and different opinions about it,” said the chairman of the talks, European Council President Donald Tusk who used to be the prime minister of Poland, one of the biggest EU stallers on climate reforms.
    “What is new is this very fresh and energetic pressure,” he said of youth protests growing in Europe to demand radical action to safeguard the planet.    “There is no future for politicians without this sensitivity and imagination.”
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of her country’s powerful car industry, refused to endorse the French-led proposal entirely but backed spending a quarter of the EU’s next joint budget for 2021-28 on climate and energy efficiency.
    A report released on Thursday by the World Wide Fund (WWF) and Global Footprint Network sharply criticized the EU, saying its members consumed the Earth’s resources faster than they can be renewed.
    The leaders pledged to protect the rule of law at a time when the governments in post-communist members Poland, Hungary and Romania stand accused of undercutting democracy.
    Divided over issues ranging from democratic standards to migration, the EU is grappling with the prospect of Britain’s departure, a wave of populism, and external challenges from China to Russia to the United States.
    It is also lagging behind in areas from artificial intelligence to cyber security, and is scrambling to keep alive a troubled nuclear deal with Iran.
    But the leaders signed off on a declaration promising to “defend one Europe,” “stay united, through thick and thin” and “always look for joint solutions” ahead.
    Tusk announced another summit on May 28, two days after the European Parliament vote, to let the national leaders agree on appointing new people to hold the EU’s top roles until 2024.
    This will involve fierce horse-trading over names to head the European Council, which brings together national leaders, the executive European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and the joint diplomatic service.
    All five posts are up for grabs later this year and the outgoing European Parliament has already picked its favorites for the Commission job including a conservative German, Manfred Weber, and a Dutch socialist, Frans Timmermans.
    Many national leaders, however, want to keep control of the opaque process to themselves.
    Agreement on top roles took three summits the last time round but Tusk said he wanted the new leadership in place in July and was ready to go for a majority vote if unanimity was missing.
    Hungary’s eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke against Weber.
    He did, however, get the backing of Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.    Macron, the leaders of Luxembourg and Lithuania opposed the idea of following the parliament’s choice.
    Other names in the hat include Brexit negotiator Frenchman Michel Barnier, or Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s current commissioner who imposed hefty fines on global tech giants Google and Apple.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie, Gabriela Baczynska, Andreas Rinke in Sibiu, Jan Strupczewski and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Michel Rose in Paris and Michael Nienaber in Berlin; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

5/10/2019 Cuba to ration more products due to economic crisis, U.S. sanctions by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta
People wait in line to buy sweets in a state store in downtown Havana, Cuba, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba said on Friday it would control more the sales of certain foodstuff and hygiene products, including adding some back to the ration card, due to shortages that it blamed partly on the tightening of the U.S. trade embargo.
    Shop shelves on the Caribbean’s largest island have been increasingly empty of late with scarcity of basic products such as eggs, flour and chicken, and massive, hours-long queues for them whenever they come into stock.
    Cubans have been flooding social media with photos of the queues they are in, under the hashtag #lacolachallenge (queue challenge) to highlight the problem.
    Cuba imports 60 to 70 percent of its food. A handful of agricultural reforms in recent years have failed to boost output in its inefficient, centrally-planned economy, which also suffers from a decades-old U.S. trade embargo.
    But a decline in aid from key ally Venezuela and lower exports have left it struggling to find the cash to import.
    More U.S. sanctions since Donald Trump became president have worsened its liquidity crisis.
    Interior Commerce Minister Betsy Diaz said on Friday another problem was hoarding by Cubans worried about whether products would disappear and speculators aiming to re-sell goods on the black market.
    As a result, Cuban supermarkets will from now on limit how much each person can buy of certain products like chicken and soap, she said.    Other products such as eggs, rice, beans and sausages, will only be available to purchase with the ration card, and limited to a certain quantity each month.
    “Our mission is to fracture all the measures the U.S. government imposes, and today we are setting priorities,” Diaz said on the midday state-run news broadcast.
    Some Cubans, particularly those on low state salaries and pensions who cannot afford black market prices, expressed relief.
    “These measures are important for those Cubans most in need,” said pensioner Elizabeth Ortega, 72.
    Others said it highlighted the mismanagement of the economy.
    “These measures are a temporary remedy but they do not resolve Cubans’ problems in the long run,” said Ihosvany Perez Rodriguez, 34, who runs a small shop in Havana.    “The country produces too little and so does not have enough money.”
    The head of the Communist Party Raul Castro introduced a series of reforms around a decade ago in the hope of opening up and boosting the economy, which is one of the world’s last Soviet-style command economies.
    However, that reform drive has tapered off in recent years partly due to discontent with some of its consequences such as rising albeit still low inequality and less state control.
    The move on Friday represents a setback to one of the proposed reforms, to end the universal rationing system, introduced just after the 1959 revolution.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by James Dalgleish)

5/10/2019 Republicans, Democrats concerned about Hungary’s Orban ahead of U.S. visit by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the informal meeting of
European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Congress told President Donald Trump on Friday they were concerned about Hungary’s “downward democratic trajectory,” ahead of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visit to Washington next week.
    “In recent years, democracy in Hungary has significantly eroded.    Under Orban, the election process has become less competitive and the judiciary is increasingly controlled by the state,” Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch and Bob Menendez, the panel’s top Democrat, said in a letter to Trump.
    The letter was also signed by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
    Several Democratic members of the House of Representatives, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, called on Trump to cancel his meeting with Orban, citing similar concerns as well as his anti-Semitic and xenophobic comments.
    Orban is a nationalist leader who has often had conflicts with the European Union over his anti-immigration campaigns and judicial reforms.    He clashed with the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, over what critics said was an erosion of democratic values by his government.
    Trump is due to meet with Orban on Monday.
    The senators also said they were very concerned about the close relationship between Hungary, a NATO partner, and Russia.    They said Hungary has failed to diversify its energy resources from Moscow and allowed Russia to exploit its visa system to evade U.S. sanctions.
    They called the relocation of the International Investment Bank from Moscow to Budapest “an exercise in Russian power projection.”    And they said it was disturbing that Hungary rejected a U.S. extradition request for two arms dealers and instead sent them “to their freedom in Moscow.”
    The senators asked Trump to raise those concerns in his meeting with Orban and underscore U.S. support for the Hungarian people.
    White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
    However, a senior administration official told reporters at the White House that Orban’s visit was part of a Trump administration strategy of re-engagement in Central and Eastern Europe, trying to encourage nations to work together and engage with NATO and neighbors like Ukraine.
    “The point of this meeting is simply just to reinforce the strategic relationship between allies … not necessarily to thrash out every issue on the bilateral agenda, which we have been doing constantly for the past two years,” the official said.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Alexandra Alper; Editing by James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)
[Orban has been fighting against immigration and George Soros influence over anti-Christian values and it is not hard to see in the above comments as the U.S. Democrats and the socialist E.U. want there anti-religious viewpoints and even playing the Russia card also pushed on Hungary who is trying to prevent it at the cost of being shunned for doing what is right, and I hope Trump can see that since they have been doing the same to him for the past two and half years.].

5/11/2019 Polish far-right supporters protest against restitution of Jewish property by Karol Witenberg and Alan Charlish
People take part in far right protest against the U.S. Senate's decision to accept a law that allows Jewish people to claim
compensation for property lost during WW2 in Warsaw, Poland, May 11, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Maciej Jazwiecki via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Hundreds of far-right supporters marched in Warsaw on Saturday to protest against a U.S. law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War Two, an issue increasingly featuring in campaigns for upcoming Polish elections.
    Carrying placards with slogans including “Poland has no obligations” and “Holocaust hyenas,” demonstrators marched from the prime minister’s office to the U.S. embassy in central Warsaw.
    Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities before it was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi German occupiers who set up death camps such as Auschwitz on Polish soil.
    Former owners and their descendents have been campaigning since the fall of communism in 1989 to be compensated for lost property, which was seized by Poland’s authoritarian rulers but successive Polish administrations have lacked the money or determination to resolve the issue.
    The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government has said that as a victim in World War Two Poland should not be saddled with any financial obligations.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki repeated that message at an election rally in the northern town of Mlawa on Saturday, state run news agency PAP reported.
    “We will not allow any damages to be paid to anyone because it is us who should get damages,” PAP quoted him as saying.
    Poland will hold European parliament elections on May 26. Elections for its own parliament will take place in the autumn.
    The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, or Act 447, requires the U.S. Department of State to provide a report to Congress on the progress of dozens of countries that signed a declaration in 2009 on the restitution of assets seized during or following World War Two.
    The so-called Terezin declaration also includes provisions to give formerly Jewish-owned property with no heirs to Holocaust survivors in need of financial help or to support education on the subject.
    “There is no such law in the world that would sanction (restitution of heirless property) and the Americans want to force us to pay those damages which are simply illegitimate,” said Adam Jureczek, a driver from the south-western region of Silesia.
    On a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, said Act 447 only obliged the U.S. government to prepare a report on compliance with the Terezin declaration and it was up to Poland to decide how it would comply.
    Polish far-right supporters have said that the law could result in Jewish organisations demanding as much as $300 billion in compensation.
    More than 3 million of Poland’s Jewish population of 3.2 million were killed during the Holocaust.
    The PiS party, which has been ahead in most polls for the European elections, has succeeded in building a broad coalition of conservative-minded voters, but critics have accused it of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism.
    Prior to Saturday’s march, two anti-fascist activists wrote to Warsaw’s local government warning of possible anti-Semitic hate speech at the protest, daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
(Reporting by Karol Witenberg, Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarzak-Semczuk, Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Clelia Oziel)

5/12/2019 Lithuanian presidential hopefuls vow to tackle inequality by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian presidential candidate Ingrida Simonyte's campaign placard is
seen in Vilnius, Lithuania May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuanians started voting in a tightly contested presidential election on Sunday to replace outgoing Dalia Grybauskaite, the Baltic nation’s “Iron Lady” who was one of the European Union’s most outspoken critics of Russia.
    Still very popular, Grybauskaite, 63, is not eligible to run after two terms. But the top three candidates vying to replace her have pledged to maintain a tough stance against Vilnius’ former Soviet master as well as hefty military spending.
    Five years after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that sparked fears of further Russian aggression across eastern Europe, the election campaign in Lithuania was dominated by voter anger over economic inequality and corruption.
    The race is led jointly by Ingrida Simonyte, 44, a former finance minister in a center-right government, and Gitanas Nauseda, 54, a former senior economist at a top bank, running neck-and-neck on 22% each, according to a Vilmorus/Lietuvos Rytas poll.
    Polling third with 17% of voter support is prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, 48, a former police chief affiliated with the Farmers and Greens Union, the senior partner of the ruling coalition.
    All three have vowed to advocate for increased state spending on social issues, a sore point for many in Lithuania where nearly a third of the population could be at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
    Income inequality is among of the highest in the European Union, second only to Bulgaria.
    Lithuania’s president has a semi-executive role with a say in the appointment of key officials such as judges, the chief prosecutor and head of the central bank.    The president can veto laws and, in tandem with the government, sets foreign and security policy.
    Both Nauseda and Simonyte say tax income should be raised to fund more state spending, although Skvernelis has introduced a tax cut as signature policy of his government.
    “I try to appeal to people by saying, look, there are no simple answers, and there are many headwinds,” Simonyte, the finance minister when the government cut public sector wages and pensions in 2009 as a state default loomed, told Reuters.
    “It’s complicated for a single party to take leadership (on state finances) because it knows it will be criticized by others for unpopular decisions.    A president can show leadership and settle the debates,” she said.
    Nauseda, a household name from his role as an economic commentator, told Reuters he would use the president’s position to help business expand in emerging markets, especially China, and ask the government to increase revenues and better fund social services, such as pensions.
    “Retirement is leading to poverty, because pensions are obviously too low,” Nauseda said in a recent debate, adding he wanted the budget for pensions to be raised to 10% of gross domestic product from 6.8%.
    Signaling he would resign if not elected, Skvernelis has pledged to raise retirement pensions by the middle of next year.
    Polls close at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), with results expected around midnight.    A run-off vote will be held on May 26 if no candidate wins by a substantial margin.
(Writing by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Robert Birsel)

5/12/2019 Albanian protesters hurl petrol bombs, seek snap polls
A burning flambeau is pictured in front of a police formation during an anti-government protest in front of Prime Minister
Edi Rama's office in Tirana, Albania, May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian opposition protesters hurled petrol bombs at the entrance of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office on Saturday, after three months of demonstrations calling for him to quit over alleged election fraud and corruption.
    Chanting “We want a European Albania,” the slogan of pro-democracy protests when the Balkan country dumped communism in 1990, they renewed the call they made since February for snap polls after their lawmakers also cut ties with parliament.
    Some protesters, including a group with masked faces, hurled petrol bombs, firecrackers and paint at the entrance of the government building and later at parliament.    A dozen policemen and several protesters were hurt, police and reporters said.
    During a lull in the attacks at the premier’s building, opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said they were “determined to keep waging a bigger and more resolute battle as long as the government was keeping Albania apart from Europe.”
    “We are here with a mission, to liberate Albania from crime and corruption, to make Albania like the rest of Europe,” Basha told a crowd of several thousand along the main boulevard.
    Recognizing progress, the European Commission recommended Albania start accession talks last year, but the European Council delayed the decision for this year in June as Albania overhauls its judiciary to flush out corrupt judges.
    Then the crowd moved near the parliament building where a group of protesters kept hurling petrol bombs and firecrackers, to which police responded with tear gas and water jets.    After four hours, the crowd moved to the Tirana police precinct to protest the arrest of a Democratic party official.
    Calling the opposition’s policies “blind,” Rama said he was saddened to hear an opposition leader begging the government to quit, and their fire harmed not his government but the country.
    The European Union and the United States have called the government legitimate, and have urged the opposition to return to parliament and take part in local elections on June 30.
    “The opposition’s stated objective to make Albania’s democracy stronger runs counter to the violence currently being perpetrated by protesters,” the United States Embassy said in a statement, condemning the violence and calling for restraint.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

5/12/2019 Cuban LGBT activists defy government, hold unprecedented indie pride parade by Sarah Marsh
Cuban LGBT activists participate in an annual demonstration against homophobia
and transphobia in Havana, Cuba May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban gay rights activists held an unauthorized independent pride parade in Havana on Saturday despite the Communist government warning against it and calling it subversive, an unprecedented show of civil society in the one-party state.
    More than a hundred Cubans chanting “long live a diverse Cuba” and carrying rainbow flags joyfully marched nearly one kilometer (0.6 mile) from Havana’s Central Park down to the seafront boulevard before being stopped by dozens of security officials.
    At least three activists were arrested by plainclothes policemen while others were ordered to disperse given the activity did not have an official permit.
    “This moment marks a before and an after for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community but also for Cuban civil society more generally,” said independent journalist and LGBT activist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero.
    “Social media is playing its role and civil society demonstrated it has strength, and can go out onto the streets if necessary, and from now on the government will have to take that into account.”
    Activists called for the march after the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) earlier this week abruptly canceled its 12th annual conga against homophobia – Cuba’s equivalent of gay pride.
    CENESEX, headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Communist Party leader Raul Castro, said in a statement that certain groups were planning to use the event to undermine the government, emboldened by the escalation of aggression by the Trump administration against Cuba and its leftist ally Venezuela.
    The United States has for decades financed often covert programs to promote democracy on the island and undermine the Communist government.
    But many LGBT activists said they felt the government was reacting more to pressure from evangelical churches, which have a growing following in Cuba and have campaigned against the expansion of gay rights.
    CENESEX denounced the alternative parade as a “provocation” and several activists say they received threats either anonymously on social media or from state security in person not to attend it – not that it stopped them.
    “This isn’t a political march, this is a celebration to give the LGBT community visibility,” said Myrna Rosa Padron Dickson.
    Activists promoted the march on social networks thanks to the expansion of the internet in Cuba in recent years that has more broadly seen increasing numbers of Cubans mobilize online over certain issues, sometimes apparently managing to influence policy.
    The government for example postponed the full implementation of a decree clamping down on the arts after an online campaign protesting the law, and stepped back on regulations governing the private sector after entrepreneurs and experts complained.
    So far, however, the government has retained tight control over physical public spaces, mostly restricting marches to expressions of support for the government, like the recent Labor Day parade.
    The conga in Havana was an exception that became a regular occurrence, and a reminder that the government, which once sent gays to work camps in the early days of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, had made considerable advances in LGBT rights in recent years.
    The country guarantees rights such as free sex-change operations and forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, in a region where some countries still have anti-sodomy laws.
    Some LGBT activists say they felt the cancellation of the conga was a sign those rights are being eroded, possibly because a recent public consultation over a new constitution revealed that there was more opposition to the community than previously thought.
    Many Cubans expressed their opposition to a change in the draft constitution that would have explicitly opened the door to gay marriage.
    Evangelical churches also ran unprecedented campaigns against the change, which was eventually watered down.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Marguerita Choy)

5/12/2019 Poland’s Kaczynski promises harsher sentences for child abuse by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), delivers a speech during the
party's convention in Szczecin, Poland May 12, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Krzysztof Hadrian via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The leader of Poland’s conservative ruling party promised harsher sentences for child abuse on Sunday, as the release of a documentary about pedophile priests created a fresh battleground in an election campaign marked by debate on religion and sexuality.
    The film “Just don’t tell anyone,” which features victims confronting their abusers, has reignited criticism of the Catholic Church’s handling of such cases and had over 3 million views within 22 hours of being posted on YouTube.
    “We prepared changes to the penal code meaning this crime (child abuse) will be punished very severely … there will be no suspended sentences, there will be severe penalties, maybe even up to 30 years in prison,” said the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party’s head Jaroslaw Kaczynski at a rally.
    Currently, sexual abuse of a child under 15 is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
    Kaczynski’s words came amid tensions between liberals who feel the church wields too much power in Poland and conservatives who see the Catholic faith as a key element of national identity whose influence must be protected.
    On Monday, a woman was detained by police for posting images near a church of the Virgin Mary with her halo painted to resemble the rainbow flag of the LGBT community.
    PiS, which leads most opinion polls, has made protecting traditional values a key plank of its bid to win European elections on May 26 and parliamentary elections in the autumn.
    “Does this (stance against child abuse) mean that the crimes … of a small number of priests give the right to attack the church, to offend Catholics?    No, that is no justification,” added Kaczynski in the northern city of Szczecin.
    The film, by brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski, shows elderly priests, including Franciszek Cybula who was the chaplain of former president Lech Walesa, being confronted by people they abused as children.    It presents allegations that known pedophiles were shifted between parishes.
    “I am deeply disturbed by what I saw in Tomasz Sekielski’s film.    The enormous suffering of those who have been hurt gives rise to pain and shame,” Poland’s most senior archbishop Wojciech Polak said in a recorded statement.    “I am sorry for every wound inflicted by people of the church.”
    Anna Frankowska of the charity “Have no fear,” which supports abuse victims, said the Catholic Church in Poland had not taken concrete steps to bring pedophile priests to justice.
    “This is just another apology, it almost appears as if the statement was prepared before the church officials saw the movie,” she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/13/2019 Poland’s Walesa urges Catholic church action on abuse after his priest accused
FILE PHOTO: 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner, former Polish president, Lech Walesa attends European Ideas Network
Francisco Lucas Pires merit award ceremony in Riga, Latvia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa has urged the Catholic Church to prevent further sexual abuse of children by members of its clergy after a new documentary film showed his priest to be one of the accused.
    The film “Just don’t tell anyone,” which shows people confronting priests with accusations that they abused them as children, has attracted nearly 7 million views since it was posted on YouTube on Saturday.    It presents allegations that known pedophiles were shifted between parishes.
    One of the clergymen featured was Franciszek Cybula, who served as Walesa’s priest for 15 years – from 1980 when he co-founded the trade union Solidarnosc which helped bring about the fall of Communism, through to his becoming Poland’s first democratically elected president in 1990 and until his term ended in 1995.
    “It is sad for me that I found out that my chaplain, my confessor, was behaving so badly,” Walesa was quoted as saying by Polska The Times daily on Monday.
    Poland is one of Europe’s most devout countries and Catholic priests enjoy a high level of social prestige.    Nearly 85 percent of Poland’s 38 million-strong population identify as Roman Catholics and around 12 million attend mass every Sunday.
    But Poland has not escaped the sexual abuse scandals that have battered the Catholic Church’s reputation around the world along with accusations of senior clergy concealing or mismanaging cases.
    In March the Polish Catholic Church published a study saying that between 1990-2018, its officials received reports of sexual abuse by clergy of 625 children since 1950, over half of them aged 15 or younger.
    “The church is all of us, we should pray for priests, and the senior clergy – I repeat – must take action,” Walesa was quoted as saying.
    The documentary by director Tomasz Sekielski has reignited the debate about sexual abuse in the church just as Poland gears up for European Parliament elections on May 23-26.
    Election campaigns have been marked by a focus on religion and sexuality amid tensions between liberals who feel the church wields too much power in Poland and ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which considers the Catholic faith as a key element of national identity whose influence must be protected.
    PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised harsher sentences for child abuse on Sunday.
    Walesa, 75, suggested the Church could carry out psychological tests of men wishing to enter priesthood in a bid to guard against abusers.
    Church authorities in Poland have yet to reach a consensus on how to address the issue of sexual abuse.
    An arm of the Church has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to annul a 1 million zloty ($261,144.33) payment ordered by a lower court to a woman who, as a 13-year-old child, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.
    The case was a landmark ruling in granting compensation and an annuity to a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Poland.
($1 = 3.8293 zlotys)
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/13/2019 Czech protests over new justice minister enter third week
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for an informal meeting of
European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands protested in the Czech capital Prague for a third week running on Monday against a new justice minister who they fear could meddle in a criminal case against the prime minister.
    Protesters complain of Marie Benesova’s past comments supportive of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who has been charged with illegally tapping 2 million euros in European Union funds a decade ago when he was in business.    He denies the charges.
    Benesova’s predecessor resigned without giving a clear reason a day after police wrapped their investigation and recommended that Babis stand trial.    Prosecutors have yet to decide on the case.
    Babis has called the case a political ploy and said the demonstrations amounted to theater before European Parliament elections this month.
    Benesova has denied planning to push for personnel changes, such as that of the chief prosecutor, to alter the course of the investigation, which has worried protesters.
    “We are demonstrating against (the fact) that a woman with such a history as her own becomes justice minister a day after the police proposed the prime minister be indicted,” a protest organizer, Mikulas Minar, said on Monday on a Czech Radio debate show.    “That is an unacceptable coincidence for us.”
    Benesova was part of a caretaker government in 2013, appointed by President Milos Zeman, a Babis ally.    As a member of parliament in 2017, she was among a small minority who did not back lifting Babis’s parliamentary immunity in the subsidy case.
    Monday’s protest turnout matched last week’s when at least 20,000 protested in Prague’s Old Town Square, CTK news agency estimated.    Police do not give estimates.    CTK also estimated 2,000 marched in Brno, the country’s second largest city.
    The demonstrations come after politically-charged overhauls to justice systems in fellow central European countries Hungary and Poland led to protests and disputes with the European Union, which said the changes threatened the rule of law.
    Czech chief prosecutor Lenka Bradacova said in a newspaper interview on Monday the protests might be expressing concern about a repeat of what happened in Hungary and Poland.
    “The Czech justice (system) is in a way concerned about the situation that has arisen in neighboring countries,” she told daily Hospodarske Noviny, adding there was no guarantee a similar development could not transpire in the Czech Republic.
    “I don’t want to speculate but I think the public is making it known that it is sensitive to these issues,” she said.
    Babis, the country’s second richest person, has long fought conflict of interest allegations and put his Agrofert empire of chemicals, farming, media and other firms into trusts in 2017 to comply with new legislation.
    Despite the allegations and conflict of interest accusations against Babis, his ANO party, which was a runaway winner in the 2017 election, remains the country’s clear leader in the polls.
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Jan Lopatka and Mark Heinrich)

5/14/2019 Kremlin says U.S. has not offered a Putin-Trump G20 meeting despite Trump statement
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that the United States had not made any formal proposal for U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet on the sidelines of a gathering of the G20 in Japan next month.
    Trump said on Monday that he would meet Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20.
    “We have noted the statement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call, saying such statements had been made before, but that there had been no talks about such a meeting let alone an agreement about one.
    Peskov noted that the last planned meeting between Putin and Trump had been canceled at Washington’s initiative.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/14/2019 Russian foreign minister urges EU to uphold Iran Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is urging the EU to support the failed nuclear deal with Iran.    During a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Monday, Lavrov said the 2015 accord must be respected by all its signatories.    He rejected criticism of the deal by top U.S. officials, saying it falls in line with United Nation resolutions on Iran.
    Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the latest Iranian threats with European allies in Brussels.    He urged the EU to ramp-up sanctions on the Ayatollah regime.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, not shown, on the
sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, Monday, May 6, 2019 in Rovaniemi, Finland. (Mandel Ngan/Pool photo via AP)
    Lavrov also touted Russia’s strict compliance with the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal:
    “We reaffirm the illegitimate nature of Washington’s unilateral anti-Iranian sanctions aimed in particular at stopping oil exports from Iran.    We also noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains committed to the nuclear deal, but expects the same from our European colleagues who also have to fulfill their part of the agreement.”
    Meanwhile, Iran said it would restart its nuclear activities and terminate parts of the nuclear deal, while remaining in compliance with the “spirit” of the accord.

5/14/2019 Putin says he senses Trump genuinely wants to repair U.S.- Russia ties
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the
Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia May 13, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that he sensed that U.S. President Donald Trump genuinely wanted to repair battered relations between Russia and the United States.
    Putin, speaking ahead of talks with Pompeo, also said that Russia had never interfered in U.S. elections and that he and Pompeo had something to talk about when it came to stability on global energy markets.
    Pompeo had earlier told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Washington would brook no interference by Moscow in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, saying such a move would seriously harm already poor relations.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/14/2019 Pompeo tells Russia: Don’t meddle in next U.S. presidential election by Darya Korsunskaya and Andrew Osborn
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shake hands as they pose for a photo prior
to their talks in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, May 14, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    SOCHI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Russia on Tuesday that Washington would brook no interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and wanted Moscow to take action to show there would be no repeat of its suspected 2016 meddling.
    President Vladimir Putin, who met Pompeo in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, pushed back, telling him that Russia never interfered in U.S. elections and that a report by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which he praised as being “objective overall,” had found no evidence of collusion with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
    Relations have long been strained by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement findings – denied by Moscow – that Russia tried to influence the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House.
    Pompeo’s visit followed the publication of the long-awaited report by Mueller into the nature of Russia’s role in that election that spoke of “sweeping and systematic” interference by Moscow but did not establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election.
    Now that the Mueller report was out of the way, Putin said he hoped ties would start improving.
    “I’ve formed the impression that your president wants to repair Russia-U.S. ties and contacts and wants to solve issues which are of common interest for us,” Putin told Pompeo.
    “We’ve said many times that we also want to fully restore our relations.    I hope that the necessary conditions for that to happen will now be created.”
    Visiting Russia for the first time as secretary of state, Pompeo earlier clashed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on issues from Ukraine to Venezuela.    After their meeting, both men said they had been far apart on many issues.
    “I made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov … that interference in American elections is unacceptable.    If the Russians were engaged in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been,” said Pompeo.    “I’d encourage them not to do that.    We would not tolerate that.”
    Both Lavrov and Pompeo said they shared a desire to improve battered ties despite not being able to confirm a suggestion by Trump that he would meet Putin on the sidelines of a meeting of the G20 in Japan next month.
    Putin would agree to such a meeting if formally asked, a Kremlin aide told reporters.
    “The United States stands ready to find common ground with Russia as long as the two of us can engage seriously,” Pompeo said.
    “President Trump has made clear that his expectation is that we will have an improved relationship.    This will benefit each of our peoples.    And I think that our talks here today were a good step in that direction.”
    A Kremlin aide said the talks had not yielded any breakthrough but had been held in a business-like atmosphere.
    Pompeo told reporters after his talks with Putin that the two sides had a “very productive” conversation on Syria and how to move the political process there forward and were able to “make some truly constructive process points” on Afghanistan.
    They also discussed North Korea, which both want to see give up its nuclear weapons.
    “I think we share the same objective and I hope that we can find ways that we can work together,” Pompeo said on North Korea. “He (Putin) understands that the U.S. is going to be in the lead, but I think there are places we can work together.” Pompeo said Trump had made clear he wanted the to try to keep the Russia relationship “on the high ground.”
    “We have places where we just have very different views,” he said of the U.S.-Russia relationship.    “It’s about trying to find solutions, compromises, places where there are overlapping interests.    You can make progress in unlocking some of the most difficult problems that are facing us.”
    As well as the issue of interference in U.S. elections, the two sides clashed over Venezuela, with Lavrov sharply criticizing Washington for trying to undermine President Nicolas Maduro, who Pompeo said must step down in the face of an economic crisis and large-scale protests against his rule.
    On Ukraine, Pompeo told Lavrov the United States would not recognize Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and would keep in place economic sanctions imposed on Russia over that move.
    Russia should now work with Ukraine’s new president-elect to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, said Pompeo, adding that he wanted Moscow to free a group of captured Ukrainian sailors.
    Pompeo said he had also complained to Lavrov about U.S. citizens being detained in Russia, a reference to the case of Paul Whelan, a former Marine accused of espionage, and Michael Calvey, an investor accused of fraud.    Both men deny wrongdoing.
    Lavrov told reporters the two countries continued to disagree about Iran’s nuclear program and the international community’s approach to Tehran, while Pompeo said he had raised U.S. concerns about escalating fighting in Syria’s Idlib.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Tom Balmforth, Christian Lowe and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)

5/14/2019 U.S. senators offer bill targeting Russia-Germany pipeline by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: The Nord Stream 2 pipe laying vessel Audacia is pictured off
Ruegen island, Germany, November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation on Tuesday seeking sanctions targeting the Nord Stream 2, a planned gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under fire from the United States and some European Union countries.
    The bill introduced by Republican Senators Ted Cruz, John Barrasso and Tom Cotton and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, seeks to impose travel and financial sanctions on companies and individuals involved in constructing the pipeline.
    The legislation reflects continued U.S. concerns over Russian influence in Europe, but the measure is many steps from becoming law.    It would need to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump to go into effect.
    The Nord Stream 2 project is led by the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom, with funding from Germany’s Uniper and BASF unit Wintershall, Anglo-Dutch firm Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.
    Opponents of the 11-billion-euro ($12 billion) project worry its construction will increase European reliance on Russian energy.    Trump has accused Germany of being “captive” to Moscow because of its dependence on Russian energy, and urged that the project be halted.
    But gas by pipeline from Russia offers Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, and other countries in the region a cheaper option for fuel than liquefied natural gas from the United States and other producers.
    Germany also wants to reduce its reliance on coal and nuclear energy.
    The pipeline, which would carry gas straight to Germany under the Baltic Sea, has also been criticized because it would deprive Ukraine of lucrative gas transit fees, potentially making Kiev more vulnerable.
Washington has touted liquefied natural gas, delivered by U.S. companies, as an alternative to Russian gas.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Additional reporting by Tim Gardner; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish)

5/14/2019 Russia tells Pompeo: Enough mistrust, let’s reboot our ties by Darya Korsunskaya
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrive to talk to the press as they meet
on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland May 6, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday it was time for Moscow and Washington to put aside years of mistrust and find a way to work together constructively.
    Pompeo is in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks with his Russian counterpart, and later on Tuesday will also hold consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Ties between the two countries have been poisoned by allegations – denied by Moscow – that Russia tried to influence the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and by differences over Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Ukraine.
    “We see that there are suspicions and prejudices,” Lavrov told Pompeo at the start of their talks.
    “This hinders both your security and our security and causes concern around the world.    We think it is time to build a new and more constructive matrix for our relations,” Lavrov said.
.     “We are ready to do that if our U.S. colleagues are ready to reciprocate. …Let’s try, and see what happens.”
    Pompeo’s visit represents the first high-level contact between Moscow and Washington since U.S. Special Counsel Robert Muller submitted a report examining the nature of Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    His inquiry had cast a pall over U.S.-Russian relations, and Russian officials had expressed hope that Washington would have more scope to build friendlier relations with Moscow once it was out of the way.
    Responding to Lavrov’s opening remarks, Pompeo said: “I’m here today because President Trump is committed to improving this relationship.    We have differences and each country will protect its own interests, look out for its own interests of its people.”
    “But it’s not destined that we’re adversaries on all issues and I hope that we can find places where we have a set of overlapping interests and continue to build out strong relationships, at least on those particular issues,” Pompeo said.
    Pompeo identified counter-terrorism and combatting nuclear proliferation as two areas where Moscow and Washington could find common ground.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/15/2019 Polish ambassador spat at in Israel amid rising tensions
FILE PHOTO: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at a summit of the Visegrad Group of
central European nations and Japan in Bratislava, Slovakia, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – .Poland’s ambassador to Israel was spat at while sitting in his car in Tel Aviv, Israeli police said, and the Polish government condemned the incident, which coincided with rising tensions between the two countries.
    “I am very worried to hear of a racist attack on @PLinIsrael ambassador @mmagierowski.    Poland strongly condemns this xenophobic act of aggression.    Violence against diplomats or any other citizens should never be tolerated,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
    An Israeli police spokesman said on Wednesday a 65-year-old Israeli man was arrested over Tuesday’s spitting incident.    Israel’s Walla News site said the suspect was brought to court on Wednesday and released on bail.    It quoted the judge as saying the alleged attack against a foreign diplomat was shameful.
    The Polish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Warsaw, Anna Azari, over the matter, a ministry spokeswoman told the state-run news agency PAP.
    “The event is under police investigation.    We express our fullest sympathy to the ambassador and our shock at the attack,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
    Polish-Israeli relations have deteriorated in recent months over accusations that Warsaw’s nationalist PiS government has tolerated a revival of anti-Semitic behavior, a charge it denies.
    Hundreds of far-right supporters marched in Warsaw on Saturday in protest against a U.S. law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War Two, an increasingly prominent issue in Polish election campaigns.
    A lawyer for the man suspected of spitting at the ambassador was quoted by Walla News as saying he had been turned away from the Polish Embassy on Tuesday after trying to inquire about restitution.
    The PiS government has said that Poland – which had one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities before it was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi occupiers – was a victim of World War Two and so should not be saddled with any financial obligations.
    In response to the ultra-nationalist march, the World Jewish Congress urged Polish religious and political leaders on Wednesday to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism.
    On Monday the Polish government canceled a visit by an Israeli delegation as it learned that the Israelis intended to bring up the restitution issue, the Foreign Ministry said.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/15/2019 With energy high on agenda, China’s no.3 leader visits Norway by Nerijus Adomaitis
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu at the third plenary session
of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    OSLO (Reuters) – With energy projects high on the agenda, China and Norway will mark a further thaw in relations on Wednesday when Beijing’s third-ranked politician arrives in Oslo.
    The four-day visit by Li Zhanshu, who heads the National People’s Congress, is the most high-profile by a Chinese official since the two countries restored full diplomatic ties three years ago.
    The trip, during which Li will meet top politicians and company executives, is also an acknowledgement that Beijing, in the midst of a trade war with Washington, is on the search for new allies.
    Relations between Oslo and Beijing were frozen between 2010 and 2016 after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of liver cancer in 2017.
    Li will on Thursday meet executives of, among others, oil firm Equinor and telecom firm Telenor, which has a large Asian operation.
    The around 20-strong business delegation accompanying him includes executives from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, under scrutiny in the West after Washington told its allies not to use its technology because of fears it could be a vehicle for Chinese spying. Huawei has categorically denied this.
    Li and executives from China’s top offshore oil and gas producer, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will visit Norway’s oil capital Stavanger on Friday.
    Equinor signed a preliminary deal with another Chinese oil firm, CNPC, to cooperate on oil and gas exploration, rewewables and carbon capture technology in October during a state visit to China by Norway’s King Harald V.
    An Equinor spokesman declined to say whether the company planned to sign new deals during Li’s visit.
    China is focusing its global trade ambitions on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect it with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.
    Norway, a member of NATO but not of the European Union, is campaigning to get a temporary seat in 2021-2022 on the United Nations Security Council, where China is a permanent member.
    “The Norwegians …can’t do (that) unless they get China’s nod,” Stein Ringen, a professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Oxford and a specialist on China, told Reuters.
(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and John Stonestreet)

5/15/2019 Polish leaders should clearly condemn antisemitism: World Jewish Congress head
FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold banner reading "Anti-semitism is treatable" during a counter-demonstration
against a far-right rally in support of the Holocaust bill in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw,
Poland February 5, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Dawid Zuchowicz via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s religious and political leaders should unequivocally condemn antisemitic behavior following a number of troubling events in the country, the head of the World Jewish Congress wrote on Wednesday.
    Ronald S. Lauder criticized “the sight of protesters on the streets of Warsaw chanting anti-Jewish and anti-American slogans,” and the burning of an effigy of Judas in the Polish town of Pruchnik in April.
    “We can’t allow for the ghosts of the past to rise again and to lead to the destruction of that which our nations have built over years,” he wrote in an op-ed published in Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.
    Hundreds of far-right supporters marched in Warsaw on Saturday in protest against a U.S. law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War Two, an increasingly prominent issue in Polish election campaigns.
    The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government has said that, as a victim in World War Two, Poland should not be saddled with any financial obligations.,br>     Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities before it was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi occupiers who set up death camps on Polish soil.
    “Poles can’t and shouldn’t be blamed for the fact that Nazis chose Nazi-occupied Poland as the location for their death camps,” Lauder also wrote.
    Poland will hold European parliament elections on May 26 and national elections in the autumn.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/15/2019 Secretary Pompeo, Putin agree on political solution in Syria, deeper cooperation by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have reached an agreement on Syria.    During their meeting in Sochi, Russia Tuesday, the pair agreed on a path forward to a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
    The sides reaffirmed their commitment to fighting Islamic terrorism as well as advancing a shared set of interests in Syria.    This includes rewriting the Syrian constitution in order to ensure a peace settlement between President Bashar al-Assad and his political opponents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, greet each other prior to their
talks in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Pompeo arrived in Russia for talks
that are expected to focus on an array of issues including arms control and Iran. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)
    Secretary Pompeo also emphasized the importance of cooperation in other areas:
    “I have a couple of other ideas to suggest.    Some of our cooperation has been excellent: on North Korea, on Afghanistan, we have done good work, counter-terrorism work together.    These are the things we can build upon.    I know we will have a chance to talk about our strategic security dialogue as well.”
    Meanwhile, Putin called for America’s cooperation towards solving regional crises and tackling transnational crime.

5/15/2019 Polish bishops to discuss child sex abuse as documentary spurs outrage
FILE PHOTO: A cross is seen near trees with mistletoe near the church in
Kalinowka, Poland November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish bishops will meet on May 22 to discuss steps to tackle paedophilia in Poland’s powerful Catholic Church after a documentary that showed victims confronting priests who had sexually abused them shocked the devout nation.
    The film “Just don’t tell anyone,” which has been watched by 14.8 million people since Youtube released it on Saturday, also alleges that the Polish Church moved known paedophile priests from parish to parish, as happened in other countries.
    Lawyers and journalists have called for the police to launch criminal investigations and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has close links to the Church, announced plans on Tuesday to tighten sentences for child sex abuse.
    “The head of the Episcopate, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, called yesterday an extraordinary meeting of top bishops – the meeting of the permanent council – to set out further actions aimed at protecting minors,” an Episcopate spokesman said.
    “This is connected with the (recent) paedophilia issue,” priest Pawel Rytel-Andrianik told Reuters.
    Primate Wojciech Polak, the most senior clergyman in Poland, told private Radio Zet on Wednesday he saw no need for any bishops to resign over the scandal but added that more had to be done to protect minors.
    The leftist opposition party Wiosna (Spring) accused the Church of trying to cover up sex abuse cases and said secular authorities should get directly involved.
    “We can’t expect the Church to clean up its own act, as if this were just its own affair… A number of bishops took part in this conspiracy of silence, in hiding these crimes,” Wiosna leader Robert Biedron told Radio Zet.
    “The state should guard the safety of children, youths, and the state has failed,” said Biedron, one of Poland’s first openly gay politicians.
    Biedron has called unsuccessfully for Polish state television to broadcast the documentary.    When his party tried to project the documentary onto a building next door to a church on Monday, police seized the projector and blocked the event.
    Child abuse scandals, some dating back many decades, have rocked the Catholic Church globally, eroding its authority in once devout nations from Ireland to Chile.    It has had to pay out billions of dollars in damages to victims and close parishes.
    The Church in Poland, where 85 percent of people identify themselves as Catholic and where a third of the population attends mass every week, has yet to reach a consensus on how to address the abuse issue.
    An arm of the Church has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to annul a 1 million zloty ($260,000) payment ordered by a lower court to a woman who, as a 13-year-old child, was repeatedly raped by her local priest.
    The abuse scandals in the Church are a challenge to PiS as it gears up for European elections this month and national polls later this year.    PiS sees Catholicism as a key element of Polish identity while liberals say the Church wields too much power.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/15/2019 Kremlin protests after U.S. arrests Russian accused of smuggling fighter jet manuals by Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in Red Square in Moscow for World War Two
Victory Day celebrations, Russia May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin protested on Wednesday over the extradition from ex-Soviet Georgia to the United States of a Russian man accused of smuggling F-16 fighter jet manuals into Russia in breach of U.S. arms export law.
    Oleg Tishchenko, a software developer, was earlier this year extradited to the United States from Georgia, where he was reported to have been arrested on a U.S. warrant while attending a dance festival.
    Russian diplomats say he is now being held in a Utah jail ahead of his trial later this year.
    Tishchenko, 42, says he bought the F-16 fighter jet manuals on eBay in order to help develop an ultra-realistic flight simulator.    He has been charged with five offences, including smuggling, conspiring against the United States, and violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, Russian diplomats say.
    He was also interested in obtaining manuals for other more advanced U.S. military aircraft such as the F-35 multi-role stealth fighter, according to an affidavit in support of the U.S. extradition request.
    The case is likely to worsen already poor U.S.-Russia relations which both Washington and Moscow have spoken of wanting to improve despite sharp differences over everything from Venezuela to Ukraine.
    The Russian Embassy in Washington said on Wednesday it was possible that Tishchenko had been set up by U.S. authorities.
    “There are signs in this case of a provocation by the U.S. intelligence services,” it said in a statement.
    Asked about the case on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Moscow was worried about the U.S. practice of having Russian nationals extradited from third countries like Georgia.
    Russia itself does not extradite its own citizens, a practice that is banned under the Russian constitution.
    “He’s a Russian citizen,” Peskov said of Tishchenko.    “We are really worried and unhappy about the Americans carrying out such cross-border provocative actions towards Russian citizens.    We are conveying our concerns and dissatisfaction to American colleagues at different levels.”
    Russia will watch closely to ensure the United States properly observes Tishchenko’s rights, Peskov said.
    Washington itself is unhappy about a number of U.S. citizens being detained in Russia.    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue on Tuesday during talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
    The case of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine accused of espionage, and that of Michael Calvey, a U.S. investor accused of embezzlement, are of particular interest to U.S. authorities.    Both men deny wrongdoing.    Whelan is in pre-trial detention while Calvey has been freed on bail and placed under house arrest.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/16/2019 Secretary Pompeo, Putin vow greater U.S.-Russian cooperation on peace process in Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom     Russian President Vladimir Putin is urging greater cooperation with the U.S. on the peace process in Afghanistan.    During his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, Putin warned the Taliban is getting stronger in the Middle Eastern country.
    The Russian leader said a balance of power is necessary to ensure peace after the upcoming pull-out of U.S. forces from that country.
    U.S. officials believe the Taliban has a presence in half of Afghanistan’s districts, and controls roughly 35-percent of the country’s population.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, during their talks in the
Black Sea resort city of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Pompeo arrived in Russia for talks that are
expected to focus on an array of issues including arms control and Iran. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Pompeo said he will work with Russian officials on the Afghan peace settlement.
    “On Afghanistan, we’ve done good work – counterterrorism work – together,” he stated.    “These are things we can build upon, and I know we’ll get a chance to talk about our strategic security dialogue as well and the hopes that we have for that to work alongside you on that very, very globally important project.”
    Putin and Pompeo also highlighted the productive cooperation between Russian and American specialists in Afghanistan in bringing stability to the region.

5/17/2019 Kremlin pledges a response to new U.S. sanctions on Russian individuals
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen during the G20 leaders
summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it would respond in kind to a new round of U.S. sanctions on Russian nationals, saying its retaliation would be consistent with Russia’s national interest.
    The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on a Chechen group and five people, including at least three Russians, over allegations of human rights abuses, including extra judicial killings and the torture of LGBTI people.
    The sanctions against the Terek Special Rapid Response Team in Russia’s southern region of Chechnya and the five people were announced by the U.S. Treasury under the Magnitsky Act.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth/Maria Kiselyova; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/17/2019 Orban says he discussed missiles and natural gas with Trump by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the
Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday said he had discussed the purchase of mid-range air defense missiles at a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday.
    In the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders, Trump praised the Hungarian leader for his tough stance on immigration, calling him his “twin.”
    Orban said military cooperation was paramount and that Hungary, whose economy has been growing faster than most others in Europe, can now afford to recreate a potent military force.
    “There are parts of military development in which we count on the Americans,” Orban told state radio.
    “Critical infrastructure must be protected in case of a military attack, and Hungary’s capability in that regard is incomplete.    We need mid-range air defense missiles here.    The legal procedure to acquire them is proceeding apace.”
    U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein told the Hungarian news web site that he and a Hungarian government representative had visited arms makers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin on the sidelines of Orban’s visit.
    Orban, whose close ties with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and China have drawn criticism from international partners, and especially Washington, said he wanted to build better ties with all major powers.
    “We cooperate with the Chinese and the Russians as well as the Americans,” he said.    “To be sure, with them (the Americans) we are in a military alliance, therefore those ties are stronger.”
    But he said to define Hungary’s foreign policy as dutifully belonging to some alliance rather than seeking to defend its own interests was a “distorted” view.
    He added that he had asked Trump to help start production of natural gas under the Romanian section of the Black Sea, which will be done with participation from Exxon, to provide the only practical alternative to Russian gas.
    “Diversification is plausible if the U.S.-Romanian cooperation happens quickly,” Orban said.    “I urged the president to help make that happen.”
    Senior U.S. lawmakers criticised Orban’s visit to the White House last week, blaming him for a “downward democratic trajectory.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/17/2019 Ukraine ruling coalition breaks up, may lead to snap election
An interior view shows a session hall of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine
May 14, 2019. Picture taken May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s ruling coalition broke up on Friday after the People’s Front party quit outgoing President Petro Poroshenko’s faction, potentially paving the way for incoming President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to call a snap election.
    “We declare our withdrawal from the current coalition, the cessation of its activities … and the initiative to form a new coalition with a new agenda,” Maksym Burbak, the People’s Front faction leader, told parliament.
    Parliament now has one month to form a new coalition or else the president can dissolve parliament and call snap parliamentary elections.
    Zelenskiy won a landslide against Poroshenko last month but his newly formed party lacks any representation in parliament.
    A snap election would probably suit Zelenskiy, whose popularity is high and whose party is on course to win the election while falling short of a majority.
    Zelenskiy, a comedian with no prior political experience, is due to be inaugurated on Monday.
    Speaker Andriy Parubiy told parliament the coalition had ceased its activities and said “within one month from today … a new coalition should be formed.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/17/2019 Ministers agree way for Russia to rejoin Europe’s human rights body by Anne Kauranen
Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila, Finland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Timo Soini and
Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland attend The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Council of Europe's
annual meeting in Helsinki, Finland May 17, 2019. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Foreign ministers from the Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, reached an agreement on Friday that opens the way for Russia to return to the organization, resolving a dispute that began after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.
    The agreement follows efforts by France and Germany to find a compromise among the 47-nation group and means Russia will likely take part in a meeting of the council’s parliamentary assembly in June, when key new appointments will be made.
    Russia has indicated it will resume payment of its membership dues as a result.    It stopped payment nearly two years ago after its voting rights in the council were suspended over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
    Ukraine, supported by five other countries, tried unsuccessfully to block the agreement, which was approved by a qualified majority, diplomats said.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the move.
    “We do not intend to leave the Council of Europe as some people are trying to suggest by spreading false rumors.    And we are not refusing to fulfill a single obligation, including financial ones,” Lavrov said in Helsinki, where the meeting was held. Finland currently chairs the council.
    The Russian spat has prompted questions about the future and durability of the 70-year-old Council of Europe, the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights and the creator of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
    It also left a 90 million euro hole in the council’s budget since Russia accounts for around 7% of contributions.
    France and Germany have been keen to keep Russia inside the council, arguing that if it is outside it is harder for any human rights abuses to be flagged and pursued by the court.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin boycotted Friday’s meeting.    Officials said they understood Kiev’s frustration, but said the council was not the place to resolve the Crimea issue.
    “Ukraine has every reason to demand Crimea’s restoration,” said Nina Nordstrom, head of human rights policy at the Finnish foreign ministry.    “But matters of peace and war between countries are not solved within this organization.”
    Diplomats said that Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Armenia joined Ukraine in opposing the agreement, while 39 countries backed it.
    Moldova did not participate in the vote and Russia abstained.    Britain and Poland – despite supporting Ukraine’s position in the committee of ministers – approved the text, sources said.
    Criticizing the agreement on Twitter, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Russia was continuing its “aggression” against Ukraine and said European values meant very little if they were not defended.
    Officials said Friday’s agreement meant Russia would take part in the June assembly in Strasbourg, when a new secretary-general and court judges will be elected, provided some technical rule changes are approved first.
    “What happened today is a pre-final step,” said Daniel Holtgen, chief spokesman of the organization.
    “The parliamentary assembly will have to take into account the decisions of ministers and decide whether or not to change their internal rules so that Russia can take part in these elections in June."
    “Russia has said the moment they return to the parliamentary assembly and their rights are restored, they will pay their contributions and their dues, and we have no reason to doubt that statement.”
(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg, Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

5/18/2019 Hungary confirms plan to buy medium-range missiles from US
    BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s prime minister has confirmed his country’s plans to buy medium-range air defense missiles from the United States.    Viktor Orban said Friday on state radio that it is too soon to give more details about the deal, but that “the construction of the modern Hungarian army is happening now.”    Orban said he asked President Donald Trump during his White House visit Monday to help expedite the extraction of natural gas in the Black Sea, which could help Hungary diversify its gas sources.
[He may have to defend himself from the E.U. someday also.].

5/18/2019 Austrian government revamp looms over video of far-right leader by Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Vice Chancellor and head of Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache addresses
the media in Vienna, Austria April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s chancellor is ruling out working with his far-right deputy, a coalition source said on Saturday, after footage apparently showed the Freedom Party leader discussing state contracts with a potential Russian backer in return for political support.
    Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was due to meet Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) after a crisis meeting with senior figures in the government on Friday night, news agency APA said citing sources.
    Strache will make a statement at 1000 GMT, the Freedom Party said without providing further detail.
    A spokesman for Strache could not be reached by Reuters for comment on the threat to the coalition, which has blown up just a week before Austria votes in elections for the European Parliament.
    Kurz, who has distanced himself from the far right to protect his image when lesser scandals have emerged, was also due to make a statement later on Saturday.    The opposition called for Strache to resign.
    “This is huge.    This has to be the end of Heinz-Christian Strache,” political analyst Thomas Hofer said, adding that even a snap election was possible.
    The Freedom Party is preparing for Transport Minister Norbert Hofer to replace Strache as vice chancellor, APA news agency said, citing party sources.    The 48-year-old engineer ran for president in 2016 and only narrowly lost.
    Strache has headed the party since 2005, bringing it back to mainstream electoral success not seen since it was led by the charismatic Joerg Haider.    It secured 26 percent of the vote in 2017’s parliamentary election.
    The video was reported on Friday by two of neighboring Germany’s leading media – weekly Der Spiegel and newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung – purportedly showing a meeting in Ibiza between Strache, another party official and a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
    Strache did not reply to a request for comment about the video.    Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the footage independently, and the German newspapers did not say how they obtained it.
    The newspaper reports said the video appeared to be a sting operation.
    The Freedom Party (FPO) co-chairman, Christian Hafenecker, said on Friday the party’s lawyers were evaluating the material.
    Neither Strache nor the FPO ever received or granted any benefits from the persons concerned, Hafenecker said in a statement.
    “Since the video was obviously recorded illegally, we are also preparing appropriate legal steps.”
    The footage, recorded in July 2017 – months before the election that brought this government to power – showed Strache talking to the woman.
    In it, he appeared to offer to direct inflated construction contracts to a company in exchange for support for his party, though he also said he wanted everything to be done legally.
    Kurz’s party still leads opinion polls but far short of a majority. The only other party with enough seats for a majority is the Social Democrats, with which Kurz, an immigration hardliner, has difficult relations.
    Vienna prosecutors said they would study the reports and decide whether there was sufficient cause to open an investigation, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors said.
    “The FPO is finished,” ran the headline in the tabloid Kronen Zeitung, which featured in the video since the woman said the oligarch wanted to buy a stake.
    It remains unclear who was behind the recording.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knoll and Francois Murphy; Editing by Jane Merriman and Alison Williams)

5/19/2019 Swiss voters approve tighter gun control: TV
Two men point their rifles at targets 300 metres away at the shooting range of the Schuetzenverein Ossingen
rifle club in Ossingen, Switzerland May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss voters agreed on Sunday to adopt tighter gun controls in line with changes to European Union rules, heading off a clash with Brussels, projections for Swiss broadcaster SRF showed.
    The projections from the gfs.bern polling outfit saw the measure passing in the binding referendum by a comfortable 67-33% margin.
    The restrictions, which apply to non-EU member Switzerland because it is part of Europe’s Schengen open-border system, had raised hackles among shooting enthusiasts ahead of the vote under the Swiss system of direct democracy.
    Failure to adopt the rules could have forced Switzerland to leave the passport-free Schengen zone and the Dublin joint system for handling asylum requests.
    After militants killed scores in Paris and elsewhere in 2015, the EU in 2017 toughened laws against purchasing semi-automatic rifles such as the ones used in those attacks, and made it easier to track weapons in national databases.
    Opinion polls had shown Swiss voters backing the measure by a two-to-one margin.
    The initial EU proposal provoked an outcry because it meant a ban on the Swiss tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles.
    Swiss officials negotiated concessions for gun enthusiasts who take part in the country’s numerous shooting clubs, but any restrictions imported from the EU go too far for right-wing activists concerned about Swiss sovereignty.
    Gun rights proponents complained the rules could disarm law-abiding citizens and encroach on Switzerland’s heritage and national identity, which includes a well-armed citizenry.
    Switzerland has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in Europe, with nearly 48% of households owning a gun.
(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Louise Heavens)

5/19/2019 Kremlin waiting for U.S. decision on Putin-Trump meeting: Ifax
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen during the G20 leaders
summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Sunday it hopes a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump takes place, but that it has not received a definitive decision from Washington on the matter, Interfax news agency reported.
    “We know that Trump has spoken of his desire for a meeting, but unfortunately we also know that (U.S. Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo did not bring any concrete proposals about organizing such a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Osaka,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/19/2019 Austria heading for September election after far-right video scandal
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen attend a
news conference, in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s president on Sunday recommended a new election be held in early September, saying he wanted to restore trust in the government after a video scandal led to the resignation of the vice chancellor.
    Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pulled the plug on the coalition and called for a snap election on Saturday after his deputy, Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, quit over a video showed him discussing fixing state contracts in return for favors.
    It is most important that Austrians are given the chance of a new start to rebuild trust in its government, President Alexander van der Bellen said in a statement at his Hofburg residence in Vienna.
    “This new beginning should take place quickly, as quickly as the provisions of the Federal Constitution permit, so I plead for elections… in September, if possible at the beginning of September,” the president said.
    Strache has described the video sting as a “targeted political assassination” and said it never led to any money changing hands.    He insisted the only crime that took place was illegally videotaping a private dinner party.
    Van der Bellen and Kurz said at their joint news conference that stability was a main priority for them for the coming months.
    Kurz repeated that he saw the snap elections as the only way to solve the crisis.    “The new elections were a necessity, not a wish,” he said.
    The make up of a caretaker government remained unclear a day after the 18-month-old coalition of conservatives and the far right collapsed.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/19/2019 Secy Pompeo says the U.S. is Prepared to Find Common Ground with Russia by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims the U.S. is prepared to find a ‘common ground’ with Russia.
    On Sunday, Pompeo held continued talks with his Russian counterparts in the city of Sochi, to discuss issues affecting both nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shake hands prior to their talks
in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, southern Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Pompeo arrived in Russia for talks that
are expected to focus on an array of issues including arms control and Iran. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)
    During the meeting, Pompeo also urged Moscow to work with Ukraine in hopes of bringing peace to the country.
    Officials hopes improving U.S.-Russian relations will set an example, and help the Kremlin repair its relationship with its western neighbor.
    “Our two nations share proud histories and respect to one another’s cultures.    We seek a better relationship with Russia and we urge that it work alongside us to change the trajectory of the relationship which will benefit each of our peoples,” Pompeo said.
    He also reportedly discussed reports of Russian election interference, saying similar acts would not be tolerated during the 2020 election cycle.

5/20/2019 High fives, selfies and a snap election as Zelenskiy takes power in Ukraine by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
Ukraine's President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy waves as he walks to take the oath of office ahead of his
inauguration ceremony in the parliament hall, in Kiev, Ukraine May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Television comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy took the oath of office as Ukraine’s new president on Monday, promising that as hard as he had worked in the past to make Ukrainians laugh, he would now work to keep them from crying.
    As his first act, he dismissed the parliament still dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor, setting up an election in two months in which his new party has a chance to win its first seats.
    The inauguration day was marked by informal moments that conveyed the outsider persona that helped carry the political novice to a landslide victory last month.
    He high-fived cheering supporters who held their arms outstretched outside the Soviet-era parliament building, and stopped for a selfie with the crowd.    At one point he jumped up to kiss a man on the forehead.    He later eschewed a motorcade to make his way to his new office on foot.
    “Dear people, during my life I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians smile,” he said in his speech to parliament.    “In the next five years, I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you do not cry.”
    Zelenskiy grew to national fame playing the role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films him making a foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.    His campaign exploited the parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
    In his inauguration speech, he called on officials to take down the customary portraits of the president that hang in their offices, and put up pictures of their children instead.
    Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014 and backed separatists in a war in the east that has killed 13,000 people.
    Zelenskiy said his first task was to achieve a ceasefire, adding that dialogue could only happen after the return of Ukrainian territory and prisoners of war.
    Born in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, Zelenskiy briefly switched from the Ukrainian language to Russian during his speech, to talk about the need to win over the hearts and minds of people in separatist areas.     That prompted the head of a populist party, Oleh Lyashko, to interrupt the speech to interject that Ukrainians living in Crimea and the east also understood Ukrainian.
    Zelenskiy replied: “They understand the Ukrainian language, yes.    Thank you very much!    Thanks for continuing to divide people, Mr. Lyashko!
    Parliament is still dominated by the bloc named for Zelenskiy’s defeated opponent, confectionary tycoon Petro Poroshenko, and by a range of smaller parties mostly founded as the personal vehicles for other political insiders.
    Zelenskiy called on lawmakers to use the two months until the snap election to pass a law that would strip them of immunity from prosecution and another law that bans officials from illegally enriching themselves.
    “You will have two months for this.    Do it and you will deserve medals,” Zelenskiy said.
    Zelenskiy had defeated Poroshenko by promising to fight entrenched corruption, deliver a ceasefire in the east and raise living standards in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
    His campaign relied on his broad social media presence and comedy gigs, and also traded on the image of his fictional president, who is scrupulously honest and outwits corrupt lawmakers and oligarchs.
    Last week he accused lawmakers of trying to sabotage his ability to call a snap election.    However, lawmakers of various parties told Reuters they would accept the call for a new vote.
    “I see no reason to challenge Zelenskiy’s decision,” said Ivan Vinnyk, a lawmaker in Poroshenko’s faction.
    Despite his everyman image, critics accuse Zelenskiy of having too close a relationship with a powerful businessman, Ihor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel broadcasts his comedy shows. Zelenskiy has rejected those accusations.
    Zelenskiy also said he wanted to replace the head of the state security service, the general prosecutor and the defense minister.    He has so far not spelled out his nominations for key appointments that fall within his purview.
    “I’m waiting for a change for the better, but I do not think that change will come very quickly,” said Oleksandr, a 45-year-old Zelenskiy supporter from the eastern Luhansk region.
    “For him the main problem is the economy and here he needs to eliminate the influence of the oligarchs.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/20/2019 Adviser to Ukraine president sees possible new IMF deal after snap election: Interfax
Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applauds after taking the oath of office during his inauguration
ceremony in the parliament hall in Kiev, Ukraine May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine could begin talks on a new or revised program with the International Monetary Fund after a snap parliamentary election, an adviser to the new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was quoted as saying by Interfax Ukraine on Monday.
    “After the parliamentary election, I think it is possible to open a new program,” Oleg Ustenko said.    “I suppose that in June-August the negotiation process will start on either opening a new program or revising the old program.”
    The IMF supports Ukraine with a $3.9 billion agreement conditional on the country passing reforms such as bringing household heating tariffs up to market levels.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams and Toby Chopra)

5/20/2019 Austria’s vice chancellor steps down after video shows him offering government contracts by OAN Newsroom
    Austria’s vice chancellor is stepping down amid backlash over a secretly filmed video from 2017 of him offering government contracts to Russian officials.
    While speaking to reporters Saturday, Heinz-Christian Strache claimed he was illegally set up.    However, he did admit that his remarks were extremely embarrassing and that he was under the influence of alcohol.
    His resignation comes after reports show Strache offering government contracts to a Russian woman, who was looking to invest large amounts of money in Austria.
Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (Austrian Freedom Party), addresses the media during press conference at the
sport ministry in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, May 18, 2019. Strache says he is resigning after two German newspapers published footage
of him apparently offering lucrative government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)
    Strache went on to say he is stepping down to avoid further damage to the government:
    “The only criminal offence that is present here is this staged secret service trap with illegal recordings, where someone waited two-years and then set it off and yes, that was a targeted political assassination.”
    In the wake of the scandal, Austria’s chancellor has called for snap elections to be held as soon as September.

5/20/2019 Austria’s Kurz hopes to sidestep scandal to stay in power by Francois Murphy
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz leaves after addressing the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Even though he brought the far right into power, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hopes voters will see him as having put his country first by sticking by his coalition partners despite their history of scandals, and then ditching them.
    It just might work if the public believes his disavowal of his former allies in the Freedom Party (FPO) and the maths go his way in September, when Austrians are expected to vote in a snap election brought about by the latest FPO transgression.
    Kurz called off his coalition with the FPO on Saturday after its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, was caught on video offering to fix government contracts for a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.
    The apparent sting operation followed a series of lesser scandals that strained the governing coalition.
    Most were related to anti-Semitism or racism involving the FPO, a party formed in 1956 and first led by a former officer in the SS — the armed wing of the Nazi party — and which has struggled for years to clean up its image.
    With each scandal, Kurz distanced himself from the far right without seriously calling the coalition into question.    And while the far right’s support fell, his remained solid, even though the opposition argued he must share the blame.
    To remain in power after September’s election, however, the conservative Kurz will need another coalition partner and his options are limited.    The speech in which he pulled the plug on the coalition offered clues as to how he might change the calculus.
    “His speech on Saturday was basically ‘I’d like an absolute majority’,” said political analyst Kathrin Stainer-Haemmerle of Carintha University of Applied Sciences.    She added, however: “An absolute majority won’t happen as things stand.”
    Austria’s proportional representation system means it is rare for one party to get a majority and coalitions are almost always necessary, which is why in December 2017 Kurz made Austria one of the few European countries to have the far right in government.
    The only other party that could have given him a majority in parliament are the Social Democrats, with whom a coalition appears highly unlikely for now.    To avoid having to turn to either of those two parties, Kurz seems to be aiming higher.
    “I don’t believe it is currently possible with anyone,” Kurz said on Saturday, referring to the possibility of forming a government free of scandal that will implement his agenda.
    “The FPO is unable to, the Social Democrats do not share my political ideas, and the small parties are too small to really provide support.”
    But if he can increase his share of the vote to 40 percent or more, a coalition might be possible with the small, liberal Neos party, which has similar policies on deregulation and helping business.
    “The aim is to have options, more than one option,” political analyst Thomas Hofer said.    “The best would be with a small party.”
    It will be a tall order for Kurz, whose coalition with the far right has ended in the kind of mess that critics predicted when the alliance was formed.
    The first opinion poll since the coalition collapsed showed support for Kurz’s party rising to 38 percent and the Neos jumping to 9 percent – the two parties were the biggest gainers. The survey had a margin of error of around 4 points.
    To achieve a similar jump in support at the upcoming election, however, Kurz will have to avoid becoming tainted by the scandal that brought down his vice chancellor and sank their coalition.     That means voters must believe Kurz’s account that he suffered through his coalition with the far right rather than being responsible for the outcome.     “There were many situations in which I found it very difficult to swallow all that,” he said on Saturday, referring to previous scandals involving the FPO.
    Whether he manages to convince Austrians of that narrative remains to be seen.
    “It requires a certain shamelessness or a certain chutzpah to stand there and stick to something that hard, even if it doesn’t seem very plausible,” Stainer-Haemmerle said.
    She said it was, however, a leadership quality.
    “(U.S. President Donald) Trump does it very similarly … It just is how he says it is, and he believes it so firmly that he even manages to bring other people to believe it, too.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/21/2019 Polish towns go ‘LGBT free’ ahead of bitter European election campaign by Marcin Goclowski and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
FILE PHOTO: Supporters take part in a "Poland in Europe" march organised by European Coalition parties, ahead of EU parliament election,
in Warsaw, Poland May 18, 2019. A placard reads: "Marriages, adoption, rights LGBT+." REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    SWIDNIK, Poland (Reuters) – Teresa Drzewiecka grew up during World War Two, when German and Soviet troops battled for control of her town of Swidnik in eastern Poland.
    Now 83, she sees another threat to her country’s survival: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.     “Let children have a father and a mother, not such deviations,” said Drzewiecka, resting on a bench in a Swidnik park.    “Otherwise there will be fewer and fewer children, and Poland will shrink.”
    In March, her local council in Swidnik passed a motion to reject what it viewed as the spread of “LGBT ideology” in homes, schools and workplaces.    A handful of other areas, mostly in conservative rural Poland, have issued similar statements.
    Views that are offensive or illegal in many European countries have been widely aired in Poland ahead of the European Parliament elections, where LGBT rights are a hot-button issue.
    In a bitter campaign, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has depicted such rights as dangerous foreign ideas that undermine traditional values in Poland, a staunchly Catholic country.
    Another PiS target has been a new sex education program, based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, due to be introduced to schools in the capital Warsaw, a bastion of liberalism run by the opposition Civic Platform party.
    Some PiS politicians have publicly denounced the program, claiming it will sexualize children.
    PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has urged Poles to vote for what he calls “the only party that gives a 100% guarantee that our values will be protected.”
    LGBT rights and WHO standards constitute foreign values that pose “a real threat to our identity, to our nation,” he has said.
    Analysts say that PiS hopes to re-energize its mainly rural base by vowing to push back against Western liberalism.
    With turnout in European elections typically lowest in PiS’s rural strongholds, the party needs to persuade more people to vote, especially as some polls show it running neck and neck with a rival pro-European coalition.
    While divisive, the campaign seems to have got voters’ attention.
Marcin Duma, CEO of Warsaw-based pollster IBRIS, said its survey published on May 19 suggested the turnout could be around 40% – unprecedented in a country where barely a quarter of the electorate usually vote in European elections.
    The result of the upcoming polls matter because PiS and Civic Platform see it impacting on a general election due in October or November.
    PiS took power in 2015 and remains popular, thanks to generous welfare payouts, low unemployment and nationalist rhetoric.
    Some observers see parallels with the party’s 2015 campaign, when it deployed anti-immigrant rhetoric.
    PiS needs an enemy, someone to fight against, someone they can use to raise fear,” said Bartosz Staszewski, an LGBT activist.    “Before, it was immigrants.    This time it’s LGBT people.”
    Staszewski said anti-LGBT declarations by Swidnik and other councils were not legally binding, but nevertheless had a chilling effect.
    “How are LGBT people, particularly the young, supposed to feel … when they hear that the regional council or local government are against them?” he said.
    Last year, Staszewski organized an “equality” march in the nearby city of Lublin.        Participants were hounded by hundreds of aggressive men who were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas.
    In February, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski signed a pro-LGBT declaration that included a promise to launch a school education program along WHO guidelines.
    Swidnik councillor Radoslaw Brzozka said his town issued its anti-LGBT statement in response to Warsaw’s declaration, which he said was “against good moral values.”
    A survey by CBOS, Poland’s state polling agency, in April suggested that a majority of Poles disapprove of Warsaw’s stance on LGBT rights.    Most of those polled said sex education should start at age 10 or later.
    But other CBOS polls show that people in Poland are slowly growing more tolerant.    In a 2017 survey, 24 percent of respondents said being gay wasn’t normal and shouldn’t be tolerated compared to 41 percent in 2001; and 16 percent said in 2017 that being gay was normal compared to 5 percent in 2001.
    Even in Swidnik, not everyone approves of the council’s hard line stance.
    “There’s no need to introduce such an anti-LGBT resolution,” said Franciszek Mosakowski, 71.    “There should be a place for everyone here.”
(Writing by Andrew RC Marshall; Editing by Carmel Crimmins)

5/21/2019 Ukraine parliament election may happen on July 21: presidential adviser
Andriy Bogdan, a lawyer and adviser to new President Zelenskiy, attends a news conference in front of the
Presidential administration headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine may hold a snap parliamentary election on July 21, an adviser to new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday after Zelenskiy held consultations with lawmakers.
    “We see the most acceptable date for the election – July 21, 2019,” lawyer Andriy Bogdan told reporters.
    Bogdan also said Zelenskiy may announce appointments to some official positions on Tuesday.    Bogdan is seen as a possible contender to become the head of the presidential administration.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams)

5/22/2019 Tension flares between Roma, extremists in Hungary
Members of far-right, nationalist groups attend a protest against criminal attacks
caused by youth, in Torokszentmiklos, Hungary, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    TOROKSZENTMIKLOS, Hungary (Reuters) – Several hundred radical nationalists, including hard-line extremists, protested in a small town in eastern Hungary on Tuesday against what they call “Roma crime.”
    In the town of Torokszentmiklos, east of Budapest, a few hundred Roma, mostly men, held a counter-protest commemorating the killing of innocent Roma in a series of shootings a decade ago that traumatized the country and helped give rise to the political far right.
    Although no violence ensued on Tuesday, the groups faced off in a way that has been largely unseen in recent years after a turbulent and sometimes violent period shook Roma-Hungarian ties about a decade ago.
    A new political group named Our Homeland Movement, an offshoot of the former far-right party Jobbik, called for the radicals’ protest, which unnerved the town’s large and mostly impoverished Roma community.
    The root cause was a fight last month between a Roma man and non-Roma locals in a bar that was captured on video by someone and spread via social media by Our Homeland Chairman Laszlo Toroczkai.    It had more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.
    Facebook shut down Toroczkai’s page in response to his call for the protest, saying it had violated a protected minority.
    The extremist movement was founded last year by former members of Jobbik, a party that rose to prominence a decade ago on a hard-line anti-Roma message.
    “The allegedly fearful Roma threaten all of us,” Toroczkai told the protesters, including hundreds of shaven, tattooed men in uniform black clothes.    “What I see are thousands of Hungarian compatriots living in fear of these criminals.”
    After Jobbik failed to weaken the ruling Fidesz party’s lock on power in elections last year, Toroczkai quit and formed Our Homeland, which allies itself with openly Nazi and ultra-radical fringe groups and calls on the government to step up against “Gypsy crime” – a term once coined by Jobbik.
    Roma residents in Torokszentmiklos rejected the wholesale criminalization of all because of the transgressions of a few.
    They said they suspected politicking behind Toroczkai’s presence, as Our Homeland is one of nine parties running for representation in the European Parliament in elections on Sunday.    The ruling Fidesz party is expected to score a major win in the vote.
    “For Toroczkai to enlarge personal crimes is just a political move,” said Roma activist Lajos Balogh.    “There are no collective crimes.    But Toroczkai wants to attract former Jobbik voters.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Dan Grebler)

5/22/2019 Thousands of Czechs protest for fourth week against justice minister
Demonstrators hold a rally demanding resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
in Prague, Czech Republic, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bundas Engler
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands of Czechs protested for a fourth week in a row on Tuesday against a justice minister they fear could influence a criminal case against Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
    Protesters say Justice Minister Marie Benesova’s past comments and actions were supportive of Babis, a billionaire-turned-politician who has been charged with illegally tapping 2 million euros in European Union funds a decade ago when he was in business. He denies the charges.
    As a member of parliament in 2017, Benesova was among a small group of lawmakers who did not support lifting Babis’s parliamentary immunity in the subsidy case.    Earlier, in 2013, she served as justice minister in a caretaker government appointed by President Milos Zeman, an ally of Babis.
    People gathered at Wenceslas Square in the center of Prague, moving the protest to a larger space as the number of participants grew.    Organizers estimated attendance at 50,000, surpassing the previous protests with around 20,000.
    The crowd waved Czech and European Union flags and signs that read “You can’t break justice” or “I am ashamed of my prime minister.”
    “If such people (as Babis) represent us, it is not good,” said Josef Hovorka, 34, an NGO employee.
    “We could take inspiration from Austria, where politicians resigned for less,” he said, referring to a scandal that felled Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s coalition government at the weekend.
    Despite the protests, Babis and his ANO party have not suffered any significant drop in support ahead of a European Parliament election this weekend, garnering around 30 percent in opinion polls.
    Prosecutors, who can halt the case before it gets to court, have yet to decide on police recommendations delivered last month that Babis stand trial.
    Benesova’s predecessor at the justice ministry resigned one day after the police wrapped up their investigation, sparking worries that political pressure might be involved.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/22/2019 Ukraine parliament takes aim at president’s election reform plan by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
Members of the Ukrainian parliament attend a session in Kiev, Ukraine May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Parliament dealt an early blow to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday by rejecting proposed changes to Ukraine’s voting system before a snap national election, which the speaker said lawmakers would seek to annul.
    A comedian with no prior political experience, Zelenskiy won last month’s presidential election by a landslide on promises to fight corruption and shake up the political establishment.
    With his new party having no seats in parliament, he quickly dissolved the legislature and scheduled a national election for July 21.
    Wednesday’s vote offered a glimpse of lawmakers’ ability to frustrate his reform agenda at least until that ballot, which Zelenskiy’s new grouping is expected to win.
    “Old politicians chose the old system, because only it gives them a chance to extend their political life,” Zelenskiy said in a statement posted on Facebook, criticizing parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada.
    “They are counting on money and buckwheat to get them to the Verkhovna Rada again.    But I’m convinced that they are wrong,” he said.    “Buckwheat” refers to the practice of bribing voters during elections.
    In a sign that more trouble could be in store, speaker Andriy Parubiy accused Zelenskiy of causing a constitutional crisis by dissolving parliament and calling the election, and said lawmakers would challenge the decision in court.
    Zelenskiy needs parliament to vote for reforms he promised to voters on the campaign trail, including stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution.    Parliament also needs to vote on laws needed to keep foreign aid flowing.
    During campaigning, Zelenskiy promised to scrap Ukraine’s mixed voting system, which he believes would narrow the scope for corruption and vote buying.
    At present, 50 percent of seats are determined by proportional voting through election party lists and 50 percent by electing lawmakers in local constituencies.
    The law change would scrap the constituencies, which Zelenskiy argues are vulnerable to powerful local interests.    It would also help Zelenskiy, whose party does not have a strong regional presence in the way established parties do, analysts say.
    But lawmakers said the changes would fuel corruption rather than preventing it.
    “(They)… do not strengthen democratic standards, but rather they make them worse,” said Artur Gerasimov, the head of the faction of former President Petro Poroshenko, who Zelenskiy defeated in April.
    Lawmakers also criticized Zelenskiy’s appointments to key positions, which included some of his business partners and Andriy Bogdan, a lawyer with links to one of Ukraine’s richest men.
    “He is appointing all of his business partners to government posts,” said Oleh Lyashko, an opposition party leader.    “How is it different from Poroshenko?
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Catherine Evans and John Stonestreet)

5/24/2019 Ex-U.S. marine held in Russia on spying charge says he’s being threatened: TASS
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained on suspicion of spying, is escorted inside a court building before a
hearing regarding the extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An ex-U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying on Friday accused a security service investigator of subjecting him to threats and asked a court to have the man removed from his case, the TASS news agency reported.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in jail.
    “I call for FSB (security service) investigator captain Alexei Khizhnyak to be called off (the case).    He is insulting my dignity and threatening my life,” Whelan was quoted as telling the Moscow court.
    His comments appear likely to aggravate U.S.-Russia relations already strained over a range of issues including the war in Syria, economic sanctions and the detention of another U.S. citizen, prominent investor Michael Calvey, who is under house arrest in Moscow on embezzlement charges.
    Whelan was appearing at a hearing convened to decide whether to extend his detention by three months.    The FSB on Tuesday requested he be held until the end of August.
    The judge told Whelan he only had the right under Russian law to request the replacement of court or prosecuting officials, but not an investigator.
    “I understand that, but what am I supposed to do if my rights are being violated,” Whelan was quoted as saying.
    The U.S. embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/24/2019 Russia to send military specialists to Congo Republic: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) attends a signing ceremony following talks with President of Congo Republic
Denis Sassou Nguesso (L) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is sending military specialists to Congo Republic to service Russian-made military hardware and equipment there, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
    Congo borders Central African Republic (CAR), where Moscow has a U.N.-approved mission, and will become one of the few African countries with an officially confirmed presence of Russian military personnel on the ground.
    In recent years Moscow has pushed for influence on the continent – where China has a major economic presence – by signing military cooperation deals with around 20 African countries.
    Peskov, in a conference call with reporters, disregarded questions on how many military specialists Russia will send to Congo Republic and whether they are regular soldiers or private contractors working for the Russian government.
    He said they are expected to service military hardware and munitions that had been supplied earlier.
    “Much of this hardware can be still used if there is proper maintenance and these people, who are sent there, will service the munitions,” Peskov said.
    The military deal was signed on Thursday after talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Congolese counterpart Denis Sassou Nguesso in the Kremlin.
    Russia has donated hundreds of weapons and sent more than 200 trainers to Central African Republic earlier this year to bolster the government’s fight against militia groups after receiving an exemption from a United Nations arms embargo.
    Reuters reported earlier that Russian troops and contractors were on assignments in Egypt, Libya and Sudan, though only in the case of Sudan did Russian officials acknowledge the Russian presence.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/25/2019 Russia, eyeing Arctic future, launches nuclear icebreaker
A view shows the nuclear-powered icebreaker "Ural" during the float out ceremony at the
Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – Russia launched a nuclear-powered icebreaker on Saturday, part of an ambitious program to renew and expand its fleet of the vessels in order to improve its ability to tap the Arctic’s commercial potential.
    The ship, dubbed the Ural and which was floated out from a dockyard in St Petersburg, is one of a trio that when completed will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world.     Russia is building new infrastructure and overhauling its ports as, amid warmer climate cycles, it readies for more traffic via what it calls the Northern Sea Route (NSR) which it envisages being navigable year-round.
    The Ural is due to be handed over to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in 2022 after the two other icebreakers in the same series, Arktika (Arctic) and Sibir (Siberia), enter service.
    “The Ural together with its sisters are central to our strategic project of opening the NSR to all-year activity,” Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s chief executive, was quoted saying.
    President Vladimir Putin said in April Russia was stepping up construction of icebreakers with the aim of significantly boosting freight traffic along its Arctic coast.
    The drive is part of a push to strengthen Moscow’s hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States and Norway, as well as newcomer China.
    By 2035, Putin said Russia’s Arctic fleet would operate at least 13 heavy-duty icebreakers, nine of which would be powered by nuclear reactors.
    The Arctic holds oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates.
    Moscow hopes the route which runs from Murmansk to the Bering Strait near Alaska could take off as it cuts sea transport times from Asia to Europe.
    Designed to be crewed by 75 people, the Ural will be able to slice through ice up to around 3 meters thick.
(Reporting by Dmitry Vasilyev; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt; Editing by David Holmes)
[The claims by that Climate Change is melting the ice is wrong as the Earth use to have a tilt of 17.5 degrees on its rotation and I suspect that we are not being told that it may be closer to 22 degrees now which is the real reason the ice is melting.    In past history records have found that the Earth rotated its poles and may have caused the Earth to go into a total Ice Age driving everything under ground to survive.    Some theories say we are due to have another Ice Age 1500 years from now, but that is being delayed by so-called Climate Change.    Just some food for thought as our solar system orbits our galaxy approximately every 26,000 years and I believe that somewhere in that orbit there are some very cold areas that cause these Ice Ages to occur and as you may see that I have written in my book at that the Earth was restored from a total Ice Age around 21,810 B.C. or day one of Genesis from an Ice Age reversal through Day Six of the Creation 11,010 B.C., all the way to the Twelth Day that we are in now to complete the orbit of 25,920 years.].

5/26/2019 Russia ordered to release Ukraine ships by Geir Moulson, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BERLIN – A U.N. maritime tribunal ruled Saturday that Russia must immediately release three Ukrainian naval vessels it captured in November and free the 24 sailors it detained.
    The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea issued its order at its Hamburg headquarters following a hearing earlier this month.    Russia stayed away from the hearing and Saturday’s session.
    Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Russia could send a signal of “real readiness to stop the conflict with Ukraine” by complying with the order.    Russia didn’t immediately specify what it would do, but made clear that it still believes the tribunal is the wrong place to address the dispute.
    The confrontation in the Kerch Strait, which links the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, marked a flashpoint in the simmering conflict over Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.    Russia seized Crimea in a move that Ukraine and most of the world view as illegal.    The Kerch Strait separates Crimea from mainland Russia.
    Russia had argued that the rights Ukraine claims in the case don’t apply because they are covered by an exception for military activity.
    Kiev’s lawyers contest this claim, saying Russia previously described the arrest as a law enforcement operation.
    The tribunal sided with Ukraine’s argument on that point.    But tribunal President Jin-Hyun Paik said both parties should “refrain from taking any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”
    He said Russia must return the ships to Ukrainian custody and allow the servicemen to go home.    The decision was a 19-1 vote, with a Russian judge dissenting.
    The tribunal “does not consider it necessary to require (Russia) to suspend criminal proceedings against the 24 detained Ukrainian servicemen and refrain from initiating new proceedings,” Paik added.    Kiev had called for legal proceedings to be ended.
    The tribunal’s decisions are legally binding, but it has no power to enforce them.    It called for both sides to report back on their compliance by June 25.
    Zelenskiy said when he took office on Monday that the main goal of his presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years in a conflict that has left at least 13,000 dead.
    On Saturday, Zelenskiy said on Twitter that “Russia’s fulfillment of the order ... could be a first signal from the side of the Russian leadership of real readiness to stop the conflict with Ukraine.    In this way, Russia could take a step toward unblocking talks and resolving in a civilized way problems that it created.”
    “We’ll see what path the Kremlin will choose,” he added.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry didn’t address details of the order to release the ships and sailors.    It underlined in a statement its argument that the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea’s dispute resolution procedures can’t be applied to this dispute.
A U.N. maritime tribunal ruled that Russia must release three Ukrainian naval vessels
captured by Russia and release 24 detained sailors. AP
[The new Ukranian president is about to learn that this is not a TV show where the good guys always win, as he is about to meet a real antagionist who will also want something you do not want to give.].

5/26/2019 Hungary’s Orban hopes for anti-immigration shift in Europe in vote by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his wife Aniko Levai cast their ballots during
the European Parliament Elections in Budapest, Hungary, May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The European parliamentary election will hopefully strengthen anti-immigration political forces across Europe, Hungarian right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters after he cast his vote on Sunday.
    “I hope that there will be a shift in the European public arena in favor of those political parties who would like to stop migration,” said Orban, dressed in a dark suit and an orange tie, the color of his Fidesz party.
    “We reject migration and we would like to see leaders in position in the European Union who reject migration, who would like to stop it and not to manage it.”
    Responding to a question, Orban, whose Fidesz is expected to win the election by a big margin, declined to say whether he would join Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s new party alliance after the election.
    He said the migration issue, and how people react to it, will reshape the political spectrum in the European Union in the vote and traditional party groupings will not play the same role in the future.
    Speaking in English, he said who will join whom was “the big question of the future.”
    The European elections on Sunday are expected to further dent traditional pro-EU parties and bolster the nationalist fringe in the European Parliament, putting a potential brake on collective action in economic and foreign policy.
    Orban said Fidesz belonged to the EPP, the European parliament’s main centre-right grouping, but the group is arguing about its future direction and Fidesz wants to influence that debate.
    “We would not like to belong somewhere where we don’t have an influence on the main strategy issues,” Orban said.
    Orban’s Fidesz was suspended by the EPP in March amid concerns that it has violated EU principles on the rule of law, and either side could pull the plug on their association.
    Orban, who has flirted with far-right leaders from across the continent while professing loyalty to the EPP, has campaigned framing the election as a choice between forces backing and opposing mass immigration.
    Polls in Hungary close at 1700 GMT/1900 CET.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Keith Weir)

5/27/2019 Russia says it is ready to play role in Venezuela crisis talks in Oslo
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful
interim ruler, attends a rally in Barquisimeto, Venezuela May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Jesus Hernandez
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that Moscow was ready to play a role in talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition in Oslo if the participants felt it was useful.
    Norway said on Saturday that representatives of Venezuela’s government and opposition would return to Oslo following an initial round of preliminary talks about how to address the country’s political crisis.
    The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement it welcomed the fact that the talks were continuing, but warned against any external powers trying to foist ultimatums on the Venezuelan leadership.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyeva and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/27/2019 Kremlin rebuffs call to release Ukrainian sailors: Vedomosti
FILE PHOTO: Seized Ukrainian ships are seen anchored in the port of Kerch, Crimea, Nov. 26, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said an investigation and trial of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by Russia in the Black Sea must be completed despite an international maritime tribunal calling for their release, the Vedomosti newspaper reported late on Sunday.
    The Russian navy captured the Ukrainian sailors and their three vessels in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, on Nov. 25, 2018, after opening fire on them.
    The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on Saturday said that Moscow had to release the sailors immediately and both nations should refrain from taking any action that might aggravate the dispute.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by David Goodman)

5/27/2019 Austrian parliament sacks Kurz as video sting crisis rolls on by Francois Murphy
Members of the Parliament stand during a session of the Parliament in Vienna, Austria May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suffered the biggest setback of his meteoric career on Monday as parliament voted the 32-year-old’s government out of office in the wake of a video sting that blew up his coalition with the far right.
    The star among Europe’s conservatives, known for his hard line on immigration, looked unassailable just two weeks ago.
    But then the leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) was caught in a video sting, prompting him to step down and leading Kurz to call off their alliance.
    Kurz became the head of a caretaker government just days ago and hoped to use that position as a springboard to re-election, depicting himself as more of a victim of the current crisis than its enabler who brought the FPO into power.    But the center-left opposition said he shared the blame, and the FPO backed it.
    “Kurz gambled away his chances and, Mr Chancellor, you bear full responsibility,” the Social Democrats’ (SPO) deputy parliamentary faction head Joerg Leichtfried said in a speech to lawmakers, minutes before his party submitted a motion of no-confidence against Kurz’s government.
    The first successful no-confidence motion against an Austrian government since the country regained its independence in 1955 was passed when lawmakers from the Social Democrats and FPO stood in support.    Together they control a majority of seats in the assembly. Kurz’s party holds a third of the seats.
    Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen must now nominate a new chancellor to put together a caretaker government able to last until the next election, widely expected to be held in September.    While he could in principle choose Kurz again, that is highly unlikely.    An elder statesman, like a retired president or senior judge, is the more probable.
    Van der Bellen said he would formally relieve the government of its duties at 11:30 a.m. (0930 GMT) on Tuesday but ask ministers to stay on for “a small number of days” until a solution for a new provisional government were found.    Vice Chancellor Hartwig Loeger would lead until then, he said.
    Kurz had replaced outgoing FPO ministers with civil servants, arguing that even though he headed what was essentially a minority government, it represented stability in the wake of the video scandal and ahead of a parliamentary election widely expected to be held in September.
    He also pledged a full investigation into any crimes and wrongdoing arising from the footage in which FPO veteran Heinz-Christian Strache appeared to offer to fix government contracts for a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.
    Strache says he did nothing illegal.    Vienna prosecutors say they are investigating “in multiple directions” in relation to the footage although they have declined to elaborate.
    Instead of seriously seeking to build bridges with the Social Democrats and other opposition parties, however, Kurz sought to strengthen his hand with a strong showing in Sunday’s European election, and he succeeded.
    Rather than punish his People’s Party for its 17-month alliance with the far right, voters rewarded it with a bigger share of the vote than in the 2017 election that brought Kurz to power.    The Social Democrats (SPO), the biggest opposition party, were unable to capitalize on the video scandal and lost ground.
    “To topple the entire government a few months before an election is something no one in this country can understand,” Kurz told lawmakers the day after what he called his party’s “landslide” victory in the European Parliament vote.
    But that did not deter the SPO from bringing its motion of no confidence against Kurz.    It argued that if any ministers were going to be replaced with civil servants to rebuild trust after the scandal it should be all ministers including Kurz.
    “Your actions have nothing to do with responsibility,” SPO leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner told lawmakers.
    Kurz had prepared his arguments ahead of the vote, saying he would once again seek a show of strength at the ballot box.
    “Parliament decided today but at the end of the day, in September, in a democracy the people decide,” he told a party rally in Vienna after the vote.    “I am looking forward to that.”
    The FPO’s Herbert Kickl, whom Kurz forced out of his post as interior minister, forecast a different outcome.    “This power grab is disgusting… And voters will decide about that, too, in September,” he told lawmakers.
(Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)

5/27/2019 Accept reality, Serbia does not control Kosovo: Vucic by Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic
Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic speaks in the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade, Serbia, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia needs to accept that it has lost control over Kosovo, its former southern province, and it must seek a compromise to normalize ties with Pristina, President Aleksandar Vucic told parliament in unusually blunt terms on Monday.
    Majority-Albanian Kosovo declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after NATO air strikes wrested control of the territory away from Belgrade, ending a brutal counter-insurgency by Serbian security forces.
    But Serbia, which under its constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory, has been blocking Kosovo from membership of international institutions including Interpol and UNESCO.    It also still provides financial aid to Serbs in Kosovo.
    For years, Kosovo’s independence has been a taboo topic in Serbia because most Serbs regard it as the cradle of their nation and of the Orthodox Christian faith.
    But Vucic spoke plainly on Monday.
    “We need to recognize that we have been defeated.. We lost the territory,” Vucic told parliament during a special session dedicated to Kosovo.
    “I did not opt to continue with lies and deceit.    I have told everyone: There is no Serbian (visible) authority in Kosovo except in hospitals and schools,” he said.
    Serbia and Kosovo agreed to an EU-sponsored dialogue in 2013 to resolve all outstanding issues between them, which was key for both countries to progress towards membership in the European Union.    But little progress has been achieved since then.
    Their talks became deadlocked last November when Pristina introduced a 100% tax on all goods imported from Serbia.
    That move is expected to curb economic growth in Serbia slightly, as its exports to Kosovo amount to 500 million euros a year.    Nevertheless, the IMF expects Serbia’s economy to grow 3.5% this year.
    “We have two options – to normalize relations by reaching an agreement or to maintain a frozen conflict,” Vucic told the deputies, mostly members of the ruling coalition controlled by his Progressive Party.
    Vucic is attempting a balancing act, maintaining both Serbia’s EU aspirations and its close ties with Russia and China, neither of whom recognize Kosovo.    Five EU member states have also not recognized its independence.
    However, he said it could take years before an agreement with Kosovo is achieved.    He said Serbia would wait for Pristina to remove the 100% tax and then seek a compromise.
    Any solution will also require a referendum in Serbia.
    “We will ask people to say what they think about a possible compromise solution in a referendum,” Vucic said.
    Most opposition parties boycotted the session in parliament, in protest at what they call Vucic’s autocratic rule.
    They accuse him of stifling media freedoms and turning a blind eye to high-level corruption.    Vucic denies these allegations.
    Gordana Comic, a deputy for the opposition Democratic Party, said Vucic was merely trying to sound like some sort of agreement with Kosovo might be possible soon to please the EU.
    “This is the creation of atmosphere for announcing a ‘legally binding agreement’ (with Kosovo) in a few months … ahead of the formation of the new European Commission,” Comic said.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/27/2019 Romania’s ruling party chief jailed for corruption by Luiza Ilie and Radu-Sorin Marinas
FILE PHOTO: Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea reacts during an interview with Reuters,
in Bucharest, Romania, May 23, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/File Photo via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – The leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats Liviu Dragnea began a three-and-a-half year prison sentence on Monday after the Supreme Court upheld a graft conviction one day after his party lost a European election to centrist groupings.
    Since coming to power in late 2016, the Social Democrats (PSD) have steadily chipped away at the independence of the judiciary, raising sharp criticism from the European Union and triggering Romania’s largest street protests in decades.
    On Sunday, voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum called by centrist President Klaus Iohannis to prevent Dragnea’s party from further weakening the courts.
    With Romania’s most powerful man jailed, the party will be led in the interim by his protege Prime Minister Viorica Dancila.
    The PSD and a junior coalition ally retain a fragile majority in parliament, and on Monday Dancila rejected calls from opposition leaders to resign.
    The Supreme Court found 56-year-old Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of parliament, guilty of keeping two women on the payroll of a child protection state agency for years even though they were working for his party.
    Denying the charges, he appealed against the initial verdict last year and was free until Monday’s final ruling.
    Television stations live-streamed his trip through traffic jams to Rahova prison on the outskirts of capital Bucharest, with several protesters shouting “To jail!” at his vehicle.
    “We will make an analysis to see what we did wrong and we will try to win back our electorate,” Dancila said at party headquarters at the same time the prison doors closed behind Dragnea.    “I think the best solution would be to continue our governing program.”
    Dragnea, the first PSD leader to come from outside the capital, was already barred from being prime minister by a previous conviction in a vote rigging case.
    Graft issues and chronic inaction building up transport and healthcare infrastructure spurred Romanians to sanction the PSD in the European Parliament election, where its support halved to 22.6 percent from the last national ballot in 2016.
    Tens of thousands of Romanians working abroad were unable to vote on Sunday after queuing for hours outside consulates and polling stations because of bureaucracy and staffing problems.
    Analysts said video footage from voting stations across Europe of Romanians chanting “We want to vote” and “Thieves” amplified the ruling party’s loss.
    Dragnea, who is also under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, has repeatedly said he is the victim of a “parallel state” of politically-motivated prosecutors and secret services.
    “Today’s ruling ends the Liviu Dragnea era, one of the darkest times in politics of the last 30 years,” leader of centrist party Save Romania Union (USR) Dan Barna said.
    “We are returning to Europe.”
    Dragnea spent more than a decade as county council president of southern Teleorman county – one of Romania’s poorest areas – where he started amassing power.
    Later, as regional development minister, he created a fund doling out cash with little oversight to county councils and mayors, helping shore up his support.
    As party leader, he presided over the judicial changes as well as a slew of tax cuts and wage and pension hikes that look set to send the budget deficit above EU limits.
    Sergiu Miscoiu, a political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University, said that while the ruling party had hit a low point, it still had the backing of a quarter of the electorate and could rebuild.
    “For Romania, it sends a strong signal,” he added.
    “It shows the justice system and institutions are working despite all the pressures.”
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/27/2019 Ukraine president holds contest for new ‘highly moral’ lawmaker candidates by Natalia Zinets
Dmytro Razumkov (C), Oleksandr Korniyenko (L) and Mykhailo Fedorov, leaders of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's political
party Servant of the People, attend a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s team on Monday invited applications from members of the public to fight a snap election in July for his new Servant of the People party, betting they can wrench power from a discredited political class.
    Candidates, who, like the former comedian, need not have previous political experience, can apply through a website to tout their credentials and proposals for new laws, officials said at the launch of the party’s campaign.
    The applicants would then be screened with the help of international companies.    Officials from the party, named after the television show that made him famous, might use a lie-detector to test the candidate’s honesty.
    Zelenskiy’s party has no lawmakers in parliament.    Winning the snap election would allow him to decide the make-up of a new government and implement reforms that might please his voters and Ukraine’s international donors.
    Opinion polls suggest Zelenskiy’s party will win the July election but fall short of a majority.
    “Of course our opponents are old-school politicians,” said campaign chief Oleksandr Kornienko.    “They are currently trying to create the impression that apart from them there is nobody able to run the country.”
    Comedian Zelenskiy won last month’s presidential election by a landslide promising to fight corruption and a new way of doing politics in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
    Monday’s announcement is in keeping with Zelenskiy’s unorthodox campaigning style.    In the presidential race he relied heavily on social media posts and comedy gigs while eschewing traditional rallies. He crowdsourced policy ideas on Facebook.
    “First of all, this person should be highly moral, with deep principles and with a desire to understand and carry out the tasks that Ukrainian society will set for them,” party leader Dmytro Razumkov said.
    In the TV show, Zelenskiy played a history teacher who accidentally becomes president after a video of him ranting about corruption goes viral.
    His presidential campaign made frequent allusions to Zelenskiy’s on-screen character, who is scrupulously honest and outwits corrupt lawmakers and oligarchs.
    His Servant of the People party is named after the show and its logo is a man holding the presidential mace while riding a bicycle. Zelenskiy’s character rides a bicycle in the opening credits of the series.
    At Monday’s media briefing, party officials declined to say which other party they might seek an alliance with in the event of a hung parliament.    They also declined to name their candidate for prime minister.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/28/2019 Defying scientists, Hungary will overhaul academic network, website reports
FILE PHOTO: People raise red cards to protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
outside the Ministry for Innovation and Technology in Budapest, Hungary, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary is preparing legislation to strip the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its research network, giving the government more control over scientific activity, the news website reported on Tuesday.
    Hungary’s oldest and largest academic institution, the Hungarian Academy (HAS) is solely funded by the government but self-managing, with a network of scientific research bodies employing about 5,000 people.     Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing leader, has tightened control over the country’s courts, media, economy, education and now scientific research.    His aggrandizing measures have triggered criticism from the European Union.
    A months-long tussle between Orban’s government and academics resisting the reforms is moving towards its final stages with the impending submission of a bill to parliament in the coming weeks, said citing the draft legislation.
    No one from the government was immediately available for comment.
    The overhaul, which Budapest said was needed to reap more economic benefits as Hungary tries to shift towards more innovative industries, has triggered protests from civil groups and academics.
    A resolution passed by the Academy earlier this month said it disagreed with what it called the “political motivation for the arbitrary restructuring of the institutional network.”
    The academy, which carries out scientific research using a network of specialized research institutions, receives 40 billion forints ($137.27 million) a year from the government.
    Index said the government proposal would move all the research units into a new public institution with a 13-member governing board comprising six government and six academy delegates. Orban would appoint the chairman based on a joint proposal by the board.
    That would go against calls by scientists for only a third of board members to be picked by the government.
    Index also said a new National Scientific Policy Council chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics, the architect of the academic overhaul, would make the proposals for main areas of research to be funded.
    The legislation would force the academy to hand over the buildings and assets of its research institutions to the new state-run organization, the report said.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, editing by Larry King)
[Get em Orban, tell the leftist socialist where to stick it, and bring some sanity back to your country with God's help.].

5/28/2019 Poland plans to buy 32 F-35A fighters: minister
FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II aircraft takes part in flying display during the 52nd Paris
Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France, June 25, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland plans to buy 32 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters to replace Soviet-era jets, Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday, amid the growing assertiveness of neighbour Russia.
    “Today we sent a request for quotation (LOR) to our American partners regarding the purchase of 32 F-35A aircraft along with a logistics and training package,” Blaszczak tweeted.
    The United States is expected to expand sales of F-35 fighters to five nations including Poland as European allies bulk up their defenses in the face of a strengthening Russia, the Pentagon said last month.
    Poland is among NATO member countries that spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. Warsaw agreed in 2017 to raise defence spending gradually from 2% to 2.5% of GDP, meaning annual spending should nearly double to about 80 billion zlotys ($21 billion) by 2032.
    U.S. arms sales to foreign governments rose 13 percent to $192.3 billion in the year ended Sept. 30, the U.S. State Department said in November. F-35A fighters are estimated to cost $85 million each.
    During a televised statement on Tuesday, Blaszczak also said Poland was making progress in convincing the United States to increase its military presence on Polish soil.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Potter)

5/29/2019 Latvian parliament elects former judge Levits president
Latvian newly elected President Egils Levits speaks at front of the Parliament in Riga, Latvia May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    RIGA (Reuters) – Latvia’s parliament elected former European Court of Justice judge Egils Levits as the Baltic country’s next president on Wednesday, a largely ceremonial role that also brings with it limited political powers.
    Levits won the support of 61 lawmakers in the 100-seated parliament.    He will serve four years starting on July 8, when incumbent president Raimonds Vejonis’ term comes to an end.
    The president of Latvia has mostly ceremonial functions but can propose new bills and nominate candidates for prime minister.    The president is appointed through the parliament votes rather than popular elections.
(Reporting by Gederts Gelzis, writing by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard)

5/29/2019 Scientists accuse Hungary of seeking “total political control” over research by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: People take part in a protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, on the
Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary, March 21, 2019. The banner reads "Free academy." REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s oldest and biggest scientific institute accused the government on Wednesday of trying to take “total political control” of vital research through plans to set up a new state body to oversee funding and work.
    The government is drafting legislation to strip the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its network of research institutions and hand over their buildings and assets to the new council, news website on Tuesday.
    Right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban, who took power in 2010, has tightened controls over public life, including the courts, the media and education – moves that have put him on a collision course with the European Union.
    The government has said he wants to shake up funding to encourage more lucrative and innovative research.
    “The modifications would amount to total government – political – control over the network of research institutions,” said the governing body of the Academy’s research network which is funded by the government but manages itself.
    The proposed set-up of a new National Scientific Policy Council to run the networks “potentially poses a threat to the academic freedom and freedom of research” guaranteed in the Hungarian Constitution, the statement said.
    Staff would mount a protest on Sunday, it added without going into more details.    Scientists and rights groups have campaigned against earlier calls by government for an overhaul of the system.
    The new Council – chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics – would set out areas of research that would receive funding, said website, citing the government’s proposal.
    His ministry said on Tuesday the current system was inefficient and the aim of the plans was to push more funding and research into “patents and inventions serving the Hungarian economy.”
    The European Commission said on Tuesday it would monitor the developments in Hungary’s public research system and urged authorities “to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Andrea Heavens)
[I am glad to see that Orban is getting control of his country for the people, but as usual the leftist Socialist will now have to do their worst to undo his gains.].

5/29/2019 Russia to consider extending oil output cut with OPEC: deputy PM
Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov speaks during a session of the VTB Capital Investment
Forum "Russia Calling!" in Moscow, Russia, November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – Russia will carefully consider extending its oil output reduction agreement with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anton Siluanov told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Moscow will weigh, in particular, the deal’s positive effect on oil prices against losses in market share to United States companies, he said.
    “There are many arguments both in favor of the extension and against it,” Siluanov said on the sidelines of a conference in Kazakhstan.
    “Of course, we need price stability and predictability, this is good,” he said.    But we see that all these deals with OPEC result in our American partners boosting shale oil output and grabbing new markets.”
    Russia’s energy ministry and government will determine their stance on the pact’s extension after weighing these pros and cons and the longevity of current market trends, Siluanov said.
    OPEC, Russia and other producers agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from January for six months to boost oil prices by reducing global inventories.
    OPEC and the other producers involved in the supply agreement, an alliance known as OPEC+, are scheduled to meet to discuss extending the pact in Vienna during an OPEC meeting scheduled for June 25 and 26.
    The meeting, however, may be pushed back to July 3 and 4, two OPEC sources said on May 20.
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Additional reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva and Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue)
[Russia knows what is going on as the OPEC/USA is keeping oil prices down which is putting pressure on Iran, especially now that sanctions are in full effect.].

5/30/2019 U.S. believes Russia conducting low-level nuclear tests: official
National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States believes Russia may be conducting low-level nuclear tests, a U.S. intelligence official on Wednesday, while the head of a body monitoring a global nuclear treaty said there was no sign of such violations by Moscow.
    Negotiated in the 1990s, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) enjoys wide global support but must be ratified by eight more nuclear technology states, among them Israel, Iran, Egypt and the United States to come into force.
    Russia ratified it in 2000.
    However, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said, “The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard.”
    At an arms control forum at the Hudson Institute, DIA head Lieutenant General Robert P. Ashley said, “We believe they have the capability in the way they are set up” to conduct low-level nuclear tests that exceed the zero yield limit set in the CTBT.
    There was no immediate response from the Russian government, but the head of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, Vladimir Shamanov, told the Interfax news agency that Ashley “could not have made a more irresponsible statement.”
    “Nuclear tests cannot be carried out secretly,” it quoted him as saying.
    “These kinds of statements reveal that the professionalism of the military is systemically falling in America,” Shamanov said.
    The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, said media reports appeared to “probably overstate” Ashley’s comments.
    “It wasn’t about Russia conducting any low-yield tests but that Russia may have the capability for doing so,” he told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Seoul on Thursday.
    The organization’s global detection systems have not detected any tests, Zerbo said.
    “We’re pretty confident that any militarily significant explosive test would not go undetected.    So far we haven’t had any signal to that effect and we’re looking for further evidence.”
    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus referred specific questions to the DIA, but said Russia “routinely” disregarded its international obligations and was in breach of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    “They have been in breach for several years and they have tested, produced, fielded an INF weapon … We are certainly alarmed that they continue to disregard their international obligations as it relates to arms control.”
    Russia announced last month it was suspending the INF treaty after the United States said it would withdraw because of violations by Moscow.    Russia denies flouting the accord and has accused Washington of breaking the accord itself.
    Ashley’s comments underscore the need for countries like the United States to ratify the CTBT, Zerbo said.
    “You’re not ready to ratify the CTBT but you’re asking for someone to comply with it, so you’re referring to a treaty that seems to be important,” he said.
    “If the treaty is important, why don’t we lock it in?
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Susan Thomas and Clarence Fernandez)

5/30/2019 Hungary suspends court reform that had raised EU concerns
Gergely Gulyas speaks to Reuters in an interview in Budapest, Hungary on May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Krisztina Than
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary unexpectedly announced an indefinite suspension of a new administrative court system on Thursday, backtracking on a reform that had raised concerns over judicial independence.
    Changes to Hungary’s judiciary proposed by the nationalist ruling Fidesz party have been at the heart of a confrontation with the European Union, which says some of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s reforms threaten democracy and the rule of law.
    Hungary passed a law late last year to set up courts overseen directly by the justice minister, a move critics said could allow political interference in judicial matters.
    Early this year, Hungary had already modified some aspects of the reform criticized by the Venice Commission, a European panel of constitutional law experts.
    “The government will initiate the indefinite suspension of the launch of the administrative court system,” Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, told a news conference.
    “We believe that the law meets European standards and rule-of-law requirements,” he said.    “However, the administrative court system has been caught up in debates in Europe, which have unjustifiably called judicial independence into question.”
    The administrative courts had been due to take over cases about government business such as taxation and elections currently handled in the main legal system.
    The government said the courts would be presided over by independent judges who would be able to handle cases more efficiently.
    Orban’s Fidesz, however, won the Hungarian leg of European parliamentary elections, in a contest that highlighted the deepening political fragmentation of the 28-country bloc and complicated efforts to agree Europe’s new leaders.
    Fidesz was suspended from the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) in March over Orban’s record on respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and minorities’ rights.    Orban subsequently courted far-right leaders in the run-up to the vote.
    Gulyas said there was no link between Fidesz’s membership in the EPP and Thursday’s suspension of the reform, which he called a “last-minute measure” that occurred just before the impending appointment of judges for the new courts.
    “This should improve Hungary’s position within the EU,” Gulyas said in response to questions on whether the move was intended to shore up Orban’s standing in the mainstream group.
    Gulyas said Hungary considered criticism of the reform unfounded, however, it should be mindful of criticism and pre-empt a possible challenge against the new system by the European Commission, which has appealed some of Orban’s past reforms.
    Gulyas pointed to a legal challenge by the Commission against Polish reforms affecting judges, saying charges brought by the EU executive in the field of judicial independence were “too dangerous” to risk an entrenched conflict.
    He said Hungary could abandon the new courts altogether if it fails to allay concerns over the proposed changes. (Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

5/30/2019 Ukraine’s president asks parliament to sack foreign, defense ministers, SBU head
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during an IT conference
in Kiev, Ukraine, May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked parliament to sack the foreign and defense ministers and the head of the security service SBU, the presidential press service said on Thursday.
    In line with the constitution, the parliament appoints and dismisses the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and SBU on the proposal of the president.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk)

5/30/2019 Ukrainian parliament rejects prime minister’s resignation
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman speaks at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine
May 20, 2019. Vladyslav Musiienko/Ukrainian Governmental Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s parliament voted to reject Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman’s resignation on Thursday, with the largest faction arguing his resignation would lead to “chaos” before a snap election due in July.
    Groysman had resigned after the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, saying Zelenskiy had turned down his overtures for cooperation.    Zelenskiy has called a snap election for July 21, which his party is expected to win.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams and Toby Chopra)

5/30/2019 Russia rebuffs Japan’s military buildup warning: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference following the talks with his
Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez in Moscow, Russia May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Russia was only operating on its own territory after Japan accused Moscow of a military buildup on a chain of islands in the Pacific, RIA news agency reported.
    Russia has held the islands – known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia – since World War Two and they are a reason the two countries have not formally ended hostilities since the war.
    Speaking in Tokyo at talks with the Japanese foreign and defense ministers, Lavrov was quoted as saying that Moscow was concerned by U.S. missile deployment plans in Japan.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/30/2019 Taliban says progress made at Afghan talks in Moscow but no breakthrough
Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (C, front), leave after peace talks
with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, Russia May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Taliban official said on Thursday that decent progress had been made at talks with a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow but that there had been no breakthrough and that further talks would be needed, Russian news agencies reported.
    The delegation, led by chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election amid gathering diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year war.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/30/2019 Russia says U.S. nuclear accusation is an attack on global arms control
National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s ambassador to the United States on Thursday said a U.S. allegation that Moscow may be conducting banned nuclear tests was a calculated attempt to undermine nuclear arms control, Russian state television reported.
    The head of the U.S.’s Defense Intelligence Agency said on Wednesday that Russia may be conducting low-level nuclear testing that flouts the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which was negotiated in the 1990s.
    “The U.S. allegations … look like a well-planned and directed attack not only and not so much on Russia as on the arms control regime, and on the entire architecture for strategic stability,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador, was quoted as saying by Vesti TV.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Ostroukh; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/31/2019 Russia says it’s Turkey’s duty to halt fighting in Syria’s Idlib by Maria Tsvetkova and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend
a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/ANKARA (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it was Turkey’s responsibility to stop rebels in Syria’s Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets, signaling it would continue to back a Syrian government offensive there despite Ankara’s protests.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin late on Thursday that he wanted a ceasefire in Idlib to prevent more civilian deaths and a refugee influx to Turkey.
    Erdogan also told Putin by phone that Syria needed a political solution, Erdogan’s office said in a statement.
    The Turkish leader has repeatedly complained to Moscow about a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwest, the most serious escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer.
    The fighting has uprooted around 250,000 people in the territory, the last significant rebel stronghold, and one which borders Turkey.
    The Kremlin made clear on Friday however that it was for now unmoved by Erdogan’s calls for a ceasefire, saying the rebels were the ones who had to implement a ceasefire in the first instance.
    “We really do need a ceasefire in Idlib and what needs to be achieved is for the terrorists to stop firing on civilian targets and on certain facilities where our troops are located,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about Erdogan’s request for a ceasefire.
    “…This is the responsibility of the Turkish side.”
    Russia has complained of rocket and drone attacks against its main Hmeymim air base being launched from Idlib, something Peskov described as “a highly dangerous tendency.”
    He made no mention of the idea that Syrian government troops, backed by Russian air power, should stop fighting however, but denied Moscow and Ankara disagreed over Idlib.
    The fate of the province has strained relations between Russia and Turkey, which is keen to retain a degree of influence there given its geographical proximity.
    Moscow, one of the Syrian government’s staunchest allies, and Turkey brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib that would be free of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters.
    But Moscow, which is keen to help Assad retake territory, has since complained about escalating violence in the area and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large swaths of territory.
    It has blamed Turkey for not doing enough to hold its side of the bargain, while Ankara, which is worried about refugees crossing from Idlib into Turkey, has repeatedly urged restraint.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn Editing by William Maclean)
[I do not understand why either need to do it if Donald Trump had not gone into Syria and got rid of the ISIS Caliphate they would be no where now, to even worry about so-called militants in the Idlib province.].

5/31/2019 Kremlin says onus is on Turkey to rein in militants in Syria’s Idlib
People walk near rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Idlib, Syria May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that it was Turkey’s responsibility to stop militants in Syria’s Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments when asked about a suggestion from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to implement a ceasefire in Idlib.
    A Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwest, the most serious escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer, has uprooted around 250,000 people in the territory, the last significant rebel stronghold.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/31/2019 Ukrainian president appoints man with ties to oligarch as security chief
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during an
IT conference in Kiev, Ukraine, May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has picked as a top security chief a man who Reuters has reported as having ties with tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, an appointment that underscores links between the two.
    Maksym Donets was appointed head of the president’s personal bodyguard team, as well as deputy head of Ukraine’s department of state protection, according to a decree published on the president’s website on Thursday evening.
    It gave no further detail and did not say why he had been picked for the post.    Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.
    Last week a lawyer with links to Kolomoisky, Andriy Bogdan, was appointed as head of the presidential administration.
    A comedian with no prior political experience, Zelenskiy won last month’s presidential election by a landslide on promises to fight corruption and put an end to “politics as usual.”
    But he has come under scrutiny for his business ties to Kolomoisky, who is one of Ukraine’s richest men and who has been at loggerheads with the authorities over control of PrivatBank, the country’s largest lender.
    Reuters has previously documented ties between Donets and Kolomoisky and found photographs from six different occasions when they were together.    Neither commented on the connection.
    The department of state protection is engaged in the protection of senior officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of parliament.
    Bogdan was an adviser to Kolomoisky when he was a regional governor in 2014.    He served as one of Kolomoisky’s lawyers in the tycoon’s running legal battle with the government over PrivatBank, which Kolomoisky owned until 2016. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Matthias Williams and David Holmes)
[All I can say is that if you vote someone as president did he expose who he would have on his staff or were you stupid enough to believe he would do what was in the fairy tales of his TV shows, Ukranians have been in the corruption of Oligarchs for so long they cannot tell who is who to believe and do not forget that Hillary, Obama and Joe Biden were part of that mess also and several presidents even used Paul Manafort for that issue to interfere in Ukraines politics.}.

5/31/2019 Hungary’s Fidesz might join new grouping in European parliament: PM
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban waves after addressing supporters, following the preliminary results
of the European Parliament election in Budapest, Hungary, May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Fidesz party could join a new grouping in the European parliament if staying in the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) does not line up with national interests, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.     Fidesz was suspended from the EPP in March over Orban’s record on respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and rights for minorities.
    “We are members of the EPP right now and we will see which direction the EPP goes … whether we can influence it and whether it is in line with the interests of Hungary and the Hungarian people,” Orban said.
    “If yes, then we will stay, if not, we will sit in a new formation,” he said, without saying which alternative grouping Fidesz could join.
    The EPP won the EU parliamentary election but with a shrinking share of seats, which obliges it to form a coalition with at least two other groups to obtain a majority.
    Orban’s move to court far-right leaders in the run-up to the European election irked mainstream allies in the EPP grouping.
    Orban also told radio the Visegrad four group in the European Union — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — had agreed to take a common stance in selecting new EU leaders.
    “We will have a unified stance in personnel issues,” he said.
    Regarding a new president of the European Commission, he said he would support a candidate who was anti-immigration, had “national feelings” and was “ready to defend” Christian culture.
    “We have such a candidate in mind, not just one,” Orban said, declining to give any names.
    Fidesz won more than 52% of votes in Hungary in the European parliamentary election on a hardline anti-immigration platform.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Edmund Blair)
[It was good to see that Orban has won some respect as a persosn who stands by his beliefs and does not sell his soul to the liberal Geroge Soros prodigees and the EU leftist trying to control everyone.].

5/31/2019 Russia says U.S. military curbs on space cooperation are unfair competition
FILE PHOTO - The Soyuz-2 spacecraft with Meteor-M satellite and 18 additional small satellites launches from Russia's new
Vostochny cosmodrome, near the town of Tsiolkovsky in Amur region, Russia November 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia accused the United States of trying to unfairly grab market share in the space services industry on Friday after the U.S. military imposed restrictions on space launch cooperation with Moscow.
    The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday banned contracts for Russian commercial satellite services if they were deemed to pose an unacceptable cyber security risk, a document on the U.S. government’s Federal Register showed.
    The restrictions apply to launches carried out from Dec. 31, 2022, and cover services with satellite and launch vehicles, the document said.    China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria are already subject to the same restrictions, it said.
    Pentagon spokesman Army Major Chris Mitchell said that he anticipated that the Department of Defense would immediately avoid contracting with Russian commercial satellite providers.
    “This policy relates specifically to the Department of Defense, which is not responsible for the space station,” he said.    “Questions regarding U.S.-Russian cooperation on the International Space Station should be directed to NASA.”
    Moscow criticized the U.S. move.
    “The United States has long conducted a policy of trying to squeeze Russia out of the market for launch services,” the head of space corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying on Friday.
    Roscosmos had also condemned the U.S. move in a statement a day earlier, calling it the “latest case of unfair competition by Washington on the international market for space services.”
    “The Pentagon wants to destroy what has been created with such difficulty,” it said.
    The United States currently relies on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to reach the International Space Station.
    Space is one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States has remained intact despite ties plunging to post-Cold War lows amid tensions over everything from Ukraine to alleged election hacking.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Phil Stewart in Washington; editing by Andrew Osborn)
[The Space Race is on again who can afford it and achieve it?].

6/1/2019 Scores injured in blasts at Russian military plant
A still image, taken from a video footage, shows smoke rising from the site of blasts at an explosives plant
in the town of Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Region, Russia June 1, 2019. Elena Sorokina via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Seventy-nine people were injured when several blasts at the explosives plant Kristall shook the central Russian town of Dzerzhinsk on Saturday, the Russian health ministry said.
    The blasts, around midday (0900 GMT) were heard all over the town of more than 230,000 residents and shock waves smashed or damaged windows in around 180 buildings, city authorities told TASS news agency.
    Russian state TV Rossiya 24 showed footage of a plume of smoke rising over the explosives factory.
    The Kristall plant said that its director had been fired “literally a day before” the blasts for violating industrial safety rules earlier in the year, Interfax reported.    He was blamed for an explosion that occurred in April and also destroyed a section of the plant.
    Thirty-eight of the injured were at the plant when the blasts occurred but 41 local residents from outside the factory, many hit by broken glass, also requested medical help.
    The health ministry said that 15 of all the injured were taken to hospitals, mostly with fragment wounds.    One of them, a woman, suffers a severe injury.
    Local authorities declared a state of emergency in Dzerzhinsk and three neighboring settlements, Russian agencies said.
    A local deputy governor told Rossiya 24 TV channel that two people went missing after the blasts but later he said that the information had not been confirmed.
    Dzerzhinsk is close to the city of Nizhny Novgorod, about 400 km (250 miles) east of Moscow.    Founded in Soviet times, the Kristall scientific institute is one of the major Russian developers of explosives technology for military and civilian use.    The plant is part of Russia’s Rostec, a state conglomerate which has been affected by Western sanctions over Russian policy toward Ukraine.
    A section of the building where the blasts occurred was partially destroyed and a fire broke out at the facility, where explosives and ammunition, including aerial bombs, were stored, Russian news agencies said.     A neighboring building and a nearby forest also caught fire and the Russian emergency ministry reported that firefighters had managed to douse it around six hours after the blasts, Russian agencies said.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alexander Smith and Stephen Powell)

6/1/2019 Fire at migrant center in Bosnia injures 29: police by Dado Ruvic
A burned migrant camp is seen in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Twenty-nine migrants were injured in a fire that broke out early on Saturday at a center in the northwestern Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa, police said.
    Regional police spokesman Ale Siljdedic said the injured were taken to hospitals in Velika Kladusa and neighboring Bihac following the fire at the Miral center, which is used as temporary accommodation for about 500 migrants.
    The fire was put down during the course of the day but more than a hundred migrants were forced to stay outdoors braving rain and cold weather because the building’s upper floor was destroyed, a Reuters photographer said.
    An investigation into the cause of the fire was underway, police said.    Police spokesman Siljdedic told Reuters the fire was most likely caused by a heater as temperatures had fallen overnight.
    The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which manages the camp, said in a statement that eight people remained in hospital, two of them with serious but not life threatening injuries.
    Videos posted on social media showed several people jumping in panic out of the center’s windows.
    Local doctors said that many of the injured suffered from limb fractures and only few of them from burns.    IOM said its was ready to engage additional staff to put the building back into full use.
    About 25,000 people from Asia and North Africa entered Bosnia from Serbia and Montenegro last year, and about 6,000 have arrived in the impoverished Balkan country this year, according to Bosnia’s security agencies.
    Only around 3,500 have been accommodated in transit centers, leaving thousands sleeping rough.
    Most of the migrants are concentrated in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, where authorities say resources are overstretched.    They have requested that the three transit centers there, including Miral, be closed and residents moved elsewhere. (Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by William Maclean and Toby Chopra)

6/2/2019 Hungarians protest over government overhaul of academic bodies by Marton Dunai
People protest outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences against government's plans to overhaul
the institution in Budapest, Hungary, June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarians took to the streets of central Budapest on Sunday to protest plans to overhaul the country’s leading scientific research body, which they see as part of a wider government attempt to curb academic freedom.
    Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took power in 2010, has tightened controls over public life, including the courts, the media, universities and scientific research, putting him on a collision course with the European Union.
    In its latest move, the government has said it plans to strip the 200 year-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its network of research institutions and hand over their buildings and assets to a new governing council.    News website reported on Tuesday that the government was now drawing up draft legislation for the plan.
    The academy said on Wednesday that the government wanted “total political control” of vital research.
    “If it was up to Orban, there would be no free thought in this country, and I can’t let that just happen without raising my voice,” Maria Lantos, a 45 year-old teacher said as a crowd gathered to march past the main institutions affected by the government’s moves: from several public universities to the Academy.
    There appeared to be up to several thousand people on the streets, but there were no official or police estimates of the size of the demonstration.
    The government has said it wants to shake up funding of research institutes to encourage more lucrative and innovative research.
    “Nationalization is not innovation,” read one banner held up by one of the protesters.
    “We will not allow government bureaucrats to decide about research, scientific work,” Judit Gardos, a member of the Academic Worker’s Forum, which organized the demonstration, told protesters.    “That is unheard of anywhere in the democratic world,” she said.    The forum is a group set up by scientists in January to protect their freedoms.
    The European Commission said on Tuesday that it would monitor developments in Hungary’s public research system and urged authorities “to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom.”
    The planned new government council for the Academy – to be chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics – would set out areas of research that would receive funding, website said on Tuesday.
    In recent years, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party also changed the law to force Central European University (CEU), a top international graduate school and liberal thought center, to move much of its activity to Vienna.
    It also centralized the operations and curriculum of lower level education and banned teaching in subjects that are ideologically alien to its perceived Christian nationalist politics, such as gender studies.
    While popular protests and diplomatic problems accompanied most of those moves, including a massive march of several tens of thousands of people in support of CEU two years ago, the government ultimately has gone ahead with its plans.
    CEU was one of the main issues that led to the ruling Fidesz party’s suspension in the European People’s Party, a pan-Europe party, which has moved to isolate Orban and Fidesz as they drift further to the nationalist populist fringes of European politics.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Susan Fenton)
[George Soros is at it again, but the Right Orban's side now has an advantage over the Leftist views for once to bring some values back to their country.].

6/3/2019 Kremlin rebuffs Trump on Syria, says military action in Idlib is justified
Plumes of smoke rise from a location, said to be Khan al Subul, Idlib province, Syria, targeted in a strike
in this still image taken from a video uploaded on May 28, 2019. White Helmets via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday rebuffed criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump of Russian and Syrian government military action in Syria’s Idlib province, saying it was justified.
    Trump on Sunday urged Russia and Syrian government forces to stop bombing Idlib, following a Friday Kremlin statement that signaled Moscow would continue to back a month-long Syrian government offensive there.
    When asked about Trump’s criticism on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that militants were using Idlib as a base to launch attacks against civilian and military targets, something he called unacceptable.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/3/2019 State Department OKs possible sale of F-16 fighters to Bulgaria
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force F-16 jet during a NATO exercise in Estonia, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of eight F-16 aircraft and related equipment to Bulgaria at an estimated cost of $1.67 billion, a Pentagon agency said on Monday.
    The prime contractor will be Lockheed Martin Corp, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.
    “The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve security of a NATO ally and a key democratic partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in this region,” the statement said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech)

6/3/2019 Russia rebuffs Ukraine’s case over rebel support at U.N. court by Stephanie van den Berg
Grigory Lukiyantsev, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia for human rights, is seen during a hearing in a case launched by Ukraine
which alleges Moscow is funding pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine, in The Hague, Netherlands June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Russia told a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday that the court lacks jurisdiction in a case filed by Ukraine against Moscow over its alleged support of pro-Russian separatists in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
    In a 2017 filing to the ICJ, also known as the World Court, Ukraine asked judges to order Russia to stop alleged funding and equipping of pro-Kremlin forces and halt alleged discrimination of the Crimean Tartar ethnic group.
    Moscow has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine and says Kiev’s claim is a roundabout way of having the court rule on the legality of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.    Fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces has claimed roughly 13,000 lives.
    “The case brought by Ukraine should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction,” Dmitry Lobach, Russia’s ambassador-at-large who is representing Moscow in the case, told the court.
    He denied Ukraine’s accusation that Russia was involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held Ukraine in July 2014 and had thereby violated the U.N. anti-terrorism convention.
    Kiev had failed to show that Moscow had the “intent and knowledge” required by the convention which would trigger jurisdiction of the court, he said.
    The airline crashed after being hit by a Russian-made Buk missile, killing 298 passengers and crew.
    Lobach said a six-country investigative team led by the Netherlands – which concluded that the launcher carrying the surface-to-air missile had come from a Russian base – gave “no answer why the aircraft was shot down and who was responsible.”
    This week’s hearings will focus only on the question of jurisdiction, a decision on which could be rendered late this year or early in 2020.
(Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/3/2019 ‘We’re ready to welcome you’ NATO tells North Macedonia
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attend a
welcoming ceremony in Skopje, North Macedonia June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
    SKOPJE (Reuters) – NATO’s secretary-general commended North Macedonia on Monday for making the reforms necessary to join the transatlantic military alliance next year.
    “We are ready to welcome you,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
    NATO members signed an accord in February allowing the ex-Yugoslav republic to become the 30th member of the U.S.-led group after a deal with Greece ended a long dispute over its name.    The ratification process normally takes a year.
    “It is important to commend North Macedonia for the reforms you have implemented,” Stoltenberg added.
    Macedonia plans to raise defense spending to 2% of Gross Domestic Output by 2024 from 1% now.
    Three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as have other countries in the Balkan region including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.
    Russia says that by taking in Balkan members, the alliance is undermining security in the region.
    The European Commission formally recommended last week that North Macedonia should start negotiations to join the bloc.
(Reporting by Kole Casucle; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/4/2019 Kremlin contradicts Trump statement on alleged Venezuela drawdown
National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Tuesday contradicted a statement by U.S. President Donald Trump and said it had not officially informed him about the activities of its military personnel in Venezuela who it said were continuing to provide military aid to Caracas.
    Trump posted a message on Twitter on Monday, saying that Russia had told the United States that it had removed “most of their people” from Venezuela, where Moscow has maintained military and economic ties with socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
    But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Moscow had not been in touch with Trump on the subject, and that it appeared that his information had been taken from newspaper reports, which Russian officials have already denied, or from somewhere else.
    Peskov said Russian military personnel remained in Venezuela in order to fulfil the terms of military contracts between Moscow and Caracas and that everything was going according to plan.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Maxim Rodionov and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/4/2019 Bulgaria sees F-16 jet deal with U.S. at $1.2 billion
A U.S. Air Force F-16 jet fighter attends the CRUZEX, a multi-national air exercise hosted by
the Brazilian Air Force in Natal, Brazil November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria expects the United States to make an offer soon to sell it eight new F-16 fighter jets for its army at $1.2 billion, the defense ministry said on Tuesday.     The U.S. State Department approved the possible sale of eight F-16 aircraft and related equipment at an estimated cost of $1.67 billion, a Pentagon agency said on Monday.
    European Union and NATO member Bulgaria is looking to replace its aging Soviet-made MiG-29s and improve compliance with NATO standards.
    A deal for Lockheed Martin’s F-16V Block 70 would be the Balkan country’s biggest military procurement since the fall of Communist rule some 30 years ago.
    The defense ministry said the U.S. approval outlined the upper threshold of the costs and it expected a draft contract from Washington within two weeks.
    “There is a two-week timeline in which the U.S. government will present to Bulgaria a draft Letter of Offer and Acceptance in which the expected price for the eight jets with a package of necessary related equipment will be within $1.2 billion,” the ministry said in a statement.
    The expected price comes above the initial estimate for the deal at 1.8 billion levs ($1.04 billion), but the Bulgarian parliament has given the defense ministry a green light to go over that.
    Sofia said talks for the deal will continue after it receives the draft contract.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova)

6/4/2019 Trump administration bans cruises to Cuba in clampdown on U.S. travel by Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: People look at the arrival of U.S. Carnival cruise ship Adonia at the Havana bay, the first cruise liner to sail
between the United States and Cuba since Cuba's 1959 revolution, Cuba, May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed heavy new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, including a ban on cruises, in a further bid to pressure the island’s Communist government to reform and end its support for Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
    The tightening of the decades-old U.S. embargo on the Caribbean’s largest island will further wound its crippled economy, as well as hurt U.S. travel companies that had built up business with Cuba during the brief 2014-2016 detente between the old Cold War foes.
    The State Department said the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, as well as private and corporate aircraft.
    The country will also no longer allow so-called group people-to-people educational travel, one of the most popular exemptions to the overall ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba.    Travel experts said some groups may get around that by instead using one of the 11 other categories still allowed.
    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump had announced the new restrictions in April as part of its rollback of the U.S.-Cuban detente of former President Barack Obama and its broader battle against socialism in Latin America.
    Cuba experts say the Trump administration appears to be partly eyeing the presidential elections next year, with the key swing state of Florida home to many Cuban-American exiles who welcome the harder line on Havana.
    “The Administration has advanced the President’s Cuba policy by ending ‘veiled tourism’ to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels,” said a tweet from Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, who has led the U.S. campaign against what he has called the troika of tyranny” of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
    “We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime’s access to U.S. dollars.”
    Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the island would not be intimidated.
    “They have not been able to asphyxiate us, they will not be able to stop us, we will continue to live and we will conquer,” he wrote on Twitter.
    Many analysts have said the Trump administration is pursuing a failed policy of trying to overthrow Cuba’s government through sanctions, which has served only to give Havana an excuse for its own economic failings and a pretext to clamp down on domestic opposition.
    This is the second time the Trump administration has tightened U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba.    While the measures are designed to hit government coffers, they are also hurting Cuba’s fledgling private sector, which the United States has said it wants to support.
    “This is another hard blow,” said Miguel Ángel Morales, owner of La Moneda Cubana, a restaurant in Old Havana.    “Around 50 percent of our business comes from the cruise ships.”
    The Trump administration is hitting the two areas of the economy, tourism and investment, that have helped Cuba keep the economy afloat even as it has faced declining Venezuelan aid and exports in recent years.
    Last month, the administration allowed U.S. lawsuits against foreign companies for the use of property confiscated after Cuba’s 1959 revolution, a move that will likely dampen future foreign investment.
    Meanwhile, U.S. travel to Cuba had boomed in recent years after Obama loosened restrictions, allowing the re-establishment of regular commercial flights and cruise services.
    The United States became the second-largest source of travelers to the island after Canada, with a majority arriving on cruises ships.
    According to the Cuban government, 257,500 U.S. citizens, not including those of Cuban origin, visited Cuba from January through March, with 55% arriving on cruise ships.
    But critics of the Cuban government said much of this travel was not for educational but rather for recreational purposes, which contradicted the ban on tourism.
    “He thinks we are just coming here as a tourist but you are learning so much.    It’s ridiculous we won’t be able to come anymore,” said Cheryl Kolar, 68, a retired nurse who had traveled to Havana by cruise ship.
    “Cuba is the only country we are not allowed to go to. We can go to Russia, but for some reason Trump has something against Cuba.”
    Carnival and Royal Caribbean which both offer cruises to Cuba did not immediately reply to requests for comment.    Norwegian Cruise Line said it was “closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba.”
    Cuba travel experts say U.S. travel to Cuba will still be possible, even if not via cruises.
    “There are still a number of ways to legally visit Cuba, commercial flights were left intact and any previously made reservations can go forward,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuban Educational Travel, which brings hundreds of groups to Cuba every year.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; editing by Tom Brown and Daniel Flynn)

6/4/2019 Finland’s Greens name Haavisto as foreign minister in new government
Green League Chairman Pekka Haavisto, Centre Party Chairman Juha Sipila, Social Democratic Party Chairman Antti Rinne, Left Alliance
Chairwoman Li Andersson and Swedish People's Party Chairwoman Anna-Maja Henriksson are seen during a news conference about the
programme of the next Finnish government and ministers in Helsinki, Finland June 3, 2019. Lehtikuva/Roni Rekomaa via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s Greens, fresh from their best ever election result in April and part of the incoming governing coalition, named party chief Pekka Haavisto as the next foreign minister on Tuesday.
    Haavisto, 61, has a long background in international conflict resolution. He has run for president twice, finishing second to current President Sauli Niinisto on both occasions. Haavisto was a minister in three previous governments.
    The new government, in which Greens will get three cabinet posts, will be sworn in later this week.    Four parties including the Greens, who won 20 seats in the 200-strong parliament, agreed a joint government program last week.
    Earlier on Tuesday, Finland’s largest party, Social Democrats, named its seven ministers, including confirming Antti Rinne as the prime minister, and said it would propose former finance minister Jutta Urpilainen for the EU Commission post.
    Social Democrats were placed first in the April 14 general election by a tight margin with just 17.7% of the vote, forcing them to partner with four smaller parties to form a majority government.
    Two coalition partners – Centre and Left Alliance – will name its ministers on Wednesday, with Centre appointing the new finance minister.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

6/4/2019 Czech protesters demand PM Babis’s fall over investigation, business ties by Jason Hovet
Demonstrators are seen during a protest rally demanding resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
in Prague, Czech Republic, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bundas Engler NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Czechs hit the streets on Tuesday to demand the resignation of billionaire     Prime Minister Andrej Babis over alleged conflicts of interest involving his former business empire and an investigation into a decade-old EU subsidy.
    Organizers estimated 120,000 people protested on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square, making it one of the largest demonstrations since the Velvet Revolution ended Communist rule in 1989.
    Protests against Babis have swelled since the end of April just as Czech police concluded investigations into whether he illegally received a 2 million euro EU subsidy for a farm and convention center a decade ago and recommended he face trial.
    Protesters fear a newly appointed justice minister could interfere in the case, now in prosecutors’ hands.    Babis has denied wrongdoing, calling the case a political maneuver.
    The anti-Babis movement received further impetus from a leak of preliminary audit findings by the European Commission which determined that Agrofert – a business empire built by Babis and spanning chemicals, food processing, farming and media firms – should not have had any access to EU development funds in recent years because Babis had conflicts of interest.
    “We will not act like it is normal that the prime minister of our country remains … in such a conflict of interest that his personal problems damage the whole country,” organizer Mikulas Minar told protesters from a stage just below the imposing 19th-century National Museum.
    “We are asking for the resignation of Andrej Babis.”
    Demonstrators filled the 700-meter-long rectangular Wenceslas Square, scene of some of the most politically momentous gatherings in Czech history.
    Waving Czech and EU flags, protesters carried signs saying “We’ve had enough!” or “We don’t want Babisstan.”
    “We no longer want to tolerate that Babis is robbing us,” said Jana Tomesova, a financial adviser who traveled from the town of Pisek, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Prague.
    The outpouring of anger against Babis, the second richest Czech with $3.7 billion in assets according to Forbes magazine, continues a spate of protests in central Europe over fears about democratic backsliding in the formerly Communist region.
    Babis has clashed with western European Union leaders over his tough anti-immigration policy but has been more pro-EU than nationalist counterparts in Poland or Hungary.
    Despite allegations of conflicts of interest against Babis since he took office in 2014, his ANO party easily won the 2017 election with 1.5 million votes, almost three time more than the next closest party, on a platform to run the state with a businessman’s touch and fight traditional party corruption.
    ANO remains the most popular political force though its support in a CVVM poll slipped to 28% in May from 32% in April.
    Babis shifted Agrofert into a trust fund arrangement in 2017 to comply with new Czech legislation on conflicts of interest.
    But the leaked preliminary audit – subject to comments by the Czech authorities before finalization – said Babis’s move amounted to an insufficient separation from his executive powers as he was both the founder and beneficiary of the trust funds.
    If confirmed, the audit will be troublesome for Babis politically and for Agrofert financially as received funds might have to be returned.
    Babis has rejected the findings. He told parliament on Tuesday: “(It is) a doubtful audit, an attack on the Czech Republic, and I again repeat, (no money) will be returned.”
    Separately, the head of the Greens party in the European Parliament urged EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on Tuesday to investigate allegations that the Czech Republic was providing illegal subsidies to companies linked to Babis.
    In a letter seen by Reuters, the Greens said they feared Agrofert might have received over 10 million euros ($11.2 million) in subsidies from the Prague government, which “might lead to a distortion of competition in the EU single market.”
    The Commission was not immediately available for a comment.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet in Prague with additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/5/2019 Czech PM fires back after EU audit, as protests swell
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators march across the medieval Charles Bridge during a protest rally demanding the resignation of
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague, Czech Republic, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Wednesday stepped up criticism of a European Commission audit into his possible conflicts of interest, calling the auditors incompetent and demanding a meeting with the head of the commission executive.
    His response came after an estimated 120,000 protesters took to Prague’s streets on Tuesday evening to demand Babis’s resignation, one of the biggest protests since the end of communism in 1989.
    Demonstrators began weekly protests against Babis at the end of April, angry over a criminal investigation into alleged subsidy fraud a decade ago and his ties to the agricultural and media conglomerate he built.
    Babis’s alleged conflicts led to a Commission audit that leaked to media last week.    In preliminary findings, the audit determined that his Agrofert group should not have had access to European Union development funds in recent years because of conflicts of interest.
    Czech authorities must comment on the audit before it is completed.    But it raises the possibility the Czech government will need to return European Union funds.
    Babis has denied the audit’s findings, telling lawmakers on Tuesday that it was an attack on the Czech Republic and its interests and saying no funds would be returned.    On Wednesday, he told reporters he wanted to meet Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a June 20-21 EU summit.
    “I will of course ask Mr Juncker how it is possible he has such incompetent auditors because their behavior was scandalous,” Babis said.
    He added he was informed that two Czech auditors treated some state authorities “in a position of bullying,” without giving further details.
    Babis placed his Agrofert holdings in trusts in 2017 before becoming prime minister.    The leaked audit said the shift to trusts was not enough separation from his executive power, because he was both the founder and beneficiary of the funds.
    Babis is also battling a Czech police investigation into whether he illegally received a 2 million-euro EU subsidy a decade ago for a farm and convention center, by hiding ownership of it.    Police have recommended prosecutors take Babis, who denies wrongdoing, to trial.
    The protesters charge that a new justice minister, who was appointed when her predecessor resigned the day after police finished their investigation, might meddle in the case.
    Babis has clashed with western EU leaders over his tough anti-immigration policy, but he has been more pro-EU than his nationalist counterparts in Poland or Hungary.
    Despite the legal cases, Babis’s ANO party remains the main political force, polling well ahead of other parties, helped by a strong economy and its business-like approach to government.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Robert Muller; editing by Larry King)

6/5/2019 Hungarian government submits bill to tighten grip over scientists
FILE PHOTO: People march during a protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian
Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government is moving to tighten its grip on the research institutions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, despite protests by scientists against political control of the academy.
    Since taking power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has tightened government control of public life, including the courts, the media and universities.    His moves have put him on a collision course with the European Union.
    His government submitted draft legislation to parliament on Wednesday that would strip the 200 year-old academy of its network of research institutions and boost state control over research.
    News website reported the first details of the planned legislation last week.
    The legislation, posted on parliament’s website, maintained that a “more transparent and … flexible organizational and financing framework was needed to ensure a sustainable boost to Hungary’s long-term competitiveness."
    “The transformation of the institutional system and financing of Hungarian research, development and innovation will serve a more efficient use of resources,” it said.
    A new 11-member council for the Academy – to be chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics – would set out areas of research that should get funding and monitor the use of funds.    Members would be appointed by the prime minister based on the recommendation of the minister, the bill says.
    The government said those projects that “directly contribute to the competitiveness of the Hungarian economy” and involve regional or international cooperation would get priority.
    The research institutions themselves would be run by a 13-member panel, with six members from government and six from the academy.    Its chairman would be appointed by the prime minister, based on the recommendation of the head of the academy and the minister.
    On Sunday, thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of central Budapest to protest the planned overhaul.    The academy said last week that the government wanted “total political control” of vital research.
    The European Commission said on Tuesday that it would monitor developments in Hungary’s public research system and urged authorities “to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Larry King)

6/5/2019 China’s panda diplomacy puts a smile on ‘best friend’ Putin’s face
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping visit the Moscow Zoo, which received a pair of
giant pandas from China, in Moscow, Russia June 5, 2019. Sputnik/Alexander Vilf/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping presented two pandas to Moscow’s zoo at a ceremony with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, in a gesture the Russian president described as a sign of deepening trust and respect between the two powers.
    Xi unveiled the pandas – Ru Yi and Ding Ding – after talks with Putin whom he called his “best friend” at the start of a three-day visit that will see him attend Russia’s flagship economic forum in St Petersburg later this week.
    The pandas, who could be seen chomping bamboo as Xi and Putin arrived, will living in a specially built enclosure. Beijing has loaned them to Moscow for 15 years as part of a joint research project.
    Xi’s visit to Russia comes with Moscow’s ties with the West at post-Cold War lows and with Beijing’s relations with the United States strained over a trade war.    Both powers are eager to show they are strengthening ties.
    The leaders promised to deepen military technical cooperation at talks in Moscow, while Russian and Chinese businesses signed an array of deals.
    “Over the past six years we have met almost 30 times … Putin is my best friend and a good colleague,” Xi said in comments published on the Kremlin’s website.
    Standing alongside Xi after the talks, Putin thanked China for entrusting the pandas to Moscow.
    “This is a gesture of particular respect and trust in Russia.    When we talk about pandas, we always end up with a smile on our faces.    We accept this gift with great respect and gratitude,” Putin said.
    “These animals are a national symbol for China, and we greatly value this gesture of friendship,” he said.
    The pandas were given to Russia at the end of April after Putin visited Beijing, but were only unveiled to the public on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/5/2019 Romanian president asks ruling party to revise controversial justice laws
FILE PHOTO - Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrives at a European Union leaders summit after European Parliament elections to
discuss who should run the EU executive for the next five years, in Brussels, Belgium May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian President Klaus Iohannis asked the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) on Wednesday to agree to undo changes to judicial legislation that have raised concerns about the rule of law in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.
    Since taking power in late 2016, the PSD has chipped away at the independence of the judiciary, prompting criticism from the EU and the largest street protests in decades in Romania.
    Voters punished the PSD in a May 26 European Parliament election, which the party lost to centrist groupings.    Romanians also overwhelmingly endorsed a non-binding referendum called by Iohannis to prevent the government from further changing legislation via emergency decree and from granting pardons and amnesty for graft convictions.
    The party received another blow one day later when its leader, Liviu Dragnea, began serving a prison sentence for inciting others to commit abuse of office.
    Iohannis held consultations with parliamentary parties this week about enforcing the referendum result.    He also proposed a political pact across all parties that includes revising justice laws and decrees in agreement with recommendations from the European Commission and its advisory bodies.
    This would include revising a special prosecuting unit set up by the PSD to investigate potential abuses committed by magistrates, which Brussels and other diplomats have criticized as a way to put pressure on judges and prosecutors.
    “Romanians voted clearly and firmly against an anti-European approach,” Iohannis told reporters at the end of party consultations.    “We didn’t enter the EU by accident or by mistake. We want to have the rule of law, an independent judiciary, good laws for the justice system.”
    The Social Democrats said in a statement they will analyze Iohannis’ proposal before replying.
    “PSD supports political consensus on major topics of national interest, especially when such an initiative is real and not an election campaign gain,” it said.
    However, the leader of junior ruling coalition party ALDE, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, rejected the president’s proposed pact calling it a ploy by Iohannis to win a second term in a presidential election later this year.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/5/2019 Putin says Sino-Russian relations better than ever
Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Relations between Russia and China have reached an “unprecedently high level,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
    Putin will hold bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soladtkin; writing by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/5/2019 Russia and China want situation in Venezuela to stabilize: Putin
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro greets during an event with Venezuelan athletes who have participated in international tournaments,
in Caracas, Venezuela June 4, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday after talks in Moscow with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that Moscow and Beijing wanted the situation in Venezuela to stabilize.
    Russia and China are close allies of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/5/2019 Hundreds of thousands sign petition demanding Hungary join new EU prosecution body
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium May 28, 2019. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – An opposition politician has collected 680,000 signatures to push for Hungarian membership of a planned European Union prosecutor’s office (EPPO), a step rejected by Budapest’s eurosceptic nationalist government.
    Due to be launched in 2020, the EPPO will be geared to investigating and pressing criminal charges in cases crossing borders of the EU, particularly fraud and corruption affecting the bloc’s budget.    Twenty-two of the EU’s 28 member countries are participating in the EPPO so far.
    “This (petition) action is a protest,” opposition politician Akos Hadhazy, a pro-EU liberal and anti-graft campaigner, said in a statement, thanking 26,000 activists who helped him collect the signatures, which have yet to be authenticated.
    “Now it’s up to EU institutions to increase pressure on the Hungarian government, unless they want European taxpayers to finance a regime that openly works against the EU.”
    Hungary has a population of about 10 million people.    The signatures were gathered with the help of liberal and left-wing opposition parties.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have long refused to join EPPO, saying that prosecutorial powers should remain at the nation state level.
    Hungary is one of six EU member countries outside EPPO as of now, alongside Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Britain.
    Orban, who has brought wide areas of public life under Fidesz control including the judiciary and media, has faced accusations of corruption but no high-profile investigations have been launched by chief public prosecutor Peter Polt, a political appointee taken from the ranks of Fidesz.
    Polt’s authority would be undercut if Hungary joined EPPO.    Polt, whose mandate expires later this year, was unavailable for immediate comment on the petition drive.    An Orban spokesman did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.
    Transparency International has for years described the situation in Hungary as “state capture,” in which Orban has allegedly used public institutions for the benefit of Fidesz and his business associates.
    A string of businessmen close to Orban, including relatives, have risen to prominence since Fidesz won election in 2010, commanding as much as a quarter of all public procurement spending from EU and local funds.
    Orban has denied corruption accusations and said that if anyone knows of illegalities they should report them to the authorities.
    Hadhazy asserts that Hungarian prosecutors work to shield Orban, not to enforce the law – a shield the premier would lose if EU funding fraud cases could be prosecuted at a supra-national level.    “Hungarians want no corruption… They support joining the (EPPO),” Hadhazy said.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/5/2019 Party of Ukraine’s new president well ahead in parliamentary election race
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a briefing in Kiev, Ukraine June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Servant of the People, the party of Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has increased its large lead over rivals ahead of a snap parliamentary election due on July 21, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
    The poll by Reiting research body showed Zelenskiy’s party on 40.9 percent and Opposition Platform in second place on 9.1 percent.    European Solidarity, the party of Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko, placed third with 6.7 percent.
    The survey also showed Fatherland, the party of former prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, could win 5.9 percent, clearing the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    Reiting said it had interviewed 2,000 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from May 29 to June 3.
    Half of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament are elected on party lists and the other half in single-member constituencies.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[Comedian welcome to politics which is not a laughing matter.].

6/5/2019 Ex-U.S. Marine held by Russia in spy case illegally isolated: activists by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, detained on suspicion of spying, stands inside a defendants' cage at a court
hearing regarding the extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying is being illegally isolated in a Moscow pre-trial detention center and prevented from communicating with visitors, Russian rights activists and U.S. diplomats said.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage after being handed a flash drive his lawyer said Whelan thought contained holiday photos but which actually held classified information.
    Whelan, 49, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, believes he was framed and that the case against him is politically motivated revenge for U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia.
    He used a court hearing last month to say that his life had been threatened by a Russian investigator and that he was being harassed in custody in an effort to force him to talk.
    Andrea Kalan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow, said on Wednesday that officials at the Moscow prison where he is being held ahead of his trial were blocking human rights activists from communicating with Whelan.
    “What are investigators hiding?” Kalan, who has previously complained about a lack of evidence in the case, wrote on Twitter.
    She referred to an article by a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council who has visited Whelan in jail at least three times.
    The article by Eva Merkacheva, a journalist for the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper and member of the rights council, said that guards at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison had prevented her and officials who monitor prison conditions from communicating with Whelan in English, the only language the former marine speaks.
    “They (guards) consider that Paul might pass us a secret code,” Merkacheva wrote, saying Whelan’s cell door had been slammed in their face after he had addressed them in English.
    “The scene was not simply ugly but harrowing,” she said.    “We didn’t find out what it was he wanted to complain about.”
    Merkacheva said the authorities had not allowed the use of an interpreter either, and that one of the few things they had managed to hear from Whelan was that the investigator had for two months not allowed him access to any dictionaries.
    “Our view that something strange is going on with Paul Whelan has only been reinforced,” she said, adding that there was nothing in Russian law to justify the prison’s decision to ban the use of English.
    She said the rights council, which advises President Vladimir Putin, would write to the prosecutor general’s office to challenge the legality of the prison’s language ban.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/6/2019 Finnish president appoints new center-left coalition government
Government Negotiator and Social Democratic Party Chairman Antti Rinne speaks during a news conference about the programme
of the next Finnish government and ministers in Helsinki, Finland June 3, 2019. Lehtikuva/Mikko Stig via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s president formally appointed on Thursday a new center-left government, with Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne replacing the Centre Party’s Juha Sipila as prime minister.
    Rinne is the first leftist prime minister in Finland in 20 years.    His government program includes tax hikes and increased spending to preserve the country’s generous welfare state.
    The Social Democrats won the April 14 parliamentary election with just 17.7% of the vote, forcing them to look for partners to govern.    Last week they reached an agreement with four smaller parties on a joint government program.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/6/2019 Russia’s Putin warns nuclear arms control system risks breaking down
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he attends a news conference with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping
(not pictured) after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday there was a significant risk that the international system for nuclear arms control could break down, saying talks with Washington on extending the New START nuclear arms treaty had yet to begin.
    Speaking in televised comments from St Petersburg, Putin said his most recent phone conversation with U.S. Donald Trump had, however, give him some cause for optimism.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/6/2019 Putin says U.S. military intervention in Venezuela would be a disaster
FILE PHOTO: Delegations, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin (5th R) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (4th L), hold a
meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela would be a disaster and said even Washington’s allies did not support such a course of action.
    Speaking at an economic forum in St Petersburg, Putin also said that Russian technical specialists remained in Venezuela in order to service Russian military hardware, something he said they were contractually obliged to do.
    However, he said Moscow was not setting up any special military bases in Venezuela, a close Russian ally.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in St Petersburg and by Maria Kiselyova and Christian Lowe in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/7/2019 Kremlin to Britain: we won’t change our behavior – Ifax
General view of the Russia and Great Britain flags outside Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Britain. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that Britain was responsible for damaging its relations with Russia and rebuffed a call made by London for Moscow to change its behavior on the international stage, Russian news agencies reported.
    British Prime Minster Theresa May’s spokeswoman said on Thursday Britain could only have a better relationship with Russia if it changed its behavior.
    “No we won’t change our behavior because all Russia wants is mutually beneficial relations that are based on taking into accounts the interests of one another,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/7/2019 Kremlin says Putin and Trump may meet this month in Japan: Ifax
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen during the
G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it saw a chance that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump would meet at the G20 meeting in Japan’s Osaka later this month, the Interfax news agency reported.
    “There is of course a chance.    There is a chance anything could happen,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/7/2019 Putin stands by China, criticizes U.S., in trade, Huawei disputes by Andrey Ostroukh and Katya Golubkova
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg
International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Aggressive U.S. tactics such as a campaign against Chinese telecoms firm Huawei will lead to trade wars – and possibly real wars – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, in a show of solidarity with China alongside its leader Xi Jinping.
    In some of his strongest words on the subject, Putin accused Washington of “unbridled economic egoism,” singling out U.S. efforts to thwart a Russian gas pipeline to Europe and a U.S. campaign to persuade countries to bar Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker, from supplying network gear.
    His broadside, at an economic forum in St Petersburg on the same platform as Xi, was a clear show of unity with China at a time when Beijing is locked in a trade war with Washington and Moscow’s own ties with the West are at a post-Cold War low.
    “States which previously promoted free trade with honest and open competition have started speaking the language of trade wars and sanctions, of open economic raiding using arm-twisting and scare tactics, of eliminating competitors using so-called non-market methods,” said Putin.
    “Look for example at the situation around Huawei which they are trying not to just squeeze out, but to unceremoniously push out of the global market.    It’s already being called the first technological war of the emerging digital era in some circles.”
    The world risked slipping into an era when “general international rules will be exchanged for the laws of administrative and legal mechanisms … which is how the United States is unfortunately behaving, spreading its jurisdiction over the whole world,” added Putin.
    “…It’s a path to endless conflicts, trade wars and maybe not just trade wars.    Figuratively speaking, it’s a path to battles without rules that pit everyone against everyone else.”
    China’s Xi struck a more conciliatory tone, calling for world powers to protect the global multilateral trade system.
    Russia has long complained about Western sanctions imposed on it over disputes including its behavior in Ukraine.    Moscow casts the restrictions as an attempt to contain its growth.
    Washington has asked countries to reject Huawei technology in the development of new mobile phone networks, arguing that it could be vulnerable to Chinese eavesdropping. Huawei denies its equipment is a security risk.
(The story correct’s spelling of Xi Jinping in paragraph one.)
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Anastasia Lyrchikova, Tom Balmforth, Polina Ivanova, Olesya Astakhova, Daria Korsunskaya; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/7/2019 Swiss government demands clarifications from the EU in treaty talks by John Revill
Swiss Economic Minister Guy Parmelin and Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter sit beside as Swiss Foreign Minister
Ignazio Cassis addresses a news conference in Bern, Switzerland June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss government is demanding clarification from the European Union on several issues before it signs off on a draft treaty, it said on Friday, risking a backlash from Brussels over yet another delay to an accord the EU has sought for a decade.
    Switzerland needs to formally endorse the treaty by June 17 if it wants to maintain access to the EU market for Swiss stock exchanges, an EU diplomat said after Bern said it could not sign the deal in its current form.
    Provisions relating to wage and worker protection, state subsidies and citizens’ rights still need to be clarified, the Swiss cabinet said, following the end of consultations with business groups, unions and local authorities.
    Brussels is expected to be receptive to clarifying points in the treaty, but does not want to renegotiate the deal.
    Failure to endorse the treaty and begin the ratification process could well plunge Swiss ties with its biggest trading partner into a new ice age, potentially disrupting commerce and cross-border stock trading.
    An early casualty could be the so-called “equivalence” treatment of Swiss exchanges that expires at the end of June, but due to procedural reasons needs the EU Commission to make a formal proposal for an extension by June 18, the diplomat said.
    Swiss Interior Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said the EU should extend stock market equivalence because Switzerland had done everything possible to secure an agreement despite running into opposition from across the political spectrum.
    A spokesman for Swiss stock market operator Six said the bourse was prepared for all likely scenarios.
    Concerns in Switzerland have been raised about EU demands to dilute the country’s rules protecting Europe’s highest wages from cross-border competition, giving EU citizens in Switzerland the same rights they get at home, and limiting state aid.
    “When a solution in these three areas is found, then the cabinet will sign the treaty and present it to parliament,” Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern.
    “We have not set a time limit to clarify the disputed points we want a good solution which is in the interests of Switzerland.    It’s clear that both sides have an interest in a quick solution.”
    The Swiss cabinet said it had written to the European Commission to indicate its readiness to talk about a solution.
    The European Union said it would study the letter carefully.
    “This appears to be an overall positive development.    The European Commission will study the letter carefully and we will reply in due course,” a spokeswoman for the EU executive said.
(Reporting by John Revill, additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels, editing by John Miller and Gareth Jones)

6/7/2019 Putin says will try to help Trump and North Korean leader resume talks
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel
during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia would try to help U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un resume talks in an effort to find a breakthrough in their row over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
    Putin was speaking at an economic forum in St Petersburg.
    Putin held his first face-to-face talks with Kim Jong Un in April after which he said U.S. security guarantees would probably not be enough to persuade Pyongyang to shut its nuclear program.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/7/2019 Kosovo president says deal on ties with Serbia possible this year by Tatiana Jancarikova
FILE PHOTO: Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
pose among other heads of state during the family photo at the EU-Western Balkans Summit
in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018. Vassil Donev/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s president said on Friday he was hopeful about reaching a deal with Serbia this year on normalizing ties despite a recent increase in tensions and that a planned meeting on July 1 in Paris could prove a turning point.
    Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, speaking at the same event in Slovakia, said he was more pessimistic but that both sides must keep seeking a compromise.
    Majority-Albanian Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO air strikes ended Belgrade’s control of the territory following a brutal counter-insurgency there by Serbian security forces.
    But Serbia, whose constitution still sees Kosovo as Serb territory, has been blocking Kosovo from joining international institutions such as Interpol and UNESCO.    It also still provides financial aid to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.
    “This process (of trying to normalize ties) is now in crisis, which brings opportunity for final agreement,” Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci told the Globsec conference in the Slovak capital Bratislava.
    “I believe this agreement can be reached this year.”
    Last month tensions in the region spiked following Kosovan police operations in a region of the small landlocked country that is mainly populated by Serbs and still pledges allegiance to Belgrade.
    Serbia put its troops on full alert but Vucic also told the parliament in Belgrade on May 27 that the country had to accept it had lost control of Kosovo.    Serbia must either normalize relations with Kosovo through agreement or maintain “a frozen conflict,” he said.
    On Friday Vucic told the Bratislava conference he aimed to maintain peace in the region.
    “I’m very much pessimistic (about a deal),” he said.
    “We need to find a solution.    If the political situation today is that bad it means other people will have to do it in the future.    We need to find a solution, it has to be a solution in which both sides make concessions.”
    Vucic is attempting a balancing act by maintaining both Serbia’s European Union aspirations and close ties with Russia and China. Kosovo’s independence is not recognized by five EU member states, by Russia or China.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/8/2019 Opposition rallies again to get Albanian PM to quit by Benet Koleka
Opposition supporters use light from their cellphones during an anti-government protest, calling on
Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down, in Tirana, Albania, June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Supporters of Albanian opposition parties rallied on Saturday to ask Prime Minister Edi Rama to quit and pave the way to fresh polls, dispersing after throwing firecrackers and flares to police who responded with water jets and tear gas.
    Holding posters saying “Rama Go” or “Break your neck!,” several thousand protesters rejoiced when Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the June 30 local elections, which they had boycotted, would be canceled by presidential decree.
    “Our battle will continue until the departure of Edi Rama,” Basha told his supporters while closing their eighth national rally since February, when his party’s lawmakers cut ties to parliament.    “His departure is not negotiable,” Basha added.
    The rally took place days after a German paper published leaked tapes showing how an accused drug trafficker in Durres told Socialist officials how he planned to coerce opposition backers to vote for them and help a friend become a lawmaker.
    Basha says the tapes vindicate their claims that Rama’s Socialists stole the 2017 parliamentary elections to get a second term in power, hence Rama should resign, and also justified their decision to boycott the June local elections
    Rama said the tapes were leaked by prosecutors who had failed to end their investigation and taken the tapes to their party, the Democrats, to be used politically and blackmail the government.
    Despite calls by the EU and the United States for talks to solve the impasse, the two sides stuck to their positions, and Rama even started campaigning for the local vote without the opposition parties, an oddity even for Albania’s chaotic democracy.
    The European Commission has urged the European Council to approve accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia when it meets in end-June.    Not all countries are keen on saying yes.
    Albanian President Ilir Meta announced shortly before the protest he had decided to cancel the polls since the crisis “undermined every chance to start accession talks with the European Union.”
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

6/8/2019 Moldovan parties agree to form government after months of deadlock by Alexander Tanas and Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: Moldova's Action and Solidarity Party presidential candidate Maia Sandu speaks to the media after voting
in a presidential election in Chisinau, Moldova, November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    CHISINAU/KIEV (Reuters) – Moldovan parties on Saturday agreed to form a government and appoint Maia Sandu, a former education minister and World Bank adviser, as prime minister with a mandate to curb the power of oligarchs in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
    Sandu’s pro-European Union ACUM bloc formed a working coalition with the Russian-backed Socialist party, breaking months of deadlock after a parliamentary election in February produced a hung parliament.
    But their alliance set up a clash with the Democratic Party of Moldova and the Constitutional Court, which earlier said parliament should be dissolved and any decision taken by lawmakers on forming a government would be void.
    Sandu is a fierce opponent of the Democratic Party, which formed the last government, and its leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, a wealthy tycoon she accuses of corruption and abuse of power.
    Plahotniuc was the target of street protests but in 2016 he told Reuters that negative perceptions about him were down to lies spread by his opponents after he entered politics.
    “Injustice has come to an end today in Moldova,” Sandu said.    “Today begins the process of the purification of Moldova.”
    The Democrats accuse ACUM and the Socialists of usurping power at Russia’s behest and deputy chairman Andrian Candu said they would challenge the formation of the government in court.
    In a parliament session convened on Saturday, Sandu and the Socialists also signed a declaration calling Moldova a “captured state.”
    A nation of 3.5 million, the tiny ex-Soviet republic is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member Romania.    Politically divided, some of its voters favor closer ties with the EU or even reunification with Romania, while others prefer closer ties to Russia.
    Moldova has been dogged by political instability and corruption, especially since a scandal known as the “theft of the century” emerged in 2014-2015 where $1 billion, around an eighth of its economic output, was pilfered from three banks.
    “We must free the captured state institutions, depoliticize the Constitutional Court, get rid of the oligarchs,” said Andrei Nastase, who leads ACUM alongside Sandu.
    “We will form a government today.”
    Candu told Reuters by phone the Socialists had ignored a ruling by the Constitutional Court stipulating that if a government was not formed by June 7, there would have to be another election.
    “The Russian Federation is trying to force the creation of the pro-Russian government, illegally, in Moldova,” Candu said.
    He said Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who used to be the Socialist party chief, had approached Candu’s Democratic Party with a coalition offer on conditions set by Moscow, including turning Moldova into a federal state.
    Opponents of the move say it would give the separatist region of Transdniestria, which wants to merge with Russia, an outsize say in how Moldova is run.
    “To all these conditions, we said ‘no’.    We are not betraying our country,” Candu said.    “And rather we go for the snap elections in the future than to create a coalition and a majority and to empower a government under such conditions.”
    Dodon has said the idea to federalize Moldova had come from Plahotniuc, which the latter had offered Moscow in exchange for Russian criminal cases against him being dropped.
    Also on Saturday, lawmakers voted to appoint the Socialist party’s Zinaida Greceanii as the new parliament speaker.    The Constitutional Court declared the appointment illegal.
    Ambassadors from Russia, the European Union and the United States observed proceedings in the parliament.
    “The United States supports efforts by Moldova’s political parties to negotiate an agreement and overcome the ongoing political impasse,” the U.S. embassy said.
    The Russian Embassy urged all responsible political forces to avoid destabilization, adding: “We support efforts by parliamentary parties to form a functioning coalition and create a government capable of ensuring lasting civil peace and sustainable development of Moldova in line with established democratic norms.”
    The EU forged a deal on closer trade and political ties with Moldova in 2014 and showered it with aid but it has become increasingly critical of Chisinau’s track record on reforms.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas in Chisinau and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

6/9/2019 Moldova court relieves Dodon of duty as president
Moldovan President Igor Dodon addresses the media as he visits a polling station during a
parliamentary election in Chisinau, Moldova February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – A Moldovan court on Sunday relieved Igor Dodon of his duties as president and appointed former prime minister Pavel Filip as interim president, a statement said.
    The court explained its decision by the fact that Dodon had not dissolved parliament as mandated by an earlier Constitutional Court verdict.
    Filip’s Democratic Party of Moldova on Saturday had vowed to challenge the legitimacy of a new government formed by the Russian-backed Socialist party and the pro-European Union ACUM bloc.    Dodon is a former chief of the Socialist party and backed the formation of the new government.
    ACUM leader Maia Sandu, a former education minister and World Bank adviser, was appointed as the new prime minister on Saturday, vowing to curb the influence of oligarchs in the east European country.
    Her appointment followed months of deadlock after a February election produced a hung parliament.
    But the Democrats accused her and the Socialists of usurping power.    They say Dodon had ignored a ruling by the Constitutional Court stipulating that if a government was not formed by June 7, there would have to be another election.
    Moldova has been dogged by political instability and corruption, especially since a scandal known as the “theft of the century” emerged in 2014-2015 in which $1 billion, around an eighth of its economic output, was pilfered from three banks.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Dale Hudson)

6/10/2019 Exclusive: American banker and Putin ally dealt in access and assets, emails reveal by Catherine Belton
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he visits the Zvezda shipyard in the
far eastern town of Bolshoy Kamen, Russia September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – A senior American banker once secretly awarded a shareholding in powerful Moscow investment bank Renaissance Capital to one of Vladimir Putin’s closest friends and brokered meetings for the friend with top U.S. foreign policy officials a decade ago, emails show.
    The American banker, Robert Foresman, currently vice chairman at UBS investment bank in New York, held a series of prominent roles in Moscow’s financial world.    He headed Dresdner Bank’s investment banking operations in Russia in the early 2000s, served as Renaissance Capital’s vice chairman from 2006 to 2009, and then led Barclays Capital’s Russia operation until 2016.    Putin’s friend, Matthias Warnig, sits on the boards of several Russian state-controlled firms.
    A deeply religious conservative, the blue-eyed, curly-haired U.S. banker, has said it has always been his calling to be a peacemaker between the two nuclear superpowers.
    Now, a cache of Renaissance Capital emails from 2007 to 2011 reveal new details about the close relationship Foresman cultivated within Putin’s circle over the years and how he leveraged these ties to win deals.    The emails, which were reviewed by Reuters, also shine a light on the part played by Western bankers in the heady days of Moscow’s 2007 economic boom, when the Kremlin was moving to take over ever greater swathes of the Russian economy.
    The emails were exchanged among Renaissance Capital’s top executives and between the bank and its clients and business associates before ownership of the bank changed hands in 2012.    They have figured in a long-running legal battle over the controversial takeover by the Russian state of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil firm in the mid 2000s, and are reported here for the first time.
    Foresman’s relationship with the Kremlin was more complicated – and more mercantile – than that of peacemaker, these emails show.    They offer insight into how Foresman and his colleagues sought to help the Kremlin pull off, and profit from, its dismantlement of Yukos at a time when analysts say Moscow was seeking international legitimacy for the politically-charged process.    They also show how the American banker guided Warnig around Washington foreign policy circles during the Bush and Obama administrations.
    In a statement to Reuters, Foresman said he considered it inappropriate to comment on matters that may relate to proceedings before the English court – a reference to a civil lawsuit in the UK – but he refuted any suggestion of wrongdoing. Renaissance Capital’s new management declined to comment.
    Foresman’s Moscow connections gained fresh attention recently when the banker was named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.    According to the report, Foresman was among the many influential people who reached out to Donald Trump when the future American leader’s campaign was building momentum.
    In March 2016, Foresman emailed Trump’s assistant inviting the presidential candidate to an international business forum in St Petersburg, saying he’d had “an approach” from “senior Kremlin officials” about the candidate, according to the report.
    Foresman asked for a meeting with Trump, or with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski or “another relevant person,” saying he had other issues to discuss that he felt uncomfortable discussing over “unsecure email.”
    In a later email, Foresman sought a meeting with one of Trump’s sons, Don Jr or Eric, to pass on information that should be “conveyed to [the candidate] personally or [to] someone [the candidate] absolutely trusts.”
    The Mueller report says there wasn’t any evidence that Trump’s campaign team followed up on these approaches.    When questioned by Mueller about these contacts, Foresman played down his ties to the Kremlin.    He suggested he was merely seeking to “burnish his credentials” with the Trump team, the Mueller report says. No charges were made against Foresman.
    Back in 2007, Foresman was part of a small group of Renaissance Capital executives involved in drawing up a secret agreement to award an unspecified stake in Renaissance Capital, the privately owned investment bank where he was vice chairman, to close Putin associate Warnig, according to a series of emails related to the deal.    The shares were awarded for “nil consideration,” or without any money changing hands, the agreement showed.    The emails reviewed by Reuters didn’t reveal the percentage or value of the stake.
    Contacted by Reuters, Foresman and Warnig declined to discuss the transaction.
    Warnig served as an officer in East Germany’s Stasi secret police at the same time as Putin was a KGB officer in Dresden in the late 1980s.    Warnig has said they first met in the early 1990s in St Petersburg, when Putin was that city’s deputy mayor.    Today Warnig is chief executive of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe. He also sits on the boards of several Russian state-controlled firms, including oil giant Rosneft.    He served for 12 years on the board of Bank Rossiya, sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury as the “personal bank” for senior Russian officials.
    From 2001 to 2006, Foresman worked side by side with Warnig as head of Dresdner’s investment banking arm in Moscow, while Warnig was Dresdner Bank’s president for Russia.
    In the months before and after he received the Renaissance Capital stake, Warnig sought to funnel at least three Kremlin-linked deals the bank’s way, Renaissance Capital emails dated between 2007 and 2009 show.    In one instance, in 2007, Warnig helped broker crucial backing from Rosneft for a consortium including Renaissance Capital that was bidding for Yukos’ Dutch assets in an auction.
    The consortium went on to win the auction.    But the transaction became mired in lawsuits and was blocked.    Yukos executives successfully argued in a Dutch court that the Russian state had no right to sell a Dutch-incorporated company.    The Dutch Supreme Court ruled earlier this year the sale was illegal.
    The emails were submitted as evidence as part of that case.    They have also been submitted as part of a civil fraud lawsuit filed by Yukos’ former management that is due to come to trial on June 10 in the UK High Court. The suit alleges Foresman, as vice-chairman of Renaissance Capital, played a key role in paving the way for the consortium to knowingly participate in a rigged auction for the Yukos subsidiary.    It alleges the foreign investors who formed the consortium stood to make enormous personal gain, and seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages.
    In his statement to Reuters, Foresman said he is contesting the lawsuit vigorously.
    Among the foreign bankers that joined the investor consortium with Foresman was Stephen Jennings, a tall and lanky New Zealander.
Jennings founded Renaissance Capital in 1995, and the bank became a symbol of Russia’s transition to a market economy.    In an interview in 2005 with the Financial Times, Jennings professed hopes that Russia’s economic growth under Putin would one day produce a middle class strong enough to counter any authoritarian turn.
    Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Foresman and Jennings sought to benefit from Kremlin abuses of the market system and the rule of law.    They acted, the suit claims, together with the two other main Western investors in the consortium: Stephen Lynch, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, and Richard Deitz, the wiry founder of hedge fund VR Capital, which has offices in New York, London and Moscow.
    Deitz and Jennings declined to comment for this article.    Lynch didn’t respond to emailed questions. A person familiar with the consortium rejected any suggestion that the auction was rigged.
    The auction of Yukos Finance BV, a Dutch subsidiary of Khodorkovsky’s oil company, was the last in a series of Yukos bankruptcy sales by the Kremlin.    These sales were to pay off more than $33 billion in back-tax bills levied against Yukos by Moscow after Khodorkovsky posed a political challenge to the Kremlin and was jailed for fraud.    The Yukos bankruptcy transformed Rosneft from a state-owned minnow to Russia’s biggest oil company after it snapped up most of the assets.    The Dutch unit was a prize: It held up to $1.5 billion in cash reserves, of which up to $650 million was net of debt.    It also had a 49% stake in a strategically important Slovakian pipeline operator, Transpetrol, which later sold in 2009 for $240 million.
    The bankruptcy auction took place on Aug. 15, 2007.    The foreign investor consortium, acting through a Russian bidding vehicle, named Promneftstroy, won the auction for less than $310 million – well below the roughly $890 million combined value of the Yukos unit’s net cash reserves and its Transpetrol stake.    The consortium won after making just three bids against a rival company, Versar, which, according to Yukos, never participated in any business apart from unsuccessfully bidding in Yukos auctions.    Versar ceased to exist in 2010 when it was merged into another company, Russian corporate records show.     Foresman had begun urging executives at Renaissance Capital to take part in the Yukos bankruptcy auctions earlier that year, the emails show.
    In an email dated Feb. 21, 2007, Foresman wrote to three senior executives at “RC” – Renaissance Capital – pointing to the Kremlin-run Yukos asset auctions as an opportunity.
    “I have reason to believe that RC, and only RC, can pull off the trade of our lives,” Foresman wrote.    “We could pull off something that makes us huge profit, makes top global investors very happy, materially mitigates Rosneft’s litigation risk.    And allows the Kremlin to show that the auction of Y assets is not rigged but rather is competitive.”    Rosneft’s success in the auctions had raised the possibility of a legal challenge and the Kremlin was under international scrutiny over the process.
    A memo drawn up by Renaissance Capital the day before the auction named the deal “Project Surplus” and said it could net the consortium a profit of up to $340 million.    The memo, seen by Reuters, indicated the Western bankers believed the auction would go in their favor.
    “The opportunity to participate and be the likely winner has largely arisen due to very close relationships that certain Renaissance individuals enjoy with the Kremlin,” the memo said.    The Kremlin declined to comment.
    The U.S. government was watching proceedings closely because of the strategic importance of the pipeline network Transpetrol operated.    Foresman told an unidentified U.S. embassy official in Moscow in October that year that the consortium “had not been acting as a proxy for Rosneft” in the auction and said there was no prearranged deal with Rosneft over the Transpetrol stake, according to a diplomatic cable about the conversation later leaked by Wikileaks.    Foresman didn’t dispute the contents of the cable in a deposition for the UK civil lawsuit.
    But documents in the email cache and depositions of consortium members indicate that Rosneft was closely involved with the consortium in the deal.    Foresman described in his deposition in November 2018 how Warnig channeled the consortium’s proposal for participating in the auction to the top of Rosneft.
    In the hours before the sale of the Yukos unit, the consortium reached two legal agreements with Rosneft.
    In the first of those agreements, reviewed by Reuters and dated Aug. 15, 2007, Rosneft agreed to lift any legal claims the Russian oil giant had against the Dutch firm’s assets.
    In the second, also reviewed by Reuters and dated Aug. 15, 2007, the state oil champion agreed to delay repayment of a $60 million loan it had extended to Promneftstroy, the bidding vehicle, until the consortium arranged to sell Yukos’s Slovak pipeline to a company nominated by Rosneft.    A month later, the consortium agreed to sell the pipeline stake to a Cyprus-registered firm for $105 million – less than half the price it fetched two years later.    An email chain leading up to the sale agreement indicates the buyer was designated by Rosneft.
    In the hours after the auction, another investor in the consortium, Benjamin Heller, then a managing director at U.S. fund HBK     Investments, wrote to an associate saying: “Rosneft basically controlled the auction and decided it would clear at a certain price.”    Heller, who isn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.    Rosneft didn’t respond to Reuters’ questions about the auction.    At the time of the sale, the state oil giant denied any involvement in it.
    The person familiar with the consortium said there were mistakes in Heller’s email.    “Rosneft didn’t set the price, and there were two bidders,” said this person.    “The whole premise that Rosneft controlled the consortium, controlled the price and controlled the auction is not correct.”
    He added that at the time of the auction the consortium didn’t have access to data valuing the Transpetrol stake above $103 million – a sale price that had been discussed a year earlier.    He said the consortium had reached out to both sides of the Yukos divide, agreeing to pay back outstanding loans to Yukos’ former owner.
    Two months later, in late 2007, the consortium’s hopes of making profits began to unravel when an Amsterdam court ruled that the auction violated Dutch law, and therefore the consortium owners didn’t have title to any of the assets of Yukos Finance> PHANTOM SHARES
    In emails dated Oct. 11, 2007, a few months after the consortium won the auction, Foresman and his colleagues at Renaissance Capital began discussing the drafting of a secret “phantom share agreement” for an unnamed “prospective new shareholder.”
    Phantom share deals are a common arrangement under which a company promises the holder a future cash payment that is tied to the value of a notional share of stock.    Among the executives discussing the award of these shares was the bank’s founder, Jennings, who was the main owner at the time.    He declined to comment about the transaction.
    An agreement identifying Warnig as the recipient of “40,034 phantom shares” in Renaissance Capital’s parent company, Renaissance Holdings Management Limited, was drawn up by the investment bank’s legal counsel and sent to Foresman in an email dated Nov. 27, 2007.
    An additional consultancy agreement drawn up by the legal counsel and sent to Foresman on Dec. 17, 2007, provided for paying $700,000 to an unnamed recipient for advice on “certain investment banking transactions and business development opportunities.”    In his November 2018 deposition for the UK civil suit, Foresman said Renaissance Capital paid consultancy fees to Warnig.    He didn’t specify the amount.
    Foresman and the other Renaissance Capital executives sought to keep these arrangements secret, the emails show.    When a RenCap employee mistakenly sent a message to Warnig’s official company email address in 2007 about the shareholding, Foresman fired off an angry reply to three senior Renaissance Capital executives.    “This is clearly unacceptable and I cannot believe this could happen,” he said in the message, dated Dec.18, 2007.    He said Warnig had immediately destroyed the message.
    In a later email to the same colleagues, dated Feb. 12, 2008, Foresman stressed how Warnig had insisted the agreements remain absolutely confidential: They were to be known only by the executives at Renaissance who drew up the agreements.    The email says: “Our man has signed his phantom share agreement, in his name, and also the consultancy agreement in the name of a legal entity.”    It went on, “He stressed the absolute confidentiality of this.”
    Warnig’s relationships with Foresman and Renaissance Capital’s founder and chairman, Jennings, were cemented over dinners and “banya” steam-bath sessions in Moscow, the emails show.    And Foresman helped open doors for Warnig with U.S. ambassadors to Russia and U.S. government officials in Washington during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
    The email cache shows, for instance, that Foresman helped set up meetings in 2009, early in Obama’s presidency, for Warnig with the U.S. government’s then national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, Fiona Hill, as well as with Mary Warlick, then the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.    He also brokered meetings for Warnig with officials in the Department of Energy and separately in Houston with Ross Perot Jr, the U.S. billionaire.    Perot declined to comment for this article.    Hill and Warlick didn’t respond to requests for comment.
    The emails reviewed by Reuters didn’t reveal what came of the meetings.
    After one such visit in March 2009, Foresman indicated these meetings were to become a back channel for Putin into Washington.    In one email, he wrote, “my friend briefed his Big friend on the meetings” – an apparent reference to Warnig speaking with Putin.    “That person was extremely satisfied with the messages that were received and absolutely committed to improving things.    He asks for a repeat performance in Q2 for which he will have my friend deliver specific messages,” Foresman wrote.
(Reporting by Catherine Belton; editing by Janet McBride)

6/10/2019 Party of Ukraine’s new president leads parliamentary vote race
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a news conference after meeting European Council
President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    KIEV (Reuters) – The party of Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has kept a strong lead ahead of a parliamentary election due on July 21, an opinion poll showed on Monday.
    The survey by KIIS research body showed the former television comedian’s equally new party, Servant of the People, on 34.4 percent, below previous readings by the Reiting pollster but still well ahead of the crowded field of 16 parties.
    After taking office last month, Zelenskiy dismissed the parliament still dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor.    Servant of the People has no lawmakers in the outgoing legislature and is campaigning on a pro-European and anti-corruption ticket.
    The KIIS poll put Opposition Platform in second place on 8.4 percent, and European Solidarity – the party of Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko – third on 5.8 percent.
    The survey also showed Fatherland, the party of former prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, on 5.5 percent, above the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    KIIS said it interviewed 2,021 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from May 26 to June 7.
    About 26 percent of people declined to answer.
    Half of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament are elected on party lists and the other half in single-member constituencies.
    A good showing next month would cement Zelenskiy’s meteoric rise and upending of Ukrainian politics.
    He grew to national fame playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films him making a foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.    His campaign exploited the parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
    Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014.    Zelenskiy has said his first task is to achieve a ceasefire.
    Following is a table showing the percentage support for leading parties among voters planning to take part in the election in three recent polls:
KIIS Reiting Reiting
May 26-June 7 May 29-June 3 May 16-21
Servant of the 34.4 40.9 37.1
Opposition Platform 8.4 9.1 8.9
European Solidarity 5.8 6.7 7.4
Fatherland 5.5 5.9
Voice 4.0 4.7 3.9
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/10/2019 Tokayev elected Kazakh president, police disperse fresh protests by Tamara Vaal and Mariya Gordeyeva
Police officers detain an opposition supporter during a protest against presidential election
results, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    NUR-SULTAN/ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s interim president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, chosen successor of veteran ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev who retains sweeping powers, has won a snap presidential election which observers say was tarnished by violations of basic freedoms.
    Nazarbayev, who ruled oil producer Kazakhstan for almost three decades, handpicked the 66-year-old career diplomat as his successor when he stepped down in March. In a power-sharing arrangement, Nazarbayev, 78, remains chairman of the influential Security Council and leads the ruling Nur Otan party.
    With Tokayev winning nearly 71% of the vote in a race against six rivals largely unknown to Kazakh voters, opponents denounced the election as unfair, prompting public protests despite Kazakhstan’s restrictive laws on freedom of expression.
    Monitors from Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said “a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protestors, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards.”
    During Sunday’s vote, police arrested 500 people at rallies in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the capital city that was renamed after Nazarbayev at Tokayev’s suggestion.
    On Monday the number of protesters was much smaller as hundreds of police gathered at the Almaty park where Sunday’s rally took place.    A Reuters correspondent saw police detain a few dozen people.
    The Kazakh state closely controls domestic politics and public discourse.    The vast majority of local media does not criticize Nazarbayev, and social media and online messaging platforms were restricted during Sunday’s election.
    Tokayev, meanwhile, received congratulations from fellow Central Asian leaders such as Uzbek and Kyrgyz presidents.
    “We must unite to work for the future of Kazakhstan,” Tokayev’s campaign website quoted him as saying.
    Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga became the speaker of the Senate in March, the post previously held by Tokayev, and members of the ex-president’s family control some key business assets such as Kazakhstan’s largest bank, Halyk.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Maria Kiselyova and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/10/2019 Albanian president cancels vote; PM wants him gone by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian President Ilir Meta delivers a speech during a news conference in Tirana, Albania June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian President Ilir Meta called off local elections set for June 30, but the government accused him of breaking the law and declared he should be thrown out of office.
    Opposition parties were boycotting the elections, charging the government won an election in 2017 by buying votes with the help of criminal gangs.    The opposition parties cut ties with parliament in mid-February and gave up their seats.
    They have held a series of protests since then, calling for a new general election and demanding Prime Minister Edi Rama step down.    Police broke up the latest protest, on Saturday, using water cannons and tear gas.
    Meta said he canceled the election because holding a vote without the opposition parties could cause social conflict and damage Albania’s chances of joining the European Union.
    “Elections without a real race and without the opposition would freeze the integration of the country into the European Union, undermine every chance to open talks and fail to meet the criteria for free and fair elections,” Meta told reporters.
    The European Council, comprising the leaders of the EU states, was due to decide on June 19 whether it should open accession talks with Albania.    EU lawmakers have been urging the Albanian factions not to let their conflicts derail the process.
    Meta said the cancellation would give the political parties time to “re-establish dialogue to find a quick solution.”
    Rama was quoted as saying nothing could stop his Socialists from going ahead with the elections.
    “Thursday will end with a resolution calling for the sacking of Meta,” he said.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka, editing by Larry King)

6/10/2019 Russia’s Putin to visit Saudi Arabia in October, says Falih
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International
Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia, a traditional U.S. ally in the Middle East, in October this year, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday.
    Falih, who was in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, said Saudi companies were considering taking part in a methanol plant project in Russia’s east, the Interfax news agency reported.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Katya Golubkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

6/10/2019 Russia says it welcomes formation of government in Moldova
Moldovan interim president Pavel Filip (C-R) and leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova Vladimir Plahotniuc
(C-L) attend a rally in Chisinau, Moldova June 9, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday it welcomed the formation of a ruling coalition and government in Moldova, and hoped to restore good relations between Moscow and Chisinau.
    It also said it hoped the situation in Moldova’s capital would stabilize soon after Russia’s ally, President Igor Dodon, was temporarily relieved of his duties by a Moldovan court to allow a stand-in to call a snap election.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/10/2019 Poland to announce deal on U.S. military boost: president by Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks during a summit of eastern NATO countries
in Kosice, Slovakia, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will unveil a deal with Washington this week to bolster the U.S. military presence there, expecting more troops, command and logistics capability, though not quite a single big “Fort Trump” as Warsaw floated last year, President Andrzej Duda said.
    Warsaw’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government has sought more U.S. involvement in Poland since coming to power in 2015, as part of its effort to deter potential aggression from an increasingly emboldened Russia.
    When Duda was last in the United States in September, he proposed naming a new base after U.S. President Donald Trump and providing $2 billion in funding for it.
    The United States already has troops in Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbor Ukraine in 2014.
    The PiS has positioned itself as an ally of the U.S. administration at a time when other EU countries are wary of Trump and Poland faces mounting isolation within the EU over disagreements about its adherence to rule-of-law standards.
    Speaking with Reuters ahead of a trip to Washington starting on Wednesday, Duda said the U.S. presence so far in Poland was a “reconnaissance period.”
    “Today we are speaking about a strengthening of a U.S. presence and about moving into a second phase,” he said in the interview, which was conducted on Friday for publication on Monday by prior agreement with the president’s office.
    He said he expects a strengthening of command capabilities, logistics and special forces.    “It’s an increase both in quantity and in quality.”    A landing strip for drones was also under discussion, he added.
    During his upcoming meeting with Trump, a political agreement will be announced, while technical negotiations will continue, presidential aide Krzysztof Szczerski told reporters on Monday.
    Officials previously told Reuters that disagreement remained largely around who would pay for what, with Poland reluctant to shoulder the majority of the personnel support costs of a new base.    Duda said talks on cost-sharing remain open.
    “It’s obvious to us that if our security is being strengthened then we absolutely participate in the cost.    The percentage is being discussed but it’s a bone of contention,” he said.
    Duda said he had invited Trump to participate in Poland’s commemoration on Sept. 1 of the 80th anniversary of the Nazi German invasion that marked the outbreak of World War Two.
    “We do not have any information that Mr. President is not coming … I assume he is,” Duda said.
    Poland’s eurosceptic administration agrees with Trump on issues such as migration, climate change, coal mining and abortion.    Both also share a tense relationship with the EU.
    Responding to last month’s election to the European Parliament which has shaken centrist groupings’ grip on power, Duda said the bloc needed to reopen discussions on its treaties to change the balance of power in Brussels.
    Changes should include giving more say over overall policy to the council of national governments and the European Parliament, as well as national legislatures, at the expense of decision-making at the European Commission, the EU executive.
    “I can’t imagine (it’s possible) to reform the European Union without opening the treaties,” Duda said.
(Reporting and editing by Justyna Pawlak, Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/10/2019 With Moldova in crisis, two rival governments hold meetings by Alexander Tanas
Maia Sandu, who was appointed as prime minister of Moldova, speaks to the media after the first meeting
of the new cabinet, in Chisinau, Moldova June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Two rival Moldovan governments held simultaneous cabinet meetings and accused each other of trying to usurp power on Monday, deepening a crisis brought on by an inconclusive parliamentary election in February.
    Over the weekend, the leaders of the pro-European Union ACUM bloc and the Russian-backed Socialist Party agreed to form a government aimed at fighting corruption and keeping a party run by tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc out of power.
    But Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party refused to recognize the new government and insisted that Pavel Filip, the prime minister who led the government until the election, was still in charge.
    The crisis threatens more instability in one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries, where the West and Russia vie for influence.
    The United States, the EU and NATO urged both sides to show restraint. Russia welcomed the formation of the new government and hoped matters would stabilize soon.
    ACUM leader Maia Sandu was sworn in as prime minister over the weekend and her government convened in parliament, while Filip’s cabinet met in the government building, which was blocked off by police officers and Democratic Party supporters.
    “This situation in the country will continue as long as the Moldovan oligarch Plahotniuc, who has captured all state institutions, is in Moldova,” Sandu said.
    “We don’t want to aggravate the situation.    I hope that those who are trying to usurp power are aware of their position and will leave voluntarily.”
    In his rival meeting, Filip urged state institutions to continue to function normally.    “Citizens should not suffer because of the political crisis,” he told assembled ministers and government agencies.
    Sandu’s agreement with the Socialist Party broke months of deadlock after a February election produced a hung parliament.
    But a Constitutional Court ruled that Sandu’s side had missed a deadline to form a government and that the country should hold a snap election.
    Sandu and President Igor Dodon, the former Socialist Party chief, rejected the verdict of the court, which they said was not politically independent.
    Moldova has been dogged by political instability and corruption, especially since a scandal known as the “theft of the century” emerged in 2014-2015 in which $1 billion, around an eighth of its economic output, was pilfered from three banks.
    The ex-Soviet republic of 3.5 million people is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member Romania.    Politically divided, some of its voters favor closer ties with the EU or even reunification with Romania, while others prefer closer ties to Russia.
    While Sandu and Dodon have made common cause against Plahotniuc, their political leanings diverge.
    A former World Bank adviser and education minister, Sandu aspires to Moldova becoming an EU member.    Dodon meanwhile does not and has previously criticized a political and trade agreement with Brussels forged in 2014, saying it hurt ties with Russia.
    The EU has showered Moldova with aid but has become increasingly critical of Chisinau’s track record on reforms.
    Dodon was briefly suspended by the court on Sunday so that Filip could become acting president and issue a decree for a snap election, an order which Sandu and Dodon will ignore.
(Writing by Matthias Williams)

6/11/2019 As rivals dig in, Moldova president pushes back against snap election by Alexander Tanas
Moldova's President Igor Dodon, who was temporarily relieved of his duties by a Moldovan court to allow
a stand-in to call a snap election, delivers a speech as Parliament Speaker Zinaida Greceanii listens during
new ministers' swearing-in ceremony in Chisinau, Moldova June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldovan President Igor Dodon on Tuesday scrapped a decree for a snap parliamentary election that was hastily issued by his rivals through a high court maneuver, as two opposing factions tussled for control of the tiny east European country.
    The leaders of the pro-EU ACUM bloc and Dodon’s Russian-backed Socialists broke months of post-election deadlock by agreeing to form a government aimed at fighting corruption and keeping a party run by tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc out of power.
    But Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party does not recognize the new government and insists Pavel Filip, the prime minister who led the government until February’s vote, is still in charge.
    The Democrats persuaded the Constitutional Court to briefly suspend Dodon on Sunday, install Filip as president for enough time to allow him to issue a decree calling a new election.    Dodon and ACUM say the court is under Plahotniuc’s control.
    Both sides accuse the other of trying to usurp power.    The crisis threatens more instability for one of Europe’s poorest and most politically tumultuous nations of 3.5 million people, where the West and Russia vie for influence.
    “The decree signed by Mr. Filip on the dissolution of parliament and the declaration of early parliamentary elections on Sept. 6 does not comply with constitutional norms,” Dodon said.
    The United States, European Union and NATO have urged both sides to show restraint. Russia welcomed the formation of the new government and hoped matters would stabilize soon.
    On Sunday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Washington “calls on all Moldovan parties to show restraint and to agree on a path forward through political dialogue.”
    Late on Tuesday, Filip’s government said it had decided to relocate the Moldovan Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in a move which could bring more support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
    In 2017, Trump decided to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing decades of U.S. policy and angering Palestinians who want the city’s eastern part for the capital of a future state.
    The EU did not explicitly endorse the new government but took “good note” of the formation of a coalition, adding in a statement that it stood “ready to work with the democratically legitimate government.”
    The agreement between ACUM leader Maia Sandu, a former World Bank adviser and education minister, and the Socialists broke the impasse after February’s election produced a hung parliament. Sandu was made prime minister.
    But the Constitutional Court ruled that Sandu’s side had missed the deadline to form a government and that the country should hold a snap election.
    “Without getting rid of Plahotniuc, without cleaning up the institutions, without releasing citizens from fear and oppression, Moldova has no chance to move toward the EU,” said Sandu.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/11/2019 Russia plans to deliver missiles to Turkey in July; U.S. takes dim view by Daren Butler and Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting
in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, setting the clock ticking on a U.S. threat to hit Ankara with sanctions if it goes ahead with a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies.
    Turkey and the United States have sparred publicly for months over Ankara’s order for the S-400s, which are not compatible with the transatlantic alliance’s systems.
    Washington has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program unless it drops the deal, and has set its own deadline of July 31.    If Ankara accepts delivery of the S-400s, that would trigger U.S. sanctions that could prolong Turkey’s economic recession and prompt a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership of NATO.
    Turkey said that a U.S. House of Representatives’ resolution on Monday condemning the S-400 purchase and urging sanctions was unacceptably threatening.
    Later on Tuesday in Moscow, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters: “The agreements reached between Russia and Turkey are being fulfilled on time in the given context.    There are no bilateral problems.”
    Asked if the surface-to-air missiles will be delivered in July, he said: “Yes, that’s what we plan somehow.”
    The comments came days after the head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said Moscow would start delivering the S-400s to Turkey in two months.    Turkish officials have said the delivery could take place as soon as June.
    The U.S. resolution, introduced in May and entitled “Expressing concern for the United States-Turkey alliance,” was agreed in the House on Monday.
    It urges Turkey to cancel the S-400 purchase and calls for sanctions if Ankara accepts their delivery.    That, the resolution said, would undermine the U.S.-led transatlantic defense alliance.
    In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that its foreign policy and judicial system were being maligned by “unfair” and “unfounded” allegations in the resolution.
    “It is unacceptable to take decisions which do not serve to increase mutual trust, to continue to keep the language of threats and sanctions on the agenda and to set various artificial deadlines,” it added in a statement.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s government faces a balancing act in its ties with the West and Russia, with which it has close energy ties and is also cooperating in neighboring Syria.
    The United States is also pressuring Turkey and other nations to isolate Iran, including blocking oil exports.
    U.S. officials said on Monday the training of Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets had come to a faster-than-expected halt at an air base in Arizona, as Ankara’s involvement was wound down over the S-400 controversy.
    The United States says Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defenses poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
    “We rarely see it in foreign affairs, but this is a black and white issue.    There is no middle ground.    Either Mr. Erdogan cancels the Russian deal, or he doesn’t,” Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on the House floor on Monday.
    “There is no future for Turkey having both Russian weapons and American F-35s. There’s no third option,” he said.
    Turkey appeared set to move ahead with the S-400 purchase despite the U.S. warnings. Erdogan said last week it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.
    Separately, credit ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday that any U.S. sanctions would have a “significant impact” on sentiment around the Turkish lira, which has sold off since late March in part due to the spat with Washington over the missile defense system. [nI7N233020]
    “If sanctions are imposed, it would be relatively mild and…the direct impact would be minimal.    However, the impact on sentiment could be significant,” said Paul Gamble, senior director and head of emerging Europe at Fitch Ratings.
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

6/12/2019 Russian police detain around 100 at Moscow journalist protest by Anton Zverev and Andrew Osborn
A member of Russia's National Guard detains a man during a rally in support of Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was
detained by police, accused of drug offences and later freed from house arrest, in Moscow, Russia June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police detained around 100 people on Wednesday, including opposition politician Alexei Navalny, at a protest in Moscow calling for punishment for police officers involved in the alleged framing of a journalist, monitors said.
    Police abruptly dropped drug charges a day earlier against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, a rare U-turn by the authorities in the face of anger from his supporters who said he was targeted over his reporting.
    Golunov, 36, known for exposing corruption among Moscow city officials, was detained by police last Thursday and accused of dealing drugs, an allegation he flatly denied.
    The crude way supporters said Golunov was set up and detained triggered an unusual show of media unity and an uncharacteristically swift reversal from authorities nervous about social unrest at a time when President Vladimir Putin already faces disquiet over living standards.
    The authorities had hoped freeing Golunov and promising punishment for those who allegedly framed him would appease his supporters, but they decided to go ahead with a protest on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, regardless.
    Reuters witnesses said well over 1,000 people marched through the streets of central Moscow, chanting “Russia will be free” and “Russia without Putin” as police warned them not to break the law and blocked access to certain streets.
    Some of the protesters wore white T-shirts saying “I am/We are Ivan Golunov,” the same front page headline carried by Russia’s three leading daily newspapers on Monday.
    Many of the marchers and those detained were prominent Russian journalists and activists.We came to show the authorities that we have consolidated, that we are united,” said Vsevolod, 24.    “We demand that hundreds of thousands of (criminal) cases where people are sitting in prison unfairly now be reviewed.”
    The authorities had warned protesters that their demonstration would be illegal and could pose a risk to public safety.
    Under Russian law, the time and place of protests involving more than one person needs to be agreed with the authorities in advance.    Organizers of Wednesday’s event had demanded that Moscow city officials negotiate those terms with them during a live broadcast, something they said officials refused to do.
    OVD-Info, a monitoring group, said police had detained around 100 people, some of them by force.
    A Reuters witness saw at least three police officers bundle opposition politician Alexei Navalny into a truck.
    Sergei Udaltsov, a leftwing political activist, said the Golunov case was an important moment.    “If we do not show solidarity with each other, the system will break all of us one by one,” he said.
    Another protester, Ivan, 28, explained why protesters had defied the police.    “The freeing of Golunov was not a victory.    It was a tactical move by the authorities to prevent disorder breaking out today.    But we came here anyway.”
(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin, Maxim Shemetov and Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber/Mark Heinrich)

6/12/2019 U.S. will deploy 1,000 troops to Poland; Warsaw may call them ‘Fort Trump’ by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Poland's President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office
of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday that he will deploy 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland, a step sought by Warsaw to deter potential aggression from Russia.
    Despite their strong show of unity, Trump disagreed with Duda’s attempt to force the retirement of some Polish Supreme Court judges, a decision last year that prompted protests.    “No,” Trump said when asked if he supported the move.
    Trump announced the troop deployment at a joint news conference with Duda in the White House Rose Garden shortly after the two leaders signed a joint declaration affirming defense cooperation and watched a U.S.-made F-35 fighter jet fly overhead.
    Duda, who is considering naming the U.S. installation “Fort Trump,” said the new influx of troops was needed because of Moscow’s past aggression against Poland and to help solidify his country’s ties to the West.
    “Russia again is showing its unkind, unfriendly imperial face,” he said.    “Russia is always looking out to take our territory.”
    Trump said earlier the troop contingent could come from the U.S. force in Germany, which he has accused of paying too little for NATO’s common defense.
    The decision by Trump represents an effort to cater to the interests of Poland, a key NATO ally, while not overly antagonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump would like to have friendly relations.    He and Putin are to meet in Japan in two weeks.
    “I hope that Poland is going to have a great relationship with Russia.    I hope that we’re going to have a great relationship with Russia,” said Trump.
    The United States already has troops in Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbor Ukraine in 2014.
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement welcoming the deployment.
    “Today’s announcement is part of NATO’s measured, defensive and proportionate efforts to strengthen our deterrence and defense,” he said.
    Duda denied backsliding on democracy when asked about his attempt to remove the judges.    He said some of them dated back to Poland’s communist past and that he wanted to remove them as part of judicial reforms.
    “This is a very complex issue,” he said.    “Everything that we were doing was aimed at retiring those people … Let me assure you, freedom of speech is absolutely respected in Poland.    Poland absolutely respects all constitutional standards.”
    With Trump to turn 73 on Friday, Duda wished Trump a happy birthday at an evening White House reception whose audience included Polish-Americans.    Some in the crowd launched into a happy birthday song in Polish.
    “This first term of your presidency will be the introduction to your second term,” Duda told Trump.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

6/12/2019 Four eastern EU states to discuss top jobs, keen to boost their influence by Marton Dunai and Marcin Goclowski
FILE PHOTO: Leaders of Visegrad countries Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban,
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini are welcomed by
European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of a European Union leaders summit after European Parliament elections to discuss
who should run the EU executive for the next five years, in Brussels, Belgium May 28, 2019. Oliver Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The leaders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic will discuss in Budapest on Thursday potential candidates for top jobs in the European Union coming up for grabs shortly, in a sign of regional coordination by the so-called Visegrad Four.
    EU member states must pick new presidents of the executive European Commission, the European Council – which groups member states – the European Parliament and the European Central Bank.
    The EU’s ex-communist eastern members, which have joined the bloc since 2004, are haggling over candidates for key posts to help steer the course of a continent long dominated by wealthy western states such as Germany and France.
    “It will be an informal meeting which I cannot inform you further about,” Bertalan Havasi, the press chief of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told Reuters, adding there was no plan for any press statement.
    He declined to comment on possible eastern candidates for any of the top jobs, though Orban said last month the V4 countries would take a common stance on the issue.
    Among the outgoing presidents of the main EU institutions, only Donald Tusk, president of the Council and a former Polish prime minister, hails from the ex-communist wing of the EU. Another Polish ex-PM, Jerzy Buzek, previously led the European Parliament.
    “For these geographical reasons Poland won’t get any top job, and the other three big countries from V4 won’t get them either,” Ryszard Czarnecki, senior politician at Polish ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party said.
    “But Poland and other V4 countries will be involved in the decision-making process.    This will be a game between political factions on the European level,” Czarnecki also said.
    Bargaining over the jobs seeks to balance the interests of individual states and groups of countries as well as political parties.     Southern European leaders convene in Malta on Friday, while Belgian premier Charles Michel also hosted a dinner last week to discuss details with select leaders.
    EU leaders will meet on June 20-21 to haggle over the jobs.
    The V4 countries take a tough stance on issues such as migration and are generally opposed to moves to concentrate more powers in EU institutions at the expense of national governments.
    The right-wing nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland have clashed with Brussels over immigration and rule of law issues.    Of the V4 countries only Slovakia uses the euro and the other three show no desire to ditch their national currencies.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus in BRUSSELS, PRAGUE, WARSAW and BUDAPEST,; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/12/2019 Party of Ukraine’s new president leads parliamentary vote race
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential
election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo - RC132CC42DE0
    KIEV (Reuters) – The party of Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has strengthened its lead ahead of a parliamentary election due on July 21, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
    The latest survey by Reiting research body showed the former television comedian’s equally new party, Servant of the People, on 41.1 percent, up slightly from early June.
    After taking office last month, Zelenskiy dismissed the parliament still dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor.    Servant of the People has no lawmakers in the outgoing legislature and is campaigning on a pro-European and anti-corruption ticket.
    The Reiting poll put Opposition Platform in second place on 9.0 percent, and European Solidarity – the party of Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko – third on 6.8 percent.
    The survey also showed Fatherland, the party of former prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, on 6.5 percent, above the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    Reiting said it interviewed 2,000 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from June 6 to June 9.
    About 14 percent of people declined to answer.
    Half of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament are elected on party lists and the other half in single-member constituencies.
    A good showing next month would cement Zelenskiy’s meteoric rise and upending of Ukrainian politics.
    He grew to national fame playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films him making a foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.    His campaign exploited the parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
    Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014. Zelenskiy has said his first task is to achieve a ceasefire.
    Following is a table showing the percentage support for leading parties among voters planning to take part in the election in three recent polls:
KIIS Reiting Reiting
May 26-June 7 May 29-June 3 June 6-9
Servant of the 34.4 40.9 41.1
Opposition Platform 8.4 9.1 9.0
European Solidarity 5.8 6.7 6.8
Fatherland 5.5 5.9 6.5
Voice 4.0 4.7 5.6
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/12/2019 Hungarian scientists mull legal action over government controls by Gergely Szakacs
FILE PHOTO: People gather outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to protest against government plans to
weaken the institution in Budapest, Hungary, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The head of Hungary’s oldest scientific institute said it was considering taking legal action to challenge government moves to take more control over research work and budgets.
    The nationalist administration of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has proposed a shake-up of the 200-year-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences that it says is meant to encourage more lucrative research.
    Opposition critics have condemned it as Orban’s latest move to tighten the state’s grip on public life, after overhauls of the courts, the media and a top university that have put him on a collision course with the European Union.
    The legislation would strip the Academy of its network of research bodies and hand them over to a committee with a chairman appointed by Orban and half its members from the government.
    Another part of the bill would make the academy give state organizations free use of its research facilities.     Academy President Laszlo Lovasz told Reuters late on Tuesday that the institution was considering challenging the legislation in the constitutional court.
    “One of the highly problematic aspects is the excessive influence of the government by European standards,” he said in an interview.
    “There is no precedent for a government to delegate half the members of the governing body of a research network.”
    Lawyers still needed to study the final version of the law, he added, and would wait for a regular legal review by President Janos Ader – a former member of Orban’s Fidesz party who has rarely blocked legislation – before filing any appeal.
    “We should also examine the independence and freedom of scientific research, as the fact that the government demands a say in both organization and financing terms could represent excessive influence,” Lovasz said.
    Lovasz said there was a risk that some fields of research in social sciences and other areas, might struggle to get funding.
    “There appears to be a very strong pressure to provide financing only for research producing direct economic benefits,” said the mathematician, who has recently won a 10-million-euro EU grant with two other scientists to study the mathematical foundations of network theory.
    Younger Hungarian scientists might also choose to stay in foreign institutions to keep out of the turmoil at home, he added.
    Lovasz said he had considered resigning over the changes but later abandoned the idea.
    Scientists and anti-government protesters have taken to the streets to protest against the proposed changes.
    The European Commission has said it will monitor the developments and has urged Budapest “to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom.”
    Any new confrontation with the Commission would come at a sensitive time for Orban as he tries to prevent the expulsion of his ruling Fidesz from the mainstream European People’s Party, which suspended his nationalist group in March.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/13/2019 Putin says U.S.-Russia relations are getting ‘worse and worse’ by Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an awarding ceremony marking the Day of Russia at the
Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 12, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said relations between Moscow and Washington were getting worse and worse, noting in an interview published on Thursday that the current U.S. administration had imposed dozens of sanctions on Russia.
    Putin made his gloomy assessment ahead of a G20 summit in Japan later this month at which he might meet U.S. President Donald Trump.
    U.S.-Russia ties remain strained by everything from Syria to Ukraine as well as allegations of Russian interference in U.S. politics, which Moscow denies.
    “They (our relations) are going downhill, they are getting worse and worse,” Putin told the Mir TV channel, according to a Kremlin transcript.
    “The current administration has approved, in my opinion, several dozen decisions on sanctions against Russia in recent years.”
    The Russian leader contrasted Moscow’s troubled relationship with Washington with what he described as its blossoming ties with China, a deepening strategic friendship that has alarmed some U.S. policymakers.
    Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he would meet Putin at the G20 in Japan, but the Kremlin said a day earlier that the idea for the meeting was “hanging in the air” and that there were no discussions on specifics yet.
    Trump said on Wednesday he hoped the United States would have “a great relationship with Russia,” but pledged to deploy 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland, a step sought by Warsaw to deter potential aggression from Russia.
    In another move certain to rankle with Moscow, Trump said on Wednesday he was considering sanctions over Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project and warned Germany against being dependent on Russia for energy.
    Putin, who has spoken out in favor of China in its burgeoning trade war with the United States, said in the same interview that he hoped for smoother ties with Washington despite the current trajectory of their relationship.
    “…We really hope that common sense will prevail in the end,” said Putin.
    “That with all of our partners, including our American partners … we can reach some decisions in the framework of the forthcoming G20 that will be constructive and create the necessary stable conditions for economic cooperation.”
(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Christian Lowe)

6/13/2019 Nearly 1,000 Kazakhs detained over protests: authorities
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers detain a man during an opposition rally held by critics of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev,
who protest over his election in Almaty, Kazakhstan June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva/File Photo
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – Kazakh authorities said on Thursday they had detained nearly 1,000 people for taking part in protests over last weekend’s presidential election that was won by veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor.
    The biggest wave of public protests in years has become the first challenge for President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as he takes over the oil-rich nation of 18 million.    Fears of violent clashes brought life to a standstill in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, on Wednesday, when the latest protest took place.
    The protesters accuse the government of running a staged vote in which Tokayev faced no real competition.    Some, including Western observers, have also disputed the ballot count which gave Tokayev almost 71 percent of the vote.
    At least five separate rallies – which are illegal in Kazakhstan without government permission – have taken place since Sunday’s election and the prosecutor-general’s office said 957 people had been sent to court.
    Of those, 670 have been formally arrested – which in the Kazakh legal system can mean spending a few days or weeks in detention – while 115 have been fined and 172 issued warnings.
    With a majority of those arrested either already set free or scheduled for release on Thursday, 218 remained in detention, according to official data.
    The 78-year-old Nazarbayev, who had run the former Soviet republic for almost three decades, resigned in March, making Tokayev interim president and then backing his candidacy in Sunday’s snap election.
    Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers and many observers regard Tokayev, a career diplomat, as little more than a figurehead.
    Tokayev, 66, has called for dialogue and has said he will set up a special national council open to, among others, young activists.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I remember when this president change started the news was the country was pro Russia and everyone liked the President but you can see sometimes the news is fake and controlled and does not reflect what the people of the country thinks, that sounds like what is going on in the U.S.A.].

6/13/2019 Russia marks Independence Day with anti-corruption rallies, arrests by OAN Newsroom
    Russia marked its main national holiday with massive anti-government rallies and sweeping arrests.    Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow on Wednesday to celebrate Russia’s separation from the Soviet Union 28-years-ago, and to denounce the political arrests of today.
    Rally participants expressed their support for anti-corruption journalist Ivan Golunov, who was released from custody a day prior.
    Moscow police attempted to violently disperse the rally, arresting more than 400 people in the process.    Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was also detained during the protest.
Russian police detain opposition leader Alexei Navalny, during a march in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 12, 2019.
Police and hundreds of demonstrators are faced off in central Moscow at an unauthorized march against police abuse in
the wake of the high-profile detention of a Russian journalist. (Artemie Mindrin,Rain TV Channel via AP)
    “I thought the police would arrest people for carrying political banners and saying political slogans, but as we can see they detain everyone, one after the other, even passers-by and those who just stand and watch.    There are a lot of detained journalists today as well.” — Ilia Azar, journalist – Novaya Gazeta.
    Opposition activists say protests will continue across Russia until all political prisoners are released.

6/14/2019 Party of Ukraine’s president can win parliamentary majority: poll
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a news conference after meeting European Council
President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – The new party set up by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who took office last month, could win a majority in a parliamentary election due on July 21, an opinion poll showed on Friday.
    A good showing next month would cement the former television comedian’s meteoric rise and upending of Ukrainian politics.
    The survey by research group SOCIS showed Zelenskiy’s party, Servant of the People, had the support of 51.1 percent of people who said they would vote.
    The outgoing parliament, dismissed by Zelenskiy after his landslide election victory in April, is dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor Petro Poroshenko.    Servant of the People, campaigning on a pro-European, anti-corruption ticket, has no lawmakers at present.
    The SOCIS poll had Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party in second place on 9.5 percent, followed by Opposition Platform on 9.2 percent.    Fatherland, the party of former prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, scored 8.7 percent, above the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    SOCIS said it interviewed 4,000 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from May 29 to June 6.
    Half of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament are elected via party lists and the other half in single-member constituencies.
    Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014.    Zelenskiy has said his first task is to achieve a ceasefire.
    Zelenskiy became famous playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films his foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.    His presidential campaign exploited parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/14/2019 Europol highlights Russian money as biggest laundering threat by John O’Donnell
Undated handout archive photo shows Europol's flag outside the headquarters in
The Hague, Netherlands, released June 13, 2019. Europol/Handout via REUTERS
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Europe’s Baltic states are at risk from further Russian money laundering, a top European police official said after several big banks were hit by scandals centered on the region.
    Pedro Felicio, who is responsible for fighting money laundering at European police agency Europol, told Reuters that “huge inflows of criminal money” are mainly coming into Europe from Russia and China.
    Russian money is alleged to be at the heart of multi-billion dollar laundering rackets that engulfed Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest lender and Sweden’s Swedbank.
    “There are billions of criminal money that are being taken out of the Russian economy,” Felicio said as he warned of the dangers of a repeat of scandals involving tainted Russian money in the Baltics, a bloc of three countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which used to be ruled by Soviet Russia.
    The high burden of proof in Europe coupled with “zero cooperation from Russia in providing … evidence” were exacerbating the problem, Felicio added.
    Russia’s central bank, which has a hard line on money laundering in the past few years and shut dozens of banks it said were involved, did not respond to a request for comment.
    A recent report by the Financial Action Task Force, a global standard-setter in fighting money laundering, said a “large amount of illicit proceeds flows out of China annually.”
    China’s central bank, which has also been taking action in recent years, bolstering supervision to combat money laundering as it opens up its financial sector, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The recent scandals have helped prompt Europol, which coordinates cross-border investigations and was involved in a 2016 operation that broke up an international drugs and money laundering cartel, to invest more in fighting financial crime.
    But while things have got better, there are still gaps particularly in the Baltic states, which are now part of the European Union, Felicio said.
    “Some of the banks in the Baltic area are very vulnerable to money laundering activities especially coming in from Russia. It has improved but it is far from being solved.”
    “It is just a matter of time until we see another scandal coming in from the area and it will probably be very similar to the scandals we have seen in the past,” he added.
    Bill Browder, formerly an investor in Russia, has also highlighted movements of Russian money linked to a fraud uncovered by his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was later arrested and died in a Moscow prison after complaining of mistreatment.
    Danske Bank’s shares plummeted after saying that 200 billion euros ($226 billion) of suspicious money, including from Russia and former Soviet states, flowed through its Estonian branch.
    The Danish bank has since been ejected from Estonia and withdrawn from Russia and the other Baltic states.
    Swedbank is also being investigated after Swedish broadcaster SVT said that it had processed billions in payments from high-risk customers, mostly Russian, through Estonia.
    While the Baltic nations are in the “front line” for receiving dirty money, it ultimately gets invested elsewhere. “Investments in real estate would be one of the main final solutions,” Felicio said, singling out London and Rome.
    The scandals have prompted action in the Baltics, where Latvia’s new prime minister, Krisjanis Karins, is accelerating an overhaul of the banking sector and its supervisor.
    One of Latvia’s largest banks, ABLV, which had numerous Russian clients, closed last year after U.S. authorities accused it of money laundering.
    However, reforms in Estonia have been on hold while a new government was being formed.    Lithuania has not played a significant role in the scandals.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Alexander Smith)

6/14/2019 ‘Moldova is free’ cheers new premier as rival steps aside by Matthias Williams
Pavel Filip, former Moldova's Prime Minister and one of the leaders of the Democratic Party of Moldova,
speaks at a news briefing in Chisinau, Moldova, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s new prime minister Maia Sandu consolidated her power on Friday as her predecessor resigned, appearing to ease a crisis that shook the country for the past week as two rival governments jostled for control.
    Sandu took office last weekend as the head of a new coalition government designed to fight corruption and remove a party led by tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc from power.
    But Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party called her a usurper and insisted Prime Minister Pavel Filip was still in charge.    Filip stepped down on Friday but demanded a snap election and refused to recognize Sandu’s government as legal.
    The crisis threatened more instability for one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries, where the West and Russia vie for influence.
    Moldova has been dogged by scandals and the emigration of citizens to Russia or wealthier European countries to find work. Sandu is the country’s eighth prime minister since 2013.
    “I have a message to the entire world. Moldova is finally free,” Sandu told a televised briefing.
    Earlier on Friday in an interview with Reuters, she laid out some of her government’s priorities: fight corruption, sack dishonest officials, make the electoral system fairer and get foreign aid flowing.
    “The biggest challenge of the country is that people are leaving.    It’s the young people who are leaving.”
    After a February election produced a hung parliament, Sandu, a Harvard-educated former World Bank economist, became head of a coalition government comprising her ACUM bloc and the Socialist party of President Igor Dodon.
    It is an unlikely alliance – ACUM wants Moldova to join the EU, while Dodon wants closer ties with Russia.
    Sandu told Reuters her government will adhere to Moldova’s current international agreements, including a political and trade pact with the EU rolled out in 2014.
    “This is not a natural alliance.    There is no question about it, and probably half a year ago nobody would have said that this could happen,” she said.
    She is keen to ensure Moldova receives two outstanding tranches of aid from the International Monetary Fund before the current program expires in November.
    Sandu joined politics in 2012 as an education minister, where she became well known for her efforts to clamp down on rampant cheating during exams.
    Tackling corruption on a national scale would likely prove popular as it is one of voters’ biggest concerns.
    Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party said Sandu had missed a legal deadline to form the government and the Constitutional Court last weekend declared her government invalid.
    It suspended Dodon temporarily to allow Filip as acting president to declare an election in September.    Sandu and Dodon ignored the ruling.
    The crisis led to two rival governments issuing orders. Sandu’s ministers could not enter government buildings, which were surrounded by police and Plahotniuc’s supporters.    She ran her government out of offices in the parliament.
    When the man Sandu appointed interior minister tried to enter police headquarters earlier this week, it ended in a scuffle with officers in helmets and balaclavas.
    Russia supports the new government.    The EU, which froze aid to Moldova last year, said it was “ready to work with the democratically legitimate government.”
    The U.S. State Department said it was “encouraged that both the new coalition and the former government have committed to a peaceful transfer of power reflecting the will of the people of Moldova.”
    Sandu accuses Plahotniuc of corruption and trampling on democracy.    Plahotniuc’s camp says such allegations against him are politically driven lies, and that Sandu’s government would let Moldova fall into Moscow’s orbit.
    Filip, for his part, has accused Sandu and Dodon of subverting democracy and called their administration an “illegal, Kremlin-backed government.”
    He resigned on Friday but said he only did so because of the pressure being put on his administration.
    “Our resignation does not unblock the legal process, because the constitutional crisis continues,” he said.
    Sandu called on the Democratic Party to withdraw its supporters from surrounding government buildings and desist from protests.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Sonya Hepinstall)

6/14/2019 Macedonia on track for EU accession talks but not Albania: diplomats by Robin Emmott and Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – North Macedonia is likely to win European Union support to start membership talks later this year, diplomats say, but its Balkan neighbor Albania faces opposition in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
    Despite EU rhetoric that the bloc needs to accept new members from the Western Balkans to cement their European path and offset Chinese and Russian influence, anti-immigration sentiment has raised doubts in some northern EU states.
    Backed by a number of EU governments and the European Commission, Albania and North Macedonia had hoped that the bloc’s Europe ministers would give the go-ahead to membership talks at a meeting next Tuesday in Luxembourg.
    That would have cleared the way for approval by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on June 20-21.
    But neither country will be given the green light then, diplomats and EU officials told Reuters, even though 13 EU countries including Italy and Poland, the European Council’s President Donald Tusk and the Commission have publicly called for formal negotiations to begin.
    Now, the latest agreement is to reach a deal among EU governments in September, but only for North Macedonia, which is also set to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2020.
    “North Macedonia has a good chance (for EU membership talks), given the historic resolution of its name issue,” one senior EU official said, referring to a decades-old dispute with Greece that blocked its path to the EU and the NATO alliance.
    The name change from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Republic of North Macedonia has given Skopje momentum and is likely to persuade Paris, Berlin and The Hague to back EU talks.
    “But Albania is still a big issue for some governments. It is not looking so promising,” the official said.
    Perceived as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries, according to Transparency International, Albania – which is already a NATO member – has made only limited progress in combating money laundering, EU and U.S. officials say, despite firing corrupt judges and prosecutors.
    Four other Western Balkan nations – Bosnia, Kosovo and the two frontrunners Serbia and Montenegro – are also seeking EU membership.
    In June 2018, France and the Netherlands unexpectedly blocked the start of EU talks for Albania and North Macedonia, seeking more reforms.    Diplomats said the move reflected concerns about the impact on voters in EU elections in May, 2019.
    With the European Parliament election out of the way, France and the Netherlands were expected to fall into line, while the EU headquarters invited Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski to Brussels.
    On a visit to Brussels earlier this month, Sokol Dedja, Albania’s deputy Europe and foreign minister, said it was time for the bloc to stop using the need for preparatory reforms “as a way of keeping countries out of the European Union.”
    EU membership talks, which typically last up to a decade, are a de facto reform process to bring nations up to EU levels.
    Despite victories in the EU election for the far-right in Italy, Poland and Hungary, talks of future membership for Albania and North Macedonia did not appear to play into the hands of those pledging to stop immigration.    French and Dutch far-right parties lost seats compared to their showing in 2014.
    However, on June 11, the Dutch parliament passed a motion opposing the opening of talks with Albania, although a similar motion for North Macedonia did not pass.
    The German government wants a green light for Macedonia, but there is no agreement on Albania, which the center-right in the coalition see as a problem state. The Bundestag lower house has agreed to postpone any decision until September.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in The Hague and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/15/2019 Iranian President Tells Global Partners to send ‘Positive Signals’ or Else by OAN Newsroom
    Tension surrounding Iran continues to rise after the nation makes its latest threat toward global powers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pose for a photo prior to their talks on a
sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Friday, June 14, 2019. Rouhani has called for closer
cooperation between Tehran and Moscow amid rising regional tensions. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Speaking from a conference in Central Asia, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, it is ‘necessary’ that all sides of the 2015 nuclear pact show ‘positive signals’ to Iran.
    Rouhani said they will continue to digress and ultimately withdraw from the international nuclear pact unless signatories take action to restore relations.
    Since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are the only remaining partners to the pact.
    In response Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will double down on his commitments to Iran and urged other signatories to do the same.
    ‘Everyone is concerned about the state of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to Iran’s nuclear program.    The U.S. leaving this agreement has significantly unraveled its execution.    We believe the only sensible decision is for all deal participants to honor their commitments.    This is what Russia intends to do’ Putin said.
    Iran did not specify what actions it will take or say what ‘positive signals’ it expects to see from its global partners.

6/15/2019 Anti-graft crusader sworn in as Slovakia’s first female president by Tatiana Jancarikova
Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova takes the oath administered by President of the Constitutional Court Ivan Fiacan, during her
swearing-in ceremony as the country's first female head of state, in Bratislava, Slovakia, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    Bratislava (Reuters) – Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova was sworn in as Slovakia’s first female president on Saturday, vowing to fight impunity and champion justice in a country shaken by a journalist’s murder last year.
    The killing of Jan Kuciak, who investigated high-level graft cases, and his fiancé at their home last February sparked mass street protests and hit the approval ratings of the governing leftist party Smer.
    Smer is still the most popular party but Caputova’s victory in the March presidential vote boosted the opposition liberal alliance Progressive Slovakia/Together, which backed her and aims to unseat the ruling party in a 2020 general election.
    The pro-European coalition already won the EU Parliament election last month.
    In her inauguration speech, Caputova, 45, said state officials that had proven incapable of stamping out corruption should lose their jobs and vowed to make the justice system work fairly for everyone.
    “Under the constitution, people are free and equal in dignity and in rights, meaning nobody is that irrelevant to have their rights compromised, nor is anyone that powerful to stand above the law.”
    “Too many people feel that this is not quite the reality in our country.    The feeling of injustice has grown and has demonstrated itself in calls for change and decency but also in anger over ‘the system’,” she said in a nod to the rise to anti-system and far-right parties.
    Caputova’s election stood in contrast to a European shift toward populist and nationalist parties.
    Caputova, whose fight against an illegal landfill in her home town earned her the nickname “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich” after the American environmentalist portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 film, also called on the European Union to become a leader in the battle against climate change.
    Slovakia’s president wields little day-to-day power but appoints prime ministers and can veto appointments of senior prosecutors and judges.
    Five people have been charged with the murders of Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was investigated by Kuciak and has become a symbol of perceived impunity after more than a decade of rule by Smer.    Kocner has denied any wrongdoing.
(Editing by Helen Popper)

6/16/2019 Russia dismisses accusations of meddling in EU elections: newspaper
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Plenary Hall during the election night for European elections
at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An official from Russia’s security council described as absurd accusations that Moscow used disinformation to sway voters towards right-wing parties in last month’s European Union elections, Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper reported on Sunday.
    An EU review into elections to its parliament, published on Friday, said there was evidence both Russian and European online sources had sought to promote extreme views and polarize debate on issues such as migration and religion.
    The preliminary report is the latest in a string of allegations from Western governments that Russia has used online disinformation techniques, including the creation of fake social media accounts, to try to influence voters.
    Sites such as Facebook have come under particular pressure to tackle the issue since the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, when     Russian troll accounts and bots allegedly flooded social media platforms with content aimed at undermining Democrat candidates and promoting the victory of current U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting elections.
    “Statements made in the Western media that Russia was allegedly deeply interested in the victory of right-wing parties during elections to the European parliament are completely absurd,” Russian security council deputy secretary Alexander Venediktov was quoted by Rossiyskaya Gazeta as saying in an interview on Sunday.
    “Let me remind you that, until today, no convincing evidence has been presented to the global community to prove that Moscow allegedly tried to influence the elections in the United States or in Europe,” Venediktov was quoted as saying.
    Friday’s EU report found “a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences.”
    It called on social networks to do more to protect elections from foreign meddling.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Potter)
[As usual the leftist party of the U.S. have tried to claim that Russia caused Hillary to lose the election, now the leftist party of the EU is trying to blame Russia of their losses to right parties.    Give it up and consider that your platforms are the reason you are losing.].

6/16/2019 Bosnians protest against migrant influx in border town by Dado Ruvic
People gather for a protest against migrants in the Bosnian town of Bihac near the
Croatian border, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    BIHAC, Bosnia (Reuters) – Several hundred Bosnians protested on Sunday against an influx of migrants in the western border town of Bihac, warning of security and health risks from thousands sleeping rough.
    Bosnia, spared the big migrant wave of 2015, is now seeing an influx of people trying to reach wealthier nations via neighboring Croatia, a European Union member.
    About 25,000 people from Asia and North Africa entered the Balkan country from Serbia and Montenegro last year, and about 9,000 have arrived this year.
    Around 6,000 are in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, two towns bordering Croatia, but only about 3,500 have been sheltered in four transit centers there.
    Others sleep in parks and abandoned buildings.
    “I came here to express dissatisfaction with the situation politicians have brought upon both us and migrants,” said Maja Tabakovic, 35, at the peaceful rally in the main square. “The whole town is feeling insecure.”
    Town authorities have long called on Bosnia’s national government to lift the burden from the border area and accommodate migrants elsewhere.
    But a government has not been formed eight months after a general election and state institutions in charge of migration and asylum issues are operating in a care-taking capacity.
    Also, the Serb-dominated Serb Republic, an autonomous region that makes up Bosnia along with a federation of Croat and Muslim cantons, has refused to accept any migrants on its territory.
    On Friday, Bihac police raided several private houses in which nearly 300 migrants were accommodated and moved them to tents on a former garbage dump outside the town.
    U.N. agencies have warned authorities against the relocation, saying the site was inadequate and located close to areas with landmines from Bosnia’s war in the 1990s.
    “There are no sanitary facilities available on the site and no access to running water or electricity.    Under these circumstances, locating migrants and refugees there is not acceptable,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
    However, an additional 200 people were moved over the weekend to the Vucjak site, where the local Red Cross has supplied tents, water tanks and meals.
    The migrants, in footage on regional television station, complained about poor conditions at the site, showing snakes they had found in surrounding bushes.
    “We are not against the migrants but we want them to be taken care of,” said Husnija Midzic, one of the Bihac protesters.    “I fear robberies and problems caused by migrants.    We are in fear all the time, watching our homes, ourselves.”
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/17/2019 Disgraced ex-leader of Austrian far right turns down EU Parliament seat
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reacts as he addresses
the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian far-right veteran Heinz-Christian Strache, who quit as deputy head of the coalition government over a video sting, said on Monday he would not take up a European Parliament seat, forgoing a move that might have hurt his Freedom Party further.
    Strache stepped down as vice chancellor and Freedom Party (FPO) leader on May 18, the day after German media published secretly filmed footage from a 2017 dinner party in Ibiza at which Strache met a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.
    In the footage, Strache appeared to offer to fix state contracts, though he says he did nothing illegal and none of his comments were followed through on. Anti-corruption prosecutors are also investigating Strache on suspicion of breach of trust.
    Strache was entitled to the European Parliament seat because of Austria’s electoral system, in which voters pick a party list and can express a preference for one candidate on that list.    With enough preferential votes, a candidate jumps to the top of their party’s list and the front of the queue for its seats.
    Although Strache was 42nd and last on the list of a party that secured just three seats in last month’s European Parliament election, he got enough preferential votes – roughly 45,000, or almost a third of his party’s votes, well above a 5% threshold for jumping up the list – to get one of its seats.
    “I have … decided not to take up the EU mandate,” Strache said in a statement, adding that he would not return to active politics until the origins of the footage were clear.
    “This decision is not the result of a political calculation or of any deal,” he added, referring to the fact his far-right FPO on Friday picked his wife Philippa as a candidate for parliament in elections widely expected to be held on Sept. 29.
    He could have accepted the seat as soon as the results of the May 26 vote came through, but he kept Austria guessing as to whether he would take it up and risk further damaging his party’s image. He had until next month to decide.
    The political damage from the video sting scandal has been great.    Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called off his coalition with the FPO the day Strache stepped down.
    Kurz then tried to stay on as head of what was effectively a minority government but parliament forced it from office, saying Kurz deserved at least some of the blame for the fallout from the scandal.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

6/17/2019 Iran, Russia talks raise hopes of progress on OPEC+ meeting date
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s oil minister is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart in Iran later on Monday, industry sources said, raising hopes of progress in resolving a month-long impasse over when OPEC and its allies will hold their next policy gathering.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and partners including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, have been considering since last month moving the date of their policy meeting in Vienna to July 3-4 from June 25-26.
    Russia’s Alexander Novak favors postponing the meeting to early July to avoid clashing with G20 discussions in Japan in late June, while the Iranian minister, Bijan Zanganeh, wants to keep the original schedule, sources have said.
    The two are scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tehran time (1230 GMT), one of the sources said.
    “Hopefully this meeting will break the impasse,” the source said.
    OPEC and its allies have been reducing oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day since Jan. 1 to support the market.    The meeting is to decide whether to extend or adjust the pact.
(Reporting by Alex Lawler; Editing by Dale Hudson)

6/17/2019 Slovak ex-president Kiska launches new party to challenge ruling Smer
FILE PHOTO - Andrej Kiska listens during a news conference in Riga, Latvia December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Former Slovak president Andrej Kiska launched a new pro-EU political party on Monday, promising to provide a voice for voters disillusioned with the ruling Smer party and to challenge it in next year’s parliamentary election.
    Kiska, whose five-year presidential term ended on Saturday, has often clashed with Smer, which is nominally leftist but socially conservative.
    Smer remains the most popular party in Slovakia but its approval ratings were hit last year by the murder of Jan Kuciak, a journalist who investigated high-level graft cases, and his fiancee at their home.
    Kiska, 56, sided with mass demonstrations against the perceived impunity of businessmen with links to Smer.    The protests eventually forced Smer leader Robert Fico to resign as prime minister. He was replaced by party ally Peter Pellegrini.
    Kiska, who founded two hire-purchase companies in the 1990s and later sold them to set up Slovakia’s biggest charity for sick children, said on Monday he wanted to prevent an alliance between Smer and anti-European and nationalist forces after the next election.
    “We are facing a challenge – Smer is ready to team up with (far-right leader) Marian Kotleba to stay in power.    It’s important for those who want to return Slovakia to all people after years of one-party rule to work together,” Kiska told reporters at the launch of his party ‘Za ludi’ (For the people).
    “We are angry, we are disappointed, we know what to do and we want to do it,” said Kiska.
    He was joined in the new party by one of the faces of the civic protest movement, lawyer Juraj Seliga, as well as several mayors and politicians.
    The new party aims to improve healthcare and the education system and to boost environmental protection, Kiska said.
    An opinion poll by the Focus agency, the first to include the new party, put its support at 6.2 percent of the vote last week, before its launch, while Smer came first with 19.5 percent.
    Kiska’s party may seek support among voters who helped the liberal alliance Progressive Slovakia/Together win last month’s European Parliament election in Slovakia, a move that risks boosting Smer.
    In the Focus poll, the alliance – which successfully backed anti-corruption lawyer Zuzana Caputova to replace Kiska as Slovakia’s president – stood at 15.3 percent in the poll.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/17/2019 Deploying U.S. troops in Poland wholly defensive, ambassador says in riposte to Russia
FILE PHOTO - .S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher watches as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Foreign Minister
Jacek Czaputowicz hold a news conference at Lazienki Palace in Warsaw, Poland February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KRZESINY, Poland (Reuters) – A U.S. agreement with Poland to send 1,000 extra troops to the country is a defensive measure needed for its security, the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw said on Monday, replying to accusations from neighboring Russia that the move is aggressive.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge last week to dispatch the troops to Poland was a step sought by President Andrzej Duda because of past Russian aggression against Poland and to help solidify his country’s ties to the West.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA last week that Washington’s move probably reflected “aggressive” intentions.
    Another lawmaker, ex-commander of Russia’s special forces Vladimir Shamanov, said he was concerned that the U.S. drones could be capable of carrying nuclear weapons at some point.
    In response, U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher said that “what we’re talking about is merely defensive, (making) a country enabled to defend its borders.”
    “And history is proving, particularly here in Poland, that (a country) has to be very careful with regard to its neighbors and be able to defend itself,” she told Reuters in an interview while visiting a military base in western Poland where U.S. F-16 jet fighters are stationed.
    Russia was Poland’s overlord for almost half a century until the collapse of Communism across eastern Europe in 1989-90.
    But Polish jitters about Russia rose anew in 2014 when Russia back a pro-Moscow separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine, and annexed the Crimea region from that country, another eastern neighbor of Poland.
    In response to Moscow’s increased geopolitical assertiveness, the United States sent troops to Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance.    About 4,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed on a rotational basis.
    “…We’re talking about the eastern flank of NATO and our responsibilities as important war allies – Poland and the United States.    We want to take the necessary actions to be defensive,” Mosbacher said.
    At a meeting between Duda and Trump last week in Washington, Warsaw also signed a memorandum on cooperation with the Americans with regard to building Poland’s first nuclear power plant, expected to cost 100 billion zlotys ($26.33 billion).
    Mosbacher said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if the United States provided some financing for construction of the plant, which is expected to start operating in 2033 with a capacity of 1.0-1.5 gigawatts (GW).
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski)

6/18/2019 Czech opposition parties to challenge PM Babis in no-confidence vote
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives at an extraordinary European Union leaders
summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Opposition parties said they will call a vote of no-confidence in Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s government over alleged conflicts of interest, although they lack enough votes to win.
    The five parties will submit their request on Friday for a special session of parliament, party leaders said at a news conference on Tuesday.
    “This government, with this prime minister, has been tarnishing Czech Republic’s reputation both home and abroad, therefore we deem this step a moral and political gesture,” said Marek Vyborny, chairman of the Christian Democrats.
    Babis has denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations a political maneuver.
    The European Commission has determined that Babis is in conflict of interest because of his business empire placed in trust funds, and the country may lose some EU funding as a result.
    The billionaire-turned-politician is also facing strong protests over possible meddling with a criminal case in which the police recommended he face trial over a 2 million euro EU subsidy for a farm and convention center.
    With the support of the Communist party, Babis’s minority government controls 108 votes in the 200-member lower house of parliament.    To pass a no-confidence motion, the opposition needs 101 votes.
    The lower house speaker can summon a no-confidence vote once he receives an official request.    No date has yet been proposed.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alison Williams)

6/18/2019 Russia to Washington: Drop Middle East troop plan and stop provoking Iran
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a news conference
in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia told the United States on Tuesday to drop what it called provocative plans to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke war with Iran.
    The comments, from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to Russian news agencies, followed an announcement from Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan a day earlier who said Washington planned to send around 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes.
    President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran would not wage war against any nation and the Kremlin called for restraint from all sides.
    Ryabkov told reporters that Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies about what he called the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region.”
    “Now what we see are unending and sustained U.S. attempts to crank up political, psychological, economic and yes military pressure on     Iran in quite a provocative way.    They (these actions) cannot be assessed as anything but a conscious course to provoke war,” Ryabkov was cited as saying.
    If Washington did not want war it had to show it, he said.
    “If that’s really how it is then the U.S. should step back from reinforcing its military presence,” said Ryabkov.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maxim Rodionov, Editing by William Maclean)

6/18/2019 Romania’s government survives no-confidence vote by Radu-Sorin Marinas
FILE PHOTO: Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila attends a debate on the rule of law in Romania at the
European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s Social Democrat (PSD) coalition government survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Tuesday, strengthening Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s chances of being confirmed as PSD leader at a party congress this month.
    Dancila, a protegee of long-time leader Liviu Dragnea, was appointed on an interim basis after he was jailed for corruption last month.
    On Tuesday, 200 lawmakers in the 465-seat bicameral parliament voted for the motion, as expected short of the majority needed to topple the government.
    The motion was brought by centrist opposition groupings which said that, despite Dragnea’s imprisonment, the PSD remained a big threat to the rule of law in one of EU’s most corrupt states.
    Seeking to improve the PSD’s image, Dancila removed some Dragnea allies from key posts after he was jailed, and blamed an overhaul of the judiciary that she has also embarked on for the party’s poor showing in last month’s European Parliament election, which the centrists won.
    Since taking office in 2016, the Social Democrats have chipped away at the independence of the judiciary, also triggering sharp criticism from the European Union and the country’s largest street protests in decades.
    The PSD congress is scheduled for June 29. Analysts had said defeating Tuesday’s no-confidence vote would strengthen Dancila’s hand within the party.
(Editing by John Stonestreet)

6/18/2019 Merkel: Will only lift Russia sanctions if Ukraine’s sovereignty restored
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy react during a
news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that western sanctions against Russia would not be lifted unless Ukraine’s sovereignty was restored.
    Merkel said she and visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had discussed the Minsk peace agreement, adding: “As long as there is no progress on this front, the sanctions cannot be lifted and the sanctions related to Crimea can only be lifted if Crimea returns to Ukraine.”
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

6/19/2019 Cuba forces dissidents into exile, advocacy group says
FILE PHOTO: Members of the 'Ladies in White' dissident group march in Havana, March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo
    MADRID (Reuters) – Cuba’s state security is pressuring dissidents to go into exile in its attempt to weaken opposition on the Communist-run island, a non-governmental human rights organization said on Wednesday.
    The Madrid-based Cuban Prisoners Defenders released a 259-page report that named 35 activists, independent journalists and artists whom authorities had forced to leave the country over the past two years, telling them never to return.
    State security threatened them with prison or bodily harm if they did not leave and harassed their families, the NGO, which has links to Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), said.
    Cuba’s government, which did not reply to a request for comment, accuses dissidents of being mercenaries paid by its longtime Cold War foe, the United States, to undermine it and typically dismisses such charges as attempts to tarnish its reputation.
    “It is evident that this is something happening on a massive and alarming scale and that is it imperative it be stopped,” Cuban Prisoners Defenders said in the report, which included dozens of case testimonies.
    The NGO, which formed late last year, said more than a third of the 26 activists who responded to its online survey said they were escorted to the airport by state security and forced into exile.
    Some were given boarding passes, typically for flights to Guyana where Cubans can get a tourist visa on arrival, and money for their first month, it said.
    The group said that during an eight-day survey period this month it identified 42 more people whom state security forces were currently pressuring to leave and concluded there were likely many more cases.
    Cuban Prisoners Defenders representative and UNPACU member Javier Larrondo said Cuban authorities had long encouraged some dissidents to leave but were becoming more systematic and aggressive, partly to bring down the number of political prisoners in jails.
    “I intend to get to the United States because it is the country that most offers us security,” one of the activists mentioned in Wednesday’s report, Eliecer Gongora Izaguirre, told Reuters by telephone from Costa Rica.
    The 37-year-old said state security escorted him to the airport to board a flight to Guyana in February, forcing him to leave behind his four children and wife.
    Previously he had been imprisoned for six months and his family had faced continuous harassment for his activism in UNPACU, he said. That included having their home expropriated and his children being taunted at school, he said.
    A Havana-based western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the state tended to pressure little-known activists rather than high-profile figures, which would more likely spark international outcry.
    Gongora Izaguirre said that from Guyana, he crossed the border to Brazil and Peru from where he started a perilous trek north on buses and by foot, through jungle and across rivers through Ecuador, Colombia and Panama to Costa Rica.
    He knows finding refuge in the United States will be hard because the Trump administration has cracked down on asylum seekers.
    “I’m not going to give up the fight,” he said.    “I’ll only give it up when I’m dead.”
(Reporting by Madrid Newsroom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

6/19/2019 Russian MP’s vote to suspend INF Treaty with U.S. by OAN Newsroom
    Russian lawmakers have passed a bill, which would suspend the country’s participation in a key nuclear treaty with the United States.
    In an executive order signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, Russia’s lower chamber of parliament overwhelmingly voted to exit from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.    The bill must now be endorsed by the upper chamber of parliament before moving to Putin’s desk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting ahead of his annual question and answer session which is to take place on
June 20, in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    This comes in response to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the treaty back in February despite push-back from European Union leaders.
    “The demise of the International-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, should it be allowed to happen, would make the world a more insecure and unstable place,” stated Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General.    “That insecurity and instability will be keenly felt here in Europe, and we simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War.”
    The U.S. cited Russia’s continued development of long-range missiles as the reason for withdrawal.    Meanwhile, both sides have accused each other of violating the 1987 agreement.

6/19/2019 Albanian opposition supporters scuffle with police before elections by Benet Koleka
Opposition supporters demonstrate outside a school building designated to be a polling station, during
an anti-government protest in Kavaja, Albania, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian opposition supporters scuffled with police outside vote-counting centres on Wednesday and burned voting equipment at three locations in a dispute over whether to hold local elections on June 30.
    Opposition parties have boycotted parliament since mid-February and refused to take part in the elections, accusing Prime Minister Edi Rama of vote buying.    They want Rama to quit to pave the way for a snap general election.
    But Rama’s Socialists have been campaigning as usual and ignored a decree by President Ilir Meta cancelling the vote for mayoral and municipal posts over security concerns.
    In 14 towns run by opposition mayors, supporters and municipal police members have been involved in scuffles with state police since Tuesday.
    The government plans to dismantle some municipal police bodies.
    On Wednesday evening, a crowd tried to storm into a school that would be a counting centre in the western town of Kavaje, tearing down a section of its iron fence. Police responded with tear gas and the crowd threw flares and stones back at them.
    A dozen people have been held for damaging election equipment nationwide and police want to arrest another 20, deputy general police director Aida Hajnaj told a news conference.
    At one location, protesters were dispersed with pepper spray, while they burned election equipment in three places.    Crowds chanted “Rama quit,” and “There will be no elections without the Democratic Party.”
    Rama took to Twitter in a robust response.
    “I ask them whether it pays to perpetrate election crimes and face the law for the sake of those who brought your parties to rock bottom and wish to transform their own troubles with the judiciary into Albania’s troubles,” he wrote.
    The government has been vetting judges to weed out those it considers corrupt, in a bid to end impunity for top politicians and meet a condition of the European Union, which has delayed until autumn a decision on whether to hold accession talks with Tirana.
    The local office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the violence and said the perpetrators must be held accountable.
    “Any attempt to derail democratic process through violent actions infringes the law, stalls the progress of the country and stains its international reputation,” the OSCE said.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Cawthorne)

6/19/2019 Migrants moved from Bosnian town to camp at former garbage dump by Boris Kavic
Migrants wait for food at the camp Vucjak, in Bihac area, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) – Up to 700 migrants from Asia and the Middle East who had been sleeping rough in the Bosnian town of Bihac have been moved to a camp on the site of a former garbage dump near the Croatian border that has been criticized as inadequate by UN agencies.
    A few dozen newly-erected white tents could be seen on Wednesday in a meadow surrounded by trees and bushes and guarded by police.    In scorching heat, migrants queued for food and used water from tanks to wash and shave themselves.
    “This is not (a) camp,” said Mohammed Jamil, from Pakistan, “These are only tents, no facilities, no toilets, no proper food.”
    United Nations agencies have criticized sanitary facilities at the Vucjak site and its location close to areas still peppered with landmines from the 1990s wars in Bosnia.
    The migrants themselves have complained about being moved to the isolated, snake-infested border area from Bihac, where they had access to shops, pharmacies and the internet.
    Authorities say the move was to ease the burden on Bihac, where citizens had protested that migrants sleeping in parks and abandoned houses posed security and health risks.
    Unlike many European countries, Bosnia did not experience significant migrant arrivals in 2015.    But since European Union members Hungary, Slovenia and neighboring Croatia sealed their borders it has seen an influx of people trying to reach wealthier nations.
    About 25,000 migrants and refugees entered the Balkan country from Serbia and Montenegro last year, and about 9,000 have arrived this year.    Around 6,000 are in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, two towns bordering Croatia, but only about 3,500 have been placed in four transit centers there.
    “We don’t want to live here, we want to go to Italy, Germany,” said 52-year-old Jamil.
    Mohammed Ahmad, 25, who is also from Pakistan, said police had treated the migrants roughly even though few of them were “troublemakers.”
    Selam Midjic, the secretary of the local Red Cross, which has been distributing tents, food, clothes and personal hygiene items to the migrants, said the situation at Vucjak has been improving daily.
    “We have made a small tent settlement out of nothing in which we are trying to create ever better conditions for migrants,” Midjic said.
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/19/2019 Russians, Ukrainian to face murder charges over downing of Flight MH17 by Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch
Russian national Oleg Pulatov, one of the accused of downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17,
nearly five years after the crash that killed 298 passengers and crew, is seen in this handout photo released by Dutch Police
and obtained by Reuters on June 19, 2019. Dutch Police/Handout via REUTERS
    NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, the international investigative team said on Wednesday.
    The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in proceedings set to start in the Netherlands next March. Dutch authorities said Russia has not cooperated with the inquiry and is not expected to surrender defendants.
    “These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians,” Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.
    “Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”
    The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that it had not cooperated while saying on Wednesday the investigation was intended to damage Moscow’s reputation.
    “Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.     MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.    Everyone aboard died.
    The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.    It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.
    Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.
    “The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.
    Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.
    “The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.    There were 10 Britons on the flight.
    Most of the passengers were Dutch.    The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was downed by a Russian missile.
    Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.
    Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so.    But I don’t care.    I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”
    The investigation team said Girkin was a former Russian FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.
    It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov headed a second department of the agency.    Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.
    Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Christian Lowe, Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/19/2019 Party of Ukraine’s president leads opinion poll ahead of July vote
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen in his office at the Presidential Administration
building in Kiev, Ukraine June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The new party set up by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who took office last month, could win the most seats in a parliamentary election due on July 21, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
    The survey conducted by research group Reiting from June 8 to June 12 showed Zelenskiy’s party, Servant of the People, had the support of 36.9 percent of people who said they would vote.
    In its previous poll, done from June 6 to June 9, Zelenskiy’s party got 41.1 percent.
    A good showing next month would cement the former television comedian’s meteoric rise to upend Ukrainian politics.
    The outgoing parliament, dismissed by Zelenskiy after his landslide election victory in April, is dominated by loyalists of his defeated predecessor Petro Poroshenko.    Servant of the People, campaigning on a pro-European, anti-corruption ticket, has no lawmakers at present.
    Another new party – Voice – established by Ukrainian rock-singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk – managed to gained more support: 6.4 percent versus 5.6 according to the previous poll and got to the third place following Opposition Platform with 8.7 percent.
    While the party of former prime minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, scored 5.7 percent to keep the chance to get to the parliament, Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party lost much of its support and has got only 3.9 percent what is lower than the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    Reiting said it interviewed 2,500 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea.
    Half of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament are elected via party lists and the other half in single-member constituencies.
    Ukraine’s most pressing issue is conflict with its neighbor Russia, which annexed its Crimea region in 2014.    Zelenskiy has said his first task is to achieve a ceasefire.
    Zelenskiy became famous playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films his foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.    His presidential campaign exploited parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/20/2019 Visegrad group to agree common stance on EU’s 2050 climate goals: Hungary
FILE PHOTO: Senior Fidesz lawmaker Gergely Gulyas, who will be Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff,
speaks to Reuters in an interview in Budapest, Hungary on May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Krisztina Than
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – the so-called “Visegrad Four” countries – will agree a common stance on the European Union’s 2050 climate goals, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.
    The EU has agreed to substantial reductions of carbon emissions by 2030 and its executive, the Commission, wants the bloc to reduce them to zero by 2050 to help stop global warming.
    EU leaders will debate whether to target going carbon-neutral by 2050 at a summit starting on Thursday.
    “In the debate about 2050 we will form a common position with the Visegrad Four,” chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told a news conference. He did not say what the position would be.
    With Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, joining a growing number of EU nations backing zero emissions by mid-century, momentum has built for leaders to agree the target at the summit.
    Eastern European nations have been cautious about steeper emissions cuts due to concerns over the economic impact.
    Hungarian environmental organizations, including Greenpeace Hungary, called on Hungary’s government to show a clear commitment to going carbon-neutral by 2050.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

6/20/2019 Putin, hit by ratings drop, tells Russians a better life awaits by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a screen through a glass door at a press centre during an
annual nationwide televised phone-in show in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin told Russians on Thursday there were signs that years of falling real wages, which have dented his popularity, were drawing to an end and that a government program would deliver higher living standards.
    Putin, 66, in power as president or prime minister since 1999, was re-elected by a landslide last year but his high ratings have slipped over pension reforms.
    The government raised the retirement age to 65 from 60 for men and to 60 from 55 for women, a deeply unpopular move that has aggravated grumbling over six years of falling real incomes.
    Putin’s own approval rating has suffered, falling from a record high of almost 90 percent in 2015 to 64 percent now.
    In his annual televised question and answer session, Putin said low living standards, low wages, poor healthcare and worries about how rubbish was being disposed of were now the most acute problems for Russians.
    One caller from the Samara region complained about the difficulty of raising a family on just 10,000 roubles ($158.07) a month.    “When will life get better?,” the caller asked.
    “It’s true that real incomes have been falling for several years,” responded Putin.    “The biggest fall was in 2016, but now incomes have gradually started to recover,” he said, blaming past volatility in energy markets.
    A major public spending program called National Projects would boost living standards, he pledged.
    “The results of this should be being felt this year and next year,” Putin said.
    Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, now head of the Audit Chamber, said on Sunday he was concerned about the risk of “a social explosion” if poverty levels were not cut, a comment the Kremlin criticized as emotional.
    Putin, whose term is not due to end until 2024, does not face an imminent political threat despite some indications of simmering discontent.
    Plans to open waste disposal facilities near populated areas have sparked protests in places, while the case of a journalist wrongly accused of drugs charges triggered a protest in Moscow this month and a rare and swift U-turn from the authorities.
    In a sign of Kremlin nervousness, Russia’s state pollster last month introduced a new methodology for canvassing public opinion after the Kremlin questioned its earlier findings. They had shown trust in Putin falling to 31.7% – its lowest in 13 years – because of people’s economic disenchantment.
    Under the new methodology, VTsIOM, the state pollster, showed public trust in Putin surging to 72.3%, a figure it said dropped slightly this month to 71.7%.
(Reporting by Moscow Bureau; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jon Boyle)

6/20/2019 Ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying by Russia asks Trump to help
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, speaks inside a defendants' cage during a court
hearing to consider an appeal to extend his detention in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying called on U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Britain, Canada and Ireland to help him as he appeared in court at an appeal hearing on Thursday.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies.    If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in jail.
    Whelan said last month that he had been threatened by a Russian investigator in custody and harassed, accusations that added to strains in U.S.-Russian relations.
    “Mr president (Trump), we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend American citizens wherever they are in the world,” Whelan told reporters at a hearing in Moscow on Thursday.
    “I am asking the leaders and governments in Ottawa, Dublin, London and Washington for their help and public statements of support,” he said, standing inside a glass cage.
    Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was framed and that he was given a flash drive by an acquaintance that he thought contained holiday photos, but that actually held classified information.
    Whelan was in court on Thursday to appeal against the extension of his custody until Aug. 29.    The court ruled against him.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/20/2019 Russia’s Putin says U.S. move against Huawei aims to weaken China
FILE PHOTO: A Huawei company logo is seen at the Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen
in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that U.S moves against technology giant Huawei aimed to weaken China, while U.S. tariffs sought to hold the Chinese economy back.
    Putin was speaking at his annual televised question and answer conference.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Andrew Osborn; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

6/20/2019 President Trump to meet with Russia’s Putin next week at G20 summit in Japan by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump is slated to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since their meeting in Helsinki, Finland.    In an interview Wednesday, the president confirmed he would sit-down with Putin next week at the G20 summit in Japan.
    The announcement comes after the president confirmed he will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping that same week.    Despite tensions, President Trump said he is optimistic about continuing a relationship with both Russia and China.
    Meanwhile, Putin said he’s ready for talks with President Trump.    The Russian leader made those remarks Thursday, during a televised question and answer session in Moscow.
    Putin said dialogue between the two nations is important.    However, since President Trump has started his re-election campaign, Putin said he sees any talks between them as being limited in nature.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures answers a question after his annual call-in show
in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    Despite this, Putin said there are numerous issues to talk about, including arms control and trade.
    “We have things to talk about regarding the international security…I mean the disarmament…the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is expiring soon, but I also mean establishing of normal relations between the countries…in all areas, including economy, because American companies are not leaving the Russian market,” stated the Russian president.
    Putin went on to say that U.S. sanctions against Russia are a big mistake, and he hopes the issue will eventually be fixed.

6/20/2019 Georgians angry over Russian lawmaker’s visit try to storm parliament by Margarita Antidze
Protesters hold police shields during a rally against a Russian lawmaker's visit near the
parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Crowds angry over the visit of a Russian lawmaker tried to storm Georgia’s parliament building on Thursday evening, pushing against lines of riot police, throwing bottles, and grabbing riot shields from some officers and tearing off their helmets.
    The scenes in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, flared up suddenly after public anger over the visit and speech of a member of the Russian lower house of parliament triggered big street protests.    Riot police repeatedly used tear gas, prompting most of the protesters to disperse.
    Two wounded protesters told a Reuters reporter they were hit by rubber bullets.    They were taken to hospital in an ambulance shortly afterwards.
    Russian influence in Georgia remains a politically sensitive subject.    The small country, a U.S. ally, fought and lost a short war against Moscow in 2008.
    The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since, and Russia went on to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops are now garrisoned.
    Georgia, which is crisscrossed by energy pipelines, hopes to one day join the European Union and NATO.    That ambition has angered Moscow, the country’s former Soviet overlord.
    Thursday’s protests were sparked by a visit by Sergei Gavrilov, who was leading a Russian delegation taking part in the     Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.
    Gavrilov, president of the IAO’s General Assembly, addressed delegates in his native Russian from the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat.    That angered some politicians and Georgians who want Russia kept at arm’s length.
    The IAO session had to be cut short as a result.
    The opposition accuses the ruling Georgian Dream party of being insufficiently firm in confronting Moscow.    Many of the protesters gathered outside parliament chanted slogans insulting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Gavrilov told Russian news agencies water had been thrown at him and unspecified people had tried to remove his identity documents. He was reported to have already left Georgia.
    “Georgian Dream has brought the Russian occupiers in and let them sit in the speaker’s chair,” Elene Khoshtaria, an opposition member of parliament, said.    “That was a slap in the face to recent Georgian history.”     Opposition MPs demanded that the parliamentary speaker, interior minister and state security service chief all resign over the incident.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in a statement that Moscow was outraged by the actions of what he called radical Georgian political forces whom he accused of propagating anti-Russian sentiment.
    He said Russia would keep trying to normalize relations with Georgia.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn and Margarita Antidze; Editing by Catherine Evans, Hugh Lawson and David Gregorio)

6/20/2019 EU agrees to extend economic sanctions on Russia until 2020 by Gabriela Baczynska
Euro coins are seen in front of a banknote of Russian rouble in this picture illustration taken in Zenica, April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to prolong until the end of January 2020 economic sanctions against Russia over the turmoil in Ukraine, a spokesman for the bloc said.
    The EU first slapped sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and supported rebels fighting Kiev troops in the east of the country.    That conflict, which killed 13,000 people, is still simmering.
    “Russia sanctions unanimously extended for another six months because of a lack of Minsk Agreements implementation,” said the spokesman, Preben Aman, referring to a stalled peace accord for east Ukraine.
    The downing in east Ukraine in July 2014 of a Malaysian passenger plane led to a toughening of the EU’s response to the crisis.    All 298 people aboard, many of them Dutch, perished.
    A Dutch-led international investigative team on Wednesday said three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for bringing down the MH17 flight.
    EU leaders also gave their “full support for all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability for the victims and their next of kin.”    Their joint statement called “on Russia to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.”
    The EU’s economic sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine include curbs on Russian energy, defense and financial sectors and are currently in place until the end of July. The formal roll-over will take place in the coming days.
    The bloc on Thursday also extended for a year until June 2020 its separate sanctions that ban the bloc from doing business with Russia-annexed Crimea.
    The bloc also expressed “utmost concern” about President Vladimir Putin’s decree allowing Ukrainians in the troubled east to get Russian passports under simplified procedures.
    The EU’s Russia hawks, Poland and Lithuania, are among those pushing to extend the bloc’s punitive measures against Moscow over the passport issue.
    But any new EU sanctions would require unanimity among all the 28 national leaders of the bloc and no new sanctions are expected swiftly as most others – including Italy, Germany and France – are opposed.
    The leaders agreed, however, that the bloc would “consider further options, including non-recognition of Russian passports” issued in east Ukraine which undermine the peace process.
    In Moscow, Putin said in his annual televised question-and-answer session on Thursday that the fate of 24 Ukrainian sailors held by Russia since last year must be linked to the release of Russian citizens held in Ukraine whom Moscow wants to see freed.
    The EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday demanded that Russia releases the Ukrainian servicemen “unconditionally,” their joint statement read.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Jan Strupczewski, Editing by Toby Chopra and James Dalgleish)

6/21/2019 Georgian president accuses Russian ‘fifth column’ of stirring unrest by Margarita Antidze
People hold a rally to protest against the visit of the Russian delegation near the
parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili late on Thursday called Russia “an enemy and occupier” whose “fifth column” she suggested was behind violent unrest which she warned risked dividing the ex-Soviet state.
    Zurabishvili’s comments, issued in a statement, followed violent scenes in the Georgian capital Tbilisi after police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to stop crowds from storming the parliament building.
    The clashes, which Moscow blamed on radical Georgian political forces whom it accused of propagating anti-Russian sentiment, left dozens injured.
    The crowds were angry about the visit of Sergei Gavrilov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament. Gavrilov was taking part in the     Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.
    Gavrilov, president of the IAO’s General Assembly, addressed delegates in his native Russian from the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat on Thursday.    That angered some politicians and Georgians who want Russia kept at arm’s length.
    “Russia is our enemy and occupier.    The fifth column it manages may be more dangerous than open aggression,” Zurabishvili posted on her Facebook page.
    “Only Russia benefits from a split in the country and society and internal confrontation, and it’s the most powerful weapon today.”
    Russian influence in Georgia remains a politically sensitive subject.    The small country, a U.S. ally, fought and lost a short war against Moscow in 2008.
    The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since, and Russia went on to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops are now garrisoned.
    Zurabishvili, who was visiting Belarus, planned to cut short her official visit there due to events at home, her spokeswoman told Reuters.
    Protesters say they plan to take to the streets again on Friday evening.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/21/2019 Putin: No proof Russians downed Malaysian Airlines flight by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is deny charges against Russian citizens for their alleged roles in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 passenger jet.
    This comes after international investigators charged three Russians and one Ukrainian for the July 2014 catastrophe, which left nearly 300 people dead.
FILE – In this Thursday, July 17, 2014 file photo, a man walks amongst the debris at the crash site
of a passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)
    While speaking to reporters Thursday, Putin said there is no proof whatsoever and criticized the investigators by saying they ignored evidence provided by Russia.
    “We have our own version, we have presented it, but unfortunately nobody is eager to listen to us,” stated the Russian president.    “Until there is a true dialogue, we will not find a right answer and the questions about the tragedy of the airplane and the death of people will be still open.”
    Putin also blamed Ukraine for setting the stage for the tragedy, saying they failed to close their airspace to commercial flights.

6/21/2019 ‘New blood’ in Ukraine parliament will ease reform path: Zelenskiy party chief by Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Matthias Williams
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen in his office at the Presidential Administration
building in Kiev, Ukraine June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine can pass reforms to make politicians more accountable and lift a ban on the sale of farmland after lawmakers hostile to change are tossed out in a July snap election, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s party told Reuters.
    Zelenskiy scored a landslide presidential election victory in April and the ex-comedian holds a commanding opinion poll lead going into next month’s parliamentary election, though his Servant of the People party may fall short of a majority.
    He had no prior political experience but Zelenskiy’s anti-establishment message and unorthodox style – relying heavily on social media and jokes to cut through to voters – has resonated with an electorate fed up with corruption and politics as usual.
    Dmytro Razumkov, the head of Zelenskiy’s party, said parliament has blocked the president’s reform initiatives, including bills to strip lawmakers of immunity from prosecution and another on officials illegally enriching themselves.
    He thinks that will change once Zelenskiy’s party wins its first seats and parliament, now filled with lawmakers loyal to Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko, is overhauled.
    Razumkov said his party was open to forming a coalition with other parties but declined to name them.
    “I think that the time has come for a transfusion in the Verkhovna Rada and the emergence of new blood, young blood in the rather old-fashioned building of the Verkhovna Rada,” Razumkov said in an interview at his party headquarters.
    Razumkov said Zelenskiy’s party would try to persuade parliament to lift a moratorium on the sale of farmland that has been in force since 2001. This step is backed by foreign donors and businesses who see huge investment potential.
    Ukraine’s fertile land already makes it one of the world’s top grain exporters but some fear that lifting the moratorium means small landholders might be bullied to sell their land on the cheap to big businesses or foreigners.
    Razumkov said Zelenskiy’s team would create the right legal framework to make sure that does not happen, but did not give a timeline for when the moratorium could be lifted.
    A priority for any new government will be Kiev’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund, whose cash-for-reforms aid programs supported Ukraine through conflict with Russian-backed forces and an economic crash since 2014.
    Zelenskiy plans to negotiate a new IMF deal after the election to replace an existing $3.9 billion standby agreement.     “Today, talking about some red lines, I think, is premature,” said Razumkov, when asked what red lines in the talks the new government would have.
    A potential sticking point is the IMF’s demand for Ukraine to deregulate household heating tariffs and bring them up to market levels.     The policy has sparked criticism from lawmakers and citizens in the past who say it hurts living standards.
    “If we are talking about raising or lowering the price of gas and the requirements of the IMF, the IMF does not formulate this position,” Razumkov said, saying the Fund wanted a balanced budget.    “And you can balance the budget in many ways.”
    “The IMF has recently begun to take a rather tough position, because this organization is fed up when it is constantly being deceived,” he said.
    “I can cite many examples when certain agreements were reached between Ukraine and the IMF, and then we did not fulfill our commitments,” he said, referring to the current authorities and parliament.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/22/2019 Georgia and Russia trade blame over unrest as crisis brews by Margarit Antidze and Andrew Osborn
People hold a rally to protest against the visit of the Russian delegation near the parliament
building in Tbilisi, Georgia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Georgia and Russia traded blame on Friday for an outbreak of unrest in Tbilisi sparked by the visit of a Russian lawmaker with the Kremlin announcing it would suspend passenger flights between the two countries to protect its citizens.
    Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili had earlier blamed Moscow for the unrest, suggesting a “fifth column” loyal to Moscow had stirred up trouble, an allegation Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dismissed as a distortion of reality.
    Violence flared in the Georgian capital late on Thursday, where police used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop crowds furious about the visit of a Russian delegation from storming parliament.
    Hundreds of people, both protesters and police officers, were injured, some seriously, as demonstrators pushed against lines of riot police, threw bottles and stones, and grabbed shields, drawing a tough response.
    Though ostensibly about how Georgia handles relations with Russia, with whom it fought and lost a brief war in 2008, opposition parties have sought to seize the moment to press much wider and unrelated demands and called on people to take to the streets again on Friday evening.
    Thousands gathered outside parliament where opposition leaders gave the floor to young activists and students.
    “We are here to show our anger and our readiness to change this country,” one of the activists said.
    Police were present, though not in large numbers, and the protest, unlike Thursday’s demonstration, was peaceful.
    The speaker of parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, resigned earlier on Friday, satisfying one of the protesters’ demands.
    A coalition of opposition parties has demanded the interior minister’s resignation as well, the release of detained protesters, and talks on holding an early parliamentary election.
    Tamar Kordzaia, leader of the opposition Republican Party, said protests would continue to press those demands.
    Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi are running high and President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Friday suspending Russian passenger flights from Russia to Georgia from July 8 to protect people from what the Kremlin called criminal actions.
    Putin also recommended Russian travel agencies suspend tours to Georgia and ordered the government to bring Russian tourists already there home.    Over 1 million Russian tourists holiday in Georgia each year.
    Georgian President Zurabishvili had earlier called Russia “an enemy and occupier” and suggested Moscow had helped trigger Thursday’s protests.
    “Russia is our enemy and occupier.    The fifth column it manages may be more dangerous than open aggression,” Zurabishvili posted on her Facebook page.
    Medvedev said Zurabishvili either didn’t know what she was talking about or was wilfully distorting the situation, while the Kremlin blamed radical Georgian politicians for what it called “an anti-Russian provocation.”
    Russian influence in Georgia remains a politically sensitive subject, with the opposition accusing the ruling Georgian Dream party – which backed Zurabishvili for the presidency late last year – of being too meek when it comes to confronting Moscow.
    The small south Caucasus nation, a U.S. ally, fought and lost a short war against Moscow in 2008.    The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since, and Russia went on to recognize the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops are now garrisoned.
    Protesters remain angry about the visit of a Russian delegation led by Sergei Gavrilov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, which was taking part in an event designed to foster relations between Orthodox Christian lawmakers on Thursday.
    Gavrilov addressed delegates in his native Russian from the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat, angering some Georgian politicians and citizens who want Russia kept at arm’s length.
    Gavrilov told a Moscow news conference on Friday he believed the protests had been pre-planned.
    “Our common view is that there’s an obvious attempt in Georgia right now to stage a coup d’etat and that extremist forces are trying to seize power,” he said.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the safety of Gavrilov and other members of the Russian delegation had been endangered.
    “Everything that happened yesterday in Georgia is nothing other than an anti-Russian provocation,” said Peskov.
    Georgia, crisscrossed by energy pipelines, hopes one day to join the European Union and NATO, an ambition which has infuriated Moscow, the country’s former Soviet overlord.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Maria Kiselyova, Vladimir Soldatkin and Anastasia Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow Writing by Andrew Osborn/Margarita Antidze, Editing by Gareth Jones, Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean)

6/23/2019 Czechs demand PM Babis quit in biggest protest since communist era by Michael Kahn
A demonstrator waves a Czech Republic flag during a protest rally demanding resignation of
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague, Czech Republic, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Milan Kammermayer
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – An estimated quarter of a million Czechs rallied in Prague on Sunday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, in the biggest show of public discontent since the 1989 Velvet Revolution which overthrew Communism.
    The rally in Letna park was the culmination of a series of demonstrations in recent weeks against Babis, who has faced investigations over alleged fraud and conflicts of interest, claims he vehemently denies.
    Organizers said they believed that about 250,000 people had attended Sunday’s rally.    Phone operator T-Mobile said its network usage analysis put the number of participants at over 258,000. A police spokesman declined to give an estimate.
    The total population of the Czech Republic is 10.7 million.
    Protesters carried banners saying “Resign,” “We’ve had enough,” “We won’t give up democracy,” and others waved Czech and EU flags.    Many families brought children to the rally, which was peaceful as were other recent protests against both Babis and his justice minister.
    Babis has said people have the right to protest but has firmly refused to step down.    His populist ANO movement remains the most popular party, although its support has dipped slightly in the past two months to 27.5%, according to a poll by Kantar agency released on June 9.
    Babis also has enough backing in parliament, where a no-confidence vote planned for Wednesday is likely to fail.
    Police proposed in April that Babis, a billionaire businessman-turned-politician sometimes likened to U.S. President Donald Trump, should be formally charged for fraud in tapping a European Union subsidy a decade ago to build a hotel and conference center outside Prague. He denies any wrongdoing.
    The appointment of a new justice minister just after the police announcement prompted rallies by demonstrators suspicious that Babis was trying to influence proceedings. Babis has also vigorously denied that claim.
    “Our country has many problems and the government is not solving them.    It is not solving them because the only worry of the prime minister is how to untangle himself from his personal problems,” said Mikulas Minar, a 26-year-old theology student who set up the Million Moments for Democracy, a civic group that organized the protests.
    “It is unacceptable for our prime minister to be a person under criminal investigation,” he told the crowd from a giant rock festival-like stage.
    No politicians were invited to address the rally, the organizers said.
    Filip Rubas, who joined protests in 1989 against the then communist regime, said he turned out on Sunday to send a message to politicians that they will be held accountable.
    “We think our leaders need to be reminded very strongly that they do not own our country, that they are not above the law (or constitution) and that there are still enough caring people who are not brainwashed by hateful propaganda,” said Rubas, 50.
    He traveled to the rally with his wife and a group of friends from Brno, the country’s second city, 200 km (125 miles) from Prague.
    Babis, 64, suffered another setback from leaked preliminary results of an audit by the European Commission, which determined he is in conflict of interest as the beneficiary of trust funds where he had transferred his chemicals, farming, media and food business, valued at $3.7 billion by Forbes.
    Babis insists the audit, which said companies in the trust fund should not be eligible for EU development subsidies, is wrong and this would be proven in the final conclusions, expected late this year or early in 2020.
(Writing by by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Susan Fenton and Gareth Jones)

6/24/2019 Russia says tightening checks on wine imports from Georgia by Margarita Antidze and Maria Kiselyova
FILE PHOTO - Bottles of Georgian wine are displayed at the wine shop in Tbilisi, Georgia June 20, 2017. REUTERS/
    TBILISI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Monday it was tightening checks on the quality of Georgian wine imports, deepening tensions between the ex-Soviet neighbors after a visit by a Russian lawmaker sparked angry protests in Tbilisi.Russian state consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said in a statement it was taking the step because of concerns about the quality of imported Georgian wine, but Moscow has in the past used bans on wine imports as a weapon in political disputes with Georgia.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, on a conference call with reporters on Monday, denied any link between the extra checks on wine imports and the increased political tensions, but also said Georgia was in the grip of a wave of “Russophobic hysteria” he said was being whipped up artificially and was getting worse.
    The protests in Tbilisi erupted last week, when Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov addressed the Georgian parliament from the speaker’s chair, speaking in Russian.
    That unleashed simmering resentment among many Georgians, angry at Russian support for breakaway regions in Georgia and unhappy over what they see as the Tbilisi government’s failure to stand up to its much more powerful northern neighbor.
    Police used tear gas and rubber bullets on Thursday to prevent crowds of protesters from storming Georgia’s parliament.    Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously.
    Since those protests, Moscow and Tbilisi have traded accusations, with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili saying a “fifth column” loyal to Moscow had stirred up the trouble.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin banned Russian airlines from flying to Georgia.
    On Monday Peskov said the ban on flights did not amount to Russian sanctions on Georgia but was a temporary restriction to safeguard Russian tourists.
    Protests against Russian interference in Georgian affairs are expected to continue outside the parliament in Tbilisi on Monday.
(Writing by Christian Lowe and Margarita Antidze; editing by Gareth Jones)

6/24/2019 Kremlin: Georgia in grip of Russophobic hysteria
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ex-Soviet Georgia is in the grip of a wave of Russophobic hysteria which is being artificially whipped up and is getting worse, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
    He said Russia was not imposing sanctions on Tbilisi, but had been forced to halt Russian airline flights to Georgia to protect its citizens after violent protests flared at the end of law week, some of them directed against Russia.
    Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has blamed Moscow for the unrest, suggesting a “fifth column” loyal to Moscow had stirred up trouble.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/24/2019 Russian air force plane lands in Venezuela: witness, website by Manaure Quintero
An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero
    MAIQUETIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – A Russian air force plane landed on Monday in Venezuela’s main airport, according to a Reuters witness and a website that tracks plane movements, three months after a similar arrival spurred a war of words between Washington and Moscow.
    Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela in March carrying Russian defense officials and 100 troops, leading the United States to accuse Russia of “reckless escalation” of the situation in the struggling South American nation.
    An Ilyushin 62 jet with tail number RA-86496 on Monday was parked at Maiquetia International Airport, according to a Reuters witness.
    That tail number is registered to a Russian Air Force jet, according to website Flightradar24, and matches the tail number of the plane that arrived in March.
    U.S. President Donald Trump in March ordered Russia to remove all troops from Venezuela, while Russia’s foreign ministry said the planes were only carrying specialists who were servicing arms sales contracts.
    Venezuela’s information ministry and Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Manaure Quintero in Maiquetia, Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

6/24/2019 Russia threatens more economic pain in standoff with Georgia by Margarita Antidze and Maria Kiselyova
Protesters attend a rally against a Russian lawmaker's visit near the parliament
building in Tbilisi, Georgia June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Monday served notice to ex-Soviet Georgia it faces painful consequences if anti-Russian protests are not brought under control, saying it was tightening controls on wine imports that bring Georgia millions of dollars in revenue each year.
    Violent protests broke out in front of Georgia’s parliament building last week after Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov addressed the Georgian parliament from the speaker’s chair, speaking in Russian.
    That unleashed simmering resentment among many Georgians, who feel angry and humiliated that they have to maintain friendly ties with Moscow even though Russia briefly invaded their country in 2008 and still backs two breakaway regions of Georgia.
    Georgia’s president, French-born Salome Zurabishvili, blamed a “fifth column” loyal to Moscow for stirring up the trouble, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that “Russophobic hysteria” was being artificially whipped up in Georgia.
    The Russian state consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said in a statement it was introducing the tougher checks on wine imports because of concerns about the quality of Georgian consignments.    Kremlin spokesman Peskov denied any link to the political row.
    But Moscow has in the past used bans on wine imports as a weapon in political disputes with Georgia.    Russia has already suspended flights to Georgia by Russian airlines, hitting tourism, another major source of revenue for the Georgian economy.
    When the protests first erupted on Thursday, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent crowds of protesters from storming Georgia’s parliament.    Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously.
    The protests have quickly developed into a double crisis: pitting Moscow against Tbilisi and pitting the protesters in Georgia against their own government, which has for years tried to smooth over differences with Moscow.
    In a move that the anti-government protesters hailed as a victory, the ruling Georgian Dream party said that for the 2020 parliamentary election, the country would switch from a mixed electoral system to a proportional system, with no threshold for parties to get into parliament.
    The switch was scheduled to happen anyway in 2024, but the protesters had been demanding that the change be brought forward.    A proportional system is likely to make it harder for Georgian Dream to maintain its dominance in parliament without building a coalition.This is your first success, first victory,” Elene Khoshtaria, a leader of the European Georgia opposition party, said at a briefing, addressing her remarks to the protesters.
    She said that the other demand of protesters, the interior minister’s resignation, should be also fulfilled.    Protests outside parliament are expected to continue on Monday.
    Protests continued on Monday.    Hundreds of cars and motorbikes drove in the city center, waving national flags and sounding their horns.
(Writing by Christian Lowe and Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/24/2019 Putin extends ban on European food imports until end of 2020
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual nationwide televised phone-in show
in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday extending a Russian ban on food imports from the European Union until the end of 2020, according to a government database.
    Russia imposed an embargo on a wide range of imports from the EU and other countries in 2014 in retaliation for international sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Anastasia Teterevleva; writing by Maria Kiselyova; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/25/2019 Russia warns of repeat of 1962 Cuban missile crisis
The Russian guided missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov enters Havana's bay, Cuba, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. deployment of land-based missile systems near Russia’s borders could lead to a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Monday.
    Russia has been fiercely critical of U.S. plans to deploy missile systems in eastern Europe, and of Washington’s withdrawal from the INF arms control treaty.
    The Cuban missile crisis erupted in 1962 when the Soviet Union responded to a U.S. missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
    The crisis was defused when Soviet ships headed for Cuba turned back in the face of a U.S. naval blockade. Eventually, the Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba; in return, the United States promised not to invade Cuba and, secretly, said it would remove the U.S. missiles from Turkey.
    “If things get as far as an actual deployment on the ground of these sorts of systems, then the situation won’t just get more complicated, it will escalate right to the limit,” RIA news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.
    “We could find ourselves in a situation where we have a rocket crisis close not just to the crisis of the 1980s but close to the Caribbean crisis,” Ryabkov said, using the standard Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin made similar remarks in February, when he warned that Moscow would match any U.S. move to deploy new nuclear missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States, deploying faster missiles or both.
    Earlier that month, the United States said it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in six months unless Moscow ended violations of the landmark 1987 arms control pact. Russia denies any violations.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Larry King)

6/24/2019 Bosnian Serbs pull reserve police plan under Western pressure
FILE PHOTO: Serb police officers stand watch in Banja Luka in the Serb Republic
part of Bosnia, January 09, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Bosnia’s Serb entity on Monday withdrew a bill to set up a reserve police force under pressure from Western peace envoys who said it would be divisive, with memories still fresh of reservists’ role in ethnic cleansing during the 1992-95 war.
    The legislation was pulled by the Serb Republic’s Interior Ministry a day before it was due for passage by its nationalist-dominated parliament as Western diplomats warned it would raise tensions with Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats.
    Lawmakers had in April approved a draft of the law for a reserve police force, a move that Bosniaks and Croats living in the Federation, the other post-war entity in Bosnia, quickly denounced as threatening.
    Serb Republic police officials said the reserve force was needed to help tackle extra security threats including illegal migrants coming from outside Europe, or weather disasters.
    The country’s other region, the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats, has protested against the move and announced it would form in turn its own auxiliary police forces.
    But on Monday, the Serb Republic Interior Ministry said it had withdrawn the law because a longer period of time and a greater degree of funding would be needed for the force to become operational as planned.
    Instead, the ministry will form a gendarmerie that will include young police recruits to help handle security challenges such as migrants, it said in a statement.
    Last week, a meeting of the Western-led body that continues to oversee the implementation of Bosnia’s 1995 peace accord said that the Bosnian Serb police reserve law would create a “negative spiral of distrust.”
    U.S. envoys also told Bosnia’s police chiefs that millions of dollars Washington has provided for police training and security assistance would be at risk if Serb authorities set up a police reserve without professional qualifications.
    Ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy also warned Milorad Dodik, the nationalist Serb chairman in Bosnia’s three-way presidency, that the reserve force would scare away investors.
    As a result of Monday’s decision by the Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry, its Federation counterpart dropped its plans for auxiliary police forces.
    Bosniaks and to a lesser degree Croats have gruesome memories of Serb reserve police forces who were widely blamed for massacres and expulsions of non-Serb civilians early in the 1990s war.
    More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict; Bosnian Serb leaders were convicted of genocide in U.N. war crimes trials and are serving long sentences.
(Reporting by Gordana Katana; Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/24/2019 EU’s top court finds cutting retirement age for Poland’s Supreme Court unlawful
FILE PHOTO - General view of Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s highest court ruled on Monday that Poland’s lowering of the retirement age for its supreme court judges was against EU law, in a blow to the Polish eurosceptic government.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through the change last year under judicial reforms the European Commission has said threatened the rule of law by increasing government control over the courts.
    “The Polish legislation concerning the lowering of the retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court is contrary to EU law,” the European Court of Justice said in its ruling.
    “The measures at issue breach the principles of the irremovability of judges and judicial independence.”
    The PiS has originally argued that the changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of residues of the Communist era in the judiciary.
    As an interim measure, the ECJ last December ordered Poland to suspend the law lowering the age of retirement, and in response the PiS amended the law to remove the obligation to retire judges already in office last year.
    But Polish President Andrzej Duda, the author of the law on the early retirement, insisted that there was nothing wrong with it and that the European Commission had exceeded its mandate.    The Commission therefore refused to withdraw the case from the ECJ.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Mark Heinrich)

6/25/2019 NATO calls on Russia to destroy new missile, warns of response by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media during the NATO Foreign Minister's Meeting
at the State Department in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO urged Russia on Tuesday to destroy a new missile before an August deadline and save a treaty that keeps land-based nuclear warheads out of Europe or face a more determined alliance response in the region.
    NATO defense ministers will discuss on Wednesday their next steps if Moscow keeps the missile system that the United States says would allow short-notice nuclear attacks on Europe and break the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
    “We call on Russia to take the responsible path, but we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.    “We will need to respond,” Stoltenberg said.
    He declined to go into more details.    But diplomats said defense ministers will consider more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training and the repositioning U.S. sea-based missiles.
    The United States and its NATO allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729/SSC-8 nuclear-capable cruise missile system, which Moscow has so far refused to do.    It denies any violations of the INF treaty, accusing Washington of seeking an arms race.
    Without a deal, the United States has said it will withdraw from the INF treaty on Aug. 2, removing constraints on its own ability to develop nuclear-capable, medium-range missiles.
    The dispute has deepened a fissure in East-West ties that severely deteriorated after Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its involvement in Syria.
    Russia warned on Monday of a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis if the United States were to deploy land-based missile systems near Russia’s borders, but Stoltenberg said there were no such plans.
    U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters that at present, Washington was only considering conventional, not nuclear weapons, in any possible response.
    “All options are on the table but we are looking at conventional systems, that’s important for our European allies to know,” she said.
    European allies are also worried about the deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s, and being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.
    The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
    The treaty bans land-based missiles with a range between 500 km and 5,500km (300-3400 miles).
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/25/2019 Council of Europe readmits Russia, five years after suspension over Crimea by Gilbert Reilhac
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe take part in a debate on the functioning of democratic
institutions in Turkey, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    STRASBOURG (Reuters) – Europe’s main human rights forum on Tuesday approved Russia’s readmission, the first time that an international sanction imposed for its seizure of Crimea in 2014 has been reversed, despite a stalling protest from Ukraine and Georgia.
    The decision, supported by France and Germany as a way of keeping communication open at a time of East-West tension, is a diplomatic boost for Russia, which has spent billions of dollars integrating Crimea but failed to secure Western recognition for its annexation from Ukraine.
    The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe voted by 118 votes to 62 just after midnight to restore Russia’s voting rights, suspended in 2014, a spokeswoman for the council said.
    The Council of Europe is the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights and creator of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
    Ukraine’s pro-Western prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, tweeted that it had showed “a display of utter contempt for international law” and Kiev said it was recalling its ambassador to the Council for consultations.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was frustrated after raising the issue last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
    Some 30 parliamentarians from Ukraine, Georgia and Baltic nations staged a protest by contesting the Russian delegation’s credentials, formally delaying Moscow’s reinstatement until another vote on Wednesday at which the credentials are expected to be ratified.
    The European Union continues to oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea and this month renewed punitive economic sanctions on Russia for another year.
    Russia was stripped of its voting rights in 2014 and then boycotted the assembly from 2016, refusing to pay its dues.
    While the West accuses Moscow of covert operations to try to undermine its democracies, European diplomats said part of the reason for supporting its return was economic.    Moscow’s departure left a 90 million euro ($102 million) hole in the Council’s budget – around 7% of contributions.
($1 = 0.8777 euros)
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev, writing by Robin Emmott in Brussels)

6/26/2019 Kremlin says work continues on possible Putin-Trump meeting
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen during the G20
leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Work continued on a possible meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G20 meeting this week, a Kremlin spokesman told reporters on Wednesday.
    Trump said last week he planned to meet Putin at the G20 summit in Japan.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Maria Kiselyova)

6/26/2019 NATO weighs options to deter new Russian missile threat by Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart
Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the
move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO defense ministers considered on Wednesday how to deter Russia from launching a missile attack at short notice on Europe if a landmark treaty against land-based nuclear warheads collapses next month.
    Barring a last-minute reversal by Russia that NATO does not expect, the United States is set to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Aug. 2 citing Russia’s development of a missile that breaks the accord.
    Moscow says it is fully compliant with the INF treaty negotiated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
    “Ministers have agreed that NATO will respond should Russia fail to return to compliance,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.
    “They will have to bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty,” although he said NATO would not place nuclear-capable, land-based medium-range missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s.
    U.S. and British intelligence shows Russia has conducted tests of the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile that violate the treaty ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500km (300-3,400 miles), NATO diplomats say.
    NATO says the missiles are hard to detect and have a shorter warning time than long-range rockets, raising the chances of nuclear weapons being used in conflict.
    The missile dispute marks a further worsening of East-West ties that have deteriorated since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and has prompted fears of an arms race between Russia, the United States and China, which is also developing missiles.
    Stoltenberg said defense ministers looked at options including more exercises, using conventional weapons and improving intelligence and surveillance, as well as air defense.
    Diplomats told Reuters that flights of F16 warplanes and B52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear warheads and re-positioning sea-based missile systems were also under consideration.
    Such steps are meant to underline NATO’s determination to protect Europe and raise the economic and military costs for Russia of any possible missile attack.
    Luxembourg’s Defence Minister François Bausch said that while diplomats would continue to urge Moscow to destroy the SSC-8 missile, NATO also needed “a military answer” because the security of Europe was at stake.
    NATO envoys are expected to meet Russian officials in the NATO-Russia Council forum next week to make a last-ditch attempt to save the INF treaty before the August deadline.     Kathryn Wheelbarger, an acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said that while there was still time for Russia to change course, “we don’t assess that they will.”     Before the meeting got under way, Stoltenberg declined to rule out that NATO could reconfigure its ballistic missile defense shield in southeastern Europe to counter Russian rockets.     After billions of dollars of U.S. investment, the NATO-controlled radar and its launchers are trained on Iran, officials say, and the alliance has repeatedly said they are not designed to target Russia, as Moscow has stated.     The United States says it will also focus on developing conventional missiles that serve as a deterrent to both Russia and China, which is not a signatory to the INF treaty and has stated its intention to push into new technologies including new cruise missiles.     “We need to build long-range precision (missiles),” Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday en route to Brussels.    “Relief from the INF treaty will allow us to do that in a non-nuclear way, in a conventional way.    And it also frees us up to deal with not just Russia but China.”
    European allies are worried about being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/27/2019 Denmark’s new Social Democratic prime minister names government
Mette Frederiksen, Denmark's new prime minister presents the new Danish government outside the doors of the
Amalienborg royal palace in Copenhagen, Denmark June 27, 2019. Ritzau Scanpix/Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s new Social Democratic prime minister on Thursday presented her team of 20 ministers which includes former member of the European Parliament Jeppe Kofod as foreign minister and Nikolaj Wammen as finance minister.
    Kofod has headed the Special Committee on Tax Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance in the parliament and been a vocal critic of a major money laundering scandal at Danish lender Danske Bank.
    Denmark will become the third Nordic country this year to form a leftist government after Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen agreed terms for a one-party minority government earlier this week.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/27/2019 Czech government survives no-confidence vote by Jan Lopatka
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends the European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech minority government led by the populist ANO party on Thursday survived a vote of no confidence called by the opposition, after a series of public protests against Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
    Babis, a billionaire turned politician, has faced pressure from investigations into alleged fraud over EU subsidies and conflicts of interest regarding ties to his former business empire, one of the largest in the central European EU nation.
    The no-confidence motion secured just 85 votes in the 200-seat lower house of parliament after 17 hours of debate that stretched past midnight.
    The outcome was expected after ANO’s coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, and the Communist party, which has also been backing the government, both declined to join opposition parties to oust Babis.
    Babis denies wrongdoing and has called investigations against him a plot by opponents.    Despite a slight slide in the latest opinion poll, ANO remains the most popular party by a wide margin.
    “I take this initiative as an attempt to destabilize the country,” Babis told parliament before the vote.    “We do not want (early election) and I hope that our government rules until the end of its mandate.”
    The vote gives Babis temporary respite but he will face more pressure.
    The Social Democrats backed Babis but their relationship with Babis has been increasingly fragile, and a number of party officials have spoken for leaving the cabinet.
    On Sunday, more than a quarter a million people demanded that Babis quit at the biggest public protest in the country of 10.7 million since the end of communist rule in 1989.
    Prosecutors are weighing whether to force him to stand trial over cheating accusations, in getting a 2 million euro European subsidy for a hotel and conference center a decade ago.
    Around year-end, the European Commission will also finalize audits whose preliminary findings showed Babis was in conflict of interest and some of his former firms, now sitting in trust funds, received millions of euros in EU aid illegally.
    The EU audit could be a headache for Babis if it means his former chemicals, food, media and farming empire employing more than 30,000 people has to return some past EU aid and loses access to future funding.
    A snap election is not a likely scenario but analysts have said Babis, if pressed, may decide to step aside and nominates a loyalist colleague as prime minister while continuing as decision-maker behind the scenes.
    Such a scenario would satisfy the main demand of the opposition and protesters.
    Babis’s ouster or resignation would make President Milos Zeman the key power broker, as he appoints prime ministers.
    He has said he would give Babis another mandate, and in the past said he would prefer an ANO alliance with the Communists as well as the far-right, anti-European Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

6/27/2019 Russia’s Putin says liberal values are obsolete: Financial Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a reception to honour officers and graduates of military and security
agencies' academies at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 27, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published on Thursday that liberal values were obsolete because they had been rejected by the majority of the people in Western nations.
    Putin told the Financial Times newspaper that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made a cardinal mistake by adopting a liberal policy towards immigration from the Middle East.
    “The liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done.    The migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants must be protected.    What rights are these?    Every crime must have its punishment,” Putin said in the interview.
    “So, the liberal idea has become obsolete.    It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population,” he said.
    Putin said Russia is not homophobic, but that a Western willingness to embrace homosexuality and gender fluidity seemed excessive to him.
    “Traditional values are more stable and more important for millions of people than this liberal idea, which, in my opinion, is really ceasing to exist.”
    Putin also said he had the impression that liberal circles were set on using problems being experienced by the Catholic church to destroy the church.
(Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/28/2019 Putin: Meeting with British PM could be step to moving past Skripal row
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news briefing after an annual nationwide televised
phone-in show in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a published interview he believed his meeting with Britain’s Theresa May at the G20 summit this week could help repair relations after the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.
    He said that the incident was an issue between intelligence agencies and should not be allowed to damage relations and economic interests shared by Britain and Russia.
    Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, Putin said May may have – given that she is soon to step down as British leader – more scope to take long-sighted decisions about rehabilitating ties with Moscow.
    “All this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not worth serious interstate relations.    This spy story, as we say, it is not worth five kopecks.    Or even five pounds, for that matter,” Putin said in the interview.
    “I think that both Russia and the UK are interested in fully restoring our relations.    At least I hope that a few preliminary steps will be made,” he added.
    “I think it would be easier for Mrs May, maybe, because she is leaving and is free to do what she thinks is right, important and necessary and not to bother about some domestic political consequences.”
    Bilateral relations plunged to post-Cold War lows last year when London blamed Moscow for poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury.
    Moscow denies involvement in the attack, which prompted the biggest wave of diplomatic expulsions between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
    British prosecutors have charged two Russian military intelligence officers, known by the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, in absentia with attempted murder over the attack.
    May last met Putin at a G20 summit in Argentina in November, when the Russian leader approached her informally.
(Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/28/2019 UK PM May tells Putin to stop destabilizing activities: spokeswoman
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives ahead of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May told President Vladimir Putin on Friday that their countries can only have a different relationship if Russia stops the behavior that threatens to undermine international security, her spokeswoman said.
    May also Putin to hand over the Russia suspects Britain blames for poisoning a former double agent and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury, southern England last year.
    “She told the president that there cannot be a normalization of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops the irresponsible and destabilizing activity that threatens the UK and its allies,” the spokeswoman said.
    “The prime minister said that the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury formed part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behavior and was a truly despicable act.”
(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison)

6/28/2019 Poland must maintain judicial independence: human rights official by Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during his media statement
at the party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government needs to do more to preserve judicial independence and avoid “undermining public confidence in it,” the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report published on Friday.
    Since taking office in 2015, Poland’s eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has carried out judicial reforms that European Union authorities say threaten the rule of law.
    The party’s blend of social spending and nationalist rhetoric remains popular, however, and it is widely expected to win a national election due later this year.
    In her report, commissioner Dunja Mijatovic was broadly critical of the government’s handling of judicial reform and added that the credibility of the Constitutional Tribunal, the guardian of the constitution, had been seriously compromised.
    “Improving accountability or efficiency of the justice system may not be pursued at the expense of judicial independence,” she said in a press release announcing the report.
    “Members of the executive and the legislature have a duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary and to avoid undermining public confidence in it,” she said.
    In a comment on the report, the government dismissed her criticisms and said its judicial overhaul, which includes changes modifying the way in which judges are appointed, were conducted lawfully.
    The government said all judges in the Constitutional Tribunal were appointed legally.    “The Tribunal under the current President carries out its duties in line with the Constitution and the statutes,” the government said.
    PiS justifies its reforms by saying the efficiency of courts needed to be improved and the changes will root out the lasting remains of communism, which fell in Poland 30 years ago.
    Some of the changes to the judiciary PiS has made have been rolled back in the wake of EU protests, including a law forcing Supreme Court judges into early retirement.
    But Mijatovic said more needed to be done, criticizing the fusing of the functions of the justice minister and prosecutor-general and demanding the separation of the positions.    She also expressed surprise at the dismissal of court presidents and vice-presidents as well as prosecutors across Poland.
    In 2016 PiS appointed a new head of the Constitutional Tribunal, Julia Przylebska, a friend of ruling party president Jaroslaw Kaczynski.     On Thursday, Przylebska ruled in favor of the government by deciding that a printer in Lodz, central Poland, was right to refuse printing LGBT posters.
    Activists have said that this ruling opens the door to discrimination against people not only for their sexual preferences, but also over their race and political beliefs.
    LGBT rights have become a hot-button issue in Poland ahead of an election scheduled for October or November, with PiS depicting campaigners as a threat to traditional Polish values.
    Mijatovic’s report also touched on women’s rights in Poland, including securing access to legal abortions.
    Termination of pregnancy is legal in Poland in case of rape, when the woman’s life or health are in danger, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged, but the media and NGOs have reported that women have difficulties obtaining abortions in such cases.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Editing by William Maclean)

6/28/2019 UK’s May tells Putin that Russia must end ‘irresponsible activity’
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attend a meeting on the sidelines
of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May told Vladimir Putin on Friday Russia must end its “irresponsible and destabilizing activity” if relations between the two countries, soured the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil, were to improve.
    May also told the Russian president during their meeting at the G20 summit in Japan that she wanted the two Russians Britain says is responsible for the attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury last year brought to justice, her office said in a statement.
    “The prime minister said that the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury formed part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behavior and was a truly despicable act that led to the death of a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess,” the statement said.
    “(She) underlined that we remain open to a different relationship, but for that to happen the Russian government must choose a different path.”
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

6/28/2019 Kremlin says Trump showed readiness to start dialogue on stability, disarmament
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a bilateral meeting at
the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has shown readiness to start a dialogue with Russia on strategic stability and disarmament, and to improve trade relations, the Kremlin’s spokesman said on Friday, Russian news agencies reported.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, who met during the G20 summit in Osaka, also discussed the issue of Ukrainian sailors detained by Russia in late 2018, Dmitry Peskov said.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh)

6/28/2019 Putin invites Trump to Moscow for 2020 V-Day
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting on the sidelines of the
G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin invited his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Friday to attend the May 9 Victory Day commemorative events in Moscow next year, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Peskov told reporters Trump reacted positively and the two leaders who met at the G20 summit in Osaka discussed arms controls, the situation in Syria, ties with China and factors restricting mutual trade between Russia and the United States.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/29/2019 Erdogan says no setback in missile deal with Russia; as Trump voices sympathy
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their bilateral meeting
on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    OSAKA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Saturday there was no setback in its plan to buy Russian S-400 missile defence systems, despite U.S. opposition, and President Donald Trump expressed understanding for the decision but did not rule out sanctions in response.
    NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at odds over Turkey’s decision to procure the S-400s, with the United States warning of sanctions if the deal goes through.
    Turkey has dismissed the warnings and said it would not back down, as already strained ties between the two countries have deteriorated further over the dispute.
    Speaking before talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Japan, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the deal for the S-400s showed improving ties between Turkey and Russia.
    “Now, I believe eyes are on the delivery process of this issue, but there are no setbacks in our agreement,” Erdogan said, adding that it was a priority for Turkey that the deal includes joint production of the systems and a technology transfer.
    Erdogan also said it was important for Turkey to finish the first reactor in the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, its first nuclear plant, by 2023.    He said non-nuclear equipment at the plant should be procured from Turkey.
    The plant is being built by Russia’s Rosatom at a cost of more than $20 billion.
    Buying military equipment from Russia leaves Turkey vulnerable to U.S. retribution under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
    The United States says the S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s defence network and could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.
    In an effort to sway Turkey, the United States has offered to supply it with its Raytheon Co Patriot missiles, but Erdogan has said the U.S. offer was not as good as Russia’s S-400 proposal.
    Under the possible U.S. sanctions, Turkey could face expulsion from the F-35 programme among other measures that could deal a significant blow to Turkey’s ailing economy and its defence industry sector.
    Even minor U.S. sanctions could prompt another sharp sell-off in the Turkish lira.    A 30% slide in the currency drove the economy into recession last year.
    The lira has fallen another 10 percent this year, and markets remain on edge.
    Despite the threat of sanctions, Turkey has put its hopes in the relationship between Erdogan and Trump, saying it expected the U.S. president to protect it from sanctions over the S-400 deal.
    Erdogan, in comments ahead of a meeting with Trump, said he believed Turkey and the United States would act in line with their strategic partnership.
    Trump, sitting alongside Erdogan, said the United States faced a “complicated” situation in how to respond to the S-400 deal, adding that sanctions were being discussed.
    But signalling a potential solution, Trump also expressed sympathy with Erdogan, blaming former President Barack Obama’s administration for placing conditions on Turkey’s purchase of Patriot missiles and treating Turkey unfairly.
    “We have a very complicated situation because the president was not allowed to buy the Patriot missiles,” Trump said.
    “You can’t do business that way.    It’s not good.”
    “They would not let him buy the missile that he wanted to buy, which is the Patriot.    He’s a NATO member.    He’s somebody that I’ve become friendly with.    And you have to treat people fairly,” he said.
    “I don’t think he was treated fairly.”
    Asked if the United States would impose sanctions on Turkey, Trump said the issue was being discussed, but it was a “two-way street” and both sides were evaluating “different solutions.”
    In a readout of the meeting, which lasted for about 40 minutes, the White House said Trump “expressed concern” over the S-400 deal and “encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defence cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance
    The S-400s are expected to be delivered in Turkey in the first half of July.    Turkish officials have said discussions on where the systems would be stationed are underway.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow and Roberta Rampton in Osaka; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/29/2019 Russia, Japan make progress in joint activities on disputed islands: Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) approaches to shake hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their
news conference at G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool
    OSAKA (Reuters) – Russia and Japan have moved forward in setting up joint economic activities on a disputed chain of islands, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday after discussing a peace treaty with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
    Putin, speaking at a news briefing at the G20 summit in Osaka, also said that the two leaders discussed North Korea, adding that this issue could be resolved by political means.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/29/2019 Putin says Trump stressed issue of detained Ukrainian sailors
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media at the G20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, June 29, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    OSAKA (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that the issue of Ukrainian sailors detained by Russia in 2018 had dominated his talks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit but no decision on the sailors’ fate had been made yet.
    The Russian navy captured the Ukrainian sailors and their three vessels in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, on Nov. 25, 2018, after opening fire on them.
    Moscow accused them of illegally entering Russian waters, something that Kiev denies.    The United States and the European Union have urged Russia to release the men.
    “The president of the United States made this theme one of the priorities during our communications at the G20,” Putin told a news conference in Japan’s Osaka, adding that no decision had been made on the sailors’ fate and a court decision was awaited.
    Putin also said that the issue should not be used as a political tool in Ukraine where parliamentary elections are due in July.
    The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) said in May that Moscow should release the sailors immediately.     The Kremlin rebuffed the call.
    Apart from discussing the fate of the sailors, Putin and Trump showed mutual commitment to improving relations as they met at the G20 summit, with Trump calling it “a great honor” to meet his Russian counterpart.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova in Osaka; Additional reporting by Maria Vasilyeva and Anton Derbenev in Moscow; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/29/2019 Dutch queen criticized over meeting with Saudi prince
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands speaks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2019 (GES 2019)
in The Hague, Netherlands June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A United Nations official on Saturday joined Dutch lawmakers in criticizing Queen Maxima over a meeting she held with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka this week.
    U.N. rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard told newspaper Algemeen Dagblad it was “more than disappointing” that the Dutch queen had apparently not raised the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with the Saudi prince.
    “It’s one thing (for her) to meet this man, it’s something else to remain silent,” Callamard was quoting as saying.
    Callamard authored a U.N. report that found high-level Saudi officials including Crown Prince Salman should be investigated for the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
    The Dutch Royal House could not immediately be reached for comment, but local media cited a statement from the royals as confirming that the meeting had taken place.    It added that it had been obligatory for the queen to meet the crown prince because Saudi Arabia will host the next G-20.
    Maxima, an Argentine who married the Dutch crown prince in 2002, had addressed the G-20 in Japan about women’s empowerment.
    The Saudi Center for International Communication published a photo of the meeting on Twitter, saying “many topics were on the table” during their conversation.
    Callamard’s comments followed rare criticism of the royals by Dutch lawmakers, several of whom said they would table the matter for discussion in parliament on Monday.
    “Whoever approved this conversation between Maxima and the Saudi crown prince understands nothing of diplomacy and even less about what’s good public relations,” Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of the centrist D-66 Party, a member of the governing coalition, said in a statement on Twitter.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Helen Popper)

6/29/2019 Romania’s president eyes new term, not EU’s top job by Radu-Sorin Marinas
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis talks during a news conference after the European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s centrist President Klaus Iohannis said on Saturday he would decline any offer to get the European Union’s top job, seeking instead to win a fresh term as the country’s president.
    Iohannis, 60, an ethnic German whose promise to rein in corruption has helped make him Europe’s most popular political leader on Facebook, had been named by diplomats as a possible replacement to European Council head Donald Tusk.
    The country’s fourth president since the 1989 fall of communism, he inflicted a shock defeat on then premier Victor Ponta in 2014, on a promise to fight corruption in the EU’s most graft-prone member and be a unifying leader.
    “…There are important people, both in the country and in Europe, who would see me in a leading position in a European institution,” Iohannis told a gathering of ethnic German members of the FDGR party in his hometown of Sibiu.
    “I want to say it here now publicly: I am the president of Romania and I want to remain the president of Romania and not of the European Council, because there is much more to do here and I am willing to remain involved.”
    As Iohannis ranks first with about 43% in opinion polls to win a fresh term, far ahead of any other politician, his departure would have left his main ally, the centrist opposition National Liberal Party scrambling to find a suitable candidate to run in the November presidential ballot.
    A former high-school physics teacher, Iohannis was praised for his managerial skills in running the Transylvanian town of Sibiu. A descendant of Saxons who settled there in medieval times, he is Romania’s first president from an ethnic minority.
    Iohannis is a staunch critic of the ruling Social Democrat’s (PSD) drive to sap the judiciary.    Since taking power in late 2016, the PSD has chipped away at the independence of the judiciary, prompting criticism from the EU.
    Voters punished the PSD in a May 26 European Parliament election, which the party lost to centrist groupings.
    Romanians also overwhelmingly endorsed a non-binding referendum called by Iohannis to prevent the government from further changing legislation via emergency decree and from granting pardons and amnesty for graft convictions.
    PSD’s Prime Minister Viorica Dancila is expected to cement her leadership at the helm of the ruling party at a congress on Saturday. Her party has yet to nominate its choice for Romania’s presidential ballot.
(Editing by Stephen Powell)

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