From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2020 JULY-SEPTEMBER"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or return to King Of The North in 2020 April-June or continue to King Of The North in 2020 October-December
KING OF THE NORTH 2020 JULY-SEPTEMBER

WTO REGION 6 IN 1995 CENTRAL ASIA - RUSSIA, ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBIJIAN, CUBA
  • 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.

WTO REGION 5 IN 1995 WESTERN ASIA/EASTERN EUROPE – BALKAN STATES, POLAND, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, BULGARIA, CZECHO-SLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA, ALBANIA, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA.
  • 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.


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases.    He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    He is still in search of new nuclear missile with unlimited range, immune to enemy intercept, capable of penetrating any missile defense and can reach virtually any target around the world, “No defense systems will be able to withstand it nicknamed RS-28 Sarmat rocket — “Satan 2,” to wipe out an area the size of Texas or France.
    Putin has deployed a new hypersonic nuclear missile is highly maneuverable, allowing it to easily evade missile defense systems an Avangard missile developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation, and the new Space Force was the new system for deterence forcing China to get in on this.
    Russia deployed the S-350 Vityaz a new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex and Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes to Crimea, and Arctic region, the Baltic Sea, and easternmost Khabarovsk region, and their a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), and the Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system.
    Kiselyov, close to the Kremlin, said the “Tsirkon” (‘Zircon’) hypersonic missile that Russia is developing could hit the targets in less than five minutes if launched from Russian submarines.    Hypersonic flight is generally taken to mean traveling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.    “For now, we’re not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant,” he said.    Kiselyov is one of the main conduits of state television’s strongly anti-American tone, once saying Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.    Speed of sound 767 mph; 667 kilometre in 2.9 sec or a mile in 4.7 sec, therefore the missile 5 times can do it in 0.94 seconds and 1000 miles in 17 minutes.
    During 2019 I could see that several Eastern Europe countries wanted to join the other EU countries to change the policies of the Progressive Socialist parties who have pushed their valaues on all of the European Union's 28 nations for economic growth, security, family values, christian roots and forced Islamic Shria Law issues.
    Do you think that the nations newspapers in Russia put out fake news on Putin, which I assume they do not since they would be shut down that day.    The reason I said this is for the U.S. NY Times and Washington Post that if you keep pushing the Progressive Socialists Liberal Democrat views as you are doing you might find yourself being shut down for what you say in your paper like many of the countries in the world if that future occurs.    What concerns me the most is that is what you want.
    Russia also intends to propose holding a three-way summit on Syria in Russia with Iran and Turkey.    Keep in mind that Syria is a northern country bordered on Israel, and here we have Russia, Turkey and Iran making decisions of what will occur in Syria, and I see that the King of the North, King of the South, and possibly King of the East are setting up a future of biblical proportions, and the King of the West may be out of this picture as God wanted it to be to snare them when the time comes.
    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.    Putin also began pumping alot of oil since he remembered when Reagan lowered the price of a barrel as low as $20, and they could not buy enough wheat to feed them and that forced Russia to tear down the Berlin wall.    Oil was at $55 a barrel in 2019, so more oil pumped is $25 a barrel profit which he knew what Trump was doing to Iran.
    The U.S. was under the Progressive Socialist Liberal Democrats from 2009 to 2018 as Obama and his Czars slowly behind closed doors implemented their changes to the U.S.A. and controlled the press in such away that we did not know what they were doing until the public caught on in 2014 and elected the Republicans to control the House and the Senate, and in 2016 the Deplorables elected a Republican president Donald J. Trump who is turning it around and being attacked constantly.
    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.    A new Ukraine president Zelensky who was a comedian is taking over and trying to stop the corruption and the war with Russia over the Crimea, and is helping Trump against the corruption in his area.
    It was good to see that Hungary's Orban, and Poland's leaders have won some respect as those who stands by their beliefs and does not sell their souls to the liberal Geroge Soros prodigees and the EU leftist trying to control everyone.
    The Space Race is on again who can afford it and who will achieve it?
    The end of the year was filled with all the connection of Russia with Turkey, China, North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.     When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria and whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined if Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests     Ezekiel 38:1 and 18 or Ezekiel 39:1-8 which states about the entwining of Russia the King of the North and the Mideast Nations and the King of the South into the prophecy above in the very near future as the King of the West has pulled out of this mess which I think Trump made the right call probably due to God's influence.
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2020.


2020 JULY-SEPTEMBER

7/1/2020 Vote that could extend Putin’s rule culminates as Russians get cash payments by Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a polling station on the last day of a weeklong nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow,
Russia July 1, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russians with children received cash payments on Wednesday on the final day of a vote on constitutional changes that could allow Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
    State exit polls have suggested the changes will be backed by over two thirds of voters, who have been encouraged to vote with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other amendments designed to appeal to the populace.
    One amendment guarantees inflation-linked pensions; another says marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
    One-off payments of 10,000 roubles ($141) were distributed to those with children at Putin’s order as people headed to polling stations on the last day of the vote, held over seven days to try to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
    “I voted for the amendments to the constitution,” Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said.    “We need radical changes and I’m for them.”
    Others voted for the changes with less enthusiasm.
    “I didn’t read about the amendments if I’m honest,” another voter, Lyudmila, said.    “What’s the point of voting if they’ve already decided for you.    It’s like that in our country – read something and vote.    I voted.”
    Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister, made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in an eve-of-vote speech on Tuesday.
    The amendments would allow him to run for another two six-year, back-to-back stints if he wishes after his current term expires in 2024.
    Putin has said he has yet to decide on his future. Critics say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.
    At 60%, according to the Levada pollster, his approval rating remains high but well down on its peak of nearly 90%.
    With Russia reporting thousands of new COVID-19 cases each day, opponents have been unable to stage protests but have mocked the vote online, sharing photographs of polling stations in apartment stairwells, courtyards and the boot of a car.
    The opposition Communist Party, which has advised supporters to vote “no” to the changes, has complained of irregularities at two Moscow polling stations, where it said the number of those registered to vote at home was 10 times higher than normal.
    Investigators said on Tuesday they were looking into a journalist’s allegations he had been assaulted by two policemen at a polling station.
    Putin has said he wants a clean vote, something election officials have pledged to deliver.
    Golos, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, has said it is already clear it will not be able to confirm the outcome of the vote as legitimate.
($1 = 70.9075 roubles)
(Additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov, Peter Scott and Tom Balmforth; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/1/2020 Austria warns against travel to non-EU Western Balkan countries
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg attends a news
conference in Vienna, Austria, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria has issued travel warnings for Western Balkan countries outside the European Union (EU) due to a rise in coronavirus infections there, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Wednesday.
    The move by Austria, which has close ties to the region, is a particular blow for Serbia and Montenegro, which the EU on Tuesday added to its “safe list” of countries from which non-essential travel was allowed as of Wednesday.
    The Foreign Ministry said the travel warnings, which mean travellers from those countries are requested to go into 14 days’ self-isolation or show a negative coronavirus test – also apply to Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and North Macedonia.
    “We are hereby reacting … to the circumstances, not only the situation in those countries but also the fact that we see, for example in our neighbouring (EU) countries Croatia and Slovenia, an increase in clusters of people returning from travel in the Western Balkans,” Schallenberg told a news conference.
    Such clusters had also been observed in Austria, he said.
    Infections have risen sharply in the past month in the Western Balkans, though the region has generally had lower rates than much of western Europe.
    In the most high-profile incident involving coronavirus in the region, Novak Djokovic, the men’s world number one tennis player, tested positive last week and apologised to those who contracted it after playing in an exhibition tournament he organised in Serbia and Croatia.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/1/2020 Slovakia’s daily coronavirus cases jump back to 20
A man wearing a protective face mask holds toilet rolls received from others in nearby towns while the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) spreads in the area around Roma settlements, in Zehra, Slovakia April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus infections in Slovakia jumped back up to 20 on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since a week ago and the second highest since late April.
    The country was among the first to implement strict measures against the COVID-19 illness in March, which helped it to keep case numbers low.    Most of those measures have now been eased.
    Newly confirmed cases had dropped to single digits in late April and mostly stayed there until last week, when new reported infections rose to double-digits on four days, peaking at 23 on June 24 before dropping back to just two on Tuesday.
    Restrictions including closed borders, shops and schools and a ban on public events have been lifted, with gatherings of up to 1,000 people now allowed.
    As of June 30, the country of 5.4 million had 1,687 cases and 28 deaths.    The number of tests rose to 2,063 on Tuesday, the highest daily number since June 5.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/1/2020 Train time: Thousands of Czechs head to Croatia holidays the old way
A worker wearing protective gear holds a sanitizer, at the station in Rijeka, Croatia July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands of Czechs have booked a 15-hour direct train journey to Croatia where the coronavirus-weary travellers look forward to summer holidays on the seaside.
    On Tuesday, the first Czechs left for what has long been their nation’s favourite foreign vacation destination following the easing of travel curbs imposed to contain the coronavirus.
    The RegioJet train and bus service said it has sold more than 30,000 tickets for the route it plans to operate until September.
    From July 11, trains will go daily, each carrying up to 560 passengers, offering both seating and sleeping sections, with the starting price of 590 crowns ($24.95) for one leg of the journey via Slovakia’s Bratislava and Slovenia’s Ljubljana.
    Direct train service was dropped two years because it was loss-making.    Its resumption was a welcome change for travellers keen to avoid the high-season traffic jams that motorists risk.
    “I have done this trip several times by car…and I see this as very comfortable and a little bit of an adventure.    I like it and I think this is a new way to get to the sea,” Jan Vrana said aboard the train with his wife and son.
    Croatia has long been the first choice of many Czechs going abroad for holiday except during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 when neighbouring Slovakia, formerly in one state with the Czech Republic, took the top spot.
    Travelling to the Adriatic Sea has been a long tradition for the Czechs, dating to the early 20th century when they were part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire together with Croatia.
    Czechs also gravitated to Croatia during the Cold War era – ending in 1989 – when it was part of federal Yugoslavia, then a communist country like their homeland but with personal freedoms as it was outside the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc.     For many Czechs, Yugoslavia also became a conduit for emigration to the West as its borders with Austria and Italy were more porous than those along the Iron Curtain.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/1/2020 Russia reports 6,556 new coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: People rest on an embankment as cruise vessels sail near the Kremlin during an annual parade marking
the start of navigation on the Moskva River following the easing of lockdown measures, which were imposed to curb
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday reported 6,556 new cases of the novel coronavirus, taking its nationwide tally to 654,405.
    The country’s coronavirus response centre said 216 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 9,536.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/1/2020 Russians protest voter fraud extending Putin’s reign by OAN Newsroom
A woman holds a poster reading “July 1. Boycott of Putin’s amendments” protesting on Palace
Square in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
    Anti-government protests continue across Russia amid claims of rampant voter fraud in the recent constitutional referendum.    Thousands of residents took to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities on Wednesday to denounce the extension of Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036.
    Demonstrators claimed the vote featured rife procedural violations, including voting by non-citizens and ballot harvesting.
    According to them, millions of ballots were cast in trunks of cars, open cardboard boxes and parking garages.
    “The vote is just a show.    It is more for Putin to show that ‘Look, the people support me, I am still needed, I am in demand.”    "As a matter of fact, the majority of people are against him and are just afraid to speak out.” – Anton Zhuravlyov, resident
FILE – In this Feb. 29, 2020, file photo, protester holds a poster reading “Tired of” during a rally in memory
of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)
    The Kremlin has said 75% of Russians voted to amend the constitution.    However, independent exit polls revealed at least 50% of voters said “no” and the real turnout was dismally low.

7/2/2020 Russian voters agree to extend Putin’s rule to 2036 - But election observers
question turnout figures
by Vladimir Isachenkov and Daria Litvinova, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MOSCOW – Russian voters approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that concluded Wednesday was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.
    With the nation’s polls closed and 30% of all precincts counted, 74% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.
    For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic – a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.
    A massive propaganda campaign and the opposition’s failure to mount a coordinated challenge helped Putin get the result he wanted, but the plebiscite could end up eroding his position because of the unconventional methods used to boost participation and the dubious legal basis for the balloting.
    By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of Western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65%, according to election officials.    In some regions, about 90% of eligible voters cast ballots.
    On Russia’s easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, officials quickly announced full preliminary results showing 80% of voters supported the amendments, and in other parts of the Far East, they said more than 70% of voters backed the changes.
    Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.
    “We look at neighboring regions, and anomalies are obvious – there are regions where the turnout is artificially (boosted); there are regions where it is more or less real,” Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, told the Associated Press.     Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades – longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024.    He argued that resetting the term count was necessary to keep his lieutenants focused on their work instead of “darting their eyes in search for possible successors.”
    “Putin lacks confidence in his inner circle, and he’s worried about the future,” said analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant.    “He wants an irrefutable proof of public support.”
    In Moscow, several activists briefly lay on Red Square, forming the number “2036” with their bodies in protest before police stopped them.    Some others in Moscow and St. Petersburg staged one-person pickets, and police didn’t intervene.
    Several hundred opposition supporters rallied in central Moscow to protest the changes, defying a ban on public gatherings imposed for the coronavirus outbreak.    Police didn’t intervene and even handed masks to the participants.
A man’s sign reads: “Need to change the president but not the Constitution,” as
Russians vote on constitutional reforms. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
[DOES ANYONE WANT TO VOTE TO SEE WHO IS THE KING OF THE NORTH?].

7/2/2020 Russians grant Putin right to extend his rule until 2036 in landslide vote by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
Preliminary results of a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms are displayed on a screen during a news
conference at the Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow, Russia July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russians opened the door to Vladimir Putin staying in power until 2036 by voting overwhelmingly for constitutional changes that will allow him to run again for president twice, but critics said the outcome was falsified on an industrial scale.
    Official results published on Thursday, after 100% of ballots had been counted, showed that the former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister had easily won the right to run for two more six-year terms after the current one ends in 2024.
    That means Putin, 67, could rule until the age of 83.
    The Central Election Commission said 77.9% of votes counted across the world’s largest country had supported changing the constitution.    Just over 21.2% had voted against, it said.
    Ella Pamfilova, head of the commission, said the vote had been transparent and that officials had done everything to ensure its integrity.
    Opposition politician Alexei Navalny had a different view and called the vote an illegitimate and illegal show designed to legalise Putin’s presidency for life.
    “We’ll never recognise this result,” Navalny told supporters in a video.
    Navalny said the opposition would not protest for now because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but would do so in big numbers in the autumn if its candidates were blocked from taking part in regional elections or their results were falsified.
    “What Putin fears most is the street,” said Navalny.    “He… will not leave until we start to take to the streets in the hundreds of thousands and in the millions.”
    Russians had been encouraged to back Putin’s power move, described by critics as a constitutional coup, with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments in the same reform bundle, such as pensions protection and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.
    One-off payments of 10,000 roubles ($141) were transferred to those with children at Putin’s order as people headed to polling stations on Wednesday, the last day of the vote, held over seven days to try to limit the spread of the virus.
    Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said he’d voted in favour of the reforms. “We need radical changes and I’m for them,” he said.
‘READ SOMETHING AND VOTE’
    Others were less enthusiastic.
    “I didn’t read about the amendments if I’m honest,” Lyudmila, another voter, said.    “What’s the point of voting if they’ve already decided for you.    It’s like that in our country – read something and vote.    I voted.”
    Turnout was 65%, election officials said.
    Putin, already the longest-serving leader in modern Russian history since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in an eve-of-vote speech on Tuesday.
    He has said he has yet to decide on his future.    Critics, who liken Putin to a latter-day Tsar, say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.
    At 60%, according to the Levada pollster, his approval rating remains high but well down on its peak of nearly 90%.
    With Russia reporting thousands of new COVID-19 cases each day, opponents have been unable to stage protests but have mocked the vote online, sharing photographs of polling stations in apartment stairwells, supermarket trolleys and the boot of a car.
    A small group of activists staged a symbolic protest at the Red Square on Wednesday afternoon, using their prostrate bodies to form the year 2036 before being swiftly detained by police, TV Rain reported.
    Separately, the “No!    Campaign,” called on supporters to head for Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square after voting.
    “We need to remind the authorities that we exist and that there are tens of millions of us who do not want Putin to rule until 2036,” Andrei Pivovarov, an activist, said in a video.
    In the event, only dozens turned out amid a heavy police presence, a Reuters reporter said.    Opposition politicians said a couple of hundred had attended.    Those who did chanted “Russia will be free.”    Another slogan suggested Putin should resign.
    Golos, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, cited numerous irregularities with the vote and said it would not be able to confirm the outcome as legitimate.
($1 = 70.9075 roubles)
(additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov, Peter Scott, Tom Balmforth, Vladimir Soldatkin, Anton Zverev and Shamil Zhumatov; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean, Grant McCool and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/2/2020 Sweden extends entry restrictions on visitors from outside the EU
FILE PHOTO: Face masks for sale are seen in central Stockholm, Sweden, June 26, 2020. Stina Stjernkvist /TT News Agency/via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The Swedish government said on Thursday it had extended temporary restrictions introduced in March on entries to the European Union through Sweden to August 31.
    The restrictions, aimed at slowing the COVID-19 pandemic, are for unnecessary trips to Sweden from countries other than those in the EU, Britain, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
    The government said in a statement it had made decision at the recommendation of the European Council.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Simon Johnson)

7/2/2020 Kissing off menu as lockdown ends for Dutch sex workers
Sex worker Moira Mona gestures in her studio in Hilversum, Netherlands June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch sex workers welcomed customers back on Wednesday as the Netherlands further eased coronavirus measures, but they were advised to avoid heavy breathing and kissing to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
    Erotic dancers and prostitutes lost their main source of income for three-and-a-half months and generally did not have access to state support during lockdown.
    They were surprised when the government brought forward the date they could reopen from a tentative Sept. 1 to July 1.
    Amsterdam’s “Red Light” district, where thousands of tourists generally crowd the canals to see sex shows, erotic gift shops and prostitutes, has been deserted.
    Red Light United, which represents Amsterdam’s window prostitutes, had campaigned to get back to work as soon as possible, noting some sex workers still had to pay rent on their premises and lockdown was forcing them to work illegally, exposing them to greater risks.
    “I am really looking forward to going back to work,” said Moira Mona, a 29-year-old sex worker who will perform at an S&M club this week.    “The extra income is going to be welcome, so in that sense I am hoping for a busy day… although I don’t expect it to be as busy as before the corona crisis.”
    Sex workers already adhere to strict health safety regulations in the Netherlands, but the industry has compiled a list of recommendations, including sexual positions to avoid.
    Even with new guidelines, sex workers will be more exposed to the dangers of CODVID-19 than other professions, said Debbie Mensink, a public health advisor in Amsterdam.
    “There is a heightened risk.    Sex workers already have a heightened health risk due to their line of work… because people get so close to each other.”
    Mona, however, said she is not worried and will take precautions.
    She added a few new items to her collection of latex outfits, stiletto heels and tasseled whips to adhere to the protocol: a leather face cover with metal studs, black gloves and surgical face masks.     “I don’t get unemployment benefits if I get sick, so if someone shows up and starts coughing or sneezing in my hallway I’ll say ‘Can you come back another time?’ because if I am ill for a week that means a week without income.”
    Mona made some income during lockdown by doing webcam shows, but said that if the government-imposed measures had remained in place much longer she would have spent her entire savings.
    As the number of new infections and COVID-19 deaths fell fast in recent weeks, the Netherlands lifted most lockdown measures.    The country has recorded more than 50,000 infections and over 6,000 deaths since mid-March.
    Despite the improved COVID-19 statistics, people are advised to keep 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) apart and must wear face masks while riding public transportation.
    Those rules won’t apply to sex workers and health authorities recommend avoiding face-to-face encounters.
    “We advise against literally getting in each others’ faces, where you can breathe in each others’ warm breath,” said Mensink, the health worker.    “We also advise against kissing because saliva carries the virus and you could transfer it that way.”
(Reporting by Esther Verkaik; writing by Anthony Deutsch; editing by John Stonestreet and Alexandra Hudson)

7/2/2020 A year after Russia reset, France sees no concrete results: minister
FILE PHOTO: French Defence Minister Florence Parly leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace after a
weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, France May 27, 2020 as France eases lockdown measures taken
to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s efforts to nurture a new relationship with Russia over the last year to bring Moscow back into the fold of leading industrialised nations has yet to yield any results, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Thursday.
    French President Emmanuel Macron has said that alienating Russia was “a profound strategic mistake” and wants Moscow’s help to solve the world’s most intractable crises, while reducing the distrust between Russia, NATO and the EU.
    He sent his defence and foreign ministers to Moscow in September, ending a four-year freeze on such high-level diplomatic visits, and appointed a special envoy to make progress on a so-called five-point structured dialogue that he proposed to President Vladimir Putin.
    “If the question is: have there been concrete results in the dialogue that France initiated with Russia, I’ll answer sincerely that it is still not the case,” Parly told a European parliament hearing.
    Macron’s efforts have upset other EU governments, particularly those in the east that escaped Moscow’s orbit after the Cold War.    They say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations on ice since Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
    Parly said Russia’s role in Libya, where it has supported eastern fighters against the Tripoli government, was also a threat to the European Union.
    “We aren’t happy about this role … but in our efforts to reach a ceasefire in Libya, we need to talk with Russia.    Libya isn’t the only domain where that discussion is necessary, she said.”
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/2/2020 Border town pays price for Sweden’s no-lockdown as Norway reopens by Victoria Klesty
FILE PHOTO: Customs and police officers are seen at the border between Norway and Sweden, as Norway has introduced strict
border control due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Svinesund, Norway March 16, 2020. Vidar Ruud/NTB Scanpix via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – The Swedish border town of Stromstad is paying a heavy price for Sweden’s decision not to lock down its economy like neighbouring Norway and other Nordic nations to halt the spread of COVID-19.
    Stromstad is just a two-hour drive from Oslo and popular with Norwegians who shop for cheaper consumer goods in Sweden, but Norway’s lockdown, imposed in mid-March, put a stop to that.
    And now, though Norway has lifted its lockdown following a sharp fall in COVID-19 cases, it still quarantines people returning from Sweden, which has registered more than four times the combined number of deaths in Norway, Denmark and Finland.
    “When Norway closed its borders, (Stromstad) went overnight from full activity to total stillness,” said Kent Hansson, the town’s mayor.
    “The border retail trade, it is (still) completely dead.    The large supermarkets close to the border are completely deserted.”
    Sweden kept most businesses and schools open when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, bucking the international trend.
    With a population of 10.2 million, Sweden has so far reported 5,370 COVID-19 deaths, while Norway – population 5.3 million – has had only 251 deaths.
NORDIC COOPERATION DENTED
    Sweden’s sudden isolation from its neighbours has come as something of a shock.
    Nordic citizens have been able to travel without passports across the region and to reside in each other’s countries without permits since the 1950s, creating deep personal, business, cultural and other ties across national borders.
    “I do think that Nordic cooperation has taken a hit,” said Hansson.
    Norwegians back their government’s approach, with almost three out of four people not wanting restrictions for leisure travel to Sweden to be lifted yet, according to a June 5 poll among 1,200 people by the Opinion survey group.
    Some Swedes who work in Norway, which they have been able to do during the lockdown, have felt treated differently.
    “People took a step back when I started to speak,” said a Swedish artist who travels to Norway for work, and who declined to give his name to avoid drawing attention to himself.    “So I didn’t talk much when I was out in the shops.    I nodded.”
You feel a bit dirty as a Swede.    You feel a bit of shame for coming.”
(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Gareth Jones)

7/2/2020 Russia’s coronavirus case tally passes 660,000
FILE PHOTO: People rest on an embankment as cruise vessels sail near the Kremlin during an annual parade marking
the start of navigation on the Moskva River following the easing of lockdown measures, which were imposed to curb
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Thursday reported 6,760 new cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide tally to 661,165.
    The authorities said 147 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 9,683.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

7/2/2020 Kremlin hails vote allowing Putin to extend his rule a triumph as critics cry foul by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Anton Kolodyazhnyy
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of a local electoral commission
at a polling station on the last day of a weeklong nationwide vote on constitutional
reforms in Moscow, Russia July 1, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday hailed as a triumph the result of a nationwide vote that handed President Vladimir Putin the right to run for two more terms, but an independent monitoring group said the vote had not been free and the outcome was flawed.
    Final results after the week-long vote showed that nearly 78% of voters had backed changes to the constitution allowing Putin potentially two more six-year terms after his current one ends in 2024.
    That means that the 67-year-old former KGB officer, who has ruled Russia for over two decades as either president or prime minister, could be in power until he is 83.
    Already the longest-serving leader in modern Russian history since Josef Stalin, Putin says he has yet to decide on his political future, though critics say they are sure he will try to stay in the Kremlin for as long as he can.
    Some analysts believe he may however be keeping his options open so as not to become a lame duck before 2024.
    Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the emphatic nature of the nationwide vote was a measure of how deeply Russians trusted Putin to run the country.
    “It’s definitely considered a triumph.    What took place was in effect a de facto triumphant referendum on trust in Putin,” said Peskov.
    Putin’s approvals rating stood at 60% last month, still high but hovering around just above a two-decade low after slipping in April amid the coronavirus crisis and related economic pain, a poll by the Levada Center showed.
    Opposition activists have called the vote illegitimate and said it was designed to legalise Putin’s presidency for life.
    Golos, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, said on Thursday it had recorded numerous irregularities during the vote, including ballot stuffing and widespread cases of employers forcing staff to cast a ballot.
    “This past vote was indeed unprecedented and will go down in the history of the country as an example of an attempt to encroach on people’s sovereignty,” Golos said.
    Moscow resident Ksenia was one of several people who told Reuters she did not believe official figures about the vote’s outcome.
    “I think none of my friends took part in the vote, I think it is all a fake (the result).    No one voted.    Everyone understands that they will vote for us anyway, what’s the point in attending?
Others were more upbeat.
    “My attitude to the vote is very positive,” said Yevgeny, a Moscow resident who said he had voted in favour of changing the constitution.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Dmitry Madorsky, Anton Derbenev; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/3/2020 Russia’s constitutional changes to come into force on July 4 – Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call, dedicated to
the opening of new military medical centres for patients infected with the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 30, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Babushkin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Changes to the Russian constitution, including an amendment that could pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to rule the country until 2036, will come into force on July 4, the Kremlin said on Friday.
    The electorate overwhelmingly supported the changes, which were approved after a nationwide week of voting that came to an end on Wednesday, with almost 78% of people casting their ballot in favour.
    The Kremlin hailed the vote as a triumph, while critics decried it as illegal and illegitimate.    An independent monitoring group said the vote was deeply flawed.
    Other key reforms include an amendment granting former Russian presidents automatic immunity from criminal prosecution, as well as reforms enshrining a reference to “belief in God” and a statement about marriage being only the union of a man and a woman.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/3/2020 ‘Game without rules’: In Belarus loyalists turn on president before election by Andrei Makhovsky
People walk past a kiosk in Minsk, Belarus June 26, 2020.    The writings "Psychosis" and "3%,"
painted by opposition supporters ahead of the presidential election, are seen on the kiosk. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, once dubbed the last dictator in Europe by Washington, has seen protests come and go in his 26 years in power, but none quite like the one that is rippling through his usually loyal support base now.
    The police have arrested hundreds in an effort to quell anti-government protests before an Aug. 9 presidential election, according to the government and human rights groups.    But several police officers are among those who have taken to social media to challenge him, posting selfies with their faces covered by signs such as “Lukashenko is not my president.”
    And even one of the country’s prominent athletes, usually loyal to the sports-loving president, has publicly criticised Lukashenko on Instagram for running the country like a “game without rules.”
    “Candidates are put in jail, people are gagged.    This is not the future of Belarus.
    Alexander Grigoryevich – you are not my president
,” wrote basketball player Nikita Meshcheryakov, in a post that was later deleted.
    The 65-year-old former boss of a Soviet collective farm is still widely expected to win a sixth term in office. Western monitoring agencies have not judged an election in the country to be free and fair since 1995.
    But Lukashenko’s crackdown could derail his efforts to improve ties with the West at a time when relations with traditional ally Russia are strained.
    According to political analyst Artem Shreibman, Lukashenko is running out of options to shore up his rule.
    “I don’t see the protest mood declining.    The actions of the authorities lead to even greater indignation.    The baseline scenario is a large escalation in violence.”
    Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs, accusing them of fomenting unrest akin to the 2014 Maidan protests that toppled Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president, and of being supported from Russia and Poland.        The police said the peaceful protests were cover for attempts to destabilise the country.
‘NOT AFRAID’
    Anger over Lukashenko’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has added to grievances over the economy and human rights.
    Lukashenko laughed off fears about COVID-19 as a “psychosis” and suggested remedies such as drinking vodka instead of a lockdown.
    That attitude frustrated voters such as Maxim Bogdanovich, a 19-year-old Harvard student who says the authorities have not done enough to protect doctors, including his father who works in a hospital.
    Civil society stepped in to fill the breach, raising funds to buy personal protective equipment for hospitals or acting as volunteers.
    Bogdanovich says people have become less afraid to speak out and he is now comfortable publicly calling Lukashenko a cockroach, a nickname dreamt up by protesters.
    “I’m not afraid to say it on camera.    Nothing made my heart skip a beat when I said that,” he said.    “And a lack of this feeling in the heart is already something that has changed dramatically.”
    Willingness to speak out was also in evidence last week, when police began arresting customers outside a gift shop in the capital Minsk that was selling T-shirts with a coded jibe at Lukashenko’s low popularity.
    The next day, hundreds more queued up in solidarity.
    The crackdown prompted a TV host from state-run media, Dmitry Kokhno, to criticise the police: “There are no criminals in this queue.    What are you doing?    I am disgusted and revolted to see what is happening.”
    Another state TV journalist, Artemis Ahpash, turned on his colleagues in a Facebook post about their coverage: “Whenever from TV / Radio screens you utter a blatant lie about current events, what do you feel when you get home?
    Andrei Tkachev, who became a medical volunteer to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, was in the queue outside the giftshop. He said the authorities had yet to realise that Belarus had changed and that people had lost their fear.
    “I’m not afraid that they will detain me,” he said.    “I’m afraid of living under a dictatorship for another five years in fear and humiliation.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Frances Kerry)

7/3/2020 Russia to reopen embassy in Libya, Ifax cites foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following a meeting
with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia June 16, 2020.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has decided to reopen its embassy in Libya although its head will temporarily be based in neighbouring Tunisia, Interfax news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.
    Libya has been split since 2014, with the internationally recognised government based in the capital, Tripoli, and the northwest while military leader Khalifa Haftar in the country’s second city Benghazi rules the east.
    Russia evacuated its diplomats from Libya in October 2013 after an armed faction attacked its embassy in Tripoli.
    Lavrov, speaking at a meeting with the speaker of Libya’s pro-Haftar eastern parliament Aguila Saleh, reiterated Russia’s desire for a cessation of hostilities in Libya and the beginning of political dialogue.
    “We took a decision to reopen the Russian embassy in Libya, which will at this stage be headed by Charge d’Affaires Jamshed Boltaev,” he said.    “He will temporarily be based in Tunisia, but I want to emphasise that his functions include representing Russia across all Libya’s territory.”
    Lavrov also said a ceasefire in the Libyan conflict, proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi alongside Haftar in Cairo on June 6, could work alongside decisions taken at an international conference in Berlin regarding the situation in the North African country.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/3/2020 Havana stirs to life without tourists and amid scarcity by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
FILE PHOTO: A child carries a banner which reads in Spanish: "Thanks", while waiting for the arrival of the
Cuban medical brigade of the Henry Reeve Contingent from Andorra amid concerns about the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba, July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban capital stirred to life on Friday after more than three months of lockdown but there were no signs of tourists on Havana’s quiet streets while residents fretted over shortages of food and other basic goods.
    The city of 2.2 million people on the Caribbean coast is the last of Cuba’s provinces to enter phase one of a three phase process to a new normal.    All but one other province began phase two on Friday.
    Havana’s residents were able once again to use public transportation and private taxis, go to the beach and other outdoor recreation centers, and enjoy the city’s famed Malecon seafront drive.
    Cuba closed its airports in March and, while some hotels are open at resorts on isolated islets, there is no indication when Havana and other cities might allow foreign visitors to return.
    “It is like breathing little by little the clean air we have missed,” said veterinarian Norma Hernandez, who rents a room to tourists to make ends meet.    “From the economic point of view the pandemic has been terrible for me, but I hope everything will return to normal.”
    For months, the once bustling capital seemed haunted with little traffic and no night life.    Gloomy residents trudged in search of supplies, often waiting for hours to purchase them.
    Now they can dine out and have drinks, although social distancing and wearing masks remain mandatory.    Optional medical and other services resumed.
    Food service worker Yajaira Pulido said she was thrilled to be jogging along the Malecon.
    “I am very happy because now you can go to the beach, and take the kids out, with caution,” she said.
    Only a handful of COVID-19 cases have been reported this month, all but a few contacts of previously confirmed cases in Havana.    Most of the island, home to 11.2 million inhabitants, has been free of the disease for more than a month.
    Each phase of the reopening allows capacity at venues to increase from an initial 50%.    Interprovincial transport begins during phase two, while schools open in September.
    “There is no contradiction between public health and opening the economy.    You can’t accomplish the second without the first,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said recently.
ECONOMIC CRISIS
    Moraima Cabrera Delgado, owner of the Bom Apetíte Restaurant, which caters to tourists and locals, said she was preparing to open.    Safety measures included a quick test for staff and an electronic menu.
    “Now we will have problems with supplies.    Almost all of us with businesses agree.    We will adapt what we have to offer with what there is and hope things improve,” she said.
    That may take time. Communist authorities have warned the Caribbean faces a near 10% drop in economic activity and years of crisis.    More so Cuba, they say, due to U.S. sanctions.
    Cuba was failing to pay restructured debts and suppliers before the pandemic slashed tourism and other foreign exchange earners, due to harsher U.S. sanctions and the economic woes of socialist ally Venezuela.
    Cuba’s inefficient Soviet-style economy imports two-thirds of its food, half its fuel, and raw materials for just about everything else.    Shortages ranging from food and fuel to personal hygiene products, medicine and agriculture inputs appeared a year ago and have become chronic.
    “It is going to get worse.    It is already really difficult with food,” said one senior manager of Havana’s state-run restaurants, requesting anonymity.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Reuters television; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Daniel Wallis)

7/3/2020 Polish president accuses German-owned tabloid of election meddling by Alicja Ptak
FILE PHOTO: Polish President and presidential candidate of the Law and Justice (PiS)
party Andrzej Duda speaks after the announcement of the first exit poll results on the first round
of presidential elections in Lowicz, Poland, June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested on Friday that Germany was trying to meddle in the presidential election after a German-owned tabloid newspaper reported on a pardon that he granted to a man who had served his sentence in a paedophilia case.
    Duda, a conservative who faces a neck-and-neck race against a centrist opponent in a presidential runoff election on July 12, was angered by reporting by the Polish tabloid Fakt.
    “Does Axel Springer, a company of German descent that owns the Fakt newspaper, want to influence the Polish presidential election?.”    Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), said during a campaign rally in the western town of Boleslawiec.
.     “Do the Germans want to choose the president in Poland?” he said.
    The case, in which the pardon was granted in March, was initially reported by the Rzeczpospolita daily, but Fakt followed up with more details on Thursday.
    Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who also serves as prosecutor general, confirmed the pardon was related to a paedophilia case but said it consisted only of lifting a restraining order and the man had served out his entire sentence.
    Duda had applied the law of pardon following a request of a victim who was now an adult, added Ziobro, who was shown speaking by Polish state TVP.
    According to Fakt the man finished serving his sentence five years ago.
    Earlier on Friday, Duda’s re-election campaign spokesman, called on the German ambassador to Berlin to talk to the owners of Fakt.
    “We do not want this kind of foreign interference in the electoral process,” spokesman Adam Bielan told public radio PR1.
    The German embassy referred questions to the German ministry of foreign affairs, which declined to comment.
    Fakt denied meddling in the election, saying in a statement published on its website that it is run by Polish journalists and editors.
    PiS has long accused foreign-owned media outlets of meddling in Poland’s affairs.
    Duda’s spokespeople could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak, Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/3/2020 Putin mocks U.S. embassy for flying rainbow flag
FILE PHOTO: A rainbow flag flies in support of the LGBT community at the
British Embassy in Moscow, Russia June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Friday mocked the U.S. embassy in Moscow for flying a rainbow flag to celebrate LGBT rights, suggesting it reflected the sexual orientation of its staff.
    His comments followed a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that included an amendment enshrining the definition of marriage specifically as a union between a man and a woman.
    Putin said the U.S. embassy’s move to raise the LGBT pride flag “revealed something about the people that work there.”
    “It’s no big deal though.    We have spoken about this many times, and our position is clear,” said Putin, who has sought to distance     Russia from liberal Western values and aligned himself with the Russian Orthodox Church.
    “Yes, we passed a law banning the propaganda of homosexuality among minors.    So what?    Let people grow up, become adults and then decide their own destinies.”
    The legislation has been used to stop gay pride marches and detain gay rights activists.
    Putin said during the campaign to change the constitution that he would not let the traditional notion of a mother and father be subverted by what he called “parent number 1” and “parent number 2.”
    On Friday, the head of the Women’s Union of Russia, Ekaterina Lakhova, told Putin that she feared an ice cream with the brand name ‘Rainbow’, as well as other multi-coloured advertising, could constitute propaganda for non-traditional values and have a harmful effect on children, the RIA news agency reported.
    “Even indirectly, such things make our children accustomed to that … flag, the one that was hung up by the embassy,” Lakhova was cited as saying.
    “It would be very good to have a commission to make sure that those values that we enshrined in our constitution are upheld,” she said.
    Other countries have also flown rainbow flags outside their embassies in Moscow, including Britain.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

7/4/2020 Russia says China would be needed in expanded G7 summit: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for a meeting with U.S. special
envoy Marshall Billingslea in Vienna, Austria June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is not in talks with Washington about its potential role at an expanded Group of Seven summit later this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday, insisting that China should also be included in the event.
    His comments to TASS news agency countered those of John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, who told RBC TV on Friday that     Washington was “engaged with the Russian Foreign Ministry and with the other G7 governments about whether there is an appropriate role for Russia at the G7.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump has raised the prospect of Russia’s return to the group, which includes the world’s most advanced economies, after it was expelled in the wake of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    Trump said last month it was “common sense” to invite President Vladimir Putin to rejoin the group.
    Russia had been part the group, then known as the G8, since 1997.
    Other G7 nations, including Canada and France, have objected to Russia’s return, however.
    Ryabkov said that the absence of China from an expanded G7 summit would make it impossible to discuss international issues.
    The idea of this so-called extended G7 is flawed because it’s not clear how the authors of this initiative plan to address the Chinese factor,” he was quoted as saying.
    “Without China it’s simply impossible to discuss any issues in the modern world.”
    Trump in May announced he was postponing a G7 summit until September or later and expanding the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea and India.
    Australia has accepted the U.S. invitation to take part.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

7/5/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass 680,000
FILE PHOTO: Ambulances queue outside the I.I. Dzhanelidze Research Institute of Emergency Medicine amid the
coronavirus outbreak in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported 6,736 new cases of the novel coronavirus, raising the nationwide tally to 681,251.
    The authorities said that 134 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 10,161.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov. Writing by Maxim Rodionov, Editing by William Maclean)

7/6/2020 Russia digs trench around Siberian village to enforce COVID quarantine
A view shows a trench dug by the local authorities around a remote Siberian village of Shuluta to enforce a quarantine due to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Republic of Buryatia, Russia, in this still image taken from video, July 6, 2020 . REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities have dug a trench around a remote Siberian village to enforce a quarantine, after dozens of residents contracted the coronavirus, which local officials believe was spread at a traditional shaman ritual.
    The village of Shuluta, located some 30 kilometres south east of Lake Baikal in Siberia’s Buryatia region, has 37 confirmed cases of the virus among its 390 residents.
    Ninety-five other people are believed to have been in contact with those infected and are also required to quarantine, said the head of the local administration, Ivan Alkheyev.
    Alkheyev said the outbreak started after dozens of villagers took part in a shaman ritual on June 10, performed by an infected woman.
    The ditches which encircled Shuluta were dug on June 29 as a measure to stop tourists from driving though the village to nearby Tunka National Park, as well as to limit movement by the local residents, some of whom were sceptical about an order to self-isolate.
    “I don’t believe it!    There should at least be symptoms and I don’t have any,” local resident Engelsina Shaboyeva, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, told a regional television crew filming in the village along with a group of volunteers who went to bring food.
    Another resident, Svetlana Shaglanova, whose husband died after a stroke and had tested positive for the virus, said she did not agree with the diagnosis.
    “They put that he died of the virus on the papers, but it is not true, it was just a stroke,” Shaglanova said.
    Russia’s consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said those who performed the shaman ritual despite a ban on public events in the region could face a fine.
    The only road to the village which was not cut off by the ditch is now patrolled by local officials and Russian national guards who allow only ambulances and food deliveries in.
    Russia’s official coronavirus case tally, the fourth largest in the world, rose to 687,862 on Monday.
(Writing by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/6/2020 Austria to phase out its Saab 105 fighter jets, no decision on successor
FILE PHOTO: Two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft fly over the Streif course during an aerial exhibition before the start of the
men's Alpine Skiing World Cup Super G race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will ground its nearly 50-year-old Saab fighter jets at the end of the year and solely rely on its Eurofighter warplanes from January, the defence ministry said on Monday.
    The ministry said it would not decide on any successor to the Saab fighter jets until it knows the outcome of a court appeal concerning Eurofighter, triggering sharp criticism from the opposition parties.
    “The Republic of Austria will continue to pursue all legal means to achieve the goal of withdrawing from the Eurofighter contract and being compensated by Eurofighter,” Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner said.    “Pending the final court decision, no decisions will be taken with regard to air surveillance that would weaken Austria’s position.”
    Austria is involved in a legal dispute with the Eurofighter consortium, which includes Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, over its nearly 2 billion euro ($2.3 billion) purchase in 2003.
    The defence ministry said in 2017 it believed Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium had misled Austria over the purchase price, deliverability and equipment of the jets, accusations the consortium denies.
    A Vienna court stopped a related investigation in April, which the state appealed.    A broader criminal investigation of suspected bribery in the same deal that has been ongoing since 2011 has not been affected by the closure.
    “From Airbus’ perspective, nothing has changed in this matter,” the company said, adding it viewed demands for reparation or reversal of the delivery contract as “not founded on any legal basis.”
    Neutral Austria currently operates 12 Saab 105 aircraft alongside its 15 Eurofighter jets.    Army representatives have long warned that it is getting harder to guarantee full security as investment decisions have been repeatedly delayed.
    Opposition parties criticised the defence minister.    “With her decision for a single-fleet Eurofighter system, Tanner is making herself fully dependent on the Eurofighter manufacturer Airbus and the NATO,” said Robert Laimer, defence spokesman for the Social Democrats.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Barbara Lewis and David Evans)

7/6/2020 Ahead of run-off vote, Polish president proposes constitutional ban on LGBT adoption
FILE PHOTO: Election posters of presidential candidates Warsaw's mayor Rafal Trzaskowski and Poland's President Andrzej Duda are seen during the election campaign, in Piaseczno, Poland June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda on Monday proposed changing the constitution to ban LGBT couples from adopting children ahead of Sunday’s presidential run-off in which the candidates are polling neck-and-neck.
    The opposition centrist Civic Platform (PO) candidate, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, said this weekend that he is also against the adoption of children by LGBT couples.
    Duda is an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS), which dismisses LGBT rights as an invasive foreign influence undermining Poland’s traditional values.
    A majority amounting to two-thirds of the lower house of parliament is needed to change the constitution.    After an election in October, PiS rules with a slim majority and does not hold enough seats to carry out such changes.
    Duda said he hoped he could garner broader support for his proposal from some members of PO, the agrarian PSL grouping and from the far-right Confederation party.
    “I am convinced that, thanks to this, children’s safety and concern for the good of children will be ensured to a much greater extent,” Duda said at an event in Warsaw.
    The constitutional change would specify that only married heterosexual couples would be able to adopt children, he said.    Courts would have the right to check on couples to ensure they fit into the definition.
    A spokesman for PO said the party was against the constitutional change proposed by Duda.
    Trzaskowski has previously said he is in favour of civil partnerships for gay people and proposed a sexual education programme in Warsaw that would teach children about LGBT issues.
    Duda’s comments come after he said LGBT ideology was worse than communism in a campaign stop last month and vowed to ban teaching about LGBT issues in schools in an effort to protect what he sees as the traditional family.
    Poland was this year ranked the worst country in the European Union for LGBT rights in a poll by Brussels-based NGO ILGA-Europe.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams)
[This is why Trump is backing Duda because he is doing what is right in the eyes of God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.].

7/8/2020 Demonstrators storm Serbian parliament in protest over lockdown
Demonstrators gather during a protest at the Serbian parliament building against a lockdown planned for the capital this
weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Belgrade, Serbia July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – A group of opposition supporters stormed the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday in a protest against a lockdown planned for the capital this weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday evening that stricter measures including the lockdown of Belgrade over the weekend would be introduced because of the rising number of coronavirus infections.
    Opponents blame the increase on the government and say people should not have to pay the price for another lockdown.
    After Vucic’s statement, several thousand people began gathering in front of the parliament in Belgrade’s central square.
    Around 10 p.m., a small group of protesters pushed past a police cordon, broke through a door and entered the parliament building.    But police later pushed them back.
    The crowd demanded Vucic’s resignation and shouted: “Serbia has risen.”    A Reuters cameraman said the police threw teargas, pushing the crowd away from the parliament building.    Police reinforcements later arrived.
    “People gathered spontaneously.    Discontent can be felt in the air,” Radomir Lazovic of the Do Not Let Belgrade Drown opposition group told N1 television.
    Serbia, a country of 7 million people, has reported 16,168 coronavirus infections and 330 deaths.    But the numbers are spiking and 299 cases and 13 deaths were reported just on Tuesday.
    Epidemiologists and doctors warned that hospitals were running at full capacity and that medical workers were tired.
    In early March, Serbia introduced a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
    But in late May, the Balkan country was among the first to open up and set elections for June 21.    During the campaign, Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organised rallies at which people did not wear masks.
    Top party officials, including the president’s adviser, were infected after celebrating their election victory in a small room while not wearing masks.
    Opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election, criticise Vucic for using the lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Peter Cooney)

7/9/2020 Serbia backpedals from planned weekend lockdown after protests
Demonstrators clash with police officers during an anti-government rally, amid the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia on Thursday dropped plans for a weekend lockdown in the capital to curb a new spread of the coronavirus after two days of violent protests against any reimposition of restrictions.
    A government crisis group tasked with fighting the virus decided instead on a more limited ban on outdoor and indoor public gatherings of more than 10 people to minimize the risk of further infections.
    It also said that working hours at indoor restaurants and cafes would have to end at 9 p.m.
    “The lockdown would have been be the most efficient measure…but we decided to take this interim step instead,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters after the crisis group meeting.
    She did not rule out weekend lockdowns in the future if the new set of measures fails to yield results, warning that the healthcare system in the capital Belgrade was “about to break up” due to a high number of patients.
    President Aleksandar Vucic’s announcement earlier this week that a weekend lockdown would be necessary sparked unrest in Belgrade and several other Serbian cities.
    The demonstrations were at first driven by anger and frustration over economically-stifling measures to contain the pandemic but evolved quickly into anti-government rallies with participants demanding Vucic’s resignation.
    Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far reported 17,076 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 341 deaths.    Health authorities say hospitals are running at full capacity and staff are exhausted.    The number of new infections rose to 357 on Wednesday from 299 on Tuesday.
    Critics say government decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume in May and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21 are to blame for the new surge in infections.
    The government blames a lack of sanitary discipline among the public, especially in nightclubs.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/9/2020 Moscow to reopen schools as daily cases fall
A restaurant employee wears a protective face shield and mask due to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow on Thursday said it would reopen schools and universities next week, in the latest lifting of coronavirus restrictions as the number of new daily infections in the Russian capital fell to 568.
    Moscow, which has overall recorded more than 227,000 cases of the virus, last month lifted a lockdown in place since March and has staggered the reopening of businesses and the lifting of other restrictions.
    Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, said on Thursday the outbreak was waning in the city and it was time to further ease restrictions.
    He said schools, universities, summer camps and cultural centres could reopen starting next week.
    From the same time, residents of the city of nearly 13 million will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors, he said.
    But masks will remain mandatory in shops, medical facilities and on Moscow’s sprawling public transport network.
    Muscovites can also return to theatres, cinemas, concert halls and sporting venues starting next month, as long as they don’t occupy more than half of a given venue’s capacity.
    Sobyanin said the lifting of Moscow’s lockdown was a success as the number of new cases recorded on a daily basis in the city was falling.
    “Of course every phase of lifting restrictions contains elements of unpredictability and risk,” Sobyanin wrote on his website.    “But life has shown that the situation has remained manageable and that the risk was justified.”
    Russia on Thursday reported 6,509 new cases of the coronavirus, pushing its official nationwide tally to 707,301, the fourth largest in the world.    It has reported 10,843 deaths.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maria Kiselyova; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Barbara Lewis)

7/9/2020 U.S. first lady Melania Trump statue set on fire in Slovenia by Marja Novak
FILE PHOTO: A life-sized wooden sculpture of U.S. first lady Melania Trump is officially unveiled in Rozno, near
her hometown of Sevnica, Slovenia, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY/File Photo
    ROZNO, Slovenia (Reuters) – A wooden sculpture of U.S. first lady Melania Trump was torched near her hometown of Sevnica, Slovenia, on the night of July Fourth, as Americans celebrated U.S. Independence Day, said the artist who commissioned the sculpture.
    Brad Downey, a Berlin-based American artist, told Reuters he had the life-sized blackened, disfigured sculpture removed as soon as police informed him on July 5th of the incident.
    “I want to know why they did it,” said Downey, who had hoped the statue would foster a dialogue about the political situation in the United States, highlighting Melania Trump’s status as an immigrant married to a president sworn to reduce immigration.
    In Washington, the office of Melania Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has pledged to take a hard line on anyone destroying or vandalizing U.S. historical monuments, as political activism against racial injustice has swept across the country.
    Downey, 39, said he had filed a police report and would like to interview the culprits, if found, for a film he is preparing ahead of his exhibition due to open in Slovenia in September.
    “The investigation in this case has not been completed yet so we cannot reveal details due to the interest of further procedures,” police spokeswoman Alenka Drenik told Reuters.
    Although the statue’s face was rough-hewn and unrecognizable prior to the fire, the figure was painted with a pale blue wraparound coat resembling the one Melania Trump wore at the swearing in of her husband U.S. President Donald Trump.
    The figure was carved with a chainsaw by local folk artist Ales Zupevc from the trunk of a living linden tree.
    In January, a large wooden statue resembling Donald Trump, designed by a local artist last year, was burnt in Slovenia’s city of Moravce, east of the capital Ljubljana.
(Reporting by Marja Novak and Borut Zivulovic; Editing by Diane Craft)

7/9/2020 Ukraine to restore Agriculture Ministry, president says
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gestures during an open-air news conference, one year after his inauguration,
amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kiev, Ukraine May 20, 2020. Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine, global major food producer and exporter, will restore its Agriculture Ministry until September, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday.
    Ukraine liquidated a separate Agriculture Ministry last year, combining it with the Economy Ministry. The move has been widely criticised by producers and traders.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/9/2020 Hungary to review rules on travel to neighbours after COVID-19 spikes
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a news conference at the summit of the
Visegrad Group (V4) countries in Warsaw, Poland July 3, 2020. Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will on Thursday review rules on travel to neighbouring Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia where numbers of coronavirus cases have been rising, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said.
    The landlocked country lifted most of its lockdown restrictions and opened its borders to travellers from European Union states and neighbouring non-EU members in June.
    But Gergely Gulyas said the coronavirus task force would meet later on Thursday to discuss the rules on cross-border travel. He told a news conference that infections had been rising in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Slovakia and Austria in the past two weeks.
    “Wherever we have a small new coronavirus infection cluster, the infectious person brought the virus into the country from abroad,” Gulyas added.
    Hungary, which has a population of around 10 million, had recorded 4,220 cases of COVID-19 and 591 related deaths as of Thursday.
    Austria issued travel warnings for Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova on Wednesday because of the worsening coronavirus situation in those states.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens)

7/10/2020 Russia’s Lavrov: U.S. Domestic Issues Behind Speculation Of Moscow’s Ties With Taliban – Interfax
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following a meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia June 16, 2020. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An internal political fight in the United States is behind “unscrupulous speculation” of Moscow’s alleged ties with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on Friday.
    A top U.S. general said on Thursday that the United States believed Russia has given support to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in the past, but does not have intelligence to confirm it directed attacks against Americans or to corroborate that it paid bounties to kill U.S. troops.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/10/2020 Norway Lifts Many European Travel Curbs, Including Parts Of Sweden
FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks during a news conference
in Oslo, Norway June 26, 2020. Hakon Mosvold Larsen/ NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will lift travel restrictions to and from more than 20 European countries from July 15, including France,     Germany and Britain as well as three of the 21 provinces of neighbouring Sweden, the government said on Friday.
    Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but belongs to the passport-free Schengen Area travel zone, currently has some of Europe’s strictest limitations on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    Citizens and foreign residents of Denmark, Iceland and Finland have been allowed to enter Norway since June 15, the first countries to be approved following Norway’s decision in mid-March to shut its borders to contain the coronavirus spread.
    Spain, Greece and the Netherlands were among those added to the list of approved nations on Friday, which will be reviewed at least every 14 days based on data such as infection rates and hospital admissions in each country.
    Bulgaria, Croatia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania and Hungary will remain on the list of restricted EU countries, as will 18 Swedish regions.
    Travel outside of Europe is also on hold, as well as for non-EU nations such as Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.     Visitors from nations which have not received a green light are generally denied entry, while any Norwegians returning home from such countries face a 10-day quarantine.
    Norway, with a population of 5.4 million, had confirmed a total of 8,954 COVID-19 cases, with 252 deaths, as of Thursday.
(Reporting by Victoria Klesty, editing by Terje Solsvik and Angus MacSwan)

7/10/2020 Swedish Court Finds Ex-Envoy To China Not Guilty In Gui Minhai Case
FILE PHOTO: Former Swedish ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt arrives at the district court where she
is accused of of overstepping her mandate by trying to negotiate the release of a Chinese-Swedish
dissident held in China, in Stockholm, Sweden June 5, 2020. TT News Agency/Janerik Henriksson via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A Swedish court on Friday found a former ambassador to China not guilty of exceeding her authority in dealings with a foreign power in connection with a meeting aimed at helping free bookseller Gui Minhai.
    The envoy, Anna Lindstedt, was replaced in the post after she took part in the meeting in Stockholm in January 2019.    The Swedish foreign ministry said it had not authorized the meeting and that she acted against Swedish policy by taking part.
    The Stockholm district court said in its verdict: “Overall, it is established that the objective requisites for the crime of arbitrariness at negotiations with foreign powers are in no part fulfilled.”
    Gui, a Hong Kong-based Swedish citizen who has published books critical of Chinese Communist leaders, was sentenced in February in China to 10 years in prison after being convicted of illegally providing intelligence to foreigners.
    Gui had been abducted in Thailand in 2015 and later appeared in custody in mainland China.    The bookseller’s case has soured relations between Sweden and China, also under strain over security concerns.
    The case against Lindstedt was the first of its kind in Sweden.    A conviction could have meant a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
    Gui’s daughter Angela has said she was invited by the ambassador to meet two unidentified businessmen who could help secure her father’s release, and that she was advised during the meeting to keep quiet about her father’s case.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/10/2020 Russia Fails Again At U.N. Ahead Of Last-Ditch Vote On Syria Cross-Border Aid by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A boy holds a cardboard box of food aid received from World Food Programme in Aleppo's
Kalasa district, Syria April 10, 2019. Picture taken April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russia on Thursday failed in a second U.N. Security Council bid to cut aid access to Syria from Turkey, diplomats said, and the council will now vote on a last-ditch attempt to extend approval for cross-border aid deliveries before it expires on Friday.
    The 15-member council has been split, with most members pitted against veto-powers Syrian ally Russia and China, who want to halve the number of border crossings for aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey to one, arguing those areas can now be reached with humanitarian help from within Syria.
    The United Nations says millions of Syrian civilians depend on the humanitarian aid delivered from Turkey.
    “The U.N. cross-border operation is a lifeline for millions of people in northwest Syria who we cannot reach by other means,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told Reuters.    “Failure to extend it would trigger an increase in the scale of suffering unseen in nine years of conflict.”
    A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions have been internally displaced.
    For six years, the Security Council annually authorized the delivery of aid to Syria from four border crossings, two in Turkey, one in Jordan and one in Iraq. In January, it allowed the aid operation to continue from Turkey for six months, but dropped Iraq and Jordan due to opposition by Russia and China.
    On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed an attempt to extend for a year the approval of the Turkish border crossings. The remaining 13 members voted in favor of the resolution, drafted by Germany and Belgium.
    Russia then proposed that just one crossing be authorized for six months, but it failed with just four yes votes on Wednesday.
    Germany and Belgium have now put forward a compromise that would authorize the two Turkish crossings for six months.    Russia put forward an amendment to cut it to one crossing.    The council voted on the amendment and diplomats said on Thursday that it had failed, only receiving two votes in favor.
    So now the council will vote on the compromise by Germany and Belgium.    During the coronavirus pandemic, the council has been operating virtually and members have 24 hours to vote.
    The result will be announced on Friday.    If the resolution is not adopted, then the U.N. cross-border aid operation will end.
    Late on Thursday, Russia put forward another rival draft resolution that would authorize one Turkish crossing – into Idlib province in Syria – for one year. It was not immediately clear when voting would begin on that text.
    “This border-crossing accounts for more than 85% of total volume of operations,” deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy posted on Twitter.
    The first coronavirus case was confirmed in Idlib province in northwest Syria on Thursday, aid workers said, raising fears for a region where hospitals lie in ruins and camps overflow with people after nearly a decade of war.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Daniel Wallis)

7/10/2020 Concerned IMF Says Ukraine Must Keep Central Bank Independence
FILE PHOTO: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters building is seen ahead of the
IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine must preserve the independence of its central bank under the next governor as part of a $5 billion International Monetary Fund deal, the IMF’s country representative told a local news site in comments published on Friday.
    National Bank of Ukraine Governor Yakiv Smoliy quit on July 1, complaining of “systematic political pressure”, weeks after Ukraine secured the IMF deal to fight an economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    His exit rattled the market, forced the government to abort a 12-year Eurobond placement worth $1.75 billion and raised doubts over whether international backers, including the IMF, would freeze loans.
    Ukraine’s dollar-denominated bonds have been under pressure since Smoliy’s departure and fell again on Friday, with some issues losing more than 1 cent in the dollar to trade at levels last seen in early June.
    The IMF’s Goesta Ljungman did not directly comment on whether Ukraine was violating the IMF deal but said “the fact that the management of the NBU openly says that it is subject to political pressure should be of concern to all.”
    In the most detailed remarks from the IMF since Smoliy’s resignation, Ljungman said keeping the central bank independent was vital to maintain sound monetary and fiscal policies and sustainable economic growth.
    “There are well-established links between central bank independence and economic performance,” he said in an interview with Liga.net.
    He said a framework for central bank independence established in 2015 in line with best international practices had helped Ukraine recover quickly from an economic crisis in 2014-2015.
    “The current Stand-By Arrangement is premised on the respect for this framework, and a continuation of the economic policies of inflation targeting, a floating exchange rate, accumulation of foreign reserve and strengthening of the financial sector,” Ljungman said.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is expected to nominate a new governor within days, said he respected the central bank’s independence.    But he also called for lower interest rates this week to make loans affordable for businesses and individuals.
    The central bank last month cut interest rates to 6%, the lowest rate since independence in 1991, but critics say it has brought rates down too slowly.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; editing by Matthias Williams, Larry King)

7/10/2020 Serbia’s Vucic Blames Opponents For Orchestrating Violent Protests by Johnny Cotton and Aleksandar Vasovic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    BELGRADE/PARIS (Reuters) – Protests marred by violence continued on Friday in Belgrade, where thousands rallied against Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and government policies, including its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    Police in riot gear and mounted units deployed around the parliament building to prevent Vucic’s opponents from storming it.    Protesters, who pelted police with rocks and flares, chanted “We will not give up Kosovo” and “Vucic thief.”
    Earlier in the day, Vucic said efforts by Germany and France to restart talks aimed at mending ties between Belgrade and Pristina were already paying off.
    “If he gives up Kosovo, Vucic is digging a grave for Serbia,” said Milan, 22, a protester clad in a black shirt and face mask.
    In Paris, Vucic accused his political opponents of orchestrating the protests and said that if they continue it would be difficult to contain the coronavirus epidemic.
    “The problem is that they (the protests) became violent, because they (opponents) … they don’t have anything to offer to the people.”
    In Belgrade, one protester was stabbed in the leg, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
    This week’s demonstrations were at first driven by frustration over economically stifling measures to contain the pandemic, but soon evolved into anti-government rallies with participants demanding Vucic’s resignation.
    Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced on Friday that “hospitals are packed with sick” and said protests posed a major health risk.
    Critics say the government’s decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume in May and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21 are to blame for the new surge in infections.
    Vucic dismissed those claims and dismissed protests as “senseless.”    “You cannot seize power using force,” he said.
    Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far reported 17,728 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 370 deaths.
    Serbia is the first country in Europe to have held elections since the pandemic was declared.    A number of opposition parties boycotted the vote to protest Vucic’s control of the media, which they said did not give them enough coverage. Vucic rejected those claims.
(Reporting by Johnny Cotton; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis)

7/10/2020 Jewish Group Slams Polish Public TV For ‘Hateful’ Role In Presidential Race
FILE PHOTO: Mayor of Warsaw and the presidential candidate of the main Polish opposition centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party Rafal
Trzaskowski speaks during his election meeting in Ciechanow, Poland July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – A leading Jewish group criticised Poland’s public broadcaster on Friday for its “hateful” role in a tight presidential election race that pits the conservative incumbent against the liberal mayor of Warsaw.
    AJC Central Europe, an advocacy group, pointed to a report on public broadcaster TVP’s flagship news show on Thursday that asked if opposition candidate Rafal Trzaskowski would “comply with Jewish demands,” touching on the sensitive issue of Jewish property restitution.
    Home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities before World War Two, Poland is the only European Union country that has not legislated on restoring property to pre-war Jewish owners or their descendants, despite U.S. pressure.
    “What’s wrong with Polish public TV?… Yesterday it again warned against ‘satisfying Jewish demands.’    Is that b/c you assume this hateful campaign would speak to many Poles?    Think abt what message that sends,” the AJC tweeted.
    In a statement to Reuters, the AJC said it had been shocked by Polish public television’s use of “anti-Semitic tropes.”
    “It’s one thing when such messages are spread by fringe far-right groups.    It’s something quite different when this is done by state     TV funded with taxpayers’ money,” it said.
International monitors have accused the public broadcaster of being heavily biased in its coverage of Polish politics.
    The public broadcaster has previously criticised Trzaskowski for suggesting, while deputy foreign minister, that Poland should negotiate with Jewish groups on property restitution.
    Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, which is backing President Andrzej Duda in Sunday’s election runoff, on Thursday accused Trzaskowski of lacking patriotism for his stance on restitution.
    “How could anyone with even a bit of Polish soul, of Polish heart… say something like this? Trzaskowski clearly doesn’t have this as he thinks this is a matter to discuss,” Kaczynski said in an interview for Catholic broadcaster TV Trwam.
    Trzaskowski slammed Kaczynski’s comments on Friday.
    “This is exactly what this election is about – whether we will live in a country where the leader of the ruling party can say that we are trash, that we don’t have a Polish heart, a Polish soul,” Trzaskowski told supporters.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/10/2020 Russian LGBT Activist Fined For ‘Gay Propaganda’ Family Drawings by Maria Vasilyeva
Yulia Tsvetkova, a Russian artist promoting body positivism, LGBTQ rights and sex education, poses for a photo outside a
court building in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia July 10, 2020. Tsvetkova faces charges of "spreading pornography" and "promoting
non-traditional sexual relationships among minors" over the sharing her artwork on social media. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian LGBT activist said she was fined 75,000 roubles ($1,000) on Friday on charges of spreading “gay propaganda” among minors by publishing drawings of same-sex couples with children online.
    Yulia Tsvetkova and her lawyer said she was prosecuted over a series of colourful pictures, some showing two men or two women, holding babies or standing with young children, sometimes surrounded by rainbow-coloured love hearts.
    The court in the eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur confirmed the 27-year-old had been fined under a 2013 law that bans disseminating “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” among young Russians – legislation condemned by rights groups.
    “Today I was fined for posts about discrimination and how to fight it, for posts that family is where love is,” Tsvetkova told Reuters.
    Her lawyer Alexei Bushmakov said Tsvetkova was also awaiting trial on separate charges of producing and disseminating pornography – offences punishable with up to six years in jail.    He said investigators had told her not to discuss that case.
    Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993, and classed as a mental illness until 1999.
    Gay marriage is not recognised and only heterosexual couples can legally adopt children in Russia.
    President Vladimir Putin has said he is not prejudiced against gay people, but that he finds a Western willingness to embrace homosexuality and gender fluidity out of step with traditional Russian values.
    Tsvetkova has built up an online following with her colourful drawings that she says promote LGBT rights and celebrate the female body.    Many are published on Facebook and the Russian social media site Vkontakte.
    Her prosecution has sparked a wave of support among activists and artists in Russia and abroad.    Dozens of women were arrested in Moscow last month at a protest against her trial.
    Russian LGBT Network, the country’s most prominent gay rights campaign group, called charges against Tsvetkova “nonsense.”
    “Russian homophobia… is largely an outcome of authorities’ homophobic policies,” said Svetlana Zakharova, one of the group’s board members.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Additional reporting by Anastasia Adasheva; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

7/10/2020 Russian Deputy PM Proposes Resuming International Flights From June 15
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova attends a session of a coordination council to confront
the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia March 14, 2020. Sputnik/Alexander Astafyev/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova on Friday proposed that Russia resume international flights to and from the country from July 15, two weeks earlier than the scheduled date of August 1 for resuming international air travel.
    Golikova said foreigners travelling to Russia would have to have proof of a negative test for COVID-19, taken in the last three days before their arrival, in order to enter the country.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/10/2020 Belarus Leader, Jabbing At Private Sector Opponents Before Election, Demands Higher Minimum Wage
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he takes part in
the celebrations of Independence Day in Minsk, Belarus July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who aims to extend his 26-year rule in a presidential election next month, said on Friday that private firms should pay a higher minimum wage – an apparent strike at his opponents in the non-state sector.
    Lukashenko faces the strongest challenge in years to his hold on power as frustration mounts over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances grow over the economy and human rights.
    He has accused private business owners of campaigning against him and forcing their employees to back opposition candidates.
    On Friday, visiting state-run firm Atlant in the capital Minsk, he said the minimum wage in any private company should be no lower than the average wage of the 10 most successful state-owned enterprises.
    “In this way, we will control the wages of those who consider themselves free from everything,” the state agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying.
    According to surveys, the average salary in car giant MAZ in 2019 was about $500 per month, while small businesses in Minsk offer salaries starting from $200.
    The private sector employs about a third of all employed in Belarus and their workers are less controlled by the authorities than the remaining 70 percent in the state sector.
    Analysts said many private firms could be closed if new rules come in force.
    “If they start trying to implement this idea, then a large part of private enterprises will not be able to follow it and will have to either reduce the number of employees or simply close,” said Vadim Iossub, Alpari Eurasia’s senior analyst.
    Police have arrested hundreds of people in an effort to quell anti-government protests before the Aug. 9 election, according to the government and human rights groups.    Almost all of Lukashenko’s main rivals are either arrested or under investigation.
    Viktor Babariko, who is widely seen as his main challenger in the election, was detained after being accused of crimes including taking $430 million out of the country in money-laundering schemes.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    Another election candidate said she was pressing on with her campaign despite receiving a threat to have her children taken away.    Svetlana Tikhanouskaya launched her campaign in place of her husband, an anti-Lukashenko blogger who was arrested in May for threatening public order.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, Writing by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

7/10/2020 Hungary Could Veto EU Rescue Plan If Conditioned On Rule Of Law, Orban Says
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds a joint news conference with Slovak Prime Minister
Igor Matovic (not pictured) in Budapest, Hungary, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday the EU’s coronavirus recovery plan would be unacceptable if funding were linked to rule-of-law conditions, and Budapest could veto any deal as a last resort.
    Orban, a right-wing nationalist who has accumulated unprecedented powers since winning election a decade ago, has clashed with the European Union executive for years over his perceived backsliding from democratic governance.
    The EU’s 27 national leaders are to meet next week for the first time in person since the COVID-19 crisis halted policy meetings in Brussels to hash out details of the next multiannual EU budget and post-pandemic recovery.
    “We could veto (a final accord), because it needs to be a unanimous decision, but we would find ourselves facing off with 26 other countries.    One should only do that as a last resort,” Orban told Hungarian public radio.
    The EU is set to spend 750 billion euros on aiding economic recovery in member states hardest hit by the pandemic – money that Orban said should be distributed “fairly and flexibly."
    “One thing should be carefully avoided: mixing it up with politics.    That’s (Hungary’s) gravest condition,” he said.
    When a liberal Hungarian EU lawmaker asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now holding the EU’s rotating presidency, on Wednesday whether the EU was prepared to condition recovery funding on adherence to democratic standards in Hungary, Merkel told the European Parliament she would engage with Orban.
    “Defending the rule of law is important…We are going to say things clearly when it comes to Viktor Orban,” Merkel said Wednesday.    “We will keep a watchful eye on what happens there.”
    Orban lashed back on Friday, dismissing the criticism as “liberals mouthing off… always trying to attach their ideology to economic matters of the EU.    That’s a dead end.”
    The opposition Socialist Party said Orban’s stance was “hypocritical,” accusing him of spending the last decade undoing democratic norms in Hungary.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[Keep up the fight Orban may God be with you to keep your country holy.].

7/11/2020 Russian City Marches In Support Of Detained Regional Governor
FILE PHOTO: Governor of Khabarovsk Region Sergei Furgal, accused of crimes including attempted murder, is escorted
to a police vehicle after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands marched in Russia’s far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday in support of its regional governor, who is being held in pre-trial detention after being charged with organising the murder of several entrepreneurs 15 years ago.
    Sergei Furgal, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, was a popular governor of the Khabarovsk region where he swept to power in 2018 after defeating a rival from the ruling United Russia party that backs President Vladimir Putin.
    Furgal was detained on Thursday and taken to Moscow.
    He could face up to life in prison if found guilty of the charges that include attempted murder.    He denies the charges.
    Video footage from news website DVHAB showed people chanting “Furgal is our choice,” “Freedom” and marching with posters “I am/We are Sergei Furgal.”
    “Get out of here, Moscow,” an unnamed female resident said in another video from the same website, which claimed the protest was the largest in Khabarovsk’s history.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Christina Fincher)

7/11/2020 Russia Reports 6,611 New Coronavirus Infections
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear gets out of an ambulance outside a hospital for patients infected
with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Saturday reported 6,611 new coronavirus cases, taking its nationwide tally of infections to 720,547.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 188 people had died from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 11,205.
    Russia said 497,446 people have recovered from the virus.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

7/11/2020 Bosnians Mark 25 Years Since Srebrenica Genocide That Shocked The World
A woman prays at a graveyard, ahead of a mass funeral in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
July 11, 2020. Bosnia marks the 25th anniversary of the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys,
with many relatives unable to attend due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Bosnians commemorated on Saturday the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, marking the 25th anniversary of killings that shocked the world and have stood out as Europe’s only atrocity since World War Two constituting genocide.
    Grieving families stood by green-draped coffins of nine newly identified victims who will be buried at a flower-shaped cemetery near the town, where tall white tombstones mark the graves of 6,643 other victims.br>     About 1,000 victims of the massacre in the eastern town during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war are still missing.
    World leaders addressed the solemn ceremony by video link, unable to attend because of coronavirus epidemic.
    Instead of tens of thousands visitors who typically attend the annual commemoration, only a few thousand came after organisers banned organised visits.
    During the Bosnian war, Bosnian Serb forces pushed non-Serbs out of territories they sought for their Serb statelet.    Fleeing Muslims took shelter in several eastern towns, including Srebrenica, that were designated as United Nations “safe zones.”
    On July 11, 1995, the Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic attacked and overrun Srebrenica, which was protected by lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers.
    They separated women and children from men and bussed them to territory controlled by the Bosnian army.    The men and boys were killed, while those who tried to escape through the woods were captured and executed.    Their bodies were dumped into mass graves and later exhumed by U.N. investigators and used as evidence in war crimes trials of Bosnian Serb leaders.
    “We grieve with the families that tirelessly seek justice for the 8,000 innocent lives lost, all these years later,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Washington brokered Bosnia’s peace deal months after the massacre.
    Most people at the commemoration were Muslim Bosniaks, showing that Bosnia has not achieved reconciliation nearly 25 years since the end of its war, in which about 100,000 people were killed.
    The U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic over Srebrenica genocide but they remained heroes for Serbs, many of whom deny that genocide happened.
    On Saturday, a non-government organisation called “Eastern Alternative” in the nearby town of Bratunac organised an event honouring July 11 as the “Srebrenica Liberation Day,” when killings of Serbs in the area by the Bosnian army stopped.
    “There can be no trust as long as we witness attacks on the truth, denial of genocide and glorification and celebration of executors,” Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, told the commemoration gathering.
(Reporting by Branko Filipovic and Daria Sito-Sucic Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/11/2020 Thousands Call On Bulgarian Government To Resign In Anti-Graft Protests
FILE PHOTO: A man shout slogans during a demonstration in front of the Court of Justice after prosecutors raided the
Bulgarian president's offices as part of investigations, in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Thousands of Bulgarians, frustrated with endemic corruption, protested on Saturday for a third day in a row, demanding the resignation of the centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the country’s chief prosecutor.
    Protesters, who chanted “Mafia” and “Resign” on Saturday, accuse Borissov’s third government and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev of deliberately delaying investigations into links between graft-prone officials and local oligarchs.
    Protests against what many called “state capture” and “mafia-style” rule were held in several other cities in the Balkan country.
    Police arrested 18 people late Friday after scuffles during the anti-corruption protests, but the demonstration Saturday was largely peaceful.
    Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest and most corrupt member state, has long pledged to root out graft but has yet to jail any senior officials on corruption charges.
    Public anger escalated following prosecutor raids on the offices of two of the Bulgarian president’s staff as part of investigations, which many saw as a targeted attack on President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of the government.
    In an address to the nation Saturday, Radev said the protests showed that Bulgarians had had enough and called for the resignation of the government and the chief prosecutor.
    Borissov, whose third government took office in 2017, prided himself on building new highways, boosting people’s incomes and getting the country into the euro zone’s “waiting room,” and said he does not plan to step down amid a looming coronavirus crisis.
    “We have done so much already, we have made so much efforts, nothing is keeping us in office except for responsibility,” Borissov said in a posting on his Facebook page.
    His GERB party said Radev, who was nominated for the post by opposition Socialists, was stoking a political crisis.    GERB remains Bulgaria’s most popular political party, according to opinion polls. The next general elections are due in spring 2021.
    At another demonstration Saturday on the Black Sea coast near Burgas, hundreds of Bulgarians demanded access to a public coastline near the summer residence of Ahmed Dogan, a businessman and senior member of the ethnic Turkish MRF party.    The demonstration was organised after the head of a small liberal party was denied access to the coast by armed guards of the National Protection Service, who were protecting Dogan.
    Protesters say the move was a sign of toxic links between the ruling elite and shady interests in the Balkan country.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by David Clarke and Leslie Adler)

7/11/2020 Croatia Makes Face Masks Compulsory In Public Indoor Spaces
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks are seen exiting the Dubrava hospital in Zagreb, Croatia, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia said on Saturday that wearing face masks will be obligatory in most closed public spaces from next week as the number of COVID-19 cases keeps rising.
    The number of new infections reached 140 on Saturday, the highest recorded so far in a single day.    Most cases are in the capital Zagreb and in east of the country.
    The national civil protection directorate said that from Monday face masks will be obligatory for both employees and clients in shops, and also for employees in bars, restaurants and other places where there is close contact with customers.
    The use of face masks on public transport was made compulsory several weeks ago.
    During the spring months Croatia successfully limited the spread of the disease and by early June the number of new cases had fallen to just a few daily or even none.    However, the number of new cases has soared in recent weeks, with many blaming the spread on gatherings such as weddings.
    Around 500,000 tourists from central European countries and Germany are currently holidaying on the Adriatic coast, but there have been very few cases of the virus among them.
    So far Croatia has registered 3,672 cases of COVID-19 and 118 deaths.    At the moment there are 1,088 active cases.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Christina Fincher)

7/11/2020 Thousands Join Anti-Government Protest In Serbian Capital
A woman reads a religious book during an anti-government rally, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 11, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Several thousand people gathered in front of the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Saturday for a fifth consecutive night of protests against government policies, including measures to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.
    Protesters, most of whom wore masks, walked in front of the parliament building in the Serbian capital, occasionally calling for President Aleksandar Vucic to step down.
    “We hope that authorities will hear us,” said Stefana Radjenovic, one of the protesters.
    “We want authorities to stop lying to us and we want to know the entire truth about everything that has been happening in connection with the coronavirus epidemic.”
    Similar peaceful protests were held in the cities of Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Cacak and Nis.
    Late on Friday, police clashed with demonstrators who threw flares and stones. Fourteen police officers were injured and 71 people arrested, police said.
    This week’s demonstrations were initially driven by frustration over economically stifling measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, but soon evolved into anti-government rallies that demanded Vucic’s resignation.
    say the government’s decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume in May and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21 are to blame for a surge in infections.
    Many believe the government was playing down the outbreak in order to allow the elections to proceed.
    Vucic dismissed those claims and described the protests as “senseless.”
    Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far reported 18,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and 382 deaths.
    It is the first country in Europe to have held elections since the pandemic was declared.    A number of opposition parties boycotted the vote to protest Vucic’s control of the media, which they said did not give them enough coverage. Vucic rejected those claims.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Paul Simao)

7/12/2020 Poles Vote In Presidential Election That Highlights Country’s Deep Divisions by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz
Polish President Andrzej Duda with his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda and daughter Kinga Duda attends
his election rally in Rzeszow, Poland July 10, 2020. Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles were voting on Sunday in a knife-edge presidential election that has highlighted the country’s deep political divisions and may shape its future relations with the European Union.
    Incumbent Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS), takes on liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski after a campaign that has shown sharply contrasting visions for the future.
    Duda’s re-election is crucial if PiS is to deepen judicial reforms that the European Union has criticised as increasing political control over the courts.
    The president holds the power of veto and Trzaskowski, who has said he is seeking a more open Poland, has promised that if he wins he will block legislation that he believes would undermine democratic norms.
    “(This election) is important because it will be crucial for the next 30 years in Poland,” said Przemyslaw Bochenski, a 60-year-old doctor, at a polling station in northern Warsaw.
    “If we do not take the right direction now I am afraid that Polish democracy and Poland, everything we have built, will collapse.”
    Given that Poland’s president holds few executive powers, it is unlikely Trzaskowski could bring about significant change if he won.    But with the presidency as well as the upper house of parliament in opposition hands, PiS’s ability to implement its agenda would be hampered.
    Polling stations in the election, a run-off after a first round on June 28, close at 1900 GMT, at which point the results of an exit poll will be announced.
    Duda has painted himself as a defender of Poland’s Catholic values and the generous social benefit programmes that have transformed life for many, especially in the poorer rural regions of the country, the EU’s largest post-communist member.
    “I believe we can build the Poland we dream of, a fair Poland, a rich Poland, a strong Poland… a Poland that can protect the weak and doesn’t have to fear the strong,” he told supporters on Friday.
    However, while Duda vows to stand with the weak, critics say his campaign has also drawn on homophobia and anti-Semitism.
    He has compared what he calls LGBT “ideology” to Soviet-era communist indoctrination, while state TV, the mouthpiece of the government, has used the sensitive issue of Jewish property restitution to attack Trzaskowski.
MORE TOLERANT POLAND
    Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw since 2018, became a target for religious conservatives for promoting gay rights after he took part in pride marches and pledged to introduce sex education classes in the city’s schools in line with WHO standards.
    Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS and Poland’s de-facto ruler, told Catholic television station TV Trwam on Thursday that Trzaskowski was at the centre of attempts to allow minorities to “terrorise” the rest of society.
    Trzaskowski says he seeks a more tolerant Poland and has criticised PiS’s rhetoric, while vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info.
    “Have you ever heard such homophobia, such anti-Semitism, such attacks on everybody who is brave enough to say ‘we have had enough’,” he asked supporters on Friday, contrasting PiS’s use of language with that of opposition politicians.
    But while vowing to block PiS’s judicial reforms and condemning attacks on minorities, Trzaskowski has stressed that he would leave PiS’s popular social benefit programmes intact and not seek to raise the retirement age.
    Trzaskowski has tried to portray himself as someone who can unite a divided nation, but many observers say a period of bitter conflict between the PiS-dominated parliament and the presidential palace awaits if he wins.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Alicja Ptak, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Anna Koper; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/12/2020 Poland’s Incumbent President Duda Marginally Ahead In Election: Exit Poll by Anna Koper and Marcin Goclowski
Voters wearing face masks cast their ballots during the second round of presidential election
at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, July 12, 2020. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Incumbent Andrzej Duda was marginally ahead in Poland’s presidential election on Sunday, an exit poll found, in a result seen as likely to have profound implications for its relations with the rest of the European Union.
    The re-election of Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS), is crucial if the government is to implement in full its conservative agenda, including judicial reforms that the European Union says undermine the rule of law.
    “I want to thank everyone that voted for me, also the critics,” Duda told supporters after the exit poll was announced.
    Duda got 50.4% of the vote, the exit poll showed, while Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw and preferred candidate of the main opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO) had 49.6%.
    The exit poll has a margin of error of two percentage points for each candidate, pollster Ipsos said.
    Partial official results are expected on Monday.
    Opinion polls before the election had shown the candidates neck and neck, with Trzaskowski having closed the gap on Duda who had initially looked like a clear favourite.
    During an acrimonious campaign, Duda had painted himself as a defender of Catholic values and of the government’s generous social benefit programmes that have transformed life for many, especially in the poorer rural regions of the country, the EU’s largest post-communist member.
    He also championed large infrastructure projects which he says will create jobs and boost the country’s autonomy and international standing.
    While Poland’s president has limited executive power, Trzaskowski has pledged to use the presidential veto if he wins to stop any further court reforms that could erode democratic norms.
    For many religious conservatives in Poland, ,b>Trzaskowski came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in the city’s schools.
(Additional reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Alicja Ptak, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Justyna Pawlak, Frances Kerry and Louise Heavens)

7/12/2020 Poland’s Duda Slightly Ahead In Presidential Vote: Exit Poll
Polish President and presidential candidate Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda visit a polling station during
the second round of a presidential election in Krakow, Poland July 12, 2020. Adrianna Bochenek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – President Andrzej Duda was marginally ahead in Poland’s presidential election, an exit poll showed on Sunday, in a result with profound implications for relations with the rest of the European Union.
    Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS), got 50.4% of the vote, according to the exit poll.
    Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, the favoured candidate of the main opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), got 49.6%.
    The exit poll by Ipsos has a margin of error of two percentage points for each candidate.    Preliminary results are expected on Monday.
(Reporting by Warsaw Newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/12/2020 Hungary Imposes Border Checks, Quarantine To Prevent Spread Of Virus
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian police officers wearing protective face masks check driver's documents who crosses the
Hungary-Austria border using a one-time special passage in Hegyeshalom, Hungary, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has imposed new restrictions on cross-border travel as of next Wednesday in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after a surge in new cases in several countries, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Sunday.
    Hungary lifted most of its lockdown restrictions in May and opened its borders to travellers from European Union states and neighbouring non-EU members.
    On Sunday, Gergely Gulyas told an online news conference that new restrictions were needed to keep the coronavirus “outside the borders” in order to avoid the re-introduction of domestic lockdown measures.
    “These restrictions serve to protect our freedom,” Gulyas said.
    Under the new rules, Hungarian nationals returning from high risk countries listed as “yellow” and “red” will have to go through health checks at the border and will have to go into 14 days of quarantine even if they are not infected.    This can only be avoided with two negative COVID-19 tests from the previous 5 days, Gulyas said.
    The same applies to foreigners coming from “yellow” countries, but those from “red” countries will be barred from entry.
    Countries in the Balkans such as Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and neighbouring Ukraine belong to the red category, among some other states.
    Serbia, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are among countries listed as “yellow,” while travel from Croatia — a popular holiday destination for Hungarians — is free for the time being.    The list will be regularly reviewed.
    Transit and cargo travel, as well as business trips are exempt from the restrictions but health checks can be conducted.
    Hungary, which has a population of around 10 million, had recorded 4,234 cases of COVID-19 and 595 related deaths as of Sunday.    It reported five new infections on Sunday.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by David Evans and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

7/13/2020 Polish President Duda Wins Election, New Battles With EU Loom by Joanna Plucinska and Marcin Goclowski
Polish President and presidential candidate of the Law and Justice (PiS) party Andrzej Duda speaks after the announcement of the
first exit poll results on the second round of the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, July 12, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power on a deeply conservative platform after a closely fought election that is likely to deepen the country’s isolation in the European Union.
    Nearly final results from Sunday’s presidential election put him on more than 51%, giving him an unassailable lead over Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won almost 49% of the votes, the National Election Commission said.
    Duda is allied with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory will give the government a new mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media which the executive European Commission says subvert democratic standards.
    “I don’t want to speak on behalf of the campaign staff, but I think that this difference is large enough that we have to accept the result,” Grzegorz Schetyna, the former head of the opposition Civic Platform grouping that fielded Trzaskowski.
    Backed by PiS, Duda ran an acrimonious campaign, laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media and accusations that Trzaskowski serve foreign interests instead of Poland’s.    Trzaskowski dismissed the accusations.
    Duda’s victory opens the way to new clashes between Poland and the European Commission as the EU tries to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising nationalism across the 27-member bloc.
    Before PiS and Duda came to power in 2015, Poland had one of the most pro-European administrations in the bloc’s ex-communist east.    But it has become increasingly combative, with divisions focusing on climate change and migration, in addition to democratic norms.
ENEMIES
    Warsaw mayor since 2018, Trzaskowski had said he would seek a more tolerant Poland if elected. He has criticised PiS’ rhetoric, vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave overt support to Duda in its programming.
    But to many religious conservatives in Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation, he came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in the city’s schools.
    “It’s what populists do very effectively.    You name the enemy and you focus on combating him. This is what was used in this campaign, the fear of others,” Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the Warsaw University.
    In the last week of campaigning, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski accused Trzaskowski of being at the centre of attempts to allow minorities to “terrorise” the rest of society.
    Economic policy was also at the heart of the election, with Duda painting himself as a guardian of generous PiS welfare programmes that have transformed life for many poorer Poles since the party came to power in 2015.
    PiS now faces the prospect of three years of uninterrupted rule with the next parliamentary election scheduled for 2023.
    Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested late on Sunday the party could push on quickly with its conservative agenda following the vote, and with its ambition to spur change in private media ownership towards outlets more favourable to its ambitions.
    “We need to take care of the issue of values more than before,” he told state broadcaster TVP.    “There is also the matter of an imbalance among the media.”
    Some observers say Trzaskowski’s strong showing could energise the opposition, which has struggled until now to formulate a cohesive narrative in the face of the PiS success in winning over many Poles with its economic and social agenda.
(This story has been refiled to fix typo in second paragraph)
(Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Timothy Heritage)
[Trump and the God in heaven is on your side for standing up to the evil forces in the world today.].

7/13/2020 Polish Conservative Duda Re-Elected President, Deeper EU Rifts Likely by Joanna Plucinska and Marcin Goclowski
Polish President Andrzej Duda attends a meeting with local residents following his victory in a
presidential election in Odrzywol, Poland July 13, 2020. Marcin Kucewicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power on a socially conservative, religious platform in a closely fought election that makes renewed confrontation with the European Union’s executive likely.
    Final results from Sunday’s presidential election runoff showed Duda, 48, won with 51.03% of the vote, the National Election Commission said.
    Liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski got 48.97%.
    Duda is allied with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory reinforces the government’s mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media which the European Commission says subvert democratic standards.
    “To a large extent, the policy of Brussels, or rather Berlin, had focused on supporting the opposition,” PiS lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk told Reuters.
    “Polish society is not accepting this.”
    Duda has painted himself as a guardian of traditional values and the generous PiS welfare programmes that have transformed life for many poorer Poles.
    However, he ran an acrimonious campaign laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media and accusations that Trzaskowski serves foreign interests.
    Since polls closed, he has struck a more conciliatory tone in the deeply polarised country.    “Hold back as much as you can from unnecessary words … because words can hurt,” he told supporters.    “Please, help me put Poland back together again.”
    Trzaskowski, who had said he would repair Poland’s relations with Europe and use the presidential veto to block any legislation eroding democratic norms, said he thought the PiS would not change direction.
    “Unfortunately, it seems like the other side has not learned lessons,” Trzaskowski said.    “That is why we hear statements that the process of politicizing the courts will be completed… Unfortunately those in power do not want to reach out their hand to us.”
    Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested on Sunday that the PiS could push on quickly with its ambition to change private media ownership toward outlets more favourable to its policies.
RIFTS
    The PiS and EU have been divided on climate change and migration, in addition to democracy issues.
    Rifts are likely to be evident this week when EU leaders discuss the bloc’s long-term budget, with Brussels facing growing calls for funding to be made conditional on respect for the rule of law.
    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Duda on Twitter on Monday.
    Hungary, another right-wing nationalist voice in central Europe, swiftly welcomed Duda’s re-election.
    “The international liberal mainstream once again tried everything but the central European right wing is up 3:0,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Facebook, referring to recent conservative triumphs in Croatia, which is an EU member state, and Serbia, which is not in the EU.
    Trzaskowski had said that, if elected, he would seek a more tolerant Poland and abolish state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave overt support to Duda.
    “The public broadcaster was used as a campaign tool for the incumbent,” said Thomas Boserup, head of an assessment mission from European election watchdog the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).    “This is the clearest misuse of public resources we have seen in this election.”
    To many religious conservatives in predominantly Catholic Poland, Trzaskowski came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in Warsaw schools.
    Many members of the LGBT community fear discrimination under a second Duda term.
    “We feel powerless,” said Dawid Mycek, 35, a LGBT activist and Youtuber.    “This is the first presidential campaign I know, which was based on hate, hate speech and dividing Poles.”
(Additional reporting Alicja Ptak and Kacper Pempel; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Alan Charlish; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)

7/13/2020 Moscow Attributes 3,408 Deaths To Coronavirus In June
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing Platov International Airport
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow’s health department said on Monday it had recorded 3,408 deaths related to the novel coronavirus in June, saying they helped account for an increase of nearly 42% in the city’s mortality rate compared to the same month last year.
    The local health department in Moscow, the area worst-hit by the pandemic in Russia, said it had recorded 13,128 deaths in June, including 3,408 it attributed to the coronavirus.
    The department identified 1,605 cases in which the coronavirus had been the main cause of death and said that 1,803 others had died of other causes while testing positive for the virus.
    It added that there had been 35% fewer deaths in June of patients thought to have the coronavirus than in May.
    The Moscow health department had attributed 5,260 deaths to the virus for the month of May.
    Russia on Monday reported 6,537 new cases of the coronavirus, pushing its nationwide tally to 733,699, the fourth largest reported in the world.
    Authorities said 104 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing Russia’s official death toll to 11,439.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

7/13/2020 Finland Should Not Apply Hong Kong Extradition Treaty After Security Law, Foreign Minister Says
Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto makes a statement to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU Foreign
Ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium July 13, 2020. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday the Nordic country’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong should not be applied as Beijing’s new security law means people could be transferred to mainland China.
    “The situation has changed from the time when the treaty was signed,” Haavisto told a news conference.    “It should not be applied.”
    China’s imposition of a new security law has seen countries such as Britain and Canada caution citizens of an increased risk of arbitrary detention in Hong Kong and possible extradition to mainland China.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki in Tallinn; Editing by Toby Chopra)

7/13/2020 Russia May Start Phase III Trial Of COVID-19 Vaccine In Mid-August: RIA
FILE PHOTO: A scientist prepares samples during the research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian institute developing one of the country’s potential coronavirus vaccines hopes to start its final stage testing in a small section of the general public in mid-August, the RIA news agency cited the institute’s director as saying on Monday.
    Globally, of 19 experimental COVID-19 vaccines in human trials, only two are in final Phase III trials – one by China’s Sinopharm and another by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.    China’s Sinovac Biotech is set to become the third later this month.
    Early results from the first small-scale human trial of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow has shown it to be safe for use, according to a separate RIA report on Sunday.
    “Around 14-15 August, I hope, the small amount of vaccine that we should be able to produce will enter public circulation,” Alexander Ginsburg, the institute’s director, was quoted as saying.
    This will be equivalent to a Phase III trial, since people getting the vaccine will remain under supervision, RIA reported, citing Ginsburg.
    Phase I and Phase II trials typically test the safety of a drug before it enters Phase III trials that test its efficacy on a bigger group of volunteers.
    Human trials of the Gamaleya Institute’s vaccine began on June 18, with nine volunteers receiving one dose, and another nine testing the prospective booster dose.
    The group did not experience any significant side effects and is due to be released from hospital on Wednesday, RIA reported on Sunday, citing a director at the Sechenov University in Moscow where the trial took place.
    “Data currently available… shows the volunteers to have developed an immune response to the coronavirus vaccine,” the defence ministry, involved in the trials, was cited by RIA as saying on Monday.    Another 20 volunteers were administered the vaccine at a military hospital on June 23.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

7/14/2020 Ukraine: It’s Too Early To Blame Human Error For Downing Of Passenger Plane In Iran
FILE PHOTO: People hold posters with names of victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 plane disaster during a
commemoration ceremony in front of the Iranian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Tuesday it was soon to blame human error for the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger airliner near Tehran in January, challenging the findings of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO).
    The CAO said in an interim report that the plane was accidentally downed, killing 176 people on board, because of a misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air defence operator and his commanders.
    But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told an online briefing that many questions remained unanswered.
    “I want to clearly emphasise: it is early to say that the plane was shot down as a result of human error, as the Iranian side claims,” he said.    “We have many questions, and we need a large number of authoritative, unbiased, objective answers about what happened.”
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight with a ground-to-air missile on Jan. 8 shortly after the plane took off from Tehran.    Iran later called it a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.
    Tehran said last month said it would send the black box flight recorders from the downed airliner to France for analysis and that experts from the United States, Canada, France, Britain and Ukraine would take part in the decoding.
    Kuleba said an Iranian delegation was due to arrive in Kiev later this month to discuss compensation.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in February Kiev was not satisfied with the size of compensation Iran had offered.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/14/2020 Belgium, Once Hard-Hit, Reports Zero Coronavirus Deaths For First Time Since March by Marine Strauss
FILE PHOTO: People sit on terraces on Brussels Grand Place square as restaurants and bars reopen after weeks of lockdown restrictions
following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium, which has reined in the coronavirus after becoming the worst-hit mid-sized country in the world, reported zero new coronavirus-related deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday for the first time since March 10.
    As in many European countries that were hard hit by the pandemic in March and April, Belgium sharply reduced infections by imposing a lockdown, which is now being lifted.total number of deaths reported by the national public health institute Sciensano remained at 9,787. In the country of 11.5 million people, that works out to around 850 deaths per million, the worst in the world apart from the tiny city state of San Marino.    The peak daily death toll was 343 on April 12.
    The curve of confirmed infections has flattened dramatically, with a total of 62,781, though the daily average of new cases in the last seven days, at 95, was up 11% from the previous week.
    Facing a potentially risky summer with its citizens vacationing abroad, Belgium introduced a traffic-light system to determine where travellers can go and who should quarantine upon return.
    As of Tuesday self-isolation and testing was mandatory for people returning from Sweden, Leicester in England, and areas of Spain and Portugal currently under a new lockdown.    It is recommended for Bulgaria, Croatia, Luxembourg and Romania among others.
    The list is updated daily but has drawn criticism from member states, including Luxembourg, Romania and Sweden, which have complained that travel restrictions are affecting the workings of EU institutions in Brussels, diplomats say.
    Belgium is vastly more prepared than at the start of the year when skiing holidaymakers brought the new coronavirus back, health minister Maggie de Block said last week.
    The government is meeting on Wednesday to discuss further easing of lockdown measures after making face masks mandatory in shops, cinemas and museums.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; Editing by John Chalmers and Angus MacSwan)

7/14/2020 Two Main Challengers To Belarus President Barred From Election Ballot
FILE PHOTO: Viktor Babariko, who resigned as head of Belgazprombank to launch his bid for the Belarusian presidency,
attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – The Belarusian election commission declined on Tuesday to register President Alexander Lukashenko’s two most prominent opponents as candidates for a presidential election next month, all but ensuring victory for the leader in power for 26 years.
    Viktor Babariko, a banker who was detained last month, was excluded from the ballot because of a criminal case against him, the commission said.    Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador who runs an office park for tech companies, was also rejected, after signatures on a supporting petition were nullified.
    The two men had been widely seen as the last candidates left with a chance of defeating Lukashenko, who faces his strongest opposition in years as frustration mounts over the economy, human rights and him downplaying the coronavirus pandemic.
    Police have arrested hundreds of people in an effort to quell anti-government protests before the elections.    Almost all of Lukashenko’s main rivals are either arrested or under investigation.
    The EU delegation to Belarus said the move “undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections.”
    “By denying the registration of Viktor Babarika and Valery Tsapkalo, the Belarusian authorities have failed to ensure a meaningful and competitive political contest,” it said.
    Babariko, who headed the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank before he decided to run for president, was detained last month on accusations he spirited hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country in money laundering schemes.    He has rejected the charges as a way for the authorities to sideline a critic.
    “The regime forces people to make a choice that they no longer want to make,” Maria Kolesnikova, a spokeswoman for his campaign, told a news conference after the decision.
    Andrei Lankin, an official in Tsepalko’s campaign, said Tsepalko would go to court to challenge the decision not to register him over the disallowed signatures.
    Lukashenko’s campaign chief, Mikhail Orda, said: “We need to quietly and calmly hold the elections, without any provocations and upheavals.”
    Human rights activists have said more than 700 people have been detained during the election campaign.    The authorities have not commented on the figures.
(Reporting by Andrey Makhovsky; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Peter Graff and Alison Williams)

7/14/2020 No New Year Pilgrimage To Ukraine For Israeli Jews This Year
FILE PHOTO: Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration
of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, in Uman, Ukraine, September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Israeli Hasidic Jews will have to forego an annual pilgrimage to the central Ukrainian town of Uman this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the town’s mayor has said.
    Every Jewish New Year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.
    This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept 18-20.
    “The common opinion is that the arrival of tens of thousands of Hasidic pilgrims to Uman to conduct the celebration in the traditional format is impossible,” mayor Oleksander Tsebriy said on Facebook.
    He cited the prevalence of the coronavirus in both Ukraine and Israel, and the difficulty of monitoring compliance with the required safety measures.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/14/2020 Russia Confirms More Than 6,200 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing Platov International Airport
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday reported 6,248 new cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its confirmed national tally to 739,947, the fourth largest in the world.
    Officials said 175 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 11,614. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/14/2020 Bulgaria’s Opposition Says State Prosecutors Won’t Deflect Anti-Government Protests
A demonstrator holds a flare in front of the government building, during an
anti-government protest in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – State prosecutors said on Tuesday a fugitive Bulgarian tycoon facing criminal charges had helped orchestrate protests against the prime minister, as demonstrations demanding the government quit because of corruption entered a sixth day.
    The main opposition Socialist party said state prosecutors were trying “to discredit the protests as paid and organised” but said officials would not silence demonstrators seeking to drive Prime Minister Boyko Borissov from office.
    “It is easy to see that there are people who sincerely want change,” the Socialist party leader Kornelia Ninova said in a statement, as thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Sofia and other cities chanting “Resign” and “Mafia.”
    The Balkan nation, the poorest member of the European Union and ranked the bloc’s most corrupt state by graft watchdog Transparency International, has yet to convict a single senior official of corruption.
    Alongside demanding the prime minister quit, protesters have called for the resignation of the chief prosecutor, saying he has not done enough to root out high-level corruption.
    The U.S. embassy in Sofia weighed in on Monday, with a statement saying: “Every nation deserves a judicial system that is non-partisan and accountable to the rule of law.”
    State prosecutors dismiss accusations of bias.
    Borissov, who has been in power almost without break since 2009 and who has repeatedly promised to sweep out corruption, has said his government will not resign and elections would be held in spring. Senior ministers repeated that on Tuesday.
    Prosecutors published on Tuesday what they said was a tapped telephone call in which gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov told an opposition politician he had helped boost the size of the protests.    The publication prompted the politician to quit the Socialists parliamentary group.
    Bozkhov, who fled the country to escape charges ranging from tax evasion to extortion, which he denies, said in a message on his Facebook page that he had supported the protests from the start and would continue to do so.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Edmund Blair)

7/15/2020 Belarus Police Detain Over 250 After Challengers Barred From Election
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers detain participants of a protest after the Belarusian election
commission refused to register Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo as candidates for the
upcoming presidential election in Minsk, Belarus July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus opened a criminal case on Wednesday over protests in which more than 250 people were detained after President Alexander Lukashenko’s two main rivals were barred from running in a presidential election next month.
    Several hundred people took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Tuesday and social media reported protests in other Belarusian cities after the central election commission refused to register the two challengers.
    Police said more than 250 people had been detained after rights group Vesna 96 published the names of 250 detainees, and the state investigative committee said it had launched a criminal case against the protest organisers and protesters.
    “All video materials posted on the internet are attached to the materials of the criminal case and are currently being studied by investigators,” the committee said in a statement.
    Lukashenko, who has allowed little dissent in his 26-year rule, is all but certain to win the Aug. 9 election though he has faced mass protests this year.
    In central Minsk, protesters periodically broke into applause on Tuesday – a trademark of recent protests. Reuters witnesses saw police blocking off the main streets and detaining protesters.
    The European Union delegation to Belarus said the election commission’s decision “undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections.”
    Viktor Babariko, a banker who was detained last month, was excluded from the ballot because of a criminal case against him, the commission said.    Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador who runs an office park for tech companies, was also rejected, after signatures on a supporting petition were nullified.
    The two men had been widely seen as the last candidates with any chance of defeating Lukashenko, who faces growing public frustration over the economy, human rights and his playing down of the COVID-19 pandemic in the former Soviet republic.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, Writing by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/15/2020 North Macedonia Heads To Election With Pace Of EU Accession At Stake by Aleksandar Vasovic and Kole Casule
Macedonian Former Prime Minister and leader of the ruling SDSM party Zoran Zaev casts his ballot at a polling
station during the general election, after planned snap elections in April had to be postponed due to the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Strumica, North Macedonia, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
    SKOPJE (Reuters) – Voting began in a parliamentary election in North Macedonia that may decide the pace of its bid for European Union membership, with the governing pro-EU Social Democrats locked in a close race with the main opposition nationalists.
    The vote was originally scheduled for April but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.    Voters arrived at the polling stations wearing mandatory masks.    The country of 2 million people has reported 8,332 infections 389 deaths due to COVID-19.
    Prime Minister Zoran Zaev put the country on the path towards EU membership by agreeing to add “North” to its name, resolving a decades-old stand-off with Greece, which viewed the name Macedonia as a claim on its province of the same name.
    The opposition VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski opposed the name change, and also accuses Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of corruption and cronyism, which they deny.
    One recent election poll suggested a narrow victory for the SDSM, while another indicated a narrow win for the VMRO-DPMNE.    But both polled less than 25%, meaning they would need partners for a majority.
    Zaev “had the courage to do what nobody else did.    He solved the problems and opened the door to European Union,” Tanja Sotirovska, a 47-year saleswoman from Skopje told Reuters after voting.
    Parliament dissolved in February following the resignation of Zaev after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations.    A month later the EU announced that talks could begin, again setting no date but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.
    An SDSM victory could lend momentum to Skopje’s membership talks with the EU. Skopje political analyst Petar Arsovski said if VMRO-DPMNE won, it would not abandon the deal with Greece but might try to hold up implementing some aspects, such as renaming the currency and changing uniform symbols, risking new obstacles to the EU bid.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)
[8332 / 839 = 0.047% of deaths.].

7/15/2020 One Killed, Dozens Injured In Second Czech Train Collision
Emergency responders are seen at the site of a train accident in Cesky Brod, Czech Republic July 14, 2020,
in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken July 14, 2020. POLICIE CR/via REUTERS
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – One person was killed and dozens injured when two trains collided in the Czech Republic’s second fatal rail crash this month, officials said.
    A passenger train and a freight train collided near Cesky Brod, 34 km (20 miles) east of Prague, on Tuesday evening, emergency services said. Rescue crews worked through the night.
    At least 35 people were injured, two of them severely and eight seriously, the fire rescue service said. One of the train drivers died in the crash, CTK news agency reported.
    Another train collision killed two people and injured 24 in the northwest of the country near the border with Germany on July 7.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

7/15/2020 Russia Reports More Than 6,400 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk outside outside
the I.I. Dzhanelidze Research Institute of Emergency Medicine amid the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday reported 6,422 new coronavirus cases, pushing its confirmed national tally to 746,369, the fourth highest in the world.
    Officials said 156 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 11,770.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by John Stonestreet)
[Note 6422 / 156 = 0.025% deaths and 746369 / 11770 = 0.016% deaths.].

7/16/2020 Croatian President Nominates Incumbent Plenkovic As PM-Designate
FILE PHOTO: Croatian Prime Minister and the leader of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Andrej Plenkovic
waves as he stands next to the media after casting his ballot during parliamentary election, amid the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Zagreb, Croatia, July 5, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia’s president nominated centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party leader Andrej Plenkovic as prime minister-designate on Thursday, signalling his return to power after a July 5 parliamentary election.
    The HDZ is set to form a majority coalition with the support of two smaller liberal parties and representatives of national minorities.
    “I was shown that Plenkovic has the support of 76 parliamentary deputies,” President Zoran Milanovic told reporters.
    The HDZ won 66 seats in the 151-seat parliament, well ahead of the main opposition Social Democrats, who with their allies took 41 seats.    Plenkovic headed the outgoing HDZ-led coalition for the past four years.
    The new parliament is expected to convene next Wednesday after which Plenkovic will seek approval for his new cabinet, probably a day later.    “The new government will have 16 ministries, four less than the previous one, for the sake of better functionality,” Plenkovic said.
    Most ministers from the previous government are likely to keep their jobs including Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, seen as pivotal to keeping public finances on track to advance Zagreb’s bid to adopt the euro single currency during the next government’s term in office.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/16/2020 Hundreds Protest In Moscow Against Reforms That May Keep Putin In Power
Law enforcement officers detain a participant of a protest against amendments to Russia's Constitution and the
results of a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms, in Moscow, Russia July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Dozens of people were arrested at a protest in Moscow on Wednesday against constitutional reforms that give     President Vladimir Putin the option to remain in power for another 16 years, witnesses and a monitoring group said.
    About 500 demonstrators, many of whom wore face masks branded with the word “no,” chanted calls for Putin to resign and held up banners against the reforms.
    Police surrounded them and began making arrests late in the evening after participants started a march down one of the city’s main boulevards, with officers in riot gear forcefully rounding up protesters and placing them in vans.
    Over a hundred people were detained, according to the rights monitoring group OVD-info. There was no immediate confirmation from police or the government on numbers of arrests.
    A vote earlier this month amended Russia’s constitution, handing Putin the right to run for two more presidential terms, an outcome the Kremlin described as a triumph.
    Opposition activists say the vote was illegitimate and that it is time for Putin, who has ruled Russia for over two decades as president or prime minister, to step down.
    “I came here to sign the petition against the constitutional reforms because I am a nationalist,” said one 40-year old man in a black t-shirt as protesters chanted “Putin is a thief.”
    Fourteen-year old Vasilisa said she also signed the petition because Putin “is to blame for the poverty in our country.”
    “Gay people are killed here, women are beaten up here, and no one is ever held accountable,” she said.
    Two Russian activists involved in the campaign against the constitutional reforms were detained last week and the homes of five others were searched, ahead of the scheduled protest, which had not been sanctioned by authorities.
    Mass gatherings are banned in the capital because of COVID-19 restrictions.    Even in normal times, protests of more than one person require the authorities’ advance consent.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/16/2020 Uzbek Leader Chides Officials Over “Deplorable” COVID-19 Situation
FILE PHOTO: Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends a news conference with his Kazakh counterpart
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan’s president has criticised his health minister and the mayor of Tashkent over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the situation in the capital was “deplorable” and causing popular discontent.
    President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s comments were the first official acknowledgement that Central Asia’s most populous nation is having problems coping with the new coronavirus.
    The former Soviet republic of 34 million imposed a second nationwide lockdown this month and has confirmed 14,581 COVID-19 cases, with 71 deaths.
    Mirziyoyev said Tashkent, which has a population of 2.5 million, and Tashkent province accounted for about 40% of the cases.    People in the capital are having trouble buying some medicines, getting tested for COVID-19 or calling an ambulance, his office quoted him as saying late on Wednesday.
    The president reprimanded health minister Alisher Shodmonov and Tashkent mayor Jahongir Artikhojayev for failing to stop the spread of the virus, it said.
    “The healthcare ministry has over the last month failed to stick to the strategy and tactics of coronavirus treatment and did not adjust the treatment protocols to the changing situation,” Mirziyoyev was quoted as saying.
    “There are shortages of test kits and necessary medicines in the city of Tashkent.    The prices of antiviral and anti-fever medicines in drugstores are inflated a few times over for no good reason.”
    Demand for ambulances has grown as the pandemic worsened.    Mirziyoyev said 43 people had died from various illnesses in just three days while waiting for an ambulance.
    He did not comment further on what he said was popular discontent over the pandemic, but ordered the authorities to increase numbers of medical staff and available hospital beds, and to ensure adequate supply of drugs and food staples.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/16/2020 Shelling Between Azerbaijan And Armenia Smashes Brief Ceasefire
FILE PHOTO: A woman stays in a house, which locals said was damaged during a recent shelling by Armenia's forces, in armed
clashes on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in the village of Dondar Quschi, Azerbaijan July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of shelling military positions and villages on Thursday, breaking a day of ceasefire in border clashes between the two former Soviet republics.
    Eleven Azeri soldiers and a civilian, and four Armenian servicemen, have died since Sunday in renewed conflict between countries who fought a 1990s war in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    International concern is heightened because of the threat to stability in a region serving as a corridor for pipelines taking oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to global markets.
    Both countries’ defence ministries accused the other of firing mortars from before dawn and encroaching on territory, though there were no casualties reported.
    It was “the first serious violation of the fragile ceasefire established yesterday,” the Armenian ministry said.
    The neighbours have long been in conflict over Azerbaijan’s breakaway, mainly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.    But the latest flareups are around the Tavush region in northeast Armenia, some 300 km (190 miles) from the enclave.
    Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.    Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/16/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Case Tally Passes 750,000
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing Platov International Airport amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – on Thursday, the fourth largest in the world, after authorities reported 6,428 new cases in the last 24 hours.
    In their daily readout, officials said 167 people had died overnight, pushing the official death toll to 11,937.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/16/2020 North Macedonia’s Pro-EU SDSM Set To Win Parliamentary Vote by Kole Casule
Macedonian Former Prime Minister and leader of the ruling SDSM party Zoran Zaev casts his ballot at a polling
station during the general election, after planned snap elections in April had to be postponed due to the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Strumica, North Macedonia, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
    SKOPJE (Reuters) – North Macedonia’s Social Democrats who pledged to take the Balkan country to the European Union are set to win the parliamentary vote on Wednesday, state election commission parliamentary results showed.
    The ruling SDSM party of the most recent prime minister, Zoran Zaev, won 36.9% of the votes, with its main rival, nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, second with 35.9%, according to preliminary results based on 71% of the votes counted.
    Ethnic Albanian party, Democratic Union of Integration, which had been in the government with SDSM, was third with 10.2% of the votes.
    The vote was originally scheduled for April but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.    Voters arrived at the polling stations wearing mandatory masks.
    The former Yugoslav republic of 2 million people has so far reported a total of 8,530 infections and 393 deaths due to the coronavirus.
    Zaev, in office since 2017, put the country on the path towards EU membership by agreeing to add “North” to its name.
    That resolved a decades-old stand-off with Greece, which had viewed the name Macedonia as a claim on its province of the same name, and had blocked its neighbour’s entry into both the EU and NATO.    The newly renamed North Macedonia joined NATO this year.
    The opposition VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski opposed the name change, and also accused Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of corruption and cronyism, which it denied.
    “I believe … we have succeeded in … convincing the people that the coalition led by SDSM is the one that will get most support,” Zaev said after voting.
    Parliament dissolved in February when Zaev resigned after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations.    A month later the EU announced talks could begin.    It again set no date, but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.
    An SDSM victory could be seen as lending momentum to Skopje’s membership talks with the EU.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Peter Graff and Matthew Lewis)

7/16/2020 Russia Trying To Steal COVID-19 Vaccine Data, Say UK, U.S. And Canada by William James and Steve Scherer
Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen
in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    LONDON/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Hackers backed by the Russian state are trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said on Thursday.
    A co-ordinated statement from Britain, the United States and Canada attributed the attacks to group APT29, also known as ‘Cozy Bear,’ which they said was almost certainly operating as part of Russian intelligence services.
    “We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” said NCSC Director of Operations, Paul Chichester.
    Russian news agency RIA cited spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the Kremlin rejected London’s allegations, which he said were not backed by proper evidence.
    In a separate announcement Britain also accused “Russian actors” of trying to interfere in its 2019 election by trying to spread leaked documents online.    Russia’s foreign ministry said those accusations were “foggy and contradictory.”
    Britain is expected to publish a long-delayed report into Russian influence in British politics next week.
SELFISH INTERESTS
    British foreign minister Dominic Raab said it was “completely unacceptable” for Russian intelligence services to target work on the pandemic.
    “While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,” he said in a statement.    He said Britain would work with allies to hold perpetrators to account.
    The NCSC said the group’s attacks were continuing and used a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware.
    “APT29 is likely to continue to target organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine research and development, as they seek to answer additional intelligence questions relating to the pandemic,” the NCSC statement said.
    Canadian authorities said the attacks were hindering response efforts and that risks to health organisations were elevated.
    Canada’s signals intelligence and cyber threat centre advised institutions to take action to protect themselves.
    Britain and the United States said in May that networks of hackers were targeting national and international organisations responding to the pandemic.    But such attacks have not previously been explicitly connected to the Russian state.
    The Russian government-linked group Cozy Bear is widely suspected of hacking the Democratic Party before the 2016 U.S. election.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London and Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farbe in Moscow; editing by Stephen Addison, William Maclean)

7/17/2020 Police in Moscow detain more than 130 people during protests
    MOSCOW – Police in Moscow detained over 130 people during a protest against the constitutional change that allows President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036.    Moscow police said Thursday they detained 139 protesters and charged 62 of them with violating protest regulations.    The OVDInfo rights group that monitors arrests and detentions in Russia put the figure at 147.    The rally was organized by activists of the “No!” campaign that advocated for voting against the reform.    It was not authorized by the city authorities.

7/17/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 12,000
FILE PHOTO: A restaurant employee wears a protective face shield and mask due to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s death toll from the novel coronavirus passed 12,000 on Friday, as the country reported 186 new deaths in the past 24 hours.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre registered 6,406 new cases, bringing its nationwide tally of infections to 759,203, the world’s fourth highest caseload.
    The death toll now stands at 12,123.    Russia says 539,373 people have recovered.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

7/17/2020 Ukraine To Stage Exercises To Coincide With Russian Manoeuvres
FILE PHOTO: Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" military helicopters fly during the Victory
Day Parade in Sevastopol, Crimea June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Alexey Pavlishak/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Friday it would conduct military exercises, which it hoped NATO partners would join, as an answer to planned Russian exercises in the Caucasus, and an insurance against any resulting escalation on its eastern borders.
    Defence Minister Andriy Taran told the parliament the exercises would include anti-aircraft fire and would be held at the end of September in southern Ukraine.
    Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been tense since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that remains active.
    Clashes between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces have killed more than 13,000 people since 2014, despite a ceasefire agreement struck in 2015.
    “This asymmetric response will show the readiness of the armed forces of Ukraine to give a worthy rebuff to any attempts by the Russian Federation to exacerbate the situation or start large-scale hostilities,” Taran said.
    He said Kyiv would invite NATO countries to join the event.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/17/2020 Polish ‘LGBT-Free’ Town Weighs Risk Of Losing EU Funds by Alicja Ptak
A general view shows a town square in Konskowola, Poland July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
    KONSKOWOLA, Poland (Reuters) – Surrounded by fields of roses and lavender in tranquil eastern Poland, some residents of the village of Konskowola feel the European Union may be trying to blackmail them.
    Like about a hundred other municipalities across rural Poland, the local council has declared Konskowola to be free of “LGBT ideology,” reflecting a backlash against gay rights throughout the conservative, largely Catholic nation.
    This has raised eyebrows in Brussels, with the European Commission signalling to regional authorities, including Konskowola, that it may curb EU aid to areas that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
    Some residents, such as Radoslaw Gabriel Barzenc, the Konskowola council head, are angry over what they see as unjustified interference by Europe’s liberal west in the town’s beliefs.
    “The restrictions could be implemented because people have an opinion.    Isn’t this discrimination? Is this what European tolerance is about?    I don’t think so,” he told Reuters.
    “I cannot imagine we would yield to blackmail.”
    Gay rights have become a hot-button issue in Poland since the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power five years ago pledging to defend traditional family values.
    In the run-up to last Sunday’s presidential election, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, allied with PiS, pledged to ensure gay couples would not be able to adopt children and to prevent education about gay rights in public schools.
    He won a second five-year term with a margin of 51% against a liberal challenger, amid mounting polarisation in Poland over the role religious values should play in public life.
    PiS and Duda have long disagreed with Europe over Warsaw’s adherence to democratic norms, and the issue was on the agenda at a European Union summit which started in Brussels on Friday.
    Some want to freeze payouts for EU countries said to be undermining democratic values, such as Poland, although Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing ally of Warsaw’s conservative government, has threatened a veto.
    On the eve of the summit, Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s gay prime minister, expressed outrage.
    “If we accept that you condemn a sexual minority, tomorrow it will be religion, the day after it will be race,” he told Reuters.
    A Polish rights organisation has also petitioned the European anti-fraud office OLAF to investigate whether EU funds disbursed in     Poland are being misused by “LGBT-free” communities.    OLAF declined to comment.
‘HOMOPROPAGANDA’
    In Konskowola, in Poland’s conservative heartland, some 70% of residents voted for Duda, a devout Catholic.
    “The EU should not withdraw its funds,” said Urszula Nowak, a 76-year-old pensioner who has lived her entire life in the village.    “It would mean the EU was against our faith.    The majority of Poles are Christian after all.”
    Konskowola authorities say their aim is not to discriminate against any individuals.
    In a 2019 declaration, the council said it opposed any public activity aimed at “promoting the ideology of the LGBT movement,” and declared it would protect its school and its families from anything that would contradict Christian values.
    “We will not allow any administrative pressure in support of political correctness, rightfully called ‘homopropaganda’,” the declaration read.
    But dissent in Konskowola, which has a population of just over 2,000, is brewing.
    Mayor Stanislaw Golebiowski, who is not a member of the local council, says it should have never taken up the issue and should reconsider. He feels too much is at stake.
    He wants EU cash to modernise irrigation systems – made more urgent by falling groundwater levels – for the town’s prize rose fields and other flowers it grows.
    Like thousands of towns and villages across Poland, which joined the EU in 2004 and has since received some 36 billion euros ($41 billion) in aid, Konskowola has spent the cash on projects to improve living standards after the ravages of World War Two and four decades of communism.
    Honorata Sadurska, 26, a bisexual veterinarian from Konskowola, believes homophobia is on the rise.
    “It’s happened that I was pushed on the bus or that someone has yelled something not nice to me. Is it because of the council’s declaration?,” she told Reuters.    “I don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg.”
    But she opposes funding cuts for Konskowola.    “It will only isolate such places further.”
(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Smigiel and Joanna Plucinska; Additional reporting by John Chalmers; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/17/2020 Azerbaijan Extends Coronavirus Restrictions Until Aug. 31
FILE PHOTO: An Azeri law enforcement officer checks the resident's permission to leave home received in a text message, after the authorities imposed
restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Baku, Azerbaijan April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov
    BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan has extended coronavirus lockdown restrictions, including the closure of its borders, until Aug. 31 after a further rise in the number of infections, the government said on Friday.
    It said people in big cities including the capital Baku would be allowed to leave their homes only with special permission from July 20 until Aug. 5.
    Shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and museums in those cities remained closed, while beauty salons will be reopened.
    Azerbaijan introduced measures to stem the coronavirus on March 24 and has extended them several times, most recently until Aug. 1.
    The South Caucasus country of about 10 million people had registered 26,636 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 341 deaths as of Friday.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/17/2020 Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan To Report Some Pneumonia Cases As COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) treat patients at a day hospital, which is
located in a school gym and provides services free of charge, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov
    ALMATY/BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan added thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths to its COVID-19 tally on Friday, describing them as cases of pneumonia most likely caused by the novel coronavirus which had not been detected by tests.
    Its neighbour Kazakhstan, which has also reported a jump in pneumonia cases, said it would do the same starting next month, which would also cause a one-off spike in numbers.
    Both Central Asian nations are struggling to curb the spread of the virus after ending their initial lockdowns in May, and Kazakhstan this month imposed a second lockdown after hospitals filled up in several major cities.
    Kyrgyzstan reported a total of 23,783 cases of COVID-19 and COVID-like pneumonia as of Friday, having previously reported only 12,498 COVID-19 cases.    The number of deaths, with the same adjustments, surged to 785 from 167.
    Kazakh healthcare minister Alexei Tsoy told a briefing on Friday the Nur-Sultan government would start reporting combined figures from Aug. 1.
    The number of deaths from pneumonia has jumped 75% so far this year compared with the same period of 2019, he said, reaching 3,327.    Kazakhstan has reported 66,895 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, with 464 deaths.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty and Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/18/2020 Russia Holds Military Exercises In Southwest Amid Flare-Up Between Azerbaijan And Armenia
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu waits for a meeting of the Pobeda (Victory) Organizing
Committee at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is holding military exercises to test its combat readiness amid clashes between its ally Azerbaijan and Armenian forces, Russia’s defence minister told his Azeri counterpart on Saturday.
    The Defence Ministry described the exercises as a routine check of the army’s capacity to ensure security in Russia’s southwestern region and denied any links between the training and the fighting taking place in the Caucasus region, south of Russia.
    More than a dozen Armenian and Azeri soldiers have been killed in recent days in clashes between the two former Soviet republics which have long been at odds over Azerbaijan’s breakaway, mainly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, has urged the two sides to cease fire and show restraint.    The Kremlin has said Moscow is ready to act as a mediator.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Azerbaijan’s Sakir Hasanov discussed the clashes in a phone call on Saturday.
    The drills involve around 150,000 troops and 400 aircraft, according to the defence ministry.
    The two sides accuse each other of shelling military targets and villages, and Azerbaijan has warned Armenia it could strike the Metzamor nuclear power station if its Mingechavir reservoir or other strategic outlets were hit.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Saturday Azerbaijan posed a threat to his country and global security, saying the threat to attack one of its nuclear power stations amounted to “a threat to commit terrorism.”
    Russia considers Armenia to be a strategic partner in the South Caucasus region and supplies it with weapons.
    “I categorically deny any link between the activities held by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the escalation on the Armenian-Azeri border,” deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said in a separate statement, quoted by Russian news agencies.
(Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by Angus MacSwan)

7/18/2020 U.S. Ambassador Says EU Criticism Of Poland ‘Overblown’ by Justyna Pawlak and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: U.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
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Poland said the European Union’s criticism of Poland’s adherence to democracy is “overblown,” as Warsaw faces cuts to EU budget funds over its judiciary reforms.
    Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has faced criticism from the EU over its overhaul of its judiciary system, with Brussels accusing Poland of violating EU laws.
    As its relationship with the EU has faltered, PiS has focused on building strong ties with the United States, especially since President Donald Trump came to power in 2016.
    “If you’re asking me…do I think that a lot of the attacks on Poland about democratic values is overblown, my answer is yes, I do,” U.S. ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher told Reuters in an interview.
    The EU is struggling to respond to what many in western Europe see as creeping authoritarianism in the eastern wing of the bloc, especially Poland, Hungary and Romania.
    In an election on Sunday, Polish President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, won a second term in office, reinforcing the government’s mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media.
    Mosbacher said the EU has been reluctant to acknowledge how much progress Poland has made, particularly when it comes to economic growth, since becoming a democracy after the fall of communism.
    “It’s still seen as the adolescent in the EU and it isn’t anymore…I don’t think France and Germany… [are] comfortable with that yet,” she said.
    A mechanism that would freeze out countries that fail to live up to democratic standards is up for discussion at an EU summit that began on Friday.
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to veto a massive EU stimulus plan over his objections to the mechanism, with talks continuing on Saturday.
    The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has also signaled to Polish regional authorities that it may curb EU aid to areas that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, after many towns passed motions against the promotion of what they called LGBT “ideology.”
    Mosbacher called out the ruling party for its handling of LGBT issues in Poland’s presidential campaign, after Duda said during his campaign that LGBT “ideology” was worse than communism.
    “I think there were homophobic undertones,” Mosbacher said of the campaign.    “Do I like it?    No.    And I’m pretty vocal on that publicly.”
    She added that an agreement in June 2019 between Duda and Trump to bring 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland would be finalized “within weeks, not months.”
    Reuters reported last month that after a year of technical negotiations, the deal was crumbling amid disputes over funding and troop placement, which Mosbacher denied at the time.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Justyna Pawlak, Editing by Ros Russell)

7/18/2020 Ten Thousand March In Russian Far East In Support Of Detained Governor
People take part in a rally in support of arrested regional governor Sergei Furgal who is accused of organising
the murder of several entrepreneurs 15 years ago, in Khabarovsk, Russia July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 10,000 people marched in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday, demanding the release of a popular regional governor detained last week on suspicion of murder, in a second week of protests.
    Sergei Furgal, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, was the governor of the Khabarovsk region where he swept to power in 2018 after defeating a rival from the ruling United Russia party that backs President Vladimir Putin.
    Furgal was taken to Moscow last week, where he is now in pre-trial detention after being charged with involvement in organising the murder of multiple businessmen 15 years ago.
    He could face up to life in prison if found guilty of the charges, which also include involvement in attempted murder.    He denies the charges.
    Demonstrators packed a city thoroughfare on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, carrying posters in support of Furgal, some demanding his release, others calling for an open and transparent trial, with the column of marchers stretching into the horizon.
    Svetlana, a middle-aged woman wearing a face mask, said residents were not put off by the accusations against Furgal.    Many Russian politicians have a dark past, she said, as the final years of the Soviet Union were riddled with corruption and crime.
    “People came out here to defend their voting rights: We elected him, so return him to us,” she said.
    The protests come barely three weeks after a landslide referendum victory for the Kremlin on amendments to the constitution, allowing Putin to remain in power for another 16 years.    Dozens were arrested in Moscow last week after a few hundred protested against the amendments.
    Last Saturday, between 10,000-12,000 people took part in an unsanctioned march in Khabarovsk, the local branch of the interior ministry said in a statement.    The city is a seven-hour flight east of the capital.
    This Saturday, fewer than 10,000 marched, the city mayor’s office said in a statement, adding that the protest was peaceful and there were no detentions.    Some local news outlets estimated the number was significantly higher.
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word in paragraph 1)
(Reporting by Yury Zolotarev and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

7/18/2020 Azerbaijan Warns Of Risks To Caspian Energy Exports From Conflict With Armenia by Margarita Antidze
FILE PHOTO: The logo of SOCAR is seen on a filling station in Bern, Switzerland May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo
    BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan warned on Saturday about security risks to the oil and gas it supplies to European markets due to the outbreak of hostilities at its border with Armenia.
    Elshad Nassirov, vice president of Azeri state energy company SOCAR, said on a conference call some of the energy infrastructure involved in shipping Caspian oil and gas to world markets is located in the vicinity of the current military operations.
    Fifteen servicemen from Azerbaijan and Armenia and one Azeri civilian have died since Sunday in clashes between the two countries, who fought a war in the 1990s over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Nassirov told the call that if they looked at a map they would see that clashes had taken place near some of its infrastructure.    He said the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum gas pipeline and some other facilities were located not far from the territory where clashes had taken place.
    Nassirov also referred to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, the last stretch of the Southern Gas Corridor which also includes two other pipelines running via Georgia and Turkey – important because its completion means the whole corridor will be operational, reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies.
    “The pipeline will be ready and operational in time in October-November this year,” he said.
    Armenia on Saturday also warned about security risks to the region coming from Azerbaijan after Baku said on Thursday it might strike the Metsamor nuclear power plant.
    “This is a statement that should be unequivocally considered a crime against humanity … it should be given an appropriate international response and probe,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said.
    Speaking on the conference call organised by U.S.-based think-tank the Caspian Policy Center, details of which were published on the group’s website, Nassirov called on the West to help protect its energy exports.
    “I would use this opportunity to invite our colleagues in Washington and elsewhere to think about how fragile … this region is and to think how to provide … military and physical security to the corridor, which is providing energy security to Europe,” Nassirov said.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova and Margarita Antidze Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yereva; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by David Holmes)

7/19/2020 Mass protests rock Russian Far East city, challenge Kremlin
    KHABAROVSK, Russia – Mass rallies challenging the Kremlin rocked Russia’s Far East city of Khabarovsk again on Saturday, with crowds protesting the arrest of the region’s governor on charges of involvement in multiple murders.    The crowds gathered despite official attempts to discourage them.    The governor, Sergei Furgal, was arrested July 9 and flown to Moscow, suspected of involvement in several murders of businessmen in 2004 and 2005.    Furgal has denied the charges, which relate to his time as a businessman.

7/19/2020 Russia Reports 6,109 New Coronavirus Cases In The Past 24 Hours
FILE PHOTO: A restaurant employee wears a protective face shield and mask due to the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported 6,109 new cases and 95 more deaths from the coronavirus.
    The nationwide tally of infections has risen to 771,546 cases, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    The death toll now stands at 12,342, and 550,344 people have recovered.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
[95 / 6109 = 0.016%]

7/19/2020 Czech Active Coronavirus Cases Swing To New High As Local Outbreaks Continue
FILE PHOTO: People ride pedal boats on the Vltava river following the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The tally of active cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 4,764, above the previous high of 4,737 seen in April, health ministry data showed on Sunday.
    On Saturday 113 new cases were identified, bringing the total since the beginning of March when first cases were found to 13,885.
    The central European country of 10.7 million has had 358 deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, far fewer than many western European nations.
    The rise in active cases has grown as daily infections held above 100 in the past days, outpacing the number of recoveries.    The new cases — many in the country’s industrial north-east where a mine outbreak occurred — have so far been milder than before.
    The number of people in hospitals was 135 on Saturday, less than a third of the peak of 446 in April and far below capacities of the national health system as presented by the government.
    Pressure on hospitals is among criteria the government uses when deciding on response.
    Since lifting a strict nationwide lockdown imposed in March, the authorities have pledged to avoid future countrywide measures and instead respond to local outbreaks regionally.
    On Friday, authorities tightened coronavirus restrictions in the northeast of the country after a spike in cases in several locations, reinstating compulsory face coverings, limiting restaurant opening hours and ordering checks on cross-border commuters.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

7/19/2020 Poland To Propose Limits On Foreign Media Soon, Kaczynski Says
FILE PHOTO: Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), is seen on television screens
at a shopping mall in Warsaw May 21, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel -/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will seek to craft rules limiting the concentration of foreign-owned media outlets well before the ruling nationalists finish their term in power, Poland’s de facto leader said on Sunday, with parliamentary elections expected in 2023.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long said foreign-owned media outlets have meddled in Poland’s affairs and that Polish-owned media should have a stronger place.    The accusation was leveled again in the recent presidential campaign, during which incumbent and PiS ally Andrzej Duda repeatedly accused foreign media or foreign-owned media of misinforming the public.
    When asked if PiS would introduce reforms before the end of their term, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Polish public radio on Sunday that he hopes the reforms will be carried out soon.
    “We will manage to do this much faster (than before the end of our term), at least on the legislative level, but this process’ success is tied to many changes that we have to bring about in our country as well as international relationships,” Kaczynski said.
    PiS has maintained that any new law would have to adhere to EU rules, which could hamper the party’s political aim to substantially reduce the influence of foreign-owned outlets, such as Discovery-owned broadcaster TVN.
    But, in the wake of last week’s presidential vote, where Duda won a second term in office, PiS has been emboldened in its criticism of the influence of foreign-owned media outlets in Poland.
    Kaczynski said any potential rules are still “being analyzed and there are discussions on the matter.”
    Many options were being considered, a PiS official told Reuters earlier this week, adding that the purchase of regional newspapers, many of which are German-owned, was among the ideas that had come up, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported last week.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

7/19/2020 ‘Mr. No, No, No’ – Why Dutch PM Rutte Plays Role Of EU Bogeyman by Toby Sterling
Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – As EU negotiations over a coronavirus recovery fund and a new budget for the bloc ran into an impasse, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte was singled out by one leader this weekend as the “man responsible for the whole mess.”
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused him of that, while Spanish and Italian diplomats have taken to calling him “Mr. No No No!
    Standing up for not spending money on European projects requires a naysayer, and Rutte has taken on the role with calculated determination as leader of a group of smaller “frugal” nations.
    While he may cut a less colourful figure than Margaret Thatcher a generation ago, Rutte’s readiness to don the mantle of parsimony after Britain’s departure from the EU is solidly grounded in public opinion and politics at home.
    The Dutch, who support EU membership by a two-thirds majority, take pride in both their history as a trading nation and their traditional Calvinist thrift.
    Dutch taxpayers are aware that they are proportionately among the largest contributors to the EU budget, and the idea of giving or lending more is unpopular.
    The “Mr. No” moniker derives from an April video clip, frequently retweeted, that shows a Dutch waste collector shouting at Rutte not to give money to “those Italians and French.”
    “Oh, no, no, no.”    Rutte replied.    “I will remember this.”
    Critics say the Dutch reluctance to spend now is misplaced, given the country’s large trade surplus with the rest of the EU.    Unicredit economist Erik Nielsen argued in a note on Sunday that the Dutch 2018 net budget contribution of 2.4 billion euros “tells only a small part of the real financial story.”
    “According to the Tax Justice Network, that same year, the Netherlands’ tax haven structures helped them grab 6.7 billion euros in tax receipts from Germany, France, Italy and Spain,” he wrote.
    But conversations in the Netherlands more often focus on whether Dutch prosperity is the result of a tougher work ethic, and whether it is fair to share funds with countries that have a lower retirement age.
    Domestic politics also play a role.    With national elections looming in March, Rutte’s conservative VVD Party must jockey with far-right parties for exactly those voters most likely to be euro-sceptic.
    In addition, his current centre-right coalition lacks a majority in parliament.    Any compromise struck in Brussels now that goes too far in the eyes of the Dutch might not be ratified later in The Hague.
    This rejection happened in 2005 and again, to a deal Rutte had agreed to, in 2016.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/19/2020 Cubans Celebrate No Local Transmission Of COVID-19 For First Time In Four Months
FILE PHOTO: People get hand sanitizer before entering a shop amid the coronavirus pandemic
(COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba for the first time in 130 days on Sunday said there were no new domestic cases of COVID-19 as most of the country moved into the final phase of resuming normal activities with masks and social distancing.
    Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, and who has updated the country daily on the pandemic, took off his mask during the national broadcast for only the second time deliver the good news.
    Duran, on Saturday did the same, reporting just a single domestic case in Havana.
    Only a handful of COVID-19 cases were reported in Cuba over the last week, all in Havana.    Most of the Caribbean island, home to 11.2 million inhabitants, has been free of the disease for more than a month.
    “I always tell you to stay safe at home, but I know many will go to the beach today,” Duran said, smiling, before reminding his television audience about social distancing.
    The capital’s 2.2 million residents remain at the first phase of three stages of reopening where they can once more move around on public and private transport, go to the beach and other recreation centers, and enjoy a seaside drive just in time for the summer break.    They can also dine and have a drink.
    Each phase allows capacity at venues to increase from an initial 60%.    Interprovincial transportation begins during phase two, while phase three includes schools reopening.
    Social distancing and wearing masks remain mandatory in most circumstances.
    The country has opened a group of isolated resort keys to international tourism.    Phase three broadens international travel depending on risk.
    The Communist-run country has been given high marks for its textbook handling of the pandemic.
    Cuba’s robust and free community-based health system, door-to-door search for carriers, isolation of the sick, suspected cases and contacts has allowed it to keep the number of infections under 2,500 with 87 deaths.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

7/19/2020 Viktor Orban Says ‘The Dutchman’ Is Responsible For EU Summit Disarray by Kate Abnett
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Sunday that Dutch leader Mark Rutte was responsible for the deadlock at a European Union summit, where leaders were set to haggle for a third day over a vast stimulus plan for their coronavirus-hit economies.
    “I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he is attacking so harshly,” he told reporters in front of the steps of a European history museum in a Brussels park, a short walk from the summit venue.
    “I don’t like blame games but the Dutchman is the real responsible man for the whole mess… The Dutch prime minister, he is the fighter.”
    Orban, a right-wing nationalist who has accumulated unprecedented powers since winning election a decade ago, has clashed with the EU’s executive and other member states for years over his perceived backsliding from democratic governance.
    A group of wealthy and fiscally “frugal” northern states led by the Netherlands has blocked progress at the summit towards agreement on a 750 billion euro fund to revive Europe’s economies.
    They want strict control over how funds are spent, and there has been a fierce argument over whether money could be withheld from countries that fail to live up to democratic standards.
    Hungary, where Orban has tightened the noose around media, academics and civil society, threatened even before the summit got under way on Friday to veto the package over a proposal to freeze funds for states undercutting the rule of law.
    “What’s going on is a little bit strange because there is a 100% agreement on the rule of law,” Orban said.    “If somebody is not ready to accept the rule of law [they] should leave the European Union immediately.    They should not be punished by money
    He said “these guys who inherited freedom, rule of law and political democracy” did not have the experience that he and others in eastern Europe had fighting against communism.
    There was no immediate comment from Rutte’s office.
    Rutte told a news conference in the Hague on July 10 that developments in both Hungary and Poland were “very worrying.”
    “We have the principle of rule of law, and of democracy, and that Europe is not only a market and a currency, but also a community of values and you can have conditions,” he said.
(Writing by John Chalmers; reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, editing by Alexandra Hudson)

17/20/2020 Russia Reports Almost 6,000 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: People rest on an embankment as cruise vessels sail near the Kremlin during an annual parade marking
the start of navigation on the Moskva River following the easing of lockdown measures, which were imposed to curb
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 5,940 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, pushing its total infection tally to 777,486, the fourth largest in the world.
    In a daily readout, officials said 85 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 12,427.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/20/2020 Poland’s Foreign Minister Signals He May Quit
FILE PHOTO: Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz of Poland during news conference with his Finnish
counterpart in Helsinki, Finland February 13, 2020. Lehtikuva/Emmi Korhonen/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz signalled on Monday he may resign from his job as the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party considers personnel changes in the government following presidential vote earlier this month.
    The vote, won by the incumbent Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, was seen as key for Poland’s future relations with the EU, which have been frayed by the bloc’s concerns over the rule of law.
    “A few months ago, we agreed with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to continue my mission until the presidential election,” Czaputowicz told Rzeczpospolita daily.
    He added that there is no pressure on him from PiS to resign.
    “But I think this is a good moment for a change at the top of our diplomacy,” Czaputowicz also said.
    The minister’s comments come at a time when Poland is trying to fight against proposals to make EU budget funding conditional on respecting rule of law norms.
    On Sunday, when EU leaders stood at an impasse after three days of haggling over a plan to revive economies throttled by the novel coronavirus, Morawiecki said he would not agree to a new mechanism to freeze EU money for countries violating the rule of law.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Toby Chopra)

7/20/2020 Poland Will Not Let EU ‘Force’ It Into Allowing Gay Marriages, Says Justice Minister by Marcin Goclowski
FILE PHOTO: Zbigniew Ziobro signs documents after being designated as Minister of Justice,
at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s justice minister said on Monday the European Union may be in a position to force Warsaw to legalize gay marriage if EU leaders make financial aid conditional on upholding democratic norms, and warned that this was unacceptable.
    At talks in Brussels on the next EU budget and an economic recovery plan, some leaders have demanded that payouts be blocked to member states which the executive European Commission (EC) deems to be undermining democratic values.
    Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said this would give Brussels the possibility of “arbitrarily” blocking payments worth billions of euros.
    “There is a real risk that we may find ourselves in a situation where the EC will effectively force us to introduce the so-called homosexual marriages with the right to adopt children,” he told a news conference.
    “Well, we cannot agree to this under any circumstances.”
    The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power five years ago on a pledge to defend traditional family values.    Gay marriages are illegal in Poland and President Andrzej Duda was re-elected this month after saying he would not allow adoptions by gay couples or permit classes on gay rights in state schools.
    Gay rights activist Alicja Sienkiewicz of the Lublin Equality March Association, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said members of the LGBT community were being portrayed as enemies of the state.
    “This is bizarre.    If you want to get these (EU) funds, you should automatically accept how the EU expects them to be spent, because adhering to the rule of law means adhering to basic human rights and it is about respecting them,” she said.
    Poland is at loggerheads with the European Commission over several issues, including judicial reforms which Brussels says undermine the independence of the judiciary.    The government says the reforms are needed to overhaul the communist-era system.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; additional reporting by Alicja Ptak; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
[The lawless ones continue to attack the laws of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and is watching this stay strong Poland and I hope the United States will comply and as it is viewed above the European Union political and religious leaders and countries who comply to it have put themselves on the list as well as the sinners who commit those sins as the Scarlet Woman revels in their actions.].

7/20/2020 Belgium In Last Ditch Effort To Form Government, New Polls Possible by Foo Yun Chee
FILE PHOTO: Belgium's King Philippe delivers a speech on the occasion of the Belgian National Day
at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium, July 16, 2020. Didier Lebrun/Pool via Reuters
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium may have to head to the polls again if two advisers appointed by King Philippe on Monday fail to find agreement on forming a coalition government over the next fifty days, one of the advisers said.
    Belgium has been run by a caretaker administration with limited powers for more than a year as a May election failed to resolve the standoff.
    The king earlier on Monday tasked Bart De Wever, leader of the centre-right N-VA, the largest party in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, and Paul Magnette, Socialist party leader in the French-speaking Walloon region, with the job.
    They will look into the possibilities and the requirements for forming a government.    Various teams appointed by the king in recent months went back to him empty handed.
    There are 50 days to form a government or elections must be called, Magnette was quoted as saying by Belgian news agency Belga.
    Belgium’s linguistic divide has always been a thorny issue in forming a government.    The country took a world record 541 days to cobble together a government after the 2010 election.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Barbara Lewis)

7/20/2020 In Cuba, The Old Foe’s Currency Makes A Comeback by Marc Frank
People watch Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaking during a local TV
news program in Coblet, Cuba, July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – State-run stores in Cuba began selling some food and hygiene products in U.S. dollars on Monday as the import-dependent country faces a grave shortage of tradable currency to purchase goods abroad.
    Cuba last had to open such dollar stores for basic goods in the 1990s when the fall of the Soviet Union plunged the Communist-run island into a deep economic depression.
    This time it is the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered tourism and hit other revenue earners, worsening an existing liquidity crisis due to the implosion of ally Venezuela’s economy and the tightening of U.S. sanctions on old foe Cuba.
    Lines formed in front of the stores on Monday and Cubans packed banks to obtain the bank card needed to purchase dollar goods although most residents resigned themselves to obtaining the basics in local currency.
    “Not all Cubans can buy there, we don’t all have family abroad,” Lazara Rodriguez, 43, a dancer who lives near one of the stores, said.
    The government said 62 stores were opening across the country with more to follow in the coming months.
    Some 80 outlets selling domestic appliances, car parts and other items such as motorbikes opened late last year, and used cars went on sale for greenbacks earlier in 2020.
    The Cuban state monopolizes retail and foreign trade but pandemic fallout has worsened shortages of food, medicine and other goods and there are long lines at retail outlets.
    Consumers said the dollar stores provided an option amidst scarcity for some, but complained they still lacked many products.
    “Its good, the prices are acceptable, but it does not have many products like detergent, oil and ham,” retiree Guillermo Antigua said, exiting a store in Havana.
    Cuba is reopening with no new cases of COVID-19 reported on Monday, but private eateries with no access to wholesale markets have been finding it difficult to put together an offer.
    The new stores are an option for some.
    “This is good.    We have options to keep working.    At least they are selling us products,” cafeteria owner Daniel Gonzalez said as he packed cheese and other items into his car.
    Cuba legalized the dollar after the fall of the Soviet Union but it was taken out of circulation in 2004.
    Since then, there have been two currencies, the peso and the convertible peso, which is valued at 24 pesos, circulating although possession of the dollar and other tradable currencies remained legal.
    Cubans who patronize the dollar stores need a dollar-denominated bank card from an account opened with tradable currencies which may be obtained through offshore remittances or other means such as exchanging local pesos on the street.
    The government claims the convertible peso is equal to the dollar, but imported goods, when available, have huge mark-ups as they are purchased in tradable currencies.    The peso and convertible peso have no value abroad.
    “As in the 1990s, national currencies have lost their convertibility and do not allow companies to pay debts and import inputs,” Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali, said.
    “To ensure that at least some sectors and markets work, they have to dollarize them.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Reuters television; Editing by Alistair Bell)

7/21/2020 Bulgaria’s Government Survives No-Confidence Vote Over Corruption
A general view shows the Bulgarian parliament during voting on a no-confidence motion against
the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s centre-right government survived, as expected, a no-confidence vote brought on Tuesday by opposition Socialists who accuse it of failing to uproot endemic corruption.
    Thousands of Bulgarians have been rallying for almost two weeks against Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s cabinet.
    Some 124 lawmakers in the 240-seat parliament voted against the fifth no-confidence motion against the coalition government that took office in 2017; 102 lawmakers were in favour.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/21/2020 Ambiguous Conditions On EU Deal Set To Embolden Hungary And Poland by Marton Dunai and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the fourth day of the European
Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST/WARSAW (Reuters) – The European Union’s agreement on a coronavirus recovery fund is likely to embolden nationalist leaders in Poland and Hungary because it sets no mechanism for tying the disbursement of money to democratic norms.
    EU leaders agreed a watered-down wording on conditionality in Brussels on Tuesday after Warsaw and Budapest resisted tougher language that would have put more constraints on them implementing policies that other EU states deem undemocratic.
    Much will now depend on how quickly and firmly the EU – and particularly Germany – moves to agree on a mechanism that would force member states to uphold democratic values as a condition for receiving funding, political analysts said.
    “We fought it out!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote on Facebook, portraying the outcome of the EU leaders’ talks in Brussels as a triumph.
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed a victory for Warsaw, telling reporters: “Poland cannot be deprived of a single euro.”
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is now widely expected to press on with moves to tighten control of the media and courts without fears of an immediate financial backlash from Brussels.
    Despite being at odds with the European Commission over reforms that the EU executive says have eroded the independence of Poland’s judiciary, Poland will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of EU funds.
    Hungary has also increased its share of the 1.8 trillion euro ($2 trillion) deal, which includes a 750 billion euro recovery fund and a related 1.1 trillion euro 2021-2027 budget.
    Orban’s governing Fidesz party will feel its hands are not immediately tied to pursue populist anti-immigration campaigns that more liberal EU states say erode the rule of law, freedom of the press and minority rights.
    The windfall should help strengthen the Polish and Hungarian economies, boosting their governments before parliamentary elections due in Hungary in 2022 and in Poland in 2023.
    Orban has used a structure called the “System of National Cooperation” to direct public funds – including EU money – to a loyal elite that has helped him achieve his political goals.
    “(EU money) will boost (Orban’s) electoral chances,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group think tank.
    In Poland, President Andrzej Duda’s successful re-election campaign included a pledge to direct EU public funds towards infrastructure development.
    PiS, to which Duda is allied, has made clear its intention to continue pursuing socially conservative policies.    Gay marriages are illegal in Poland and Duda campaigned on a pledge not to allow adoptions by gay couples or permit classes on gay rights in state schools.
EU MINDS ITS LANGUAGE
    Hungary and Poland, eastern European countries that until three decades ago were ruled by communists, had threatened to block any deal that specifically tied funding to upholding democratic norms.
    With the chances of failure growing at the summit, EU leaders agreed to put off agreement on a mechanism for enforcing conditionality.
    A watered-down summit resolution said the European Council of EU leaders “underlines the importance of the respect of the rule of law.”
    Language on giving broad rights to member states to report and start proceedings against “generalised deficiencies” of the rule of law was replaced by a more specific and narrower “conditionality to protect the budget.”
    Piotr Buras, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank’s Warsaw office, said it was now up to Germany, which holds the EU presidency for the rest of 2020, to deliver a new mechanism this year to enforce the rule of law.
    The mechanism will be agreed by qualified majority rather than by a unanimous vote among EU states, making it harder for Poland or Hungary to block it.
(These are) very unclear (summit) conclusions, both politically and legally,” Buras said.    “If there is a lack of this conditionality or the … mechanism is very weak, then it will be a huge win for (Polish PiS leader Jaroslaw) Kaczynski, Morawiecki and Orban.”
    Warsaw and Budapest did not, however, achieve total victory, said Daniel Hegedus of the German Marshall Fund think tank.
    The summit “did not agree on a specific rule of law conditionality mechanism… but Morawiecki and Orban’s claim that they ward off the introduction of conditionality in the new budget is not in accordance with the facts,” he told Reuters.
    Eurasia Group’s Rahman said: “At least in theory, funds can in the future now be blocked … The odds of this happening, however, remain slight.”
(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux, Editing by Timothy Her)

7/21/2020 Shots Heard As Bus Passengers Taken Hostage In Western Ukraine
Ukrainian law enforcement officers lie on the ground behind a car near a passenger bus, which was seized
by an unidentified person in the city of Lutsk, Ukraine July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tetiana Hrishyna
    KYIV (Reuters) – A man who said he was armed with weapons and explosives seized a bus in the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk on     Tuesday and took a number of people on board hostage, police said.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said “shots were heard, the bus was damaged.”    Police blocked off the city centre.
    Police identified the man as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh, born in Russia.
    They said in a statement that he had said he was armed with explosives and weapons.    Between 10 and 20 people were onboard the bus, they said.
    In posts on social media, he demanded that senior Ukrainian officials publish statements saying that they were terrorists.    He also threatened to detonate another bomb in a crowded place.
    Deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said Kryvosh had been convicted twice and spent about 10 years in prison.
    Streets in Lutsk were cordoned off by uniformed personnel, police cars and an armoured personnel carrier.
    “We are in full control of the situation.    I know all the details.    I am talking with our specialists who are in Lutsk.    Professionals are working, doing everything to free our hostages,” Zelenskiy’s press service quoted him as saying.
    Photos showed a small bus parked in the middle of an empty street. Two windows of the bus were smashed and other windows were covered with curtains.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

7/21/2020 Austria Reintroducing Face Mask Requirement In Supermarkets, Banks
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wears a protective face mask as he leaves after attending a news
conference with Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler and Austria's Education Minister Heinz Fassmann (not pictured),
during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Vienna, Austria May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria is reintroducing a requirement that face masks be worn in supermarkets, banks and post offices because of an increase in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.
    Austria went into lockdown early in its outbreak in mid-March and began loosening its restrictions a month later, even scrapping the requirement to wear face masks in shops and schools on June 15.
    Face masks are still required on public transport, in hospitals and pharmacies and at hairdressers.
    While the number of daily infections https://info.gesundheitsministerium.at/?l=en was regularly well under 50 in May and June, it has increased in the past three weeks – it was over 100 almost every other day this month.
    “There are areas of daily life where one cannot choose whether one goes or not – the supermarket, the bank, the post office,” Kurz told a news conference.    “We have therefore decided that we will make face masks compulsory again in supermarkets, in banks, in post offices.”
    Clusters have recently emerged in and near Vienna as well as in the province of Upper Austria, which borders Germany and the Czech Republic.    Several of those clusters are linked to churches, and Austria has reported an increase in cases imported from the Balkans, issuing travel warnings for countries there.
    Kurz said tighter testing requirements would be introduced for arrivals from the Balkans, and restrictions would be introduced to reduce the size of religious services and force churches to close in the event of a positive coronavirus test.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie)

7/21/2020 Russia, Hit By Coronavirus Crisis, Considers Military Spending Cuts
FILE PHOTO: Russian Mi-28N military helicopters fly in formation above the Kremlin and Red Square during
the Victory Day Parade in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. Host photo agency/Nina Zotina via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is considering cutting spending on the military as low oil prices and the coronavirus crisis have pummelled its economy, a document published by the finance ministry shows.
    The ministry has proposed the government cut state spending on the military by 5% between 2021 and 2023.    The proposal, published on Monday, also includes budget spending cuts of 10% for the court system, the servicing of Russia’s debt and wages for civil servants.
    Russia, which flexed its military muscle with its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and intervention in the Syrian conflict, dropped out of the list of the top five biggest military spenders in 2018 after its spending fell 3.5%.
    Last year it returned as the world’s fourth largest military spender and increased its military expenditures by 4.5% to $65.1 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.    That amount corresponded to 3.9% of its gross domestic product, it said.
    President Vladimir Putin has called for better living standards and investment in healthcare and education.    Some government officials have called for lower military spending to free up funds for such initiatives.
    Military expenditures have increased under Putin, but the Kremlin said in 2018 that Russia would cut its defence budget to less than 3% of GDP within the next five years.
    Exact figures for military funding are considered a state secret in Russia, but in 2018 the defence ministry said 20 trillion roubles ($282 billion) had been earmarked for the construction of military infrastructure under a new armament programme for 2018-2027.
    The World Bank expects the Russian economy to contract by 6% this year.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Darya Korsunskaya; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Steve Orlofsky)

7/22/2020 Hostage Standoff Ends After Ukrainian President Endorses Animal Rights Documentary by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian law enforcement officers lie on the ground behind a car near a passenger bus, which was seized
by an unidentified person in the city of Lutsk, Ukraine July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tetiana Hrishyna
    KYIV (Reuters) – All 13 people taken hostage on a bus in western Ukraine were freed unharmed on Tuesday after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke by phone with the hostage-taker and agreed to his demand to endorse a 2005 animal rights documentary.
    Police arrested the suspect, whom the state security service (SBU) identified as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh, who seized the bus in the city of Lutsk, saying he was armed with guns and explosives.
    Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Kryvosh had served time in prison and the SBU said he had propagated “extremist views.”    Police said Kryvosh threatened to blow up the bus and detonate another explosive in a crowded area in the city.
    In a move to secure the hostages’ release, Zelenskiy said he spoke to Kryvosh for seven to 10 minutes and agreed to one of his demands, to promote the documentary “Earthlings,” narrated by Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix.
    Zelenskiy did so in a six-second clip posted on the presidential Facebook page, which was subsequently deleted.
    The president said he had persuaded Kryvosh to first release three of the hostages, including a pregnant woman.
    “We agreed that he would release three people and after that I will record a video,” Zelenskiy said.
    Zelenskiy had been given the option of launching an assault on the bus, but did not want to risk hostages dying during the attack.    “We have the result – everyone is alive,” he said.
    The SBU published a picture of Kryvosh sprawled on the ground with security personnel standing over him after his arrest. Avakov said an accomplice of Kryvosh was detained in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
    Police had blocked off the city centre with armed officers, cars and an armoured personnel carrier while they tried to persuade Kryvosh to free the hostages in a day-long standoff.
    Photos and footage showed a small bus parked in the middle of an empty street, with at least two windows smashed and others covered with curtains.    Police said Kryvosh threw a grenade out of the bus.    Avakov said Kryvosh had fired shots out of the bus at police.
    In posts on social media, Kryvosh had also demanded that senior Ukrainian officials publish statements saying that they were terrorists.
    “The film this man is talking about is good.    And you don’t have to … create such a nightmare for people all over the country.    The film can be watched without it,” Avakov said.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

7/22/2020 Worrying Coronavirus Trends In Southern Europe, Balkans: WHO’s Ryan
    DUBLIN (Reuters) – Worrying trends of coronavirus infection are emerging in southern Europe and in the Balkan region, Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies programme, said on Wednesday.
    “Obviously the Americas is clearly still the major hot spot, North, Central and South America, but we have disease beginning to accelerate in Africa,” Ryan told the Newstalk radio station in his native Ireland.
    “Also, even in Europe, while certainly in western Europe the disease has come under control, we still have some worrying trends in southern Europe and the Balkans so we’re not out of the woods just yet in the European environment.    It requires sustained vigilance.”
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

7/22/2020 Czech Coronavirus Cases Top 5,000 After Highest Daily Rise This Month
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers get ready to test people for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a part of a study about
undetected infections with the coronavirus in the population in Prague, Czech Republic, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The number of active coronavirus infections topped 5,000 in the Czech Republic for the first time after labs reported the highest daily rise in nearly a month, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
    Authorities had reported 212 new cases by Tuesday night, bringing the total number of active cases to 5,046.    Total cases including those who have recovered or died reached 14,324.
    The central European country of 10.7 million has reported 360 deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, far fewer than many western European nations.
    But it has seen infection numbers creeping up, first from an outbreak at a mine in north-eastern Moravia-Silesia region.
    The total number of people in hospitals was 148 as of Tuesday night, a dozen more since the weekend, but still a third of the peak of 446 in April.
    Since lifting a strict nationwide lockdown imposed in March, the authorities have pledged to avoid future countrywide measures.
    Last Friday, authorities tightened restrictions in the northeast of the country, reinstating compulsory face coverings, limiting restaurant opening hours and ordering checks on cross-border commuters.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

7/22/2020 Dismissed As ‘Poor Things’, Three Women Try To Unseat Male President Of Belarus by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Candidate in the upcoming presidential election Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo, wife
of politician Valery Tsepkalo, and Maria Kolesnikova, a representative of politician Viktor Babariko's campaign
office, attend a news conference in Minsk, Belarus July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – Dismissed by the incumbent as too fragile to run Belarus because of their gender, three women have joined forces to try to unseat President Alexander Lukashenko, a man the United States once called Europe’s last dictator.
    Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for over a quarter of a century, has cracked down to try to snuff out rare and sustained protests against him ahead of a presidential election next month, jailing rivals and arresting dissenters.
    He faces his biggest challenge in years due to frustration over his hands-off handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights.
    With his male challengers either barred from running or in prison, two of their wives and a female campaign team member of another have united to try to beat him in the Aug. 9 election.
    Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, whose husband, Syarhei, spent time in solitary confinement, has become the surprise leading challenger to Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm boss.
    Tikhanouskaya launched her candidacy after her husband, a popular blogger who campaigned against Lukashenko, was arrested in May on what she says were trumped up charges.
    Police say they also found an unexplained $900,000 hidden in their sofa.    Tikhanouskaya said she knew nothing about the money.
    Lukashenko is expected to extend his grip on power despite the challenge.    Western observers do not judge elections in the country to be free and fair.
    The EU delegation to non-EU member Belarus said in July that excluding two of Lukashenko’s election rivals “undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections,” while Europe’s election watchdog expressed concern about “key aspects of the electoral process.”
    But a Lukashenko win may not quell public anger, say analysts, and Tikhanouskaya and her allies are well placed to continue to lead a protest movement.
    As a candidate, Tikhanouskaya’s first priority is to free all political prisoners and rerun the elections to include all candidates who were barred from standing.
SELFIES IN THE STREET
    By Sunday, holding a bouquet of flowers in her left hand and punching the air with her right, she was standing on stage having amassed the largest opposition election rally Belarus has seen in decades.
    The people of Belarus “do not want to live in misery anymore, they want to live in a free country where they do not grab people in the street, put them into a police van and then send them to jail for an invented reason,” she said.
    Tikhanouskaya’s challenge is being supported by two other women who represent two different opposition campaigns.
    They are Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the campaign team for Viktor Babariko, who was detained and accused of financial misdeeds, and Veronika Tsepkalo, wife of Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador to the United States who was barred from standing after the central election commission disallowed some of the signatures he needed to collect to become a candidate.
    An image of the three women posing for the camera – Tikhanouskaya clenching her fist, Kolesnikova making a heart sign, and Tsepkalo making a ‘V’ for victory sign, has quickly spread.
    They attend events together, sparking jokes that they resemble a female rock band and people ask for selfies in the street.
    Lukashenko has said he respects women but that “society is not mature enough to vote for a woman.”    The burden of the presidency would cause her to “collapse, poor thing,” he said.
    After receiving an anonymous threat that her children would be taken away if she pressed on with her campaign, Tikhanouskaya has sent them abroad to an undisclosed location.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Macfie)

7/22/2020 Switzerland Expands COVID-19 Quarantine Watchlist
FILE PHOTO: Passengers are seen in a terminal, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
continues, at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland has expanded to 42 the number of territories on its watchlist of coronavirus hot spots, new arrivals from which must enter a ten-day quarantine, health authorities said on Wednesday.
    New entries as of Thursday include Bosnia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mexico, Montenegro, the Palestinian territories, Suriname and the United Arab Emirates
.
    The authorities removed Belarus and Sweden from the list https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/krankheiten/ausbrueche-epidemien-pandemien/aktuelle-ausbrueche-epidemien/novel-cov/empfehlungen-fuer-reisende/quarantaene-einreisende.html.
    Since July 6 people entering Switzerland from a country with an increased risk of infection have been legally mandated to go into quarantine or face a 10,000 Swiss franc ($10,724) fine.
    Swiss health authorities have reported https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/krankheiten/ausbrueche-epidemien-pandemien/aktuelle-ausbrueche-epidemien/novel-cov/situation-schweiz-und-international.html more than 33,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 1,700 deaths from the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
    Switzerland last month phased out most of the restrictions it imposed to contain the spread of the virus, declaring the country better equipped to handle any fresh flare-ups.
    New cases have dwindled to dozens a day, allowing schools, shops and borders with fellow members of the Schengen passport-free travel zone to reopen as life returns to near-normal.
    Passengers on public transport however still have to don facemasks.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Jan Harvey)

7/22/2020 Greenland Voters Want To Keep Coloniser’s Vandalised Statue by Andreas Mortensen
FILE PHOTO: The statue of Hans Egede is seen after being vandalized in Nuuk, Greenland
June 21, 2020. Picture taken June 21, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A vote in Greenland showed on Wednesday a majority in favour of keeping up a statue of Danish-Norwegian coloniser Hans Egede that was vandalised as anti-racism protests reached the Arctic.
    The statue had red paint and the word “decolonize” daubed on it last month when Black Lives Matter protests were sweeping the world over the death of African American George Floyd after a white policeman pressed a knee on his neck.
    Critics say the statue in Greenland’s capital Nuuk is a symbol of oppression by former colonial ruler Denmark and some want it put in a museum.
    But in the poll, 923 people voted for it to stay while 600 wanted it gone, according to the local municipality.     Greenland was a Danish colony until 1953, when it became a formal part of the Kingdom of Denmark.    Today, it enjoys broad autonomy, but still relies heavily on grants from Denmark.
    Egede, also known as the “Apostle of Greenland,” travelled there in 1721 to do missionary work among the Inuit inhabitants.    His stay marked the beginning of Greenland’s colonial era but was relatively unbloody compared with other European powers.
    “It does not surprise me that there is a majority for the statue to stay, but that does not mean we should do nothing, because there is still a large minority who wants it removed,” Greenlandic lawmaker Aaja Chemnitz Larsen told Reuters.
    About 23,000 of Greenland’s 56,000 people were eligible to vote in the poll that ran from July 3-21.    Lack of publicity and summer holidays may have affected turnout.
    The fate of the statue remains subject to a final decision by the local council.    But Nuuk’s mayor Charlotte Ludvigsen has said it would require a large majority of up to 75% in favour of removal for her to process the case.
    Monuments are under scrutiny in various nations, including Britain where a slave trader’s statue was toppled in Bristol and World War Two hero Winston Churchill’s statue in London was daubed with graffiti calling him “racist.”
    Denmark’s Egede, who founded Nuuk, formerly known as Godthåb (meaning “Good Hope”), tried to teach Christianity to as many Inuits as possible, but smallpox killed many of the newly-converted.    Following the death of his wife, also from smallpox, Egede returned to Denmark in 1736.
(Reporting by Andreas Mortensen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/22/2020 Deal Reached For East Ukraine Ceasefire From July 27
A local resident Ilya, 57, stands next to a house of his relatives, which locals said was destroyed during a recent
shelling, in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE negotiators reached an agreement on Wednesday for a full ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine from Monday, Ukraine’s president’s office said.
    A simmering conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.    Major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.
    “The breakthrough… is the result of the effective work of the Ukrainian delegation with the support of our international partners in Berlin and Paris,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s press service said in a statement.
    It said the full and comprehensive ceasefire, if observed by the other party, was a precondition for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
    Zelenskiy has sought to resolve the conflict since his election last year, arranging a number of prisoner swaps.    Ukraine and Russia have been foes since 2014, when Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed the rebellion in the east.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk)

7/23/2020 Bulgarian PM Reshuffles Government To Quell Protests
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov replaced his finance and other ministers on Thursday in a reshuffle designed to quell a wave of anti-corruption protests that have called for his resignation.
    Borissov dismissed the ministers of finance, economy and interior, whom he had asked to resign last week to stop speculation that they were working under the influence of a controversial businessman linked to another political faction.
    Health Minister Kiril Ananiev will take over the Balkan country’s coffers, replacing Vladislav Goranov as finance minister, Borissov said after a meeting with his junior coalition partners.
    Ananiev, 65, has a reputation as an expert in budget drafting, and has served as deputy finance minister under four different governments since 1998.    He was briefly finance minister in an caretaker cabinet in early 2017.
    The tourism minister will also be dismissed, Borissov said.
    Thousands of mainly young Bulgarians have been demonstrating every night in the past two weeks, seeking the resignation of three-times premier Borissov.    They accuse him turning a blind eye to endemic graft that has weakened state institutions and eroded the rule of law for the benefit of few.
    The ruling centre-right coalition has vowed to carry out its full four-year mandate that expires next March.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/23/2020 Putin And Trump Discussed Arms Control, Iran In Phone Call: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at
the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed arms control and Iran’s nuclear arms programme in a telephone call, the Kremlin said in a statement on Thursday.
    The two leaders also expressed a mutual desire to develop trade and economic interaction between Russia and the United States, the Kremlin added.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

7/23/2020 U.S. And Baltic States Oppose Russian ‘Rewriting Of History’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
(not pictured), at Lancaster House in London, Britain July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool/File Photo
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – The United States joined Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Thursday in opposing any Russian attempts to rewrite history after President Vladimir Putin said the Baltic states had consented to their 1940 annexation by the Soviet Union.
    “We stand firmly against any attempts by Russia to rewrite history in order to justify the 1940 occupation and annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a joint statement with the foreign ministers of the three Baltic countries.
    The joint statement marked the 80th anniversary of a 1940 declaration by then-acting U.S. Secretary of State Sumner Welles condemning the Soviet takeover of the three countries.
    Putin wrote last month that incorporating Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the Soviet Union “was implemented on a contractual basis, with the consent of the elected authorities.”
    “This was in line with international and state law of that time,” he added in the article for U.S. magazine The National Interest.
    The European Union and NATO have accused Russia of waging a campaign of disinformation to try to destabilise the West by exploiting divisions in society.    Russia denies any such tactics.
    The European Commission said in January it would not tolerate the distortion of historic facts after Putin suggested Poland shared responsibility for starting World War Two because it connived in Nazi German plans in 1938 to dismember Czechoslovakia.
    Polish President Andrzej Duda accused Putin of “historical lies.”
    In 1989, during the period of glasnost, or openness, under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Moscow denounced the secret 1939 Soviet-Nazi pact to carve up Poland and the Baltic states which allowed the Soviet Union to annex the region.
    Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia all won independence from the Soviet Union as it collapsed and now are members of both the EU and NATO.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/23/2020 Preliminary Analysis Of Data From Downed Ukraine Jet Is Done: Canada
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – An international team examining the black boxes from a Ukrainian jet accidentally shot down by Iran has completed preliminary analysis of the data in France, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday.
    “The work in Paris is finished, but the investigation is far from over.    There are still many key questions that need to be answered,” TSB Chair Kathy Fox said in a statement.
    France’s BEA accident investigation bureau carried out the work.    Fox did not say what the analysis had revealed.
    The release of any further information is a matter for Iranian authorities leading the investigation, said Fox, urging Tehran to move as fast as possible.
    The process was conducted with an Iranian investigator present and observed by Canadian, U.S., Swedish and British experts and representatives from the airline, Boeing Co and engine maker Safran SA.
    Iranian forces say they downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 jet on Jan. 8 after mistaking it for a missile amid heightened tensions with the United States.
(Editing by Alistair Bell)

7/23/2020 Preliminary Analysis Of Data From Downed Ukraine Jet Is Done: Canada
FILE PHOTO: Mourners attend a vigil for the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet which was shot down
in Iran, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jesse Winter
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – An international team examining the black boxes from a Ukrainian jet accidentally shot down by Iran has completed preliminary analysis of the data in France, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday.
    “The work in Paris is finished, but the investigation is far from over. There are still many key questions that need to be answered,” TSB Chair Kathy Fox said in a statement.
    France’s BEA accident investigation bureau carried out the work. Fox did not say what the analysis had revealed.
    The release of any further information is a matter for Iranian authorities leading the investigation, said Fox, urging Tehran to move as fast as possible.
    The process was conducted with an Iranian investigator present and observed by Canadian, U.S., Swedish and British experts and representatives from the airline, Boeing Co and engine maker Safran SA.
    Iranian forces say they downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 jet on Jan. 8 after mistaking it for a missile amid heightened tensions with the United States.
(Editing by Alistair Bell)

7/23/2020 Croatia Parliament Approves New Center-Right Government
Croatia's Prime Minister-designate Andrej Plenkovic is seen in the parliament before
the government is approved in Zagreb, Croatia, July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – The Croatian parliament on Thursday approved the new centre-right cabinet led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic whose Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won the most parliamentary seats in the general election held on July 5.
    Plenkovic’s new coalition government is supported by two smaller liberal parties and the representatives of the national minorities.     Plenkovic also headed the former HDZ-led coalition over the last four years.
    Despite a tiny majority of 76 votes in the 151-seat parliament, Plenkovic’s government is expected to receive steady parliamentary support.
    “Our key task is to secure welfare for our citizens … to preserve their health and the jobs at these times of the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Plenkovic said in parliament.
    Most of the ministers from Plenkovic’s previous cabinet remained in office, including Finance Minister Zdravko Maric who is seen as pivotal to keeping public finances on track for Croatia’s bid to adopt the euro by 2024.
    This month Croatia entered the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM-2), a waiting room of at least two years before the euro adoption.
    Plenkovic said his government would work on raising living standards, vowing to increase an average wage by the end of the four-year term to 7,600 kuna ($1,171.14) from the current 6,655 kuna.
    His government plans to reduce the income tax rates to 20% and 30% from the current 24% and 36%, respectively, and reduce the profit tax to 10% from 12% for companies with annual earnings of up to 7.5 million kuna.
    The value-added tax for food products is planned to be cut to 13% from the current 25%, one of the highest VAT rates in the European Union.
    Boosting the business climate and investments in a tourism-dependent economy and keeping public spending under control will be among the key challenges in the efforts to restore growth after an economic downturn of around 10% expected this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
($1 = 6.4894 kuna)
(Reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

7/23/2020 Britain Concerned By Russian Satellite Space Test
FILE PHOTO: A security camera is seen, and a flag flies outside the consular section of
Russia's embassy in London, Britain, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
    LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Britain is concerned about a Russian satellite test which involved the launch of a projectile with the “characteristics of a weapon,” a British official said on Thursday, calling on Russia to behave responsibly in space.
    Tensions between Britain and Russia have been high in recent weeks, as Britain has targeted Russians with new sanctions, accused Russian actors of trying to meddle in last year’s election and said it has tried to hack into vaccine research.
    On Thursday, the head of the UK’s Space Directorate Harvey Smith criticized Russian conduct in space.
    “We are concerned by the manner in which Russia tested one of its satellites by launching a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon,” he said in a statement.
    “Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space… we call on Russia to avoid any further such testing.”
    The Russian defense ministry tested a new satellite, which performed checks on Russian space equipment, on July 15.
    “During testing of the latest space technology, one of the domestic satellites was examined close up using the specialized equipment of small space craft,” the Interfax news agency cited the Ministry of Defence as saying at the time.
    “As a result, Russia’s Ministry of Defence has received valuable information about the technical condition of the object under investigation and sent it to ground control facilities.”
(Reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Lisa)

7/24/2020 Bulgarian PM Borissov Isolated, Awaits COVID-19 Test Results
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has gone into quarantine after the head of his political office tested positive for coronavirus late on Thursday, the government press office said in a statement.
    Borissov, 61, whose first test for coronavirus came out negative, will stay in self-isolation until the results of a second test taken early on Friday come out, a government spokeswoman said.
    Bulgaria has registered a spike in coronavirus infections in the past month.    On Friday, the Balkan country had 268 new cases, bringing the total to 9,853 including 329 deaths.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

7/24/2020 U.S., Russia To Hold First Space Security Talks Since 2013
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Russia will next week conduct their first formal, bilateral talks on space security since 2013, following a U.S. allegation that Russia tested a space-based anti-satellite weapon this month, a U.S. official said on Friday.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford told reporters in a conference call that one possible topic for the talks, which will take place in Vienna, may be to make clear “that outer space is not a lawless and ungoverned territory.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Daphne Psaledakis, Editing by Franklin Paul)

7/24/2020 Thousands Of Hungarians March For Media Freedom After Website Muzzled by Marton Dunai and Krisztina Than
People take part in a protest for media freedom after the editor-in-chief of Index, Hungary's leading independent
news website was fired, near the Sandor Palace, in Budapest, Hungary, July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians marched towards Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office on Friday in protest at perceived government attacks on media freedoms, as anger built at the sacking of the chief editor of the country’s leading independent news website.
    Earlier in the day, three editors at Index.hu and more than 80 journalists – almost its entire staff – resigned over what they called an “open attempt to exert pressure” on the site after its owner refused to reinstate Szabolcs Dull.
    Dull’s dismissal has increased concern that Orban’s nationalist government, in power for over a decade, is intensifying efforts to muzzle critical voices.
    “We are not necessarily here because we liked Index but we are now at a point where accessing information is jeopardised,” said protester Istvan, 30, among the large crowd that set out from Index’s headquarters to Orban’s office in Buda Castle.     Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his government was facing “untrue accusations” with respect to threats to media freedoms.
    “How would the state intervene in the decisions of a media which is privately owned?,” he told a news conference on Thursday during a visit to Portugal.
A STATE MARKET
    Index, which about a month ago set its self-styled “independence barometer” to “in danger” to signal what it saw as outside attempts to influence its content, is by far the largest media organisation that is critical of the government.
    “Index was the last outlet that bothered the government to this extent,” Peter Uj, who co-founded Index in 1999, told Reuters.    He quit in 2011 because of increasing pressure from Orban’s Fidesz party.
    “Less conspicuously, the system gobbled up not only titles but also … ad agencies… The government controls three-quarters of the advertising market one way or another,” he said.    “This is a state market.”
    On Wednesday Laszlo Bodolai, chief of the foundation that owns the website’s publisher, Index.hu Zrt., said Dull had been unable to control internal newsroom tensions, leading to disarray and a drop in revenue as advertisers stayed away.
    He said the political independence of Index was not at risk.    He did not return Reuters’ calls requesting comment on Friday.
    Dull said he believed he was sacked because of columns he wrote about attempts to extert outside influence and the independence barometer warning.
(Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet)

7/24/2020 Belarus Opposition Leader Flees Abroad With Two Sons Ahead Of Election by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Valery Tsepkalo, a potential candidate in the upcoming presidential election, speaks to the media
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Minsk, Belarus May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – An opposition candidate who wanted to stand against Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko in next month’s presidential election has fled to Russia with his two sons, fearing they could be taken away, his campaign said on Friday.
    Valery Tsepkalo, the country’s former ambassador to Washington and later the founder of an office park for technology companies, worried that the authorities had started proceedings to deprive him of his parental rights.
    Lukashenko has jailed two of his main election rivals and detained hundreds of protesters in a crackdown on dissent against his 26-year rule that has drawn Western criticism.
    Tsepkalo’s campaign said officials from the General Prosecutor Office had come to the boys’ school asking for written statements that his family were not taking good enough care of the children.
    “We were left with no choice,” Tsepkalo’s wife Veronika, who stayed behind to campaign against Lukashenko, told a crowd of hundreds of people at a rally.
    “I was called by concerned people and they said: ‘We do not want to sign these papers, but they force us (to sign), they collect something bad against you and the next step is to deprive you of parental rights, that you are a bad mother, do not take care of the children’.”
    The General Prosecutor Office denied authorities visited the school.    “The prosecutor’s office did not take any actions aimed at depriving Valery or Veronika Tsepkalo of parental rights,” it said in a statement.
    The Tsepkalos have not disclosed the age of the children.
    Valery Tsepkalo’s move abroad comes days after another opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, moved her two children to an undisclosed location in the European Union.    She received anonymous threats of her children being taken away.
    Veronika Tsepkalo has joined forces with Tikhanouskaya and a third woman representing another candidate, now in prison, to campaign jointly against Lukashenko.>br>     Valery Tsepkalo was barred from standing after the central election commission voided some of the signatures he needed to collect to become a candidate.
    Tikhanouskaya launched her campaign after her husband, a popular blogger who planned to run against the president, was arrested in May.
    Protests in support of opposition candidates are the biggest challenge in years to Lukashenko, amid anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights.
(Editing by Matthias Williams, Angus MacSwan and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/24/2020 Putin Says Armenian-Azeri Border Clashes Sensitive Issue For Russia: RIA
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the launching ceremony of the new Euro+ combined oil refining unit at the
Gazprom Neft Moscow Refinery, via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia July 23, 2020.
Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that ongoing border clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia were a highly sensitive matter for Russia, the RIA news agency reported.
    More than a dozen Armenian and Azeri soldiers have been killed in recent days in clashes between the two former Soviet republics, which have long been at odds over Azerbaijan’s breakaway, mainly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh. [nL5N2EN5H0]
    “For us this is very sensitive, the situation on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border,” Putin said according to the RIA report.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

7/24/2020 WTO Largely Upholds Russia’s Case Against EU Anti-Dumping Measures
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is pictured ahead of a news conference by WTO
Director-General Roberto Azevedo after a General Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A World Trade Organization (WTO) panel on Friday largely upheld a complaint brought by Russia against European Union anti-dumping measures, the third such ruling lost by the bloc.
    The panel found that the EU “cost adjustment” methodology for calculating dumping margins in the case violates WTO anti-dumping rules, particularly regarding prices for energy inputs.
    But it rejected claims that the EU’s framework anti-dumping regulation, known as “the basic regulation,” breaks WTO rules.
    Both sides have 60 days to appeal the decision in the case, brought in December 2016.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Shields)

7/25/2020 Poland Should Reject Treaty On Violence Against Women, Official Says
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland should reject a European treaty to combat violence against women as some elements of it go against the country’s constitutional values, a government official said on Saturday.
    Poland ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention preventing violence against women in 2015 under the former, centrist government.
    The ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power five years ago pledging to defend traditional family values, have signalled that Warsaw may quit the treaty, saying the country’s own laws to protect women are more efficient.
    Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro is expected to hold a press conference later on the convention, which states that traditions, culture or religion cannot be used as a justification for acts of violence against women.
    It comes as calls to domestic violence hotlines in Europe rose as much as three-fifths as alcohol and drug abuse combine with close confinement in coronavirus lockdowns to fuel abuse of the most vulnerable, the World Health Organization said.
    “The convention includes a dangerous ideological layer, which is contrary to Polish constitutional order,” said Janusz Kowalski, a deputy state assets minister and lawmaker from PiS junior coalition partner.    He did not provide details.
    Kowalski said that in the opinion of his party and the Justice Ministry, “the Istanbul Convention has to be denounced.”
    His comments echo views expressed by other government officials earlier this month that Poland should take steps to quit the convention.
    On Friday evening thousands of people, mostly women, protested in Warsaw and other cities in Poland against the government’s plans.
    “The aim is to legalise domestic violence,” Magdalena Lempart, one of the protest organisers said on Friday at a march in Warsaw.
    Some protesters carried banners saying “PiS is the women’s hell”, referring also to the party’s attempts from the past years to tighten already restrictive abortion rules, which the government gave up on after massive street protests.
    Six EU countries have not ratified the convention, including Hungary and Bulgaria.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Louise Heavens)

7/25/2020 Ukraine Reports Highest Daily Number Of Coronavirus Cases In A Month
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask, used as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
walks past a dummy skull placed in a shop window in central Kyiv, Ukraine July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine reported 1,106 new cases of the coronavirus within a 24-hour period, the highest daily toll since a record on June 26, when it reached 1,109, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Saturday.
    The number of new daily infections has increased sharply in the past two months following the gradual lifting of restrictions that began in late-May.
    Stepanov said that 205 people had been admitted to hospitals.    “It means their lives are under threat and we have to understand that this disease is very serious,” he told an online briefing.
    The total number of cases rose to 63,929, including 1,590 deaths, while 35,497 patients recovered as of July 25.
    Stepanov appealed to people to stick to rules aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
    Ukraine’s government this week extended a nationwide lockdown until Aug. 31, requiring people to wear masks and adhere to social distancing rules in restaurants and public places.    At the same time, it will allow separate regions to ease the regime if warranted.
    Ukraine’s central bank forecast a 6% slump in gross domestic product mainly due to coronavirus restrictions in 2020 compared with 3.2% growth last year.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, editing by Louise Heavens)

7/25/2020 Thousands Protest Against Kremlin In Russian Far East For Third Weekend
FILE PHOTO: Governor of Khabarovsk Region Sergei Furgal, accused of crimes including attempted murder, is escorted to
a police vehicle after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday for the third weekend in a row, protesting at President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a regional political crisis that has sparked demonstrations.
    Residents of Khabarovsk, around 3,800 miles (6,110 km) and seven time zones east of Moscow, are unhappy about the July 9 detention of the wider region’s popular regional governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges he denies.
    His detention, which his supporters say was politically motivated, has triggered more than two weeks of street protests, creating a headache for the Kremlin which is trying to troubleshoot a sharp COVID-19-induced drop in real incomes and keep a lid on unrest as the economy stutters.
    Footage of the protest showed people chanting “Disgrace!” and slogans demanding Putin resign because local people had lost trust in him.
    The protests have highlighted anger among some in the far east over what they see as policies emanating from detached Moscow-based authorities on the other side of the country.
    Moscow-based authorities on the other side of the country.     Supporters of Furgal, the arrested governor and a member of the nationalist LDPR party, feel he is being belatedly punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party in 2018. The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
    Such sustained demonstrations are unusual for Russia’s regions, as is the fact that the authorities have not yet moved to break them up.
    In an apparent move to defuse tensions, Putin on Monday named a new acting governor to head the region.    But protesters said they felt insulted by the choice of Mikhail Degtyaryov, who has no connection with the region, and have called on him to step down too.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Louise Heavens)

7/25/2020 Poland To Quit Treaty On Violence Against Women, Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Zbigniew Ziobro signs documents after being designated as Minister of Justice, at
the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will take steps next week to withdraw from a European treaty on violence against women, which the right-wing cabinet says violates parents’ rights by requiring schools to teach children about gender, the justice minister said on Saturday.
    Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference his ministry would submit a request to the labour and families ministry on Monday to begin the process of withdrawing from the treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention.
    “It contains elements of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful,” Ziobro said.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its coalition partners closely align themselves with the Catholic Church and promote a conservative social agenda.    Hostility to gay rights was one of the main issues promoted by President Andrej Duda during a successful re-election campaign this month.
    On Friday, thousands of people, mostly women, protested in Warsaw and other cities against proposals to reject the treaty.
    “The aim is to legalise domestic violence,” Magdalena Lempart, one of the protest organisers said on Friday at a march in Warsaw.    Some protesters carried banners saying “PiS is the women’s hell.”
    PiS has long complained about the Istanbul Convention, which Poland ratified under a previous centrist government in 2015.    The government says the treaty is disrespectful towards religion and requires teaching liberal social policies in schools, although in the past it has stopped short of a decision to quit.
    Ziobro, the justice minister, represents a smaller right-wing party within the ruling coalition.    A government spokesman was not available on Saturday for comment on whether Ziobro’s announcement of plans to quit the treaty represented a collective cabinet decision.
    The World Health Organization says domestic violence has surged this year in Europe during months of lockdown aimed at fighting the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Koper; Editing by Louise Heavens and Peter Graff)

7/25/2020 Greece To Require Negative Coronavirus Test For Entry From Bulgaria, Romania
FILE PHOTO: Empty hall of the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport is pictured during the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    ATHENS (Reuters) – Visitors to Greece arriving by air from Bulgaria and Romania will need to provide proof they have tested negative for coronavirus to gain entry, Greece’s Civil Protection authority said on Saturday.
    The requirement, which will come into effect from July 28 to August 4, will not apply to Greek nationals arriving from those countries.
    “Based on an analysis of epidemiological data, arrivals to Greece via air connections from Bulgaria and Romania will be required to provide a negative test result for the coronavirus that has been done up to 72 hours before their arrival,” the authority said.
    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Bulgaria passed 10,000 on Saturday, with 270 confirmed new infections in the past 24 hours, official data showed.
    The Civil Protection authority said it is continuously monitoring data to ensure that the opening of the country to foreign visitors is done safely.
    Greece is not facing a second wave of infections but needs to remain vigilant, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias told Skai TV on Saturday.
    “If we stop being careful and continue to relax and infections spread, then everything can change,” he said.
    Greece has managed to contain the spread of coronavirus to 4,135 confirmed cases and 201 deaths based on the latest data after imposing an early lockdown.
(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Mike Harrison)

7/26/2020 Russia Reports 5,765 New Coronavirus Cases In Past 24 Hours
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing Platov International Airport amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported 5,765 new coronavirus cases and 77 more deaths, a steep decline from the 146 deaths reported a day earlier.
    The nationwide tally of infections has risen to 812,485, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.    The COVID-19 death toll now stands at 13,269 and 600,250 people have recovered.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by David Goodman)

7/26/2020 Putin Says Russian Navy To Get Hypersonic Nuclear Strike Weapons by Andrew Osborn
Russia's President Vladimir Putin inspects warships before the Navy Day parade in
Saint Petersburg, Russia July 26, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday the Russian Navy would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons and underwater nuclear drones, which the defence ministry said were in their final phase of testing.
    Putin, who says he does not want an arms race, has often spoken of a new generation of Russian nuclear weapons that he says are unequalled and can hit almost anywhere in the world.    Some Western experts have questioned how advanced they are.
    The weapons, some of which have yet to be deployed, include the Poseidon underwater nuclear drone, designed to be carried by submarines, and the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile, which can be deployed on surface ships.
    The combination of speed, manoeuvrability and altitude of hypersonic missiles, capable of travelling at more than five times the speed of sound, makes them difficult to track and intercept
.
    Speaking in St Petersburg at an annual naval parade that showcases Russia’s best ships, nuclear submarines and naval aviation, Putin said the navy’s capabilities were growing and it would get 40 new vessels this year.
    He did not specify when it would receive new hypersonic weapons, but suggested that day was drawing closer.
    “The widespread deployment of advanced digital technologies that have no equals in the world, including hypersonic strike systems and underwater drones, will give the fleet unique advantages and increased combat capabilities,” Putin said.
    In a separate statement released via Russian news agencies, the defence ministry said testing of the Belgorod, the first submarine capable of carrying the Poseidon drones, was underway and testing of the weapons systems was nearing completion.
    “Work is being successfully completed to create modern weapons systems for the Navy,” it was cited as saying.
    Putin last year threatened to deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines that could lurk outside U.S. territorial waters if the United States moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
    Washington has not deployed such missiles in Europe, but Moscow is worried it might.
(Editing by Barbara Lewis)

7/26/2020 Putin, Zelenskiy Discuss Conflict In Eastern Ukraine On Eve Of Ceasefire
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 26, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine and both expressed support for a ceasefire that starts on July 27, their offices said on Sunday.
    The Kremlin said Putin told Zelenskiy in a phone call that Ukraine’s decision to hold regional elections in 2020 contradicts the Minsk peace accords aimed at resolving the conflict which broke out in 2014.
    Zelenskiy’s office said the Ukrainian president told Putin that further steps were needed to free Ukrainian citizens being held in eastern Ukraine, Crimea and Russia.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/26/2020 Polish Ruling Party Distances Itself From Proposal To Exit Domestic Violence Treaty
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro attends a government
meeting in Warsaw, Poland July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s conservative ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) distanced itself on Sunday from a proposal by the justice minister to withdraw from a European treaty on violence against women, saying not all in the coalition were in favour.
    PiS and its coalition partners closely align themselves with the Catholic Church have previously criticised the Istanbul Convention as too liberal but not adopted any policy for a withdrawal.
    On Saturday Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who represents a smaller right-wing party within the ruling coalition, said that his ministry would submit a request to the labour and families ministry on Monday to begin the process of withdrawing from the treaty.
    Ziobro said that Poland has sufficient legal tools to protect victims of domestic violence and that the treaty violates parents’ rights by requiring schools to teach children about gender.
    But on Sunday PiS officials took a step back.
    “Decisions have not been taken.    This is not our common stance.    The minister has some idea.    If he submits (his proposal) we will analyse it,” PiS spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska said.
    Also the government spokesman Piotr Muller said the cabinet has not decided over the treaty.
    Quitting the treaty would likely become another bone of contention between Poland and the EU, which has been critical of PiS’ policies that the union said undermine democracy.
    PiS has long complained about the Convention, which Poland ratified under a previous centrist government in 2015. The government says the treaty is disrespectful towards religion and requires teaching liberal social policies in schools.     It is unclear what the final government decision might be. PiS has pulled back from some of its proposals in the past, including a project to tighten already restrictive abortion rules.
    Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said on Sunday that Poland should not withdraw from the treaty.
    Formally, the parliament will have to adopt new legislation to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, which will then need to be signed by the president, Andrzej Duda.     Duda has been critical of the treaty in the past.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Koper; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/27/2020 Full Ceasefire Takes Effect In Eastern Ukraine
    KYIV (Reuters) – A full and comprehensive ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists has entered into force in eastern Ukraine, opening the prospect of an end to military and civilian casualties, the two sides said on Monday.
    Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE negotiators last week agreed on a full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine from Monday, putting on hold the military conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014.
    The deal was backed by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who agreed “the need for an urgent implementation of extra measures to support the ceasefire regime in Donbass.”
    Zelenskiy has sought to resolve the conflict since his election last year, arranging a number of prisoner swaps.
    “We are talking about the possibility of a real ceasefire on both sides,” the head of Ukraine’s joint forces operation Volodymyr Kravchenko told a televised briefing.
    “The situation is stable and controlled,” he added.
    On Sunday, Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a statement that its forces “stand ready to give a proper rebuff to the enemy in case of violation of the agreements.”
    The separatists’ DNA news agency said on Monday observers “did not record any violations of the ceasefire by the security forces of Kiev, starting from 00:01 on July 27 this year.”
    Ukraine and Russia have been foes since 2014, when Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed the rebellion in the east.
    Major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets, Editing by William Maclean)

7/27/2020 Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan Discuss Conflict Between Armenia And Azerbaijan
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news
conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed by phone the intensified military conflict on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Kremlin said on Monday.
    “Readiness was expressed to coordinate efforts for stabilisation in the region,” the Kremlin said.
    Putin said earlier this month that the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia was a highly sensitive matter for Russia.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Chris Reese)

7/27/2020 Belgium Tightens Coronavirus Restrictions After Surge Of Cases by Marine Strauss and Philip Blenkinsop
People sit close to each other on a bench at a park, during a national security council discussion on new restrictive measures
after a spike of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Brussels, Belgium July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium announced measures on Monday including a sharp reduction in permitted social contact designed to prevent a return to a nationwide lockdown after a surge of coronavirus infections in the past three weeks.
    Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes told a news conference that, from Wednesday, a Belgian family or those living together would only be able to meet five other people, sharply down from 15 now.
    The numbers allowed to attend public events will be halved to 100 for inside and 200 for outside.    Consumers will have to shop on their own and Wilmes also said people should work from home as much as possible.
    “We are acting again today to keep the situation under control and to prevent a general lockdown,” Wilmes said, adding those infected appeared to be more contagious than when the country went into lockdown in mid-March.
    The average number of cases in the past week has risen to 279 per day from around 80 in early July.    The northern port city of Antwerp has been particularly hard hit.
    Belgium last week put a stop to further easing of restrictions.    For bars and restaurants, masks became compulsory for those not seated and customers had to leave contact details to allow tracing.
    Belgium, where the European Union and NATO have their headquarters, imposed a lockdown on March 18 due to COVID-19, which has claimed 9,821 lives in the country, one of the world’s highest fatality figures per capita.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Phil Blenkinsop, editing by Ed Osmond)

7/27/2020 Ukrainian FM Says Iranians To Discuss Crash Compensation In Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a news conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas
after discussing bilateral and international issues, in Berlin, Germany, June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Pool
    WARSAW (Reuters) – An Iranian delegation will visit Ukraine on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss compensation for a Ukrainian jet shot down by Iran on Jan. 8, the Ukrainian foreign minister said on Monday.
    Iranian forces say they downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 jet on Jan. 8 after mistaking it for a missile amid heightened tensions with the United States.    All 176 people on board – including 57 Canadians – were killed.
    “Given the circumstance of what happened, there are all reasons to ask from Iran to pay the highest price for what it did,” Dmytro Kuleba, speaking in English, told a news conference during a visit to the Polish capital Warsaw.
    Kuleba said Ukraine would represent all countries and groups affected during the talks.
    “I cannot disclose final numbers of the compensation … numbers will be the result of the consultations,” he said.
    The aircraft was shot down hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the U.S. drone killing of a senior Iranian commander.
    The data extraction from the recovered black boxes is being carried out with an Iranian investigator and observed by Canadian, U.S., Swedish and British experts and representatives from UIA, Boeing and engine maker Safran.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Alison Williams and Philippa Fletcher)

7/27/2020 Austrian Resort Town St. Wolfgang Grapples With Coronavirus Outbreak
Postcards are seen on display at a souvenir shop in St. Wolfgang, Austria July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The Austrian town of St. Wolfgang, a popular holiday destination, has reported 53 coronavirus infections since Wednesday, triggering concerns of an early end to the summer tourist season at one of the country’s best known lakes.
    More than a thousand people have been tested in St. Wolfgang since the first case became known on Wednesday, Christine Haberlander, health minister of Upper Austria province, told ORF radio on Monday.
    Two hotels in the picturesque town, once a favourite vacation resort of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, have been closed and curfew has been moved up to 2300 p.m. from 0100 a.m.
    The virus spread via hotel staff with 52 of those 53 infected working in the town’s accommodation and restaurant sector, Haberlander said.    One of those infected was a visitor.    More than 400 test results are expected on Monday.
    Guests who stayed in town from July 15 will be informed about the coronavirus outbreak, the provincial government said.
    After the ski resort of Ischgl, a four-hour drive away, hit the headlines as a European coronavirus cluster last winter, many businesses in St. Wolfgang fear visitors will stay away for the rest of the season.
    “It shows, that popularity is also a curse,” Gudrun Peter, who runs the White Horse Inn, told ORF radio.    “I rather assume that this season is more or less over.”
    The provincial government currently does not plan to close more hotels or impose a quarantine, but is ready to do so if necessary, Haberlander said.
    Austria’s outbreak has been relatively limited compared with other Western European countries.    It has recorded 20,510 cases and 713 deaths, though infections have accelerated in the past month.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/27/2020 Ukraine Says Separatists Violated Ceasefire Within Hours
A Ukrainian serviceman is seen at a position on the front line near the town of Novotoshkivske in Luhansk
region, Ukraine July 26, 2020. Iryna Rybakova/Press Service of Ukrainian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – A full and comprehensive ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists that entered into force in eastern Ukraine on Monday has already been violated by separatists, Ukrainian military said.
    Ukrainian, Russian and OSCE negotiators last week agreed on a full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine from Monday, putting on hold the military conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014.
    “In the middle of the night, the enemy opened fire on the positions of Ukrainian soldiers from hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers and small arms, and … at noon they fired from automatic heavy-duty grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms,” Ukrainian military said in a statement.
    Ukrainian forces did not open fire in response, but on Sunday the defence ministry said in a statement that its forces “stand ready to give a proper rebuff to the enemy in case of violation of the agreements.”
    The current ceasefire was backed by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who agreed “the need for an urgent implementation of extra measures to support the ceasefire regime in Donbass.”
    Zelenskiy has sought to resolve the conflict since his election last year, arranging a number of prisoner swaps.
    “We are talking about the possibility of a real ceasefire on both sides,” the head of Ukraine’s joint forces operation Volodymyr Kravchenko told a televised briefing.
    “The situation is stable and controlled,” he added.
    The separatists’ DNA news agency said on Monday observers “did not record any violations of the ceasefire by the security forces of Kiev, starting from 00:01 on July 27 this year.”
    Ukraine and Russia have been foes since 2014, when Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed the rebellion in the east.
    Major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets, Editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)

7/27/2020 Poland Braces For Second Wave As Virus Spikes In Coal Mines
FILE PHOTO: Miners work underground at a coal mine in Silesia, southern Poland September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s health ministry expects a resurgence in the number of new coronavirus infections to end after it tests and isolates suspected cases in the southern mining region of Silesia, officials said.
    On Saturday the number of new infections rose by 584, its second-highest daily tally since the beginning of the pandemic, followed by another 780 on Sunday and Monday combined, bringing the total number to 43,402.
    “We have big outbreaks in Silesia, mainly in three coal mines.    This week we’ll test 2,000 mine workers, then the number of new infections should fall to 300 daily next week,” Health Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz said.
    The Silesia mining region in southern Poland became the country’s coronavirus epicenter in May with a rapid growth of the number of infections among miners.
    For weeks the number of infections there accounted for more than half of total daily cases in Poland, prompting the government in June to temporarily shut 12 mines.    Those mines have reopened, but in the past few days Poland reported another jump in new cases in Silesia.
    Poland has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, with fewer than 1,700 deaths so far out of a total population of 38 million.    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said that COVID-19 had become a disease “like any other.”
    “The most important thing is to control the spread of the disease.    The situation is stable and monitored … Children are set to come back to school on September 1, and I hope they will,” PM’s Chief of Staff Michal Dworczyk told Polsat News broadcaster.
    The health ministry will hold a meeting later on Monday to decide on measures to prevent a potential second wave of disease in Autumn.    Experts may discuss whether to reinstate the wearing of face masks on the streets, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska told public radio.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, and Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/28/2020 Belgians Adapt To Compulsory Face Masks Along North Sea Coast by Bart Biesemans
    OSTEND, Belgium (Reuters) – There could be no one around but the wind and the sea, but wherever you go along Belgium’s coast this summer you had better wear a mask.
    Instead of trying to enforce a rule with countless exceptions, local authorities in northern Belgium have decided to make masks mandatory outdoors at all times from July 25.
    Even on windy boardwalks and deserted coastal causeways, when sitting down in the sun or cycling along harbour paths. You can take it off only when eating or swimming. Otherwise, there’s a fine.
    “It’s not very pleasant after all,” said Belgian tourist Nancy van Impe in the port city of Ostend.    “We were just cycling without a face mask and then we thought: Oh, do we have to put it on when we cycle?
    Belgium was hit hard in Europe’s initial coronavirus wave, still holding the record for the most deaths per capita from COVID-19 in the world apart from the tiny northern Italian city state of San Marino.    It has since largely curbed transmission through a lockdown that has slowly been lifted in recent months.
    But a surge of infections in the past three weeks has raised concern of a second wave.    Some tourists said they accepted that drastic measures needed to be taken.
    “It’s a bit weird, but now we’re moving to a situation where we already think it’s weird that someone doesn’t wear one,” said tourist Martine Vermeiren.
    Belgian restaurants, bars and cafes are required to gather the names and contact information of those at every table they serve to make it easier to track customers infected with COVID-19.
    “It’s a good measure.    It involves more work for us, but we do it with pleasure to fight the disease,” Ostend restaurant owner Lorenzo de Jonghe told Reuters.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/28/2020 Virology Institute Launches Russia’s Second COVID-19 Vaccine Human Trial
FILE PHOTO: A scientist prepares samples during the research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian state virology institute has started human trials of the country’s second potential COVID-19 vaccine, injecting the first of five volunteers with a dose on July 27, the RIA news agency reported on Tuesday.     The individual was feeling fine, the agency reported.
    The next volunteer in the trial by the Vector virology institute in Siberia would receive an injection on July 30, RIA cited consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor as saying.
    A government register of all clinical trials shows that the institute, which is overseen by Rospotrebnadzor, is testing a peptide vaccine using a platform first developed for Ebola.
    The trial is then expected to scale up to 100 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60, the clinical trials register shows. Vector is working on six different potential COVID-19 vaccines, World Health Organisation (WHO) records show.
    A separate state research facility in Moscow, the Gamaleya Institute, completed early human trials of an adenovirus-based vaccine earlier this month and expects to enter large-scale trials in August.
    More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the coronavirus pandemic.    At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data – including three developed in China and another in Britain.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova, Editing by William Maclean)

7/28/2020 Belgians Adapt To Compulsory Face Masks Along North Sea Coast by Bart Biesemans
    OSTEND, Belgium (Reuters) – There could be no one around but the wind and the sea, but wherever you go along Belgium’s coast this summer you had better wear a mask.
    Instead of trying to enforce a rule with countless exceptions, local authorities in northern Belgium have decided to make masks mandatory outdoors at all times from July 25.
    Even on windy boardwalks and deserted coastal causeways, when sitting down in the sun or cycling along harbour paths.    You can take it off only when eating or swimming.    Otherwise, there’s a fine.
    “It’s not very pleasant after all,” said Belgian tourist Nancy van Impe in the port city of Ostend.    “We were just cycling without a face mask and then we thought: Oh, do we have to put it on when we cycle?
    Belgium was hit hard in Europe’s initial coronavirus wave, still holding the record for the most deaths per capita from COVID-19 in the world apart from the tiny northern Italian city state of San Marino.    It has since largely curbed transmission through a lockdown that has slowly been lifted in recent months.
    But a surge of infections in the past three weeks has raised concern of a second wave.    Some tourists said they accepted that drastic measures needed to be taken.
    “It’s a bit weird, but now we’re moving to a situation where we already think it’s weird that someone doesn’t wear one,” said tourist Martine Vermeiren.
    Belgian restaurants, bars and cafes are required to gather the names and contact information of those at every table they serve to make it easier to track customers infected with COVID-19.
    “It’s a good measure.    It involves more work for us, but we do it with pleasure to fight the disease,” Ostend restaurant owner Lorenzo de Jonghe told Reuters.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/28/2020 Belarus President Says He Survived Coronavirus ‘On His Feet’ by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he takes part in the celebrations
of Independence Day in Minsk, Belarus July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he caught the coronavirus and recovered “on his feet” without showing any symptoms, sounding a defiant tone as he addressed military leaders in Minsk.
    Lukashenko, 65, has resisted calls for strict lockdown measures to contain the pandemic, dismissing fears about COVID-19 as a “psychosis” and suggesting remedies such as drinking vodka, taking saunas and playing ice hockey.
    Public frustration over his handling of the pandemic has fuelled the biggest protests in years against his rule ahead of a presidential election on Aug. 9. He has jailed two of his main electoral rivals in a widening crackdown on dissent.
    “Today you are meeting a man who managed to survive the coronavirus on his feet.    This is what doctors concluded yesterday. Asymptomatic,” Lukashenko said.
    “As I said, 97% of our population carry this infection asymptomatically,” he added.    He did not give a source for that figure.
    Belarus, with a population of 9.5 million, has registered 67,366 coronavirus infections with 543 deaths.
    Lukashenko did not say when or how he might have contracted the virus.    He met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a military parade in Moscow last month.    Putin was fine, TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
PRACTICE CRACKDOWN
    Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm boss, said in April that no one would die from the coronavirus in Belarus, and that any deaths would be a result of underlying conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.
    In stark contrast to other European countries, Belarus kept its borders open and even allowed soccer matches in the national league to be played in front of spectators.
    His attitude sharpened discontent against the president, whose iron-fisted rule since 1994 saw him dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Washington.
    Lukashenko was speaking on Tuesday at a military base, after overseeing televised drills by special police who fired tear gas and used a water cannon in a practice crackdown on street protests.    Lukashenko urged police to be tough.
    “Under no circumstances should you create provocations,” he instructed the riot police chief.    “But you also should not allow (the protesters) to insult the guys.”
    Lukashenko has made several such visits to military units and the army staged exercises with tanks last weekend on the streets of Minsk.
    Political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky said Lukashenko’s campaign was taking place in an atmosphere of “repression and intimidation.”
    “The authorities hope that the display of muscle and threats will keep people from going out into the streets,” he said.
    Human rights groups say more than 1,100 people have been detained in recent weeks.    Protesters have rallied behind Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, the wife of one of the jailed candidates, who is campaigning in her husband’s place.
    On Tuesday, several journalists were briefly arrested outside the state security service (KGB) headquarters, taken to a local police station and then released.
    Lukashenko has compared the opposition to criminal gangs and accuses protesters of wanting to stage a violent revolution with the help of foreign backers.
(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie)

7/28/2020 Foundation Run By Kremlin Critic Navalny Fined Under ‘Foreign Agent’ Law by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia and opposition figure Lyubov Sobol take part
in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against
proposed amendments to the constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Moscow court fined Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation on Tuesday after finding it guilty of violating a “foreign agent” law.
    The foundation specialises in publishing high-impact investigations into what is says is official graft.    Those targeted have sometimes disputed its findings and taken successful legal action against it.
    The two fines, totalling 600,000 roubles ($8,300), included one for failing to mark one of the foundation’s popular YouTube channels as belonging to a “foreign agent,” according to Navalny and his associates.
    “The fine is absolutely illegal,” associate Lyubov Sobol wrote on social media, denying that the foundation should be classed as a agent.”
    “The foundation has always received donations from Russian citizens only,” she said.
    A 2012 law gives authorities the power to label non-governmental organisations and rights groups deemed to receive foreign funding for political activity as “foreign agents,” a label that carries negative, Soviet-era connotations.
    Those organisations then have to attach this label to their publications and submit to spot inspections and bureaucratic scrutiny.    They must also submit reports on their funding and expenditure.
    “Now they are just fining us on a daily basis,” Navalny tweeted.
    The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Navalny said this month he would shut the foundation because of accumulated fines amounting to more than $1.2 million, but try to re-launch it under a new name.
    The authorities have carried out frequent searches of the foundation’s offices and frozen its bank accounts.    Its staff are routinely detained for organising and taking part in protests.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and)

7/29/2020 Belarus Seeks Russian Explanation After Detaining Alleged Mercenaries Before Election by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs an urgent security council meeting following the detention of more than 30
alleged Russian mercenaries by Belarusian security forces, in Minsk, Belarus July 29, 2020. Nikolai Petrov/BelTA via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko will demand an explanation from Russia after Belarusian security forces detained more than 30 alleged Russian mercenaries near Minsk, Belarussian state media reported on Wednesday.
    Belarus detained the alleged mercenaries after receiving information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it ahead of a presidential election, the state-controlled Belta news agency said.
    It said the men worked for Wagner, Russia’s best-known private military contractor.    The Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.    The Russian state denies it uses mercenaries.
    The Russian embassy in Minsk said the Belarussian Foreign Ministry had officially informed it of the detention of 32 Russian nationals, Russia’s Interfax news agency said, without elaborating.
    Lukashenko is up for re-election on Aug. 9, and faces his biggest challenge in years as public anger swells over his handling of COVID-19, the economy and human rights.
    “If these are Russian citizens … then we must immediately contact the relevant structures of the Russian Federation so that they explain what is happening,” Lukashenko told an urgent security council meeting.
    Security forces have broken up what they say are illegal protests in recent weeks.    Last month, Lukashenko accused Russian and Polish forces of trying to discredit him. Russia denied the allegations.
    Belta said Belarusian special forces had detained 32 Russian mercenaries in the Minsk area and another person in the south of the country.
    “The guests drew attention to themselves because they did not behave like Russian tourists usually do and wore military-style clothing,” Belta reported.
    The group arrived in Minsk on July 24, it said, noting that each man carried small hand luggage only, but that the group had three big heavy suitcases.
    State TV showed the men being detained in their underwear and broadcast footage of one man’s belongings which included a Russian passport, military-style patches and dollar bills.
    Radio Free Europe noted that other belongings captured on camera included Sudanese currency and a Sudanese phone card, suggesting the men may have been en route to Africa.
    Lukashenko, 65, has accused opposition protesters of plotting to overthrow him.
    Russian private military contractors have clandestinely fought in conflicts including in Syria, Ukraine and Libya, Reuters and other media have previously reported.
    The Russian embassy in Minsk said it had not received any official information about the detention of Russian citizens, the RIA news agency reported.
    Private military companies are illegal in Belarus.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; writing by Pavel Polityuk/Andrew Osborn; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/29/2020 Exclusive: Former Kremlin Insider Recounts Putin’s Moves To Retain Power by Catherine Belton
FILE PHOTO: Sergei Pugachev is seen during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, September 22, 2015. REUTERS/John Schults/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – When Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing for last month’s nationwide vote on potentially extending his rule until 2036, he let the veil slip on part of the calculation behind the constitutional change.
    “If this doesn’t happen, then in about two years – and I know this from personal experience – the normal rhythm of work of many parts of government will be replaced by a search for a possible successor,” Putin said in an interview with state TV channel Rossiya.    “We must be working, not looking for successors.”
    The Kremlin won the vote, declaring it a triumph.    The constitution now will allow Putin to return to power for another two six-year terms.    Independent monitor Golos, however, reported unprecedented vote fraud, and political opponents say the elaborate maneuvering over the ballot has weakened Putin’s legitimacy.    Public discontent over Putin’s rule has begun to spill into the open in Russia’s Far East, where tens of thousands have marched in protest for the past three weekends.
    Beyond Putin’s own comments to state TV, the Kremlin isn’t explaining its calculus about the constitutional change.    But a first-hand account by a former insider of how the Kremlin tried to manage the handover of power in 2008, when Putin first faced a constitutional limit on his presidency, provides a glimpse into the under-the-carpet power struggles of Moscow’s ruling elite and some of the issues the Russian leader must grapple with.
    Since at least 2006, former Kremlin adviser Sergei Pugachev told Reuters, Putin has been grappling with the question of succession.    Once known as the Kremlin’s banker, Pugachev played a key role in Putin’s rise 20 years ago.    His business interests spanned military shipyards, coal and construction, and he sat as a senator in parliament’s upper chamber.    Today he is in deep conflict with his former allies, accused by Russian authorities of bankrupting the bank he co-founded, a charge Pugachev denies.    He left Russia, ending up in Britain and then France, where he currently lives, after London’s High Court in 2014 ordered his assets frozen at Russia’s request.
    Now, Pugachev has spoken for the first time about Putin’s decision-making in the run-up to 2008.    He told how the president was often hostage to the will of his inner circle of former KGB men and associates from his hometown of St Petersburg.
    The question of handing over power has always been the “biggest headache” of Putin’s rule, Pugachev told Reuters.    For Putin, the succession “was always a serious, personal stress.    He never intended to hand over control of the country to anyone.”    Putin saw himself running Russia behind the scenes as the father of the nation, said Pugachev, but finding a successor who would go along with this plan “was always a big problem.”
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment about Pugachev’s account of events.
    In 2007, Pugachev was still a consummate Kremlin insider, close to many of the powerful men around Putin, the so-called siloviki, mostly drawn from Russia’s security services.    He says he was in the room when several key decisions were made.    Photos and other documentary materials reviewed by Reuters show Pugachev held a position near the pinnacle of Kremlin power right up to 2008, and support some elements of his account.
    The photos show Pugachev’s teenage sons hanging out with Putin’s daughters at his dacha.    Other pictures show Pugachev dining at his dacha in 2005 with the leading security men around Putin.    These included Nikolai Patrushev, then the head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, successor to the KGB; and Igor Sechin, one of Putin’s KGB allies from St Petersburg, who at the time of the photo was deputy head of the Kremlin administration.
A LOOMING DEADLINE
    The first time Putin considered changing laws to prolong his rule was in the second term of his presidency, Pugachev said.
    By the summer of 2007, Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s first deputy prime minister and the youngest ever general in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, was widely considered the frontrunner to become president the following year, ahead of another Putin ally, Dmitry Medvedev.    The constitution dictated that Putin should step down in 2008 upon expiry of his second consecutive term.
    Members of Putin’s inner circle feared that if Ivanov got the top job, he would cut them out of power.    They began briefing Putin against Ivanov, said Pugachev.    “They began telling Putin that Ivanov is very dangerous.    He is very aggressive.    He will take power and then you will never be able to get rid of him.    They were collecting all kinds of kompromat (compromising information) on Ivanov.    Almost everyone was against him.”
    Kremlin spokesperson Peskov said Ivanov, now the president’s special representative for nature, ecology and transport, would not be able to comment.    Reuters couldn’t reach him directly.
    Pugachev too had fallen out with Ivanov, after failing to win a major shipbuilding contract in 2006, when Ivanov was the defence minister.    That Ivanov seemed to be a loner only boosted him in Putin’s eyes, according to Pugachev.    It meant Ivanov “couldn’t coordinate with anyone against Putin.”
    Behind the scenes, another option to extend Putin’s hold on power was also under consideration.        Pugachev said that, at Putin’s request, Pugachev directed a group of lawyers headed by a co-author of the Russian constitution, Sergei Shakhrai, to look into ways Putin could run for a third term.    The lawyers proposed enabling Putin to run again through a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.    Putin had consistently opposed changing the constitution but, said Pugachev, he wanted “a second option just in case.”    Shakhrai declined to comment.
    Ivanov’s candidacy ended in August 2007, according to Pugachev.    Putin had just announced the restoration of long-haul military flights capable of reaching American shores for the first time in 15 years, a move hailed by Russian newspapers as a demonstration of Moscow’s restored military might.
    Six days after Putin’s triumphant announcement, Ivanov said in a television interview the flights did not signify a return to the Cold War.    By appearing to speak for the Kremlin, he had overstepped the mark.
    “Sechin brought a tape of Ivanov’s interview to Putin,” Pugachev said, describing a meeting between Pugachev, Putin and Sechin.    Sechin, according to Pugachev, told the president: “‘Look, Vladimir Vladimirovich, you launched the bombers which have not flown for 15 years, since before the Soviet collapse.    And Sergei Ivanov, who is no one – he isn’t even the president yet, he isn’t even the successor yet – he has already claimed [the project] as his own.”
    “Sechin played on his ego,” Pugachev continued. “Putin has a thing about going down in history.    This was his story, and Ivanov entered his territory…. It was an important psychological moment.”
    A spokesman for Sechin declined to comment.    Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he could not comment since he was not present.
    Putin wanted a successor who would be president in name only and ready to make way at any moment, Pugachev said.    After this incident, added Pugachev, the door was closed to Ivanov.
    But time had run out to amend the rules so that Putin could run for a third term. The presidential election was to be announced by the end of 2007, with the vote itself in March 2008.    By law, any legal change allowing Putin to remain in power had to happen at least six months prior to an election being called.    Putin “slept through” the opportunity for a third term, Pugachev said.
    Instead, in September 2007, Putin announced he was appointing as prime minister Viktor Zubkov, a little-known former state farm director who at the time was head of Russia’s anti-money laundering watchdog. The 66-year-old Zubkov was suddenly in the frame to succeed Putin.
    Pugachev said Putin was weighing making Zubkov president for one year, after which Zubkov could say he had fallen ill, and Putin could return.    “I discussed this with him personally.    With Putin and with Zubkov,” Pugachev said.    But Putin rejected the idea.    “He told me it wouldn’t look very good.”
    Reuters couldn’t reach Zubkov. Kremlin spokesman Peskov declined to comment on the matter.
    Finally, on December 10, just as the election was about to be declared, Putin announced Dmitry Medvedev, a St Petersburg lawyer who’d long worked in Putin’s shadow, was his favoured candidate to take over as president.    Pugachev said Putin’s circle believed that Medvedev, who’d served as Kremlin chief of staff and most recently alongside Ivanov as a first deputy prime minister, would be the most malleable successor and, importantly, the most willing to make way for Putin should Putin decide to return to the presidency.    Similar views of the Putin-Medvedev partnership were widely reported in Russia at the time.
A TIME OF CONFUSION
    For the next four years of Medvedev’s presidency, it was as if there were one and a half presidents, Pugachev said.    While Putin served as prime minister to Medvedev’s president, many within Russia’s elite were confused about who had the final say.
    “First people ran to Medvedev, and then they ran to Putin.    People didn’t understand.    If you did something Putin gave you the go ahead to do, the next day Medvedev could reproach you,” Pugachev said, citing the example of one Russian state bank boss who, when arranging financing, first sought Putin’s approval and then went to Medvedev for his.    “For people it’s unacceptable when there are two presidents, or one and a half.    It’s very important for them to understand who the Tsar is.”
    Putin might have been happy to allow Medvedev to serve as president for a second term, but Putin’s inner circle could not contemplate the prospect, Pugachev said, because they feared losing their hold over the economy.    A “vicious war” broke out between factions as Medvedev, in anticipation of running for a second term, began positioning his allies to take over greater chunks of the economy, including Gazprom and Rosneft, the state energy giants long run by Putin’s closest cohort, including Sechin.
    The U.S. administration’s open courtship of Medvedev over Putin further exacerbated the rift.
    Medvedev’s hopes for a second term were quashed at the very last minute, said Pugachev.    By now, Pugachev had already fled Russia, but he said he continued to have in-depth conversations with one of Medvedev’s closest allies about what was happening.
    According to this account, Medvedev was in the Kremlin putting the finishing touches to his anticipated announcement that he would run for a second term, to be delivered the next day, Sept. 24, 2011, at the annual congress of the ruling United Russia party.    In the small hours of the morning, Putin’s security men quietly swapped out the most loyal members of Medvedev’s presidential guard.
    The switching of the guards was a threatening sign, according to Pugachev. He recounted that soon afterwards Putin arrived at Medvedev’s Kremlin office and the two men had a friendly chat.    Later, Putin announced he was seeking the presidency for himself.    “In the end it didn’t really matter how much pressure Putin’s security men put on Medvedev [to stand aside].    In the end it was a question of personal contact between Putin and Medvedev,” said Pugachev.
    Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he could not comment on the veracity of Pugachev’s account.    He said he only heard of Putin’s plans to return as president when it was publicly announced at the United Russia congress.    “I worked alongside Putin. But he did not share his plans,” Peskov said.
    Medvedev could not be reached for comment.
    A political consultant who’d previously worked for Medvedev, Gleb Pavlovsky, said at the time that it looked like Medvedev had stepped down under pressure.    He pointed out that only three months earlier, in an interview with the Financial Times, Medvedev had made clear he would seek a second term as president.
    But while the 2008-2012 experiment with Medvedev’s presidency had revealed to Putin’s circle the risks of a handover of power, Pugachev said he believes Putin might still be considering standing aside again.    The recent constitutional vote may give Putin time to resolve a succession plan behind the scenes, without the pressure of the clock ticking on his final term, Pugachev said.
    A sign that Putin may be keeping his options open, Pugachev said, is that a little-noticed change formalises into the constitution a law granting former presidents immunity from prosecution.
    If Putin were to pick a successor, it would be imperative this person be a member of his trusted inner circle, Pugachev said.    “Putin can’t stand outsiders.    It’s either his people or no one.    It could be his driver or his bodyguard.    The successor has to be his.”
(reporting by Catherine Belton; edited by Janet McBride)

7/29/2020 Russia Considers Built-In Breathalysers For Cars To Curb Drink Driving
FILE PHOTO: A customer walks past shelves with bottles of vodka in a supermarket amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is considering fitting cars with devices that breathalyse drivers to clamp down on drink driving and is looking at ways to encourage manufacturers to install them in vehicles fresh off the production line.
    The industry ministry hopes to draw up a plan by the end of 2020, the Kommersant newspaper reported, to spur the mass use of “interlocks,” which require drivers to pass the breathalyser test before they can start the ignition.
    The ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the report.
    Russia has for years been trying to improve road safety and, though official statistics show the situation improving, around 17,000 Russians died on the country’s roads last year, much higher than in many other countries.
    Installing alcohol interlocks would introduce new costs for carmakers and likely be opposed by many carmakers at a time when demand for new cars is under strain because of the pandemic.
    Past Russian government pushes to have alcohol interlocks deployed in Russia have been unsuccessful.
    Russians have long had a reputation as ferocious drinkers, but alcoholic consumption has fallen by an estimated 43% from 2003 to 2016, according to a World Health Organization study last year.
    Russia remains a nation of heavy drinkers, but the study linked the fall in consumption to higher alcohol excise taxes, policies clamping down on home-made alcohol and the raising of the minimum price for vodka.
    President Vladimir Putin has long cultivated an image of sobriety in contrast to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whom many Russians associate with drunken and embarrassing gaffes.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; editing by Nick Macfie)

7/29/2020 Cuba Loosens Straitjacket On Private Sector To Stimulate Economy by Marc Frank
An employee talks to costumers at the entrance of the first wholesale outlet for
private eateries in Havana, Cuba, July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba is loosening restrictions on small businesses as it seeks to stimulate a state-dominated economy hammered by the implosion of ally Venezuela, U.S. sanctions and the pandemic.
    The import-dependent country is reopening after eliminating the new coronavirus in most provinces and bringing it under control in the Havana area.
    President Miguel Diaz-Canel, however, speaking earlier this month, said the country faced an ongoing international crisis and would implement a series of reforms to increase exports, cut imports and stimulate domestic demand.
    The economy is forecast to decline this year in tandem with the region, or a bit less than 10%.
    The measures include more autonomy for state companies, farmers and local government, dollarization of some internal trade and, Diaz-Canel said, “the improvement of the non-state sector, with immediate priority in the expansion of self-employment and removal of obstacles.”
    The non-state sector, excluding agriculture, is composed mainly of small private businesses and cooperatives; their employees, artisans, taxi drivers and tradesmen.    All are under the rubric of self-employed, numbering 600,000 before the pandemic left an estimated 40 percent tied to the tourism industry and public transportation without work.
    One obstacle already removed is on the right to import and export, albeit through state companies.
    “We want to put all forms of management on an equal footing,” Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said last week during a televised roundtable discussion on the measures.
    Economists at home and abroad note the government has promised equal treatment for a decade, so while they back the new measures, it remains to be seen whether they will actually – and effectively – be implemented.
    The task is daunting as the government admits it has little foreign exchange to purchase food, fuel and other supplies from abroad, where the peso is worthless.
    Cuba, where the state monopolizes retail and foreign trade, faced a liquidity crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered tourism and hit other revenue earners.
    Pandemic fallout has worsened shortages of food, medicine and other goods and led to long lines at retail outlets.
    “We hope that with these new measures doing business will improve,” said Maylen Diaz, who runs a cafeteria in the upscale Vedado area of the capital.
    Diaz said that since reopening on July 10, she had faced a daily struggle due to a lack of tourists and supplies.
    “I think that some businesses will still have to close, others will continue to subsist and resist as long as they can,” she said.
    The first wholesale outlet for private eateries, Mercabal, opened last week in Havana boasting large formats and a 20% discount, but just a few products.
    For more than a decade private businesses have been forced to purchase supplies from state retail shops or on the informal market.
    “I saw the list: chicken, beer, sugar, salt, flour, rice; I think there is yeast, there is coffee,” cafeteria owner Enrique Penabella said, waiting in line with other business owners to sign contracts or pick up goods.
    “But if they can’t do the same for people in the retail stores, I doubt they can keep it up,” he added.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Reuters television; Editing by Dan Grebler)

7/30/2020 Belarus Says It Suspects Russian Mercenaries Of Violent Plot Ahead Of Election by Andrei Makhovsky
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya speaks to the media outside the central
election commission in Minsk, Belarus July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus said it suspected a group of alleged Russian mercenaries of plotting “acts of terrorism” ahead of a presidential election in August and summoned Russia’s ambassador on Thursday for an explanation.
    State TV on Wednesday broadcast footage of more than 30 suspected Russian private military contractors being detained near Minsk after authorities said they had received information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it ahead of the Aug. 9 election.
    Belarus opened an investigation on Thursday into “the preparation of terrorist acts” and said that some of the captured men had already confessed to attempting to orchestrate a revolution.
    Minsk’s handling of the situation risks worsening already strained relations with traditional ally Russia, which has so far yet to set out its own position.
    The detentions are the latest twist in an election campaign that has posed the biggest challenge in years to President Alexander Lukashenko who has ruled the east European country with an iron fist for over a quarter of a century.
    Authorities on Thursday announced additional security measures for campaign events amid fears among the opposition that Lukashenko might use the alleged plot to intensify a crackdown on rivals.
    Lukashenko, 65, has accused opponents of being in cahoots with foreign backers to overthrow him and has jailed two of his main election rivals ahead of the election, which he is expected to win despite growing opposition to his rule.
‘PLOTTING A REVOLUTION’
    Belarusian Security Council State Secretary Andrei Ravkov told reporters that up to 200 mercenaries were still in Belarus and being hunted by law enforcement agents.
    Andrey Dmitriev, a presidential candidate, quoted Ravkov as saying that some of the mercenaries had already confessed to plotting “a revolution.”
    They were trained in the Russian cities of Pskov and Nevel and were mostly bombers and snipers, Dmitriev told reporters after meeting Ravkov.
    “We were told that today there are 170 militants in the country, which we already know, trained in subversion and sniper activities,” Dmitriev said.    The authorities did not rule out shutting down internet access in the country, he said.
    State media have reported that the detained men worked for Wagner, Russia’s best-known private military contractor.    The Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry and a business reportedly affiliated with Wagner have not commented.    The Russian state denies it uses mercenaries.
    Footage of the men’s belongings filmed during their arrest showed Sudanese currency and a Sudanese phone card.    That prompted some experts to suggest the men may have been transiting via Minsk en route to Africa.
    A former collective farm manager, Lukashenko is under pressure from critics over what they say is his irresponsible handling of COVID-19 and the economy and alleged human rights abuses.
    He says he has delivered years of economic and political stability and that the state covers many of people’s core needs just as it did in the Soviet era.
    A senior Belarusian security official has said that 14 of the alleged mercenaries had spent time in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops have fought Russian-backed fighters in a conflict since 2014.
    Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Kyiv would consider extraditing the suspected Russian mercenaries.    Belarus and Ukraine agreed to beef up their border controls in the wake of the detentions.
    After weeks of rare and sustained street protests, the opposition has rallied around Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, the wife of one of the jailed election candidates, who took her husband’s place after his arrest.
    She told reporters on Thursday she would press on with her campaign.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

7/30/2020 Belarus Seeks Russian Explanation After Detaining Suspected Mercenaries Before Election by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs an urgent security council meeting following the detention of more than 30
alleged Russian mercenaries by Belarusian security forces, in Minsk, Belarus July 29, 2020. Nikolai Petrov/BelTA via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said he would demand an explanation from Russia after Belarusian security forces detained more than 30 suspected Russian mercenaries near Minsk, Belarusian state media reported on Wednesday.
    The state-controlled Belta news agency said Belarus had detained the suspected mercenaries after receiving information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilize it ahead of a presidential election.
    It said the men worked for Wagner, Russia’s best-known private military contractor.    The Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry and a business reportedly affiliated with Wagner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.    The Russian state denies it uses mercenaries.
    A senior Belarusian security official said 14 of the alleged mercenaries had spent time in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops have fought Russian-backed fighters in a conflict since 2014.
    Lukashenko, 65, has ruled Belarus since 1994. He is up for re-election on Aug. 9, and faces his biggest challenge in years as public anger swells over his handling of COVID-19, the economy and human rights.
    “If these are Russian citizens … then we must immediately contact the relevant structures of the Russian Federation so that they explain what is happening,” Lukashenko told an urgent security council meeting.
    Security forces have broken up what they say are illegal protests in recent weeks.    Lukashenko has accused protesters of plotting to overthrow him and last month, accused Russian and Polish forces of trying to discredit him.    Russia denied the allegations.
    The Russian embassy in Minsk said the Belarussian Foreign Ministry had officially informed it of the detention of 32 Russian nationals, Russia’s Interfax news agency said, without elaborating.
TIGHTER SECURITY
    Following the announcement on Wednesday, Belarus pledged to beef up border security with Russia and Lukashenko ordered tighter control over public events, Belta said.
    Maria Kolesnikova, a representative of one of the opposition candidates, said the detention of the alleged mercenaries could be a precursor to Lukashenko banning mass events.
    On Wednesday, the Belarusian authorities also detained Vitaly Shkliarov, a political consultant who worked for the Russian liberal opposition candidate Ksenia Sobchak.
    Belta said Belarusian special forces had detained the 32 Russian mercenaries in the Minsk area and another person in the south of the country.
    “The guests drew attention to themselves because they did not behave like Russian tourists usually do and wore military-style clothing,” Belta reported.
    The group arrived in Minsk on July 24, it said, and were detained scoping out a spa resort near the capital.
    State TV showed the men being detained in their underwear and broadcast footage of one man’s belongings which included a Russian passport, military-style patches and dollar bills.
    Radio Free Europe noted that other belongings captured on camera included Sudanese currency and a Sudanese phone card, suggesting the men may have been en route to Africa.
    Security Council State Secretary Andrei Ravkov said that given the suspected Donbass links to the mercenaries, the authorities in Minsk would invite both the Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors for talks about the detentions.
    Belarus and Russia are traditional allies, but ties have been under strain including over Lukashenko’s refusal to endorse Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and Moscow’s calls for an economic and political union with Belarus.
    Russian private military contractors have fought clandestinely in conflicts including in Syria, Ukraine and Libya, Reuters and other media have previously reported.
    Wagner private military contractors use a defence ministry base in southern Russia containing barracks that were built by a company linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, Reuters reported last year. Prigozhin has denied any links to Wagner.     Reuters sought comment on the allegations from Belarus from Concord Management and Consulting, Prigozhin’s main business.    It did not immediately respond.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; writing by Pavel Polityuk/Andrew Osborn/Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/30/2020 Ukraine Wants ‘Maximum Compensation’ For Downed Boeing Jet by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2020 file photo, rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian
plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
    Ukraine’s foreign minister has reiterated his country will make every effort to maximize compensation for a jet that was shot down by Iran in January.
    Talks between the two countries began on Thursday.    However, the foreign minister has said these efforts will not be easy.
    “We have long worked for these negotiations to begin and I welcome the fact that they have finally started,” stated Dmytro Kuleba.    “I expect the process isn’t going to be easy, but we are working to achieve the goal: to deliver justice.”
    Iran has claimed it mistook the jet for a missile when it fired on the aircraft.    Officials have also pointed out it was shot down at a time when tensions with the U.S. were high.
    All 176 passengers onboard the jet were killed.    Ukraine’s foreign ministry confirmed more details will be reported on Friday.

7/30/2020 Bulgarians Block Central Sofia In Anti-Government Protest by Stoyan Nenov
Protesters march during an anti-government demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Protesters set up tents on a major crossroad and in front of the government building early on Thursday, vowing to keep the center of the Bulgarian capital blocked until the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov resigns.
    Several thousand mostly young Bulgarians have been rallying daily in Sofia since early July, accusing three-times premier Borissov of failing to fight endemic corruption that erodes the rule of law and benefits powerful local tycoons.
    Demonstrations are also taking place in bigger cities.
    61-year-old Borissov, who has dominated Bulgaria’s political life in the past decade, has vowed to stay in office until next March when regular elections are due.
    Borissov sacked key ministers to show his cabinet is not working under the influence of private interests, but the reshuffle failed to quash deeply-rooted public anger with wide-spread corruption in the European Union’s poorest country.
    With a slogan “Please excuse the inconvenience, the country is under repairs,” dozens of protesters sat in shifts in front of 10 tents perched on the asphalt at the Eagle Bridge crossroad throughout Thursday, blocking traffic in central Sofia, home to some 2 million people.
    Two large tents and summer umbrellas blocked the central road in front of the government building, where thousands gathered to rally for a 22nd consecutive night late on Thursday, seeking also to oust the country’s chief prosecutor.
    “I am glad there are people who are committed 24/7 to the protests and pulled out tents.    Extreme measures are obviously needed to get our voice heard,” said Biliana Kantardzhieva, a 30-year-old marketing specialist.
    Some 59% of Bulgarians say they support the protests, but only 25% believe they can succeed, according to a public opinion survey, based on 800 telephone interviews and published on Thursday by independent pollster Gallup International, which is not associated with Gallup Inc.
    The survey also showed that 54% do not want snap polls now, while 42% are in favour, the survey showed.
    “There is a clear will for a change, but also some reluctance for an early election,” the pollster said.
(Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

7/30/2020 COVID Creates North-South Divide In Croatia’s Tourism Fortunes
Tourists are seen at Stradun street in Dubrovnik, amid the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), Croatia, July 28, 2020. Picture taken July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    DUBROVNIK, Croatia (Reuters) – At the southern end of Croatia’s Adriatic Coast, far fewer tourists are wandering the marbled streets of Dubrovnik than usual, while the number of visitors to northern beaches is much closer to the normal level for the time of year.
    The striking divide in the fortunes of the country’s key tourism industry stems from the distortions in international travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Dubrovnik, the country’s top tourism destination, has become one of the weakest spots on the Croatian coast this year since it is heavily dependent on visitors arriving by air or on cruise ships and those attending conferences and staying in hotels.
    “We hoped to reach some 20-25% in turnover compared to last season,” said Tiffany Cvjetkovic Rudenjak, a member of the family which owns the downtown Lanii restaurant.    “We’re still not there, but we hope August can change things.”
    According to Ana Hrnic, director of the city tourist board, at the end of July Dubrovnik saw just 30% of last year’s tourist numbers.    For the first seven months of this year the figure is even lower, 13% compared to the same period last year.
    Hrnic said guest numbers had risen since mid-June when air traffic within Europe began to resume and had picked up more since mid-July when Britain eased its travel restrictions since the city is particularly popular among Britons.     “So far domestic guests and Germans have been among the most numerous, but we expect an increase in arrivals from the United Kingdom in the next few weeks,” Hrnic said. Some 60% of hotels were now open and she said she hoped more would open in August.
    Ivan Maslac, commercial director of Dubrovnik airport, said that in the last two weeks, flights from the UK had been quite packed in the circumstances.    The airport offered discounts to airlines on take-off and landing fees and an incentive payment of two euros per passenger, he said.
    Almost 20% percent of Croatia’s economic output depends on tourism and the country hopes that this year it can earn around a third of last year’s tourism receipts which amounted to some 12 billion euros ($14.11 billion).
    At the moment there are some 600,000 foreign guests on the Croatian coast, many of whom are visiting northern Istrian peninsula where the number of guests from Germany and Slovenia exceeded 80% of last year’s figure.
    Easy accessibility by car and accommodation in camp sites and private houses are major factors behind their numbers, said Denis Ivosevic from the Istrian Tourist Board.
    Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks in Croatia, which mostly hit the capital Zagreb and the east of the country, visitors do not seem overly worried.
    Bence Smid, an IT consultant visiting Dubrovnik, had driven from Hungary, crossing a moveable bridge to the island of Murter in the central Adriatic.
    “I wouldn’t say it is dangerous to be here,” he said.
(Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic, editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/31/2020 Ukraine Welcomes ‘Constructive’ Iran Talks But No Details On Plane Crash Compensation Yet
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a news conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas
after discussing bilateral and international issues, in Berlin, Germany, June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Pool
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday that talks with Iran about the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January were constructive but it was too early to say how much compensation Tehran would agree to pay.
    “The talks ended late last night.    The talks lasted 11 hours.    In general, they were constructive,” Kuleba said in a video briefing after meeting with an Iranian delegation.    “There is agreement and understanding that the most transparent and unbiased investigation by Iran is needed.”
    Iranian forces say they downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 jet after mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions with the United States had risen. All 176 people on board – including 57 Canadians – were killed.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/31/2020 Nine Killed In Crimea Minibus Crash After Driver Falls Asleep At Wheel
Members of Russian Emergencies Ministry and police officers inspect a minibus that crashed into a truck near the town
of Belogorsk, Crimea July 31, 2020. Russia's Emergencies Ministry in the Republic of Crimea/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least nine people were killed after a minibus crashed in Crimea in the early hours of Friday, authorities in the Russian-annexed peninsula said.
    The driver of the microbus, which was carrying tourists from the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a large truck near a village northeast of the regional capital Simferopol, Russian news agencies reported.
    Seven people died on the spot, while another two died as they were being treated for their injuries.
    Another nine people were injured.
    The local branch of the Interior Ministry said it was launching a criminal case into a suspected violation of traffic regulations.
    Russia has a patchy road safety record. Nearly 17,000 people were killed as a result of road accidents last year, according to the traffic police.
    Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, was a favoured destination for Soviet workers’ state-funded holidays and now attracts a steady influx of Russian tourists.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

7/31/2020 Poland Considers New Restrictions After Record Rise In COVID-19 Cases
FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a driver at a mobile testing station for miners of the Bielszowice coal mine,
following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ruda Slaska, Poland July 27, 2020. Grzegorz Celejewski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The Polish government will on Friday consider taking new steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 after the number of new cases rose by a record amount for the second successive day.
    The Health Ministry reported 657 new cases and seven deaths, taking the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 45,688 and the death toll to 1,716.
    Of the new cases, 227 were in the Silesia region, where there has been an outbreak among coal miners.
    Poland has reported fewer cases of COVID-19 than some other European countries, but the number of new infections is climbing.
    High numbers of new cases are expected over the coming days, a spokesman for the Health Ministry told state news agency PAP, drawing attention to the situation in Silesia.
    Government spokesman Piotr Muller said in a tweet the government would discuss the situation and what action to take at a meeting on Friday at 1100 GMT, with the number of coronavirus cases also rising in other countries.
    “We will discuss current restrictions and their execution…and there will also be a discussion about introducing quarantine rules from certain countries,” Muller told a Polish Catholic radio station.
    He gave no further details. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signalled on Thursday that further restrictions could be reintroduced to curb the spread.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)

7/31/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Case Tally Nears 840,000
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing Platov International Airport amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 5,482 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, pushing its national tally to 839,981, the world’s fourth largest caseload.
    Officials said 161 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 13,963.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

7/31/2020 U.S. To Have Permanent Troop Presence In Poland As Defence Pact Agreed
FILE PHOTO: Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak waits for the arrival of U.S. Secretary for Defence Mark Esper
prior to a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The United States will establish a permanent military presence in Poland as it deploys around 1,000 additional U.S. troops there, Poland’s Defence Ministry said on Friday.
    Poland is setting growing store by its bilateral defence relationship with its NATO partner, fearful of an increasingly assertive posture from Russia to the east since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    On June 12 last year, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed, with Polish President Andrzej Duda beside him at the White House, to send 1,000 more troops to his NATO ally.
    But negotiations on the details of where the troops would be stationed and how much Poland would pay dragged on for years.
    “We did it.    We have finished the negotiations on military cooperation,” Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a statement.
    Poland currently hosts a rotating contingent of over 4,000 U.S. troops.    A permanent presence, which the statement says will now number at least 5,500 troops, is likely to cost Poland more.
    The deal also involves the development of expertise for Polish forces in the areas of reconnaissance and command, with the possibility of more U.S. forces coming to Poland in case of an increased threat, the statement said.
    The financial details of the new deal were not revealed in the ministry’s statement.
    The U.S. military on Wednesday expanded on plans to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany and indicated that some of them could be moved to Poland or the Baltic states.
    It was unclear from Friday’s statement where the additional 1,000 troops would come from, and whether some would be reassigned from Germany.    Poland’s Defence Ministry was not immediately available to comment and the U.S. embassy declined to do so.
    U.S. officials have insisted that the agreement with Poland and the decision to pull some U.S. troops out of Germany are separate matters.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

8/1/2020 Thousands Protest Against Kremlin In Russian Far East For Fourth Weekend
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on
murder charges in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia August 1, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    KHABAROVSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday for the fourth weekend in a row, protesting at President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a local political crisis.
    Residents of Khabarovsk, around 3,800 miles (6,110 km) and seven time zones east of Moscow, are unhappy about the July 9 detention of the wider region’s popular regional governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on murder charges he denies.
    His detention, which his supporters say was politically motivated, has triggered weeks of street protests, creating a headache for the Kremlin which is trying to troubleshoot a sharp COVID-19-induced drop in real incomes and keep a lid on unrest as the economy stutters.
    Sheltering from sporadic and heavy rain beneath umbrellas, protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “We came here of our own will.”
    One banner read “Russia without Putin” and protesters chanted “Putin resign!
    Many held up placards in solidarity with the arrested governor, reading “I am/We are Sergei Furgal.”    Some marchers wore face masks with the same slogan.
    City authorities estimated around 3,500 people had taken part.    Some local media put the number at around 10,000 or higher, but said the crowds were smaller than one week ago.
    The protests have highlighted anger among some in the far east over what they see as policies emanating from detached Moscow-based authorities on the other side of the country.
    Supporters of Furgal, the arrested governor and a member of the nationalist LDPR party, feel he is being belatedly punished for defeating a candidate from the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party in 2018. The Kremlin says Furgal has serious charges to answer.
    Such sustained demonstrations are unusual for Russia’s regions, as is the fact that the authorities have not yet moved to break them up.
    Putin has named a new acting governor, but protesters say he has no connection with the region and have called on him to step down too.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn/Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

8/1/2020 Russia Preparing Mass Vaccination Against Coronavirus For October
FILE PHOTO: Russian Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko speaks during a demonstration prior to the
opening of a new section for treatment of patients, affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at N.I. Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Centre in Moscow, Russia April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s health minister is preparing a mass vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus for October, local news agencies reported on Saturday, after a vaccine completed clinical trials.
    Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the Gamaleya Institute, a state research facility in Moscow, had completed clinical trials of the vaccine and paperwork is being prepared to register it, Interfax news agency reported.
    He said doctors and teachers would be the first to be vaccinated.
    “We plan wider vaccinations for October,” Murashko was quoted as saying.
    A source told Reuters this week that Russia’s first potential COVID-19 vaccine would secure local regulatory approval in August and be administered to health workers soon thereafter.
    The Gamaleya Institute has been working on an adenovirus-based vaccine.
    Yet the speed at which Russia is moving to roll it out has prompted some Western media to question whether Moscow is putting national prestige before science and safety.
    The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, has likened what he said was Russia’s success in developing a vaccine to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite.
    On Saturday, Russia reported 95 additional deaths from the novel coronavirus, taking its total to 14,058.
    Officials reported 5,462 new cases, raising the total to 845,443.
    More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
    At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, including three developed in China and another in Britain.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Edmund Blair and Jason Neely)

8/1/2020 Poland Reports Record Coronavirus Cases For Third Day
FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a driver at a mobile
testing station for miners of the Bielszowice coal mine, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Ruda Slaska, Poland July 27, 2020. Grzegorz Celejewski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases for a third day in a row on Saturday with 658, the Health Ministry said.
    More than 200 cases were reported in the Silesia mining region in southern Poland, which has been grappling with an outbreak among miners.
    The ministry also reported five new deaths.
    Poland has reported a total of 46,346 coronavirus cases and 1,721 deaths.
    The prime minister this week did not rule out tightening some restrictions if the situation worsens.
    Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Saturday that curbs may be imposed on weddings, which have become a source of many infections in recent weeks.
    “We are thinking whether to launch, in the regions with the highest number of infections, restrictions saying that fewer people could attend weddings or whether to register weddings, so that they could be better controlled,” Szumowski told private radio RMF24.
    Currently Poland allows 150 guests at a wedding.
    Sanitary services said that the resurgence of COVID-19 among coal miners is a result of loosening restrictions and the working conditions in coal mines, in which it is difficult to enforce social distancing.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; editing by Jason Neely)

8/1/2020 Russia And Belarus At Odds Over Arrest Of Suspected Mercenaries by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Candidate in the upcoming presidential election Svetlana Tikhanouskaya speaks during
an interview with Reuters in Minsk, Belarus July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MOSCOW/MINSK (Reuters) – A dispute between Moscow and Minsk over the detention of more than 30 men who Belarus accused of being Russian mercenaries deepened on Saturday, as the two sides contradicted each other about the group’s plans.
    The arrests this week, shortly before an Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus, could further strain relations between Minsk and its traditional ally Russia, which soured after the neighbours failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
    Russia said on Thursday that the men, who it described as employees of a private security firm, had stayed in Belarus after missing their connecting flight to Istanbul.
    President Alexander Lukashenko cast doubt on this version on Saturday.
    “There was no Istanbul… It’s clear that the group has had another goals.    It is the task of the investigation to find out about those goals,” he said, according to state news agency Belta, after hearing reports from the heads of state security and investigation committee.
    He said there had been no agreement with Russia for the men to be in the country, while adding that Belarus is open to cooperate with Russia on the issue.
    Belarusian authorities said earlier this week that the men were arrested after Minsk received information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destablise it.
    On Friday, Alexander Agafonov, the head of the Belarusian investigative group that is handling the case, said that the men – some of whom were wearing army fatigues – had no plans to fly further to Istanbul and said they had given “Mu” about the purpose of their stay in Belarus.
    He was quoted as saying that 11 of the arrested men had told authorities they planned to fly on to Venezuela, 15 – to Turkey, two – to Cuba and one to Syria.    Another said he did not know his destination, while three refused to make a statement.
LINKS TO OPPOSITION
    Authorities in Minsk said on Thursday they believe the husband of opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya may have ties to the group, launching a criminal case against him on suspicion of inciting riots.
    Dmitry Mezentsev, Russia’s ambassador to Belarus, rejected any connection between the detained men and domestic affairs in Belarus.
    Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency on Saturday he hoped the incident would be resolved in the interest of “brotherly” relations between the countries.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Helen Popper, Edmund Blair and Frances Kerry)

8/1/2020 Ukraine’s COVID-19 Death Toll Could Reach 4,000, Health Officials Say
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) stands
in front of a social poster in central Kyiv, Ukraine July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Health officials in Ukraine, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases this week, said on Saturday the outbreak could cause the nation’s death toll to reach 4,000, more than double the current fatalities, Interfax Ukraine news agency said.
    Ukraine reported a record high 1,197 new coronavirus cases on July 29 and a record number of hospital admissions, with health authorities blaming the jump on wider use of public transport and attendance at church services.
    Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said preventative measures were the only way to contain the spread of the virus.
    Ukrainians still have to wear face masks and adhere to social distancing rules in restaurants and public places, although the government said last week that it will allow individual regions to ease restrictions if warranted.
    On Saturday, the country reported 1,172 new coronavirus cases versus 1,090 a day earlier.
    Ukraine has now has 71,056 cases of the virus since the start of the outbreak, including 1,709 deaths and 39,308 people who have recovered from COVID-19.
    Lyashko said the total number of cases could reach 400,000 during the course of the epidemic.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Helen Popper)

8/2/2020 Kosovo Prime Minister Says He Has COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti talks to media outside the parliament
building in Pristina, Kosovo, June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Laura Hasani/File Photo
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said on Sunday he has contracted COVID-19 and will self-isolate at home for two weeks.
    “I don’t have symptoms expect a very mild cough,” Hoti said on his Facebook page.
    Hoti’s government has faced criticism for not doing enough to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the small Balkan country reporting a sharp increase in cases in the past few days — including 13 deaths on Sunday.
    Around 9,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus and 249 have died since mid-March, when the first cases with the virus were reported in the small Balkan country.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

8/3/2020 Poland To Check Virus Regulations Followed In Shops, Health Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a driver at a mobile testing
station for miners of the Bielszowice coal mine, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Ruda Slaska, Poland July 27, 2020. Grzegorz Celejewski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s health minister said police health authorities would start checks in shops this week to see if people are following regulations to keep their mouths and noses covered.
    “This week we are starting inspections in shops…(to see) whether clients are wearing masks, whether the staff are wearing masks,” Lukasz Szumowski told Polish public radio.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

8/3/2020 Public Anger Over Corruption Hits Support For Bulgarian Government
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov makes a statement on arrival for an
EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Weeks of anti-government protests in Bulgaria have eroded public support for the centre-right GERB government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, with opinion polls showing deepening political fragmentation amid concerns over corruption.
    A new poll by Alpha Research on Monday showed GERB’s public support at 14.5%, down from 21.7% in December, while nearly 46% of Bulgarians said they were undecided or would not vote, up from 27.3% seven months earlier.
    Thousands of Bulgarians have been rallying since early July, demanding the resignation of three-time premier Borissov over his failure to combat endemic graft.
    He has refused to step down until regular elections next March, saying the European Union’s poorest country cannot afford political “chaos” ahead of a looming coronavirus economic crisis.
    Despite the protests, GERB has held to its fragile top position among political groupings in Bulgaria, followed by opposition Socialists, who also had their support plunge to 10.4% from 18.2% last December, the poll showed.
    About 60% of the Bulgarians say they support the anti-graft protests but remain divided on whether the government should resign.     Some 40% say they want snap polls, while about 37% think Borissov’s government should carry out its full four-year term.
    “People support the protests but are not sure what should come next.    For the time being, there is no dominant political faction around which a clear majority can be consolidated,” Alpha Research analyst Boriana Dimitrova said.
    Over a decade after joining the EU, Bulgaria ranks as its most corrupt member, according to Transparency International.    It has yet to jail a senior government official for graft.
    The recently registered populist and anti-elite party of Slavi Trifonov, a talk show host and singer, has seen its support rise to 10.2%, making it the third most popular political faction.
    Liberal right-wing and vocal anti-graft party Democratic Bulgaria, has also gained popularity and seen its support climb to 6.2%, the poll showed.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, edited by Justyna Pawlak and Lisa Shumaker)

8/4/2020 President Of Belarus Says Oil Disputes With Russia Cost Budget $700 Million
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday his country’s budget had been deprived of 1.5 billion Belarusian roubles ($700 million) due to oil disputes with Russia.
    Relations between Minsk and traditional ally Russia are strained. The two countries earlier this year failed to agree an oil supply contract.
(Reporting by Andrei Mak)

8/4/2020 Lobbying For Russian Pipeline Spikes In Washington by Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: Allseas' deep sea pipe laying ship Solitaire lays a pipe for Nord Stream 2
pipeline in the Baltic Sea September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stine Jacobsen -/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. lawmakers plot to stop one of Moscow’s most important projects in Europe, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, lobbyists supporting it are busier than ever but disclosing few details of their work, according to government filings and current and former U.S. officials.
    The pipeline linking Russian gas fields to Western Europe has become a lightning rod of contention in U.S.-Russia relations, with the Trump administration concerned it would dangerously expand the region’s energy dependence on Moscow but backers, including in Europe, saying the gas is needed.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has already signed a sanctions bill that delayed construction on the $11 billion project, wholly-owned by Russia’s state-run Gazprom and headed by Alexei Miller, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.    But lawmakers fearful the measures are not enough to prevent the pipeline’s completion are contemplating further action.
    Nord Stream 2 AG has paid lobbyists at BGR Group, Roberti Global LLC, and Sweeney & Associates a combined $1.69 million during the first half of this year, according to Senate records.    That is more than double the amount during the same period a year ago, and more than all of 2018, the first full year the project lobbied in Washington.
    But exactly who the lobbyists meet with is a mystery because they have not registered with the Department of Justice under the     Foreign Agent Registration Act, a law passed in 1938 to limit the influence of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in U.S. politics.     Under FARA, lobbyists must disclose every meeting with U.S. officials, along with the materials they distribute.
    Instead, the Nord Stream 2 lobbyists have registered under the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act, a law that amended FARA by allowing lobbyists for foreign companies or individuals to report much less information as long as their work is not intended to benefit a foreign government.

8/4/2020 Ukraine Says No Plans To Resume Gas Purchases From Russia
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the headquarters of the Ukrainian state energy company
Naftogaz in central Kiev, Ukraine December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    (Reuters) – Ukraine’s state energy firm Naftogaz said it would not resume buying natural gas from Russia, suspended since late 2015, until Moscow offered it competitive prices and conditions.
    Ukraine was one of Russia’s largest consumers of natural gas until the relations between the two ex-Soviet republics soured in 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea peninsula from its neighbour.
    Kyiv stopped buying Russian gas in November 2015, increasing purchases from Europe instead.
    Ukraine has embarked on natural gas market reforms, including scrapping of state-regulated gas prices for industrial users.    The reform is one of the prerequisites for much-needed financing from the International Monetary Fund.
    “Reform of the Ukrainian gas market has created an opportunity for any Ukrainian or foreign trader to buy gas from Russia, should prices and conditions be competitive.    But, so far, Russia hasn’t offered gas under these terms,” Andriy Kobolyev, Naftogaz’s chief executive told Reuters in an email.
    “Ukraine will never go back to the days of corrupt energy deals and energy dependence on Russia, and they know that.”
    Russian and Ukrainian companies signed a five-year deal at the end of 2019, safeguarding the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine, just hours before the previous agreement expired.
    Kobolyev said Russian pipeline gas exporting monopoly Gazprom transited 25 billion cubic metres of gas through Ukraine in the first half of 2020, 45% less than over the same period of 2019.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by David Evans)

8/4/2020 Suspected Russian Hackers Stole Contents Of Ex-UK Trade Minister’s Personal Email Account: Sources by Jack Stubbs
FILE PHOTO: Britain's candidate for General Director of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Liam Fox attends
the General Council meeting during the WTO Director General election process, as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Geneva, Switzerland July 17, 2020. WTO/Jay Louvion/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Suspected state-backed Russian hackers are believed to have stolen the entire contents of a personal email account used by former British trade minister Liam Fox as part of an attempt to sway the 2019 UK election, two sources told Reuters.
    Reuters reported on Monday that Fox’s account was accessed multiple times by the hackers between July 12 and Oct. 21 last year.
    The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hacking of Fox’s personal email.
    Some of the hacked documents detailing UK trade negotiations with the United States were then leaked online by what London has said were “Russian actors” seeking to interfere in British politics. Moscow has denied the allegations.
    The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a criminal investigation into the hack is underway, said the compromised account was hosted by an online email service and was not an official government address.
    They said the hackers are believed to have accessed the contents of Fox’s mailbox, which could number thousands of emails and documents.
    “It would be unusual for hackers to make off with just one email,” one of the sources said.    “You don’t stop to read them in the middle of the heist.”
    Reuters was not able to determine which online email provider was used, and representatives for Fox declined to comment on Tuesday.
    A government spokeswoman referred to an earlier statement, which said: “There is an ongoing criminal investigation into how the documents were acquired, and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this point.”
    “But as you would expect, the Government has very robust systems in place to protect the IT systems of officials and staff.”
    The British government does not explicitly bar the use of private email accounts for official business, but says all information must be handled in accordance with the law, including the Official Secrets Act.
    Government guidance to ministers and their staff issued in 2013 says that in addition to official email systems “other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting Government business,” but highlights a series of privacy and security factors that should be taken into account.
    The government spokeswoman declined to comment on whether any more recent guidance had been issued or if Fox had breached those rules.
    The sources said Fox’s private email account had been identified as part of an investigation into how the classified trade documents were leaked online, which was launched following a Reuters report that the activity mirrored a previously-identified Russian disinformation campaign.
    In line with usual practice, investigators had to obtain Fox’s permission to access the account and study the details of the hack, which involved a so-called “spear phishing” message designed to trick targets into revealing their passwords, the sources said.
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/4/2020 President Of Belarus Accuses Russia Of Lying, Warns Of Revolution Plot by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the media after casting his vote
during the parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Moscow on Tuesday of lying in a row about the arrest of a group of Russian security contractors in Minsk, and said unnamed forces were plotting a revolution that would fail.
    In a fiery address to the nation as early voting began in an election in which he is seeking to extend his 26-year rule, Lukashenko said he would protect Belarus from opponents he portrayed as wreckers controlled by “puppet masters” abroad.
    He faces his toughest challenge for years in Sunday’s election because of public anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and human rights in the strategically important east European country of 9.5 million.
    Before the election there have been mass protests, some of Lukashenko’s opponents have been arrested on what they call trumped-up charges and Minsk has said it suspects the security contractors arrested this month were preparing “terrorist acts.”
    Russia has said the detained men were transiting Belarus to a third country, but Lukashenko said those assertions were “all lies.”
    “These people have given testimony and said they were sent specially to Belarus.    Their order was to wait (for further instructions),” he said.
    Lukashenko said Belarus had information about a second group of fighters deployed in the south of the country.    He cited no evidence but said they would be hunted down.
    Addressing Russia, he said: “Stop lying.    You have already disgraced yourselves.”
    There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, which has in the past dismissed Lukashenko’s criticisms as emotional and has demanded the security contractors’ release.
    Russia, whose oil exports run through Belarus to the West and has long regarded the country as a buffer zone against NATO, is watching the outcome of events in the country closely, as is the West which has tried to lure Minsk from Moscow’s orbit.
COLOUR REVOLUTIONS
    Belarus said earlier on Tuesday it would conduct military training for reservists near the border with Russia from Aug. 11.    Moscow said on Monday more than 3,000 men and 800 vehicles would take part in war games in regions that neighbour Belarus.
    Lukashenko, who is seeking his sixth term, cast himself as a guarantor of stability and said Belarus was threatened by opponents beholden to foreign forces seeking more of the “colour revolutions” that toppled leaders in other ex-Soviet republics.
    “They decided to try these colour revolutions on us, using new information technology,” he said.
    He said the economic fallout from COVID-19 had shown the need for a strong state, and warned: “Don’t believe those who promise wonders – miracles don’t happen.”
    He said he would double salaries in the next five years and protect pensions, and rejected opponents’ calls to revert to a constitution setting a two-term limit on the presidency.
    His main election opponent is Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former teacher whose husband was arrested and prevented from taking part.     Western observers do not judge elections in Belarus to be free and fair.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin and Alexander Marrow; Writing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

8/5/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surpass 865,000
FILE PHOTO: A police officer wearing a protective face mask stands guard at Dvortsovaya Square, amid the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 5,204 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing its nationwide tally to 866,627, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 139 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 14,490.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

8/5/2020 Pompeo Says U.S., Russia Have Made Progress On Arms Control
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the United States had made progress with Russia on nuclear arms control recently and hopes China will decide to join the discussions.
    “In the last handful of months, we’ve been working diligently to get the three nations that have the largest nuclear capabilities – the United States, Russia and China – to have strategic dialogue about how we move forward together to decrease the risk to the world,” Pompeo told reporters.
    “We’ve made progress with the Russians; we’ve had two good gatherings.    I hope we’ll have one before too long, and we’re hopeful that the Chinese will choose to participate,” he added.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk)

8/5/2020 With No Nationwide Rule, Amsterdam Insists On Virus Masks by Toby Sterling
People with and without masks walk at the Red Light District, during the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The City of Amsterdam on Wednesday began ordering use of face masks in crowded areas such as its “Red Light” prostitution district, in a drive against the coronavirus that stands in contrast with national policy.
    Last week the national Dutch government decided not to advise the public to wear masks, saying their effectiveness against the disease has not been proven and they may weaken adherence to social distancing rules.
    The World Health Organization has recommended using masks in areas where it is impossible to maintain social distancing since June.
    Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema ordered the measure, in agreement with health authorities, as part of an experiment to see whether they may be effective after all, as some scientific studies have found, her spokesman said.
    “We do think it can have an immediate effect,” Sebastiaan Meijer said.    “We want people to wear masks and be aware of the pandemic, so we do think it’s going to help stop the virus from spreading.”
    City workers on Wednesday handed out leaflets to tourists and residents, most of whom do not currently wear masks, explaining the new rules.    Failure to wear a mask could lead to a fine of 95 euros ($112).
    Like other European countries, the Netherlands is facing a spike in coronavirus cases after it eased lockdown measures on July 1.    On Tuesday, health authorities reported new cases had doubled in the past week to 2,588, with clusters among young adults and in major cities.
    In the past week Amsterdam has ordered the closure of several bars and one strip club where clusters were detected among staff and recent customers.
    Prime Minister Mark Rutte is cutting short a vacation to address the country on Thursday about the rising cases.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/6/2020 Head For The Hills: Virus Clampdowns Crush Swiss City Hotels by Cecile Mantovani
The Bon-Rivage hotel is pictured during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in La Tour-de-Peilz,
Switzerland, August 4, 2020. Picture taken through a window. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    LA TOUR-DE-PEILZ, Switzerland (Reuters) – For Frenchwoman Annick Weber, the Swiss shores of Lake Geneva were just the place for a getaway during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Eager for a holiday with husband Christophe, she thought the French Riviera was too distant, too crowded, and too complicated.
    “So we chose Switzerland because it is not too far, it’s beautiful and it is calm.    We hope to not have too many people and more space to visit, go for walks, enjoy ourselves and get some rest during our holidays,” she said.
    But as much as Switzerland seeks to parlay its squeaky-clean image to promote tourism, a sharp divide is emerging as people flock to mountains and lakes while avoiding city centres, where hotels are suffering.
    Overnight stays at Swiss hotels plunged a record 47.5% in the first half of 2020, with foreign demand down by three-fifths.
    In June stays fell 62%, even after the government relaxed restrictions and opened borders to members of the Schengen passport-free zone.
    “The impact is absolutely catastrophic,” said Thierry Lavalley, president of the Geneva Hotel Association.
    He said Geneva’s hotel business was in “intensive care,” with around 40 hotels shut.
    Four out of five overnight hotel stays in Geneva are by people travelling from abroad.    That has all dried up.
    Summer travellers from Asia, the Middle East and North America are absent, Lavalley said. People from these regions face 10-day Swiss quarantines.
    “We don’t make it easy for them.    They are not allowed to enter Switzerland freely and this is extremely difficult to find flights that come in Geneva to bring those travellers.    So this is really an apocalyptic situation, nothing is done to help.”
    He estimated Geneva hotels’ revenue could drop 75-80% versus 2019.    The canton’s hotels and restaurants employ 15,000, of whom 12,000 are in state-supported part-time working schemes.
    For Marie Forestier, director of the Bon Rivage hotel in La Tour-de-Peilz that reopened in May, business has picked up since mid-July thanks to last-minute customers.
    “There is a lot of work, but the team is united, and this is really great.    But we still think of this very uncertain future.”
(Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/6/2020 Belarus To Invite Russia And Ukraine To Discuss Alleged Mercenaries: Belta
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes part in the celebrations of
Independence Day in Minsk, Belarus July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday ordered authorities to invite Russia and Ukraine’s prosecutors to Minsk to resolve the case of a group of alleged Russian mercenaries it detained last week, the Belta news agency reported.
    Ukraine wants the men extradited to Ukraine over their alleged role in fighting in Ukraine’s east.    Russia denies the men are mercenaries and says they work for a private security firm.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

8/6/2020 Russia Reports More Than 5,200 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) sits inside an ambulance at the territory of Aleksandrovskaya hospital,
amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities reported 5,267 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, pushing its national tally to 871,894, the fourth largest in the world.
    The official death toll rose to 14,606 after officials said 116 people had died across the country in the last 24 hours.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

8/6/2020 Poland Faces Rising Trend Of COVID-19 Cases: Health Minister
FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a driver at a mobile testing
station for miners of the Bielszowice coal mine, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Ruda Slaska, Poland July 27, 2020. Grzegorz Celejewski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland may see a further increase in coronavirus infections, which could reach up to 700 per day during and after this weekend, the health minister said on Thursday.
    On Tuesday, Poland registered its highest daily tally of reported cases at 680.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/6/2020 Beirut’s Accidental Cargo: How An Unscheduled Port Visit Led To Disaster by Maria Vasilyeva
Boris Prokoshev, captain of cargo vessel Rhosus (C), boatswain Boris Musinchak (L) and a crew member pose in
the port of Beirut, Lebanon, in a summer 2014 photograph. REUTERS/Personal archives of Boris Musinchak
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The chemicals that went up in flames in Beirut’s deadliest peace-time explosion arrived in the Lebanese capital seven years ago on a leaky Russian-leased cargo ship that, according to its captain, should never have stopped there.
    “They were being greedy,” said Boris Prokoshev, who was captain of the Rhosus in 2013 when he says the owner told him to make an unscheduled stop in Lebanon to pick up extra cargo.
    Prokoshev said the ship was carrying 2,750 tonnes of a highly combustible chemical from Georgia to Mozambique when the order came to divert to Beirut on its way through the Mediterranean.
    The crew were asked to load some heavy road equipment and take it to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba before resuming their journey onto Africa, where the ammonium nitrate was to be delivered to an explosives manufacturer.
    But the ship was never to leave Beirut, having tried and failed to safely load the additional cargo before becoming embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute over port fees.
    “It was impossible,” Prokoshev, 70, told Reuters of the operation to try and load the extra cargo.    “It could have ruined the whole ship and I said no,” he said by ‘phone from his home in the Russian resort town of Sochi on the Black Sea coast.
    The captain and lawyers acting for some creditors accused the ship’s owner of abandoning the vessel and succeeded in having it arrested.    Months later, for safety reasons, the ammonium nitrate was unloaded and put in a dock warehouse.
    On Tuesday, that stockpile caught fire and exploded not far from a built-up residential area of the city.    The huge blast killed 145 people, injured 5,000, flattened buildings and made more than a quarter of a million people homeless.
    The ship might have succeeded in leaving Beirut, had it managed to load the additional cargo.
    The crew had stacked the equipment, including excavators and road-rollers, on top of the doors to the cargo hold which held the ammonium nitrate below, according to the ship’s Ukrainian boatswain, Boris Musinchak. But the hold doors buckled.
    “The ship was old and the cover of the hold bent,” Musinchak said by ‘phone.    “We decided not to take risks.”
    The captain and three crew spent 11 months on the ship while the legal dispute dragged on, without wages and with only limited supplies of food.    Once they left, the ammonium nitrate was unloaded.
    “The cargo was highly explosive.    That’s why it was kept on board when we were there … That ammonium nitrate had a very high concentration,” Prokoshev said.
BOUND FOR MOZAMBIQUE
    Prokoshev identified the ship’s owner as Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin. Attempts to contact Grechushkin were unsuccessful.
    Cypriot police questioned Grechushkin at his home in Cyprus on Thursday, a security source said.    A Cyprus police spokesman said an individual, whom he did not name, had been questioned at the request of Interpol Beirut in relation to the cargo.
    The ammonium nitrate was sold by Georgian fertiliser maker Rustavi Azot LLC, and was to be delivered to a Mozambique explosives maker, Fabrica de Explosivos.
    A senior representative for Fabrica de Explosivos did not immediately respond when sent a request for comment on LinkedIn.
    Levan Burdiladze, the Rustavi Azot plant director, told Reuters that his company had only operated the chemical factory for the last three years and so he could not confirm whether the ammonium nitrate was produced there.
    He called the decision to store the material in Beirut port a “gross violation of safe storage measures, considering that ammonium nitrate loses its useful properties in six months.”
    Initial Lebanese investigations into what happened have pointed to inaction and negligence in the handling of the potentially dangerous chemical.
    Lebanon’s cabinet on Wednesday agreed to place all Beirut port officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014 under house arrest, ministerial sources said.
    The head of Beirut port and the head of customs said that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the material be removed, but no action was taken.
    Reuters could not immediately reach Lebanon’s justice minister for comment.    The Justice Ministry is closed for three days of national mourning.
    According to Prokoshev, the ship had been leaking but was seaworthy when it sailed into Beirut in September 2013.    However, he said Lebanese authorities paid little attention to the ammonium nitrate, which had been stacked in the hull in large sacks.
    “I feel sorry for the people (killed or injured in the blast).    But local authorities, the Lebanese, should be punished.    They did not care about the cargo at all,” he said.
    The abandoned Rhosus sank where she was moored in Beirut harbour, according to a May, 2018 email from a lawyer to Prokoshev, which said it had gone down “recently.”
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai, Samia Nakhoul and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon, Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Michele Kambas in Nicosia and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Mark Bendeich)

8/6/2020 Ukraine Expects To Swap 100 Prisoners With Russian-Backed Separatists Within Weeks by Natalia Zinets
A Ukrainian presidential office official holds flowers while sitting next to a security guard inside a helicopter during President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's
working trip to the frontline with Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk Region, Ukraine August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    CHASIV YAR, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine expects to exchange around 100 prisoners on each side with Russian-backed separatists within weeks, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff told Reuters on Thursday on a visit to eastern Ukraine.
    Ukraine has pushed prisoner exchanges in a series of confidence-building measures to break the deadlock over a conflict in the eastern     Donbass region that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
    The swap would be second this year and the fourth since Zelenskiy became president in 2019.
    Andriy Yermak, the head of the president’s office and a key Ukrainian negotiator, told Reuters that Kyiv had submitted a list of about 100 people to mediators at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
    He said the separatists submitted around the same number.    While there was no date for the exchange, he said “I hope that it will be soon.    I think it’s within weeks.”
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and support for fighters in the Donbass.
    Major combat ended with a ceasefire agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.
    The latest attempt to get the ceasefire to stick in July broke down within hours.
    But on Thursday, OSCE monitors recorded no ceasefire violations within a daily reporting period for the first time since they began systematically collecting such data, an OSCE statement said.
    Yermak was accompanying Zelenskiy on a visit to the frontline where he met soldiers and civilians in the area.
    He also said Ukraine and the separatists would agree at least three new areas of troop disengagement in selected hotspots – another confidence-building measure pushed under Zelenskiy’s presidency.
    “Today we are very close to agreeing on three and maybe five new sections,” he said.
    Zelenskiy also pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to release prisoners during a recent bilateral phone call.
    “It was agreed that a list would be provided, it has already been handed over – these are mainly Crimean Tatars who are illegally detained in Crimea. We are waiting for an answer,” he said.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/6/2020 Dutch PM Urges Tourists To Avoid Busy Parts Of Amsterdam
An enforcement officer instructs people to wear the mandatory masks at the Red Light District, during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands’ Prime Minister on Thursday called on tourists to avoid busy parts of Amsterdam, following a sharp acceleration in the number of coronavirus cases in the Netherlands.
    Prime Minister Mark Rutte cut short his summer vacation after the National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported 601 new cases on Thursday, from 426 a day earlier, following weeks of gradual increases.
    “Very specifically for the city of Amsterdam, I say to tourists foreign and domestic, and partly on behalf of the mayor: avoid the busy parts of the city,” Rutte told reporters in The Hague.
    Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema on Wednesday began mandating masks in areas including the central Red Light prostitution district, which is a magnet for foreign tourists.
    That stands in contrast to national policy, as Rutte’s government has said it will not advise the public to wear masks, other than on public transport.
    The government has said that masks are not proven to be effective, may be used incorrectly and may weaken adherence to distancing rules.
    Amsterdam, together with Rotterdam, began mandating the masks anyway, billing the move as an “experiment.”
    The World Health Organization since June has advised wearing masks in shops and busy outside areas when it is impossible to maintain physical distance.
    Rutte said that the country’s outbreak was worsening and that it would be “stupid” to pretend otherwise.    New cases are mostly among people aged 20-40, based on RIVM data.
    “The virus is making a dangerous advance and we’re at risk of losing the gains we’ve made together in the past month,” he said.
    “We don’t want a second lockdown and we don’t have to have one, but that won’t happen by itself,” he said.
    He said that rules on restaurants would be modestly tightened nationwide.    In addition, regional outbreaks may lead to beaches being closed or earlier closing time for bars.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling. Editing by Jane Merriman)

8/6/2020 Denmark Drops Plan To Lift Curbs On Public Gatherings As Infections Spike
FILE PHOTO: Denmark's national flags are seen in Copenhagen, Denmark October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/File Photo
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark will not raise a limit on public gatherings, originally planned for this month, after seeing a spike in COVID-19 infections, the Danish health ministry said late on Thursday.
    As part of the Denmark’s gradual reopening following a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the government had planned to raise the limit on public gatherings to 200 people on August 8, up from the current limit of 100 people.
    “It is crucial that we maintain the good position Denmark is in, where we have the epidemic under control,” health minister Magnus Heunicke said.
    The Nordic country’s authority on infectious diseases, Statens Serum Institut, would not recommend lifting the limit, the ministry said, as any easing of public gatherings would increase infection risk.
    On Tuesday, Denmark’s state epidemiologist had advised against going through with the planned fourth reopening phase, which includes allowing music venues and night clubs to reopen, due to the current infection pressure.
    In a response, health minister Heunicke said the government would not propose any moves, which were not responsible from a healthcare perspective.
    “If that is the authorities’ recommendation, then we will not do it,” Heunicke told public broadcaster DR on Tuesday.
    The government and parliament are due to discuss the fourth phase of reopening on Aug. 12.
    Denmark, which has had daily increases in COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, was one of the first countries in Europe to gradually lift lockdown restrictions in April after seeing infection rates decline steadily.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard. Editing by Jane Merriman)

8/6/2020 Polish Opposition Shows Rainbow LGBT Solidarity At President’s Swearing-In
Members of parliament wearing rainbow-themed masks, representing the LGBT symbol, pose for a picture after the swearing-in
ceremony of Andrzej Duda as Polish President in Warsaw, Poland August 6, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

8/7/2020 Poland Sees No Need For New Curbs Despite Virus Spike
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland plans no further restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus, despite the number of daily cases hitting record highs, Deputy Health Minister Janusz Cieszynski said on Friday.
    On Thursday the government imposed stricter rules on a number of Polish counties, including compulsory wearing of face masks outside the home.    On Friday the ministry said 809 new infections were registered, more than it had expected.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Alan Charlish; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/7/2020 New National Lockdown Ruled Out In Poland Despite Rising COVID-19 Cases
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland reported 809 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the sixth record daily rise in two weeks, but Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin ruled out a new nationwide lockdown.
    According to the Health Ministry’s Twitter account, most of the cases were in and around big cities including the capital Warsaw, Katowice and Krakow.
    It said 259 of the new infections were in the Silesia coal mining region, where the main city is Katowice.
    As of Friday 1,279 coal miners were now infected, mostly in state-run coal producer PGG, data cited by state news agency PAP showed.
    The increase in new infections was faster and higher than predicted by Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski on Thursday, when he saw the daily tally rising to up to 700 during and after the weekend.
    The conservative nationalist government has imposed stricter sanitary rules on a number of Polish counties, which include compulsory wearing of protective face masks outside the home.
    It has banned conferences, sport events and concerts, closed cinemas and gyms, and imposed a 50-person limit on the number of people taking part in weddings though churches and hotels remain open.
    But Sasin told state television before the latest figures were announced: “There is no way that we would impose a general lockdown again.”
    “There is no talk today, with the rising number of infected people or very high number of those who are still infected, of coming back to closing the economy,” he said.
    Poland has reported 50,324 COVID-19 cases overall, and 1,787 deaths.
    Critics have said the government is not conducting health checks on a big scale, and this means a lot of people who are infected are unaware of it and infect others.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Alan Charlish, Anna Koper, and Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by John Stonestreet and Timothy Heritage)

8/7/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surpass 875,000
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk outside outside the I.I. Dzhanelidze Research Institute of
Emergency Medicine amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities reported 5,241 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, pushing its national tally to 877,135, the fourth largest in the world.br>     The official death toll rose to 14,725 after officials said 119 people had died across the country in the last 24 hours.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/7/2020 Ukraine Reports Steady Rise In COVID Cases, Deaths
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk outside the infectious disease ward at the
Oleksandrivska Clinical Hospital, where Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is presumably being
treated after contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has recorded a steady daily increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks and the health ministry is urging people to observe safety measures to stop the epidemic getting out of control.
    The ministry said new cases had risen to 1,453 as of Aug. 6, a new daily high since the start of epidemic.    Ukraine reported 1,318 cases on Aug. 5 and 1,271 on Aug. 4.    It also reported an increase in the death toll.
    “The numbers are impressive and every day we set records.    We have increasing numbers of complex cases, numbers of deaths.    What numbers do we need to reach in order to think about compliance with the rules?” health minister Maksym Stepanov told a televised briefing.
    He said the total number of infections had reached 78,261, including 1,852 deaths and 43,055 recoveries.    Most cases were recorded in western Ukraine and the capital, Kyiv.
    Ukraine imposed tough restrictions in March, halting transport, closing cafes and restaurants and banning public events, but eased the curbs in May to allow the economy to recover from a lockdown-induced recession.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/7/2020 Hungary Ties Up Close To 5 Million Vaccine Dosages In EU Scheme: PM Orban
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes part in the first face-to-face European Union summit since
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has ordered close to 5 million vaccine doses for the novel coronavirus under a European Union scheme to provide potential COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
    The European Commission wants to strike deals with up to six drugmakers to buy promising COVID-19 vaccines in advance.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Tom Hogue)

8/7/2020 Belarus Detains Multiple U.S. Nationals by OAN Newsroom
In this file photo taken on Saturday, May 9, 2020, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko refused to impose
any restrictions, making Belarus the only country in Europe to continue playing professional soccer games
with fans in the stands while the COVID-19 outbreak was in full swing. (Sergei Gapon/Pool via AP, File)
    The president of Belarus revealed a number of U.S. citizens are being held in custody by the country’s police. Alexander Lukashenko announced the move during a meeting Thursday, but did not identify the individuals being held and did not give a reason for their detainment.
    These arrests followed a similar action last week when more than 30 Russian nationals were jailed by Belarusian police after being accused of instigating unrest within the country.
    “All the mass media are warning us that the Americans want to take over NATO,” said President Lukashenko.    “Some people were detained with American passports, married to Americans working in the State Department, but their Russian commanders are defending them tooth and nail.”
    The former Soviet country has seen a surge of unrest lately over Lukashenko’s strict rule, which culminated in a protest gathering more than 5,000 people who at one point began chanting the name of his top opponent in upcoming elections.
FILE – In this file photo taken on Sunday, July 19, 2020, Belarusians, some of them wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, attend a meeting
in support of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, candidate for the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
    The opponent, Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya, reportedly decided to run for the presidency after her husband was arrested for speaking out against Lukashenko.

8/7/2020 Russia Registers 25,521 More Deaths In June Than Same Month Last Year
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes care of a patient in the Intensive Care Unit
(ICU) of the City Clinical Hospital Number 15 named after O. Filatov, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in
Moscow, Russia, in this handout picture released June 12, 2020. Andrei Nikerichev/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia registered 162,758 deaths in June, up 18.6% from the same month last year, data from the state statistics service Rosstat showed on Friday.
    That included 11,917 deaths of people suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19, Rosstat data showed. Of these, COVID-19 was registered as the primary cause of death in 5,448 cases.
    Many countries are looking at such “all-cause mortality” statistics as a guide to understanding the full impact of the virus, as some deaths caused by COVID-19 may go unrecorded, while the death toll from other illnesses may also rise at a time when healthcare systems are under strain.
    There were 3.1% more deaths in Russia in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period last year, Rosstat data showed.
    In May, there were 11.9% more deaths than the previous May.
    As of Friday, Russia had reported 877,135 cases of the novel coronavirus, the world’s fourth-largest total, and its death toll from the virus stood at 14,725.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Anastasia Teterevleva, Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/7/2020 Poland To Push Ahead With Limits On Foreign Media Ownership, Sources Say by Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is ready to craft rules to reduce foreign ownership of media outlets such as newspapers and TV channels, while making further changes to the judiciary, Poland’s de facto leader has signaled, raising the prospect of fresh battles with the EU.
    The leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski made the comments at a strategy meeting on Thursday in Jachranka, a tourist spot outside Warsaw, two sources in attendance and one with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters.
    PiS didn’t respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    The meeting was held after PiS candidate Andrzej Duda won re-election in a July presidential vote, triggering plans for a government reconstruction and a new political programme set to be introduced in September or October.
    PiS has long insisted that foreign-owned outlets distort the public debate and are unfairly critical of its government.
    While judiciary reforms have gone forward since PiS came to power in 2015, bringing Poland into conflict with the EU over perceived interference in the independence of the judiciary, PiS’s desire to restrict foreign ownership of the media has remained no more than a topic of debate.
    The sources did not say if Kaczynski had mentioned any specific media outlets as possible targets of any reform, but the issue came into focus during the presidential election campaign in July after partly German-owned tabloid Fakt reported on a pardon Duda granted to a man who had served his sentence in a paedophilia case.
    Duda asked if this meant Germany was trying to meddle in the election.    Fakt denied any political meddling and said it is run by Polish journalists and editors.
    A fear of igniting further fights with the EU as well as a focus on other political priorities stopped the government from pushing ahead with media ownership reforms in the past, officials have told Reuters.
    But the recent PiS electoral win, likely cementing its power until parliamentary elections in 2023, bolstered the debate to finally push ahead with media reforms, party insiders indicated.
    “If he said it, there is a big chance that it’ll go ahead,” one source allied with PiS said.
    Officials said the reforms would focus on reducing the proportion of foreign ownership allowed in media companies and would be modeled on existing legislation in France and Germany.
    “The current situation can’t be reconciled with a pro-nation policy,” another PiS politician told Reuters.    “We realise we will start a huge fight with the European Union, we have to be prepared for this.”
    PiS officials have also discussed in the past the possibility of purchasing a chain of German-owned regional newspapers by a state-owned company, although it’s unclear if this would be part of the current media push.
    The topic of the meeting was first reported on Friday by Polish private radio RMF FM.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by David Holmes)

8/7/2020 Protesters Try To Block Detention Of Polish LGBT Activist by Alicja Ptak
LGBT supporters protest in Warsaw, Poland August 7, 2020. A Polish LGBT+ protestor could be jailed for hanging rainbow flags on statues in the capital,
Warsaw, her lawyer said on Thursday, as gay rights divide the eastern European country. Adam Stepien/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters surrounded a police van on Friday in central Warsaw to try to block it from driving away after officers detained an activist who hung LGBT flags on statues in the city last week.
    The protesters shouted “Shame, disgrace!” before the police pushed the protesters away and the van sped off, a Reuters witness said.     An ambulance arrived at the scene soon afterwards, but the nature of any injuries was not immediately clear.
    Activists from anti-homophobia group “Stop Bzdurom” who claimed responsibility for the flag campaign said it was part of a fight in honour of LGBT rights, an issue thrust into the heart of public debate in Poland during last month’s presidential election.
    Earlier this week, the activists, including the one detained on Friday, were held for around 40 hours in connection with the flag campaign before being freed, a police spokesman said.
    But the spokesman said the decision to detain the activist, under which she would be held for two months pending further investigations, was not tied to the statue campaign but related to another incident.
    “There was damaged property, damage to health and an illegal gathering,” Warsaw police spokesman Sylwester Marczak said.
    A protest in solidarity with the activists and with LGBT people is being organised in Warsaw on Saturday.
    Government figures from the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party condemned the activists after the flag stunt, with some supporting their detention.
    PiS has argued that LGBT rights are part of an invasive foreign ideology that undermines Polish values and the traditional family.
    “This is the strong nation in all its glory.    Why fight with exclusion and coronavirus when you can fight with the rainbow and human rights defenders.    Shame!” tweeted Magda Biejat, a member of parliament allied with the opposition Left group.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/8/2020 Polish Police Detain 48 People After LGBT Protest
LGBT supporters protest in Warsaw, Poland August 7, 2020. Adam Stepien/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Police said they detained 48 people after protesters tried to stop them arresting an LGBT activist accused of hanging rainbow flags over statues in Warsaw and damaging a pro-life campaigner’s van.
    Crowds of protesters shouting “Shame, disgrace!” surrounded a police vehicle in the centre of the capital on Friday to try and stop it driving away with the activist inside.
    “Due to yesterday’s active gathering, 48 people were detained,” the Warsaw police force said on its Twitter account on Saturday.
    Members of the anti-homophobia group “Stop Bzdurom” have said they hung flag on statues of Jesus and other figures last week as part of a fight for LGBT rights, an issue thrust into the heart of public debate in Poland during last month’s presidential election.
    The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has said LGBT rights are part of what it calls an invasive foreign ideology that undermines Polish values and the traditional family.
    Government spokesman Piotr Muller said he would not comment on police actions.
    Stop Bzdurom and other groups have called for a protest in Warsaw on Saturday in solidarity with LGBT people.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; additional reporting by Alicja Ptak; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

8/8/2020 Ceasefire Offers Opportunity For Eastern Ukraine Peace Push, Says President by Natalia Zinets
    TARAMCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine wants to build on a lull in fighting in the eastern Donbass region to push for a lasting peace settlement at a new round of four-way talks with Russia, France and Germany, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Reuters.
    Dressed in a T-shirt and khaki trousers, Zelenskiy was speaking on a visit to the area on the 12th day of what Kyiv hopes will be a permanent ceasefire agreed with Russian-backed forces on July 27.
    Zelenskiy, 42, was a comic actor when he won a landslide election last year promising to end the conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people and brought Western sanctions on Russia.
    Once a political novice, he has since secured prisoner exchanges with Russia and phased troop withdrawals at selected hotspots.
    “This is an opportunity to save our guys and continue the diplomatic dialogue,” he said on Friday during a whistle-stop tour along more than 100 km (62 miles) of the frontline.
    If the ceasefire holds, “the first big step has been taken, it is necessary to meet in the Normandy Format,” he said, referring to the four-way talks named after the French region where they were first held.
HOLDING FIRE
    Zelenskiy inherited the conflict that began after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula six years ago.    Ukraine says Russia then engineered quasi-separatist uprisings across a belt of eastern Ukraine that escalated into a full-scale war.    Moscow denies the claim.
    A ceasefire agreed under Zelenskiy’s predecessor in Belarus in 2015 stopped the worst of the fighting, but soldiers and civilians were still regularly killed in flare-ups.
    The July 27 truce broke down within hours.    But Kyiv says the shooting has been sporadic and on Thursday international monitors for the first time recorded no ceasefire violations within a daily reporting period.
    The next round of peace talks is due in Berlin but there is no date fixed. Kyiv wants to press for Red Cross access to its prisoners and a timeline for Russian-backed forces to withdraw.
    Zelenskiy said Ukraine was willing to show flexibility on a key sticking point – giving legal special status to the Donbass region after holding local elections there, providing this stopped short of federalisation.
    But local elections could only take place once Russian-backed forces withdraw.
    “I think this issue is very important: first security, then elections,” he said.
    The first year of Zelenskiy’s presidency was overshadowed by Ukraine’s unwitting involvement in events that led to the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Trump had pressed Ukraine to launch an investigation into his Democratic rival for the 2020 presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden.
    Zelenskiy said bilateral support for Ukraine would remain strong regardless of who won the upcoming election.
    “They are our partners indeed,” he said.    “I believe that their strategic course does not change, regardless of who is the president.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mike Harrison)

8/8/2020 Facebook Removes Small Pro-Trump Network Based In Romania by Joseph Menn
FILE PHOTO: A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Thursday it recently removed a small network of accounts operating from Romania that had been promoting President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign with stories about his support from conservatives, Black Americans, Christians and followers of the QAnon web of baseless conspiracy theories.
    Many of the 35 Facebook and 88 Instagram accounts posed as Americans, and some managed Trump fan pages, but they ran afoul of the social network’s rules on what it calls coordinated inauthentic behavior.    In addition to misleading people about their location, some account holders ran multiple personas with similar names that posted identical content, Facebook said.
    The network had a small reach, with only 1,600 accounts following the Facebook pages and 7,200 tracking the accounts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
    Facebook security policy head Nathaniel Gleicher said the company was unable to tell whether the Romanian group was motivated by money, ideology or government directive.
    The nonprofit Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab said some pages only shared content from Trump’s page, while others promoted QAnon, which connects various theories around the idea that Trump is secretly waging a war against powerful Democrats who worship the devil and abuse children.    The FBI warned last year https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/420379775-fbi-conspiracy-theories-domestic-extremism.pdf that QAnon would likely motivate extremists to commit violence.
    Atlantic Council Lab Director Graham Brookie said there were no clear connections to Trump associates or surrogates, and Gleicher said there were no obvious ties to established commercial players such as companies that sell “likes” and followers.
    Facebook in December removed much larger and better-connected networks that supported Trump, including one it said was connected to the Epoch Times https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-content/facebook-says-group-used-computer-generated-faces-to-push-pro-trump-message-idUSKBN1YO26W, which was founded by supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and often criticizes the government of China.
    Epoch Times publisher Stephen Gregory denied it was connected to the network Facebook took down in December.
    Reuters cannot independently verify the evidence provided by either Facebook or the Epoch Times to support their claims.
    Facebook said on Thursday it had removed another network that reposted content from the Epoch Times and other Falun Gong media in a follow-up action.
    While smaller than the network in the December takedown, the new one had amassed more than 2 million followers by posting on topics including the Hong Kong protests, the coronavirus, and U.S. policy toward China, as well as posting animal pictures, Facebook said.
    Gregory said Epoch Times had no dealings with the network taken down this week.    Reuters could not confirm this.
(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco, Editing by Matthew Lewis and Himani Sarkar)
[THIS SHOULD SCARE YOU TO STOP USING THESE PRODUCTS WHICH I WENT ON FACEBOOK ONCE TO SEE MY GRANDDAUGHTERS BIRTH PICS AND THAT WAS THE LAST TIME AND STILL GET EMAILS FROM FACEBOOK AND SINCE THEN I HAVE NEVER CONTINUED ANY OF THEM AND AM STILL USING EMAIL WHICH THEY CANNOT SCREW UP WITH THEIR BIAS AND IT WORKS FINE WITH NO ONE DECIDING WHAT OR WHEN I CAN SEND ANYTHING, SO CANCEL THE CANCEL CULTURE AND STOP USING THEM.].

8/8/2020 Thousands Protest In Poland Demanding Release Of LGBT Activist by Alicja Ptak and Marcin Goclowski
People take part in a rally in support of the LGBT community in Krakow, Poland August 8, 2020. Jakub Wlodek/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Several thousand people waving rainbow flags protested on Saturday in the centre of Warsaw to demand the release of an LGBT activist accused of hanging rainbow banners over statues and damaging an anti-abortion campaigner’s van.
    Crowds chanted “Give us Margot back!” and “Rainbow does not insult you!” outside Warsaw’s Palace of Culture.
    The peaceful gathering applauded activists hanging another rainbow flag on a statue in front of the Palace, while police officers filmed the performance and the protest leaders.
    On Friday the police detained 48 people, who were trying to stop the authorities from jailing Margot, the activist accused of hanging flags on statues of Jesus and others and destroying a the van of an anti-abortionist.
    “We are here to protest against the fact that these people were detained by the police,” Mateusz Wojtowicz, 24, a payroll specialist, told Reuters.
    The police started releasing detained protesters on Saturday, but not Margot.
    She is a member of the activist group “Stop Bzdurom.”    The group have said they hung flags on statues last week as part of a fight for LGBT rights, an issue thrust into the heart of public debate in Poland during last month’s presidential election.
    The commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, a rights watchdog, called for the immediate release of the activist.
    “Order to detain her for 2 months sends very chilling signal for freedom of speech and LGBT rights in Poland,” Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic tweeted.
    The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party says LGBT rights are part of what it calls an invasive foreign ideology that undermines Polish values and the traditional family.
    Condemning Friday’s protest, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said authorities had to act or face “even more violent” attacks by activists.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

8/8/2020 Havana Back On Lockdown As Coronavirus Rebounds
FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba placed Havana back on a strict lockdown on Saturday following a rebound in coronavirus cases, ordering restaurants, bars and pools once more to close, suspending public transportation and banning access to the beach.
    Cuba, which has been hailed as a rare success story in Latin America for its textbook handling and containment of its coronavirus outbreak, had eased lockdown restrictions last month after cases dwindled to but a handful per day.
    But they have risen back to April levels over the past two weeks, with the health ministry reporting 59 cases on Saturday and saying the situation could become “uncontrollable” if authorities did not act fast.
    “We are witnessing a new epidemiological outbreak that puts our entire population at risk,” Cuban Health Minister José Angel Portal said during a daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday.
    Cuba’s free community-based health system has been credited, along with measures such as strict isolation of the sick and their contacts, with allowing it to keep the number of cases under 2,900 with 88 deaths for a population of 11 million.
    Authorities though have berated Cubans for letting their guard down after lockdown was eased, failing to physically distance or properly wear their face masks, which are obligatory in public spaces, and gathering in big groups.
    One of the latest major events of local transmission was traced back to a religious gathering.
    But many of the new cases – 41 of the 59 reported on Saturday – are also imported, often from Venezuela.    There is no open travel in Cuba due to the pandemic, so most returnees would likely be from the 20,000 health personnel stationed in Cuba’s leftist ally.
    Anyone entering the country is required to quarantine in a state facility for 14 days so contagion from those cases is contained.
    While Cuba’s outbreak is focused on Havana, Portal said authorities would need to monitor the rest of the country carefully given the large amount of asymptomatic carriers and nationwide travel that had occurred over the past month.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Franklin Paul)

8/8/2020 Belarus Opposition Member Briefly Detained On Eve Of Presidential Election
FILE PHOTO: Maria Kolesnikova, a representative of Belarusian politician Viktor Babariko's campaign office
attends a rally held by supporters of Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a candidate in the upcoming presidential election and
President Alexander Lukashenko's main challenger, in Minsk, Belarus August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus police briefly detained and then released a prominent member of the opposition challenging President Alexander Lukashenko in a presidential election, the campaign team said on Saturday.
    Maria Kolesnikova was detained in what police said was a case of mistaken identity, the campaign team said in a statement.    Police declined to comment immediately.
    Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for over a quarter of a century, has cracked down to try to snuff out rare and sustained protests against him ahead of Sunday’s presidential vote, jailing rivals and arresting dissenters.
    He faces his biggest challenge in years due to frustration over his hands-off handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights.
    Kolesnikova was originally a member of the campaign team for Viktor Babariko, the former head of a local bank who was detained after he launched his presidential bid.
    After Babariko’s arrest, Kolesnikova became the joint face of the opposition campaign backing Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/8/2020 Czech Apartment Fire Kills 11, Including Three Children: IDNES.Cz
An apartment building is seen after a fire broke out in Bohumin, Czech Republic, August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Lukas Kabon
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – A fire tore through an apartment building in northern Czech Republic on Saturday, killing 11 people, including three children and five others who jumped from the upper floors to escape the blaze, local media reported.
    The fire in Bohumin, some 380 kilometres from Prague, broke out in the afternoon on the 11th floor of an apartment block and was the country’s deadliest fire in 30 years, local news server iDNES.cz reported.
    “There are three adults dead and three children in the apartment,” the head of the Moravian-Silesian fire brigade, Vladimír Vlcek told the news site.    “Five people jumped out of the apartment but suffered injuries incompatible with life.”
    Firefighters extinguished the fire and investigators are now trying to determine what caused the deadly blaze in the city-owned apartment building.
    Witnesses said they saw several people jumping out of the windows from the 11th floor and the city’s deputy mayor told iDNES.cz that arson could not be ruled out.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Christina Fincher)

8/8/2020 Ukraine President Says Kyiv Staying Out Of U.S. Internal Politics, Elections
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gestures during an open-air news conference, one year after his inauguration,
amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kiev, Ukraine May 20, 2020. Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that it was a matter of Ukraine’s national security to stay out of U.S. internal politics, particularly its election.
    “#Ukraine did not and will not allow itself to interfere in the elections and thus harm our trusting and sincere partnership with the #USA,” he wrote on Twitter late on Saturday.
    Zelenskiy, 42, was a comic actor when he won a landslide election last year.    But the first year of his presidency was overshadowed by Ukraine’s unwitting involvement in events that led to the impeachment of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump.    Trump had unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to launch an investigation into his Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden.
    “Never, under any circumstances, it’s acceptable to meddle in another country’s sovereign elections,” Zelenskiy wrote.
    Zelenskiy appealed to Ukrainian politicians to avoid any actions that could be linked to U.S. elections, nor allow themselves to try to solve any of their personal, political or business problems that way.
    “Ukraine’s reputation is worth much more than the reputation of any of our politicians,” the president said.
    Earlier this week, Zelenskiy told Reuters that he hoped U.S. support for Ukraine would remain strong regardless of who wins the American election.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/9/2020 Belarus Holds Election As Street Protests Rattle Strongman President by Andrei Makhovsky
People look at a presidential election information board in Minsk, Belarus August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus began voting in an election on Sunday pitting President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the man once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Washington.
    The 65-year-old Lukashenko is almost certain to win a sixth consecutive term but could face a new wave of protests amid anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.
    An ongoing crackdown on the opposition could hurt Lukashenko’s attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled since 1994.
    He faces a surprise rival in Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.
    Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.    Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been detained in a widening crackdown.
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century.    Despite an election commission ban on the opposition holding an alternative vote count, Tikhanouskaya urged her supporters to monitor polling stations.
    “We are in the majority and we don’t need blood on the city streets,” she said on Saturday.    “Let’s defend our right to choose together.”
    Portraying himself as a guarantor of stability, Lukashenko says the opposition protesters are in cahoots with foreign backers, including a group of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in July and accused of plotting “acts of terrorism.”
    Analysts said their detention could be used as a pretext for a sharper crackdown after the vote.
    “Lukashenko a priori made it clear that he intends to retain his power at any cost.    The question remains what the price will be,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Christina Fincher and William Mallard)

8/10/2020 Official Results Hand Belarusian Leader Lukashenko Re-Election Victory, Opposition Protests by Andrei Makhovsky
People are seen during clashes with opposition supporters after polls closed at the
presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide re-election victory, the central election commission said on Monday, after bloody clashes between riot police and thousands of protesters who said the poll was rigged.
    Figures from the election commission said Lukashenko had won 80% of the vote in Sunday’s election.    Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity to become his main rival, won 9.9% of the vote, the data showed.
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994, but is facing his biggest challenge in years to keep his grip on power amid disenchantment in some quarters over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his patchy human rights record.
    The streets were quiet in the capital Minsk and other cities after violence on Sunday night when police used force to try to disperse thousands of protesters who gathered after polls closed to denounce what they said were illegitimate elections.
    Protesters clapped, shouted “victory,” waved flags and honked car horns in solidarity with the opposition.    Some built barricades with garbage cans.    Police fired water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades to try to force people to go home.
    Video footage showed helmeted police forcefully detaining protesters and a police van hit a crowd of people in Minsk, witnesses said.
    Spring 96, a rights group, said at least one person had been killed in the van incident.    It said dozens had been injured in the clashes and that over 100 people had been detained.
    Authorities said nobody had lost their life in the violence, but that 10 police officers had been injured.
    Tikhanouskaya, who entered the race after her blogger husband who intended to run was jailed, was expected to speak later on Monday.
    On Sunday, she called on her supporters to prevent what she called provocations and for authorities to refrain from violence.    Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    Lukashenko’s attempts to crack down on protests could hurt his wider effort to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.
    Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people were detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.
    After casting his vote on Sunday, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as “fake news or far-fetched accusations.”
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/10/2020 Belarus Police Crack Down On Mass Protests Against Strongman President After Election by Andrei Makhovsky
Opposition supporters scuffle with law enforcement officers after poll closed at presidential
election in Minsk, Belarus August 9, 2020. Dmitry Brushko/Tut.By via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus police fired water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades in a crackdown on protests that erupted on Sunday as President Alexander Lukashenko was set to claim another election win in the face of the biggest challenge in years to his grip on power.
    Thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk and other cities while protesters clapped, shouted “victory” waved flags and honked car horns in solidarity with the opposition.    Some built barricades with garbage cans.
    Video footage showed helmeted police detaining and clashing with protesters.
    A police prisoner transport van hit a crowd of people in Minsk, witnesses said, but there were no immediate details of casualties.    The authorities said they had no reports of any injuries from the protests.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, the authoritarian Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994 but has battled a wave of anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.
    State-approved exit polls showed him winning 79.7% of the vote while his main opponent Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity a few weeks ago to lead rallies against him, received 6.8%.
    Tikhanouskaya entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.
    “I’d like to ask the police and troops to remember that they are part of the people.    I ask my voters to prevent provocations,” she said in an appeal through the news outlet tut.by.    “Please stop the violence.”
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995.
    A harsh response to new protests could hurt Lukashenko’s attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.
    Tikhanouskaya’s rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and on Sunday she arrived at a polling station with hundreds of supporters chanting her name.
    Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people were detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.
    After casting his vote, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as “fake news or far-fetched accusations” and said he did not regard Tikhanouskaya’s camp as a threat.
    “They are not worth enough to carry out any repression against them,” he said.
‘POWER AT ANY COST’
    Long queues of voters formed outside some polling stations in Minsk and also outside the Belarusian embassies in Moscow and Kyiv for people casting their ballot abroad.
    “It is unbearable to have him in power for so many years.    The man should understand himself that he must just leave,” said Yuri Kanifatov in Moscow, who voted against Lukashenko.
    Portraying himself as a guarantor of stability but criticised by the West as dictatorial, Lukashenko says the opposition protesters are in cahoots with foreign backers to destabilise the country.
    “Lukashenko a priori made it clear that he intends to retain his power at any cost. The question remains what the price will be,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
    Wedded to a Soviet-style economic model, Lukashenko has struggled to raise incomes and living standards in recent years.    He also faced anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he dismissed as a “psychosis” while suggesting drinking vodka and playing ice hockey as remedies.
(Additional reporting by Vasily Fedosenko in Minsk and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Daniel Wallis and Jane Wardell)

8/10/2020 Russia Reports More Than 5,100 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) transfer a woman on a stretcher
at the admission department of the City Clinical Hospital Number 15 named after O. Filatov, which delivers treatment to patients
infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities confirmed 5,118 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, pushing the national case tally to 892,654, the fourth largest in the world.
    The official death toll rose to 15,001 after authorities said in their daily coronavirus report that 70 people had died in the last 24 hours.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth)

8/10/2020 New Clashes In Belarus As West Condemns Crackdown After Election by Andrei Makhovsky
People are seen during clashes with opposition supporters after polls closed at the
presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – New clashes between police and protesters broke out in Belarus on Monday after the opposition accused President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging his re-election victory to a chorus of criticism from Western leaders.
    A Reuters witness saw police dragging protesters out of a crowd and beating them with truncheons in Minsk, and dozens of people detained.    Police also blocked off roads in the capital.
    Official results handed Lukashenko, in power for more than a quarter of a century, an 80% share of the vote in Sunday’s election, while Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, who emerged from obscurity to become his main rival, took just 9.9%.
    “The authorities are not listening to us.    The authorities need to think about peaceful ways to hand over power,” said Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her blogger husband was jailed.
    “Of course we do not recognise the results.”
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.
    Events are being closely watched by Russia, whose oil exports run through Belarus to the West and which has long regarded the country as a buffer zone against NATO, and by the West, which has tried to lure Minsk from Moscow’s orbit.
    Germany called for the European Union to discuss sanctions on Belarus that were lifted in 2016 to foster better relations.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to nudge Lukashenko to accept deeper ties between the two nations, which the Belarusian leader has previously rejected as an assault on his country’s independence.
    Riot police used force on Sunday night to disperse thousands of protesters who had gathered to denounce what they said was an electoral farce.
    Tikhanouskaya, whose campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, told reporters she considered herself the election winner.    She said the poll had been massively rigged.
    The opposition said they were ready to hold talks with the authorities.
‘NO REVOLUTION’
    There was no immediate response to that offer from Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager who has kept Belarus under tight control since 1994.    He faces his biggest challenge in years to hold onto power amid discontent over his handling of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and human rights abuses.
    But Lukashenko signalled he would not step down.
    “The response will be appropriate.    We won’t allow the country to be torn apart,” the 65-year-old leader was quoted by the Belta news agency as saying.
    Lukashenko repeated allegations that shadowy forces abroad were trying to manipulate protesters he called “sheep” in order to topple him, something he said he’d never allow.
    “They are trying to orchestrate mayhem,” said Lukashenko.    “But I have already warned: there will be no revolution.”
    The European Union’s foreign policy chief and its commissioner for enlargement said the election had been marred by “disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters.”
    “We condemn the violence and call for the immediate release of all (those) detained during last night,” Josep Borrell and Oliver Varhelyi said in a joint statement.
    Neighbouring Poland said it wants a special EU summit on Belarus.
    Russia’s RIA news agency cited the Belarusian Interior Ministry as saying that police had detained around 3,000 people during post-election protests.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Catherine Evans and David Evans)

8/10/2020 Activist, Diaspora Groups In Romania Call For Investigation Of Police At 2018 Anti-Corruption Rally by Luiza Ilie and Octav Ganea
Activist Marian Raduna, dressed as a riot police officer, pretends to hit a woman wearing a white shirt with the text
"Romanian Diaspora", during a protest that calls on prosecutors to investigate riot police for violently quelling an anti-corruption
rally on August 10, 2018, in Bucharest, Romania, August 10, 2020. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian activist and diaspora groups called on state institutions on Monday to investigate riot police for using violence to quell an anti-corruption rally two years ago.
    One group, Diaspora for Romania, laid out dozens of sneakers, sandals, boots and stilettos outside government headquarters in Victory Square, the venue for anti-corruption protests, on the anniversary of the rally.    Another group paraded a giant pink elephant around the city and a third drew chalk outlines and reenacted riot police violence.
    The Aug. 10, 2018 protest saw riot police repeatedly fire tear gas into the crowd, use water canons and beat non-violent protesters.
    Hundreds required medical assistance, in the only violent protest in a series of peaceful anti-corruption rallies triggered by attempts by the then ruling Social Democrat Party to decriminalize several graft offences.
    On Monday, Diaspora for Romania, a civic action group of Romanians living abroad, said it wanted to make its point while respecting curbs on public gatherings imposed to contain the coronavirus, which has killed 2,729 people in the EU member country.
    “This pair of shoes also holds the place of several of my friends who are in the diaspora and cannot be here today,” said Mihai Munteanu as he laid out a pair of blue trainers.
    “I am here today not only to commemorate […] but also to let the government know that we will not forget.”
    Laurentiu Dumitru, who has been living abroad for 12 years and attended the 2018 protest, was in Bucharest on Monday.
    “The shoes represent the symbolic participation of those who could not be here,” he said.
    Prosecutors opened an investigation into the handling of the 2018 protest, but earlier this year decided to close it. Activist groups challenged the decision and a Bucharest court must rule on whether to reopen the case.
    Online community activist group Declic paraded a giant pink elephant inscribed with the slogans “We won’t forget” and “Justice for all” outside the offices of several state institutions.
    Another activist group drew chalkboard outlines of hurt protesters in Victory Square.
    The 2018 protest was partially organised by groups of Romanians working abroad, disillusioned by what they said was entrenched corruption and weak public administration in their home country.
    An estimated 3 to 5 million Romanians live and work abroad, according to the World Bank, or about a quarter of the country’s population.    In 2019, they sent home an estimated record high $7.24 billion, a lifeline for many families in Romania.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Octav Ganea; Editing by Susan Fenton)

8/10/2020 Belarusian Protester, Reported Dead, Says He Survived Police Beating by Rinat Sagdiev and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: A law enforcement officer gestures next to a man laying on the ground during clashes with opposition supporters
after polls closed at the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Belarusian protester who was reported to have died during bloody clashes with police after Sunday’s presidential election told Reuters he had survived a brutal police beating and that he expected to be detained shortly.
    The shirtless body of Yevgeny Zaichkin, 35, could be seen in Reuters images of protests in Minsk lying on a grassy patch of ground next to a street with a riot police officer in body armour standing over him and gesturing.
    Belarusian opposition media outlet Nexta reported in the early hours of Monday that he had died according to preliminary information and that it was seeking further information.
    Reached by phone on Monday, Zaichkin said he had been taken to hospital after the beating and discharged earlier in the day with concussion, four stitches and bruising across his body.
    He said at least three or four riot police officers had beaten him over his head and body with truncheons.
    The Belarusian Interior Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Belarusian authorities deny anyone was killed during the protests, but say that dozens of officers and protesters were hurt. Police detained around 3,000 people, the ministry said.
    The protests broke out after the opposition accused President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging the election to secure a landslide victory.
    A representative of the Spring 96 rights group said on Monday that at least one person had been killed during the protests after being knocked over by a police truck.
    The identity and fate of that person could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.
    More protests were expected later on Monday.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/10/2020 Putin Pushes For More Integration With Belarus After Election Unrest by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin discusses the environmental situation in the town of Usolye-Sibirskoye
in Irkutsk region during a video conference call with officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo state
residence outside Moscow, Russia July 30, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he wanted neighbouring Belarus to reactivate stalled plans for more integration with Russia after a contested election win left Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, an on-off Russian ally, on the defensive.
    Putin made his suggestion as the opposition in Belarus rejected official election results handing Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory, saying that talks needed to begin on a peaceful transfer of power.
    Thousands of people unhappy with the results clashed with police across Belarus on Sunday night.
    The Russian leader has long pushed for closer ties with Minsk under the auspices of a unified state, something Lukashenko has so far rejected, accusing Russia of wanting to swallow up his country of 9.5 million people.
    Belarus is a key transit country for Russian oil flowing to the West, and Moscow has long viewed it as a useful buffer zone between itself and NATO.
    “I hope your state activity will facilitate mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas, deepen cooperation within the Union State, and build up integration processes,” Putin said in a congratulatory telegram to Lukashenko.
    Putin said he hoped Belarus would opt, too, for closer military-political ties with Russia inside a defence bloc that they both belong to.
    There was no immediate response from Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former collective farm manager who has spent years trying to play Russia off against the West and China, blowing hot and cold on closer ties to Moscow.
    He has previously baulked at closer ties after Russia scaled back subsidies to the Belarusian energy sector, and in a pre-election speech excoriated Russia, saying Moscow had downgraded formerly brotherly relations to those of a partnership.
    Lukashenko said last week that oil disputes with Russia had deprived his country of $700 million after the two countries failed to agree an oil supply contract earlier this year.
    He has also rejected Russian overtures to open an air base on Belarusian soil and accused a group of detained Russian private security contractors of flying into Belarus before the election to help bring about a revolution, something Moscow has flatly denied.
    Putin is not the only one watching events in Russia’s tiny neighbour.
    The anti-Kremlin opposition say they are following closely to see how effective the Belarusian opposition play-book is, saying they believe Russia will face a similar scenario to Belarus when Putin is next up for re-election in 2024.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/11/2020 Belarusian Opposition Leader Flees Abroad After Bloody Clashes by Andrei Makhovsky
People attend a rally following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 11, 2020. The opposition rejected official
election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had fled abroad for the sake of her children, after two nights of clashes following the contested re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity to mount the biggest challenge in years to Lukashenko, taking her husband’s place in the campaign after he was jailed.
    “You know, I thought that this whole campaign really had hardened me and given me so much strength that I could handle anything,” she said, explaining her decision in a sombre video released on her husband’s YouTube channel.
    “But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place.    I have made a very difficult decision for myself.”
    Both she and the Belarusian authorities said she had not been forced to leave.
    There had been concern about Tikhanouskaya’s whereabouts after her campaign team said on Monday they had been unable to reach her by phone hours after she was known to have left a meeting with central election commission officials.
    By Tuesday morning she had joined her children in Lithuania.    The state border committee later confirmed her departure.
    “And I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me and many will hate me. But, you know, God forbid being faced with such a choice the I was faced with,” she said.
    “So, people, take care please – no life is worth what is happening now.    Children are the most important thing in our lives.”
    At least one person died as police clashed with protesters on Monday after the opposition accused Lukashenko of rigging the vote amid widespread criticism from Western leaders.
    Helmeted police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades and used batons to disperse thousands of people in Minsk in a second night of violence. Protesters set up barricades in several areas and threw petrol bombs.
    Local media reported clashes in other towns.
    In power for more than a quarter of a century, Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs and dangerous revolutionaries with shadowy foreign backers.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to this month’s vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations of others who voiced opposition.
    Tikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.    She was initially reluctant to stand, saying she had received an anonymous threat of having her children taken away.
    She had moved them abroad during the campaign.
    Her husband, Syarhei, had popularised a protest movement that compared Lukashenko to a cockroach character from a children’s fairytale. He was arrested in May.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by John Stonestreet, Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)

8/11/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Case Tally Nears 900,000
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) sits inside an ambulance at the territory of Aleksandrovskaya hospital,
amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian registered 4,945 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, pushing its national case tally to 897,599, the fourth largest in the world.
    The official death toll rose to 15,131 after authorities said in their daily coronavirus report that 130 people had died in the previous 24 hours.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

8/11/2020 Germany To Russia: We Will Protect Our People, Online And Off
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shakes hands with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas before
their meeting in Moscow, Russia August 11, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The murder in a central Berlin park of a Georgian national, blamed by German prosecutors on the actions of a branch of the Russian state, has been a serious burden on relations between the two countries, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
    Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Maas said on Tuesday that Germany would do everything it could to protect its people, both in the online and offline spaces.
    “The murder in the Tiergarten, which prosecutors believe was commissioned by a Russian state organ, has seriously weighed on our relationship, so I made clear that we will defend the security of our people, both online and off,” he said.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; editing by Thomas Seythal)

8/11/2020 Belarusian Opposition Leader Flees Abroad Citing Safety Of Her Children by Andrei Makhovsky
People attend a rally following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 11, 2020. The opposition rejected
official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had fled abroad for the sake of her children after strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of victory in Sunday’s presidential election prompted bloody street protests.
    At least one person died during two nights of clashes between security forces and opposition supporters who accuse Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of rigging his re-election.    Western nations have also branded the vote as unfair and unfree.
    Belarus’s interior ministry said more than 2,000 people had been detained after the clashes on Monday night, in which it said 21 police and security service personnel had been injured, with five taken to hospital.
    Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who took her husband’s place on the ballot after he was jailed, fled to neighbouring Lithuania from where she urged her compatriots not to oppose the police and to avoid putting their lives in danger.
    “You know, I thought that this whole campaign had really toughened me up and given me so much strength that I could handle anything,” she said in an emotional video.
    “But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place.    I have made a very difficult decision for myself,” she said, adding that the political tumult in Belarus was not worth anyone losing their life for.
    “Children are the main thing in life,” said Tikhanouskaya.
    Although Syarhei, her husband, an anti-government blogger, remains in jail in Belarus, she was reunited with her children in Lithuania whom she had earlier moved abroad after receiving anonymous threats about their safety.
FLOWERS
    The mood on the streets of Minsk was calmer during the daytime on Tuesday, but a Reuters reporter saw riot police parked outside several factories in Minsk amid calls on anti-Lukashenko social media channels for a general strike.
    People laid flowers at the site in central Minsk where the protester died in Monday’s clashes.
    Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs and dangerous revolutionaries with shadowy foreign backers. State media on Tuesday showed detained young men with their hands behind their backs, calling them “Russian provocateurs.”
    Belarus has strained relations with Moscow, though President Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to nudge Lukashenko to accept closer ties.    Lukashenko has long accused Russia of aiming to swallow up his nation of 9.5 million people.
    Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Tikhanouskaya had found herself in an impossible situation.
    “She apparently faced certain pressure and did not have much choice but to leave the country,” he told a news conference.
    “Apparently, the other choice was not compatible with freedom, so she needed to take the offered possibility to leave the country, and used it,” he said.
    Lithuania had given her a one-year visa and a place to stay, he added, saying it would ensure her safety.
    Official results in Sunday’s election gave her only around 10% of the vote compared to Lukashenko’s 80%.    But she and her supporters said the ballot was rigged and that she was the real winner.
    Belarusian authorities said she was not forced to leave the country but a separate video appearance, apparently filmed at the central election commission before she left Belarus, raised questions about her departure.
    In it, she was seen reading from a piece of paper in stilted official language and reversed her earlier stance and asked supporters to accept the election’s outcome and stop protesting in order to prevent bloodshed.
    It was unclear if the video had been made under duress or as part of a deal allowing her to leave the country.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Belarus’s election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
    The European Union said on Tuesday its relationship with Belarus was under review, though it declined to comment on whether sanctions would be reimposed on the country.
    Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to this month’s vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations of others who voiced opposition.
    Tikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Andrius Sytas; writing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn; editing by Gareth Jones)

8/12/2020 Putin Hails New Sputnik Moment As Russia Is First To Approve A COVID-19 Vaccine by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: A scientist prepares samples during the research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
at a laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move Moscow likened to its success in the Cold War-era space race.
    The vaccine, which will be called “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, has however not yet completed its final trials.
    Moscow’s decision to grant approval before then has raised concerns among some experts.    Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.
    Putin and other officials have said it is completely safe.    The president said one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.
    “I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin told a government meeting.
    The Russian business conglomerate Sistema has said it expects to put the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, into mass production by the end of the year.
    Government officials have said it will be administered to medical personnel, and then to teachers, on a voluntary basis at the end of this month or in early September.    Mass roll-out in Russia is expected to start in October.
    The vaccine is administered in two doses and consists of two serotypes of a human adenovirus, each carrying an S-antigen of the new coronavirus, which enter human cells and produce an immune response.
    The platform used for the vaccine was developed by Russian scientists over two decades and had formed the basis for several vaccines in the past, including those against Ebola.
    Authorities hope it will allow the Russian economy, which has been battered by fallout from the virus, to return to full capacity.
    Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, said Russia had already received foreign requests for 1 billion doses.    He said the vaccine was also expected to be produced in Brazil.
    Dmitriev said clinical trials were expected to start soon in the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines.    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is willing to participate personally.
PHASE III TRIAL
    The approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.
    Such trials, which require a certain proportion of participants to catch the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.
    The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia, this week urged the ministry to postpone approval until that final trial had been successfully completed.
    In a letter to the ministry, it said there were high risks associated with registering a drug before that happened.
    “It is during this phase that the main evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy is collected, as well as information on adverse reactions that could appear in certain groups of patients: people with weakened immunity, people with concomitant diseases and so forth,” it said.
    Some international experts have also questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine.
    “Normally you need a large number of people to be tested before you approve a vaccine,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, Germany, currently testing CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials.
    “In that respect, I think it’s reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven’t already been tested.”
    Top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had not heard any evidence that the vaccine was ready for widespread use.
    “I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective.    I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” Fauci, who is a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told National Geographic at an event to air on Thursday.
    U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, asked about Russia’s announcement, said safety was paramount and late-stage trials were key.    He said the United States was on track for an effective vaccine by the end of the year, with six candidates under development.
    “The point is not to be first with a vaccine.    The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective,” Azar said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” programme.
    Azar later told reporters in Taiwan he was confident the United States would soon develop its own vaccine.     “We believe that it is highly credible that we will have in the high tens of millions of doses of gold standard safe and effective vaccine by the end of this year, and many hundreds of millions of doses as we go into the beginning of next year.”
    More than 100 possible COVID-19 vaccines are being developed around the world.    At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.
(Additonal reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Polina Ivanova and Alexander Marrow in Moscow and by Caroline Copley in Berlin, Josephine Mason and Kate Kelland in London, Susan Heavey and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Giles Elgood, Tom Brown and Kim Coghill)

8/12/2020 Serbia considers buying Chinese missiles despite US warning
    BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia is considering buying a modern Chinese air defense missile system, president Aleksandar Vucic said Tuesday, as the United States warned that such deals with Beijing could jeopardize the country’s proclaimed European Union membership goals.    Serbia, which has been beefing up its military mainly with Russian aircraft and armored vehicles, last month received six Chinese CH-92A attack and reconnaissance drones.    That made Serbia the first European country to deploy the Chinese drones.

8/12/2020 Thousands Stage Flower Protest In Belarus As EU Weighs Sanctions by Andrei Makhovsky
Women take part in a demonstration against police violence during the recent rallies of opposition supporters
following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Protesters formed human chains and marched through the streets of Belarus carrying flowers on Wednesday in anger at a crackdown by strongman President Alexander Lukashenko that has prompted the European Union to consider new sanctions against Minsk.
    Security forces have clashed with protesters for three consecutive nights after Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory in a vote on Sunday that his opponents say was rigged. Police have detained around 6,000 people.
    Lukashenko has sought better relations with the West amid strained relations with traditional ally Russia.
    Brussels lifted sanctions, imposed over Lukashenko’s human rights record, in 2016, but will weigh new measures this week.
    Lithuania, Poland and Latvia jointly offered to mediate between Lukashenko and the protesters, and threatened sanctions at a European or national level if the offer was declined.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, the 65-year-old Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century but faces increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a sluggish economy and human rights.
    Women dressed in white formed a human chain outside a covered food market in the capital Minsk, holding flowers in the air and chanting slogans, while a crowd also gathered outside a prison where protesters were being kept.
    “I cannot leave my children at night but I can come during the daytime and say my piece,” said Minsk resident Yelena.    “They have stolen not just my vote but 26 years of my life.    Yes, I think so, and this regime must go away.”
CLASHES
    The Belarusian interior ministry said 51 protesters and 14 police officers had been injured in clashes on Tuesday night.
    In Brest, a city in southwestern Belarus on the Polish border, police fired live rounds after some protesters it said were armed with metal bars ignored warning shots fired in the air, the ministry said. One person was injured.
    Lukashenko has accused the protesters of being in cahoots with foreign backers from Russia and elsewhere to topple his government, and compared them to criminal gangs.
    “The core of all these so-called protesters today comprises people with a criminal history and the unemployed,” he said at a government meeting on Wednesday.
    Belarusian authorities earlier tied opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s husband to a plot by suspected Russian mercenaries to destabilise the country ahead of the election.    She denied the allegation in an interview with Reuters.
    In Tuesday night’s clashes, security forces beat some of the protesters, sometimes dragging people out of cars before attacking them.
    United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the detention of 6,000 people, “including bystanders, as well as minors, suggesting a trend of massive arrests in clear violation of international human rights standards.”
    Some of the detainees were lined up in a row on state television this week, looking subdued and promising not to engage in revolutionary activities.
    State media also broadcast footage of a van in Minsk with Russian number plates saying it was packed with ammunition and tents.
    Tracked down by Reuters, Valdemar Grubov, the van’s owner, said he was a film producer and that the vehicle contained only his own personal effects.
    He said he had been unable to retrieve the van due to COVID-19 restrictions and was not involved in any alleged foreign plot.
    Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who took on Lukashenko in the vote, has fled to neighbouring Lithuania to join her children there. She urged her compatriots not to oppose the police and to avoid putting their lives in danger.
    But the protests continued into the evening on Wednesday as thousands took to the streets of the capital.     “We are scared but what else can we do? We are not being aggressive. We are women standing here who also have a voice,” said Minsk resident Zhenya.    “We are scared of being arrested but we want to be heard.”
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Rinat Sagdiev in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2020 Pompeo Says He Warned Lavrov Against Offering Bounties For U.S. Soldiers
FILE PHOTO: Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hold a joint
news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said he warned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that there would be “an enormous price to pay” if Moscow is offering bounties to kill U.S. soldiers or other Western troops in Afghanistan.
    The New York Times in June reported that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including American troops, citing U.S. intelligence officials.
    President Donald Trump said he was not told about the information because many U.S. intelligence officials doubted its veracity, although several U.S. and European sources contradicted his comments.
    In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Pompeo declined to say whether he believed the intelligence was credible or if he thought Trump should have been briefed, but said Washington would not put up with such behavior.
    “If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans, or for that matter other Westerns as well, there will be an enormous price to pay.    That’s what I shared with foreign minister Lavrov,” Pompeo said in the interview, conducted during his official visit to the Czech Republic.
    “I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won’t brook that, we won’t tolerate,” Pompeo said.
    Last month, U.S. and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting said that the United States had acquired fresh reporting backing up the allegations that Russia had encouraged Taliban-affiliated militants to kill U.S. and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
    The intelligence reporting comes as the United States has been engaged in negotiating with the Taliban as well as the Afghan government to get a stalled peace agreement, struck in February for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, moving.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Leslie Adler)

8/12/2020 Russia Says Medics To Get Anti-COVID Shots In Two Weeks, Some Russians Wary by Lev Sergeev and Peter Scott
FILE PHOTO: A handout photo provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows samples of a vaccine
against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology
and Microbiology, in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF)/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday the first batch of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine would be rolled out within two weeks and rejected as “groundless” safety concerns aired by some experts over Moscow’s rapid approval of the drug.
    The vaccine, called “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, has yet to complete its final trials and some scientists said they feared Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.
    “It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that in our opinion are completely groundless,” Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the day after President Vladimir Putin announced it had won regulatory approval.
    On the streets of Moscow, some Russians said they would be too scared to try the vaccine, while others agreed with their government that scepticism expressed by foreign experts was driven by jealousy.
    “I don’t trust Russian vaccines in general, I definitely won’t get vaccinated,” said Ekaterina Sabadash, 36, speaking outside Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.
    Alexander, a photographer, was also wary.    “Until it goes through (final) clinical trials and we get some confirmed results, I would be scared to get it done,” he said.
    Others said they understood why Russia was in a hurry to get a new vaccine and trusted it, but doubted they would really have a say in whether to have it.
    “I’m a teacher and they’ll recommend we get it,” said Irina Fashchevskaya, a Moscow resident.    “We’ll be forced to do it.”
    Officials have said that the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, would be administered to people, including doctors, on a voluntary basis in the final trial.    Mass roll-out in Russia is expected to start in October.
    Scientists from Germany the United States and Britain have queried the wisdom of approving the vaccine before testing is complete, saying it was risky from a safety point of view.
    Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, has spoken of an information war against his country, an assertion that finds sympathy with Russians weary of what they regard as years of Western condescension.     Mikhail Mechyov, a 42-year-old Moscow resident, said he saw jealousy behind Western warnings.
    “It’s natural to be cautious, but they are aimed at belittling the achievement of our country,” he said.    “I think a lot has been done and it’s great there is a vaccine.”
RUSSIAN WARNING
    The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia, had urged the health ministry to postpone the vaccine’s approval until the final trial had been completed.
    “It’s the ambition, the desire to be first in a field in which, unfortunately, Russia cannot vie for a top spot,” executive director Svetlana Zavidova told Reuters.
    “Our task is now to warn the population because we so far don’t understand how they (the authorities) are going to carry out mass vaccination.”
    Final trials, normally carried out on thousands of participants, are considered essential in determining safety and efficacy.    Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful.
    The Philippines and Kazakhstan have expressed interest in the vaccine, while a senior World Health Organization says it has not received enough information to evaluate it.
    Roman, a taxi driver in the Vladimir region, invoked a conspiracy theory to explain why he would be avoiding it.     It’s all about a global plan to put microchips into people being pushed by Bill Gates.    I have zero trust,” he said.
    Heidi Larson, who leads the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), a global surveillance programme on vaccine trust, said she feared Russia’s rush could further dent public trust.
    A survey in 19 countries, carried out by VCP and Business Partners to CONVINCE, a U.S./UK initiative that is partly government funded, is set to show that Russians were the least trusting of vaccines.
    Putin, who said the vaccine had already been administered to one of his daughters without any problems, and a string of other officials have insisted it is safe.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov in Moscow and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

8/12/2020 U.S. Holds Military Drills In Eastern Europe by OAN Newsroom
    Two military exercises were held by the U.S. and several other countries in Eastern Europe this week.
    The Defender Europe 20 was held in northern Poland Tuesday, which had U.S. and Polish troops work together.    The exercise involved more than 500 U.S. soldiers accompanied by 70 armored units and were joined by a smaller detachment of Polish soldiers.
    “We have built on the great successes of the Defender exercises earlier this summer and this is just the latest in the great cooperation between our two nations, proving that we are truly stronger together,” stated Brig. Gen. Brett Sylvia, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division.
    The president of Poland was present during the exercises and expressed his appreciation for Polish troops to be able to exercise with the U.S. military.
    Another separate military training drill was held in Bavaria just a day before.    The Saber Junction 20 drills in Hohenfels involved thousands of military personnel from nine countries and was conducted at a U.S. training grounds.    The annual military exercise had the 173rd Airborne Brigade of the U.S. Army perform tactical loading procedures.
    “Currently, we are conducting Saber Junction 20,” stated senior trainer Phil Lam.    “This is an exercise that the Department of the Army funded, but it’s a United States Army-Europe mandated exercise with over 4,000 participants from eight partner nations.”
The training exercises will take place throughout August and will see the U.S. joined by primarily Baltic countries.
    The two military drills were held amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which for a time also raised concerns on the continuation of the exercises.    They are a reflection of the U.S. efforts to bolster the presence of NATO countries in Eastern Europe against Russia.
    “Look at all of the things we’ve done with NATO, where I’ve raised $130 billion a year from countries that were delinquent and now they’re paying all of this money,” stated President Trump.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper is pictured. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
    Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the relocation of more than 5,000 U.S. troops from Germany to other NATO countries.    The increased military presence in Eastern Europe also marks the effort of NATO to suppress Russian influence in the region.
    Critics have said Russia may use the construction of the Nord Stream II, an oil pipeline running from Russia to Germany, to foster a grip in the region.
    In 2014, Russia also annexed the region of Crimea unchallenged, which the U.S. and NATO are seemingly keen on preventing from happening again in the future.

8/12/2020 Secy. Pompeo Meets With Czech Prime Minister In Prague by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and the Prime Minister of Czech Republic Andrej Babis, right, address the media during
a press conference as part of a meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, Pool)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic to discuss a defense partnership.    Pompeo said he talked with Andrej Babis in Prague Wednesday about Russia’s influence and attempts to corrupt democracy.
    He also thanked Babis for his commitment to NATO.    The officials discussed strengthening the alliance between the U.S. and Czech Republic through military modernization.
    The Czech Republic has committed to replace their Soviet-era air equipment with American-made hardware. Pompeo urged Czech leaders to be wary of influence from China and Russia.
    “Partnering with Russian-Chinese state-owned companies will, in fact, undermine the Czech Republic’s national sovereignty, that’s a great place,” stated the U.S. secretary of state.    “The Czech Republic, like many other free nations on this continent and around the world, it’s begun to see the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party to our hard won liberties.”
    Pompeo said the meeting also focused on cybersecurity.    He went on to thank the prime minister for his renewed commitment to the joint declaration on 5G security.

8/13/2020 Belarus Says Police Detained About 700 Protesters Overnight
Belarusian law enforcement officers patrol the streets as people protest against the
presidential election results, in Minsk, Belarus August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian police detained about 700 people on a fourth night of protests following President Alexander Lukasheko’s contested election victory, the former Soviet republic’s interior ministry said on Thursday.,br>     Security forces have clashed daily with protesters since Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory in a vote on Sunday that his opponents say was rigged.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/13/2020 Hungary Wants EU To Pursue Dialogue, Careful Steps On Belarus
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary wants the European Union to pursue dialogue with Belarus and avoid ostracising it, its foreign minister said on Thursday, after days of violent protests in Minsk where President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory.
    “We are interested in the EU making decisions based on dialogue, which do not make it impossible for the European Union and Belarus to build their relationship in the future, or set back the Eastern Partnership Programme,” Peter Szijjarto said in a Facebook post.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/13/2020 Secy. Pompeo Meets With Leaders In Slovenia by OAN Newsroom
Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor, right, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands and pose for the media prior
to their meeting in Bled, Slovenia, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Pompeo is on a five-day visit to central Europe
with a hefty agenda including China’s role in 5G network construction. (Jure Makovec/Pool Photo via AP)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has continued his tour through central Europe to meet with world leaders about nuclear energies and 5G technology.
    Pompeo met with the Slovenian president and prime minister Thursday to discuss possibilities for closer relations between the U.S. and Slovenia.    The officials signed a bilateral agreement on 5G security, which is directed against Chinese tech giant Huawei.
    Pompeo said the agreement is essential to protecting national security between the U.S. and European nations.
    “And what we want to make sure is as all of us, America too, that we’re getting it right,” he stated.    “That the people who put the infrastructure in place, the countries from which those systems emanate, don’t have ready, easy, automatic mandatory access for their national security system.”
    The U.S. secretary of state will go on to visit Austria to discuss trade as well as global peacekeeping missions.

8/13/2020 Workers From State Factories Join Mass Protests Against Belarus President by Andrei Makhovsky
Believers take part in a religious procession against violence following recent protests to reject the
presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Workers from state-run industrial plants joined tens of thousands of people on a fifth day of protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, despite a violent crackdown that has prompted the West to consider new sanctions.
    Protesters formed human chains and marched in Minsk, joined by at least two television presenters from the tightly-controlled state media who resigned in protest at the violence that followed Lukashenko’s contested re-election.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko is grappling to contain the biggest challenge in years to his rule of the country seen by neighbouring Russia as a strategic buffer against NATO and the European Union.     The protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging last Sunday’s presidential election to win a sixth term.    The president, alleging a foreign-backed plot to destabilise the country, has dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.
    The authorities began releasing some of the thousands of protesters who were detained this week.
    Some of those freed from a detention centre in Minsk had bruises and described being tightly packed inside cells and complained of mistreatment, including beatings.    A spokeswoman for the interior ministry declined immediate comment.
RUSSIA ALLEGES MEDDLING
    Thursday’s protesters were joined by workers from some state-run industrial plants that are the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, including the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) that makes trucks and buses.
    In Minsk, ambassadors from EU countries laid flowers at the site where one protester died, as a crowd cheered and chanted.
    Lukashenko has sought better relations with the West amid strained relations with traditional ally Russia.
    The EU partially lifted sanctions, imposed over Lukashenko’s human rights record, in 2016, but could introduce new measures as early as this month. Germany called on the EU to put pressure on Lukashenko.
    Russia, which has nudged Lukashenko into accepting closer political and economic ties, expressed concern over what it depicted as attempts by external forces to destabilise Belarus.
    “We note unprecedented pressure that is being exerted by individual foreign partners on the Belarusian authorities,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
    “We can see clear attempts of outside meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state to create a rift in society and destabilise the situation,” she told reporters.
    The 65-year-old Lukashenko has ruled for more than a quarter of a century but faces increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – which he dismissed as a “psychosis” – a sluggish economy and human rights.
    Anna Krasulina, spokeswoman for opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania earlier this week saying she feared for the safety of her children, told Reuters she expected Tsikhanouskaya to release a video message later on Thursday.
    Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, has condemned the mass detentions “including bystanders, as well as minors, suggesting a trend of massive arrests in clear violation of international human rights standards.”
    People outside the Okrestina detention centre, some in tears, waited in the hope of gleaning news of friends and relatives inside.    Police and soldiers with machine guns drove them away when they got too close.
    Sergei, one of the freed detainees, said there had been 28 people in a cell that would normally contain five.    Prisoners took turns to sleep, he said, and were given a single loaf of bread to share out over two days.
    “They did not beat me in the cell, they took me out of the cell and beat me there,” said Sergei, who declined to give his last name.
    Reuters could not independently verify his account.
    Vartan Grigoryan, another freed detainee, had injuries on his face.    “I was seized, beaten, taken to prison and beaten again,” he told Reuters.    “After that, I felt bad and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.”
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in Moscow and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

8/13/2020 Polish Pilgrims Head For Holy Site Despite Virus Risks
FILE PHOTO: Catholic worshiper holds a rosary as she takes part in celebrations of the Assumption of Mary at
Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands of Polish pilgrims were making their way to the holiest site in the staunchly Catholic country on Thursday, shrugging off record COVID-19 infection data that has forced authorities to tighten restrictions in some counties.
    Daily recorded cases have topped 800 three times in the past week, far above earlier levels, leading authorities to cancel big events and urge Poles taking advantage of the sunshine to follow social distancing and sanitary guidelines.
    Singing songs and carrying banners, people converged on the Jasna Gora monastery in the southern city of Czestochowa, where the Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon has been venerated by pilgrims since the Middle Ages.
    The feast of Assumption, marked by Catholics as the day when Jesus’ mother Mary rose into heaven, falls on August 15.
    Extra measures in place this year include volunteers disinfecting surfaces and stalls offering free hand sanitizer.
    “Pilgrims can come to us and get a free mask if they have forgotten to take one, they can drink water and they can measure their temperature,” Marta, a volunteer standing at a stall next the road in Czestochowa told private broadcaster TVN.
    An estimated 16,000 pilgrims will visit the monastery in August, according to Polish state-run news agency PAP.
    Some have split in to smaller groups, each walking a section of the route for a day before heading home and leaving another group to take up the journey, to avoid crowding.
    However, some fear that this year’s event could lead to an increase in cases in the city of over 220,000 people.    Outbreaks in Malaysia, South Korea and the United States have followed religious gatherings.
    “The mayor made an appeal to pilgrims to visit Czestochowa, but next year,” said Rafal Kusal, head of Czestochowa’s Crisis Management Department.
    “They are welcome, but the recent increase in the number of cases may cause outbreaks of infection in the city.”
(Writing by Alan Charlish; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

8/13/2020 Protesters Freed In Belarus Speak Of Prison Beatings by Andrei Makhovsky
Armenian citizen Vartan Grigoryan, who was detained and injured during recent protests against the presidential election results,
poses for a picture outside a detention centre in Minsk, Belarus August 13, 2020. The man gave an explanation that he hadn't participated
in the protests or clashes and arrived at the detention centre in search of his confiscated documents. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters freed from a detention centre in the Belarusian capital Minsk spoke on Thursday of having suffered beatings, cramped conditions and starvation rations.
    As the European Union prepares to consider possible sanctions against the Belarusian authorities over a crackdown on demonstrators angry over what they believe was a rigged presidential election on Sunday, some protesters walked free from the Okrestina detention facility.
    Sergei, one of the freed detainees, said there had been 28 people in a cell that would normally hold five.    Prisoners took turns to sleep, he said, and were given a single loaf of bread to share out over two days.
    “They did not beat me in the cell, they took me out of the cell and beat me there,” said Sergei, who declined to give his last name.
    Reuters could not independently verify his or other accounts and a spokeswoman for the interior ministry declined to comment.
    Election officials have declared Alexander Lukashenko, the veteran incumbent, as the winner.    But protesters say he swindled the election which they say was actually won by opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
    Lukashenko has described protesters as criminals and unemployed trouble-makers and said anyone breaking the law will be punished severely.
    Vartan Grigoryan, another freed detainee, had traces of severe beatings on his face.
    “I was seized, beaten, taken to prison and beaten again.    After that, I felt bad and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.”
    Lyudmila, a patient in a nearby hospital, said she could hear the protesters suffering.
    “We hear screams every night, terrible screams, for a very long time.    It was especially scary yesterday, with people screaming so loudly that it seemed people were being beating very close to us.“
    Another freed detainee, 34-year-old Ilya, told Reuters of the raw aggression exhibited by prison guards.
    “If someone in the cell started being noisy or shouting, they were taken down to this corridor as an example and beaten half to death so that everyone could hear.”
(additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/13/2020 EU Eyes Sanctions Over Disputed Belarus Election ‘As Soon As End-August’ by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will likely impose new sanctions on Belarus as soon as later this month, diplomats and officials said, after President Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on protests triggered by a disputed election.
    Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden have spoken publicly in favour of sanctions and Austria was another hawk, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of emergency talks between EU foreign ministers on Friday.
    Security forces have clashed with protesters in Minsk and other Belarusian cities in recent days after Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory in a vote on Sunday that his opponents say was rigged.    Police have detained around 6,000 people.
    With any EU decision on sanctions requiring unanimity of all the 27 member states, Hungary was the main sceptic, according to the sources.    Hungary on Thursday called on the bloc “to pursue dialogue with Belarus and avoid ostracising it.”
    Suggesting it could agree to some restrictions, however, Budapest passed up the opportunity to block a statement earlier this week on behalf of all EU countries that specifically mentioned sanctions “against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results” as an option.
    “The direction of travel seems clear. How many people would be blacklisted, how deep we go will largely depend on Hungary,” said one EU diplomat in Brussels.
    No final decision was expected on Friday, but the response could be finalised within days after another discussion among EU foreign ministers due in Berlin on Aug. 27-28, the sources said.
    Germany’s Heiko Maas said earlier this week the EU might need to reinstate some of the sanctions it had previously placed on Belarus over its human rights record, before lifting them partially in 2016 after Lukashenko released political prisoners.
    On Thursday, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics joined the growing chorus of those calling for “individual sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for crackdown of protests and election fraud.”
    Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century, denies electoral fraud and has accused the protesters of being in cahoots with foreign backers from Russia and elsewhere to topple his government.
NARROW SANCTIONS
    As was the case with EU sanctions on Russia and the people held responsible for Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the turmoil in east Ukraine, the sources said sanctions on Belarus would come in the form of travel bans and the freezing of assets held in the bloc.
    “There has been no signal that any EU country wants to block some restrictive measures because the violence is blatant,” said an EU official close to the matter.
    “What we need to assess is the level of pressure that would be useful versus what would be counterproductive and risk pushing Lukashenko into Russia’s arms if he sees this as his only possibility to stay in power.”
    In the narrower option, only some officials at the Belarusian election body or security forces who oversaw clashes with protesters could be sanctioned.    In a broader version, curbs could also be placed on government officials such as the interior minister, the sources said.
    As the EU weighs its options, one of the bloc’s leading Russia hawks, Poland, called for support to protesters, including possible mediation between them and Lukashenko, rather than a much tougher line.
    Warsaw is wary of a repeat of the 2013/2014 street protests in Kyiv, which the EU and the United States supported and Russia then used as an excuse to annex Crimea from Ukraine before backing separatists in the industrial east of the country.
    That suggests a narrower set of sanctions may be more likely for the time being, the sources said, also pointing to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visit to Minsk in June when he called for the remaining EU sanctions on Belarus to go.
    For the time being, EU restrictive measures on Belarus include an arms embargo as well as a ban on exporting equipment that can be used for internal repression.
(Reporting and writing by Gabriela Baczynska, additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest and Gederts Gelzis in Riga; Editing by Alex Richardson)

8/14/2020 ‘We Don’t Need War’: Belarus Releases Detainees In Bid To Quell Protests by Andrei Makhovsky and Vasily Fedosenko
Believers take part in a religious procession against violence following recent protests to reject
the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – The Belarusian leadership began releasing thousands of detainees and issued a rare public apology on Thursday in a bid to quell nationwide street protests that pose the biggest challenge to strongman President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.
    Hundreds of friends and relatives, many of them in tears, stood outside a detention centre in Minsk waiting to give food, water and blankets to people emerging from inside in the early hours of Friday.
    Some of the protesters had bruises and described being tightly packed inside cells and complained of mistreatment.    Deputy Interior     Minister Alexander Barsukov denied the prisoners were abused and said all detainees would be freed by morning.
    At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 were detained this week in a crackdown following Lukashenko’s contested re-election that has prompted the West to consider new sanctions on Minsk.
    “I take responsibility and apologise for injuries of random people at the protests who got it in the neck,” said Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Karayev.
    Tens of thousands of protesters on Thursday were joined by workers from some state-run industries that are the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, including the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) that makes trucks and ?buses.
    Footage showed them chanting “elections” and “go away.”    Local media also reported protests at the state-run haulage and earthmoving equipment manufacturer BelAZ in a town northeast of Minsk, and at the Grodno Azot chemical plant.
    Protesters formed human chains and marched in the capital, backed by at least 10 television presenters and reporters from the tightly controlled state media who resigned in solidarity.
    The protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging last Sunday’s presidential election to win a sixth term.    The president, alleging a foreign-backed plot to destabilise the country, has dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.
    But another presidential ally, the head of a national state council Natalya Kochanova, said on Thursday that     Lukashenko had ordered an urgent review of the detentions.
    “We don’t fight, we don’t need war,” she said.
RUSSIA ALLEGES MEDDLING
    In Minsk, ambassadors from EU countries laid flowers at the site where one protester died, as a crowd cheered and chanted.
    “We are here to mourn the loss of life and also to show solidarity with the victims of the violence and abuse that has taken place over many Belarusian towns and cities over the last few days,” EU envoy Dirk Schuebel told reporters afterwards.
    Lukashenko has sought better relations with the West amid strained ties with traditional ally Russia.
    The EU partially lifted sanctions, imposed over Lukashenko’s human rights record, in 2016, but could introduce new measures as early as this month.    Germany called on the EU to put pressure on Lukashenko.
    Russia, which has nudged Lukashenko into accepting closer political and economic ties, expressed concern over what it depicted as attempts by external forces to destabilise Belarus.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, the 65-year-old Lukashenko has faced increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – which he dismissed as a “psychosis” – a sluggish economy and human rights.
    Sergei, one of the freed detainees, said there had been 28 people in a cell that would normally contain five.    Prisoners took turns to sleep, he said, and were given a single loaf of bread to share out over two days.
    Reuters could not independently verify his account.
    “They did not beat me in the cell, they took me out of the cell and beat me there,” said Sergei, who declined to give his last name.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Vasily Fedosenko in Minsk; Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson, Giles Elgood, Grant McCool and Michael Perry)

8/14/2020 U.S. Envoy To Uzbekistan Urges Release Of Detained Journalist
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan has urged the Central Asian nation and its neighbour Kyrgyzstan to set free an Uzbek journalist detained on suspicion of anonymously criticising the government on social media.
    Western governments have rarely criticised Uzbekistan since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in late 2016, praising him for opening up the previously isolated nation of 34 million and releasing some prominent dissidents from prison.
    But the U.S. ambassador to Tashkent, Daniel Rosenblum, said he was “deeply concerned” by the case of Bobomurod Abdullayev, who was detained this month in Kyrgyzstan at Uzbekistan’s request.
    Abdullayev has told Kyrgyz media he was accused of being behind an anonymous Facebook account which published allegations of corruption among senior Uzbek officials.    Uzbekistan is now seeking his extradition.
    “The governments of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan should respect Mr. Abdullayev’s freedom of movement and allow him to depart the Kyrgyz Republic to his destination of choice,” Rosenblum tweeted late on Thursday.
    “President Mirziyoyev spoke eloquently about media freedom and journalists’ rights in his Constitution Day speech last December, and many times since.    The U.S. agrees that a free and independent media is indispensable to a functioning democracy.”
    Abdullayev came to prominence in a landmark case in 2018 when an Uzbek court cleared him of charges of conspiring against the government, although he was still sentenced to community service for anti-government propaganda.
    His case highlighted the thaw initiated under Mirziyoyev following the 27-year rule of his predecessor Islam Karimov who had tolerated no dissent and whose poor human rights record had drawn strong criticism from Western countries.
    Mirziyoyev became president in 2016 after Karimov’s death.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/14/2020 Belgian Hospitals Stock Up On Drugs, Kits For Possible Second COVID Wave by Clement Rossignol and Christian Levaux
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian hospitals are stockpiling drugs and protective kits and putting in place contingency plans amid a continuing spike in new COVID-19 infections that has forced the capital Brussels to make face masks compulsory in public spaces.
    With nearly 10,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, Belgium with a population of 11 million has one of the world’s highest death rates from COVID-19 per head.
    New infections have risen steadily in recent weeks, with Belgium now reporting one of the highest number of cases per inhabitants of any European country and prompting fears of a second wave.
    In March and April when the pandemic accelerated, Belgian hospitals struggled with a shortage of equipment and with administrative hurdles.
    They have learned their lesson since then, said chief physician Michel Dewever at the Delta Hospital in Brussels, which has 500 doctors and 500 beds and is part of the Chirec Hospital Group.
    “We have stocked up on curare, anesthetics and antibiotics that allow us to last for two or three months during any second wave that might arise,” he said.
    “We have built up a stock of protective equipment for all the staff, whether it be gloves, gowns or masks.    We received part of this inventory from the government.    We also bought part of it,” Dewever said.
    The Group has amassed 20,000 masks, 700,000 gloves, 50,000 single use aprons and 5,000 reusable aprons.
    Delta Hospital’s contingency plan includes making more beds in the intensive care unit available for COVID-19 patients.
(Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/14/2020 Putin Proposes World Powers Summit To Avoid U.N. ‘Confrontation’ Over Iran by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia August 11, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday proposed a video summit with the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Iran in a bid to avoid “confrontation and escalation” at the United Nations, where Washington is trying to extend an arms embargo on Tehran.
    “The issue is urgent,” Putin said in a statement, adding that the alternative was “only further escalation of tensions, increasing risk of conflict – such a scenario must be avoided.”
    When asked if he would take part, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters: “I hear there’s something, but I haven’t been told of it yet.”
    French President Emmanuel Macron is open to taking part in a video summit, the Elysee palace said.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council will announce later on Friday the result of a vote on a U.S.-drafted resolution to extend the weapons ban.    Diplomats say it is bound to fail and put the fate of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers further at risk.
    If the United States is unsuccessful it has threatened to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran using a provision in the nuclear deal, known as snapback, even though Washington quit the accord in 2018.    Diplomats say the United States could try to do this as early as next week.
    Putin said Russia, which is an ally of Iran in the Syrian civil war, remained fully committed to the nuclear deal and that the aim of a video summit would be “to outline steps that will allow to avoid confrontation and escalation of the situation in the security council.”
    He also said leaders could discuss establishing “reliable security and confidence building measures in the Persian Gulf” adding that this could be “achieved if we combine the political will and constructive approach of all our states and the states in the region.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump wants to negotiate a new deal with Iran that would prevent it from both developing nuclear weapons and curb its activities in the region and elsewhere.    He dubbed the 2015 nuclear deal – reached by the Obama administration – “the worst deal ever.”
    The 13-year-old arms embargo is due to expire in October.
    Diplomats warn that if the United States triggers a sanctions snapback the process would be tough and messy.    They say several countries would argue that Washington legally could not activate a return of sanctions and therefore simply would not reimpose the measures on Iran themselves.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Michel Rose; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alistair Bell)

8/14/2020 Protests Swell In Belarus, Lukashenko Blames Foreigners by Andrei Makhovsky
Employees of Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) are seen through an entrance checkpoint during a gathering to protest against
presidential election results and to demand re-election in Minsk, Belarus August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday told people to stay at home to avoid becoming “cannon fodder” for what he said were foreign-backed revolutionaries after huge crowds took to the streets for a sixth consecutive day to demand he step down.
    Lukashenko, whose claimed landslide re-election victory last Sunday has been branded a fraud by protesters, has failed to quell days of street demonstrations against him despite security forces tough response against demonstrators.
    Opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who earlier this week fled to neighbouring Lithuania under severe pressure, called on Friday for more protests and an election recount.
    That heaped more pressure on the authoritarian leader as he faces the biggest challenge in his 26 years in power.
    He showed no signs of backing down.
    “Don’t throw yourselves onto the streets.    You must understand that you are being used, and our children are being used, like cannon fodder,” Lukashenko said in televised remarks.
    “Today people have come from Poland, the Netherlands, Ukraine and from Russia.    Aggression against our country has already begun,” he said, suggesting anti-Kremlin activists were trying to whip up trouble.
    He had earlier joked that he was alive and had not fled abroad.
    In a video posted on social media on Friday, Tsikhanouskaya asked her supporters to demand an official investigation into allegations that Lukashenko had rigged the presidential election.
    “Belarusians will never again want to live with the old authorities,” she said.    “Let’s defend our choice. Don’t stay on the sidelines.    Our voices need to be heard.”
    At least two protesters were killed and thousands detained in this week’s crackdown.    The European Union on Friday took its first step towards imposing new sanctions on Belarus, with a diplomatic source saying member states had agreed to task its foreign policy unit with preparing a list of individuals to be blacklisted.
    Tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a sixth consecutive day on Friday demanding that Lukashenko step down.    Protesters were joined by workers at some of the state-owned industrial plants that are the centrepiece of his Soviet-style economic model.
    As the crowd converged on the parliament building on Independence Square in Minsk, at least two helmeted security officers lowered their riot shields, prompting women to run forward to hug them and offer flowers.
    In a carnival atmosphere, marchers held up balloons, flags and placards saying “we will not forget, we will not forgive.”    Horns from passing cars blared in solidarity.
    In a rare climbdown, the government had earlier apologised for the use of force as it freed more than 2,000 protesters from detention.
    Several bore heavy bruises and complained of beatings, cramped conditions and starvation rations inside the cells.    The government denied abusing detainees.
‘GO AWAY’
    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for sanctions on those “who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus.”
    Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei told his Swiss counterpart in a call that Minsk was ready for “constructive and objective dialogue with foreign partners” about issues related to the election, the state news agency BelTA reported.
    Russia, which has nudged Lukashenko into accepting closer political and economic ties, has expressed concern over what it depicted as attempts by external forces to destabilise Belarus.
    Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday Belarus had returned a group of 32 Russian nationals after detaining them and accusing them of being mercenaries out to destabilise Belarus.
    Lukashenko, a 65-year-old who once ran a Soviet collective farm, has faced increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as a sluggish economy and civil rights.
    The official election result handed him a landslide victory with 80% of the vote, compared to around 10% for Tsikhanouskaya.    Washington said the vote “was not free and fair.”
    Thousands of workers protested on Friday at the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ), which makes trucks and buses, chanting “Shame on you!” and “Go!,” echoing the unrest seen at several major factories this week.
    Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity a few weeks ago to take her husband’s place in the election campaign after he was jailed.    She has now led some of the biggest protests against Lukashenko since he came to power with the fall of the Soviet Union.
    Shortly after the election, she fled to Lithuania, saying it was for the sake of her children.    On Friday, she called for the international community to facilitate talks with the authorities and said she wanted to set up a council to enable a transfer of power, a proposal that was swiftly endorsed by the president of Lithuania.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Vasily Fedosenko in Minsk; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Andrew Osborn, Alexander Marrow and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm; Writing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)

8/14/2020 Bulgarian PM Calls For Constitution Overhaul, Offers To Resign
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov makes a statement on arrival for an
EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called on Friday for an overhaul of the constitution in an apparent effort to defuse weeks of anti-government protests by mostly younger Bulgarians weary of endemic corruption in the European Union member state.
    Three-times premier Borissov promised to resign if lawmakers approved his call for the election of a grand national assembly tasked with voting on a new constitution that should improve the efficiency of the much-criticised judiciary among other changes.
    But protesters as well as opposition left- and right-wing parties who support them, dismissed the proposal as a ploy by Borissov, who has dominated Bulgarian politics since 2009, to win time and stay in power.
    Thousands of Bulgarians have been rallying in central Sofia since early July to demand the resignation of Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. Hundreds have set up tents on three major intersections in the capital.
    “It is time not only to change the political system but to restart the country,” Borissov, 61, leader of the centre-right GERB party, said in a televised national address.
    “The unity, statesmanship and stability of the country are not just words for me,” he said, adding that he understood the protesters’ frustration but said it was being exploited by various political factions and local oligarchs.
    In a separate address to Bulgarians on Friday, President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, slammed his proposal.
    “A debate on the constitution and the future of the country is possible only after the resignations sought by the society and fair, early elections,” said Radev, who will have to appoint an interim government if there are snap polls.
CORRUPTION
    The protesters accuse Borissov of eroding state institutions to serve the interests of private business interests and say Geshev has failed to wage a genuine war on high-level graft.
    Transparency International ranks Bulgaria as the most corrupt country in the 27-nation EU.
    Two-thirds of Bulgaria’s 240 deputies need to vote to approve calling an election for a grand national assembly and debates before the body can take up to five months.
    It is not clear whether Borissov will be able to muster the support of 160 lawmakers needed for the move.
    Borissov’s proposals include cutting the mandate of the chief prosecutor and the heads of top courts to five years from seven and overhauling Bulgaria’s top judicial body to boost its independence and the accountability of prosecutors and judges.
    A new constitution should also halve the number of parliamentary deputies to 120, he said.
    Political analysts said Borissov’s plan could help strengthen his position.
    “If parliament approves it, it is good for him – he can quit with dignity.    If it does not, he gets credit at least for trying.    He also gains time and stays in office while taking over the main goals of the protests,” said analyst Parvan Simeonov.
    Borissov has previously said his coalition government should serve its full four-year term until next March to avoid plunging Bulgaria into “political chaos” during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

8/14/2020 Hungarian Opposition Unites To Challenge PM Orban In 2022 by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a European Council
meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s six main opposition parties will form an alliance for the 2022 election and, if they manage to unseat premier Viktor Orban, aim to govern in a coalition, they said in a joint statement.
    Orban, who has clashed with Western allies over the rule of law and stifling of dissent, has extended his Fidesz party’s influence over the course of three landslide election victories since 2010 against a weak and fragmented opposition.
    In municipal elections last fall, however, opposition parties fielded joint candidates in many districts around the country and upset Fidesz in key constituencies, including for the mayor of the capital Budapest.
    The new mayor of Budapest said his victory, based on a primary contest and then a joint effort by all opposition parties, was a blueprint to challenge Orban.
    Recent polls indicate that about half all active voters support Orban and half want an opposition victory.    That count does not include undecided voters, who represent about a third of those eligible to vote and could sway the race.
    “The opposition parties have heard their voters and party chairs today began official consultations to prepare for the 2022 parliamentary election,” the parties said in identical statements.
    They will field joint candidates in all 106 constituencies, establish a joint programme and govern together if they succeed, they said.
    Publicus Research, which has measured support for opposition parties as well as a potential opposition alliance, showed that an alliance already has a narrow poll lead over Fidesz, which would beat the cumulative result of separate opposition parties by 5-6 percentage points.
    “This proposition is more credible than anything the opposition has put forward recently,” Publicus director Andras Pulai told Reuters.
    Peter Marki-Zay, an opposition mayor and leader of a group that promotes unifying the opposition, said Fidesz would have lost almost half the constituencies in 2018 against a single opponent.
    “This is a milestone,” he said at the introduction of a joint opposition candidate for an October by-election.    “We have reason to hope Fidesz will never have a super-majority again.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/14/2020 Belgian Hospitals Stock Up On Drugs, Kits For Possible Second COVID Wave by Clement Rossignol and Christian Levaux
Veronique Van Laer, general store manager at the CHIREC Delta Hospital shows a protective suit, part of the hospital strategic
reserve, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian hospitals are stockpiling drugs and protective kits and putting in place contingency plans amid a continuing spike in new COVID-19 infections that has forced the capital Brussels to make face masks compulsory in public spaces.
    With nearly 10,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, Belgium with a population of 11 million has one of the world’s highest death rates from COVID-19 per head.
    New infections have risen steadily in recent weeks, with Belgium now reporting one of the highest number of cases per inhabitants of any European country and prompting fears of a second wave.
    In March and April when the pandemic accelerated, Belgian hospitals struggled with a shortage of equipment and with administrative hurdles.
    They have learned their lesson since then, said chief physician Michel Dewever at the Delta Hospital in Brussels, which has 500 doctors and 500 beds and is part of the Chirec Hospital Group.
    “We have stocked up on curare, anesthetics and antibiotics that allow us to last for two or three months during any second wave that might arise,” he said.
    “We have built up a stock of protective equipment for all the staff, whether it be gloves, gowns or masks.    We received part of this inventory from the government.    We also bought part of it,” Dewever said.
    The Group has amassed 20,000 masks, 700,000 gloves, 50,000 single use aprons and 5,000 reusable aprons.
    Delta Hospital’s contingency plan includes making more beds in the intensive care unit available for COVID-19 patients.
(Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/15/2020 U.S. Loses Iran Arms Embargo Bid As Putin Pushes Summit To Avoid Nuclear Deal Showdown by Michelle Nichols and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia August 11, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    NEW YORK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States lost a bid on Friday to extend a U.N. arms embargo on Iran as Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a summit of world leaders to avoid “confrontation” over a U.S. threat to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Tehran.
    In a U.N. Security Council vote, Russia and China opposed extending the weapons ban, which is due to expire in October under a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.    Eleven members abstained, including France, Germany and Britain, while Washington and the Dominican Republic were the only yes votes.
    “The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
    China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said in a statement after the vote that the result “once again shows that unilateralism receives no support and bullying will fail.”
    The United States could now follow through on a threat to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran using a provision in the nuclear deal, known as snapback, even though President Donald Trump abandoned the accord in 2018.    Diplomats have said the United States could do this as early as next week, but would face a tough, messy battle.
    “In the coming days, the United States will follow through on that promise to stop at nothing to extend the arms embargo,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said in a statement.
    Diplomats have said such a move would put the fragile nuclear deal further at risk because Iran would lose a major incentive for limiting its nuclear activities.    Iran already has breached parts of the nuclear deal in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the pact and unilateral sanctions.
    Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi warned the United States against trying to trigger a return of sanctions.
    “Imposition of any sanctions or restrictions on Iran by the Security Council will be met severely by Iran and our options are not limited.    And the United States and any entity which may assist it or acquiesce in its illegal behavior will bear the full responsibility,” he said in a statement.
‘THE ISSUE IS URGENT’
    Putin on Friday proposed a video summit with the United States and the remaining parties to the nuclear deal – Britain, France, China, Germany and Iran – to try to avoid further “confrontation and escalation” at the United Nations over Iran.
    “The issue is urgent,” Putin said in a statement, adding that the alternative was “only further escalation of tensions, increasing risk of conflict – such a scenario must be avoided.”
    Asked if he would take part, Trump told reporters, “I hear there’s something, but I haven’t been told of it yet.” French President Emmanuel Macron is open to taking part in a video summit, the Elysee palace said.
    The United States has argued that it can trigger a sanctions snapback because a U.N. Security Council resolution enshrining the nuclear deal named Washington as a participant.    But the remaining parties to the deal are opposed to the move.
    Putin said Russia, an ally of Iran in the Syrian civil war, remained fully committed to the nuclear deal and that the aim of a summit would be to outline steps aimed at avoiding “confrontation and escalation of the situation in the Security Council.”
    Trump has said he wants to negotiate a new deal with Iran that would prevent it from developing nuclear weapons and also curb its activities in the region and elsewhere.    Trump, who has walked away from a series of international agreements, has dubbed the 2015 nuclear deal – reached under his predecessor Barack Obama – “the worst deal ever.”
    Diplomats have said several countries would argue that the United States legally could not activate a return of sanctions and therefore simply would not reimpose the measures on Iran themselves.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Michel Rose; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)

8/15/2020 Russian City Holds Sixth Anti-Kremlin Protest Over Detained Governor
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on
murder charges, in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – About 2,000 people joined another march in the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday in protest over President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a local political crisis.
    Residents of Khabarovsk, around 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, were protesting for a sixth consecutive weekend against the detention of Sergei Furgal, the region’s popular governor.
    Furgal was arrested on July 9 in connection with murder charges he denies.    His supporters say the detention is politically motivated.
    People marched on Saturday with posters reading “Our choice” and “Freedom to Furgal.”    Regional authorities estimated around 2,000 people took part, a smaller turnout than previous weeks.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/15/2020 Baltic Leaders Urge Belarus To Hold ‘Free And Fair’ Elections
A participant embraces a member of Belarusian Interior Ministry troops, who stands guard during an opposition
demonstration to protest against police violence and to reject the presidential election results near
the Government House in Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called on Belarus on Saturday to conduct new “free and fair” elections as protests swelled against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed poll victory.
    A new vote should be held transparently with the participation of international observers, the leaders said in a statement after meeting in Estonia.
    Lukashenko’s claimed landslide re-election victory last Sunday has been branded a fraud by protesters, and the European Union took the first step on Friday towards imposing new sanctions on Belarus over it.
    Opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania early on Tuesday, has called for more protests and an election recount.
    Friday marked a sixth consecutive day of street demonstrations against Lukashenko.
    Facing the biggest challenge to his authority during his 26 years in power, he has warned people to stay at home to avoid becoming “cannon fodder” for what he has labelled foreign-backed revolutionaries.
    The Baltic leaders urged Belarus to refrain from violence and release political prisoners and detained protesters.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/15/2020 Baltic PMs Urge Belarus To Hold ‘Free And Fair’ Elections
.
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting on construction industry
in Minsk, Belarus August 14, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Saturday called on Belarus to conduct new “free and fair” elections as protests swelled against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed poll victory.
    A new vote should be held “in a transparent way with the participation of international observers”, the leaders said in a joint statement after meeting in Estonia.
    They urged Belarus to refrain from violence and release political prisoners and detained protesters.    They also called for European Union sanctions on those responsible for violence.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

8/15/2020 U.S. Signs Military Agreement With Poland, Moving Troops From Germany by OAN Newsroom
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, center, and Poland’s Minister
of Defence Mariusz Blaszczak pose for the media after signing the US-Poland Enhanced Defence Cooperation
Agreement in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday Aug. 15, 2020. (Janek Skarzynski/Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finished his diplomatic tour in Central Europe by meeting with officials in Poland.    He signed a defense agreement with polish officials on Saturday, which will allow U.S. troops from Germany to be redeployed into Poland.
    According to President Andrzej Duda, the new agreement will increase security across Europe.
    “A point of importance is the fact that it is not only the U.S. who benefits from this military cooperation, energy cooperation,” he stated.    “Of course, we are the benefactors, but it will also serve to increase the security of other countries in our part of Europe.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Poland’s Minister of Defence Mariusz Blaszczak sign the US-Poland Enhanced Defence
Cooperation Agreement in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday Aug. 15, 2020. (Janek Skarzynski/Pool via AP)
    More than 4,500 U.S. troops are currently based in Poland, with an additional 1,000 to be sent to the country.
    This week, Pompeo also met with diplomatic officials from the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Austria.

8/15/2020 Russians Mark 6th Weekend Of Protests Against Governor Furgal’s Arrest by OAN Newsroom
A man holds poster reading “Putinizm” during an unsanctioned protest in support of Sergei Furgal, the
governor of the Khabarovsk region, who was interrogated and ordered held in jail for two months, in Khabarovsk,
6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
    Around 2,000 people in eastern Russia rallied on Saturday against the arrest of a local governor as part of ongoing demonstrations in the region.    According to reports, the protest marked the sixth consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the arrest of Sergei Furgal.
People hold various posters supporting Khabarovsk region’s governor Sergei Furgal, during an unsanctioned protest in support
of Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region, who was interrogated and ordered held in jail for two months,
in Khabarovsk, 6100 kilometers (3800 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Igor Volkov)
    Furgal was taken into custody at the beginning of July over murder charges, which his supporters believe are politically motivated.
    Supporters claimed he was removed from office after defeating an ally of President Vladimir Putin in 2018.
    “We want Sergei Ivanovich Furgal to be freed.    Our governor we voted for, who is now in Lefortovo (Detention Center) probably being tortured.    …We believe that he did not kill anybody, did not order to kill anybody.    Those murders, it is doings of criminals.    Sergei Ivanovich has nothing to do with it.” – Unnamed protester
    Protesters also voiced support for demonstrations against the disputed presidential vote in neighboring Belarus.

8/16/2020 Lukashenko Under Pressure As Rival Protests Planned In Belarus Capital by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting at a Strategic Management Centre of the
Defence Ministry in Minsk, Belarus August 15, 2020. Maxim Guchek/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was under growing pressure on Sunday with rival protests due to converge on the capital a week after a contested presidential election that has thrown his country into turmoil.
    Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, has faced down a week of street demonstrations and refused demands for a re-run of an election protesters say was massively rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support.
    He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.
    Often emotional in state TV appearances, the 65-year-old leader has alleged a foreign-backed plot to topple him.    He has also cited promised military support from Russian President Vladimir Putin if necessary, something the Kremlin has not confirmed.
    Russia, which has had a troubled relationship with Lukashenko, is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is also viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.
    The EU is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to a violent crackdown in which at least two protesters have been killed and thousands detained.
    Protesters show no signs of backing down.
    Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s opposition rival in the contested election, has called for a huge “March of Freedom” through the centre of Minsk, the Belarusian capital, starting at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
    Like previous protests, it is expected to culminate on Independence Square outside the main government building.
    Just two hours before that, at 0900 GMT, Lukashenko supporters are expected to hold a pro-government rally in central Minsk — setting the stage for potential confrontation between the two groups.
    Metal fencing around Independence Square was being installed on Sunday morning with agricultural vehicles used to close off nearby roads.
    Opposition media channels say Lukashenko, a onetime manager of a Soviet-era collective farm, plans to bus people in from other parts of the country and that they will be coerced into attending.    Reuters could not independently confirm that.
    Videos on social media showed long columns of buses with pro-Lukashenko supporters onboard driving towards Minsk from various regions.
‘WARY RUSSIA’
    In an unusual move, Igor Leshchenya, the Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, declared solidarity with protesters in an undated video posted by Nasha Niva media on Saturday.    Other state employees, including police officers and state TV staff, have also come out in support of the protests.
    Some of the country’s biggest state-run industrial plants, the backbone of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, have been hit by protests and walkouts in the past week.
    Opposition presidential candidate Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania on Tuesday, has called for an election recount.
    Her campaign has also announced she is starting to form a national council to facilitate a power transfer.     Lukashenko and Putin spoke by phone on Saturday.
    Ties between the two traditional allies had been under strain before the election, as Russia scaled back subsidies that propped up Lukashenko’s government.
    The state news agency Belta on Saturday cited remarks by Lukashenko that “at the first request, Russia will provide comprehensive assistance to ensure the security of Belarus in the event of external military threats.”
    A Kremlin statement made no mention of such assistance but said both sides expressed confidence that all problems in Belarus would be resolved soon.
    Statements by both sides contained a pointed reference to a “union state” between the two countries.
    The neighbours signed an agreement in 1999 that was supposed to create a unified state.    That project was never properly implemented however, and more recently Lukashenko had rejected calls by Moscow for closer economic and political ties as an assault on his country’s sovereignty.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/16/2020 Polish Nationalists And LGBT Activists Face Off In Warsaw
A pro-LGBT demonstrator waves a rainbow flag as Polish nationalists gather to protest against what they call
"LGBT aggression" on Polish society, in Warsaw, Poland August 16, 2020. Kuba Atys/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Hundreds of Polish nationalists and defenders of LGBT rights faced off against each other on opposite sides of a street in central Warsaw on Sunday.
    The nationalists burnt a rainbow flag, while the LGBT activists painted one on the street.    The groups shouted abuse at each other, separated by a line of several police vans and dozens of policemen.
    The nationalists’ gathering was organised by a far-right movement All-Poland Youth, whose former leader, Krzysztof Bosak, won nearly 7% in the first round of a presidential election in June.
    “This is a toxic ideology, dangerous, revolutionary and radical,” Bosak said in a speech during the gathering.
    Gay rights were part of the most recent election campaign in Poland, a staunchly Catholic country, and the issue is still divisive.
    President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, won re-election in July.    During the campaign he had compared what he called LGBT “ideology” to communist doctrine, sparking criticism at home and abroad.
    Since then there have been numerous protests by LGBT activists in Warsaw, including a massive one earlier this month when several thousand people demanded the release of an LGBT activist accused of hanging rainbow banners over statues and damaging an anti-abortion campaigner’s van.
(Reporting by Anna Koper and Kacper Pempel; Writing by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[In the following Biblical verses this is what the angels of GOD can do as they did in Sodom, so you who are promoting homosexuality, etc. the following is what can happen to you in the near future.
    Genesis 19 KJV 6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
9 And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.
10 But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door.
11 And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.].

8/16/2020 Top Russian And U.S. Diplomats Discuss U.N. Meeting On Iran
FILE PHOTO: 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
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone on Sunday about Russia’s proposal to hold a video summit at the United Nations to discuss Iran, the Russian foreign ministry said.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a video summit with the United States and the remaining parties to a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powera – Britain, France, China, Germany and Iran – to try to avoid further “confrontation and escalation” over Iran at the United Nations. (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by David Goodman)

8/16/2020 Protesters Pack Belarus Capital After Russia Says Military Help Available by Andrei Makhovsky and Andrew Osborn
People attend a rally in support of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko near the Government
House in Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus August 16, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusians chanting “Step down!” filled the centre of the capital Minsk on Sunday in the biggest protest so far against what they said was the fraudulent re-election a week ago of longtime president Alexander Lukashenko.
    Russia said it would offer Lukashenko military help if necessary, but there was no visible police presence at the protest, which attracted around 200,000 people, a Reuters reporter estimated.    At least two protesters have died and thousands have been detained in a crackdown since the vote.
    The atmosphere was celebratory, with people carrying the red and white flags used in Belarus after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union before Lukashenko restored the Soviet version four years later.
    “We all want Lukashenko to step down,” said a 31-year-old worker who gave his name as Alexei.    “For now we are asking, but we will get sick of asking.”
    Opponents of Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, say the vote was rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support.    He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.
    The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had told Lukashenko Moscow was ready to assist Belarus in accordance with a collective military pact if necessary and that external pressure was being applied to the country.
    It did not say where from.
    Shortly before the opposition protest, there was tight security as Lukashenko’s supporters gathered in central Minsk for the first time since the election to watch him give a fiery speech.
    Lukashenko, who has alleged a foreign-backed plot to topple him, said NATO tanks and planes had been deployed 15 minutes from the Belarusian border.
    “NATO troops are at our gates. Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and our native Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections,” he said, adding that Belarus would “die as a state” if new polls were held. “I have never betrayed you and will never do so.”
    NATO said it was closely monitoring the situation in Belarus, but that there was no military build-up at the country’s western border.
    The Belarusian army would hold drills in the west of the country from Aug. 17-20, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
‘JOIN US’
    Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s opposition rival in the contested election, fled to neighbouring Lithuania on Tuesday.    She had called for the huge “March of Freedom” through Minsk and in other towns and cities on Sunday in support of an election recount and is forming a national council to facilitate a power transfer.
    Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition politician who has allied with Tsikhanouskaya, referred to Lukashenko as “the former president,” said he should quit, and appealed to state officials to abandon him.
    “This is your final chance to overcome your fear,” she said.    “We were all scared too.    Join us and we will support you.”
    Thousands of people took part in anti-Lukashenko protests in other towns and cities.
    State employees, including some police officers and state TV staff, have come out in support of the protests and some of the country’s biggest state-run plants, the backbone of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, have been hit by protests and walkouts.
    Around 5,000 people attended an earlier pro-Lukashenko protest, a Reuters reporter estimated.    The Belarusian Interior Ministry put the number at 65,000. ‘MOTHERLAND IN DANGER’
    “The motherland is in danger!” one speaker told the crowd, who chanted: “We are united, indivisible!.”
    “I’m for Lukashenko,” said Alla Georgievna, 68.    “I don’t understand why everyone has risen up against him.    We get our pensions and salaries on time thanks to him.”
    Russia is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.    Lukashenko and Putin have spoken twice this weekend.
    The first leader of independent Belarus who helped oversee the Soviet breakup told Reuters Lukashenko, a one-time manager of a Soviet-era collective farm, had been badly shaken but could still hang onto power with Kremlin backing.
    Stanislav Shushkevich, 85, an old opponent of Lukashenko, dismissed the idea of Russia sending in troops to prop Lukashenko up, saying he had a large, obedient army and well paid loyalists around him.
    The Czech prime minister urged his EU counterparts to help, recalling the crushing of Czech protests by a military invasion led by Moscow in 1968 as well as the peaceful overthrow of communism in 1989.
    “Belarus must not experience what we had in 1968,” Andrej Babis tweeted.    “(The) EU must be active, support Belarusians (and) not to be afraid to stage a similar velvet revolution model (as in) 1989.”
    The EU is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to the crackdown.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow and Robert Muller in Prague; writing by Andrew Osborn; editing by Frances Kerry and Philippa Fletcher)

8/16/2020 Hundreds Gather In Prague, Warsaw To Support Belarus Protesters
A large historical white-red-white flag of Belarus is pictured inside a heart formed by demonstrators during a protest against
the results of the Belarusian presidential election in Prague, Czech Republic, August 16, 2020. REUTERS/David W. Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Crowds gathered in Prague and Warsaw on Sunday to show their support for protesters in Belarus who are demanding President Alexander Lukashenko step down after what they say was his fraudulent re-election a week ago.
    A large white and red Belarusian flag was placed at the centre of a heart formed by around a thousand people gathered in the Czech capital’s Old Town Square, while in Warsaw several hundred formed a kilometres-long human chain.    Standing 1.5 metres from each other, they occupied four major streets in the centre of the Polish capital.
    People in both cities held flags, banners bearing slogans such as “Free Belarus” or portraits of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s rival in the election.
    “I came to support my nation today.    I trust (they will succeed) and send them lots of kisses,” said Hana from Zhlobin in Belarus, who was in the Prague square.    She declined to give her surname.
    Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis meanwhile urged the European Union to help, recalling the crushing of Czech protests by a military invasion led by Moscow in 1968 as well as the peaceful overthrow of communism in 1989.    “Belarus must not experience what we had in 1968,” he tweeted.
    Russia said on Sunday it would offer Lukashenko military help if necessary.    Earlier, Belarusians chanting “Step down!” had filled the centre of the capital Minsk in the biggest protest so far against his re-election a week ago.
    Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki discussed the situation in Belarus on Sunday with Babis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel, the Polish government spokesperson said in a tweet.
    The EU took the first step on Friday toward imposing new sanctions on Belarus over the disputed election and a crackdown on protests that followed, instructing its foreign policy arm to prepare a blacklist of responsible individuals.
    Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, denies electoral fraud.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel in Prague and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/16/2020 Pope Francis Asks For Justice To Be Respected In Belarus
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks during the weekly general audience, held virtually
due to COVID-19 at the Vatican August 12, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday called for justice and rights to be respected in Belarus, where tens of thousands of people have been taking the streets urging President Alexander Lukashenko to quit after a contested presidential election.
    “I appeal for dialogue, to refuse violence and respect justice and rights,” the pontiff said in his Sunday Angelus message, speaking from his balcony in St. Peter’s Square.
    The pope added that his thoughts were with “dear Belarus” and that he had closely followed the situation after the vote.
    The European Union is looking to impose sanction on Belarus as a response to a violent crackdown in which at least two protesters have been killed and thousands detained.
    Pope Francis also said that he kept praying for Lebanon and “other dramatic situations in the world that cause suffering.”
    Lebanon is in turmoil after an Aug. 4 blast at Beirut’s port killed more than 172 people, injured 6,000, left 300,000 homeless and destroyed swathes of a city already in deep financial crisis.

8/17/2020 Belarusian Opposition Politician Tsikhanouskaya Says She Is Ready To Lead Nation by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a photograph of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, which was attached to a fence by participants of a
protest against presidential election results, outside the embassy of Belarus in Moscow, Russia August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she was ready to lead Belarus and called for the creation of a legal mechanism to ensure that a new fair presidential election could be held.
    Speaking in a video address from Lithuania, she also urged security and law enforcement officers to switch sides from President Alexander Lukashenko’s government, saying their past behaviour would be forgiven if they did so now.
    Her video was released a day after Belarusians chanting “Step down!” filled the centre of the capital Minsk in the biggest protest so far against what they said was the fraudulent re-election a week ago of longtime president Lukashenko.
    “I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period,” Tsikhanouskaya said, saying it was essential to make the most of the momentum generated by a week of protests.
    The former English teacher has become one of the leading opposition figures against Lukashenko, who is struggling to contain a wave of mass protests and strikes that pose the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule of the country.
    She fled abroad last week, saying she had done so for the safety of her children, but quickly began releasing new videos calling for anti-government protests to continue.
    The unrest has spread to sections of society normally seen as loyal to the president, as workers from large state factories staged walkouts and some police, journalists from state media, and a sitting ambassador came out in support of the protesters.
    Opponents of Lukashenko say he rigged the Aug. 9 presidential election to secure a sixth term in power.    He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.
    The Kremlin said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told Lukashenko Moscow was ready to assist Belarus in accordance with a collective military pact if necessary and that external pressure was being applied to the country.     It did not say where from.
    Russia is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

8/17/2020 Russia Reports Nearly 5,000 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: People walk along the street as the government eases restrictions imposed to curb the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,892 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, pushing its tally so far to 927,745, the fourth largest in the world.
    Authorities said 55 people had died across the country in the last 24 hours, increasing Russia’s official coronavirus death toll to 15,740.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/17/2020 ‘I’m Not A Saint’: Lukashenko Offers To Hand Over Power After Referendum by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a photograph of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, which was attached to a fence by participants of
a protest against presidential election results, outside the embassy of Belarus in Moscow, Russia August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MINSK (Reuters) – Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, said on Monday he would be ready to hold new elections and hand over power after a constitutional referendum, an attempt to pacify mass protests and strikes that pose the biggest challenge yet to his rule.
    He made the offer, which he insisted would not be delivered on while he was under pressure from protesters, after exiled opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she was willing to lead the country.
    In a sign of his growing vulnerability, Lukashenko faced heckling and chants of “step down” during a speech to workers at one of the large state-run factories that are the pride of his Soviet-style economic model and core support base.
    He faces the threat of European Union sanctions after a bloody crackdown on protests following what demonstrators say was his rigged re-election victory last week.    He denies losing, citing official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.
    The EU is also preparing to send a message to Russia not to meddle, after Moscow told Lukashenko it was ready to provide military help in the event of an external threat.
    Russia is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.    Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke twice this weekend.
    A burly former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko used blunt language while speaking to workers on Monday.
    “We’ve held elections,” he said.    “Until you’ve killed me there won’t be any new elections.”
    But he offered to change the constitution, an apparent concession that seems unlikely to satisfy protesters who say it’s something he has spoken about before.
    “We’ll put the changes to a referendum, and I’ll hand over my constitutional powers.    But not under pressure or because of the street,” Lukashenko said, in remarks quoted by the official Belta news agency.
    “Yes, I’m not a saint.    You know my harsh side.    I’m not eternal.    But if you drag down the first president you’ll drag down neighbouring countries and all the rest.”
    He also said people could hold parliamentary and presidential elections after the referendum if that was what they wanted.
VIDEO ADDRESS
    Speaking in a video address from Lithuania, opposition politician Tsikhanouskaya urged security and law enforcement officers to switch sides.
    “I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
    Her video was released as hundreds of employees from the state broadcaster BT went on strike, as several presenters and staff publicly resigned in solidarity with the protesters.
    The strike came as protests spread to those normally seen as loyal to the 65-year-old president.    Some police, a sitting ambassador, prominent athletes and a former prime minister have also voiced solidarity with the protesters.
    The state broadcaster showed re-runs on Monday morning before issuing a fresh news bulletin.    Videos on social media suggested BT had at one point aired footage of an empty studio with white sofas, and music playing.
    Reuters could not independently confirm that and the broadcaster could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Factory workers waving flags and posters joined protesters to rally outside the building, which was being guarded by security forces.
    “We want to work honestly, we do not want to be forced to lie,” TV host Oleg Titkov told Reuters.
    Thousands of protesters had earlier marched to a factory where Lukashenko flew by helicopter to speak to striking workers.    He got a rough reception.
    “Thanks, I’ve said everything. You can (continue to) shout ‘step down,'” he said, struggling to be heard.
    He then walked away as the crowd chanted “Step down.”
    Media outlet Tut.By showed footage of Lukashenko confronting one worker, saying “I will not beat you up” before adding “if somebody provokes something here, we will sort it out in a hard way.    So, man up.”
    Strike action hit Belaruskali, one of the world’s largest potash producers, partly shutting production, Russia’s TASS news agency cited a local trade union as saying.    The state-owned firm, a key source of dollar revenue for Belarus, said its plant was still working.
    European Union leaders will send a message of solidarity to Belarusian protesters during an emergency video conference on Wednesday, while Britain condemned the violence used “to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent presidential election.”
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Vladimir Soldatkin, Maxim Rodionov and Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Kate Holton in London; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood)

8/17/2020 Czechs Must Wear Face Masks Again In Many Places From September 1, Expect Tough Autumn
FILE PHOTO: Residents dine at a 500-metre-long table spanning across the length of the medieval Charles Bridge as restrictions ease
following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic June 30, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government will make the wearing of face masks compulsory again from Sept. 1 on public transport and in many indoor public venues following a resurgence of coronavirus infections and ahead of what it expects to be a tough autumn.
    The Czech Republic was among the first countries in Europe to order people to wear masks in most public places in March but had gradually lifted the requirement as infections fell in late spring. But infections have again started to trend higher.     “We consider this to be a preventative measure given that we are probably facing a complicated autumn, especially after Sept 1 when there will be high social interaction,” Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Monday, announcing the decision.
    Schools are due to reopen on Sept 1 after the summer vacation.
    The new rules will require people to wear face masks in shops, common areas of schools and in public buildings, though not in the workplace or in restaurants and bars.
    The government has also cut the minimum quarantine requirement to 10 days since meeting an infected person from 14 days.
    The Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7 million, has so far reported around 20,000 COVID-19 cases in total, but just 397 deaths, very low compared to many European countries.
    It currently has 5,816 cases, the highest number ever, but the number of people requiring hospital treatment has continued to decline.    Only 104 people with COVID-19 were in hospital as of Sunday.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/17/2020 Putin, Erdogan Discuss Conflicts In Libya, Syria In Phone Call
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands during their meeting
on sideline of the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany January 19, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed the conflicts in Libya and Syria in a telephone call on Monday.
    The Kremlin said that the two leaders, focused mainly on the crisis in Libya, where they back opposing sides, highlighting the need to make real steps towards a sustainable ceasefire.
    The Turkish presidency said Putin and Erdogan also discussed a dispute between Turkey and Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, saying they “emphasised the importance of continuing close cooperation and dialogue.”
    The Kremlin said they agreed to step up anti-terrorism efforts in Syria, after reports on Monday that a Turkish-Russian joint patrol was hit by a blast in the Idlib region.    The Turkish presidency said Putin and Erdogan agreed to continue dialogue through diplomatic and military channel on Syria.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Dominic Evans)

8/17/2020 Hungary’s Government And Rheinmetall To Produce Armored Fighting Vehicles In Hungary
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Germany's Rheinmetall AG is seen after the Company's 2019 annual
report in Duesseldorf, Germany, March 18, 2020 REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The Hungarian government and German defence company Rheinmetall AG have agreed to set up a joint venture to produce Lynx armored fighting vehicles in Hungary, the government said in a statement published by the state news agency MTI on Monday.
    Hungary is modernizing its military hardware to fulfil its NATO obligations.    The deal is worth more than 2 billion euros, which is the biggest in Hungary’s defence modernization programme, the government said.
    “This partnership means more than modernizing the military,” the government said, adding that the cooperation with a leading European company would help restore Hungary’s military industry.
    Hungary has long vowed to increase its military spending, which as in many NATO countries remains far short of the alliance’s goal of 2 percent of economic output.    Much of its military infrastructure dates back to communist times.
    Hungary last week signed a declaration of intent to buy air defence missiles from U.S. arms manufacturer Raytheon Technologies.    The deal is worth about $1 billion.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

8/18/2020 EU May Impose Sanctions On Belarusian Individuals Over Election, Spain Says
FILE PHOTO: Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez Laya speaks during an interview with
Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, Spain August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina
    MADRID (Reuters) – The European Union is considering imposing sanctions on Belarusian individuals linked to violence and election fraud, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Tuesday.
    EU leaders will discuss the situation in Belarus on Wednesday, she said.
    Massive protests have been held in the country following presidential elections widely seen as fraudulent.
    “We, in Europe, think there is room for sanctions, not against the country or against the country’s citizens, but against the individuals who have instigated violence or election process fraud,” she told Spanish Radio station Onda Cero.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/18/2020 Belarus Opposition Sets Up Council; Lukashenko Decries ‘Attempt To Seize Power’ by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council
in Minsk, Belarus August 18, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – The nascent political opposition in Belarus set up a council inside the country on Tuesday, a move President Alexander Lukashenko denounced as an attempt to seize power 10 days after an election that has triggered mass demonstrations.
    Many of Belarus’s major opposition figures are either in jail or in exile, including presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the country after the vote her supporters say she won.
    Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, braving a crackdown by the authorities, to demand Lukashenko resign.
    Olga Kovalkova, Tsikhanouskaya’s representative at a press conference to launch the new opposition council, said she expected Tsikhanouskaya would soon return to Minsk, to act as a guarantor in a negotiated transition of power.
    “We are operating solely through legal means,” Kovalkova said.    “The situation is critical.    The authorities have no choice but to come to dialogue.    The situation will only get worse.”
    Earlier, in televised remarks to his Security Council of top brass, Lukashenko described the planned opposition council as “an attempt to seize power” and promised “appropriate measures.”
    Since official results declared him the election winner with 80% of the vote, Lukashenko seems to have underestimated the strength of public anger in a country suffering economic hardship and a coronavirus epidemic that he has dismissed.    At least two protesters have been killed and thousands detained.
    There have been increasing signs that the burly former Soviet collective farm boss is losing his grip on the country he has ruled for 26 years, with workers going on strike at state factories long seen as bastions of his support.
    After videos appeared on the internet showing some police officers throwing their uniforms into dustbins, the Interior Ministry acknowledged on Tuesday that some police had quit.
    “We will not judge the small proportion of police officers who have today left the service out of personal convictions,” it said in a statement.    It pleaded for others to stay at their post, saying the public would be left unprotected if “the entire police force today takes off its badges.”
    Earlier on Tuesday, Lukashenko awarded medals “for impeccable service” to law enforcement officials who have helped crack down on protesters.
    Among senior figures to speak against the government was Pavel Latushko, who served as ambassador to Poland, France and Spain under Lukashenko before becoming head of the country’s most prestigious state theatre last year.    He was sacked after expressing outrage at the abuse of detained protesters.
    “In the life of every person there comes a line that cannot be crossed,” he told Reuters on Tuesday in Minsk.    “That moment came for me when I saw people coming out of prisons, talking about the violence against them.    I became ashamed.”
    The entire troupe of actors resigned en masse on Tuesday in solidarity at Latushko’s Janka Kupala National Theatre, where Culture Minister Yuri Bondar met them on stage.    One by one, the actors slammed down a resignation letter and shouted “go away.”    Hundreds of protesters outside cheered as the actors emerged. SHAME
    Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who emerged as an unexpected consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures including her activist husband were jailed or barred from standing in the election, has issued calls via the internet to followers to rise up but remain peaceful.
    “All of this outrageous, unfair lawlessness shows us how this rotten system works, where one person controls everything,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a video on Tuesday.    “One man has kept the country in fear for 26 years.”
    For his part, Lukashenko says the protests are being stirred up from abroad.    The official Belta news agency released a video calling protesters “bought-and-sold scum, prepared to sell their own mothers for $20.”    Lukashenko told his Security Council that the army had gone on full alert at the western borders, describing “internal problems” as part of an external threat.
    Attention is firmly focused on how Russia will respond to the biggest political crisis facing an ex-Soviet neighbour since 2014 in Ukraine, when Moscow intervened militarily after a friendly leader was toppled by public protests.
    Culturally, politically and economically, Belarus is the ex-Soviet republic with the closest ties to Russia, including a treaty that proclaims a “union state” of the two countries with a Soviet-style red flag.    But Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko have had a difficult personal relationship.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and EU foreign policy chief Charles Michel spoke to Putin by telephone on Tuesday.    The Kremlin said Putin warned all three against foreign meddling in the affairs of Belarus.
    The EU is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus officials.    European diplomats say the situation in Belarus is different from Ukraine’s six years ago, in part because the Belarus opposition is not necessarily seeking to loosen ties with Russia, merely to get rid of Lukashenko.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Writing by Peter Graff and Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)

8/18/2020 Ukraine, Israel Urge Hasidic Jews To Cancel Pilgrimage Due To Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man prays in the Ukrainian city of Uman September 12, 2007. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims arrive every year
on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's tomb in Uman. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – The Ukrainian and Israeli governments issued a joint statement on Tuesday asking Israeli Hasidic Jews to cancel their annual pilgrimage to the central Ukrainian town of Uman this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.
    This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept 18-20.
    “Guided by the recommendations and warnings of the Ministries of Health of Ukraine and Israel, we urge all pilgrims who plan to take part in the current festive events on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah in Ukraine to refrain from visiting the city of Uman due to the threatening epidemic situation,” the governments said in the statement.
    It was published on the site of Ukraine’s government and on the Facebook page of the Israeli embassy in Kyiv.
    Ukraine has registered 94,436 coronavirus cases and 2,116 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
    Some regions have had to reimpose some restrictions such as the mandatory wearing of masks due to a jump in the daily number of new cases to above 1,500 last week.
    Ukraine’s health ministry reported 1,616 new cases on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/18/2020 Poland’s Health Minister Resigns After Virus Response Criticised
Poland's Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski reacts during a news conference where he announced his
resignation in Warsaw, Poland August 18, 2020. Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Tuesday he was resigning from his post, the second resignation in two days from the ministry, which has faced growing criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    Szumowski’s approach in the early stages of the pandemic made him Poland’s most trusted politician in April, but his image has been dented by scandals surrounding the purchase of ventilators and masks.
    Szumowski has denied any wrongdoing.
    “I would like to inform you that today I am resigning …I decided it was that time,” he told a news conference, adding that he had initially planned to resign early this year but had stayed on to deal with the developing crisis.
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki later on Tuesday said that he would announce the new health minister’s name by the end of the week.
    The announcement came a day after Deputy Health Minister Janusz Cieszynski announced he was leaving the ministry.
    Both Szumowski and Cieszynski had faced calls to quit over alleged irregularities in buying masks and purchases of ventilators which did not arrive.
    Poland has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, driven in part by outbreaks among coal miners.
    The country of 38 million has reported a total of 57,876 coronavirus cases and 1,896 deaths.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz, Writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/19/2020 Belarus Opposition Urges EU Not To Recognise Election Ahead Of Summit by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks in a video message in an unknown location in Lithuania, in
this still image taken from handout video released August 19, 2020. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Headquarters/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian presidential challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged European Union leaders on Wednesday not to recognise what she called fraudulent election results, saying longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko had lost all legitimacy.
    Tsikhanouskaya was speaking from exile in neighbouring Lithuania before an emergency EU summit, due to be held by video conference, to discuss the crisis unfolding in Belarus, where the Aug.9 election sparked mass protests.
    Tsikhanouskaya says she was the rightful winner of the election and wants new elections to be held under some kind of international supervision.
    “I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections,” Tsikhanouskaya said, speaking in English in a video address.    “Mr. Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world.”
    Lukashenko is struggling to contain the protests and a wave of strikes that pose the biggest challenge to his 26-year-old hold on power.    He denies rigging the election to secure a sixth term.
    The EU has signalled it will impose sanctions on Belarusian officials it deems responsible for election fraud and a crackdown on demonstrations in which at least two protesters have been killed and thousands detained.
    Attention is firmly focused on how Russia will respond to the biggest political crisis facing an ex-Soviet neighbour since 2014 in Ukraine, when Moscow intervened militarily after a friendly leader was toppled by public protests.
    Flight tracking data showed that a Russian government plane used to carry senior government officials, including the head of the FSB security service, had made a quick flight to Belarus and back, landing in Moscow early on Wednesday.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has offered Lukashenko military help if needed, spoke by phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel.
    He warned Merkel and Macron against foreign meddling in the affairs of Belarus, a close Russian ally that carries Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a strategic buffer against the EU and NATO.
‘BELARUS IS NOT EUROPE’
    The EU’s Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said the bloc would take into account the nature of Minsk’s relationship with Russia.
    “Belarus is not Europe, it is on border of Europe, between Europe and Russia, and the situation is not comparable to Ukraine or Georgia.    Belarus is really strongly connected with Russia and the majority of the population is favourable to close links with Russia,” he said.
    Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has offered to visit Minsk in her role as incoming chair of the OSCE, a security body that includes both Western countries and former Soviet states, and often mediates in the region.
    Linde said she had spoken with Tsikhanouskaya who was “very positive” in her reaction to the offer of mediation by the OSCE.
    The protests have spread to some of the country’s major industrial plants that underpin Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model.    Police dispersed a demonstration and detained two people at the Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) plant on Wednesday.
    Local media reported that security forces had taken control of a 19th century theatre in Minsk that became a flashpoint for protests after its director, a former Belarusian diplomat, was fired after speaking out in favour of the protests.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Maria Kiselyova and Rinat Sagdiev in Moscow, Yoruk Isik in Istanbul, Geert De Clercq in Paris and Simon Johnson in Stockholm: Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Philippa Fletcher)

8/19/2020 Russia Reports 4,828 New Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: A restaurant employee wears a protective face shield and mask due to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,828 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, pushing its nationwide tally to 937,321, the fourth largest in the world.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 117 people had died over the last 24 hours, bringing its official death toll to 15,989.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maria Kiselyova; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Tom Balmforth)

8/19/2020 Belarusian Activist To Press Fight Against Lukashenko With Opposition Leader by Joanna Plucinska
Belarusian opposition figure Veronika Tsepkalo is pictured after an interview with
Reuters in Warsaw, Poland, August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Belarusian activist Veronika Tsepkalo plans to meet opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania to discuss their next steps towards ousting President Alexander Lukashenko, but she indicated she would not return to her country soon.
    Tsepkalo also said it could take “some time” for the movement against Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years and has faced mass protests since an election widely viewed as rigged, to succeed in its aims.
    Tsepkalo fled Belarus for neighbouring Poland after the Aug. 9 election upon receiving threats from the government that she would be arrested.
    She was reunited with her husband, Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador to Washington, who was barred from running in the election and fled to Russia with their two sons before the vote.
    Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, took the place of her own activist husband on the ballot after he was jailed. She has fled to neighbouring Lithuania.
    Speaking to Reuters in Warsaw on Wednesday, Tsepkalo said: “The only legitimate president is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.    Our main target, our main aim is just to make Lukashenko go.”
    Tsepkalo said she was looking forward to talks with Tsikhanouskaya in the coming days.
    “I would like to sit down with Sviatlana and discuss the next steps.    Discuss what we are going to do in the near future because we understand the movement which we started, it will be continued for some time.”
    But she indicated she would not herself return to Belarus soon as she feared being arrested.
    “I wish I could go back to Belarus as soon as possible but at the same time I understand the chances of me getting to the jail are very, very high,” she said.
    “If I’m back (in jail) it means my husband will not be able to speak up to the international community anymore.”
    On Wednesday, the European Union held an emergency summit on the crisis, rejecting Lukashenko’s re-election and announcing financial sanctions against officials the EU blames for election fraud and a crackdown on protests.
    Tsepkalo will spend a few days in Warsaw with her family and meeting Polish officials and civil society leaders in an effort to bolster support for the Belarusian protesters before moving on to Lithuania.
    On Wednesday, she and her husband met Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz and will on Thursday meet Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki.
    After the meeting with Czaputowicz, Valery Tsepkalo said he had discussed setting up a Polish-U.S. fund with officials to support Belarusian civil society financially and legally, in particular those who had been wounded in the protests or had lost their jobs.
    “It’s very important for the ordinary people to understand that they would not be left by themselves (with) their problems,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, additional reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/20/2020 Russian Opposition Politician Navalny In Coma After Suspected Poisoning: Spokeswoman by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of
opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments
to the constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was in a coma in a Siberian hospital on Thursday after drinking a cup of tea that his spokeswoman said she believed was laced with poison.
    Navalny, 44, was in intensive care and on an artificial lung ventilator, spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media.
    A fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, Navalny started feeling ill when returning to Moscow from Tomsk in Siberia by plane on Wednesday morning, Yarmysh said.
    “We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea.    It was the only thing that he drank in the morning.    Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid.    Alexei is now unconscious,” Yarmysh said.
    She did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny, but said police had been called to the hospital.
    However, one of the doctors there said it was not certain that he had been poisoned. Doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko said “natural poisoning” was one of several diagnoses being considered and tests were being carried out.
    Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, has served many stints in jail in recent years for organising anti-Kremlin protests and has been physically attacked in the street by pro-government activists.
    He has helped investigations into what he has said are outrageous examples of official corruption.
    Russia holds regional elections next month and Navalny and his allies have been preparing for them, trying to increase support for candidates which they back.
    Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Omsk, said: “We confirm that Alexei Navalny has been hospitalised in Omsk and that doctors assess his condition as serious…Doctors are doing everything possible to stabilise his condition.”
    “The poisoning version is one of several versions being considered.    It’s not possible now to say what the reason was.”
    Passenger Pavel Lebedev posted an account of what he saw on social media.
    “At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back.    He started feeling really sick.    They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain.”
    Navalny had drunk a cup of tea at a Tomsk airport cafe before boarding his flight, Yarmysh said.    The Interfax news agency quoted the cafe’s owners as saying they were checking CCTV cameras to try to establish what had happened.
    Navalny’s plane later made an emergency landing in Omsk so that he could be rushed to hospital.    Footage posted on social media by a fellow passenger showed a motionless Navalny being stretchered into an ambulance by medics.
    S7, the airline he was travelling with, said Navalny had started feeling very ill soon after take-off and the captain had decided to make an emergency landing at a nearby airport.
    He had not eaten or drunk anything on board, it said.
    Yarmysh drew a parallel with an incident last year in which Navalny suffered an acute allergic reaction that one doctor said could have resulted from poisoning with an unknown chemical.
    “Obviously the same has been done to him now,” Yarmysh said.
    The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia’s arrests and detention of Navalny in 2012 and 2014 were politically-motivated and violated his human rights, a ruling Moscow called questionable.
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Alexander Marrow, Gleb Stolyarov and Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSWan)

8/20/2020 Hungary’s Orban Calls For Central Europe To Unite Around Christian Roots by Anita Komuves
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Central European nations should unite to preserve their Christian roots as western Europe experiments with same-sex families, immigration and atheism, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday.
    Orban, a nationalist who has been in power for more than a decade, was speaking at an event to inaugurate a monument commemorating the Treaty of Trianon, which was signed after World War One and led to Europe’s maps being re-drawn.
    “Western Europe had given up on … a Christian Europe, and instead experiments with a godless cosmos, rainbow families, migration and open societies,” Orban said in a speech.
    He said the monument, a 100-metre long and 4-metre wide ramp carved into a street near Budapest’s parliament building, was a call to central European nations to strengthen their alliance and rally around what he called the “Polish flagship.”
    In Poland, Hungary’s main ally in central Europe, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has pursued a socially conservative platform since coming to power in 2015 and made opposing “LGBT ideology” a key plank of its electoral strategy.
    In Hungary, rights groups say hostility to LGBT+ people has increased since Orban won a third term in 2018.
    Orban himself had rarely criticised rainbow, or same-sex families, but Parliament’s speaker – a long-time ally of Orban – had equated gay adoption with paedophilia.
    Last weekend, two rainbow flags were torn down from municipals buildings in Budapest, prompting a warning from the U.S. Embassy that neo-Nazi groups should not be tolerated.
    Many Hungarians still view the Treaty of Trianon as a national trauma because it took away two-thirds of the country’s territory and left millions of ethnic Hungarians living in what are now Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Austria and Ukraine.
    On the walls of the monument, visitors can read the names of more than 12,000 villages and towns that were part of Hungary before the treaty.    A granite block split into several parts encloses a flame.
    Orban has granted citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s borders and also the right to vote in elections as part of his efforts to restore a battered sense of national pride.    Their votes helped Orban secure a strong majority in parliamentary elections.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Alex Richardson)

8/20/2020 Russia Says U.S. Statements On Fresh Imposition Of Iran Sanctions Are Absurd: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attends the Moscow
Nonproliferation Conference in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia described statements by the United States on reimposing U.N. sanctions against Iran as absurd, adding that it has no legal or political grounds to do so, the RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Thursday.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia and China not to disregard the reimposition of all United Nations sanctions on Iran, which President Donald Trump has directed him to trigger at the U.N. Security Council in New York on Thursday.
    Ryabkov added that such a step would result in crisis at the U.N. security council, the Interfax news agency cited him as saying.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/20/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 16,000
FILE PHOTO: A grave digger wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walks after burying a person,
who presumably died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the special purpose section of a graveyard
on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, Russia June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s death toll from the novel coronavirus passed 16,000 on Thursday, as the country reported 110 new deaths in the past 24 hours.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre registered 4,785 new cases, bringing its nationwide tally of infections to 942,106, the world’s fourth highest caseload.
    The death toll now stands at 16,099.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/20/2020 Belarus Launches Criminal Case Against New Opposition Body by Andrey Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council
in Minsk, Belarus August 18, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS
- THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus launched a criminal case on Thursday against a new opposition body, accusing it of an illegal attempt to seize power, a day after President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to sweep the streets of protesters who reject his re-election.
    Belarus is facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of demonstrators rejecting Lukashenko’s victory in an Aug. 9 vote his opponents say was rigged.
    Opponents of Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, unveiled the Coordination Council on Tuesday with the stated aim of negotiating a transfer of power.
    Its dozens of members include a Nobel Prize-winning author and the ousted head of Minsk’s main drama theatre, as well as exiled presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose followers say she won the election.
    The general prosecutor’s office described the body as designed to seize power, and the act of setting it up a threat to national security, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.    No individuals were named as suspects in the case.
    The council said one of its members, Maksim Znak, had been summoned to appear at the Investigative Committee on Friday over the criminal case.    It issued a statement saying its efforts were lawful.
    “The accusation is completely baseless and without foundation.    Our goal is to resolve the crisis without conflict.    We are not calling for the seizure of power,” council member Syarhei Dyleuski, leader of a committee of striking workers at the Minsk Tractor Factory, told Reuters.
SWITCH SIDES
    After days of huge rallies drawing tens of thousands of demonstrators, protests were diminished on Thursday but not halted.
    Lukashenko announced on Wednesday he had ordered police to clear the streets of the capital, although no action was taken against hundreds of protesters who staged a rally in front of the police headquarters later that day.    By lunchtime on Thursday there was still no sign of a decisive security operation.
    In a video message, one of the opposition leaders, Maria Kolesnikova, called on security force members to refuse to obey “illegal orders,” and promised immunity from prosecution if they “switch to the side of the people.”
    Outside the Janka Kupala National Theatre, which has become a focus of rallies since its director was fired for backing the protests and the entire troupe of actors resigned, a group of folk singers were joined by a small crowd in a singalong.
    “Now, no one can simply stay silent, sit at home, observe the mayhem and watch how our people are being killed,” said musician Sergei Dolgushayev.
    Bigger rallies are expected again over the weekend.
OPPOSITION CANDIDATE
    Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old political novice, emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures were barred from standing, including her husband, an activist who has been jailed since May.
    Since the vote, she has fled to neighbouring Lithuania, issuing videos calling for her supporters to rise up peacefully.    Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis met her at his office in Vilnius on Thursday.
    He “assured her that the government, together with its partners in Poland, Latvia and Estonia, are doing and will do everything so that there are free and fair elections in Belarus, and so that her children could as soon as possible hug their dad in freedom,” he wrote on Facebook.
    That drew a thinly veiled rebuke from the Kremlin, which said Moscow would view any contact between foreign officials and the Belarus opposition as interference in Belarusian affairs.
    The crisis in Belarus, Russia’s most loyal neighbour, is a test for the Kremlin, which has to decide whether to try to manage a transfer of power or stick with Lukashenko, the gruff one-time boss of a collective farm in the Soviet era.
    It also poses a challenge to Western leaders, wary of violence six years after a popular uprising in neighbouring Ukraine drew Russian military intervention and triggered Europe’s deadliest ongoing conflict.
    The EU has rejected Lukashenko’s re-election and EU summit chairman Charles Michel spoke with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the latest of several phone calls between Putin and European leaders this week. The Kremlin said Putin had told Michel that pressure on Lukashenko would be counter-productive.
    Of all Russia’s former Soviet neighbours, Belarus has the closest political, economic and cultural relationship to Moscow, and its heavily fortified borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are major frontiers of NATO.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Kostin in Minsk; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/20/2020 Putin Critic Navalny Fights For Life, Aides Suspect Poisoning by Andrew Osborn and Anton Zverev
A police vehicle is seen parked outside the City Clinical Emergency Hospital Number 1 where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was admitted after
suffering severe symptoms of what his spokeswoman called poisoning, in Omsk, Russia August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was fighting for his life in a Siberian hospital on Thursday after drinking tea that allies said they believe was laced with poison.
    If confirmed, it would be the latest in a long series of poisonings and suspected poisonings of people who have fallen out with the Kremlin, which denies settling scores with its foes by murdering them.
    Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants, began feeling ill on a plane to Moscow on Thursday morning after drinking tea at an airport cafe in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
    His condition became so serious that the plane made an emergency landing at the city of Omsk, en route to Moscow, where he was carried off on a stretcher.
    Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, said he was in intensive care in a serious but stable condition, and on an artificial lung ventilator in a hospital in the city, about 2,200 km (1370 miles) east of the Russian capital.
    “We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea.    It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Alexei is now unconscious,” Yarmysh said.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that any poisoning would need to be confirmed by laboratory tests and that doctors were doing everything they could to help Navalny. He wished him a speedy recovery.
    The incident coincides with a political crisis in Belarus, a close Russian ally, and comes ahead of regional Russian elections next month.
    Some anti-Kremlin protesters in Russia’s far east have started chanting “Long live Belarus!” in support of the protesters in Minsk, 9,000 km (5,590 miles) to the west.
    “Putin is scared,” said an EU diplomat, who declined to be named.    “He is sending a message to his own people not to try do at home what they see on TV from Belarus.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump, asked about the situation, told reporters at the White House that his administration was looking at the matter.
    Doctors gave contradictory information about Navalny’s condition, saying it had stabilised and that he was in a coma, but also that there was still a threat to his life and they were working to save him.
    Navalny’s wife Yulia flew from Moscow to be with him. Yarmysh said hospital officials had so far prevented Navalny’s personal doctor, who had also flown in, from seeing him.
    Doctors were also refusing to discharge him so that he could be flown to Europe for emergency treatment, she said.    The hospital said his condition meant he could not be moved for now.
    Germany and France offered to provide Navalny medical care.
    An air ambulance with a team specialised in treating coma patients was due to leave Germany to pick up Navalny on Thursday evening, the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace Foundation said.
HISTORY OF POISONINGS
    There is a long history of Kremlin foes being poisoned or falling ill after suspected poisonings.
    They include Sergei Skripal, a former double agent poisoned with a nerve agent in 2018 in Salisbury, England, and Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who died in London in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210.
    The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement in those and other incidents, calling them anti-Russian provocations.
    Yarmysh did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny but said police had been called to the hospital.
    Police said they had not yet opened an investigation.
    A regional health ministry spokeswoman, Tatyana Shakirova, said doctors in Omsk had assessed his condition as serious and were doing everything possible to stabilise him.    She said the cause of his illness was not yet clear but poisoning had not been ruled out.
    Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption activist, has served many stints in jail for organising anti-Kremlin protests and has been attacked in the street by pro-government activists.    He has published investigations into what he says are examples of official corruption, with his videos garnering millions of views.
    Navalny and his allies were in Tomsk to try to increase support for candidates they back in next month’s regional elections.
MOTIONLESS
    Pavel Lebedev, a passenger on the flight with Navalny, posted an account of what he saw on social media.
    “At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back.    He started feeling really sick.    They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain.”
    Footage on social media showed a motionless Navalny being stretchered into an ambulance by medics after the emergency landing in Omsk.
    The airline, S7, said Navalny had started feeling very ill soon after take-off and the captain had decided to make an emergency landing.    He had not eaten or drunk anything on board, it said.
    Navalny had a cup of tea at a Tomsk airport cafe before boarding his flight, Yarmysh said.
    She drew a parallel with an incident last year in which Navalny suffered an acute allergic reaction that one doctor said could have resulted from poisoning with an unknown chemical.
    British foreign minister Dominic Raab said he was deeply concerned, as did Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.
    “If (poisoning is) confirmed, those responsible must face consequences,” Linkevicius said on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Alexander Marrow, Gleb Stolyarov, Maria Tsvetkova and Polina Ivanova in Moscow, Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Madeline Chambers and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, Christian Lowe and Matthieu Protard in Paris and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Tattersall and Hugh Lawson)

8/20/2020 France And Germany: We Can Give Navalny Medical Care In Europe by Christian Lowe and Matthieu Protard
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Fort de Bregancon,
in Bormes-les-Mimosas, France, on August 20, 2020. Christophe Simon/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France offered on Thursday to provide medical care on their soil for Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny, who is gravely ill after aides said he was poisoned.
    French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were deeply concerned at what was happening to Navalny, one of the fiercest critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Macron, who hosted Merkel for talks at his summer residence in a medieval island fortress in the Mediterranean, said he had discussed Navalny’s illness at length with the German leader.
    “The news we have at this hour is extremely troubling.    We will continue to follow the situation very closely,” he told a joint news conference with Merkel after their talks.
    “We are clearly ready to provide all necessary assistance to Alexander Navalny and those close to him in terms of healthcare, in terms of asylum, and protection, that is clear,” said Macron.
    “I hope he can be saved.”
    Navalny began feeling ill on a plane to Moscow on Thursday morning after drinking tea at an airport cafe in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
    His condition became so serious that the plane made an emergency landing at the city of Omsk, en route to Moscow, where he was carried off on a stretcher.
    Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, said he was in intensive care in a serious but stable condition, and on an artificial lung ventilator in a hospital in Omsk, about 2,200 km (1,400 miles) east of the Russian capital.
    Merkel said Germany stood ready to treat Navalny in its hospitals, but it had yet to receive such a request from Navalny’s entourage.
    “What is particularly important is that the circumstances behind this are cleared up very quickly,” she added.    “We insist on this, because what we have heard so far is very unfavourable.    It must be done very transparently,” Merkel said.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/20/2020 Browder: Navalny Poisoning Ordered By Kremlin by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this file photo taken on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who
submitted endorsement papers necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate, center, heads to
attend a meeting in the Russia’s Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman)
    Anti-corruption activist Bill Browder has claimed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned by the Kremlin for supporting protests in Belarus.    On Thursday, Browder explained post-Soviet countries recently had an outbreak of anti-corruption protests, which have spanned from Belarus to central Russia and the Russia Far East.
    “There is a motive, which is this whole Alexei Navalny being an opposition guy,” he said.    “There is the timing of the Belarusian situation.”
    Browder added Navalny has been the leader and symbol of these ongoing rallies.    He has also suggested the Kremlin is scared and has ramped up political terror in Russia.
A medic speaks on the phone at a building of a hospital intensive care unit where Alexei Navalny
is hospitalized in Omsk, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Sofiychuk)
    “These types of revolutions jump borders.    He’s looking at who’s the most likely person that would step in to rally the people in Russia, and that’s Alexei Navalny.    The good news is that Navalny is young.    He’s in his early 40s, he’s in very good physical shape, so he has the potential to recover.” – Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management
    Leaders in France and Germany have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to release all information on Navalny’s poisoning and reiterated they are ready to provide medical assistance.

8/21/2020 Hungary To Tighten Border Crossing As Of Sept. 1 To Curb Spread Of Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes part in the first face-to-face European Union summit since
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will tighten border crossing rules from Sept. 1 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the number of new infections is rising in neighbouring countries, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
    “As the school year starts, we will no longer be able to work with the border crossing system that was used during the summer,” Orban said.
    Under current regulations, those returning from countries with higher infection rates need to self-quarantine for 14 days unless they produce two negative virus tests.
    However, Croatia, a popular holiday destination for Hungarians, is still listed as “green,” which means no special rules apply.    On Thursday it registered 255 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 7,329.
    Orban did not provide details about the new restrictions.
    As of Friday, Hungary had reported 5,046 coronavirus cases, with 609 deaths.
    Orban, a nationalist who has been in power for more than a decade, also said his government would draft a two-year plan to boost the economy by the middle of next month, after a deeper-than-expected annual 13.6% plunge in second-quarter economic output.
    The government’s official forecast still sees the economy contracting by 3% this year.    However, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga flagged last month that the country’s economy could shrink by around 5%.
    That was still before the dismal second-quarter GDP data was released.
    Orban did not provide a fresh projection for this year’s economic outlook on Friday.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Tom Hogue and Alex Richardson)

8/21/2020 Allies Of Putin Critic Navalny Accuse Kremlin Of Blocking Evacuation To Germany by Anton Zverev
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
    OMSK, Russia (Reuters) – Allies of stricken Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accused Russian authorities of thwarting his medical evacuation to Germany on Friday, saying the decision placed his life in mortal danger because the Siberian hospital treating him was under-equipped.
    Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants, is in a serious condition after drinking tea on Thursday morning that his allies believe was laced with poison.
    Doctors treating him in Omsk, Siberia, said his condition had improved a little overnight, but that his life was still in danger.
    Anatoly Kalinichenko, the deputy head doctor at the hospital looking after him, said tests had so far found no traces of poison.     Kalinichenko said the hospital had a full diagnosis, but could not disclose it yet.    He said doctors did not believe Navalny had been poisoned.
    Navalny’s wife Yulia and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who want to fly Navalny to Germany for medical treatment, dispute this and criticised the hospital after it said that moving him would put his life at risk because he was still in a coma and his condition unstable.
    “The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life being carried out right now by doctors and the deceitful authorities that have authorised it,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
    She said doctors had previously consented to his being moved, but had withheld their agreement at the last minute.
    “This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin,” said Yarmysh.
    The Kremlin said on Thursday that medical authorities would promptly consider any request to move him to a European clinic and were being open about his medical condition.
    The row broke out as an air ambulance sent by the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace Foundation, a non-profit organisation, landed in Omsk with the intention of flying him to Germany if possible.
    Alexander Murakhovsky, the hospital’s head doctor, told reporters that many legal questions would need to be resolved before Navalny could be handed over to European doctors.
    He said top doctors had been flown in from Moscow to treat Navalny who were no worse than their European counterparts. He said test results would be available within two days.
    Navalny’s team cited a police officer as saying a highly dangerous substance had been identified in his body that posed a risk to everyone around him and that they should wear protective suits.    Reuters could not independently confirm that information.
    Navalny’s team said it believed authorities wanted to stall for time so that any trace of what poisoned him would disappear.
    French junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said on Friday he shared concerns and fears about Navalny’s fate, and reiterated that France was ready to help him if necessary.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev in Omsk, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Andrey Kuzmin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

8/21/2020 Belarus Opposition Council Members Appear For Questioning In Criminal Case by Andrei Makhovsky
    MINSK (Reuters) – Two leading members of a newly formed opposition council in Belarus were questioned on Friday in a criminal case that accuses the body of trying to seize power from President Alexander Lukashenko after a disputed election.
    Dozens of supporters accompanied Maksim Znak and Sarhey Dyleuski as they arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Investigative Committee.
    When he emerged later Znak, a lawyer, said he had had “productive discussions” and he saw no basis for his arrest.
    “We gave our explanation, we will continue to work,” he said.
    The Coordinating Committee was launched this week with the self-described aim of negotiating a transfer of power amid the largest political crisis in Belarus since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, was declared the winner of an Aug. 9 presidential election, but tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets saying the election is rigged.
    A harsh crackdown by police does not seem to have intimidated the protesters, and opposition has spread to include strikes at large state factories long seen as bastions of Lukashenko’s support.
    His main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled to neighbouring Lithuania.    In a video message on Friday she called for more workers to go on strike to protest against the election result.    She also told a news conference she would return to Belarus when she felt it was safe to do.
    Prosecutors launched a criminal case on Thursday alleging that the Coordinating Committee was set up as an illegal attempt to seize power.    The committee, made up of dozens of high profile public figures including a Nobel Prize-winning author and the ousted head of the country’s main drama theatre, says its aims are peaceful and its tactics lawful.
    The European Union, which has rejected Lukashenko’s re-election, called for the case to be dropped.
    “We expect the Belarusian authorities to stop the criminal case and instead to engage in a dialogue in view of moving towards a peaceful way out of the current crisis,” Nabila Massrali, an EU foreign policy spokeswoman, said in a statement.
    Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, and the crisis is a test for the Kremlin which must decide whether to stick with Lukashenko or try to engineer a transfer of power to another leader.
    It is also a challenge for the West.    The country’s borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are major NATO frontiers, and eastern European states have spoken in support of the opposition.
    But European officials are also keen avert a repeat of unrest six years ago in neighbouring Ukraine, when a pro-Russian leader was toppled in a popular uprising and Moscow intervened militarily, unleashing Europe’s deadliest ongoing conflict.
    That has meant taking a cautious approach, including reassuring Moscow that officials are not trying to pry Belarus from Russia’s orbit.
    “Belarus is not Ukraine: the people there are not seeking closer ties with the EU,” a senior EU official told Reuters.    The bloc was trying to encourage the Belarusian authorities to negotiate with the opposition, “without tilting the geo-political balance for Belarus between the EU and Russia.”
(Additional reporting by Gabriella Baczynska in Brussels; writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

8/21/2020 Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Kholodnytsky Resigns
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said on Friday he had resigned after five years in the post.
    Kholodnytsky, who became the first head of anti-corruption investigations at the prosecution service in Ukraine, said on his Facebook he had quit of his own free will.
    Ukraine, whose economy was losing billions of hryvnias due to entrenched corruption, established new anti-corruption institutions in 2014-2015 under Western donor pressure.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/21/2020 Exclusive: No. 2 U.S. Diplomat To Visit Russia, Lithuania To Discuss Belarus by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun speaks at a news briefing with South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young
after their meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, July 08, 2020. Chung Sung-Jun/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number two U.S. diplomat will visit Russia and Lithuania soon for talks on Belarus, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, as Washington seeks a peaceful resolution to that country’s election crisis that averts Russian intervention.
    Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s planned mission signals a greater U.S. role in trying to settle the strife that erupted when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brutally cracked down on peaceful protesters rejecting his claim of a landslide Aug. 9 election win.
    Asked about Biegun’s planned trip, a State Department spokesman said “there is no travel to announce at this time.”
    One source, a former senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Biegun was expected to leave in the coming days for Moscow and the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where Belarusian opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya took refuge after Lukashenko launched his crackdown.
    The United States and European Union have condemned the election as marred by irregularities. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged Lukashenko to accept international help in opening talks with the opposition and implicitly warned Russia, Belarus’ massive neighbor, not to intervene.
    Lukashenko has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help salvaging his 26-year rule.    Belarus is bound to Russia by a mutual defense treaty and deep economic, political and cultural ties.
    Putin has offered assistance, if required. Moscow on Wednesday said it saw no need to help for now, but has warned against outside involvement in Belarus and said the crisis should be settled internally.
    The second source said he did not know Biegun’s planned message but thought he would aim to prevent further violence in Belarus or Russian intervention.
    “I would guess the administration is trying to dissuade Moscow from either intervening on its own or using its influence with Lukashenko to encourage him to have a (more) violent crackdown,” said this source, also on condition of anonymity.
    EU member Lithuania, which has sought backing from Washington, has been an outspoken critic of Lukashenko’s crackdown on the demonstrations by tens of thousands of Belarusians in which his security forces have beaten, teargassed and arrested thousands of people, many of whom say they were tortured.
    Experts say Washington seeks a larger role in a search for a negotiated resolution to the crisis.    The turmoil disrupted a U.S. effort to exploit tensions between Putin and Lukashenko, with Pompeo visiting Minsk in February for talks on normalizing diplomatic relations.
    Protesters are not demanding closer ties with the West, experts noted, but a redo of the vote and respect for human rights, which Washington has a strong interest in promoting.
    Moreover, the crisis gives Washington an issue on which to unite with European allies amid serious tensions over the Iran nuclear deal and U.S. President Donald Trump’s expressions of disdain for the trans-Atlantic alliance, they said.
From the U.S. perspective, there’s a whole host of issues both in terms of human rights and democracy, but there’s also a security component,” said Jonathan Katz, a former U.S. official and expert on Eastern Europe with the German Marshall Fund, a thinktank.
    “Belarus borders the Baltic allies and Poland.”
    At the same time, he said, Washington wants to avoid giving Putin an excuse to intervene militarily in Belarus as he did in 2014 in Ukraine, when Russian forces seized Crimea and backed separatists in the country’s east after the ouster of a pro-Moscow government.
    “There are concerns about the potential for Moscow to act militarily,” said Katz.    “You can’t dismiss it even if you think the likelihood is not there.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

8/22/2020 Protesters Hold Seventh Anti-Kremlin March Over Detained Governor
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on
murder charges in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Around 1,500 people marched through the streets of the Russian far eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday, marking the seventh consecutive weekend of protests after the region’s governor was detained in early July.
    Residents of Khabarovsk, 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, have protested since the detention of Sergei Furgal, the region’s popular governor, on July 9 in connection with murder charges which he denies.
    His supporters say the detention is politically motivated.
    People marched on Saturday with posters reading “Freedom to Furgal” and “Belarus – Khabarovsk is with you” – a sign of support for opposition rallies in Belarus protesting against the alleged rigging of its presidential election.
    On Saturday, posters wishing recovery for Alexei Navalny, a Kremlin critic who collapsed on a plane on Thursday after drinking tea that his allies believe was laced with poison, were also seen among the people marching in Khabarovsk.
    Navalny was evacuated from the Siberian city of Omsk and brought to Germany for medical treatment on Saturday.
    Regional authorities estimated around 1,500 people took part in Saturday’s march, a smaller turnout than in previous weeks.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Alexei Petrov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/22/2020 Belarus Opposition Summoned; Kremlin Seen Standing By Weakened Lukashenko by Andrei Makhovsky and Andrew Osborn
People attend an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results near in Minsk, Belarus
August 21, 2020. The placard reads: "Women don't surrender. And you?" REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    MINSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Two leading members of a newly formed opposition council in Belarus were questioned on Friday in a criminal case over what President Alexander Lukashenko calls an attempt to seize power, after nearly two weeks of mass rallies against his 26-year rule.
    More public figures, including an Olympic athlete, came out in opposition to Lukashenko, whose political challengers say he rigged an Aug. 9 election.
    In the latest act of protest, the streets of the capital Minsk were paralysed on Friday by a motorists’ strike, with hundreds of drivers honking horns and abruptly abandoning cars in traffic.
    The loosening of Lukashenko’s grip poses a challenge both for the Kremlin, determined to keep its sway over its most loyal neighbour, and the West, which is sympathetic to a nascent pro-democracy movement but wary of provoking Russian intervention.
    Two sources close to the Kremlin told Reuters President Vladimir Putin believes Lukashenko will probably cling to power for now, and is content to let him sweat it out.
    Lukashenko, who has repeatedly vowed to crush the unrest, insisted the crisis would be over soon.
    “This is my problem, which I should resolve, and we are resolving it,” he told workers at a state food factory named after the founder of the Soviet KGB.    “And believe me, in the coming days it will be resolved.”
    In a sign of his dependence on Moscow, he also confirmed for the first time that journalists had been brought from Russia to staff state TV, where workers abruptly quit last week in protest against what they described as orders to broadcast propaganda.
    Two leading members of the opposition Coordinating Council, Maksim Znak and Sarhey Dyleuski, were accompanied by dozens of supporters as they arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Investigative Committee in a criminal case accusing the council of trying to seize power.
    Znak, a lawyer, said on entering that he feared he might be arrested. But when he emerged later, he said he had had “productive discussions” and would get back to work.
    The council was launched this week with the self-described aim of negotiating a transfer of power.    It includes an array of public figures, among them a Nobel Prize-winning author and the ousted head of the country’s main drama theatre.
    The latest local hero to desert Lukashenko was Vadim Devyatovsky, an Olympic silver medallist previously prominent as a supporter, who wrote on Facebook that Lukashenko was “not my president
NOT INTIMIDATED
    A police crackdown does not seem to have intimidated the protesters and opposition has spread to include strikes at state factories long seen as bastions of support for Lukashenko.
    Thousands turned out Friday, and much larger protests are expected over the weekend.
    “I couldn’t sit at home,” said Tatyana, 45, a medic.    “I am not afraid.    If you stay home, that means you have to live your whole life in fear.”
    Lukashenko’s main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled to neighbouring Lithuania, where she has released a steady stream of video messages calling on her followers to rise up peacefully.    On Friday she called for more workers to strike.
    At her first public news conference since going into exile, the 37-year-old political novice noted that Moscow had not made contact.
    Belarus has by far the closest political, economic and cultural ties to Moscow of any former Soviet state, meaning Lukashenko’s immediate fate is probably in the hands of the Kremlin.
    The borders between Belarus and NATO are seen as vital for Russia’s defence strategy, and the prospect of Moscow allowing a pro-Western government to emerge there all but inconceivable.    But Lukashenko is seen in Moscow as erratic and truculent, and has long had a difficult personal relationship with Putin.
    The two sources close to the Kremlin said Moscow was perfectly content to see him face difficulties.
    “They’ll be happy to wait a while and watch him struggle a bit.    They don’t like him much, but they still back him,” said one of the sources, who regularly speaks to senior government and Kremlin officials.
    The second source said: “Lukashenko will be critically weakened.    You’ll be able to make mincemeat out of him.    Our guys will definitely use this.”
    The European Union, which has rejected Lukashenko’s re-election, called for the case against the opposition council to be dropped.    But European officials are keen to avert a repeat of unrest six years ago in neighbouring Ukraine, when a pro-Russian leader was toppled in an uprising and Moscow intervened militarily, precipitating Europe’s deadliest ongoing conflict.
    That has meant a cautious approach, including reassuring Moscow that the West is not trying to pry Belarus from Russia’s orbit.
    “Belarus is not Ukraine: the people there are not seeking closer ties with the EU,” a senior EU official told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Gabriella Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/22/2020 Kremlin Critic Navalny Is Flown To German Hospital; In ‘Worrying’ Condition by Fabrizio Bensch and Martin Schlicht
A general view shows an entrance of Charite Mitte Hospital Complex where Alexei Navalny is expected to be
treated after being brought to Germany, in Berlin, Germany August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Gravely ill Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was evacuated to Germany for medical treatment on Saturday, flown out of the Siberian city of Omsk in an ambulance aircraft and taken to a hospital in Berlin.
    There was no word yet from the Charite hospital on his condition but the founder of the activist group that arranged the flight called Navalny’s health condition “very worrying.”
    A long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin and campaigner against corruption, Navalny collapsed on a plane on Thursday after drinking tea that his allies believe was laced with poison.
    Medical staff at the hospital in Omsk said on Friday evening, after clearing Navalny to be flown out, that he was in an induced coma and his life was not in immediate danger.
    The air ambulance, arranged by the Cinema for Peace Foundation, flew to Berlin’s Tegel airport early on Saturday and Navalny, 44, was rushed to the Charite hospital complex.
    The hospital said in a statement it would provide an update about his condition and further treatment once tests have been completed and after consulting with his family.    It added this could take some time.
    “His health condition is very worrying,” Cinema for Peace founder Jaka Bizilj told reporters outside the hospital.
    “We got a very clear message from the doctors that if there had not been an emergency landing in Omsk, he would have died,” said Bizilj, adding that it would be up to doctors and Navalny’s family to provide further information on his condition.
    Bizilj, a Slovenian-born activist and filmmaker, was earlier quoted by Bild tabloid as saying Navalny’s condition was stable during the flight and after landing.
    Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said on Twitter that “This is another proof that nothing was preventing Navalny from being transported, and it was necessary to do so as early as possible.”
DELAYED EVACUATION
    German doctors flew to Russia on Friday to evacuate Navalny at the request of his wife and allies who said that the hospital treating him was badly equipped.
    But there was then a delay flying him out as the Omsk hospital initially said his condition meant he could not travel.
    The Omsk doctors later said they had no objections after the German doctors deemed him fit for travel.
    Navalny’s wife, Yulia, sent a letter to the Kremlin directly appealing for it to intervene and grant permission for him to be allowed to be flown out.
    Navalny’s allies have said they feared authorities in Russia might try to cover up clues as to how he fell ill.
    The doctors in Omsk said on Saturday they were ready to share all information they have with the German clinic.
    Two years ago, Pyotr Verzilov, another anti-Kremlin activist and a member of the Pussy Riot art collective, was treated at the Charite hospital after he was poisoned in Moscow.
    Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters.
    He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings and rallies and sued over his investigations into corruption. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.
(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Fanny Brodersen, Christoph Steitz, Maria Sheahan, Ekaterina Golubkova, Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/22/2020 Belarusian Opposition Leader Sees Herself As A Symbol Of Change by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the nation in Vilnius, Lithuania, in this
still image taken from handout video released August 21, 2020. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Headquarters/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sees herself as a symbol of change whose role is to help deliver new elections as President Alexander Lukashenko will have to quit sooner or later, she told Reuters on Saturday.
    Speaking in Lithuania where she and her two children have fled for security reasons, Tsikhanouskaya said she felt duty-bound to do what she could to support protesters in her home country but would not run for president again.
    “During the campaign I didn’t see myself as a politician but I pushed myself forward,” she said.    “I don’t see myself in politics.    I am not a politician.”
    Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets for nearly two weeks to protest against what they believe was a rigged Aug. 9 presidential election.    They want veteran leader Lukashenko to quit so new elections can be held.
    Tsikhanouskaya, who ran in the election against Lukashenko after her husband, a well-known video blogger, was jailed, said fate had handed her a role that she had no right to forsake.
    “It is my fate and my mission, and I don’t have the right to step away.    I understand that I’m in safety here, but all the people who voted for me in Belarus … need me as a symbol.    They need the person they voted for.    I couldn’t betray my people.”
    She has been making regular video appeals to try to keep up the protests’ momentum.    She said she had also fielded phone calls from world leaders who had asked her how they could help.
    None gave concrete promises to support her, and none said they regarded her as the president-elect.
    “I understand that they have no right and possibility to interfere in internal affairs of our country … I asked everybody to respect the independence of our country, the sovereignty of our country,” she said.
‘SOONER OR LATER’
    When asked which countries had called, she referenced Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and others.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has close ties with Belarus, had not been in touch, and Tsikhanouskaya said she would not attempt to reach him herself.
    “I don’t have anything to ask him about, just (to respect) sovereignty,” she said.    “Any future relationship with Russia or other countries would be decided by people and by the new president.”
    Tsikhanouskaya said that Lukashenko’s authority was badly damaged and that things would be different in Belarus, even if he managed to cling to power for now.
    Lukashenko said on Saturday he would close factories that have seen worker protests, the Russian RIA news agency reported, his latest attempt to quell a wave of opposition rallies since the contested elections.
    “Belarusian people have changed during this year.    The Belarusian people won’t be able to accept him as the new president, and will not allow him to treat him as they did before,” she said.
    “I’m sure that sooner or later he will have to leave.”
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by David Clarke)

8/22/2020 Swiss People’s Party Elects Only Candidate Chiesa As President by Silke Koltrowitz
Swiss People's Party (SVP) newly elected President Marco Chiesa delivers a speech during a party
meeting in Brugg Windisch, Switzerland August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) elected Marco Chiesa from Italian-speaking region Ticino as president of the right-wing party on Saturday as it tries to sharpen its profile and rebuild its appeal among voters.
    Chiesa, 45, was nominated in a surprise move last month after Switzerland’s biggest party tried for months to find a successor to outgoing president Albert Roesti, who announced last year he was stepping down.
    Top of his agenda will likely be the party’s campaign in a Sept. 27 referendum on ending free movement of people with the European Union.    Opinion polls suggest a majority in favour of keeping free movement, but if the vote goes the other way bilateral trade agreements between Switzerland and the EU could be at risk.
    Chiesa vowed to stick to the party line, saying: “I don’t want to have to watch how Swiss families suffer from the burden of millions of immigrants from the European Union.”
    Swiss broadcaster SRG published a poll on Thursday suggesting 61% would vote against the proposal and 35% for it.
    The trained economist was elected at a party meeting in Brugg Windisch, west of Zurich.    He was the only candidate standing for election, a lack of choice criticised by some delegates at the meeting.
    The SVP used to dominate Switzerland’s political debates with often inflammatory campaigns targeting immigrants and the European Union.    But its profile fell somewhat under Roesti, who took over in 2016 but announced his resignation last year after the party lost ground in parliamentary elections.
(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by David Holmes)

8/22/2020 Lukashenko Says He Will Close Belarus Factories That Are Seeing Protests: RIA
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits a military firing range near
Grodno, Belarus August 22, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday he would close factories that have seen worker protests, the Russian RIA news agency reported, his latest attempt to quell a wave of opposition rallies since contested elections this month.
    Lukashenko also suggested he would fire the workers concerned.
    “If a factory is not working then let’s put a lock on its gate from Monday, let’s stop it,” RIA cited Lukashenko as saying in the town of Grodno near the border with Poland.    “People will calm down and we will decide whom to invite (to work) next.”
    In the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s 26 years in power, people have taken to the streets in many Belarusian towns, including in its capital Minsk, for nearly two weeks, protesting against the result of an Aug 9 election that they say was rigged to give the president re-election.
    Some workers at a number of state factories have also joined protests.
    Lukashenko has denied any fraud in the vote.
    His main opponent in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled to neighbouring Lithuania.    Without naming anybody, Lukashenko said on Saturday that arrangers of the country-wide rallies “are sitting abroad in neighbouring countries” and enjoying political support from those countries’ leaders.
    In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Tsikhanouskaya said she sees herself as a symbol of change whose role is to help deliver new elections as Lukashenko will have to quit sooner or later.
    Two leading members of a newly formed opposition council in Belarus were questioned on Friday in a criminal case over what Lukashenko calls an attempt to seize power.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Additional reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/23/2020 Belarus Army To Take Over Protection Of Memorial Monuments
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Belarus army will take over responsibility for protection of national memorials from protesters, the defence ministry said on Sunday as people began to gather in Minsk for an opposition rally in the third week of unrest in the country.
    Any unrest near such monuments and statues would no longer be responded to by police forces but by the army, the statement said.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by David Goodman)

8/23/2020 Austrian Leaders Condemn Attack Against Jewish Community In Graz
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gestures as he speaks during a news conference, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and other senior government politicians said they were shocked over an attack on a Jewish community leader in the southern city of Graz on Saturday, and ordered tighter security at Jewish institutions around Austria.
    An unknown assailant attacked the Graz Jewish community’s president, Elie Rosen, with a wooden club on the premises of their synagogue, which was twice targeted by acts of vandalism in the past week, the community said in a statement late on Saturday.
    Rosen took shelter in his car and was unhurt.    The attacker then fled, according to the statement.
    Police in Styria, the province where Graz is located, said they are searching for the suspect.
    Kurz said on Twitter he was shocked by the attack on Rosen and authorities would do what they could to find the perpetrator and guarantee the security of the Jewish community in the country.
    Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said, also on Twitter, that surveillance of all Jewish institutions in Austria would be tightened in response.
    According to a report published in May by the Jewish Community of Vienna and the Forum against Antisemitism, 550 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Austria in 2019, up 9.5% versus 2017.
    Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen also condemned the attack on Twitter, saying: “Hatred towards Jews and anti-Semitism have no place in our society.”
(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/23/2020 Kremlin Critic Navalny Was Under Police Surveillance Before Falling Ill: Paper
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their
way to an airport before his medical evacuation to Germany in Omsk, Russia August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who fell gravely ill on Thursday after what his allies believe was a poisoning, was under intense police surveillance in preceding days, a Russian tabloid newspaper cited law enforcement sources as saying.
    Before he collapsed on a flight during a trip to Siberia Navalny was followed by plainclothes FSB officers and his movements were closely monitored via CCTV, the report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said.
    Navalny, a long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin and campaigner against corruption, was flown in an air ambulance on Saturday for treatment in Germany.
    Navalny, 44, was in an induced coma when he was evacuated from the Siberian city of Omsk, but there has been no word yet from the Charite hospital in Berlin on his condition.
    Citing security service sources, the Moskovsky Komsomolets described the timeline of his trip before he fell ill down to the number of rooms his team booked in a local hotel and the fact that Navalny chose not to sleep in the room booked under his name.
    An apartment rented for him by one of his supporters was discovered by police surveillance, the paper reported, when a sushi takeaway was ordered to the address by one of Navalny’s supporters.
    “The scale of the surveillance does not surprise me at all, we were perfectly aware of it before,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
    “What is surprising, however, is that (security service sources) did not shy away from describing it.”
    In its report, the Moskovsky Komsomolets paper cited security sources as saying that their surveillance of Navalny’s movements did not reveal any suspicious contacts that could be related to his illness.
    Security services believe that if Navalny was poisoned, the incident took place either in the airport or on the plane, the newspaper wrote.
    However the paper said they are still awaiting results of laboratory tests of samples taken by police from all the places Navalny and his team visited on their trip, including samples of the air.
    Initial results are expected on Monday, with results from tests for radioactive material due later in the week, the paper said.    It did not say whether or not these would be made public.
    Doctors at the hospital in Omsk where Navalny was treated before his evacuation to Germany have said they do not believe he was poisoned.    They diagnosed him with a metabolic disease that may have been caused by low blood sugar.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that it was still unclear what caused Navalny to fall ill.    He had previously said that any poisoning would need to be confirmed by laboratory tests and that doctors were doing everything they could to help Navalny.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/23/2020 Belarusian Protesters, Defying Army, Flood Minsk by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits a military firing range
near Grodno, Belarus August 22, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of protesters demanding Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko step down defied a warning from the military on Sunday and flooded into Minsk, briefly gathering near the president’s residence, before dispersing peacefully.
    The veteran leader denounced the demonstrators as “rats” and was seen in state media footage wearing body armour and holding a rifle, projecting an unyielding image amid the huge nationwide demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election on Aug. 9.
    The protests have provided the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko’s 26 years at the helm and tested the loyalty of his security forces.
    Minsk’s streets turned red and white as demonstrators carried flags symbolising their opposition to Lukashenko and chanted for him to leave power and for new elections to be held.
    The crowd marched towards Lukashenko’s residence at the Independence Palace, on the northern edge of the capital, the majority gathering at some distance, while a smaller group approached to between 10 and 20 metres of the building, a Reuters witness said.
    Lukashenko, a former Soviet state farm boss, was shown in state media footage flying over the protests in a helicopter before landing at his residence and emerging in body armour with a rifle in his hand.
    Some protesters milling below chanted “coward” as a helicopter was seen flying out of the residence, the Reuters witness said.
    Later, a video circulated by state media showed Lukashenko walking over to riot police outside his residence and thanking them, eliciting an outburst of applause from security staff.
    It was the first time in this month’s demonstrations that protesters have neared the building’s doors.    The approach to the palace took place after a crowd estimated by a Reuters witness to number as many as 200,000 rallied in central Minsk for the second weekend in a row.
    The crowd began to disperse in early evening.    Reuters witnessed no clashes with police.
    “They have scattered like rats,” Lukashenko could be heard saying in a video clip published by the Belta news agency as he flew overhead.
    Belarus state television said 20,000 people took part in the protest.
    Earlier, the defence ministry said the army would deal with security around national World War Two memorials and issued a direct warning to protesters whom it likened to fascists.
    “We categorically warn: any violation of peace and order in such places – you will have the army to deal with now, not the police,” it said in a statement.    “We, soldiers, will not allow these places to be desecrated, there can be no fascism there!
MOSCOW’S VIEW
    Protests triggered by Lukashenko’s claims of a landslide election victory on Aug. 9 found a leader in opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former teacher who took her jailed husband’s place on the ballot.
    Following threats to her safety, Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania.
    Traditional ally Russia issued some of its strongest comments yet criticising Tsikhanouskaya on Sunday.
    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said her statements were directed at a Western audience.
    “It seems … she has started to make political statements, harsh ones, demanding walk-outs, strikes, protests,” Lavrov was cited by the RIA news agency as saying.
    He described her political agenda as the opposite of constructive, focused instead on creating disunity by generating anti-Russian sentiment and squeezing out the Russian language and culture, and by aiming to join the European Union and NATO.
    Tsikhanouskaya, who speaks Russian at home, has said she would like to see Belarus maintain close relations with Russia, but that Belarus should remain independent and not integrate further into Russia.
    Lavrov said that by calling for Lukashenko to quit, protesters were pushing for a Venezuela-style crisis.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Polina Ivanova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by David Goodman, William Maclean)

8/23/2020 Hungary Summons German Ambassador Over EU Minister’s Anti-Semitism Criticism
FILE PHOTO: Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth gives a statement for the media, prior to a video conference
of the European Union's General Affairs Council, at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany June 16, 2020. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s foreign ministry has summoned the German ambassador to a Monday meeting to explain remarks by his country’s European Union minister in which he accused Hungary of anti-Semitism, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement on Sunday.
    Szijjarto rejected the accusations but did not specify where the comments by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth were published.
    His spokesman, however, told Reuters that Szijjarto was referring to an interview with website t-online.de published late on Friday in which Roth criticised Hungary and Poland for an erosion of democratic culture and also said one aspect that “led to the Article 7 case against Hungary was rampant anti-semitism in Hungary.”
    The EU invoked Article 7 of its governing treaty against Hungary in 2018, having invoked the procedure for the first time against Poland in 2017, for flouting the rule of law.    The process could lead to the suspension of their EU voting rights if all other capitals agreed.
    In the past few years, Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in power since 2010, has also angered the EU with his harsh anti-immigration stance and a 2017 campaign against U.S. financier George Soros which critics said had anti-Semitic undertones.    The government rejected that accusation.
    Orban has pledged zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.
    Szijjarto said on Sunday that the Jewish community was safe in Hungary, and shrugged off Roth’s remarks, calling on him “to stop the unworthy attacks on the Hungarian people.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

8/23/2020 Lithuanians Stand In Vast Chain Of Support For Belarus Opposition
People form a human chain to show support to protesters in Belarus in Medininkai, Lithuania August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuanians stood in a 35,000-strong human chain stretching 34 km (21 miles) from central Vilnius to the Belarus border on Sunday to show support for protesters in Belarus and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has taken refuge in the country.
    “More than anyone else, you can understand Belarusians, because not so long ago you went through the same as we do now,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a pre-recorded address.
    She did not attend due to security concerns, her team said.
    Tsikhanouskaya was the main opposition candidate in an Aug. 9 election in which President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory – a result that opponents say was rigged and that triggered huge protests against him.    Minsk’s streets were again packed with protesters on Sunday.
    “I am proud my nation heeded the call and came here to encourage Belarus,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told the gathering in his country, standing near its end at the Belarus border.    “We are not indifferent, and we will never be indifferent.”
    U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Robert S. Gilchrist was in the chain, holding the white-red-white flag that was briefly Belarus’ flag in early 1990s and has become a symbol of its anti-government protests.
    “My message is that I’m pleased to join so many people who are demonstrating such unity with people of Belarus,” he told reporters.
    The human chain marked the anniversary of a mass protest against Soviet rule on Aug. 23, 1989, when 2 million people joined arms across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
    Known as the Baltic Way, it was one of the best examples of a peaceful protest against an unaccountable power in recent decades in Europe, said Linas Kojala, director at Eastern Europe Studies Centre, a think-tank in Vilnius.
    “It sent a message that we want a different Lithuania, no longer occupied by the Soviet Union, and today’s event is saying that Lithuania wants to see a different Belarus,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/23/2020 Uzbek Reporter Released Pending Investigation
FILE PHOTO: Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev (front) is seen after a court hearing
in Tashkent, Uzbekistan May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – Authorities in Uzbekistan have freed a local journalist whose detention drew rare criticism from the United States this month, but he is still being investigated, his lawyer said on Sunday.
    The U.S. ambassador to Tashkent, Daniel Rosenblum, said this month he was “deeply concerned” by the case of Bobomurod Abdullayev and called for his release.    Abdullayev was detained in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan at Uzbekistan’s request.
    Abdullayev has told Kyrgyz media he was accused of being behind an anonymous Facebook account that published allegations of corruption among senior Uzbek officials.    He denied that accusation.
    Uzbekistan’s state security service did not confirm or deny the nature of the charges, but said on Sunday he has been allowed to go home after his extradition from Kyrgyzstan on Saturday and subsequent questioning in the presence of a lawyer.
    The lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, told Reuters Abdullayev has been released pending investigation.    He said a non-disclosure agreement prevented him from commenting on the nature of the charges.
    State security also circulated a video in which Abdullayev thanked President Shavkat Mirziyoyev for his release and said he had published no stories attacking the country’s leadership.
    Abdullayev came to prominence in a landmark case in 2018 when an Uzbek court cleared him of charges of conspiring against the government, although he was still sentenced to community service for anti-government propaganda.
    His case highlighted a thaw initiated under Mirziyoyev following the 27-year rule of his predecessor Islam Karimov who had tolerated no dissent and whose poor human rights record had drawn strong criticism from Western countries.
    In power since 2016, Mirziyoyev has overseen a series of major economic reforms and worked to limit the powers of security services while improving ties with both the West and Russia as he seeks to attract foreign investment.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/23/2020 Former Ukrainian Premier Tymoshenko Tests Positive For Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Batkivshchyna party leader Yulia Tymoshenko reacts while speaking with acquaintances outside
a polling station during a parliamentary election in Kiev, Ukraine July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and is in serious condition with a fever, her party’s spokeswoman said on Sunday.
    Tymoshenko, 59, who twice served as premier before her defeat in the 2010 presidential election, became the first high-profile Ukrainian politician known to have contracted COVID-19.    Parliament has been on summer vacation since mid-July.
    “Her condition is assessed as serious, her temperature is up to 39 (Celsius),” the spokeswoman for her Fatherland party said, declining to say whether Tymoshenko had been hospitalised or give further detail.
    Ukraine has experienced a sharp rise in infections this week, with a new 24-hour total of 2,328 cases reported on Saturday.    [L8N2FO0N6] The overall number of infections reached 104,958 along with 2,271 deaths.
    Tymoshenko rose to prominence as co-leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 in which pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko was confirmed as president after a court declared the election result to have been rigged in favour of his pro-Moscow foe.
    She served twice as prime minister under Yushchenko before the two fell out after years of political turmoil.
    Tymoshenko ran for president in 2010 and lost to Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovich and in 2011 was sentenced to seven years in prison on abuse of office charges, which she denied, calling the accusations politically motivated.
    She was freed from prison in early 2014 after Yanukovich was toppled in a popular uprising that put Ukraine on a path away from former Soviet master Moscow toward closer ties with the European Union and the United States.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/24/2020 Tsikhanouskaya Hopes Dialogue With Belarusian Authorities Will Start Soon
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks in a video message in an unknown location in Lithuania,
in this still image taken from handout video released August 19, 2020. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Headquarters/Handout via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has led the biggest challenge to Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule, hopes a dialogue with the authorities will start soon, she told Polish Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
    Belarus is facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of demonstrators rejecting Lukashenko’s victory in an Aug. 9 vote his opponents say was rigged.
    Opponents of Lukashenko established a body, the Coordination Council, last week with the stated aim of negotiating a transfer of power.    Belarus launched a criminal case accusing it of an illegal attempt to seize power.
    “The aim of the Council is to run a dialogue with the current authorities.    I hope that dialogue will take place soon.    However, the first condition is the release of political prisoners,” Tsikhanouskaya told Gazeta Wyborcza daily in an interview published on Monday.
    Tsikhanouskaya, a political novice, emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures, including her jailed activist husband, were barred from standing.    She fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the Aug. 9 vote.
    She said that she would not run again if a new election were held, but expected her husband might. She would see herself working in human rights organisations, she said.
    “It is too early to talk about it though.    The main goal is a new election,” she said.
(This story refiles to add missing word “established” in paragraph 3)
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Peter Graff)

8/24/2020 Siberian Doctors Say They Saved Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Life
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder
and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Doctors at the Siberian hospital that first treated Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny said on Monday that they had saved his life but that they had not found traces of poison in his system.
    Navalny, a long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin, fell gravely ill on Thursday after what his allies believe was a poisoning and was airlifted to Germany for treatment on Saturday.
    “We saved his life with great effort and work,” head doctor Alexander Murakhovsky told reporters at a news conference in the Siberian city of Omsk.
    “If we had found some kind of poison that was somehow confirmed then it would have been a lot easier for us.    It would have been a clear diagnosis, a clear condition and a well-known course of treatment,” said Anatoly Kalinichenko, a senior doctor at the hospital.
    The Russian doctors did not say on Monday what specifically they had done to save Navalny’s life or what they had treated him for.     Last week they said they had diagnosed him with metabolic disease possibly brought on by low blood sugar.     The doctors denied they had come under pressure from authorities while treating Navalny.
    Navalny’s allies had accused doctors of holding up Navalny’s evacuation to Germany.    The doctors initially said Navalny was not in a fit state to be transported there for treatment.
    Jaka Bizilj, founder of Germany’s Cinema for Peace Foundation, told mass tabloid Bild over the weekend that Navalny, who is being treated in a German hospital, would survive.
    He said: “Navalny will survive poison attack, but be incapacitated for months as a politician.”
    But Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said that there were still no new details about the politician’s condition and that only she or the doctors treating him would be able to provide reliable information.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/24/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Tally Passes 960,000
FILE PHOTO: Grave diggers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) bury a person, who presumably died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in the special purpose section of a graveyard on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, Russia June 26, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,744 new coronavirus cases on Monday, pushing its confirmed infection tally to 961,493, the fourth largest in the world.
    Authorities said 65 people had died over the past 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 16,448.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/24/2020 Polish PM To Discuss Situation In Belarus With Opposition At Home
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki plans to meet leaders of opposition parties on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Belarus, the PM’s Chief of Staff Michal Dworczyk said on Monday.
    “Today the prime minister will send official invitations for the meeting on Wednesday, whose main topic will be the situation in Belarus.    This situation should be considered outside the current political dispute,” Dworczyk told private television broadcaster TVN24.
    “We would like to talk with the representatives of other parties about further steps, as there is no doubt that this extraordinary situation in Belarus will not end soon,” Dworczyk also said.
    Tens of thousands of protesters demanding Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko step down defied a warning from the military on Sunday and flooded into Minsk, briefly gathering near the president’s residence, before dispersing peacefully.
    “For the first time in Belarus we have to do with demonstrations not by opposition parties or groups.    These are Belarusians demonstrating, who want to live in a free country and have the right to democratic election,” Dworczyk said.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Kim Coghill)

8/24/2020 Merkel Tells Russia To Investigate Suspected Poisoning Of Kremlin Critic by Michael Nienaber and Joseph Nasr
Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their way to an
airport before his medical evacuation to Germany in Omsk, Russia August 22, 2020. Alexei Navalny was taken ill with suspected
poisoning en route from Tomsk to Moscow on a plane, which made an emergency landing in Omsk. The local hospital delivering medical
support to Navalny later allowed German doctors to fly him to Germany for treatment. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called on Russia to investigate the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and hold the perpetrators accountable after doctors found indications of a toxic substance in his body.
    A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny last week collapsed on a plane after drinking tea while on his way to campaign in Siberia.    He was flown to Germany for treatment on Saturday.
    The Kremlin has said it was unclear what caused Navalny to fall ill and that initial tests did not show he was poisoned, as his aides charged.
    But German doctors treating Navalny at a Berlin hospital said on Monday that medical examinations indicated poisoning with some kind of cholinesterase inhibitor, although the specific substance is not yet known.
    “In light of the prominent role played by Mr. Navalny in the political opposition in Russia, the authorities there are now urgently called upon to investigate this crime to the last detail – and do so in full transparency,” Merkel said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
    “Those responsible must be identified and held accountable,” Merkel added.
    Berlin’s Charite hospital said a team of doctors there had examined him in detail after his arrival.    “Clinical findings indicate poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors,” the hospital said in a statement.
    “The specific substance involved remains unknown, and a further series of comprehensive testing has been initiated.”
    Russian health officials contradicted the German diagnosis, saying Navalny had tested negative for cholinesterase inhibitors when he was hospitalised in Omsk last week.
    Navalny showed no signs of having been poisoned when he was admitted to the clinic and tests were carried out on him to check for a wide range of substances, including inhibitors, the health ministry in Omsk said in a statement.
POISONING ATTACK
    Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters.
    He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings and rallies and sued over his investigations into corruption. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.
    The German government said earlier that Navalny was being guarded in hospital due to concerns for his safety.
    “Because one can say with near certainty that it was a poisoning attack, protection is necessary,” Merkel’s chief spokesman told journalists.
    The incident could further strain Russia’s fraught relations with its European and NATO neighbours, who have accused it of mounting attacks on dissidents in Europe in the past – accusations that Russia has dismissed.
    In their statement, the German doctors said Navalny was being treated in intensive care and remained in a medically induced coma.    While his condition was serious, it was not currently life-threatening, they said.
    The outcome remained uncertain and long-term effects, especially to the nervous system, could not be ruled out, the statement added.
    Cholinesterase inhibitors are a group of chemical compounds used in everything from chemical weapons to pesticides designed to kill bugs, and human medicines designed to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.    Nerve gases and the so-called “Novichok” group of chemicals are also cholinesterase inhibitors.
    The hospital statement said that Navalny was being treated with the antidote atropine.
    That is the same drug used by British doctors to treat Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter Yulia, who were poisoned with a nerve agent in 2018 in Salisbury, England.    The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement in that and other such incidents, calling accusations it was responsible anti-Russian provocations.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Joseph Nasr; Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Anton Zverev, Andrey Kuzmin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Jon Boyle, William Maclean and Alex Richardson)

8/24/2020 Former Bosnian Serb General Mladic Appeals Genocide Conviction by Toby Sterling
Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic arrives for his appeal hearing at the UN International Residual Mechanism
for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands August 25, 2020. UN-IRMCT/Leslie Hondebrink-Hermer/Handout via REUTERS
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic returned to a United Nations court on Tuesday to appeal his 2017 conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity during the Yugoslav Wars.
    Mladic is serving a life sentence after being found guilty of overseeing the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 and attacking and murdering civilians during the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.
    Trial judges ruled he was responsible for massacres of Bosnian Muslims and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns as part of a plan to forge a Greater Serbia out of parts of the former Yugoslavia, together with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Serb politician Slobodan Milosvic.    He was the commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 war that was part of Yugoslavia’s breakup.
    At the start of two days of hearings, Presiding Judge Prisca Nyambe said Mladic has put forward nine grounds of appeal, asking for acquittal or a retrial.
    “The prosecution responds that Mr. Mladic’s appeal should be rejected in its totality,” she said in opening remarks.
    Mladic, 77, appeared wearing a facemask which he removed after a few minutes.    The proceedings are being broadcast by video due to the coronavirus pandemic.    Mladic’s lawyers have sought to delay the appeal, arguing that the former general is in poor health.
    Mladic was convicted of 10 out of 11 charges at trial and prosecutors are seeking an additional genocide conviction.
    Prosecutors say Mladic’s sentence should be upheld and he should also have been convicted of the 11th charge, genocide against Bosniaks and Croats in five municipalities of Bosnia in 1992.
    Mladic’s appeal is being held at a U.N. court in The Hague set up to hear appeals and remaining cases from the former Yugoslav Tribunal, which closed in 2017.
    Mladic will be allowed to address the court for 10 minutes on Wednesday.    Judges have yet to set a date for a decision, likely to be sometime in 2021.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/25/2020 Russia Reports 4,696 New Coronavirus Cases In The Last 24 Hours
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) looks through a bus window in Moscow, Russia June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,696 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing its national total to 966,189, the fourth largest in the world.
    Authorities said 120 people had died in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 16,568.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

8/24/2020 State Dept. Condemns Belarus Regime Amid Ongoing Protests by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun talks with the press, after meeting with Lithuania’s Foreign
Minister Linas Linkevicius in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
    The State Department has ramped up pressure on the crumbling Lukashenko regime in Belarus.    In a statement released Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said the regime must release all political prisoners detained over the past few weeks of mass protests.
    Biegun also denounced the beating, torture and rape of protesters by the regime security forces.
    “We condemn the violation of human rights and the brutality that we have seen play out in Belarus since the elections,” he said.
    He also warned third-party countries not to interfere in the Belarus crisis.
    “We believe there’s an outcome here that can be acceptable to everyone.    Ultimately, of course, it is up to the people of Belarus to make their own choice.    Of course we, Lithuania and Russia should all respect the choice of the Belarusian people.” – Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State
    At least 200,000 people took to the streets of Belarus this past weekend to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko.

8/25/2020 Belarus Jails Two Opposition Leaders; Teachers Head Rally Of Thousands by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the nation in an unknown location in Lithuania,
in this still image taken from handout video released August 17, 2020. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Headquarters/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus jailed two opposition leaders for 10 days on Tuesday as the government pursued a crackdown on the few figures still at large, while schoolteachers led a new protest of thousands against President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Despite most major opposition figures being in jail or exile, Lukashenko has so far failed to put down protests against his 26-year-old rule, more than two weeks after an election his opponents say was rigged.
    Olga Kovalkova and Siarhei Dyleuski were brought to separate courts where they were each jailed for 10 days.    Kovalkova is the main representative still in Belarus of opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and Dyleuski has led strikes at Minsk’s flagship tractor factory.
    Both are senior figures in an opposition Coordination Council, set up last week with the self-described aim of negotiating with the authorities.    They were arrested on Monday.
Lukashenko has accused the new council of attempting to seize power, and prosecutors have launched a criminal case.
    In the latest protest, thousands gathered at the ministry of education to demonstrate against a threat by Lukashenko to fire schoolteachers who do not support his government.    Rallies have typically attracted thousands during the week, swelling to tens of thousands on weekends.
    “I have come so that teachers are not afraid, so that their voice can be heard, so that they can work even if they have a different view from the authorities,” said a literature teacher who gave her name as Svetlana.
    Lukashenko has denied election cheating. He has called the protesters “rats” and says they are funded from abroad.     His posturing has grown steadily more confrontational: in recent days he has been pictured on state television with a Kalashnikov rifle and tactical vest.    Yet so far, a long-standing threat of a decisive police operation to clear the streets has yet to materialise.
    Another opposition council member, Pavel Latushko, a former culture minister and head of the main state drama theatre, was questioned by investigators on Tuesday but not arrested.    He emerged saying he would go back to work and the council’s activities were not illegal.
    The council includes dozens of figures representing broad swathes of society.    Nobel Prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich has been summoned for questioning on Wednesday.     “The intimidation will not work.    We will not relent,” candidate Tsikhanouskaya said in a video link with the European Parliament.    “We demand all political prisoners freed.    We demand to stop the violence and intimidation by the authorities.”
    The Belarus Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal to annul the election results.
OPPOSITION
    Tsikhanouskaya, 37, fled to Lithuania after the election her supporters say she won.    A political novice, she emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures were barred from standing, including her jailed activist husband.
    Belarus is the closest ally to Russia of all former Soviet republics, and Lukashenko’s fate is widely seen as in the hands of the Kremlin, which must decide whether to stick with him as his authority has ebbed.
    Despite being seen in Moscow as a truculent and erratic ally, Lukashenko still seems to have the backing of Russia which sent journalists to staff Belarus state TV after employees quit in protest against what they described as orders to broadcast propaganda.
    On Tuesday, Russia said that during talks between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, it had stressed there should be no attempt by the United States and European Union to “pressure” Belarus, including via sanctions.
    Biegun was in Moscow after meeting Tsikhanouskaya on Monday in Lithuania.
    The West has had to balance its sympathy for a nascent Belarusian pro-democracy movement with its concern that strong support would trigger a Russian-backed crackdown.
    Meanwhile the crisis is threatening the finances of a country as foreign currency reserves shrink and the currency weakens.    The Belarusian rouble is at a record low against the euro and is approaching an all-time trough versus the dollar as Belarusians queue at exchange points to buy hard currency.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Reuters Moscow office; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

8/26/2020 Navalny Ally Says Only Putin Could Have Authorised Suspected Poisoning
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A senior ally of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny said on Wednesday he believed only President Vladimir Putin could have authorised the suspected poisoning of the outspoken Kremlin critic.
    The Kremlin has dismissed as “hot air” and untrue any suggestion Putin was somehow involved in Navalny falling ill.    It also says it remains unclear if Navalny was actually poisoned.
    Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after collapsing on a plane while flying back to Moscow from Siberia.
    Without providing evidence, Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), said “it is clear that only Putin personally could have sanctioned Navalny’s poisoning.”
    “He hates what the FBK does too much, exposing him and his entourage,” he said.
    German doctors treating him in Berlin said on Monday that medical examinations indicated poisoning with some kind of cholinesterase inhibitor.
    The specific substance is not yet known but cholinesterase inhibitors are a group of chemical compounds used in medicines o alleviate symptoms of Alzheimers and other kinds of dementia.
    Nerve gases and the so-called “Novichok” group of chemicals — substances used in 2018 to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England — are also cholinesterase inhibitors.
    Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising protests.
    However, he has said he believes his death would not help Putin.    Reuters reported he had told supporters just before his illness that his death would “turn him into a hero.”
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Sujata Rao)

8/26/2020 Protesters Rounded Up In Belarus; Nobel-Winning Writer Due For Questioning by Andrei Makhovsky
A man raises his fist as he attends an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election
results at the Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian police have rounded up dozens of protesters heading home from peaceful demonstrations, rights groups said on Wednesday, after days in which the authorities exercised comparative restraint towards mass anti-government rallies.
    The country’s most celebrated writer, Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich, was expected to appear for questioning later on Wednesday in a criminal investigation into an opposition council, two of whose leaders were jailed this week.
    President Alexander Lukashenko has faced more than two weeks of mass demonstrations against his 26-year rule since an election which his opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and says the protests are funded from abroad.
    Although Lukashenko has called the protesters “rats” and said he has given the order to clear them from the streets, police had been comparatively restrained in recent days, apparently wary of a crackdown that would add to public anger.
    But rights group Spring listed more than 30 people it said had been arrested on Tuesday, mostly in peaceful circumstances.
    In one typical account, a man wearing a red-and-white opposition flag on his shoulder was walking with his wife and young son, when an unmarked car pulled up, the group said. Two men in plain clothes jumped out, pushed the woman and child away, shoved the man into the car and drove off.
    The Interior Ministry said police had detained 51 people for administrative violations after unsanctioned rallies on Tuesday.    It typically reports dozens of such arrests per day.
    Alexievich, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for work that includes oral histories of World War Two and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is one of dozens of high profile figures who formed a new opposition Coordination Council last week.
    She was due for questioning in the afternoon at the Investigative Committee, a body handling a criminal investigation into the opposition council for attempting to seize power.
    The council says its aim is to negotiate a peaceful transition of authority after the election.    Two of its leaders were jailed for 10 days on Tuesday, including the main representative inside Belarus of opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.    She fled to Lithuania after the election which her supporters say she won.
(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

8/26/2020 U.N. Prosecutors Say Mladic’s Life Sentence Should Be Upheld by Toby Sterling
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Wednesday called on U.N. judges to uphold former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s life sentence for war crimes, including genocide, while his lawyers are calling for an acquittal or a retrial.
    Mladic, 77, was the commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian War and trial judges found he was responsible for overseeing the murder of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia in 1995.
    “Srebrenica was Mladic’s operation, and the trial chamber was right to conclude that he was criminally responsible for these crimes,” prosecutor Laurel Baig said on the second and final day of appeal hearings.
    Mladic shook his head in disagreement at times as Baig spoke.
    Trial judges found Mladic was responsible for “ethnic cleansing” campaigns against Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and murdering and terrorising civilians in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, as part of a plan to forge a “Greater Serbia” out of parts of the former Yugoslavia.
    Mladic will have the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes at the end of Wednesday’s hearing.
    “Any illegal killings in Srebrenica that were outside of combat are reprehensible, but they are not tied to Mr. Mladic,” said defence lawyer Branko Lukic during arguments on Tuesday.
    The appeal is being held at a U.N. court in The Hague set up to hear appeals and the remaining cases from the former Yugoslav Tribunal, which closed in 2017.    The proceedings are being broadcast by video because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Appeals judges have yet to set a date for a decision, likely to be in 2021.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Barbara Lewis)

8/26/2020 Sweden Drops Advice Against Travel To Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania
FILE PHOTO: People ride an escalator respecting social distancing at the central train station, as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 12, 2020. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden on Wednesday withdrew its advise against unnecessary travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic to the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Romania.
    Sweden earlier withdrew advice against unnecessary trips to Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Switzerland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Vatican and Austria.
    The foreign ministry in a statement on its website extended its advise against travel to other EU and Schengen countries and Britain through Sept. 9, and to the rest of the world through Nov. 15.
    Rising numbers of confirmed cases in some countries are fuelling fears of a resurgence in the spread of the new coronavirus.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Jason Neely)

8/26/2020 Nobel Prize-Winning Belarus Author Calls On Russia To Push Lukashenko To Talk by Andrei Makhovsky
A man raises his fist as he attends an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election
results at the Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus’s most celebrated writer called on Russia on Wednesday to help persuade President Alexander Lukashenko to negotiate, as she arrived for questioning in a criminal case accusing an opposition body of an illegal attempt to seize power.
    “Now Lukashenko speaks only to Putin.    We need him to speak to the people,” Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, told reporters outside the Investigative Committee, where she appeared for questioning.
    “Maybe the world can help us, so that Lukashenko will negotiate with somebody,” she said.    “We need the world to help, and maybe Russia.”
    She emerged after a short time and said she had invoked her right not to testify against herself.    She said there was no basis for the investigation, adding: “The more we stay together, the stronger we will be, and the greater chance we will have of making the authorities talk to us.”
    Alexievich is one of dozens of public figures who formed the opposition Coordination Council last week, with the stated aim of negotiating a peaceful transition of power after an election the opposition says was rigged.
    Lukashenko called it an attempt to seize power illegally. Two of its leaders were jailed on Tuesday.
    Rights groups said on Wednesday that Belarusian police had rounded up dozens of protesters heading home from peaceful demonstrations, after days in which the authorities exercised comparative restraint towards mass anti-government rallies.
    Lukashenko has faced more than two weeks of mass demonstrations against his 26-year-old rule since the election, which official results say he won with 80 percent of the vote.    He denies electoral fraud and says the protests are funded from abroad.
    Although Lukashenko has called the protesters “rats” and said he has given the order to clear them from the streets, police had been comparatively restrained in recent days, apparently wary of a crackdown that would add to public anger.
FOR GOD’S SAKE
    In the early days of the protests, police beat demonstrators and many of those who were arrested emerged to say they had been abused in detention.    In her comments before questioning, Alexeivich deplored that violence.
    “For God’s sake let there not be blood spilled,” she said.    “What we saw the first three days, when they turned people into meat, that is from last century.”
    Rights group Spring listed more than 30 people it said had been arrested on Tuesday.    In one typical account, a man wearing a red-and-white opposition flag on his shoulder was walking with his wife and young son, when an unmarked car pulled up, the group said.    Two men in plain clothes jumped out, pushed the woman and child away, shoved the man into the car and drove off.
    The Interior Ministry said police had detained 51 people for administrative violations after unsanctioned rallies on Tuesday.    It typically reports dozens of such arrests per day.
    Belarus has the closest cultural, economic and political ties to Russia of any former Soviet state.    Russia has signalled its support for Lukashenko, including sending journalists to staff state television after workers quit in protest against what they described as orders to broadcast propaganda.
    But it remains to be seen how long the Kremlin will stick by Lukashenko if his authority continues to ebb away.    He has long had a difficult personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean)

8/26/2020 Ukraine Temporarily Bars Most Foreigners Amid Pandemic After Israel Pilgrimage Plea by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians, including a woman wearing a protective face mask amid the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), cross a street in central Kyiv, Ukraine August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine on Wednesday imposed a temporary ban on most foreigners from entering the country until Sept. 28 and extended lockdown measures until the end of October to contain a recent spike in coronavirus cases.
    Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal also said the government would need to take a decision on Thursday on whether to ban major public events in September.
    “The rise in coronavirus infections we have seen in recent weeks is forcing us to act more decisively,” Shmygal said.
    The daily tally of new infections jumped to around 2,000 last week with a record high of 2,328 on Saturday.    The total number of infections reached 110,085 on Wednesday, with 2,354 deaths.
    Shmygal said Wednesday’s decisions were partly in response to a plea from Israel to prevent an influx of Hasidic Jews travelling to the central Ukrainian town of Uman for an annual pilgrimage, fearing it may become a virus hotspot.
    “We must protect our citizens and show responsibility to our foreign partners,” Shmygal said.
    Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.    Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept. 18-20 this year.
    The head of Israel’s coronavirus task force asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ban the event this year.
    Some foreigners would be exempted from the new curbs, including diplomats and passengers in transit to other countries, Shmygal said.
    Ukraine’s government decided to ease lockdown rules imposed in March for economic reasons, after seeing gross domestic product shrink 11.4% in the second quarter year-on-year, showing the deepest quarterly fall since 2015.
    The authorities do not plan to lock down the whole country again, but have reimposed some restrictions such as limiting public transport.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/26/2020 Belgium Revises Down COVID-19 Deaths Just Shy Of 10,000 Mark by Philip Blenkinsop
FILE PHOTO: A healtcare worker takes a swab sample from a person to test for the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), at a drive-in testing site in Liege, Belgium, August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium revised down on Wednesday the country’s COVID-19 death toll, just as it was about to pass the milestone of 10,000 fatalities.
    Health authorities have reviewed figures from care homes in the northern region of Flanders and found some COVID-19 deaths not reported as such, some recorded twice and some not caused by the new coronavirus.    The net effect is a reduction of 121.
    The revision brought the total fatalities to 9,878 by Wednesday.    Otherwise, it would have been 9,999.
    Britain also lowered its death toll from the disease by more than 5,000 two weeks ago after the government adopted a new method of counting fatalities.
    Belgium’s COVID-19 deaths per capita are among the highest in the world and it reports a higher proportion of fatalities in care homes than other countries, including when the disease is suspected but not confirmed.
    Belgian COVID-19 task-force spokesman and virologist Steven Van Gucht told Reuters TV that Belgium, home of EU and NATO headquarters, had been hit hard.
    “But if you compare Belgium with for example the United Kingdom or Spain you see they were actually hit even worse,” he said, adding this was reflected in ‘excess’ mortality rates.
    The number of new cases in Belgium has risen steadily from a low of around 80 per day in early July to an average of 490 for the week Aug 16-22, although numbers had been falling for 10 days.
    Van Gucht said about a fifth of new infections appeared to have been caught on summer holidays.    A new challenge would come from re-opening schools and a public tiring of measures among the strictest in Europe.
    “This is a matter of prevention…     This is really to avoid a problem that will only come in a few weeks or a few months,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Clement Rossignol; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/27/2020 EU Ministers To Discuss Navalny As Russia Not Cooperating: Germany
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attends a joint news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Dmytro Kuleba (not pictured) in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Pool
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Russia must help investigate what happened to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who is being treated in a Berlin hospital for suspected poisoning, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday before talks with EU counterparts on what to do next.
    “We expect Russia to join efforts to clear up what happened but at the moment that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Maas told ZDF television.
    “We, EU foreign ministers, will discuss this today because it would be easiest for Moscow to join the investigation, otherwise the question remains open and then the EU will have to discuss how to proceed,” he added.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Thomas Seythal)

8/27/2020 Lukashenko Must Respect Fundamental Rights, Says NATO Chief
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks as he chairs a NATO defence ministers meeting via
teleconference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool
    BERLIN (Reuters) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday to respect fundamental rights and said it would be unjustified to use the defence alliance as an excuse for a crackdown.
    “The regime in Minsk must demonstrate full respect for fundamental rights including freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest,” said Stoltenberg, who is in Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    “NATO has no military build up in the region so any attempt to use that an excuse to crack down on peaceful protesters is absolutely unjustified,” he said, adding it was up to the people of Belarus to decide their future.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

8/27/2020 Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surpass 975,000
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,711 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its nationwide tally to 975,576, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 121 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 16,804.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

8/27/2020 Putin Says Russia Has Set Up ‘Reserve Police Force’ To Help Belarus Leader If Needed by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Polina Ivanova and Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: 2019 European Games - Closing Ceremony - Dinamo Stadium, Minsk, Belarus - June 30, 2019. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko speak in the stands during the closing ceremony REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko//File Photo
    MOSCOW/MINSK (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the Kremlin had set up a “reserve police force” to support     Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, although it would not be deployed unless unrest there spun out of control.
    The remarks were the strongest signal yet that Russia is prepared to use force if needed in Belarus, its closest ally among former Soviet republics.    The comments triggered a swift response from Belarus’s NATO-member neighbour Poland, which demanded Moscow jettison any such plan.
    “We have of course certain obligations towards Belarus, and the question Lukashenko raised was whether we would provide the necessary help,” Putin told state television.
    “I told him Russia would fulfil all its obligations.    Alexander Grigorivich (Lukashenko) asked me to create a reserve police force and I have done that.    But we agreed this would not be used unless the situation got out of control.”
    The Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council said it was unacceptable for Russia to have set up armed forces of any kind for use in Belarus and that such a move “violated international law.”
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s response was swift.
    Poland “urges Russia to immediately withdraw from plans of a military intervention in Belarus, under (the) false excuse of ‘restoring control’ – a hostile act, in breach of international law and human rights of Belarusian people, who should be free to decide their own fate,” Morawiecki tweeted in English.
    Poland – a Soviet satellite until the collapse of communism three decades ago – also summoned the Belarusian ambassador to clarify what Warsaw called “unfounded accusations” that it had designs on Belarusian territory.
    Lukashenko has accused Poland of plotting to take over the Grodno region bordering Poland and Lithuania if Belarus falls apart, Belarus’s state news agency Belta reported.
    The country has been plunged into turmoil following an Aug. 9 election, which the opposition says was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. He denies electoral fraud.
    Security forces have beaten protesters and arrested thousands in a bid to stamp out mass demonstrations and strikes.
    On Thursday, Belarusian police detained around 20 journalists preparing to cover a protest in central Minsk and confiscated their telephones and identity documents, a Reuters witness said. [L8N2FT662]
    The Interior Ministry later said the journalists had been driven to a police station for officers to check they had valid accreditaton allowing them to work as journalists.    It said all those with official accreditation would be released, and denied that the journalists had been detained.
RUSSA’S BUFFER AGAINST NATO
    Belarus is politically, economically and culturally intertwined with Russia and its fortified frontiers with NATO members are crucial to Moscow’s defence strategy.
    Moscow and Minsk have even proclaimed a “union state,” complete with a Soviet-style red flag.    But Lukashenko has had a difficult personal relationship with Putin and is viewed as a truculent and erratic ally in Moscow.
    Nevertheless, Russia has taken steps to shore up the Minsk authorities, such as sending journalists to staff state TV after employees resigned to protest what they described as orders to broadcast propaganda.
    Lukashenko who has borrowed large sums of money from Moscow said he had agreed with Putin to refinance a maturing $1 billion loan, though Russia’s finance ministry said it had not received any such request.
    The West has so far acted cautiously, wary of provoking a Russian military response as took place in Ukraine in 2014.
    In Berlin, EU foreign ministers discussed possible sanctions against a short list of up to 20 Belarusians blamed for electoral fraud or the abuse of protesters.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw; Writing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Sujata Rao)

8/27/2020 Belarus Detains Around 20 Journalists Preparing To Cover Protest: Reuters Witness
Law enforcement officers detaining a journalist who was on assignment are photographed by a Reuters photographer
shortly before his detention, in central Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian police detained around 20 journalists preparing to cover a protest in central Minsk on Thursday and confiscated their telephones and identity documents, a Reuters witness said.
    The Interior Ministry later said the journalists had been driven to a police station for officers to check they had valid accreditaton allowing them to work as journalists.
    It said all those with official accreditation would be released.    It denied the journalists had been detained.
    Large and sustained nationwide protests have followed a presidential election on Aug. 9 that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s opponents say was rigged.
    The journalists had planned to cover a demonstration in which hundreds of anti-government protesters marched along a central Minsk street on Thursday evening.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/27/2020 Who Else But Navalny? Kremlin Critic’s Illness A Blow For Campaign To Break Putin’s Grip by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny waits for the start of a hearing for the delivery of the European court of Human Rights Grand Chamber
judgment regarding his case against Russia at the court in Strasbourg, France, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s sudden illness has upended his strategy to challenge Vladimir Putin’s grip on power at upcoming regional elections.    But it also exposes a longer-term issue – the leadership vacuum within Russia’s opposition.
    Navalny, 44, now lying in a Berlin hospital after a suspected poisoning, had been urging supporters to vote tactically for candidates running against the ruling United Russia party in mid-September.
    Russians will elect 18 governors, as well as local parliaments and city councillors in country-wide voting which is effectively a dry run for parliamentary elections in September 2021.
    Though Putin – in his fourth term of office – looks unassailable as Russian leader, the elections take place amid frustration over years of falling wages and a coronavirus lockdown that pushed his approval rating to two-decade lows.
    Before Navalny fell ill on Aug. 20 on a flight from Siberia to Moscow, he had cast his campaign as a long-term strategy to short-circuit a political system which often bars his allies from contesting elections, while allowing less outspoken opponents from other parties to run.
    Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter, questioned whether anyone else had the political weight to take the helm of the campaign.
    “To force voters to vote en masse, you need someone extremely authoritative,” he said.
    Under Navalny’s smart voting plan, supporters receive emails on the eve of regional or local elections telling them to vote for a specific candidate running against United Russia.
    The strategy spooked United Russia in 2019, when it lost a third of its seats in Moscow city elections.
    But while the campaign largely failed outside Moscow, it has won momentum of late from mass anti-Kremlin protests in the Far East, triggered by the arrest of a governor who had scored a rare election win against United Russia in 2018.
    Navalny’s team will press ahead with the strategic voting campaign, his ally Leonid Volkov said.
    “Clearly it is extremely unpleasant for us that Navalny has temporarily been taken out of action,” he told Reuters, vowing to do everything possible “to compensate for his temporary absence so that smart voting wins.”
    German doctors say Navalny may have been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a substance also used in nerve toxins such as one used in the 2018 poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in England.
    The Kremlin says the poisoning diagnosis is inconclusive.
WHO’S THE LEADER?
    So who within the fragmented opposition could step up if Navalny is incapacitated for months, or even permanently?
    Rising to prominence during the demonstrations of 2011, Navalny is the undisputed leader of the opposition outside official structures.
    His YouTube videos detailing corruption allegations against officials reach millions of Russians, making him a thorn in the side of the Kremlin.
    “Of course what happened was aimed at decapitating the opposition,” Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center think-tank.
    But a source close to the Kremlin said smart voting had annoyed the government but was not really a huge threat.    The opposition faced a bigger problem, the person said, adding:
    “He is bright, young, handsome, famous, has found his own style…when will the same appear?    Not soon.”
    But Volkov said the voting strategy was not tied to Navalny the person.    Aside from Volkov, another Navalny ally is Lyubov Sobol, a 32-year old lawyer who was prominent in last year’s protests in Moscow.    Other allies include activists Ivan Zhdanov and Georgy Alburov.
    Sobol declined to be interviewed for this article.
    Leading Russia’s opposition is an unappealing proposition.
    Navalny has been targeted multiple times by pro-Kremlin activists, being attacked in 2016 during a trip to southern Russia and twice in 2017 when a green dye thrown at him, temporarily lost him the vision in one eye.
    The 2014 jailing of his brother for fraud was also seen by many as politically motivated.
    “This challenges the opposition to seek a new leader.    But some new one will appear.    A sacred place never stays empty for long,” the Kremlin-linked source said.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; editing by Sujata Rao and Angus MacSwan)

8/27/2020 Putin Says Alleged Mercenaries Were Lured To Belarus By Foreign Spy Operation
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with graduates of the Management Personnel Pool program
at the Graduate School of Public Administration of Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA),
at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia August 20, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that a group of Russians who were detained in Belarus prior to its Aug. 9 election and accused of being mercenaries had been lured to Belarus by a Ukrainan-U.S. intelligence operation.
    Belarus had accused the men of seeking to destabilise the country ahead of its election, marking an unusual diplomatic row with close ally Russia.    At the time, Russia had said the men were private security workers on their way to a third country.
    “These people, I repeat, were travelling for work to a third country.    They were lured there, dragged across the border… It was an operation of Ukrainian intelligence agencies together with American ones,” Putin said on television.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Dmitry Antonov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Sujata Rao)

8/27/2020 NATO: Belarus Must Respect Fundamental Human Rights by OAN Newsroom
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks to the media after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called for free and fair elections in Belarus after claims the recent election was rigged.
    While speaking with European Union defense ministers in Berlin on Wednesday, Stoltenberg noted that NATO does not have excess military stationed in the region.    He said this is one reason it would be unjustified if President Alexander Lukashenko tried to use the defense alliance to crack down on demonstrations in the country.
    The NATO secretary general also said the organization is watching the situation in Belarus closely and urged Lukashenko to respect fundamental human rights.
    “It is for the people of Belarus to determine their own future, all NATO allies support a sovereign and independent Belarus,” he stated.    “The regime in Minsk must demonstrate full respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and the right for a peaceful protest.”
    Protests have been in full force since the election earlier this month, which many have said was fraudulent.
Protesters holding a wait ribbon, a symbol of protest, stand in front of the Church of Saints Simon
and Helena during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

8/28/2020 Poland Calls Lukashenko’s Words Unacceptable As Relations Become Tense
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting on industrial
development, in Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s comments that Warsaw may be plotting to seize part of the country if its political crisis worsened are unacceptable, Krzysztof Szczerski, an aide to Poland’s president, said on Friday.
    Relations between Warsaw and Minsk have become tense in recent days following Lukashenko’s suggestions quoted by state news agency Belta that Poland planned to take over the Grodno region bordering Poland and Lithuania if Belarus falls apart.
    On Thursday, Poland summoned the Belarus ambassador to protest the “unfounded accusations.”
    “These comments are unacceptable.    No one has such intentions in Poland and this is propaganda,” Szczerski told public radio, adding the situation in Belarus is evolving in a negative direction.
    Belarus has been in turmoil since a presidential election on Aug. 9 that the opposition said was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.    Security forces have beaten and arrested protesters to stamp out mass demonstrations and strikes.
    Szczerski also said that following Russia’s latest signals that it is prepared to use force if needed in Belarus, the key question now is how Western Europe reacts.
    The West has so far acted cautiously, wary of provoking a Russian military response as took place in Ukraine in 2014.
    “If the West does not have a ‘we win, they lose’ approach to Russia, then Putin will be step by step expanding the Brezhnev Doctrine,” Szczerski said, referring to Soviet foreign policy under which Moscow intervened in the domestic affairs of its East Bloc satellites when developments displeased it.
    Warsaw is watching events in neighbouring Belarus closely, concerned over perceived resurgent aggressiveness by Russia in the region.     It also sees itself as a key party in the West’s attempts to support the Belarusian people.
    News agency Belta reported on Thursday evening that the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Polish Charge d’Affaires to protest against Poland’s attempts to interfere in Belarus’ domestic affairs.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

8/28/2020 Ukraine Has Frozen Dialogue With Belarus -Foreign Minister by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attends a joint news conference with Ukrainian Foreign
Minister Dmytro Kuleba (not pictured) in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Pool
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has frozen contact with Belarus and joined the European Union in condemning the recent elections in its northerly neighbour as not free or fair, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday.
    Kuleba said there was no reason to break off diplomatic relations entirely, but added Ukraine would take a decision on imposing sanctions on Belarus after seeing what the EU would do.
    “We put all contacts on pause until the situation in Belarus stabilises,” he told a briefing.
    Ukraine has so far been guarded when commenting on the political turmoil engulfing Belarus, a fellow former Soviet republic, since an Aug. 9 presidential election sparked mass protests against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko.
    While Belarus is traditionally a close Moscow ally, Lukashenko made common cause with Ukraine in refusing to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has hosted talks on the conflict in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
    His opponents accuse Lukashenko of rigging the vote to extend his 26-year rule.    He denies electoral fraud.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for new elections but said it was up to Belarusians to choose their leader.
    Belarus responded saying it did not need Ukraine’s advice, the Belarusian news outlet tut.by reported.
    Ukraine has temporarily banned the entry of foreigners into the country to contain the spread of COVID-19, but Kuleba said Belarusians wanting to escape their political crisis might be exempted and given entry permits.
    Ukraine was angered when Minsk decided not to extradite a group of Russians detained in Belarus in July despite initially being receptive to the idea.    Belarus had accused the men of seeking to destabilise the country, marking an unusual diplomatic row with Russia that was later patched up.
    At the time, Russia had said the men were private security workers on their way to a third country.    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the men had been lured to Belarus by a Ukrainian-U.S. intelligence operation.
    Ukraine denied such an intelligence operation existed but wanted to extradite 28 of the group, suspecting the men of fighting alongside Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass.    Belarus initially agreed to cooperate in the case with Ukraine, but instead handed the men to Russia this month.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/28/2020 Russia Releases Secret Footage Of 1961 ‘Tsar Bomba’ Hydrogen Blast
A mushroom cloud rises after the so-called Tsar Bomba was detonated in a test over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago in USSR, in
this still image from previously classified footage taken in October 1961 and released by Russian state atomic energy corporation
Rosatom. Ministry of medium machine building of USSR/Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has released previously classified footage of the world’s largest nuclear explosion, caused when the Soviet Union detonated the so-called Tsar Bomba almost 60 years ago.
    The hydrogen bomb, which carried the force of 50 million tons of conventional explosives, was detonated in a test in October 1961, 4,000 metres over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago above the Arctic Circle.
    The footage shows an immense fireball and a 60-km high mushroom cloud rising after the explosion lit up the sky.    The views were captured from several angles by cameras installed on the ground and on board two Soviet aircraft.
    “The testing of an exceptionally powerful hydrogen load … confirmed that the Soviet Union is in possession of a thermo-nuclear weapon with power of 50 megatons, 100 megatons and more,” a narrator tells the audience.
    The documentary was published online for the first time by Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom last week as part of events to mark 75th anniversary of Russia’s atomic industry.
    Developed between 1956 and 1961 as the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear arms race with the United States, the Tsar Bomba – the King of Bombs – was the largest hydrogen bomb ever and was claimed to be 3,300 times as destructive as the weapon that levelled Hiroshima.
    The 30-minute film, which opens with a ‘Top secret’ title, features all the test stages – from transportation of a 26-ton weapon in an aviation bomb casing by railway, to post-explosion measurements of the radioactive fallout.
    The Tsar Bomba far surpassed the largest explosion the United States has ever conducted – a 15-megaton “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb detonated on Bikini Atoll in 1954.
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Sujata Rao and Giles Elgood)

8/28/2020 No Serious Threat To Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Life, Symptoms Improving: Spokeswoman
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters,
who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who remains in a medically-induced coma after what his supporters suspect was a poisoning, is facing no serious threat to his life and his condition is improving, his spokeswoman said on Friday.
    Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany on Saturday after collapsing during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow.    He is in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Jon Boyle)

8/29/2020 ‘Putin, Have Some Tea’: Russian City Holds Eighth Anti-Kremlin Protest
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on
murder charges in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, Russia August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in Russia’s far eastern city of Khabarovsk to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s handling of a regional political crisis and the suspected poisoning of his most vocal critic.
    “Putin, have some tea,” protesters chanted as they marched on the city’s main thoroughfare, in a reference to the case of opposition politician Alexei Navalny who fell gravely ill this month after drinking a cup of tea at an airport cafe.
    Navalny, 44, was airlifted to Germany last week after collapsing during a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. He is now in a medically-induced coma in a Berlin hospital. [nL8N2FT2PE]
    Residents of Khabarovsk, about 6,110 km (3,800 miles) east of Moscow, started holding weekly rallies after the July 9 detention of Sergei Furgal, the region’s popular governor, over murder charges he denies. [nL5N2ER37S]
    His supporters say the detention is politically motivated.    At the rally, they brandished posters denouncing “repression” and “dictatorship” and demanded that Furgal be released and allowed to return to the city.
    Some also expressed solidarity with opponents of Belarusian leader and long-time Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko who have been staging public protests for weeks over vote-rigging accusations in the Aug.9 presidential election.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

8/29/2020 Belarus Revokes Accreditations Of Journalists Covering Protests For Foreign Media
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers detaining a journalist who was on assignment are photographed by a Reuters
photographer shortly before his detention, in central Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus has revoked the accreditations of some journalists working for foreign media and covering anti-government protests that erupted after a disputed presidential election, news organisations and a journalist association said on Saturday.
    The accreditations, issued by the Foreign Ministry, were revoked for 17 journalists including a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
    Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz could not be reached for comment.
    A Reuters spokesperson said in a statement that Reuters journalists had been stripped of their accreditation, adding “We are not aware of any acts by our Belarus journalists that might warrant loss of accreditation.”
    “We hope the authorities will reinstate their credentials to ensure our journalists can continue to deliver independent, unbiased news in the public interest,” the spokesperson said.
    Radio Liberty in a report on its website cited the Foreign Ministry as saying the decision to revoke the accreditations was taken for security reasons.    The ministry declined to say how many journalists had lost their accreditation, Radio Liberty said.
    In comments at a government meeting on July 23, President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to expel foreign journalists, accusing them of inciting protests against him before the Aug. 9 election.
    Lukashenko denies opposition accusations that he rigged the election to prolong his 26-year rule.    Thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand he step down.
    The U.S. Embassy in Minsk issued a statement on Saturday that did not refer specifically to the revocation of accreditations, but said, “We are concerned by the continued targeting of journalists, the blocking of independent media and opposition websites” as well as intermittent internet blackouts and detentions of citizens exercising their rights of free assembly and speech.
    The embassy could not be reached for further comment.
    The BBC said in a statement that two journalists working for the BBC Russian service had had their accreditations revoked, with immediate effect, and called on the authorities to reverse the decision.
    “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism,” the BBC said.
    Daisy Sindelar, the acting president of RFE/RL, a nonprofit that is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress, said in a statement that “Stripping our journalists of accreditation on grounds of ‘extremism’ is a desperate and ominous move by an authoritarian government to stifle the independent media.”
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in Moscow and Stephen Addison in London; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Matthias Williams and Frances Kerry)

8/30/2020 Putin And Lukashenko Plan To Meet In Moscow – Kremlin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko have agreed to meet in Moscow in coming weeks, the Kremlin said on Sunday.
    The two leaders have not met since anti-government protests over a disputed presidential election that handed victory to Lukashenko gripped Belarus.
    In a phone call on Sunday, the two men agreed they should strengthen bilateral relations and expand cooperation.
    “It was agreed to hold a meeting in Moscow in coming weeks,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Darya Korsunskaya; Editing by Olzhas Auyezov and Nick Macfie)

8/30/2020 Women March Through Belarusian Capital Calling For Lukashenko To Step Down
People walk during a women's demonstration against police brutality following recent protests to
reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus August 29, 2020. BelaPAN via Reuters
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Several thousand women marched in the capital of Belarus on Saturday waving flags, flowers and balloons in the latest in a series of anti-government protests that have gripped the country since a disputed presidential election this month.
    President Alexander Lukashenko denies opposition accusations that he rigged the Aug. 9 election to prolong his 26-year rule.    He says the protesters are funded by the West, and accuses NATO of massing forces on Belarusian frontiers, which the alliance denies.
    The women on Saturday staged what they called a march of solidarity, calling on Lukashenko and his government to step down.
    “This is our city” and “you better protect us,” chanted the crowd, many of them sporting national dress.
    Streets along the protest route were cordoned off by police and security troops.    Rallies on a smaller scale took place in other cities and towns.
(Writing by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/30/2020 Divided Montenegro Starts Knife-Edge Election by Fedja Grulovic
Voters wearing face masks due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak line up to cast their ballot
at a polling station during the general election in Podgorica, Montenegro, August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Montenegrins go to the polls on Sunday in a parliamentary election that looks too close to call, with neither the long-ruling pro-Western party nor a rival pro-Serb and pro-Russian alliance tipped to win a majority of seats.
    At stake is the political future of President Milo Djukanovic.    He leads the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and has governed Montenegro since the start of the break-up of federal Yugoslavia in 1990 and through the dissolution of its union with Serbia in 2006.
    Staunchly pro-Western Djukanovic has overseen Montenegro’s ongoing efforts to qualify for membership of the European Union and was instrumental in securing its accession to NATO in 2017.
    The vote pits the DPS against an alliance of mainly Serb nationalist parties seeking closer ties to Serbia and Russia.
    Led by university professor Zdravko Krivokapic, it is backed by the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church, which holds daily protests against a law adopted last December that allows the state to seize religious assets whose historical ownership cannot be proven.
    Montenegrins who identify as Serbs account for about a third of the 620,000 population.    Most Montenegrins and Serbs share language and the Orthodox faith, and many Serbian citizens have roots and families in Montenegro.
    On election day in 2016, authorities thwarted an attempt by Russian agents and a group of Serb nationalists to topple the government, kill Djukanovic who then served as the prime minister, halt the country’s accession to NATO and bring a pro-Russian alliance to power.
    Moscow repeatedly dismissed accusations of involvement as absurd.
    At the polling station in Montenegro’s historical capital Cetinje, Metropolitan Amfilohije, the head of the largest church diocese in the country, voted for the first time in his lifetime in a bid to mobilise voters.
    Asked if he feared the probability of violent protests after the vote, Amfilohije said: “There will be no unrest, only the love of God.”
    He earlier called on people to vote against the government and what he described as “lawless (religion) law.”
    The DPS has 42 deputies in the outgoing 81-seat parliament, but polls suggest neither it nor the nationalists are on course to secure an absolute majority, making them reliant on coalition partners to form a government.
    Momir, a pensioner from Cetinje, said he hoped Montenegrins would “continue to live … as we lived so far.”
    “Not (with) these processions, this disgrace,” he said in a reference to daily protests staged by the church.
    Opposition leaders and democracy and rights watchdogs have accused Djukanovic and his party of running Montenegro as their own fiefdom with links to organised crime.
    They deny this, and Djukanovic – who faces re-election as the president in 2023 – and his top associates have in turn accused Serbia and Russia of using the church and the pro-Serb opposition to undermine the independence of the mountainous coastal republic.
    Montenegro has also been combating a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 4,500 people, caused 89 deaths, and gutted the Adriatic tourism that is a key driver of its economy.
    Polling stations will close at 8:00 p.m.(1800 GMT). First partial results are due around 10:00 p.m.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by John Stonestreet and Nick Macfie)

8/30/2020 Montenegro’s Ruling DPS Narrowly Ahead Of Opposition In Vote, Pollster Forecasts by Fedja Grulovic
Voters wearing face masks due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak line up to cast their ballot at
a polling station during the general election in Podgorica, Montenegro, August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – The pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of President Milo Djukanovic was narrowly ahead of Montenegro’s pro-Serbian and pro-Russian alliance in parliamentary elections on Sunday, pollster CEMI said in a preliminary forecast.
    On the basis of 100% of ballots from a sample of polling stations, CEMI forecast the DPS had secured 34.8% of votes, while the alliance of mainly Serb nationalist parties, For the Future of Montenegro, which wants closer ties with Serbia and Russia, was just behind with 32.7%.
    As neither of the two largest contenders will secure the 41 deputies in the 81-seat parliament needed to rule alone, they would need to seek coalition partners.
    The Peace is Our Nation, an alliance of centrist parties also opposed to the DPS, came third with 12.5% of the votes, CEMI said.     Another alliance led by the green United Reform Action (URA) party received 5.7% of the votes.
    The result was a major setback for the DPS, which has been in power for three decades, and Djukanovic, who led the country through the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the dissolution of a state union with Serbia in 2006 and steered it into NATO in 2017.
    Djukanovic told his supporters that the DPS remains the single strongest party in the parliament with 30 deputies and that with “traditional partners,” – parties of national minorities and other small parties – it can secure a total of 40 deputies, one short of a majority.
    “We will await a final vote count to see to whom this crucial mandate belongs,” he said.    “The DPS would unconditionally respect … the final decision.”
    The state election commission is expected to announce final results in the coming days.
‘REGIME HAS FALLEN’
    A pro-Serb government might move the country closer to Serbia and Russia, but it is not expected to lead it out of NATO or abandon its European Union membership bid.
    At the headquarters of the Democratic Front, which is the mainstay of For the Future of Montenegro, the leader of the pro-Serb alliance, Zdravko Krivokapic, claimed victory.
    “Dear citizens, we are expressing our gratitude for your perseverance and dignity … the regime has fallen,” Krivokapic, a university professor, told his jubilant backers.
    Krivokapic’s alliance and the DF are backed by the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church, which holds daily protests against a law adopted last December that allows the state to seize religious assets whose historical ownership cannot be proven.
    Politicians from the DF were also implicated in a failed 2016 election day plot staged by Russian agents and a group of Serb nationalists aiming to topple the government, assassinate Djukanovic, who then served as the prime minister, and halt the country’s accession to NATO.
    Opposition leaders and democracy and rights watchdogs have long accused Djukanovic and his party of running Montenegro for three decades as their own corrupt fiefdom with links to organised crime.
    The DPS denies this.    Djukanovic, who faces re-election as president in 2023, and his top associates have in turn accused Serbia and Russia of using the Church and the pro-Serb opposition to undermine the independence of the mountainous coastal republic, its NATO membership and its EU membership bid.
    Any future government must tackle an economic downturn that started in 2019 and was aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, which gutted tourism revenue, a key driver of the economy.
    According to the International Monetary Fund, Montenegro’s economy is forecast to contract by nearly 9% this year and recover in 2021.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie, Raissa Kasolowsky and Paul Simao)

8/30/2020 Protesters Crowd Minsk As Belarus Leader Gets Birthday Call From Putin
FILE PHOTO: People walk during a women's demonstration against police brutality following recent protests
to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus August 29, 2020. BelaPAN via Reuters
    (Reuters) – Belarusians chanting “Happy Birthday, you rat” and flying red-and-white opposition flags gathered near President Alexander Lukashenko’s residence on Sunday as protesters kept up pressure on the veteran leader to resign, before dispersing peacefully.
    The president, in office for 26 years, has shown no inclination to step down.    For the second weekend in a row he appeared in a black cap and carrying an automatic rifle while walking around his residence, according to a photo published by Russia’s RIA news agency.
    Lukashenko, who turned 66 on Sunday, is struggling to contain weeks of protests and strikes since winning an Aug. 9 election his opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and has said the protesters, whom he previously called “rats,” are backed from abroad.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin used a birthday phone call to invite Lukashenko to visit Moscow, a sign of the Kremlin’s willingness to back Lukashenko as he grapples with the unrest and the threat of new Western sanctions.
    Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into central Minsk, carrying balloons, flowers and flags, in the afternoon.    Belarus had a white-red-white flag for a brief period in the early 1990s and it has become a symbol of its anti-government protests.
    Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity.    Some women lay down in protest in front of a cordon of helmeted security forces.
    Protesters then converged on Lukashenko’s residence, which was guarded by a wall of security forces carrying shields.    A column of armoured military vehicles was seen driving towards the city centre.
    Police made sporadic detentions throughout the day, bundling people into prisoner vans.    At least 140 people were detained, the interior ministry said, according to RIA.    Some protesters resisted arrest by what appeared to be plain-clothes officers, an eyewitness said.
    Earlier on Sunday, video footage shared by local media showed women dressed in traditional dress laying several pumpkins in front of the main government building, a folk custom intended to signal the rejection of a suitor.
    In a holiday atmosphere, the protesters occasionally sang songs.    At one point, a man draped in a flag got down on one knee and made a marriage proposal to a woman who accepted with a hug and a kiss as bystanders cheered.
    An aide to the president, Nikolai Latyshenok, ruled out holding talks with the opposition and said that, in his personal opinion, only around 20-30% of Belarusian society was against the president, Russian news agencies reported.
    “It has been said many times, let’s decide everything peacefully,” TASS cited him as saying.
    One of the country’s largest mobile operators, A1, said it had reduced the capacity of mobile internet bandwidth at the government’s request.
PUTIN’S SUPPORT
    Belarus is Russia’s closest ex-Soviet ally and its territory is an integral part of Moscow’s European defence strategy.    Nevertheless, Lukashenko is seen in Moscow as a prickly partner.
    In the biggest sign yet of Russia’s willingness to intervene to prop up Lukashenko, Putin said on Thursday the Kremlin had set up a “reserve police force” at Lukashenko’s request, although it would be deployed only if necessary.
    “It was agreed to hold a meeting in Moscow in the coming weeks,” the Kremlin said in a statement after the leaders’ call on Sunday.
    The European Union is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus.    Lukashenko threatened on Friday to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation.
    A onetime manager of a Soviet collective farm, Lukashenko has faced a wave of unrest including from sections of society normally seen as loyal, such as journalists from the tightly-controlled state media who quit and a sitting ambassador, who also resigned.
    Hundreds of athletes, including Olympic medallists, published a demand for new elections in a sports website.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)

8/31/2020 Kremlin Says Situation In Belarus Is Under Control, No Need To Send Forces
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov visits the Dream Island amusement park ahead of its
upcoming inauguration in Moscow, Russia February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Monday that the situation in neighboring Belarus was under control and that it did not see the need to send in forces to support Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko who is facing protests after a disputed election.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the Kremlin had set up a special police force to support Lukashenko at his request, but said it would not be deployed unless unrest there spun out of control.
    Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Belarusian security forces and the country’s leadership were keeping the situation under control in what he called “quite an assured manner.”
    Moscow was also ready to support Belarus, a close Russian ally, in amending its constitution if asked, said Peskov.
    Earlier this year, Russia approved changes to its own constitution that allow Putin to remain in power until 2036 if re-elected.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

8/31/2020 Germany Calls On Russia To Do More To Clarify Navalny Case
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses a news conference at the EU foreign
ministers' meeting in Berlin, Germany August 28, 2020. Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS
    FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday said Europe would not follow the U.S. “America First” policy of President Donald Trump and kept up pressure on Russia to do more to clarify the case of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    Speaking at a conference in Paris, Maas called for cross-border, international solutions.
    “It is this awareness that makes multilateralism the cornerstone of European foreign policy,” he said according to the prepared text of a speech.
    Maas also said that “dark clouds” are hovering over the relationship with Russia, which must “contribute more to clarify” the Navalny case.
    Navalny was airlifted to a Berlin hospital for treatment after falling ill.    His supporters suspect he was poisoned.
(Reporting by Tom Sims; editing by Thomas Seythal)

8/31/2020 Baltic States To Hit Lukashenko, Other Belarus Officials With Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda attends a European Union leaders video conference to discuss
the economic response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Vilnius, Lithuania April 23, 2020.
Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania/Robertas Dackus/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will announce travel sanctions on about 30 Belarus officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, later on Monday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters.
    The sanctions are aimed at officials the Baltic nations accuse of rigging presidential elections earlier this month and playing a role in violence against protesters calling for an end to Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.
    Lukashenko, a key ally of Moscow, denies electoral fraud and has said the protesters are backed from abroad.
    Nauseda told reporters the list was a first step and could be expanded later.
    “We said that we need peaceful dialogue and agreement between the regime and society, but we see that the regime is not ready for that,” Nauseda said.    “We see that we need to move forward and to show an example to other countries.”
    The European Union has been working on its own list of individuals in Belarus to target with similar sanctions.
    The three small Baltic states, two of which border on Belarus, have led calls within Europe for strong action to support the opposition in Belarus.    Lithuania has been hosting opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled there after an Aug. 9 election her supporters say she won.
    Tens of thousands of protesters once again took to the streets in central Minsk on Sunday, seeking to keep up pressure on Lukashenko to resign.    At least 140 people were detained, Russia’s RIA news agency reported, citing the Belarusian Interior Ministry.
    Lukashenko threatened on Friday to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation against any sanctions.
    Goods from landlocked Belarus account for almost a third of Lithuania’s rail traffic and port volume. Belarus is also a major overland route for European goods bound for Russia, and carries pipelines used to ship Russian oil to Europe.
    President Vladimir Putin has invited Lukashenko to Moscow, seen as a sign the Kremlin is willing to back his hold on power.
(Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson and Peter Graff)

8/31/2020 Pro-Western Leader Zaev Returns To Power In North Macedonia
Zoran Zaev (bottom C), leader of the ruling SDSM party, poses during a group photo with newly elected ministers
at the Macedonian parliament in Skopje, North Macedonia August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
    SKOPJE (Reuters) – Zoran Zaev, the pro-Western leader who changed the name of North Macedonia last year to secure its membership in NATO and the European Union, returned to power late on Sunday, seven months after resigning over the slow pace of EU membership talks.
    Zaev, who won a narrow election victory over nationalist rivals in July, was approved as prime minister with 62 votes in the 120-seat parliament.
    The country joined NATO in March after adding the word “North” to its name, under an agreement with Greece, which has a province called Macedonia and had blocked its neighbour’s membership in Western organisations for decades.
    “Having joined NATO, we will show that we can join the EU.    It is a national, decades-long strategic interest,” Zaev told parliament, pledging to close the negotiating chapters in six years.
    After narrowly defeating the nationalists in the July 15 vote, Zaev’s Social Democrat bloc gained the support of parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority to form new a governing coalition.
    He said his coalition had also prepared a new set of measures to shield the people and economy from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.    The country of 2 million people has reported 14,330 cases of infection and 600 deaths.
    Parliament dissolved in February when Zaev resigned after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations.    A month later the EU announced talks could begin.    It has set no date, but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.
(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Peter Graff)

8/31/2020 Belarus Opposition Leaders Creating Political Party: Video
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova waves as she arrives for questioning at
the Investigative Committee in Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova and the team of jailed opposition figure Viktor Babariko said on Monday they were forming a new political party called Together, a video shared online showed.
    “The country is in a political and socio-economic crisis, and together we know, how to exit this crisis … Very soon we will hand in the paperwork needed for registration,” Kolesnikova said in the video.
    Babariko, a banker who was detained last month and excluded from the Aug. 9 election ballot, said in a video recorded before his arrest that one of the party’s goals would be constitutional reform.
    Protests in Belarus, triggered by a disputed election result that handed President Alexander Lukashenko another term in power, are in their fourth week.    The president, in office for 26 years, has shown no inclination to step down.     Another opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled to Lithuania for security reasons with her children.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

8/31/2020 Scientists See Downsides To Top COVID-19 Vaccines From Russia, China by Allison Martell and Julie Steenhuysen
FILE PHOTO: A logo of China's vaccine specialist CanSino Biologics Inc is pictured on the company's headquarters in Tianjin,
following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    TORONTO/CHICAGO (Reuters) – High-profile COVID-19 vaccines developed in Russia and China share a potential shortcoming: They are based on a common cold virus that many people have been exposed to, potentially limiting their effectiveness, some experts say.
    CanSino Biologics’ <6185.HK> vaccine, approved for military use in China, is a modified form of adenovirus type 5, or Ad5.    The company is in talks to get emergency approval in several countries before completing large-scale trials, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
    A vaccine developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, approved in Russia earlier this month despite limited testing, is based on Ad5 and a second less common adenovirus.
    “The Ad5 concerns me just because a lot of people have immunity,” said Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University.    “I’m not sure what their strategy is … maybe it won’t have 70% efficacy.    It might have 40% efficacy, and that’s better than nothing, until something else comes along.”
    Vaccines are seen as essential to ending the pandemic that has claimed over 845,000 lives worldwide.    Gamaleya has said its two-virus approach will address Ad5 immunity issues.
    Both developers have years of experience and approved Ebola vaccines based on Ad5.    Neither CanSino nor Gamaleya responded to requests for comment.
    Researchers have experimented with Ad5-based vaccines against a variety of infections for decades, but none are widely used. They employ harmless viruses as “vectors” to ferry genes from the target virus – in this case the novel coronavirus – into human cells, prompting an immune response to fight the actual virus.
    But many people already have antibodies against Ad5, which could cause the immune system to attack the vector instead of responding to the coronavirus, making these vaccines less effective.
    Several researchers have chosen alternative adenoviruses or delivery mechanisms.    Oxford University and AstraZeneca based their COVID-19 vaccine on a chimpanzee adenovirus, avoiding the Ad5 issue.    Johnson & Johnson’s candidate uses Ad26, a comparatively rare strain.
    Dr. Zhou Xing, from Canada’s McMaster University, worked with CanSino on its first Ad5-based vaccine, for tuberculosis, in 2011.    His team is developing an inhaled Ad5 COVID-19 vaccine, theorizing it could circumvent pre-existing immunity issues.
    “The Oxford vaccine candidate has quite an advantage” over the injected CanSino vaccine, he said.
Xing also worries that high doses of the Ad5 vector in the CanSino vaccine could induce fever, fueling vaccine skepticism.
    “I think they will get good immunity in people that don’t have antibodies to the vaccine, but a lot of people do,” said Dr. Hildegund Ertl, director of the Wistar Institute Vaccine Center in Philadelphia.
    In China and the United States, about 40% of people have high levels of antibodies from prior Ad5 exposure.    In Africa, it could be has high as 80%, experts said.
HIV RISK
    Some scientists also worry an Ad5-based vaccine could increase chances of contracting HIV.
    In a 2004 trial of a Merck & Co Ad5-based HIV vaccine, people with pre-existing immunity became more, not less, susceptible to the virus that causes AIDS.
    Researchers, including top U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a 2015 paper, said the side effect was likely unique to HIV vaccines.    But they cautioned that HIV incidence should be monitored during and after trials of all Ad5-based vaccines in at-risk populations.
    “I would be worried about the use of those vaccines in any country or any population that was at risk of HIV, and I put our country as one of them,” said Dr. Larry Corey, co-leader of the U.S. Coronavirus Vaccine Prevention Network, who was a lead researcher on the Merck trial.
    Gamaleya’s vaccine will be administered in two doses: The first based on Ad26, similar to J&J’s candidate, and the second on Ad5.
    Alexander Gintsburg, Gamaleya’s director, has said the two-vector approach addresses the immunity issue.    Ertl said it might work well enough in individuals who have been exposed to one of the two adenoviruses.
    Many experts expressed skepticism about the Russian vaccine after the government declared its intention to give it to high-risk groups in October without data from large pivotal trials.
    “Demonstrating safety and efficacy of a vaccine is very important,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a Harvard vaccine researcher who helped design J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine.    Often, he noted, large-scale trials “do not give the result that is expected or required.”
(Additional reporting by Christine Soares in New York, Kate Kelland in London, Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

8/31/2020 Baltic States Impose Sanctions On Lukashenko And Other Belarus Officials by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting on industrial
development, in Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on President Alexander Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials on Monday, signalling impatience with the West’s cautious approach by announcing sanctions without waiting for the rest of the EU.
    The three small Baltic states have led calls firm measures against Lukashenko, who is accused by opponents and the West of rigging an Aug. 9 election to prolong his 26-year rule.
    The sanctions target officials they accuse of having a role in vote-rigging and in violence against protesters since the election.    The inclusion of Lukashenko was a prod to other European countries, so far reluctant to back measures against him personally.
    Belarus expressed “sincere disappointment” and signalled it would retaliate in kind to what it called “i>hasty steps.”
    “We said that we need peaceful dialogue and agreement between the regime and society, but we see that the regime is not ready for that,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said.    “We see that we need to move forward and to show an example to other countries.”
    The European Union has been working on a list of individuals in Belarus to target with similar sanctions, expected to exclude Lukashenko. Western countries have mostly been cautious, wary of provoking an intervention from Russia.
    “We have said before that Belarus will need to take adequate measures to respond to the initiators of these steps. This will be done,” Anatoly Glaz, spokesman of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, told RIA news agency.
    The three Baltic states are all members of the EU and NATO, and Lithuania and Latvia border Belarus.    Lithuania has been hosting     Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled there after the election her supporters say she won.
    Tsikhanouskaya will speak to the U.N. Security Council on Friday at Estonia’s invitation, her spokesman said.
    Seeking to keep pressure on Lukashenko to step down, Tsikhanouskaya’s team called for students to hold a one-day nationwide boycott of schools and universities on Tuesday to coincide with the start of the new school year.
HUGE DEMONSTRATIONS
    Three weeks into a mass demonstration movement that has peaked at weekends, tens of thousands of protesters again took to the streets in central Minsk on Sunday.
    Lukashenko has shown no sign of bowing to the protests.    The former Soviet collective farm boss has denied rigging the election but on Monday referred to Belarusian public life being governed by “a somewhat authoritarian system.”
    Lukashenko has threatened to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation against any sanctions.    Goods from landlocked Belarus account for almost a third of Lithuania’s rail traffic and port volume, and Belarus is also an overland route for European goods bound for Russia.
    Belarus is Russia’s closest ally among former Soviet states, and its territory is integral to Moscow’s European defence strategy.    President Vladimir Putin has invited Lukashenko to Moscow, a sign of Kremlin support, and the two countries’ foreign ministers will hold talks on Wednesday in Moscow.
    Last week, the Kremlin announced it had set up a reserve force able to intervene in Belarus, though Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated on Monday that Moscow still sees no need for action.
    During the three weeks of protests, Lukashenko has lost the support of a range of public figures, from actors to sportsmen.
    On Monday, the Catholic Church in Belarus, which has criticised the harsh treatment of protesters by the security forces, said its head, Tadeush Kondrusevich, had been barred from re-entering the country after a trip to Poland.    The border guards declined to comment.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, Editing by Simon Johnson, Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

8/31/2020 Explainer: How Common Cold Viruses Are Being Used In Vaccines From Russia, China by Allison Martell and Julie Steenhuysen
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe
in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    (Reuters) – The modified common cold viruses behind high-profile COVID-19 vaccine candidates from China’s CanSino Biologics <6185.HK> and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute have been studied for decades, but are still not widely used.
    The following are some details of their development, how they work and past and potential future uses:
WHEN WERE THESE VIRUSES FIRST USED IN MEDICAL RESEARCH?
    The modified adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) viruses used in these vaccines were first created by Canadian researcher Dr. Frank Graham at a Dutch lab in the 1970s.
    Graham planned to use them to study mechanisms underlying cancer, and distributed the human kidney cell line that makes them, called HEK293, to researchers all over the world.
    “The cells became tremendously widespread and popular” among researchers, said Graham, now retired in Italy.
WHAT ARE VECTORS USED IN VACCINES AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
    Vectors are materials used as mechanisms to carry genetic information into human cells. Modified viruses that cannot replicate on their own and so will not cause infection can be used as vectors to carry genes from the target virus into human cells to induce an immune response against that virus.
    Ad5 vectors were tested in early gene therapy, which aims to install a missing gene or replace a mutated or damaged one.    They were largely abandoned after an 18-year-old died in 1999 from an immune system overreaction after receiving a large dose during a gene therapy trial.
    Some researchers believe the strong immune response that caused problems with gene therapy makes these vectors well suited to vaccines, where much lower doses are used and a protective immune response is the objective.
HAVE AD5 VECTORS BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN THE PAST?
    At McMaster University in Canada, Graham and collaborators developed a variety of Ad5 vectors, including for a rabies vaccine used on wild raccoons in the province of Ontario.
    He and other researchers began developing an Ad5-based vaccine against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and published preclinical data.    It was set aside when that pandemic ended.
    In 2011, CanSino licensed an experimental tuberculosis vaccine based on Ad5 from McMaster researchers.
    The Chinese company’s focus later shifted to an Ad5-based Ebola vaccine at the request of the Chinese military, according to Dr. Thomas Evans, current chief scientific officer at Vaccitech, who was involved with the tuberculosis project. The Ebola vaccine was approved for military use in 2017.
    Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, which developed Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, also used the Ad5 platform to develop an Ebola vaccine, which they said has been administered to about 2,100 people.
WHAT ELSE IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT USING AD5 VECTORS?
    In addition to the Ad5-based COVID-19 vaccines, an inhaled version of the experimental tuberculosis vaccine is still under development at McMaster, Dr. Zhou Xing told Reuters. His team is also in the early stages of developing an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine, testing Ad5 and another vector based on a chimpanzee adenovirus.
(Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Christine Soares in New York and Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

8/31/2020 Montenegro’s Pro-Western Ruling Party Falls Short Of Majority In Vote by Fedja Grulovic
Opposition supporters celebrate election victory in Podgorica, Montenegro, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – President Milo Djukanovic’s pro-Western party suffered a major setback in Montenegro’s parliamentary election, results showed on Monday, winning most votes but losing its majority and so requiring a coalition partner to stay in power.
    The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which has governed the tiny Adriatic republic for three decades, secured 35.06% of votes in Sunday’s ballot, the state election commission said, based on a completed preliminary vote count.
    An alliance of mainly Serb nationalist parties named For the Future of Montenegro, which seeks closer ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia, won 32.55%, and a centrist grouping also opposed to the DPS, Peace is Our Nation, got 12.53%.
    Krivokapic’s bloc is backed by the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church, which since December has held daily protests against a law that allows the state to seize religious assets whose historical ownership cannot be proven.    The protests overshadowed the election campaign.
    The outcome is a disappointment for Djukanovic, who steered Montenegro through the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the dissolution of a joint state with Serbia in 2006, then took his country into NATO in 2017.
    Trying to strike an upbeat note, he told supporters late on Sunday that the DPS, as the largest party, could secure 40 deputies in the 81-seat parliament with the help of smaller parties, but that is still one short of a majority.
    “The regime has fallen,” a university professor and the leader of the pro-Serb opposition alliance, Zdravko Krivokapic, told his supporters.    “A new day in free Montenegro has started.”
    Montenegrins who identify as Serbs account for about a third of the 620,000-strong population.    Most Montenegrins and Serbs share a language and the Orthodox Christian faith, and many Serbian citizens have roots and families in Montenegro.
    A pro-Serb government, if formed, might try to shift the mountainous coastal nation closer to Serbia and Russia, but is not expected to take it out of NATO or abandon its bid to join the European Union.
    Djukanovic, who faces re-election as president in 2023, and his top associates have accused Serbia and Russia of using the Church and the pro-Serb opposition to undermine the independence of Montenegro and its pro-Western orientation.
    Opposition leaders and democracy and human rights watchdogs have long accused Djukanovic and his party of running Montenegro as their own corrupt fiefdom with links to organized crime.    The DPS denies the charges.
    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the elections “were managed transparently and efficiently” but warned of “widespread abuse of office and state resources that gave the ruling party an undue advantage.”
    Any future government must tackle an economic downturn that started in 2019 and was aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, which gutted tourism revenues, a key driver of the economy.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

8/31/2020 U.S. Ambassador To Russia Visits Jailed Ex-Marine Reed
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, stands
inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Russia visited on Monday a former U.S. Marine who has just started a nine-year sentence in a Moscow jail, and said the United States was pushing for his release.
    A Russian court in July convicted Trevor Reed, a student at the University of North Texas, of endangering the lives of two police officers, a charge Reed denies.
    “Trevor mentally seems to be doing as well as can be expected… It pains me to see him detained under these circumstances,” said ambassador John Sullivan after a visit to Vodnik prison.
    “It is important that he gets the medical treatment that he needs, and we will be advocating for that vigorously – and, of course, for his release,” said Sullivan, who described the evidence against Reed as “laughable.”
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun spoke to Russian officials about the case during a visit last week, demanding his release, the ambassador added.
    Prosecutors accused Reed of grabbing a police officer who was behind the wheel of a car after the American was detained on Aug. 15 last year.    That, they said, caused the vehicle to swerve dangerously.    He was also accused of elbowing a second officer.
    Reed, who said he traveled to Moscow in May, 2019, to learn Russian and visit his Russian girlfriend, has said he does not remember the events of that evening because he was drunk when he was detained after leaving a party in Moscow.
    Sullivan said he also hopes to visit another former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in June to 16 years in jail for espionage, a charge he denied.
    “I will be planning to travel there at the earliest opportunity.    To visit with Paul, see how he is doing, and discuss his situation,” the ambassador said.
(Reporting by Mikhail Antonov; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/31/2020 U.S. Ambassador To Russia Visits Detained Former Marine by OAN Newsroom
File – U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan is pictured. (AP Photo/David Vincent)
    U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan visited detained former Marine Trevor Reed at a detention center in Moscow Monday, where he’s being held after being sentenced to nine-years for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
    The ambassador called the evidence used to convict Reed laughable and asserted the Trump administration will continue advocating for his release.    He also noted that Reed’s case is being discussed by officials at the highest levels of both the Russian and U.S. governments.
    “Last week, my successor deputy secretary was here and we met with senior Russian government officials where we raised Trevor’s case as well as a couple of other Americans who have been detained,” Sullivan stated.    “So the short answer is: the President is very concerned about Trevor’s case and we are doing all we can to get him released.”
Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was arrested in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers,
stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow. (Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters Photo)
    The ambassador also said he hopes to visit former marine Paul Whelan who is serving a 16-year sentence for alleged espionage.    Whelan’s trial and treatment has notably been criticized by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

8/31/2020 Belarus Citizens Demand President Lukashenko Resign On 66th Birthday by OAN Newsroom
Belarusian opposition supporters light phones lights during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in the capital of Belarus, beginning the fourth week of
daily protests demanding that the country’s authoritarian president resign. (Tut.By via AP)
    Millions of Belorussian citizens are calling for an end to the Lukashenko regime as protests continue across the nation. On Sunday, participants of nationwide protests “congratulated” president Alexander Lukashenko on his 66th birthday by saying he must now step down.
    The mass demonstrations broke out after a fraudulent presidential election earlier this month.    Belorussians have said they want peace and independence for their country.
    “We have lived with one man in charge of everything for 26 years.    After this years election, we saw appalling violence against ordinary people.    This regime is inhuman and has already committed crimes against humanity. It needs to go.” –Sergey Cherkasov, strike leader – Belarus
    Belarus has entered its fourth week of anti-government protests.    As a result, dozens of citizens have been arrested.
Belarusian opposition supporters with old Belarusian national flags gather towards the Independence Palace in Minsk, Belarus,
Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in the capital of Belarus, beginning the fourth week of daily
protests demanding that the country’s authoritarian president resign. The protests began after an Aug. 9 presidential election
that protesters say was rigged and officials say gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. (AP Photo)

9/1/2020 Marches And Boycotts Mark Start Of School Year In Belarus
    (Reuters) – Hundreds of students boycotted the start of the school year in Belarus on Tuesday, answering a call from exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to demand new elections and keep the pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko to resign.
    Lukashenko is battling a wave of protests and strikes since claiming victory in an election last month that his opponents say was rigged. Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and shows no sign of backing down despite the threat of Western sanctions.
    Many state-run schools were used as polling stations and teachers were used to help count the ballots in the Aug 9 election, which the election commission said Lukashenko won with an 80% vote share to secure a sixth term.
    Students waving opposition flags marched in the street and collected signatures outside several colleges in Minsk calling for Lukashenko to step down, an eyewitness said. Videos on social media showed some students being detained.
    Tsikhanouskaya’s team said the boycott was necessary to “show that young people cannot stay away from the events taking place in Belarus.”
    Lukashenko sought to draw a line under three weeks of protests against his rule as he visited a vocational training college in the city of Baranovichi in southwestern Belarus.
    “The president emphasized that the eventful summer is over,” the official Belta news agency in a press release.
    “It is time to channel energy into the creative direction,” it quoted the president as saying.
    Lukashenko has described the protesters as “rats” that are backed from abroad.    On Monday, a third member of an opposition council set up by Tsikhanouskaya to negotiate a transfer of power was detained.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials.
    The European Union has been working on its own list of individuals to target with similar sanctions but is expected to exclude Lukashenko.    Western countries have mostly been cautious, wary of provoking an intervention from Russia.
    Lukashenko has threatened to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation against any sanctions.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

9/1/2020 Some Russian Teachers Fear Back-To-School Shots Of ‘Sputnik V’ COVID Vaccine by Olesya Astakhova and Polina Nikolskaya
First graders attend a ceremony marking the start of the new school year, as schools reopen after the summer break and the lockdown
due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A small independent Russian teachers’ union is urging members not to be coerced into accepting shots of the “Sputnik V” coronavirus vaccine which is to be mandatory for military personnel.
    Moscow clinics last week began receiving supplies of the vaccine, which has been approved for use inside Russia even though the final Phase III tests, involving 40,000 people, began only last Wednesday.
    From September, doctors and teachers will be among the first to be offered the jab on a voluntary basis, officials have said, an arrangement President Vladimir Putin has said he supports.
    Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said shots of the vaccine will be made mandatory for military personnel.
    With Russian schools re-opening on Sept. 1 for the first time since March, the teachers’ union Uchitel has launched an online petition against making the vaccine mandatory for teachers before all clinical trials are complete.
    “It’s likely that school principals will be under pressure for everyone to be vaccinated,” the petition says.
    Uchitel represents only about 700 of Russia’s 1.2 million school teachers, a senior union official said, but it says nearly 1,400 people have signed its petition.
    The Health Ministry said vaccination would be voluntary and redirected other questions to the Education Ministry, which did not reply to a request for a comment.
    The Moscow mayor’s office said any trials would be on a voluntary basis and that “there is no pressure on schools and therefore, no punishment measures towards teachers.”    Uchitel is the only teachers’ union known to have issued such a petition.
    But Uchitel’s co-chair, Marina Baluyeva, an English-language teacher from St Petersburg, drew parallels with occasional weekends when staff are asked to help do clean-up work, saying this work was voluntary in theory but that teachers who decline to do the work can get into trouble.
WARNINGS BY WESTERN EXPERTS
    Russia is the first country to license a COVID-19 vaccine, calling it “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union.    Western experts have warned against its use until all internationally approved testing and regulatory steps have been taken. Moscow has dismissed such criticism as an information war.
    One Moscow school has already offered voluntary shots to its nearly 80 teachers, several staff at the school said.    One of the teachers, Larisa Ivanovna, said 20 had signed up for the jab but that her decision was driven by fear of losing their job.
    “I am afraid of taking the risk of an untested vaccine,” said Dmitry Kazakov, a history teacher who signed the Uchitel petition and is wary even though his bosses have not asked him to have the jab.    “Sometimes you get an offer you cannot reject.”
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova, Polina Nikolskaya and Maria Vasilyeva; Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Darya Korsunskaya and Polina Ivanova, Writing by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Sujata Rao, Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

9/1/2020 Exclusive: U.S. Mulls Sanctions On Seven Belarusians For Falsifying Election, Violence Against Protesters
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers stand guard during an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential
election results, in front of the Independence Palace in Minsk, Belarus August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering imposing sanctions on seven Belarusian individuals it believes were involved in falsifying the Aug. 9 election and in violence against peaceful protesters, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday.
    “We’ve got a group of seven people that we are working with Treasury for the evidentiary package” to impose sanctions, the senior U.S. State Department told Reuters in an interview.    “It is a minimal effort to … not just name and shame but to show that when people both steal elections and commit violence against peaceful protesters exercising fundamental freedoms of assembly and speech that there needs to be some accountability.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

9/1/2020 New Protests Break Out In Belarus As Opposition Squabbles
Students scuffle with law enforcement officers during a protest against presidential
election results in Minsk, Belarus September 1, 2020. BelaPAN via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Thousands of students boycotted the start of the school year in Belarus on Tuesday and signs of a possible rift appeared in an opposition alliance that has led weeks of rallies and protests against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Lukashenko faces the biggest challenge of his 26-year rule since claiming victory in an election last month that opponents say was rigged.    Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and shows no sign of backing down despite the threat of Western sanctions.
    In a rare public reproach, his main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, issued a statement criticizing the strategy of another opposition group with which she formed an alliance during the election campaign.
    Tsikhanouskaya fled into exile two days after the Aug. 9 election.    From her new base in Lithuania, she declared herself the rightful winner and launched an opposition council with the stated aim of ensuring a peaceful transfer of power.
    Tsikhanouskaya said on Tuesday the council “should not be dominated by any political party”, after opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova and the team of jailed presidential candidate Viktor Babariko announced the creation of a party called ‘Together.’
    She also said the declared aim of Babariko and Kolesnikova’s camp to enact constitutional reform was a distraction from the main goal of removing Lukashenko and holding new elections.
    Kolesnikova’s camp issued a conciliatory statement in response, saying it did not wish to disrupt the work of the council, and that it backed Tsikhanouskaya’s call for new elections and her electoral program.
    “Not a single Belarusian doubts Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s victory, and that her victory was stolen,” it said.
‘EVENTFUL SUMMER IS OVER’
    Many state-run schools were used as polling stations and teachers helped count ballots in the election, which the election commission said Lukashenko won with an 80% vote share to secure a sixth term.
    Answering a call from Tsikhanouskaya, students waving opposition flags staged marches and collected signatures outside several colleges in Minsk calling for Lukashenko to step down.
    Video footage showed students, some wearing rucksacks, being dragged away from a crowd and detained by masked security forces.
    There were also new protests at two of the large industrial plants that underpin Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and the Minsk Tractor Works, local media reported. Workers at the Belarus Hi-Tech Park on the outskirts of Minsk also joined Tuesday’s protest.
    Lukashenko sought to draw a line under the demonstrations against his rule as he visited a vocational training college in Baranovichi in southwestern Belarus.
    “The president emphasized that the eventful summer is over,” the official Belta news agency said.
    “It is time to channel energy into the creative direction,” it quoted him as saying.
    Lukashenko has described the protesters as “rats” backed from abroad.    On Monday, a third member of the opposition council was detained.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials on Monday.
    Lukashenko threatened retaliation by suggesting Belarus might reroute cargo from Baltic ports to Russian ports.
    The European Union has been working on a list of individuals to target with sanctions but is expected to exclude Lukashenko. Western countries are wary of provoking an intervention by Russia.
    Lukashenko has threatened to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation against any sanctions.
    Belarus is Russia’s closest ally among former Soviet states, and its territory is integral to Moscow’s European defense strategy.     Lukashenko has sometimes proved a prickly ally, but Moscow has signaled its willingness to prop up his government.
    President Vladimir Putin has invited Lukashenko to Moscow and the two countries are discussing the refinancing of Belarusian debt, Interfax news agency reported.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

9/1/2020 Bring Back The Bogs: Estonian Volunteers Get Hands Dirty In Climate Fight
Volunteers build a dam to restore a bog near Palmse, Estonia August 30, 2020. Activists in Estonia are working to restore its old bogs, which were
drained in the Soviet-era to extract peat and are now leaking greenhouse gases. Picture taken August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    LAUKASSOO, Estonia (Reuters) – Deep in the Estonian woodlands, a group of volunteers is toiling to restore a bog that was drained last century for mining purposes, turning the area into a major source of greenhouse gas emissions no longer trapped in damp, heavy earth.
    A third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the country come from the bogs, drained to mine peat, the flammable substance accumulated there over millennia and used as a fuel to power factories and households or as a natural fertilizer.
    Estonia is not alone in contending with the problem.    Drained bogs are leaking carbon dioxide in areas around the Baltic Sea and many other parts of Northern Europe.
    “I was living near a bog when I was a child.    My uncle owned a glass factory there, and he was burning peat from the bog in the factory,” said Maie Matiek, a 65-year-old retiree.
    She and six other volunteers spent the day in boots and rubber gloves, digging up the forest floor and helping to shift large lumps of deep-brown peat.
    They are clearing out a ditch used to drain water from the bog, then blocking the channel with peat to recreate the marshy environment.
    Although peatland covers only 3% of the earth’s land surface, those deposits contain twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests put together.
    In European countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, swamps have been all but destroyed to harvest the peat.
    A warmer climate has also contributed to peatland gas emissions, drying out bogs naturally and setting peat on fire in places such as Siberia and Indonesia.
    In the European Union, restoring peatlands is one element of its planned trillion-euro fund to cut its net emissions to zero by 2050.
    And Scotland, where distillers dry damp malt over peat-heated fire to give a smoky flavour to their whisky, has committed to spend 250 million pounds over the next 20 years to restore its bogs.
    Back in Estonia, the volunteers round off their day by stomping on the ground now filling the ditch, compressing it to stop water escaping.
    “You feel you’re helping nature,” said volunteer Biplabi Bhattarai, a 28-year-old student from Nepal, as she nibbled forest blueberries and ate fish soup from the communal pot.
    “But you also get to enjoy the camping, the food and the good company.”
(Reporting By Andrius Sytas and Ints Kalnins; editing by Niklas Pollard and Mike Collett-White)

9/1/2020 Norway’s Parliament Says It Was Hit By ‘Significant’ Cyber Attack
FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Parliament house is seen in Oslo, Norway May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    OSLO (Reuters) – The Norwegian parliament suffered a cyber attack during the past week and the e-mail accounts of several elected members as well as employees were hacked, the national assembly and a counter-intelligence agency said on Tuesday.
    “This has been a significant attack,” said Marianne Andreassen, the parliament’s non-elected chief administrator.
    A “limited number” of lawmakers and employees were impacted, and have been informed, Andreassen told a news conference, although she declined to say how many.
    It was not known who was behind the attack or exactly what data had been extracted, she added.
    Several members and staff of Norway’s main opposition Labour Party were affected, a party spokesman told public broadcaster NRK.
    The Norwegian National Security Authority (NSA) assisted in countering the attack.    “We have been involved for a few days,” NSA spokesman Trond Oevstedal said.    “We are assisting parliament with analysis and technical assistance.”
    Efforts to halt the attack had “an immediate effect,” said Andreassen.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Nora Kamprath Buli, editing by Gwladys Fouche, Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

9/1/2020 Hungary Exempts Some Visitors From Border Lockdown, Riles EU
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves after a meeting of an EU summit on a coronavirus recovery
package at the European Council building in Brussels on July 18, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has decided to exempt tourists visiting from three neighboring states from a lockdown of its borders that took effect on Tuesday, provided they test negative for COVID-19 beforehand, prompting a rebuke from the European Commission.
    The EU executive said Hungary’s move to admit visitors from the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia but not from other EU member states amounted to discrimination and was illegal.
    Hungary said last week it would close its borders to foreigners from Tuesday to curb a rise in coronavirus cases.    Returning Hungarian citizens can leave a 14-day quarantine only if they provide two negative COVID tests.
    However, after talks with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban agreed to let Czech visitors who have already booked holidays in Hungary for September enter the country, the Foreign Ministry said.
    The easing was subsequently extended to Poland and Slovakia, the ministry said in a statement.    Visitors coming to Hungary have to produce a negative COVID test not older than five days, which Budapest says represents sufficient safety guarantees.
    The EU Commission in Brussels said Hungary’s decision clashed with the bloc’s rules on free travel.
    “Any measures that do not comply with those fundamental principles of EU law should of course be immediately retracted,” European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said, adding he would raise the matter with Budapest.
    Orban’s nationalist government, in power since 2010, has often been at odds with Brussels over what the EU and his critics in Hungary say is an erosion of the rule of law and the independence of the media and judiciary.
    As of Tuesday, Hungary had reported 6,257 coronavirus cases with 616 deaths.    The number of new cases has surged in recent days, just as Hungary prepares to start a new school year.
    Its economy shrank by 13.6% year-on-year in the April-June period this year due to the pandemic and the lockdown it prompted. Authorities eased the lockdown measures in May.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Gareth Jones)

9/2/2020 Russian Prosecutors Ask Germany For Details Of Poison Tests On Navalny: Paper
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder
and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian prosecutors have asked Germany to provide details of medical tests conducted on Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition politician lying in a coma in Berlin after a suspected poisoning in Siberia last month, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
    Russian newspaper RBC said the general prosecutor’s office had asked Germany’s justice ministry for information on Navalny’s treatment, including test results for drugs, poisons, heavy metals and cholinesterase inhibitors.
    There was no immediate confirmation from the prosecutor’s office and it was not clear whether Germany had responded to the sensitive request.
    Russian prosecutors said last month they saw no need for a criminal investigation into the case as they had found no sign that any crime had been committed.
    Navalny, a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin for the past decade, was taken ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20 after drinking tea at the airport.    His allies believe he was the latest of several Kremlin critics to be deliberately poisoned, but Russian authorities have said there is no evidence of this.
    Navalny was flown last month to the Charite hospital in Berlin, where doctors said he may have been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a substance found in nerve toxins such as the one used in the attempted poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England in 2018.
    RBC said the Russian letter asked German authorities to provide information about what drugs were being used to treat Navalny, and whether he had chronic diseases or diabetes.    They also asked for the results of biochemical blood and urine tests at the time of his admission to the Berlin hospital.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

9/2/2020 Thousands Protest Against Bulgarian Government, Scuffle With Police
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Thousands of Bulgarians rallied in front of the parliament in Sofia on Wednesday in one of the biggest protests so far in two months of demonstrations calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
    Scuffles broke out between protesters and police, who fired pepper spray and made several arrests.    Protesters threw eggs, apples and garbage against the heavily guarded parliament.
    They also shook police vehicles, and about 20 officers were affected by an unknown substance aimed at them by protesters, Sofia Police Chief Georgi Hadzhiev said.
    The rally took place on the first sitting of parliament after summer recess.    Protesters called it the “Grand National Uprising” in response the government’s plan for a new constitution.
    Protesters accuse three-times premier Borissov, 61, of failing to fight the corruption that erodes the rule of law and benefits powerful tycoons in the European Union’s poorest country.
    In parliament, President Rumen Radev called for the resignation of Borissov’s center-right government and appealed to deputies to dismiss the plans for a new constitution.
    “It was not the lack of new constitution that brought the people on the streets, but the lack of morality in the leadership, the erosion of statehood and the corruption,” he said.
    Borissov has pledged to resign if parliament approves his call for the election of a grand national assembly tasked with voting on a new constitution.    However, he is not likely to get enough votes to push ahead with his plan.
    Protesters, as well as opposition parties, have dismissed the proposal as a ploy aimed at keeping Borissov in office longer.
    Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, ranks as its most corrupt member according to Transparency International, and is yet to jail a senior official on corruption charges.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/2/2020 Russia To Keep Ex-Journalist Accused Of Treason Behind Bars: TASS Cites Court
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Wednesday ordered former newspaper journalist Ivan Safronov to be kept in custody for another three months pending trial on charges of state treason, the TASS news agency reported.
    Safronov, who left journalism and began working at Russia’s space agency in May, was detained by security agents outside his flat on July 7 and accused of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic in 2017, a charge he denies.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

9/2/2020 Leader Of Belarus Thanks Russia’s RT For Helping Him Weather Media Strike
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, has thanked Russian state-backed television channel RT for sending journalists to help prop up Belarusian state media after some staff members went on strike in protest against his rule.
    Some Belarusian media workers walked out amid weeks of protests over a disputed Aug. 9 presidential election marred by vote rigging allegations that have posed the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.
    Neighboring Russia is a close ally of Minsk, and Lukashenko said that Kremlin-backed RT, formerly known as Russia Today, had played a vital role in helping Belarusian state media.
    The former state farm boss was speaking in an interview aired by RT.
    “You understand how important you were to us during this difficult period.    And what you demonstrated technically, your IT specialists, and journalists, and correspondents, and so on … and your manager.    This is worth a lot,” he said.
    “I am grateful for this support,” he said, in a video aired on Sept. 1.
    RT did not immediately reply to a request for comment as to the nature of its assistance.    But its correspondent, who conducted the interview, told Lukashenko it was important to note that RT had not actually been taking people’s jobs.
    Lukashenko said he was fully briefed on the situation and was aware that RT was working “as our teams.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

9/2/2020 Montenegro’s President Accuses Serbia Of Meddling In Election
FILE PHOTO: Montenegrin President and leader of ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, Milo Djukanovic, speaks
to the media after the general election in Podgorica, Montenegro August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic has accused neighbouring Serbia of waging “media and political aggression” ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary vote in which his pro-Western party suffered a major setback.
    Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which has governed the tiny Adriatic state for three decades and took it into NATO, won about 35% of the vote, well short of a majority and raising the possibility of a new coalition government led by an alliance of pro-Serbian parties.
    In a television interview late on Tuesday, Djukanovic acknowledged that his party’s poorer than-expected election result could be linked with “people’s dissatisfaction with some policies” and low living standards.
    But he also criticised the role of Serbia and its leader Aleksandar Vucic in Montenegro, a third of whose 620,000-strong population is ethnically Serbian.
    “President Vucic and … Serbia … want to interfere in the internal matters of other countries and … they want to revitalise the Greater Serbian nationalism,” Djukanovic told Newsmax Adria TV, referring to the ideology that helped fuel the bloody wars of the 1990s that destroyed the old Yugoslavia.
    Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic dismissed his charge, saying Montenegro was not “in any way threatened by Serbia.”
    “Djukanovic … (wants) to gain political points by false stories about Montenegro’s vulnerability, instead of focusing on the needs and problems of its citizens,” she said.
    In Sunday’s parliamentary election, an alliance of Serb nationalist parties named For the Future of Montenegro won 32.55% of the vote and a centrist grouping that is also opposed to Djukanovic’s DPS, Peace is Our Nation, got 12.53%.
    The main opposition groupings say they would continue Montenegro’s bid to join the European Union if they form a coalition government.
    The parties have begun deliberations on forming a new coalition government and have three months to do so.
    Montenegro’s pro-Serb bloc is backed by the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church, whose daily protests against a law allowing the state to seize religious assets whose historical ownership cannot be proven overshadowed the election campaign.
    Opposition leaders and democracy and human rights watchdogs have long accused Djukanovic and his party of running Montenegro as their own corrupt fiefdom with links to organised crime. The DPS denies the charges.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

9/2/2020 New Protests In Belarus As Opposition Squabbles, U.S. Weighs Sanctions
Students scuffle with law enforcement officers during a protest against presidential
election results in Minsk, Belarus September 1, 2020. BelaPAN via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Thousands of students boycotted the start of the school year in Belarus on Tuesday and signs of a possible rift appeared in an opposition alliance that has led weeks of rallies and protests against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Lukashenko faces the biggest challenge of his 26-year rule since claiming victory in an election last month that opponents say was rigged.    Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and shows no sign of backing down despite the threat of Western sanctions.
    The United States is considering sanctions on seven individuals it says were involved in falsifying the election and in violence against protesters, a senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters.
    “It is a minimal effort to … not just name and shame but to show that when people both steal elections and commit violence against peaceful protesters exercising fundamental freedoms of assembly and speech that there needs to be some accountability,” the official said.
    In a rare public reproach, Lukashenko’s main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, issued a statement criticising the strategy of another opposition group with which she formed an alliance during the election campaign.
    Tsikhanouskaya fled into exile two days after the Aug. 9 election.    From her new base in Lithuania, she declared herself the rightful winner and launched an opposition council with the stated aim of ensuring a peaceful transfer of power.
    Tsikhanouskaya said the council “should not be dominated by any political party,” after opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova and the team of jailed presidential candidate Viktor Babariko announced the creation of a party called ‘Together.’
    The declared aim of Babariko and Kolesnikova’s camp to enact constitutional reform was a distraction from the goal of removing Lukashenko and holding new elections, Tsikhanouskaya said.
    Kolesnikova’s camp later said it did not wish to disrupt the council’s work, and that it backed Tsikhanouskaya’s call for new elections and her electoral programme.
    “Not a single Belarusian doubts Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s victory, and that her victory was stolen,” it said.
‘EVENTFUL SUMMER IS OVER’
    Many state-run schools were used as polling stations and teachers helped count ballots in the election, which the election commission said Lukashenko won with an 80% vote share.
    Answering a call from Tsikhanouskaya, students waving opposition flags staged marches and collected signatures outside several colleges in Minsk calling for Lukashenko to step down.
    Video footage showed students, some wearing rucksacks, being dragged away from a crowd and detained by masked security forces.    Police also detained seven journalists covering the protests for what the government said were document checks.
    There were also new protests at two of the large industrial plants that underpin Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and the Minsk Tractor Works, local media reported.    Workers at the Belarus Hi-Tech Park on the outskirts of the capital also protested.
    Thousands of people were detained after the election and United Nations human rights investigators said on Tuesday they had received reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings and mistreatment.
    The government has denied abusing detainees.
    Lukashenko sought to draw a line under the protests as he visited a vocational training college.
    “The president emphasized that the eventful summer is over,” the official Belta news agency said.
Lukashenko has described the protesters as “rats” backed from abroad.    On Monday, a third member of the opposition council was detained.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia has imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other officials.    The European Union has been working on a list of individuals to target with sanctions but is expected to exclude Lukashenko.
    Belarus is Russia’s closest ally among former Soviet states, and its territory is integral to Moscow’s European defence strategy.
    Russia has signalled its willingness to prop up Lukashenko’s government and the two countries are discussing the refinancing of Belarusian debt, Interfax news agency reported.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

9/2/2020 Belarus To Hit Baltics With Sanctions, Russia Steps Up Support by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei attend a news conference
following their talks in Moscow, Russia September 2, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus will impose travel bans on senior officials in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in retaliation for measures targeting its own officials, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, as Russia stepped up support for the Belarusian government.
    More than three weeks after a political crisis erupted in Belarus over allegations of vote rigging in a presidential election which incumbent Alexander Lukashenko said he had won, Minsk and close ally Moscow are pushing back hard against Lukashenko’s domestic and foreign critics.
    In Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said his country had agreed to impose retaliatory sanctions on a list of individuals in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
    The move was pay back, he said, after the three Baltic countries on Monday said they were imposing travel bans on     Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials to punish them for their role in the alleged vote-rigging and in a crackdown against protesters.
    Makei declined to say who was on the sanctions list, but said it targeted individuals who had tried to interfere in his country’s internal affairs, made what he called unacceptable political statements, and spoken of funding the opposition.
    “For us this is absolutely unacceptable,” he said, warning Minsk would impose sanctions on any other countries who put sanctions on Belarus.
    The European Union has been working on a list of individuals to target with sanctions but is expected to exclude Lukashenko.
RUSSIAN SUPPORT
    Standing alongside Makei, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered Lukashenko strong support and said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin would visit Belarus for talks on Thursday.
    Moscow would respond “firmly and with dignity” to any attempts to destabilize Belarus or loosen its strong ties to Russia, he said.
    Lavrov condemned what he said was meddling in Belarus by outside forces, alleging that 200 trained Ukrainian extremists were inside Belarus trying to destabilize it, an accusation Kyiv said was fictitious.
    Lavrov also accused NATO and the European Union of making “destructive” statements about Belarus.    He said Moscow saw no point in engaging with the Belarusian opposition council that has emerged amid nationwide anti-government protests.
    Complaining about what he described as an initial anti-Russian statement from the council, he accused it of breaking the law by calling on law enforcement forces to switch sides.
    The council’s leaders have said repeatedly that they are only interested in trying to bring about a peaceful transition of power.
    In another sign of Russian support, the chiefs of staff of the Russian and Belarusian armies discussed preparations for a joint military drill in Belarus this year ahead of a visit by the Belarusian defense minister to Moscow on Friday.
    Lukashenko has also thanked Russian state-backed television channel RT for sending journalists to help prop up Belarusian state media after some staff members went on strike in protest against his rule.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/2/2020 Students Blockade Top Arts University As Hungary’s Government Tightens Control by Krisztina Than
People wearing protective masks attend a protest in support of the students of the University of Theatre
and Film Arts during their blockade in Budapest, Hungary, September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Students at Hungary’s University of Theatre and Film Arts have sealed entrances to the building to stop the new board of trustees getting in, and pledged to maintain the blockade until demands for autonomy from government control were met.
    The prestigious institution, which nurtured many of Hungary’s most famous directors and film makers over the past 155 years, has been caught up in a culture war as Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government expands its control over universities, research institutions and the media.
    Some of Orban’s supporters say they want to end what they view as the domination of the arts in Hungary by liberals.
    “We will stay until our demands are met, and guarantees for autonomy are set in writing,” student leader Mihaly Csernai told reporters on Wednesday in front of the university whose doors have been taped off.    About 100 students have set up camp inside.
    The university’s management resigned on Monday in protest after the government appointed a board of five trustees, rejecting members proposed by the university.
    The school’s senate has also been stripped of its right to decide on key budgetary and organisational matters.
    Some prominent directors have resigned from their teaching positions, including Hungarian film maker and screenwriter Ildiko Enyedi, whose 2017 film “On Body and Soul” won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
    It was also nominated for an Academy Award.
    In a statement to her students she said she had “foolishly hoped that common sense and respect for university traditions carried a weight and university autonomy would remain,” but that those hopes had evaporated.
    Talks between the former management of the university and the new board ended in a stalemate on Wednesday.
    Theatre director Attila Vidnyanszky, chairman of the new board, told ATV television on Tuesday that the trustees were open to dialogue with the university.
    But he also said he wanted to introduce a “different kind of thinking” while keeping existing classes, placing some emphasis on patriotism and Christianity.
    The government denies any attempt to limit freedom of expression.    It has said the fact that some universities will be governed by a board of trustees will actually eliminate state influence over them.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/2/2020 Putin Critic Navalny Was Poisoned With Novichok Nerve Agent, Merkel Says by Joseph Nasr and Andrew Osborn
German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves a meeting with the leadership of the conservative CDU/CSU
parliamentary group in Berlin, Germany September 2, 2020. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS
    BERLIN/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is in intensive care in a Berlin hospital, was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.
    She said Berlin now expected Moscow to explain itself and that Germany would consult its NATO allies about how to respond, raising the prospect of new Western sanctions on Russia, sending Russian asset prices tumbling.
    Moscow has denied involvement in the incident and the Russian foreign ministry said Germany’s assertion was not backed by evidence, complaining about the way Germany had chosen to release information about Navalny.
    “This is disturbing information about the attempted murder through poisoning against a leading Russian opposition figure,” Merkel told a news conference.    “Alexei Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group.”
    Novichok is the same substance that Britain said was used against a Russian double agent and his daughter in an attack in England in 2018.    The deadly group of nerve agents was developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
    Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialised in high-impact investigations into official corruption.    He was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea that his allies said was poisoned.
    The White House said the use of Novichok was “completely reprehensible,” with the U.S. National Security Council saying on Twitter that Washington would work with allies “to hold those in Russia accountable, wherever the evidence leads, and restrict funds for their malign activities.”
    A U.S. government source familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting and analysis said the use of the Novichok family of nerve agents showed Putin was willing to be “bold” in targeting individuals he found threatening or irritating.
    He described the attack as an assertion by the Russian leader that he is the boss and what he says goes.
    The Kremlin, which has rejected any suggestion that it or the Russian state was involved, said it wanted a full exchange of information and that Germany and Russia should cooperate.    But it added it was unable yet to give a proper statement about the German findings.
    Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, told state TV that the German move looked like another fact-free information campaign against Russia.
    Russian authorities and doctors have said previously they could find no evidence Navalny was poisoned.
    Russia is already under Western sanctions after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine six years ago.    Another standoff with European nations or the United States may further hurt its economy further.
    Britain and France joined in condemning the use of Novichok, along with the European Union, which said those responsible must be brought to justice.
NAVALNY IN SERIOUS CONDITION
    Berlin’s Charite hospital, which is treating Navalny, said he remained in a serious condition in an intensive care unit connected to an artificial lung ventilator even though some of his symptoms were receding.
    It said it could not rule out long-term consequences from his poisoning and that it expected him to go through a long period of illness.
    Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said in a tweet that the German government’s identification of the Novichok poison indicated Russian authorities were behind Navalny’s poisoning.
    Allies of Navalny echoed Linkevicius’ view. Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide, said on Twitter that the use of Novichok was like leaving Putin’s signature at the scene of the crime.
    Ivan Zhdanov, another close Navalny ally, said on Twitter that Novichok could be administered only by Russia’s intelligence agencies.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Russia to investigate Navalny’s poisoning now that clinical tests had shown he had been attacked with a chemical nerve agent.
    “This makes it all the more urgent that those responsible in Russia be identified and held accountable,” Maas told reporters.    “We condemn this attack in the strongest terms.”
    Steffen Seibert, a German government spokesman, said earlier in an emailed statement that tests conducted at a German military laboratory had produced “unequivocal evidence” that Novichok had been used.
    Britain says Russia used Novichok to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury in 2018. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, which the Skripals survived.    A member of the public, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, was killed.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Paul Carrel and Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Maria Vasilyeva, Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay in Washington and William James in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney)

9/3/2020 Calls Mount For Germany To Rethink Nord Stream Two Pipeline After Navalny Poisoning by Madeline Chambers
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a large diameter pipe at Chelyabinsk Pipe Rolling Plant
owned by ChelPipe Group in Chelyabinsk, Russia February 26, 2020. Picture taken February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced growing pressure on Thursday to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany, after she said Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style nerve agent.
    Merkel said on Wednesday that Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital, was the victim of a murder attempt using the nerve agent Novichok, and demanded an explanation by Russia.
    Moscow has denied involvement in the incident and the Russian foreign ministry said Germany’s assertion was not backed by evidence.
    Western countries have condemned the attack on Navalny and many German politicians want a tough response.
    “We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understands – that is gas sales,” Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German radio.
    “If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed now, it would be the maximum confirmation and encouragement for Putin to continue this kind of politics,” Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s conservatives, told German television earlier.
    Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany.    Led by Russian company Gazprom with Western partners, the project is more than 90% finished and due to operate from early 2021.    This may complicate efforts to stop it.
    The project has divided the European Union, with some countries warning it will undermine the traditional gas transit state, Ukraine, and increase the bloc’s reliance on Russia for energy supplies.
    The United States, keen to increase shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe, also opposes the pipeline and has targeted some firms involved with sanctions.
    Merkel has been unwavering in her commitment to the project which includes Uniper Wintershall DEA, Royal Dutch Shell, Engie and OMV.    She said last week that Navalny’s case should not be linked to the pipeline.    Many lawmakers in her party, which is close to business, still want it to be finished.
    Former Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Putin and lobbyist for Russian energy firms, has been involved with the pipeline and many in the SPD, which shares power with Merkel’s conservatives, are also committed to it.
    “If we want to send a clear message to Moscow with our partners, then economic relations must be on the agenda and that means the Nord Stream 2 project must not be left out,” Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and a former ambassador to Washington, said.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Seythal and Vera Eckert, Editing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage)

9/3/2020 Belarusian Leader Lukashenko Replaces Heads Of KGB And Security Council: Belta
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting on industrial
development, in Minsk, Belarus August 27, 2020. Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has appointed new heads of the KGB security service, the security council and the state control committee amid protests and strikes over a disputed election, the official Belta news agency reported on Thursday.
    Lukashenko said he won an Aug. 9 presidential election by a landslide, but protesters say it was marred by massive vote-rigging allegations and have taken to the streets for more than three weeks demanding he step down.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

9/3/2020 ‘Do We Have Enough Soap?’ – Children Ask Norway PM About Virus
FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg attends the 75th anniversary of the Red Army's liberation
of Kirkenes in northern Norway, October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    OSLO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Erna Solberg told Norwegian children on Thursday she was confident a vaccine against the novel coronavirus will be found and that the disease could become one of the many diseases kids are vaccinated against.
    She spoke at her third news conference held specially for children, with adults not allowed to ask questions, since the crisis began.    At the first such briefing on March 16, Solberg told children it was “OK” to feel scared about the pandemic.
    “I think we’ll be able to find a vaccine and that means that corona will continue to exist but because we will be vaccinated we will not become ill or not so ill from it,” Solberg said, adding that, when she was little, she was sick with measles.
    “That is a disease that almost all children in Norway are vaccinated against now, but that was a very dangerous disease when I was little … Now it (the coronavirus) will be like with the measles or rubella.”
    Other questions asked by children and sent in advance via children’s TV programme Supernytt included: “Do we have enough soap?,” “Does Norway have any money left after the pandemic?” and “Could we have Antibac that smells nice?
    “It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if it smelled like flowers,” said Solberg.
    “But the most important is that it works … And sometimes you find Antibac that smell better than others.”
    Norway would have enough supplies of soap to cope with the pandemic, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, the Minister for Children and Family, told the same news conference.
    Schools in Norway reopened from April 27 and resumed as normal after the summer holidays on Aug. 17.    Pupils do not need to wear face masks but they must try to keep socially distant during breaks.
    Norway has reported a total of 10,871 COVID-19 infections and 264 deaths to date.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/3/2020 Bulgarian Ruling Party Vows To Stay In Power After Violent Protests
FILE PHOTO: People take part in an anti-government demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s coalition government will not bend to pressure and resign after one of the largest anti-government protests in the past two months turned violent late on Wednesday, a senior member of the ruling GERB party said.
    Bulgarians have been rallying daily, largely peacefully, since early July, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, accusing them of failing to combat high-level corruption.
    “After last night’s excesses we will not resign,” senior GERB party member Toma Bikov told the parliament.
    "If we do that it would mean that any next government could be brought down by people from the criminal world,” he said.
    Protesters accuse three-times premier Borissov, 61, of weakening state institutions to the benefit of powerful tycoons, keeping Bulgaria the European Union’s poorest country.
    On Wednesday, about 200 protesters and police officers were injured in clashes at which some demonstrators threw small bombs and firecrackers at heavily-protected police officers who cordoned off the square around the parliament and dispersed the rally.
    Earlier in the day demonstrators hurled eggs, apples and garbage at officers and shook police vehicles in front of the parliament.    Police used pepper spray and said some of the protesters had also used an unknown gas substance against them.
    Some 126 people were arrested, half of whom had criminal records, the head of the Sofia police said, adding 80 police officers were injured.
    Some protesters accused police of failing to properly protect the rally and allowing football hooligans to mix among the crowd.    Protesters blamed the hooligans for the small bombs.
    Human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said it had received numerous complaints that police officers had used unwarranted force against peaceful protesters, including a journalist, who had identified himself as such.
    The European Commission commented on the protests, saying that any use of force by authorities against protesters must only be proportionate and democratic countries must ensure the right to peaceful demonstrations.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

9/3/2020 U.S. Troops To Start Extended Exercises In Lithuania Amid Tensions Over Belarus by Andrius Sytas
U.S. Abrams tanks are loaded on rail in Pabrade training ground, Lithuania, May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – U.S. troops and tanks will arrive in Lithuania on Friday for a two-month deployment near the Belarus border, but the government said the move was not a message to its Russian-backed neighbor, where protests continue over a disputed election.
    In an announcement on Wednesday evening, NATO member Lithuania said U.S. troops will be moved from Poland for pre-planned military exercises.    These are “defensive in nature and not directed against any neighbor, including Belarus,” it added.
    However, the troops are arriving earlier and staying longer than the government had indicated before the outbreak of protests in     Belarus over the Aug. 9 election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, to power.
    Lukashenko has denied accusations by the Belarus opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted protesters’ demands to step down.    He has accused NATO of a military buildup near Belarus’ borders, something the alliance denied, and has said he will ask for Russian military help if needed.
    The deployment in Lithuania, which will begin on Friday and will last until November, includes 500 American troops and 40 vehicles, such as Abrams tanks and Bradley armored troop carriers, a Lithuanian army spokesman said.
    On July 29, Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told BNS wire the United States would send a battalion-sized troop contingent – between 300 to 1,000 soldiers – in September, for two weeks’ training, beginning in the middle of the month.
    He repeated that information on Aug. 4 in an interview with public radio LRT.
    “Deployment was aligned with training schedule and training area availability,” defense minister spokeswoman Vita Ramanauskaite told Reuters.
    In addition to the U.S. deployment, up to 1,000 troops and military planes from France, Italy, Germany, Poland and others will take part in an annual exercise on Sept. 14-25, the Lithuanian army spokesman said.
    The ministry did not state any plans for those troops to stay beyond Sept. 25.
    Karoblis said earlier this month that there was a real danger Russia would send forces to Belarus.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson, Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)

9/3/2020 Belarusian Leader Reshuffles Security Chiefs In Face Of Mass Protests by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko meets with newly appointed head of the KGB security service Ivan Tertel,
newly appointed secretary of the security council Valery Vakulchik and acting head of the state control
committee Vasily Gerasimov in Minsk, Belarus September 3, 2020. Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko promoted hardline loyalists to top posts in his security apparatus on Thursday in an effort to strengthen his grip on the former Soviet republic after weeks of mass protests and strikes.
    Lukashenko, facing the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule, accompanied the reshuffle with instructions to act tough in the face of what he has repeatedly alleged is foreign aggression ahead of talks with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and a Russian government delegation.
    “The country is working, although many, especially our neighbors, would like us to collapse,” Lukashenko said, referring to the European Union states bordering Belarus.
    Retaining the loyalty of the security forces, who have helped him crack down hard on dissent, is vital to Lukashenko as he tries to crush protests that show no sign of abating after nearly four weeks.
    The reshuffle included the appointment of a new security council chief, a new head of the KGB security service and the promotion of the mayor of Minsk to the post of deputy prime minister.
    The political crisis in Belarus erupted after a presidential election on Aug. 9 which protesters say he massively rigged to ensure a phoney landslide win.    Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition candidate was the real winner, they say. Thousands of people have repeatedly taken to the streets.
    Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, which sees it as a vital strategic buffer between Russia and NATO.    President Vladimir Putin has said the Kremlin had set up a reserve police force at Lukashenko’s request but it would be deployed only if necessary.
    During talks with his Belarusian counterpart in Minsk, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said it was paramount to “completely eliminate external interference in the internal political processes of Belarus
    Lukashenko has provided no evidence that foreign powers are behind the protests.    The opposition has denied this, and NATO has also denied his allegations that it is massing forces near the Belarusian border.
ARRESTS
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials whom they have accused of having a role in vote-rigging and in violence against protesters since the election.    Belarus has pledged to retaliate.
    Human rights experts from the United Nations said this week they had received reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings and mistreatment of Belarusian protesters by police.
    The government has denied abusing detainees and has said its security forces have acted appropriately against demonstrators.
    Two former TV presenters were arrested in the capital Minsk on Wednesday night, relatives and local media said.
    Broadcaster Euroradio said Denis Dudinsky was detained near his house by uniformed officers who dragged him into a black minibus.
    A second former TV anchor, Dmitry Kokhno, was also arrested and driven away, according to his wife Nadezhda.
    “I thank God our son didn’t see it (the arrest),” she said, alongside a black and white photo of her husband with the boy.
    Both Dudinsky and Kokhno were sentenced to spend 10 days in jail for having taken part in unauthorized protests.
    Siarhei Dyleuski and Olga Kovalkova, two members of an opposition council, were also jailed for another 15 days following a 10-day jail stint for having disobeyed an order by the authorities.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

9/3/2020 Kremlin Tells West Not To Rush To Judge It On Navalny As Sanctions Talk Starts by Andrew Osborn and Madeline Chambers
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media during a statement about latest developments
in the case of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany September 2, 2020.
Navalny was the victim of an attack and poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German
government said Wednesday, citing new test results. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/BERLIN (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday the West should not rush to judge it over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and that there were no grounds to accuse it of the crime, as talk in the West of punishing Moscow intensified.
    The Kremlin was speaking a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him and that she would consult NATO allies about how to respond.
    Navalny, 44, is an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has specialized in high-impact investigations into official corruption.    He was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a domestic Russian flight after drinking a cup of tea that his allies said was poisoned.
    Berlin’s Charite hospital, which is treating Navalny, has said he remains in a serious condition in an intensive care unit connected to an artificial lung ventilator even though some of his symptoms are receding.
    Novichok is the same substance that Britain said was used against a Russian double agent and his daughter in an attack in England in 2018.    The deadly group of nerve agents was developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow rejected any suggestion that Russia had been behind the attack on Navalny and warned other countries against jumping to conclusions without knowing the full facts.
    “There are no grounds to accuse the Russian state.    And we are not inclined to accept any accusations in this respect,” Peskov told reporters.
    “Of course we would not want our partners in Germany and other European countries to hurry with their assessments.”
    Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency, said Moscow could not rule out Western intelligence agencies had orchestrated the poisoning to stir up trouble, the RIA news agency reported.
    Russian prosecutors have said they see no reason to launch a criminal investigation because they say they have found no sign a crime was committed, though pre-investigation checks are continuing.
    Peskov said Russia was eager to know what had happened to Navalny, but couldn’t do so without receiving information from Germany about the tests that had led to Berlin’s conclusions about Novichok.
SANCTIONS PRESSURE
    OPCW, the global chemical weapons agency, said the poisoning of any individual with a toxic nerve agent would be considered use of a banned chemical weapon.
    The European Commission said the bloc could only slap new sanctions on Russia after an investigation revealed who was responsible for Navalny’s poisoning. Lithuania said it would ask EU leaders to discuss the poisoning at their next summit.
    Merkel said that any German or European response would depend on whether Russia helped clear up the case.
    After her strong statement on Wednesday, she is under pressure at home to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany.
    “We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understands – that is gas sales,” Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German radio.
    “If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed now, it would be the maximum confirmation and encouragement for Putin to continue this kind of politics,” Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s conservatives, told German television separately.
    Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany.    Led by Russian company Gazprom with Western partners, the project is more than 90% finished and due to operate from early 2021. This may complicate efforts to stop it.
    It is fiercely opposed by Washington and has divided the European Union, with some countries warning it will undermine the traditional gas transit state, Ukraine, and increase the bloc’s reliance on Russia.
    Peskov said the Kremlin regarded talk of trying to thwart Nord Stream 2 as being based on emotions.    He said the project was a commercial one which benefited Russia, Germany and Europe.
    “We don’t understand what the reason for any sanctions could be,” said Peskov.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and by Thomas Seythal and Vera Eckert in Berlin and by Gabriela Baczynska, John Chalmers, and Marine Strauss in Brussels, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by William Maclean)

9/3/2020 Navalny Team Releases Bombshell Anti-Corruption Reports by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 file photo, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in
a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
    The team of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has declared a total war on the Kremlin ahead of this month’s regional elections.    On Thursday, the Anti-Corruption Foundation released Navalny’s latest investigations into high government corruption by Kremlin allies in Siberia’s two largest cities.
    Those reports were made during his campaign trip to Siberia last month, during which he was poisoned.
    “I’ve already started travelling around cities in the country to declare war against the United Russia Party,” stated the opposition leader.
FILE – In this Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny,
center, attends a rally in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File)
    According to experts, the Kremlin is now struggling to defend itself due to Navalny’s smart voting campaign, which seeks to elect opposition politicians in 1/3 of Russia’s regions.
    “I look around and see the student capital of Russia, a city of education.    But if you look through special glasses, you will see that the whole city is embedded in a web of corruption. Every single one – a pensioner, a cyclist, a kissing couple – they are all turned into a kind of prey, the daily task of which is to supply cash to those bloodsucking creatures that have declared themselves the owners of the city.” – Alexei Navalny, opposition leader, Russia

9/4/2020 Russian Court Rejects Complaint Over Law Agency’s Handling Of Navalny Case
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters,
who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court said on Friday it had rejected a complaint filed by allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accusing a top law enforcement body of inaction over what they said was his attempted murder.
    Germany, where Navalny is being treated in hospital, has said he was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent and has called for the perpetrators to be held to account.    But Russia has until now not opened a criminal investigation and said there is no evidence yet of a crime.
    One of Navalny’s allies accused the Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, of inaction following a statement they filed to it on Aug. 20 demanding a criminal investigation be opened into Navalny’s attempted murder.
    The court said the Investigative Committee had passed on the statement by Navalny’s supporters to one of its regional branches in Siberia and asked for it to be reviewed.
    Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said the court had said their statement had been treated as a “citizen’s appeal,” a legal nuance she said meant it could take up to 30 days for it be looked at.
    “Anything so they don’t have to start an investigation,” she wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Maria Vasilyeva; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

9/4/2020 Court To Rule On Dutch Populist Wilders’ Appeal Of Racial Incitement Conviction by Toby Sterling
FILE PHOTO: An exterior view of the court where the Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders
appears in Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A Dutch appeals court will decide on Friday whether to overturn the racial incitement conviction of Geert Wilders, the far-right populist party chief who led supporters in chanting that they wanted fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.
    The trial of Wilders, one of Europe’s most prominent far-right leaders, has been seen as pitting the rights of freedom of speech against the right of ethnic and religious minorities not to suffer verbal abuse and discrimination.
    Wilders, 56, whose Freedom Party has at times topped national opinion polls, argues he did nothing wrong, and merely expressed openly what many Dutch people think.
    He was convicted in 2016 of inciting discrimination at a 2014 campaign rally, in which he led supporters in asking whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the country.
    “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” his supporters chanted.    “We’re going to take care of that,” said the smiling Wilders.
    Trial judges said Wilders had planned the remarks ahead of time knowing they would be inflammatory and insulting to the 400,000 people of Moroccan ancestry in the Netherlands.
    They convicted him, saying that politicians are not “above the law”, but issued no fine or other penalty.    Wilders appealed, seeking to clear the conviction from his name and saying his trial was politically motivated.
    On appeal, prosecutors asked the court to convict Wilders on an additional charge of inciting hatred against Moroccans based on their race and impose a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,930), or 60 days in prison if it is unpaid.
    The appeals court’s decision was expected around 1130 GMT.
    Wilders said his words were a reference to his party’s platform, which included policies such as expelling Moroccans with dual nationality who commit a crime, and encouraging immigrants to leave.
    With his trademark coif of bleach blond hair, Wilders was among the first of a wave of anti-immigration populists in Europe, and frequently shocked the Dutch political establishment and offended Muslims with his anti-Islam rhetoric.
    He was acquitted in a 2011 hate speech trial for remarks likening Islam to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Koran.
    Wilders has lived under constant police protection for more than a decade due to death threats.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/4/2020 Police Drag Belarus Students From University Building, Arrest Five, Rights Group Says
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers try to block students protesting against presidential
election results in Minsk, Belarus September 1, 2020. Tut.By via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian police arrested five university students in the capital Minsk on Friday, human rights activists said, and videos posted on social media showed chaotic scenes of those detained being dragged away by officers through crowded corridors.
    The arrests took place in the building of Minsk State Linguistic Institute, which had warned students several days ago that it would call in the police unless they halted their protests against last month’s disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
    Social media footage showed several dozen students belting out a chorus of “Do you hear the people sing,” a rousing protest anthem from the musical “Les Miserables,” standing behind the white and red flag that is the emblem of the opposition.
    Other clips showed students remonstrating with the police as those arrested were pulled away, and pleading with a university official to respond to the incident.
    An interior ministry spokeswoman said the arrests were part of an “administrative process” and were not connected with events on Friday, presumably a reference to the singing.
    The five students were released from police custody later on Friday after being charged with taking part in illegal protests, according to social media posts and Belarusian media outlets.
    Thousands of students took part in protests across the country on Sept. 1, the first day of the academic year, as part of a wave of opposition to Lukashenko’s Aug. 9 election victory, which his critics say was rigged.
    Separately, a court in Minsk jailed six journalists who were detained at the Sept. 1 student protest for three days each, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.    They were found guilty of taking part in illegal protests.
    The protests and strikes have confronted Lukashenko with the gravest threat yet to his 26-year-old grip on power in the former Soviet republic.
    Broadcaster Euroradio showed video of students confronting university officials after the arrests with chants of “Shame!
    Dozens of people gathered outside the university in a show of solidarity with the students.
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Editing by William Maclean)

9/4/2020 Belarus Opposition Leader Calls For U.N. Monitoring Mission by Jonathan Landay and David Brunnstrom
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya takes part in the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly
high-level online debate in Vilnius, Lithuania September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the United Nations on Friday to condemn the crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko on protesters who charge he rigged his re-election victory last month.
    Speaking to a virtual informal session of the U.N. Security Council, Tsikhanouskaya also urged the United Nations to send an international monitoring mission to Belarus and said the U.N. Human Rights Commission should hold a special session on the human rights situation there.
    Tsikhanouskaya also called on the international community to impose sanctions on the individuals responsible for electoral violations “and crimes against humanity.”
    “We, the Belarusian people, need the help of the United Nations, in order to stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity,” Tsikhanouskaya said, making her first call for international involvement in the crisis.
    “We ask the United Nations to condemn the use of excessive force by the Belarusian security services against protesters.”
    The opposition leader spoke from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where she fled after Lukashenko launched his crackdown.
    Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, has faced a wave of opposition protests since his Aug. 9 election victory.    He has denied accusations by the opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted demands to step down.
    Human rights experts from the United Nations said this week they had received reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings and mistreatment of Belarusian protesters by police.
    The government has denied abusing detainees and has said its security forces have acted appropriately against demonstrators.
SANCTIONS
    “We urge the United Nations to send the needed international authority mission to Belarus to document the situation on the ground,” said Tsikhanouskaya, adding that the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Belarus must be allowed free access to and movement in the country.
    Tsikhanouskaya, a political novice, emerged as the consensus opposition candidate in last month’s election after better-known figures, including her jailed activist husband, were barred from standing.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials last month, signaling impatience with the West’s cautious approach by announcing sanctions without waiting for the rest of the European Union.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States and European partners were together reviewing imposing targeted sanctions on anyone involved in human rights abuses in Belarus.
    A senior U.S. State Department officials told Reuters this week Washington was considering imposing sanctions on seven Belarusians it believes were involved in falsifying the election results and in violence against peaceful protesters.
    The EU is still negotiating the exact list of people to be hit with travel bans and asset freezes when its foreign ministers meet on Sept. 21, diplomatic sources said.
    Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, which sees it as a vital strategic buffer between Russia and NATO.
    Lukashenko has accused foreign powers of being behind the protests, but has provided no evidence.    The opposition has denied that there is foreign involvement in the protests and NATO has also denied his allegations that it is massing forces near the Belarusian border.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Frances Kerry)

9/4/2020 U.S. Conveyed Concerns To Russia Over Syria Troop Collision – White House Official
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien speaks upon arriving at Abu Dhabi International
Airport, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. WAM/Handout via REUTERS.
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has conveyed its concerns to Russia over an incident in Syria in which several U.S. troops were injured when a Russian military vehicle collided with theirs, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Friday.
    “It’s been communicated to them (Russia) very clearly,” O’Brien told a White House news conference.    “It’s been communicated at the appropriate level.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Franklin Paul)

9/4/2020 Cuba Welcomes First Tourists In Months
FILE PHOTO: A view of an empty beach, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Varadero, Cuba, April 10, 2020. Picture taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba rolled out the red carpet on Friday for the first planeload of tourists to arrive on the Communist-run island in months as it struggles toward a post-pandemic new normalcy.
    The import-dependent country has been plunged into crisis and scarcity by tough U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 outbreak.
    The arrival was seen as a hopeful sign for tens of thousands of laid-off leisure industry employees, shuttered small businesses and hard-pressed residents in general.
    An Air Canada plane arrived at midday at the Cayo-Coco airport on the northcentral coast.    Air Canada Vacations, the airline’s tour business, said it would now fly weekly to Cuba and biweekly beginning next month.
    Cuba closed its airports in March due to the pandemic.    While some hotels are open under international sanitary regulations at resorts in isolated areas such as Cayo-Coco, there is no indication when Havana and other cities might allow foreign visitors to return.
    Cuba has managed to control the pandemic in most of the country.    But it is currently trying to contain a new outbreak in Havana, along with lesser outbreaks in a few other provinces.
    The country has reported nearly 4,300 COVID-19 cases to date and 100 deaths.
    Canada has long been Cuba’s most important tourist provider, accounting for 1.1 million of the 4.2 million arrivals in 2019, according to the government.
    Industry revenues were $2.6 billion last year.
    The United States bans residents from making tourist trips to Cuba as part of its decades-old trade embargo, but U.S. citizens can still travel to the Caribbean island for purposes including education.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown)

9/4/2020 Serbia, Kosovo Agree To Normalize Economic Ties: Trump by Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Kosovo's Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti at the
State Department in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 4, 2020. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to normalize economic ties, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday, hailing what he called a “major breakthrough” that would help the two Balkan countries prosper after decades of war and failed negotiations.
    Both countries – part of the former Yugoslavia – agreed to freeze talks about normalizing political ties for a year to allow the economic agreement to take root, U.S. officials said.
    Trump, speaking in the Oval Office as the leaders of both countries signed the agreement, said Serbia had also committed to moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and Kosovo and Israel had agreed to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations.
    Serbian President Aleksander Vucic told reporters there were still many differences between Serbia and its former province, which declared independence in 2008, but said Friday’s agreement marked a huge step forward.
    Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti also welcomed the agreement, and said it should lead to mutual recognition between the two countries, the key issue dividing the two neighbors.
    “Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization,” Trump said, flanked by the two leaders and a host of foreign policy advisers.    “By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough.”
    After a violent and tragic history and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide by focusing on job creation and economic growth,” Trump said.    “I think it’s going to work out very well.”
    He said the decision to normalize economic ties had taken “tremendous bravery” by both leaders.
    The announcement came after two days of high-level talks among the leaders and senior Trump aides, and follows a historic pact, forged by the Trump administration, to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.    Trump has sought to burnish his international deal-making credentials ahead of the Nov. 3 election.    He trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama, in national polls.
    The signing of the agreement on Friday was originally scheduled to take place in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, with two tables set up for the leaders to sit at and sign.    But it was abruptly moved to the Oval Office, with Trump’s desk situated between the two leader’s tables.    Trump’s advisers went out of their way to emphasize his role in reaching the deal.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu welcomed Kosovo’s decision to recognize Israel, and plans by both Kosovo and Serbia to open embassies in Jerusalem.br>     Serbia would be the first European country to open an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, and Kosovo the first with a Muslim majority.    Only two countries have done that so far: the United States and Guatemala.
    Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo, which is predominantly Muslim, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 after a 1999 NATO-led bombing campaign in which the United States took part, to curb a war ignited by years of repressive Serbian rule and to stop ethnic cleansing by Belgrade.
    Serbia, backed by its traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally Russia, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, a precondition for Belgrade’s membership in the European Union.
    National security adviser Robert O’Brien, who hosted the meetings, said expanded economic ties, increased border crossings and mutual recognition of professional licenses could pave the way for political solutions in the future.
    He said the deal would also lead to increased U.S. investment but gave no details.
    A top EU official on Monday said EU-led talks on normalization, which broke down in 2018 but resumed in July, could lead to a deal within months.
    The U.S. talks had been slated to take place in June but were delayed after Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was indicted for alleged war crimes during the 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against Serbian rule and its aftermath. He has denied the charges.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

9/4/2020 Russia Records More Than 10,000 Deaths Linked To Coronavirus In July – Stats Agency
A medical specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes care of a patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
of the City Clinical Hospital Number 15 named after O. Filatov, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in
Moscow, Russia, in this handout picture released June 12, 2020. Andrei Nikerichev/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia registered 10,079 deaths linked to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, data from the state statistics service Rosstat showed on Friday.
    The virus had been the main cause of death in 4,863 of these cases, Rosstat said.
    Russia recorded a total of 181,500 deaths that month, up from the 151,554 it had recorded in July last year, according to the data.
    The country has overall recorded 1,015,105 cases of the coronavirus, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams)

9/4/2020 NATO Urges Russian Government To Cooperate With Int’l Investigation Into Navalny Poisoning by OAN Newsroom
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks to the media after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)
    World leaders continue to demand an international response following the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.    German doctors recently found Russia’s opposition politician was poisoned with a Soviet style nerve agent.
    On Friday, NATO’s secretary general urged for Russia to fully cooperate with an international investigation.
    Navalny fell dramatically ill while on a flight to Berlin, sparking global attention. Russia has yet to open a criminal investigation.
    “NATO allies agree that Russia now has serious questions it must answer.    The Russian government must fully cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on an impartial international investigation.    Those responsible for this attack must be held accountable and brought to justice.” – Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO
FILE – In this May 5, 2018, file photo, Russian police carry opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, from
a demonstration against President Vladimir Putin in Pushkin Square in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo, File)
    Russian officials have claimed there is no evidence of poisoning and are demanding more transparency from the German specialists treating Navalny.
    Currently, the opposition leader is in a coma while recovering at a hospital in Berlin.

9/4/2020 Belarus President: Neighboring Countries Influencing Protests To Oust Me by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Aug. 16, 2020, file photo, Belarusian opposition supporters rally in central Minsk, Belarus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
    According to the president of Belarus, protests in his country against him are being influenced by other nations.    On Thursday, Alexander Lukashenko blamed neighboring countries, including Lithuania and Ukraine, who he believes want Belarus to collapse.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrives to attend a ceremony marking the traditional opening of the school year
Baranovichi, 150 km (93 miles) southwest of Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
    Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets after Lukashenko won the presidential election last month.    They have accused the president of rigging votes and are demanding he step down.
    Lukashenko continues to deny those allegations.
    “There are people who demonstrate in public that they do not like what it is going on in the country,” he stated.    “There were such people during the last election too, but the difference is they received their defeat peacefully.”
    U.S. troops and tanks are slated to arrive in Lithuania near the Belarus border on Friday for pre-planned military exercises.    Lithuania’s government maintains the move is merely defensive in nature.

9/5/2020 Masked Men Drag Protesting Belarusian Students Off The Streets
FILE PHOTO: Students of Minsk State Linguistic University attend a rally in support of their
detained fellows in Minsk, Belarus September 4, 2020. Tut.By/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Masked security agents dragged students off the streets and bundled them into vans as new protests broke out against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday on the fourth weekend since his disputed re-election.
    Up to 30 people were detained for taking part in unsanctioned protests, Russian news agency TASS quoted the Minsk police as saying.
    Draped in red-and-white opposition flags, students staged protests in several places in the capital, including outside the Minsk State Linguistic Institute where police had arrested five people on Friday, local media footage showed.
    Elsewhere masked men dragged away students who had gathered at an eatery in Karl Marx Street in the centre of Minsk, while some of the protesters shouted “tribunal!,” according to footage shown by news outlet TUT.BY.
    Thousands of women later held a separate march through Minsk in the afternoon, shouting “hands off the children” as one of their slogans.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has struggled to contain a wave of mass protests and strikes since he won a sixth term at an election last month that opponents say was rigged.    He denies electoral fraud.
    Lukashenko has previously dismissed the coronavirus pandemic as a “psychosis” that could be tackled by drinking vodka and taking saunas.
    But on Saturday he appeared to chide the protesters for spreading the disease.
    “We stagger through the streets, rubbing against each other,” he said at a televised government meeting.
    “Where’s the social distancing and so on in that?    We’re doing everything we can to delay the moment when we say goodbye to this disease.    That’s unacceptable.”
    Thousands took part in protests that coincided with the start of the school year on Tuesday.    At the Minsk State Linguistic Institute, students sang “Do you hear the people sing,” a protest anthem from the musical “Les Miserables.”
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/5/2020 No Sign Of End To Far East Anti-Kremlin Rallies After Nearly Two Months
People take part in an anti-Kremlin rally in support of former regional governor Sergei Furgal arrested on murder charges in the far eastern city of
Khabarovsk, Russia September 5, 2020. A sign on a poster reads "It's time to get the moth out". REUTERS/Evgenii Pereverzev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Weekly rallies against the Kremlin in Russia’s Far East showed no sign of ending after nearly two months, with around 10,000 people taking to the streets on Saturday in one of the longest-lasting movements of provincial discontent of the Putin era.
    Though mainly focused on a provincial political crisis in the Khabarovsk region more than 6000 km (3700 miles) east of Moscow, demonstrations have also seen support for suspected poison victim Alexei Navalny and opposition protests in Belarus.
    Residents of Khabarovsk started holding weekly rallies after the July 9 detention of Sergei Furgal, the region’s popular governor, over murder charges he denies.    His supporters say the detention is politically motivated.
    The Khabarovsk demonstrations are one of the longest sustained expressions of discontent with the Kremlin, outside of Moscow, during President Vladimir Putin’s 21 years in power.
    One protester on Sunday carried a placard accusing Putin of “coming to Furgal with handcuffs, to Navalny with poison.”    Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner, is being treated in Germany for what medics there say was poisoning with a nerve agent in Russia.    Moscow says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
    Some of the protesters in Khabarovsk carried the red and white flag that protesters in Belarus are using to signal their opposition to Moscow-backed leader Alexander Lukashenko.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Peter Graff)

9/5/2020 Russia Says It Has Seen Hostile Comments From Abroad On Navalny’s Health
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it had noticed multiple hostile statements directed at Russia on the topic of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s health, after Germany said he had been poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.
    “In relation to these presumptuous comments that… (Novichok) was developed here, it is imperative to say the following,” the ministry wrote in statement.
    “For many years, specialists in many Western and countries and in the specialised structures of NATO have worked with this wide-ranging group of chemical components.”
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Toby Chopra)

9/5/2020 Russia Has Very Serious Questions To Answer On Navalny: UK
    LONDON (Reuters) – Russia must explain how Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned with what Germany says was the Novichok nerve agent, British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
    “What is clear right now is that the Russian government has a very serious set of questions to answer,” he told Sky News.
    Whether the incident involved a state actor or not, Russia had obligations to make sure that chemical weapons cannot be used on its soil, Raab said.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Writing by William Schomberg)

9/6/2020 Lithuania Says EU’s Inaction Over Belarus Undermines Foreign Policy Credibility: FT
FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius attends a news conference, during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Riga, Latvia May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    (Reuters) – The European Union’s lack of action over Belarus is undermining the credibility of its foreign policy, Lithuanian foreign affairs minister Linas Linkevicius told the Financial Times newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
    The EU needs to encourage democracy and counter Russia’s influence in Belarus, Linkevicius said in the interview, adding that the bloc should provide “concrete help” to Belarus’ opposition.
    “Sometimes we react too late and our measures are fragmented and aren’t making any impression on society or the people in power,” Linkevicius said.
    “When we will not stand true on our national commitments, it will shatter our own foundation,” he said.    “Belarusian people should not feel deserted.”
    Linkevicius said that he would have preferred the EU to wield sanctions, as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had done against President Alexander Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials.
    Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the United Nations on Friday to condemn the crackdown by Lukashenko on protesters who charge he rigged his re-election victory last month.
    Tsikhanouskaya also called on the international community to impose sanctions on the individuals responsible for electoral violations.    The opposition leader spoke from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where she fled after Lukashenko launched his crackdown.
    Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, has faced a wave of opposition protests since his Aug. 9 election victory.    He has denied accusations by the opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted demands to step down.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/6/2020 Thousands Protest Against Pro-Serb Rallies In Montenegro
A general view of the main square during a rally in Podgorica, Montenegro, September 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica on Sunday evening waving national flags to protest against the use of Serbian national symbols by opposition parties that won elections last week.
    Participants chanted: “This is not Serbia” and “We do not give away Montenegro.”
    The pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led by President Milo Djukanovic, which steered Montenegro through the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, lost the parliamentary election last week.
    It will not be able to form a government for the first time since 1990, when a multi-party system was introduced.
    Opposition parties, including the pro-Serb Democratic Front, organised rallies celebrating their victory by waving Serbian flags, and raising three fingers in a gesture known as the Serbian salute.
    Montenegro remains deeply divided over its ties with Serbia — with some advocating closer ties with Belgrade and others opposing any pro-Serb alliance.
    On Sunday people started gathering in Podgorica in the afternoon waving national flags.
    “We came alone from Cetinje to give our support to Montenegro, as always.    We do not give away (our) state!” said protester Milo Martinovic, who wore the traditional red hat of Montenegro.
    The final preliminary count gave the DPS 35.06% of the vote on Sunday.    The final official result is expected in the coming days.
    An alliance of Serb nationalist parties named For the Future of Montenegro, which seeks closer ties with Serbia and Russia and is backed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, won 32.55% of the vote.
    Another two alliances – a centre-right group called Peace is Our Nation and an alliance led by the URA green party – which won 12.53% and 5.53% of votes, respectively, said they would join pro-Serb parties to form the government.
    Opposition leaders, along with democracy and human rights organisations, have accused Djukanovic and his party of running Montenegro as their own corrupt fiefdom with links to organised crime.    The DPS and Djukanovic deny those charges.
(Reporting by Stevo Vasiljevic; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Louise Heavens)

9/6/2020 Belarus Protesters March In Minsk Despite Government Warning
A participant addresses a Belarusian service member during an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and
to reject the presidential election results as rain falls in Minsk, Belarus September 6, 2020. Tut.By via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk on Sunday calling on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to step down, in mass demonstrations that showed no sign of abating nearly a month after an election his opponents say was rigged.
    Columns of protesters defied a government warning to march in front of soldiers and military vehicles.    They waved red-and-white opposition flags and shouted “go away!” and “you’re a rat!
    The human rights group Spring-96 said at least 70 people were arrested.    Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that several people were injured when police broke up a protest outside a state-run tractor factory.
    Video footage shown by local media outlet TUT.BY showed women shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people away into detention.
    Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and, buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, has rejected calls for new elections from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, his main opponent who fled into exile two days after the vote.
    Demonstrations have carried on throughout the four weeks since the election, gaining in size on the weekends and drawing tens of thousands of people each Sunday.
    The interior ministry said in a statement that 91 protesters had been detained on Saturday, and said it would beef up security and take “take all necessary measures to suppress such actions and prevent violations of public order” on Sunday.
    Tsikhanouskaya, who will travel to Warsaw to meet the Polish prime minister next week, said in a video address on Saturday that the momentum of the protests was irreversible.
    “Belarusians have already changed, they have awakened and it is impossible to push them back into the former mindset.”
    Western countries have had to balance their sympathy with a swelling Belarusian pro-democracy movement against a desire not to provoke Russia into a military intervention.    The crisis has tested European resolve at a moment when countries are also weighing how to respond to the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, now being treated in Germany.
    In an interview published in the Financial Times on Sunday, Lithuania’s foreign minister urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus and counter Russia’s influence or risk undermining the credibility of its foreign policy.
    “Sometimes we react too late and our measures are fragmented and aren’t making any impression on society or the people in power,” Linas Linkevicius said.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials without waiting for the rest of the EU to act, signalling impatience with the West’s cautious approach.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

9/6/2020 Climate Activists Gathered At Trient Glacier Mourn Switzerland’s Receding Ice by Denis Balibouse
Activists gather for a protest against climate change at Trient Glacier, in Trient, Switzerland September 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    TRIENT, Switzerland (Reuters) – Climate activists gathered at Switzerland’s Trient glacier on Sunday to urge authorities to take action to reduce CO2 emissions and draw attention to the disappearance of ice shelves and glaciers in the Alps and beyond.
    More than 200 people gathered at the foot of the Trient glacier, situated along one of Western Europe’s tallest mountain ranges, the Mont Blanc massif, to call attention to the impact of climate change on Switzerland’s natural landscape.
    Their protest came one day before the Swiss parliament begins debating new legislation on reducing CO2 emissions.
    “We know that in the last 30 or 40 years, there are more than 500 glaciers that have disappeared or are in the process of disappearing,” Myriam Roth, co-president of the Swiss Association for the Protection of the Climate, which launched an initiative in November 2019 aimed at protecting glaciers in Switzerland, told Reuters.
    “This kind of mobilisation, which is very public and draws a lot of people from all over, makes the urgency visible.    It reminds people that this is happening now.”
    Sitting at an altitude of 3,000-3,2000 metres, the Trient glacier has already receded by more than 1,000 metres over the last 30 years.
    Switzerland’s Turtmann Glacier in the same canton as Trient, split in two last month, losing 300,000 cubic metres in a dramatic collapse https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2020%3Anewsml_RC27BI9U5BUT&share=true caught on camera.
    The government says 90% of the 1,500 glaciers remaining–including Trient–will go by the end of the century if nothing is done to cut emissions.
    “What we are asking, in the name of the Climate Alliance, is that strong political decisions be taken so that CO2 emissions can be lowered 60% by 2030,” said Ivan Maillard Ardenti, whose aid group Bread for All supported the event organised by Switzerland’s Climate Alliance.
(Reporting by Denis Balibouse; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; writing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

9/6/2020 Serbian Leader Fires Back At Moscow After ‘Basic Instinct’ Jibe
FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    MOSCOW/BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s president accused Moscow on Sunday of stooping to “primitivism and vulgarity” in an attack on him, after Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman compared him to the actor Sharon Stone in an explicit film scene.
    Serbia is Moscow’s closest ally in the Balkans, but President Aleksandar Vucic has long annoyed Russia by seeking better ties with the West.
    He took a step in that direction last week by signing an agreement to improve relations with Kosovo, a province that declared independence in 2008, which Belgrade and Moscow do not recognise.    A signing ceremony was held at the White House.
    Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted a picture on Facebook of Vucic at the ceremony, alongside a picture of Stone from the 1992 film “Basic Instinct,” at a police interrogation where her character briefly exposes herself.
    “If you are invited to the White House but your chair stands like you are in an interrogation, you should sit like in the picture number 2.    Whoever you are.    Just trust me,” Zakharova wrote.
    In televised comments while on a visit to Brussels, Vucic said: “Maria Zakharova speaks mostly about herself, and the primitivism and vulgarity she showed speaks of her, and by God, of those who placed her there.”
    Serbia’s defence minister, Aleksandar Vulin said in a statement: “Today, the enemies of Serbia and Russia are delighted with Zakharova’s petty malice.”
    Zakharova updated her post on Sunday with an apology, saying that her comments had been misunderstood.
    Vucic spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Belgrade and Moscow said on Sunday afternoon.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Graff)

9/6/2020 German Politicians Question Russia Gas Project After Navalny Suspected Poisoning by Andreas Rinke
FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near
the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday faced growing pressure to reconsider Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia following the suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the question of sanctions on the pipeline, which will bring gas from Russia to Germany, rested on Moscow’s cooperation in clearing up what exactly happened to Navalny.
    Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said suspicion would fall on Russia if it failed to help resolve the matter.
    Navalny was airlifted to Germany for hospital treatment after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight last month.    The German government says he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent similar to the one used in an attempt to kill a former Russian spy in England two years ago.
    Moscow says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
    “I have always said that I am not fond of the Nord Stream 2 project,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “To me it was always clear that the security interests of Eastern European states and Ukraine must be taken into consideration.”
    Pressed on whether Germany was ready to sanction the project, Kramp-Karranbauer said: “What happens now depends on the behavior of the Russian side.”
    Foreign Minister Maas of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government, said in remarks published on Sunday that a failure by Moscow to help to clear up the circumstances of Navalny’s illness would add to suspicions that Russia’s government was involved.
    “I certainly hope that the Russians will not force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2,” he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
    The affair has led to calls from several leading conservatives for Merkel to suspend the pipeline, a huge, nearly complete project to bring Russian gas to Germany under the sea.
    Merkel, a supporter of the pipeline, has said it should not be linked to the Navalny case.
(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/6/2020 Belarusian Opposition Leader Urges UN To Stop Crackdown On Protesters by OAN Newsroom
Riot police block a street to protect against Belarusian opposition supporters rally in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
    Belarus’s opposition leader has urged the United Nations to condemn authorities’ use of excessive force against protesters.    She has recommended the UN Human Rights Council hold a session to discuss the country’s situation.
    She also called for law enforcement to release everyone who was arrested unecessarily.
    As a means for using every available option to stop the violence, she has asked that sanctions be imposed on those responsible for committing electoral violations.
Protesters with old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition supporters rally in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. (AP Photo)
    “In 1945, Belarus was one of the founding members of the United Nations,” stated Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.    “Now we, the Belarusian people, need the help of the United Nations in order to stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity rights in the middle of Europe.”
    Anti-government protests have surged across the country since early August.    This came after the nation’s president was reelected for a sixth term.

9/7/2020 Exclusive: EU To Blacklist 31 Belarus Senior Officials Over Election, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union aims to impose economic sanctions on 31 senior Belarus officials including the country’s interior minister by mid-September, three EU diplomats said, in response to an Aug. 9 election that the West says was rigged.
    Almost a month into mass demonstrations against the outcome of the contest, in which President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory to prolong his 26-year-old rule, the EU aims to punish the government crackdown and support calls for fresh elections.
    “We initially agreed on 14 names but many states felt that was not sufficient. We have now reached consensus on another 17,” one EU diplomat said.    “These are senior officials responsible for the election, for violence and for the crackdown.”
    EU foreign ministers gave their broad political approval for the sanctions – EU travel bans and asset freezes – at a meeting in Berlin late last month but did not decide who to target.
    Greece and Cyprus, which are pushing for separate sanctions on Turkey in a dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean, still need to give their support to the Belarus blacklist.
    All 27 EU countries must agree on such measures and Athens and Nicosia could use their support for the Belarus blacklist to obtain tough measures on Turkey, the diplomats said.
LUKASHENKO SPARED, FOR NOW
    Names could still be added or taken off the list, but the diplomats said formal agreement is likely to come on Sept. 21, when EU foreign ministers hold their next scheduled meeting. The sanctions coming into effect on Sept. 22.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed their own sanctions on Belarus officials in late August.    EU diplomats declined to say how closely the Baltic and the EU lists are, for fear of alerting those in question to move assets out of banks.
    Interior Minister Yuri Karaev and his deputy are expected to be on the EU list, along with senior election commission, security and justice officials and ministers.
    Unlike the Baltic lists, Lukashenko will not be sanctioned. Germany, who holds the six-month presidency of the EU, wants more time for dialogue and to leave open the possibility of adding the president’s name at a later stage.
    The EU, which has an arms embargo on Belarus, in 2015 eased economic sanctions on Belarus that were first imposed in 2004, seeking better relations with Lukashenko, but now hopes to move quickly to reintroduce so-called restrictive measures.
    The EU, like NATO and the United States, have been cautious about moving too quickly on punishing Belarus’ officials, wary of provoking an intervention from Russia.
    Belarus is the ally closest to Russia of all former Sovietrepublics, and Lukashenko’s fate lies in the handsof the Kremlin, which must decide whether to stick with him ashis authority has ebbed.    Lukashenko has threatened to retaliate with reciprocal measures should any EU sanctions be imposed against Belarus.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Bacyznska and John Chalmers, Editing by William Maclean)

9/7/2020 Belarusian Protest Leader Detained By Unidentified People: Tut.By Media Report
Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova attends a rally to protest against police brutality
and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus September 6, 2020. Tut.By via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Unidentified people detained Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova in central Minsk on Monday and drove her off in a minivan, the Belarusian Tut.By media outlet cited a witness as saying.
    Kolesnikova is the last of three female politicians left inside Belarus who joined forces before an Aug. 9 presidential election to try to challenge veteran incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.
    A vocal critic of Lukashenko, she has played an important role in the country’s post-election political crisis which has seen weeks of mass protests and strikes by people who accuse Lukashenko of rigging his own re-election, something he denies.
    Her abduction, if confirmed, comes as Belarusian authorities appear to be stepping up their efforts to try to break protesters’ momentum.
    Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Sunday and security forces detained 633 protesters, Belarusian authorities said.
    Kolesnikova’s allies said they were checking the report of her detention.    Police in Minsk were cited by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying they had not detained her.
    Before the election, Kolesnikova had joined forces with opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who later fled to Lithuania, and with Veronika Tsepkalo, who has also since left the country.
    Another leading activist, Olga Kovalkova, arrived in Poland on Saturday, saying she had been told she would face arrest if she stayed in Belarus.
    Earlier on Monday, central bank figures showed Belarus had burned through nearly a sixth of its gold and foreign exchange reserves, or $1.4 billion, in August, as it fought to prop up its rouble currency during the wave of unrest.
    Kolesnikova had announced on Aug. 31 that she was forming a new political party, Together, with the team of jailed opposition figure Viktor Babariko with whom she had previously worked.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Maria Vasilyeva, Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

9/7/2020 Merkel Doesn’t Rule Out Sanctions On Russian Gas Pipeline, Spokesman Says
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel does not rule out the possibility of sanctioning a pipeline set to bring Russian gas to Germany in response to the suspected poisoning of a Kremlin critic with a Soviet-style nerve agent, her chief spokesman said on Monday.
    “The chancellor shares the remarks made by the foreign minister,” said Steffen Seibert.    He was asked about remarks by Heiko Maas urging Russia to help to clear up the case of Alexei Navalny or else force Germany to withdraw its support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Thomas Seythal)

9/7/2020 Swedish Government Promises Cash For Elderly Care After COVID-19 Deaths
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven leaves a meeting at the EU summit, amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium early July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s center-left government will boost funding for elderly care by around $500 million in its 2021 budget after the number of deaths in old people’s homes during the coronavirus pandemic sparked widespread concern.
    The government has said it will boost spending by more than 100 billion Swedish crowns ($11.45 billion) in the budget to be published on Sept. 21 as it seeks to restart the economy and plug holes in the welfare system exposed by the pandemic.
    “Our goal must be to build the world’s best system of elderly care, and this spring and the coronavirus have showed that we need to speed up this work,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters on Monday.
    Sweden’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has been much larger than its Nordic neighbors, though less than countries like Britain and Spain.    Most of those deaths have been among the elderly, including many residents in care homes.
    Around 5,800 Swedes have died compared with around 340 people in Finland, which has about half the population of its bigger neighbor, and Lofven’s minority government has faced widespread criticism for failing to