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Russia between anger and damage control on Syria

Moscow has criticized Washington's decision to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase. At the same time, it also seems to be conducting damage control. Russian experts warn of a direct confrontation. Maria Zakharova has rarely appeared as nervous as she did this Friday morning. Although she is known for being in control, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press director was obviously flustered on this occasion, having to start over several times as she read a prepared statement on US airstrikes in Syria. The statement condemned the missile attacks, which targeted a Syrian airbase near the city of Homs. US President Donald Trump said the strikes were retribution for the recent chemical weapons attacks that claimed the lives of numerous Syrian civilians in the province of Idlib. The United States and other Western countries say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army was responsible for the attack. Assad and his Russian protectors deny the accusation, blaming rebels for the act instead. Zakharova said that the chemical weapons attack had simply given the US an excuse to launch a long-planned strike against Assad. Failed Russian foreign policy Andrey Kortunov, director of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council, a Moscow think tank, says that Russia was caught off guard by Washington's decision. "One needs to remember that Trump had been sending other signals before, and had hinted at a softer approach to Assad," he told DW. "And just the day before, Russia had also signaled that it would be willing to change its approach in Syria if Assad was indeed behind the chemical attacks." But Trump also seems to want to distance himself from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who famously spoke of a "red line" in Syria in 2012, only to shy away from launching military attacks against Assad when the Syrian president defiantly crossed that line in 2013. Moscow publisher and military expert Alexander Golz told DW that the US airstrikes signal the end of Russian diplomatic efforts in Syria. "For four years, Russia has been bragging about having hindered US aggression in Syria. Now it is clear that Moscow only delayed US involvement. It is also clear that dictators are shifty and thankless partners, and that Trump acts more decisively than Obama." Russia's military presence in Syria, which was established in 2015, lost all influence overnight as a result of the US strike. Russia's Ministry of Defense announced that the US missile strike against the Syrian army had been ineffective. Though a spokesperson went on to say that Moscow would help Syria strengthen its air defenses. Apparently, Russian combat troops stationed in Syria were not affected by the US airstrike. Washington said that it warned Moscow of the attack in advance. A new historical precedent? Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova said that Russia's first reaction to the missile strike would be to withdraw from its agreement with the US on coordinated air operations in Syria. The agreement is designed to prevent encounters between fighter aircraft. Andrey Kortunov believes "the threat of a direct confrontation has increased, but not significantly." According to Alexander Golz, a direct military confrontation would be the absolute worst case scenario. He pointed out that such situations had been successfully averted in earlier conflicts like Korea or Vietnam, when Washington and Moscow each supported a diverse number of warring factions. "I think decision makers are very aware of the threat of a global conflict," Golz said. Thus far, reactions from Moscow have echoed a mix of shock and anger. But one also senses an effort to avoid further damaging the already faltering dialogue with the Trump administration. According to Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president regards the US operation as an "aggression" against Syria. Peskov went on to say, "With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced similar sentiments speaking in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. "I hope this provocation will not lead to irreparable damage [to US-Russian relations]," said Russia's top diplomat. Not an end to diplomatic ties Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia's parliament, the State Duma, said the US operation benefited the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist militant group: "IS is applauding the USA today." He went on to say that the US must be kept from taking further aggressive action. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma's Committee on International Affairs, told the Russian state television channel Russia 24 that the incident was "very disappointing." But Slutsky, a member of the ruling "United Russia" party, added that Moscow could "not wall itself off" to Washington. Slutsky also said that Russia should speak with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he travels to Moscow next week. Andrey Kortunov of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council believes that the dialogue between Moscow and Washington will become increasingly difficult after the missile strike.

Moscow has criticized Washington’s decision to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase. At the same time, it also seems to be conducting damage control. Russian experts warn of a direct confrontation. Maria Zakharova has rarely appeared as nervous as she did this Friday morning. Although she is known for being in control, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press director ... Read More »

DR Congo opposition piles pressure on Kabila with general strike

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, residents in key cities joined a general strike called by the opposition to force President Joseph Kabila to finally adopt a three-month old power sharing deal and permit elections. Monday's protests in the DRC were mounted by the umbrella group of opposition parties known as Rassemblement (Rally). The strike led to a slow-down in business activity in the capital Kinshasa and in the country's second city Lubumbashi. Rassemblement accuses President Joseph Kabila of causing chaos by failing to implement a power sharing deal signed on December 31, 2016. "We want no more of him," a resident of the Kingasani district of Kinshasa said on Monday. There was a heavy police presence in the capital and the normally bustling market was shut. "I couldn't go to work. It's my way of supporting the opposition. We want change," said a central bank employee, who asked to remain anonymous. President Kabila's constitutional mandate expired last year at the end of his second five year term. He refused to step down and allow elections, which lead to protests in September 2016. Some 50 people died as a result of the violence. On Monday morning, shops and service stations in Kinshasa remained closed and public transport was scarce. People were seen walking from their homes in eastern working class districts to their jobs in the city center. Other residents opted to remain at home fearing violence could break out. Witnesses said the situation was similar in Lubumbashi, some 1,570 kilometers (975 miles) southeast of Kinshasa. "One shop in five is open," a resident said. Mouths to feed But some people voiced indifference to the appeal by opposition politicians for a day of protest. "Our problem is to find something to feed our children, send them to school," said Albertine Bulanga who was selling maize in a Kingasani market. One woman selling goods at a bus terminal told DW she had no alternative but to work on Monday. "We don't have any savings at home, and if you don't work, you and your family don't have anything to eat," she said. The power sharing deal which the strikers are supporting permits Kabila to stay in office until 2017 in tandem with a transitional authority and a new premier who will be drawn from the opposition. The eastern city of Goma was also quiet on Monday, except for a strong military presence. "This a message to the leaders to tell them that things are not right," one Goma resident said. Monday's stoppage was the first big protest against Kabila organized by the Rassemblement opposition alliance since the death of opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi in February at the age of 84. Tshisekedi, who negotiated the power sharing deal, headed the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). One UDPS member, who asked not to be identified, told DW they were prepared to meet Kabila, but not on Monday while the protests were in progress. Negotiations between the opposition and the government on implementing the power sharing deal appeared to have broken down. Bishops from the country's influential Roman Catholic church, who were acting as mediators, pulled out of the talks saying they was a lack of political will on both sides to reach a settlement. Unrest in Kasai The DRC is a vast, sprawling country suffering from chronic violence. At least 400 people have died in unrest over the last six months in the provinces of Kasai-Central, Kasai, Kasai-West and Lomani. The unrest erupted in mid-August when government forces killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader who and rebelled against Kabila. Last month, the police accused rebels of killing 39 officers in Kasai, and last week the bodies of two UN contractors were found after they were kidnapped in Kasai-Central. The two foreigners were kidnapped by unidentified assailants on March 12 along with four Congolese accompanying them. On Monday, the authorities said fighters loyal to Nsapu had launched an attack on Luebo late on Friday in which at least eight people were killed. The chief prosecutor at International criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, has voiced alarm at the spiraling violence. "I shall not hesitate to take action if acts constituting crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are committed and to take all necessary measures to prosecute those responsible," she warned. Security Council Kabila and his government have also been warned by the UN Security Council to honor the power sharing deal with Rassemblement. Last week the Council renewed the mandate of the MONUSCO mission in Congo, the UN's biggest and costliest peacekeeping operation, but reduced its troop strength. Some 500 soldiers are expected to return home.. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, has described Kabila's regime as "corrupt" and said it was making MONUSCO's job impossible. "We can't work in spite of the government. We need to hold the government accountable," she said. Kabila is expected to deliver a speech to the people of the DRC on Tuesday focusing on political and security issues. Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa contributed to this report

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, residents in key cities joined a general strike called by the opposition to force President Joseph Kabila to finally adopt a three-month old power sharing deal and permit elections. Monday’s protests in the DRC were mounted by the umbrella group of opposition parties known as Rassemblement (Rally). The strike led to a slow-down in ... Read More »

Loyalist committee chooses Hong Kong’s next leader Lam

ہانگ کانگ میں چین نواز خاتون سیاستدان کیری لام کو ملک کی نئی سربراہ چن لیا گیا ہے۔ ہانگ کانگ میں پہلی مرتبہ کسی خاتون کو چیف ایگزیکٹیو کے عہدے کے لیے منتخب گیا ہے۔ تاہم عوام کا کہنا ہے کہ کیری لام ان کا انتخاب نہیں ہیں۔ خبر رساں ادارے اے ایف پی نے چھبیس مارچ بروز اتوار ہانگ کانگ کے حکام کے حوالے سے بتایا ہے کہ چین نواز ملکی الیکشن کمیٹی نے کیری لام کو چیف ایگزیکٹیو کے عہدے کے لیے منتخب کر لیا ہے۔ ہانگ کانگ میں چیف ایگزیکٹیو یا سربراہ کا انتخاب عوام نہیں کرتے بلکہ اس عمل میں مرکزی طاقت الیکشن کمیٹی کو حاصل ہوتی ہے۔ ’آزاد ہانگ کانگ اور تائیوان بطور الگ وطن قابلِ قبول نہیں‘ تائیوان، ہانگ کانگ کی آزادی کے حامی ’دیواروں سے سر پٹختی مکھیاں‘ ہانگ کانگ کے الیکشن، چین مخالف سیاست دان بھی کامیاب چین کے نیم خود مختار علاقے ہانگ کانگ کی اس الیکشن کمیٹی میں اکثریت چین نوازوں کی ہے۔ اس لیے پہلے سے ہی واضح تھا کہ بیجنگ حکومت کی ’فیورٹ‘ کیری لام کو اس عہدے کے لیے منتخب کر لیا جائے گا۔ یہ امر بھی اہم ہے کہ ہانگ کانگ کی الیکشن کمیٹی کے زیادہ تر ارکان کا انتخاب عوام نہیں کرتے ہیں بلکہ انہیں براہ راست ہی چُن لیا جاتا ہے۔ بعد ازاں یہ کمیٹی ملکی چیف ایگزیکٹیو کو چنتی ہے۔ اتوار کے دن اس کمیٹی کے ایک ہزار ایک سو چورانوے ارکان میں سے 777 نے کیری لام کے حق میں ووٹ دیا۔ کیری لام نے اپنے انتخاب کے بعد کہا کہ وہ عوامی سطح پر پائے جانے والے اختلافات کو ختم کرنے کی کوشش کریں گی۔ ہانگ کانگ کے عوام کا مطالبہ ہے کہ چین کے اثرورسوخ کو کم کرتے ہوئے اس علاقے میں ’زیادہ جمہوریت‘ ہونی چاہیے۔ بنکاک میں واقع کنوینشن سینٹر میں اتوار کے دن کیری لام نے اپنے انتخاب کے بعد ان عوامی مطالبات پر تبصرہ کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ ہانک کانگ کے سیاسی نظام کے حوالے سے عوام میں سنجیدہ اختلافات پائی جاتے ہیں، جن کی وجہ سے مایوسی کا ایک عنصر نمایاں ہوتا جا رہا ہے۔ ہانگ کانگ میں پہلی خاتون سربراہ بننے کا اعزاز حاصل کرنے والی لام نے کہا کہ ان کی اولین ترجیح ہو گی کہ وہ ان عوامی اختلافات کو ختم کریں۔ کیری لام اس سال جولائی میں اپنے عہدے سے سبکدوش ہونے والے چیف ایگزیکٹیو لیونگ چُن یِنگ کی جگہ یہ منصب سنبھالیں گی۔ برطانیہ نے سن 1997 میں ہانگ کانگ کو واپس چین کے حوالے کیا تھا اور تب سے وہاں ’ایک ملک، دو نظاموں‘ کے تحت ریاستی انتظامات چلائے جا رہے ہیں۔ تاہم ہانگ کانگ کی نئی نسل ایک تبدیلی کی خواہاں ہے اور وہ چین کے تسلط سے آزادی چاہتی ہے۔ اسی تناظر میں سن دو ہزار چودہ میں ہانگ کانگ میں عوامی احتجاجات کی ایک لہر بھی دیکھی گئی تھی۔ کیری لام کے انتخاب پر عوام سراپا احتجاج ہے۔ اتوار کے دن جب الیکشن کمیٹی نے انسٹھ سالہ کیری لام کو نئی سربراہ چنا تو عوام کی ایک بڑی تعداد سڑکوں پر احتجاج کر رہی تھی۔ احتجاج کا یہ سلسلہ متوقع طور پر کئی روز تک جاری رہ سکتا ہے۔

Critics have accused the 1,194-member election committee of being heavily stacked with Beijing loyalists. Protests have coincided with the selection process, which pits establishment figures against each other. Hong Kong’s election committee chose former government official Carrie Lam as the city’s next leader on Sunday, local broadcaster Cable TV reported. Lam, widely billed as Beijing’s top pick, won with 772 ... Read More »

‘There’s a pro-European mood in Bulgaria’

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form a stable government again. The last couple of years were not a good era in Bulgarian politics, with three resigned cabinets and three transitional governments in the last three years. This is some kind of unfortunate record in the Balkans. In this regard it will be important that this is the beginning of a period in which an elected government can remain in office and govern successfully for the term of four years. What kind of government would you like to see in Sofia after the election? I'm quite certain it'll have to be a coalition government. When we look at the polls, we have at this point a stalemate situation between the two major parties, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Boiko Borisov's GERB (Editor's note: a member of the European People's Party), which had run the country until recently. This is a challenge as both have said so far that they don't want to govern with each other. So the question is, how can a government be formed? In principle, an attitude like that is unsuitable for a democracy - democratic parties saying "No, we don't want a coalition under any circumstances." Speculation is rife as to the direction of foreign policy the new government may take. Some have mentioned Moscow's growing influence on Bulgarian politics. What do you expect in this regard? I'm very glad that the EU approval rate in Bulgaria is among the highest in the whole region. I also believe that, until now, Bulgarians have benefited from their governments' pro-European politics. This should continue by all means. Bulgaria is a key stability factor in the region and endeavors to have good relationships with all neighboring countries. Since we currently have great problems in some other regions of the western Balkans, it can be very important how Bulgaria performs there, how capable it is to act in order to advocate and strengthen the European idea there. What are the main problems that the new Bulgarian government must tackle? Regrettably, they haven't changed. First on the list is the fight against corruption and organized crime, along with continuing the reform of the judicial system. Simultaneously, Bulgaria has to regain trust, and this applies to the economic sector as well. Last year, foreign investment in Bulgaria plummeted by 60 percent, which indicates that there's a confidence gap on European markets when it comes to Bulgaria. Moreover, this view is shared by Bulgarian business representatives as well. Therefore it'd be very important to restore that confidence. Several political parties and politicians in Bulgaria recently tried to exploit an alleged danger posed by refugees and Turkey interfering in Bulgarian internal affairs for election campaign purposes. What's your view of that approach? We could indeed observe that sort of interference. For example, the Turkish ambassador in Sofia made an appearance during a campaign rally organized by one of the Turkish parties in Bulgaria (the DOST party), whose views are akin to those of the AKP and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. On that account, the ambassador was summoned quite rightly - this was regarded as meddling with Bulgarian internal affairs. I can understand the Bulgarian side, especially since Ankara has issued clear recommendations to the Turkish population in Bulgaria as to who they should vote for. This is very close indeed to outside interference, and I understand very well that Bulgaria refuses to tolerate that. My understanding, however, has its limits when Bulgarian nationalists gather at the border and try to prevent expatriated Bulgarian Turks (or Turkish Bulgarians), who had fled communist Bulgaria prior to 1989, from entering the country. That is, of course, against the law. As far as the refugees are concerned - this issue should not be exploited for election campaign purposes. According to the latest count, there are now some 4,500 refugees in Bulgaria. If you compare that to other countries, also taking the country's size into account, this is a challenge that can be handled. And when you look at refugee routes, you'll see that Bulgaria is situated slightly remote from them, and that includes the famous Balkan route. Of course, we still need a functioning government in Sofia, also as a partner in a prudent refugee policy. How would you explain that, in contrast to other countries in central and Eastern Europe, a vast majority of Bulgarians endorse the country's EU membership? Bulgaria had to fight - as Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum in Germany I was right in the middle of it when we worked together to achieve EU membership. There was the fortunate decision to grant Bulgaria full membership status from 1 January 2007; however, that was not the end of the debate. We then had to establish the EU's Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), because some pledges and assurances were not implemented quickly enough by the Bulgarian side. This mechanism is still in force, and we continue to receive reports which are detailing the implementation of those measures. However, Bulgaria has benefited from EU accession. There has always been a pro-European sentiment in Bulgaria, which was a good basis for coping with the difficult path to EU membership. Although minor anti-European parties (the United Patriots, for example) exist in Bulgaria as well, it is gratifying to see that there's a vast pro-European majority in Bulgaria - something that is far from natural these days. Gernot Erler, of the center-left Social Democratic Party, is a member of the German parliament. Between 2005 and 2009, he was deputy foreign minister. Since January 2014, he has been the German government's representative in charge of relations with Russia. He is also the Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum. The interview was conducted by Alexander Andreev.

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form ... Read More »

Lufthansa profit flies high on lower costs

The German flagship carrier has beaten analysts' expectations for 2016 results, reporting a record net profit despite falling revenues, which shows that the airline's drive to save costs is bearing fruit. Europe's biggest airline group by revenues unveiled a net profit of 1.78 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for last year - a 4.6 percent increase on 2015, and coming despite a 1.3 percent decline in sales to 31.7 billion euros. "In a very demanding market environment, we successfully kept the Lufthansa Group's margins at their record prior-year levels, through consistent capacity and steering measures and, above all, through our effective cost reductions," chief executive Carsten Spohr said in a statement. Lufthansa group, which includes Austrian Airlines, Swiss, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings as well as the core German flag-carrier, recorded the improved results despite overcapacity in airline services in Europe. This is driving fares, with Lufthansa's revenue per available seat kilometre having declined to 7.8 euro cents, from 8.3 euro cents in 2015. Nevertheless, passenger airlines remained Lufthansa's biggest earner, with improvements in operating profit for its flagship airline and Austrian Airlines. But low-cost passenger carrier Eurowings suffered an operating loss for the year, as did freight unit Lufthansa Cargo. Looking ahead, the group warned that underlying profit for 2017 - a measure that excludes the effect of some changes in pension accounting - would be "slightly below" the 1.75 billion euros logged in 2016. The group plans to offer shareholders a dividend of 50 euro cents per share, the same level as last year's payout. Lufthansa published its 2016 result one day after it had announced a settlement with its pilots over a long-running pay dispute that cost the group 100 million euros in 2016.

The German flagship carrier has beaten analysts’ expectations for 2016 results, reporting a record net profit despite falling revenues, which shows that the airline’s drive to save costs is bearing fruit. Europe’s biggest airline group by revenues unveiled a net profit of 1.78 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for last year – a 4.6 percent increase on 2015, and coming despite ... Read More »

Taiwan’s ex-president indicted in wiretapping scandal

Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou was once a luminous figure. But his attempt to bring down a rival politician has landed him in court. If convicted he could be imprisoned for several years. Klaus Bardenhagen reports from Taipei. The consequences of a wiretapping scandal are closing in on Taiwan's former president, Ma Ying-jeou. The Taipei District Public Prosecutors Office indicted Ma on Tuesday for allegedly breaking a number of laws over the leaking of classified information. Through a spokesperson, Ma responded to the announcement saying that he had done nothing wrong and that he was hoping for a fair and just decision in the case. The charges are based on an accusation that in 2013, Ma unlawfully procured sensitive and confidential information about political opponents from his attorney general, Huang Shih-ming, who then illegally transmitted the information to the prime minister and other government employees. In 2015, Huang was sentenced to a 15-month prison sentence that was suspended for payment of a fine. Ma was president of Taiwan from 2008 to 2016, and was immune from prosecution during his time in office. When he left the presidency in November 2016, he was subpoenaed and spent many hours in court. If Ma is convicted, he could spend several years in jail. An unwelcome listener In 2013, Ma was embroiled in an inter-party power struggle with his main rival in the Kuomintang (KMT) party, the speaker of the legislature Wang Jin-pyng. Ma's Attorney General Huang had investigators wiretap the phone of opposition politician Ker Chien-ming. They discovered that Wang had used his political influence in the judicial system on Ker's behalf. Ma, who was chairman of the KMT, used the widely publicized information to try and force his rival Wang out of the party. An important motivating factor was that Wang was not being assertive in parliament on pushing through a trade agreement with China. Economic integration with China was a central aspect of Ma's policies as Taiwan's president. In the end, Wang was able to survive the political onslaught, due to his support within the KMT. A defeat for Ma's China policy On the other hand, Ma's defeat in KMT party infighting was the beginning of the end for his presidency. In summer 2014, students occupied Taiwan's Parliament for weeks in protest of the planned trade agreement with China. Wang refused to leave the building and in the end he defused the situation by promising that future trade agreements with China would only take place with a greater say from parliament. This was an affront against Ma's government. The controversial trade agreement is still stalled today and there have been no further free trade agreements proposed between Taiwan and China. In the aftermath, the KMT collapsed and suffered landslide defeats in the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections. While the charges against a former head of state are a good sign for the independence of Taiwan's justice system, they are a heavy smear on Ma's reputation. As a Harvard-educated lawyer, Ma came into office with a straight-laced veneer and promised to fight political corruption. And this isn't the first time that a Taiwanese ex-president has stood before a court. Ma's predecessor Chen Shui-bian was convicted in 2009 of corruption and sat for six years in prison until he was released on health grounds. At the time, Chen's supporters accused the KMT of a political witch hunt. The news of Ma's indictment will therefore surely be more good news for his opponents.

Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou was once a luminous figure. But his attempt to bring down a rival politician has landed him in court. If convicted he could be imprisoned for several years. Klaus Bardenhagen reports from Taipei. The consequences of a wiretapping scandal are closing in on Taiwan’s former president, Ma Ying-jeou. The Taipei District Public Prosecutors Office indicted Ma on ... Read More »

Reactions to the ECJ decision on asylum law in EU

Uproar has greeted the European Court of Justice's decision on asylum law in Europe. Last year, more than 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean en route to Europe. The decision has been handed down, but one question remains. "How can someone who is guaranteed international protection reach a European border?" Eugenio Ambrosi, director of the Brussels regional office of the International Organization for Migration, wants to know. Existing law only applies when a person arrives on EU soil. "This is a loophole that only the union can close," Ambrosi said. Last year, more than 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to escape war or other unsustainable conditions. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) had the opportunity to create a legal path to prevent future tragedies. Yet ECJ judges in Luxembourg reached a different decision, finding instead that EU member states were not obliged to issue humanitarian visas at their embassies. Individual member states are responsible for their own applications, they ruled, and thus nations are entitled to accept or deny people as they see fit. The decision dashed the fervent hopes for a revolutionary change to asylum law held by activists and support groups for displaced people. Pro Asyl called the decision a "sad day for refugee protection." Karl Kopp, the group's Europe spokesperson, said the decision "plays into the hands of fortress builders and the human trafficking industry." Back to Syria Belgium initiated the legal proceedings, asking the ECJ to rule on the case of a Syrian family that requested a humanitarian visa at the Belgian embassy in Libya in 2016. Belgium sought clarity on the issue, and now, after the ECJ decision, the Syrian family has no legal path to enter Europe. "Now their only option is to illegally travel to Lebanon, or to pay human traffickers," said Tristan Wibault, the family's lawyer. He called the ECJ's decision "very disappointing: The court chose a formalistic argument to avoid the issues in reality. The deeper questions were not analyzed." Wibault said the family would now have no choice but to return to Syria after being turned away by Belgium. Life there will be extremely dangerous for the family: The father claims to have been kidnapped and tortured in Aleppo until he was freed after he was ransomed. He says that the family's Christian Orthodox faith makes survival in war-torn Syria more difficult still. 'EU has to take responsibility' Advocate-General Paolo Mengozzi (picutred) strongly urged the use of similar rationale in his closing argument: EU member states must allow entry to people who are "under threat to life and limb." Mengozzi's assessments serve as a basis for judges' decisions but are in no way binding. "In my opinion it is imperative that member states not duck their responsibilities in times in which borders are being closed and fences erected," Mengozzi wrote. The European Parliament is also pushing in that direction. Following the ECJ decision, Green Party parliamentarian Ska Keller explained: "The European Parliament has made clear its support for humanitarian visas. EU member states must now adapt to European refugee policy and firmly anchor the right to humanitarian visas in Union legislation." But asylum law falls under the purview of the individual member states. All 28 heads of state and government would thus have to vote in support of such calls from the European Parliament for them to become legally binding. Recently, a proposal to do so was voted down. Instead member states approved a ten-point plan to shut down smuggling routes across the Mediterranean during their latest EU summit in Malta. The plan, among other things, proposes that the Libyan coast guard stop all travel toward Europe. Relief in EU The ECJ's decision likely comes as a relief for most member states. In all, 14 member states submitted statements/opinions to the ECJ on the case being heard in Luxembourg, among them, Germany. In the statements each country laid out their own justification for the rejection of humanitarian visas. Had the ECJ handed down a pro-visa decision, it would have forced member states to embrace a policy that has been largely rejected on both the national and the EU level. Fears about opening Europe's doors to 65 million refugees around the world are simply too high – and that at a decidedly unfavorable moment. This year will see a number of elections across the European Union. Right-wing populists could make large gains in several of those elections, perhaps even moving into governing coalitions. The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees is a major election theme for many of them. "I don't think that the EU is interested in protecting refugees right now," the lawyer Wibault said.

Uproar has greeted the European Court of Justice’s decision on asylum law in Europe. Last year, more than 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean en route to Europe. The decision has been handed down, but one question remains. “How can someone who is guaranteed international protection reach a European border?” Eugenio Ambrosi, director of the Brussels regional office of the ... Read More »

Trump supporters tricked into waving Russian flags at CPAC

Attendees of the annual conservative conference in the US have been duped into waving red, white and blue Russian flags emblazoned with the word Trump. Two young activists claimed responsibility for the devious prank. Supporters of US President Donald Trump inadvertently waved Russian flags at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday after two undercover protesters handed them out. DW correspondent Maya Shwayder witnessed several people being tricked into waving the Russian flag at the annual three-day gathering of conservative activists and elected officials. She reported that security guards later came round to collect the flags as one of the protesters called Trump a fascist. Several other people tweeted photos of the flags, which were emblazoned with the word Trump written in gold lettering. American monthly "The Atlantic" reported that two activists, Jason Charter, 22, and Ryan Clayton, 36, handed out about 1,000 of the red, white and blue flags ahead of Trump's speech at the conference. "Most people didn’t realize it was a Russian flag, or they didn’t care," Charter told the magazine. "I think there are multiple ways you can resist against Trump, and I think this is one way that’s extremely effective," he said. "It shows how Trump and Russia are so connected, they are like peas in a pod!" Trump used his position at CPAC to rail against the immigration practices of Germany, Sweden and France and to double-down on his policy agenda. Trump and his appointees have faced increasing criticism in recent weeks for their seemingly close ties to Russia. Trump fired his national security advisor Michael Flynn for contact with Russia while White House chief of staff Reince Priebus admitted pressuring the FBI to publicly dispute media reports of contact with Russian intelligence agents.

Attendees of the annual conservative conference in the US have been duped into waving red, white and blue Russian flags emblazoned with the word Trump. Two young activists claimed responsibility for the devious prank. Supporters of US President Donald Trump inadvertently waved Russian flags at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday after two undercover protesters handed them out. ... Read More »

Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin dies aged 64

Russia's foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow's long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had "unexpectedly" died in New York. "The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at his work post," the statement said. The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday. Churkin has been Russia's envoy at the United Nations for a little over a decade and was considered Moscow's great champion at the UN. Previously he worked at the foreign ministry in Moscow, served as an envoy to Canada (1998-2003), Belgium (1994-1998) and as a special representative to the talks on former Yugoslavia (1992-1994). 'Pillar of the UNSC' Tributes to the ambassador soon followed the announcement of his death. The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was grieving after learning of Churkin's death. "The head of state highly valued Churkin's professionalism and diplomatic talent," Peskov said, adding that the president had expressed his condolences to Churkin's loved ones. Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general's office, said: "He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government." Meanwhile, the UK Mission to the United Nations tweeted: "Vitaly Churkin was a pillar of the [UN Security Council] for over a decade. Our deepest condolences to his family [and] colleagues..." Churkin was a pugnacious defender of Russian policy, most notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When then-US envoy to the UN Samantha Power accused Syria, Russia and Iran last year of bearing responsibility for atrocities there, Churkin said she was acting like Mother Teresa and forgetting her own country's track record in the Middle East. On hearing of her counterpart's death, Power said was "devastated," describing Churkin as a "diplomatic maestro." He was a "deeply caring man" who tried to bridge differences between the US and Russia, she added. Power's successor Nikki Haley - who took up the post last month - also offered her condolences, saying that Churkin "showed himself to be a gracious colleague." "We did not always see things the same way," she added. "But he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill."

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow’s long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had “unexpectedly” died in New York. “The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at ... Read More »

No survivors in Melbourne chartered plane crash

Police reported all five individuals on board have died after the plane smashed into a shopping center shortly after take off. Authorities suspect engine failure may have caused the accident. All five individuals aboard the Beechcraft light aircraft that smashed into an outlet shopping complex Tuesday have perished in the accident, Victoria police said. The crash occured shortly after the plane took off from the Essendon Fields airport around 9 a.m. local time (23.00 UTC), causing an explosion and significant damage to the building and surrounding area. The retail complex had not yet opened for the day at the time of accident, and authorities confirmed that no one was inside the building at the time of impact. Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane expressed amazement that the casualties had not been higher. "Looking at the fireball, it is incredibly lucky that no one was at the back of those stores or in the car park of the stores, that no one was even hurt," Leane said. Victoria Premier David Andrews called the crash the state's worst air accident in the past thirty years. "Today's a desperately sad day for our state, a very, very sad day for our state," Andrews said at a press conference. "A number of people have died as a result of the what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years." Witnesses described a "massive fireball" as the plane hit the building, follwed by debris and plane parts flying onto the nearby highways and a rising cloud of black smoke. Firefighters and emergency responders were dispatched to the scene immediately after the addicent. Preliminary investigations are centering on possible engine failure. The plane sent out a May-Day signal shortly before crashing, Victoria police reported. Previous reports that the plane was an ambulance aircraft were incorrect. Essendon airport, located some 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Melbourne, is mostly used for small airplanes.

Police reported all five individuals on board have died after the plane smashed into a shopping center shortly after take off. Authorities suspect engine failure may have caused the accident. All five individuals aboard the Beechcraft light aircraft that smashed into an outlet shopping complex Tuesday have perished in the accident, Victoria police said. The crash occured shortly after the ... Read More »

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