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Sigmar Gabriel: To survive, the EU must become more assertive

جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے کہا ہے کہ یورپ کو اپنے مفادات اور اقدار کے تحفظ کے لیے زیادہ فیصلہ کن کردار ادا کرنا ہوگا اور اگر ضروری ہو تو امریکا کے خلاف بھی کھڑا ہونے سے گریز نہ کیا جائے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ زیگمار گابرئیل کا دارالحکومت برلن میں خارجہ پالیسی کی کانفرنس سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے کہنا تھا، ’’امریکا کا عالمی غلبہ اب آہستہ آہستہ تاریخ کا حصہ بنتا جا رہا ہے۔‘‘ ان کا خبردار کرتے ہوئے کہنا تھا کہ عالمی سطح پر پیدا ہونے والے خلا کو پُر نہ کرنا انتہائی خطرناک ثابت ہو سکتا ہے۔ جرمنوں کی نظر میں ٹرمپ شمالی کوریا اور روس سے زیادہ بڑا خطرہ زیگمار نے واضح کیا کہ امریکا اب بھی یورپ کا قریبی اتحادی رہے گا لیکن واشنگٹن کے ساتھ اختلافات پر بات کی جانی چاہیے اور اسے سرخ لائن عبور کرنے کی اجازت نہیں دی جانی چاہیے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے خاص طور پر روس کے خلاف امریکی پابندیوں کا حوالہ دیا، جس کی وجہ سے یورپ میں توانائی کی کمپنیوں کو مشکلات کا سامنا ہے۔ اسی طرح انہوں نے ایران کے ساتھ ہونے والے جوہری معاہدے کا دفاع کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ امریکی صدر کو یہ معاہدہ ختم کرنے کی اجازت نہیں دی جانی چاہیے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے امریکا کی مشرق وسطیٰ کے حوالے سے نئی پالیسی پر بھی تنقید کی۔ ان کا کہنا تھا اگر امریکا نے یروشلم کو اسرائیل کا دارالحکومت تسلیم کیا تو مشرق وسطیٰ میں ایک نیا تنازعہ سر اٹھا لے گا۔ ماحولیاتی معاہدہ، امریکا دنیا میں تنہائی کا شکار جرمنی اور امریکا کے مابین شدید اختلافات کا آغاز ڈونلڈ ٹرمپ کے صدر بننے کے بعد ہوا تھا۔ ٹرمپ نے صدر بنتے ہی جرمنی کے امریکا کے ساتھ ٹریڈ سرپلس پر تنقید کی تھی اور برلن حکومت کو نیٹو اتحاد کے لیے اضافی رقم ادا کرنے کا کہا تھا۔ اس کے بعد واشنگٹن اور برلن حکومت کے مابین اس وقت بھی اختلافات دیکھنے میں آئے تھے، جب امریکا نے پیرس عالمی ماحولیاتی معاہدے سے نکل جانے کا اعلان کیا تھا۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ کے مطابق صدر ڈونلڈ ٹرمپ نے ’امریکا سب سے پہلے‘ کی پالیسی اپنا رکھی ہے اور اس وجہ سے عالمی سیاست میں اس کا کردار پہلے جیسا نہیں رہا۔ زیگمار کا زور دیتے ہوئے کہنا تھا کہ جرمنی کو اب امریکا پر اپنا انحصار کم سے کم کرنا ہوگا اور عالمی سیاست میں بھی اپنے کردار کو بڑھانا ہوگا۔

Sigmar Gabriel declared at a foreign policy forum that relations with the US will “never be the same” after Trump. He warned institutions like the EU and the UN that they were running the risk of becoming irrelevant. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel offered a bleak view of international relations and Germany’s place in the new world order at the ... Read More »

Russia pledges to defend its athletes as IOC mulls blanket ban over doping

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that was released last year. At the same time though, he stressed that the Kremlin was determined to maintain good relations with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). "We intend to defend the interests of our athletes, of the Russian Federation, to remain committed to the ideals of Olympism and preserve all ties with the IOC, and through these ties the problems that have arisen will be resolved," Peskov said. Peskov previously said that Russia was not planning to boycott the Olympics if the IOC imposed restrictions on the country's participation at the Winter Games, which are to open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9. IOC executive board meets Peskov's latest statement came as the IOC executive board gathered in Lausanne to discuss how to respond to evidence of state-sponsored doping at the highest level of Russian sports, which was outlined in the WADA-commissioned report compiled by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren. The executive board was to be presented with a report from one of two commissions set up to deal with the issue and the IOC's German president, Thomas Bach, was expected to announced what, if any, sanctions would be imposed on Russia later in the day. Anti-doping activists are demanding that the IOC impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in Pyeongchang, but there has been speculation that it could opt for a softer option. Among the possible sanctions are a fine or allowing clean Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. Over the past few weeks the IOC has issued lifetime bans to 25 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games, based on the reanalysis of doping test samples from 2014. Among them is Olga Zaitseva, who won silver in the women's biathlon relay in Sochi.

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in ... Read More »

Russia ‘increasing oil exports’ to North Korea

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the isolated republic, with Russia apparently stepping up supplies in spite of international efforts to isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un and force Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. According to "citizen journalists" who report on events inside North Korea for the Osaka-based Asia Press International (API) news agency, fuel prices began to fall in November after several months of fluctuations. Reports put the price of one kilogram of diesel oil at US$0.82 (0.7 euros) now, down 60 percent from early November, while gasoline is being sold for around $2 (1.68 euros) per one kilogram, down 25 percent. The sharp declines come despite increasingly stiff sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, including measures designed specifically to limit the amount of fuel that North Korea can obtain. Resolution 2375, adopted by the United Nations Security Council shortly after the North's sixth underground nuclear test on September 3, singled out fuel supplies for sanctions, and the US government has since stepped up its calls for China to halt the flow of oil over the border. Oil over the border One of API's correspondents claims, however, that "massive amounts" of fuel are coming into the border province of Yanggang from Russia. "It is difficult to know exactly how much fuel is getting into North Korea, but it does appear that Russia has recently been supplying Pyongyang with fuel," said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations and an expert on Russia-North Korean trade at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. "It appears that Russia, in particular, but also China, are losing patience with the US," he told DW. "They feel that they have done their part in putting new pressure on North Korea but that Washington should be doing more." While Beijing and Moscow supported sanctions in the autumn, North Korea went for more than two months without launching any missiles, Brown points out. Yet Washington made it clear that it was going ahead with joint US-South Korea air exercises, which began in South Korean air space on Monday. When the US confirmed that the largest ever joint air exercises - 230 aircraft practicing attacks on North Korea's nuclear facilities and missiles bases - would proceed as planned, Pyongyang resumed missile launches. The intercontinental ballistic missile launched on November 29 is understood to have a range of around 13,000 km, putting anywhere in the US within range. Read more: North Korea: UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visits Pyongyang Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump discuss Syria, Ukraine, North Korea in hour-plus call Hurting the North "Russia may very well feel that the US provoked the most recent missile test by the North and it is not at all clear that Beijing and Moscow will help cut off all fuel supplies because that that represents the 'nuclear option' that would really hurt the North," Brown said. "And while that is exactly what the US wants, Russia is extremely wary of the consequences of the North collapsing," he added. Moscow's concerns include conflict breaking out on its Far East border, a sudden influx of vast numbers of refugees or a civil war in the North in which numerous players are vying to win control of the country's nuclear weapons. Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, agrees that there are indications that Moscow is trying to "stabilize" the situation in North Korea in order to avoid a collapse, while some point out that restricting deliveries of fuel oil during the North's notoriously harsh winters would inevitably have a humanitarian cost on ordinary people. "There is also the argument that if the North Korean leadership feels that the screws are being tightened too much and that their situation is deteriorating and there are no prospects of it improving, then they might take some kind of coercive, kinetic action to change that situation," he said. Read more: US military base in South Korea mired in corruption scandal Escalate a way out "Even if they accept that they are in a relatively weakened position and have no chance of winning an all-out war, it is possible that they might try to escalate their way out of a deteriorating situation with the threat of some kind of action in return for concessions." There are also suggestions that Russian policy in the Far East is being shaped by President Vladimir Putin's hostility towards the West over the conflict in the Ukraine, while relations between Moscow and Washington are uncomfortable due to allegations of Russia meddling in the US elections. In addition, Brown points out that if Russia is able to obtain some kind of economic leverage over North Korea, it might give Moscow leverage that could be used to encourage the US to drop its hostility. "Similarly, that leverage might be used to encourage Pyongyang to dial back the aggression, making Moscow appear as the "responsible stakeholder in the region," he added.

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the ... Read More »

Deutsche Bank subpoenaed to provide Trump accounts’ data

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president's business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller's investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany's largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information on certain money and credit transactions, confirming a report by German daily Handelsblatt published on the same day. Read more: Donald Trump owes Deutsche Bank big bucks Deutsche Bank has loaned the Trump organization an estimated $300 million (€253 million) for its real estate dealings prior to Donald Trump becoming president. The lender said Tuesday it would not comment on any of its clients, adding that Deutsche Bank "always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries." Mueller is investigating alleged Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and potential collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has called the special counsel's investigation a "witch hunt." Dealings with Russia suspected In June, Deutsche Bank already rejected demands by US House Democrats to provide details of Trump's finances, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so. Read more: Trump releases financial disclosure for 2016 Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank's loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. Deutsche Bank faces questions about a series of so-called Russian mirror trades, in which it allegedly helped Russian clients move money out of the country. Those trades are being investigated in multiple probes in the US and Europe. The Mueller investigation now wants the bank to detail any ties between those trades or other Russian financing as it seeks to identify anyone connected to Donald Trump, his family or advisers. Read more: Russian tax authorities homing in on Deutsche Bank Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank stretches back some two decades and the roughly $300 million he owes to the bank represents nearly half of his outstanding debt, according to a July 2016 analysis compiled by Bloomberg news agency. That figure includes a $170-million loan Trump took out to finish a hotel in Washington. He also has two mortgages against his Trump National Doral Miami resort and a loan against his tower in Chicago. An internal investigation carried out by Deutsche Bank didn't yield any evidence of connections between the client relationship with Trump and the bank's mirror trades affair, a person briefed on the matter said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president’s business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller’s investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany’s largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information ... Read More »

Lebanon’s premier Saad Hariri rescinds shock resignation

After Lebanon's cabinet reaffirmed an official policy of remaining neutral in regional conflicts, Saad Hariri has withdrawn his resignation. He is expected to attend talks in Paris with US and French diplomats. Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Haririsaid on Tuesday that he was revoking his resignation after his surprise announcement that he was stepping down prompted a political crisis in the country. Hariri said he changed his mind about quitting after receiving assurances from other members of government that they would not meddle in foreign conflicts. "The Lebanese government, in all its political components, has committed to distance itself from all conflicts, wars, and internal affairs of Arab states," said a cabinet statement read out loud by Hariri. The cabinet reaffirmed its official policy of "disassociation" from regional rivalries. Iran backs the Shiite group Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Saudi Arabia has accused the powerful armed group of fermenting conflict in the region. Hariri also announced that he will travel o Paris on Friday to meet with French diplomats and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for talks on the recent upheaval. Regional rivalry The crisis was kicked off last month when Hariri announced his shock resignation while abroad in Saudi Arabia. Hariri's planned departure was seen as the latest fallout from the proxy war between Sunni-majority Saudia Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran, who back different sides in Syria and Yemen's civil wars. This rivalry has sometimes pitted Hariri against President Michel Aoun. The tension between Hariri and President Aoun also centers around their diverging stances on the militant group Hezbollah, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, as has Iran. Although he is a Christian, Aoun has taken a sympathetic view of the Islamist Hezbollah. Hariri, however, who is friendlier towards Saudi Arabia and has sent his children to school there, has a darker history with the group — his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was killed in a bombing blamed on Hezbollah in 2005. Some Lebanese officials have said that Riyadh forced Hariri to tender his resignation, although Saudi Arabia has denied this. Last week, Hariri told French magazine Paris Match that he lives in "constant fear of his life" from agents of the Assad regime.

After Lebanon’s cabinet reaffirmed an official policy of remaining neutral in regional conflicts, Saad Hariri has withdrawn his resignation. He is expected to attend talks in Paris with US and French diplomats. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Haririsaid on Tuesday that he was revoking his resignation after his surprise announcement that he was stepping down prompted a political crisis in the ... Read More »

Israel and Saudi Arabia: New best friends in the Middle East?

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel's defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how he viewed his country's relations with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. He did so in an interview with the Saudi Arabian website Elaph. Journalist Othman Al Omeir, who owns Elaph, also has very close ties to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. That newspaper, in turn, is owned by the Saudi king. Thus, Eizenkot had pushed forth into the heart of the Saudi media scene. Read more: Saudi Arabia vs. Iran - from 'twin pillars' to proxy wars Eizenkot explained that Israel was prepared to share information as well as intelligence material with moderate Arab states in order to counter Iran. He answered the question of whether Israel had already shared intelligence with Saudi Arabia by quoting from a letter of intent: "We are prepared to share information when necessary. We have many common interests." He did, however, make one thing crystal clear: Iran is viewed by Israel as the "greatest threat to the region." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed a possible reorientation of Israeli-Saudi relations, albeit in general terms, and without directly referring to Saudi Arabia. Speaking at a memorial service on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the death of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu talked of the "fruitful cooperation between Israel and the Arab world." He declined to go into detail but said he was confident that relations would grow. "This will enable us to continue working toward peace." Rhetorical concessions It appears that both countries are being particularly careful about communicating mutual rapprochement through unofficial channels. The fact that Eizenkot granted Elaph an interview can be seen as evidence of a deliberately defensive PR strategy. Anwar Ashki, a former general in the Saudi army, expressed himself in similar fashion. He emphasized that relations between both countries were only unofficial at this point, when speaking on DW's Arabic language show Massalya. Yet Ashki also led an Arab delegation visiting Jerusalem in July 2016. There, the delegation met with members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Officially, the talks conducted by both sides were about lending new impulses to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which began in 2002 and is designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Speaking on Massalya, Ashki underscored the fact that he had not been in Israel but rather in Jerusalem, "the capital of the Palestinians." Such statements are intended as concessions to broad swaths of the Arab world that must first get used to this new tone after decades of military and propaganda confrontation. Nevertheless, Ashki said that Saudi citizens are ready for rapprochement. The reason for this shift in public opinion is obvious. "It was not Israel that fired rockets at us, it was Iran," he said. "It is they who threaten our national security." Unsettling threat scenarios Ashki was referring to the latest escalation in the US-backed war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen for the last two-and-a-half years. In early November, the rebels fired rockets on the Saudi capital Riyadh from Yemeni territory. The missiles were intercepted by the Saudi air force. The Saudi government suspects that Iran, which supplied the rebels with rockets, of being behind the attack. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continually ratcheted up diplomatic tension with Iran, positing the country as a threat to the kingdom's national security.

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel’s defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how ... Read More »

Germany’s CDU/CSU want to review starting Syria deportations

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel's conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, according to a report by the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) newspaper group. The draft proposal from the CDU-led eastern state of Saxony is expected to be discussed at next week's conference of interior ministers in Leipzig in December. Ministers of different political parties representing all of Germany's federal states will be present. According to the RND, which has seen the document, the plan has the backing of all federal states run by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. A spokesman for German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who will also attend the Leipzig meeting, said there was no way people would be sent back to Syria "today, tomorrow, or next week" because the security situation on the ground had not changed. Reassessing security in Syria A moratorium on sending Syrians back home, in place in Germany since 2012, expired in September this year. CDU/CSU lawmakers say they want to extend that deadline to June 30, 2018, after which time deportations could theoretically resume. That time frame has been rejected by interior ministers from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Instead, they want the halt on deportations to continue until at least the end of 2018. "The Union-led interior ministries' demand is cynical in view of the futile situation and ongoing death and destruction in Syria," Lower Saxony's Interior Minister Boris Pistorius of the SPD told RND. He described the initiative as a "questionable" attempt to court the right. Read more: Syrian refugees in Germany contemplate return home At the upcoming conference, Germany's state ministers will discuss whether the federal government should undertake a full re-evaluation of the Syria's security situation. A spokesman for De Maiziere said the minister was open to such a review. "How we proceed will depend on the outcome of the assessment," Saxon Interior Minister Markus Ulbig told the German Press Agency, adding that the plan aimed specifically to allow "perpetrators and people who have committed serious crimes to be sent back." A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office was skeptical: "There is still a long way to go before there is peace and a settlement to resolve the conflict in Syria," she said. The German Embassy in Damascus, which had played a central role in evalutating Syria's security situation, has been closed since 2012. As a result, the government has relied upon information from Germany's diplomatic missions in Ankara, Turkey and Beirut, Lebanon, when assessing conditions in Syria. Read more: The dark side of Germany's deportation policy There are currently around 650,000 Syrian refugees living in Germany. Chancellor Merkel has been under pressure to bring those numbers down following the arrival of more than a million migrants — mainly from Syria and Afghanistan — since 2015. The war in Syria has killed around 400,000 people and displaced millions since 2011. Rival military campaigns supported by the United States and Russia have helped drive the militant group, "Islamic State" (IS), from its last strongholds in the country. However, UN-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the conflict have yet to reach a breakthrough. President Bashar Assad is determined to stay in power, while the opposition demands he step down. Read more: Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees Controversial Afghanistan decision In October 2016, Germany and Afghanistan reached a deal on repatriating failed asylum seekers, with the first deportation flights heading to Kabul last December. A total of 128 people, mostly young men, have been sent back since then. The relocations were briefly suspended after a truck bomb attack in Kabul in May killed 150 people and wounded 300 others. The flights resumed in September. The decision sparked protests, with critics arguing Germany should not deport Afghans while the Taliban continues to step-up its attacks against civilians and security officials. Rights group Amnesty International warned European governments last month that a surge of failed Afghan asylum seekers "forcibly" returned are at risk of torture, kidnapping and death. Any future decision in Germany to resume deporting Syrian citizens is likely to be met with similar objections.

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel’s conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, ... Read More »

Brexit: EU and UK ‘close to financial agreement’

Reports suggest the UK government has made a significantly improved offer to the EU on the terms of its Brexit financial settlement. There’s talk of "sufficient progress" before a December 4 meeting but doubts remain. The EU and the UK are close to agreement on the final Brexit 'divorce bill' — the share of EU liabilities the UK will pay upon leaving the bloc — according to several reports in the British media reported late on Tuesday. The BBC, the Financial Times, the Guardian and several other British newspapers and media outlets are reporting that following a UK government cabinet meeting last week, the British significantly upped their offer to Brussels, coming much closer than they previously had to the EU's estimate of the UK's financial obligations. According to several EU diplomats and officials, intense negotiations have led to the UK broadly agreeing to the terms of a financial settlement that could see the country paying a net amount of at least €50 billion ($59 billion) over a period of several years after it leaves the EU in March 2019. When asked on Wednesday about the reports, the EU's chief negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier said: "We are working really, really hard on these subjects. I hope that I can report that we have been able to negotiate a deal." While nothing official has been announced, the reports suggest the two sides are close enough on the issue for the EU to deem "sufficient progress" has been made on it when a crucial meeting takes place between British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, December 4. "I think we can reach sufficient progress, but again we haven't seen anything on paper yet, so I am always extremely cautious," said one EU official involved in the talks. Splitting the bill The so-called 'divorce bill' relates to a series of liabilities the UK has in relation to its 44-year membership of the EU. Membership of the bloc means member states are committed to paying a share of various EU liabilities — thought to be around €745 billion — that relate to various costs ranging from the EU budget to pensions and loan repayments. Both the EU and the UK government have declined to comment in any significant detail so far. However, the reports have raised hopes that the UK is edging closer to moving onto the next stage of talks, which will deal with trade and the UK's future relationship with the EU. Theresa May is expected to formally present the change in the British position to the EU next week, although both sides say no final exit settlement figure will be agreed on at this stage. The UK has been pushing for a calculation model which avoids one lump-sum figure, and which instead recalculates the level of liabilities on a year by year basis into the future. Bordering on progress? The news comes at a particularly crucial and sensitive moment in the entire Brexit process. When May and Juncker meet in five days' time, all three of the big issues will be on the table, namely: the 'divorce bill', EU citizens' rights and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier deems sufficient progress to have been made on all three issues, the green light may be given to progress the Brexit talks into the next stage, with the final decision on that to be made at a European council meeting of the bloc's leaders on December 14 and 15. While progress has been made on the issue of citizens rights', and with the latest reports suggesting the EU may well be sufficiently satisfied with the "divorce bill" issue for now, that leaves the border issue as the primary stumbling block. With the Irish government very unhappy with the manner in which the British government has approached the border issue to date, there remains the possibility that it may use its veto to stop Barnier deeming "sufficient progress" has been made on it, further stalling the negotiations. As with the specific details on precisely what the UK will offer in terms of a financial settlement, the border issue and everything else ought to become at least a little clearer when May meets Juncker on Monday.

Reports suggest the UK government has made a significantly improved offer to the EU on the terms of its Brexit financial settlement. There’s talk of “sufficient progress” before a December 4 meeting but doubts remain. The EU and the UK are close to agreement on the final Brexit ‘divorce bill’ — the share of EU liabilities the UK will pay ... Read More »

Venezuela: Protesters ‘systematically’ tortured by state security forces

Images of unarmed protesters being beaten by police were broadcast around the world this summer. But little has been said about the thousands who were dragged into custody. Venezuela "brutally" abused opposition activists between April and September this year, rights groups claimed, during a heavy-handed crackdown on anti-government protests that led to scores of deaths on all sides. Government security forces tortured some of thousands of detainees with "electric shocks, asphyxiation, sexual assault, and other brutal techniques," according to a joint report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Penal Forum (PF) on Wednesday. In one case, a 34-year-old man described how he was hung from the ceiling by plainclothes police and shocked with a metal rod to extract a confession. In another, a 17-year-old boy said he was beaten with sticks and held in an overcrowded punishment cell for days. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, said impunity for the perpetrators of violence suggested "government responsibility at the highest levels." "These are not isolated abuses or occasional excesses by rogue officers but rather a systematic practice by Venezuelan security forces,” he said. Read more: UN slams Venezuela for using excessive force, arrests to crush protests A political weapon HRW and PF documented 88 cases of rights violations — including excessive force and arbitrary detentions — during interviews with more than 120 people. President Nicolas Maduro's government has long denied allegations of torture, accusing HRW of being part of an America-funded conspiracy to stop socialism. "The strategy used against my country from certain centers of power is a clear example of the use of human rights as a political weapon," Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told the United Nations' human rights council in September. Tensions in Venezuela escalated in March this year when the pro-government Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers, sparking near-daily protests to oust Maduro's leftist government. Demonstrators said National Guard soldiers clamped down on protests with excessive force. Maduro said his administration faced an "armed insurgency." Venezuela is in the grip of a severe political and economic crisis that has prompted fears of a refugee crisis in neighboring countries. The opposition blames Maduro's for the soaring inflation and basic food shortages that have brought Venezuela's economy to ruin. But despite the public unrest Maduro refuses to step down. Earlier this month the European Union followed the United States in implementing a number of sanctions against Venezuela, including a ban on arms sales. Foreign ministers from EU member states said the measures could be reversed if Maduro reacts to demands for more democracy in Venezuela, including the release of political prisoners.

Images of unarmed protesters being beaten by police were broadcast around the world this summer. But little has been said about the thousands who were dragged into custody. Venezuela “brutally” abused opposition activists between April and September this year, rights groups claimed, during a heavy-handed crackdown on anti-government protests that led to scores of deaths on all sides. Government security ... Read More »

Turkey seeks arrest of 360 more military personnel in post-coup crackdown

Turkish prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for 360 suspected supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen in the army, state media reported. Thousands of people have been rounded up in the wake of last year's coup attempt. Istanbul police launched an operation on Wednesday to capture 333 more soldiers, most of them on active duty, as well as 27 civilians, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The 360 individuals are suspected of having links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Turkey's government has claimed the cleric and his network of followers orchestrated last year's failed coup — allegations Gulen denies. The state-run news agency reported that the civilian suspects are accused of acting as so-called "secret imams," who allegedly directed Gulen allies within the military. Read more: Hundreds of Turkish officials seek asylum in Germany Wide-reaching crackdown More than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial as part of Ankara's massive post-coup purge. An additional 120,000 people have been fired or suspended from the military, police and bureaucracy for suspected ties to the Gulen movement. Read more: Turkey seeks arrest of dozens of journalists Turkey submits statement to European rights court in Deniz Yucel case The crackdown has drawn criticism from rights groups and Turkey's allies in the West, who fear the 2016 coup is being used to justify a campaign to stifle dissent. Turkey says its actions are necessary to counter the threat posed by Gulen's network, which it accuses of creating a "parallel state structure" over decades, infiltrating the military, police, judiciary, media and other institutions. Ankara has urged the United States to extradite Gulen so that he can face trial in Turkey.

Turkish prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for 360 suspected supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen in the army, state media reported. Thousands of people have been rounded up in the wake of last year’s coup attempt. Istanbul police launched an operation on Wednesday to capture 333 more soldiers, most of them on active duty, as well as 27 civilians, Turkey’s state-run ... Read More »

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