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Young Catholics Urge Vatican to Issue Inclusive LGBT Message

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Catholic bishops are entering their final week of debate over hot-button issues facing young Catholics, including how the church should welcome gays and respond to the clerical sex abuse scandal that has discredited many in the church hierarchy.

 

The monthlong synod of bishops ends next Saturday with the adoption by the 260-plus cardinals, bishops and priests of a final document and approval of a separate, shorter letter to the world’s Catholic youth.

 

Some of the youth delegates to the meeting have insisted that the final document express an inclusive message to make LGBT Catholics feel welcome in a church that has often shunned them.

 

The Vatican took a step in that direction by making a reference to “LGBT” for the first time in its preparatory document heading into the meeting.

 

But some bishops have balked at the notion, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who insisted in his speech that “there is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic,’ as if our sexual appetites defined who we are.”

 

But other bishops have expressed a willingness to use the language, though it remains to be seen if the final document or the letter will. Each paragraph will be voted on one by one and must obtain a two-thirds majority.

 

“The youth are talking about it freely and in the language they use, and they are encouraging us ‘Call us, address us this because this is who we are,”’ Papua New Guinea Cardinal John Ribat told a press conference Saturday.

 

One of those young people, Yadira Vieyra, who works with migrant families in Chicago, said gays often feel attacked and shunned by the church.

“We know that’s not true, any Catholic knows that’s not true,” she said. But she added bishops need to communicate that “the church is here for them.”

 

Catholic church teaching holds that gays should be loved and respected but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

 

The Oct. 3-28 synod has unfolded against the backdrop of the clergy sex abuse scandal exploding anew in the U.S., Germany, Poland and other nations. Some conservatives have charged that a gay subculture in the priesthood is to blame, even though studies have shown that gays are not more likely than heterosexuals to abuse.

 

Many of the young delegates have insisted that the final document address the abuse scandal straight on, and Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli hinted that it would.

 

“One of the key things that will be important going forward is not just that there might be a word of apology, of recognition and of aiming for better practices, but that there is action associated with that,” he said.

 

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich said young people are also demanding accountability and transparency from the church’s leadership, which has been excoriated for having covered-up the abuses of predator priests for decades.

 

He repeated his call, first made in an interview last week with National Catholic Reporter, for bishops to cede their own authority and allow an external process involving lay experts to investigate them when an accusation against them has been made.

 

“Lay people want us to succeed. People want us to get this right,” Cupich said. “Yes, there’s a lot of anger out there. But beneath that anger there’s a sadness. There’s a sadness that the church is better than this, and that we should get this right.”

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Most British Firms Will Trigger Brexit Plans ‘by Christmas’

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The vast majority of British firms are poised to implement their Brexit contingency plans by Christmas if there isn’t greater clarity over the country’s exit from the European Union, a leading business lobby group warned Sunday.

The Confederation of British Industry said these could include cutting jobs, adjusting supply chains outside the U.K., stockpiling goods, and relocating production and services overseas.

Fear of no deal

The warning comes amid growing fears that Britain may crash out of the EU in March without a deal on the future relationship. That could see tariffs placed on British exports, border checks reinstalled, and restrictions imposed travelers and workers — a potentially toxic combination for businesses.

“The situation is now urgent,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director general. “The speed of negotiations is being outpaced by the reality firms are facing on the ground.”

Discussions between the two sides have hit an impasse largely over how to maintain an open border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Christmas deadline

A summit of EU leaders last week failed to yield a breakthrough and another gathering in November was canceled. December is now the next scheduled summit, leaving the Brexit process tight ahead of Britain’s official departure date. Even if a deal is forged, there are doubts over British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to secure the necessary majority in Parliament given bitter divisions on the topic.

“Unless a Withdrawal Agreement is locked down by December, firms will press the button on their contingency plans,” Fairbairn said. “Jobs will be lost and supply chains moved.”

Fairbairn’s warning was based on a survey of 236 member firms tilted toward small- and medium-sized companies with up to 500 employees, undertaken from Sept. 19 to Oct. 8. The survey found that 82 percent of firms will have started to implement contingency plans by December if the Brexit process isn’t any clearer.

Negative impact

The CBI also said that 80 percent of firms say Brexit has already had a negative impact on their investment decisions, more than double the 36 percent recorded a year ago. The survey found that 66 percent of businesses said Brexit has had an impact on the attractiveness of the U.K. as a place to invest, while 24 percent said there had been no impact.

Some big companies are becoming increasingly vexed by the impasse in the Brexit talks. Last week, ahead of the summit in Brussels, pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca and carmaker Ford issued statements raising doubts about their investments in Britain.

“Uncertainty is draining investment from the U.K.,” said Fairbairn. 

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Saudi Official: Chokehold Killed Journalist; Body Carried Out in Rug

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As Saudi Arabia faced intensifying international skepticism over its story about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a senior government official laid out a new version of the death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that in key respects contradicts previous explanations.

The latest account, provided by a Saudi official who requested anonymity, includes details on how the team of 15 Saudi nationals sent to confront Khashoggi on Oct. 2 had threatened him with being drugged and kidnapped and then killed him in a chokehold when he resisted. A member of the team then dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate.

After denying any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, 59, for two weeks, Saudi Arabia on Saturday morning said he had died in a fistfight at the consulate. An hour later, another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold, which the senior official reiterated.

Turkish officials suspect the body of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was dismembered, but the Saudi official said it was rolled up in a rug and given to a “local cooperator” for disposal. Asked about allegations that Khashoggi had been tortured and beheaded, he said preliminary results of the investigation did not suggest that.

The Saudi official presented what he said were Saudi internal intelligence documents that appeared to show the initiative to bring back dissidents as well as the specific one involving Khashoggi. He also showed testimony from those involved in what he described as the 15-man team’s cover-up, and the initial results of an internal probe. He did not provide proof to substantiate the findings of the investigation and the other evidence.

​Changing narratives

This narrative is the latest Saudi account that has changed multiple times. The authorities initially dismissed reports that Khashoggi had gone missing inside the consulate as false and said he had left the building soon after entering. When the media reported a few days later that he had been killed there, they called the accusations “baseless.”

Asked by Reuters why the government’s version of Khashoggi’s death kept changing, the official said the government initial account was based on “false information reported internally at the time.”

“Once it became clear these initial mission reports were false, it launched an internal investigation and refrained from further public comment,” the official said, adding that the investigation is continuing.

Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate but have not released it.

Riyadh dispatched a high-level delegation to Istanbul on Tuesday and ordered an internal investigation, but U.S. President Donald Trump said n Saturday he is not satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s handling of Khashoggi’s death and said questions remain unanswered. Germany and France on Saturday called Saudi Arabia’s explanation of how Khashoggi died incomplete.

​Latest version of events

According to the latest version of the death, the government wanted to convince Khashoggi, who moved to Washington a year ago fearing reprisals for his views, to return to the kingdom as part of a campaign to prevent Saudi dissidents from being recruited by the country’s enemies, the official said.

To that end, the official said, the deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Ahmed al-Asiri, put together a 15-member team from the intelligence and security forces to go to Istanbul, meet Khashoggi at the consulate and try to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia.

“There is a standing order to negotiate the return of dissidents peacefully; which gives them the authority to act without going back to the leadership,” the official said. “Asiri is the one who formed the team and asked for an employee who worked with (Saud) al-Qahtani and who knew Jamal from the time they both worked at the embassy in London,” he said.

The official said Qahtani had signed off on one of his employees conducting the negotiations.

​Chokehold 

According to the plan, the team could hold Khashoggi in a safe house outside Istanbul for “a period of time” but then release him if he ultimately refused to return to Saudi Arabia, the official said.

Things went wrong from the start as the team overstepped their orders and quickly employed violence, the official said.

Khashoggi was ushered into the consul general’s office where an operative named Maher Mutreb spoke to him about returning to Saudi Arabia, according to the government’s account. Khashoggi refused and told Mutreb that someone was waiting outside for him and would contact the Turkish authorities if he did not reappear within an hour, the official said.

Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, has told Reuters he had handed her his two mobile phones and left instructions that she should wait for him and call an aide to Turkey’s president if he did not reappear.

Back inside the consul’s office, according to the official’s account, Khashoggi told Mutreb he was violating diplomatic norms and said, “What are you going to do with me? Do you intend to kidnap me?”

Mutreb replied, “Yes, we will drug you and kidnap you,” in what the official said was an attempt at intimidation that violated the mission’s objective.

When Khashoggi raised his voice, the team panicked. They moved to restrain him, placing him in a chokehold and covering his mouth, according to the government’s account.

“They tried to prevent him from shouting but he died,” the official said. “The intention was not to kill him.”

Asked if the team had smothered Khashoggi, the official said: “If you put someone of Jamal’s age in this position, he would probably die.”

Where is his body?

To cover up their misdeed, the team rolled up Khashoggi’s body in a rug, took it out in a consular vehicle and handed it over to a “local cooperator” for disposal, the official said.

Forensic expert Salah Tubaigy tried to remove any trace of the incident, the official said.

Turkish officials have told Reuters that Khashoggi’s killers may have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest adjacent to Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Istanbul.

Turkish investigators are likely to find out what happened to the body “before long,” a senior official said.

The Saudi official said the local cooperator is an Istanbul resident but would not reveal his nationality. The official said investigators were trying to determine where the body ended up.

Meanwhile, operative Mustafa Madani donned Khashoggi’s clothes, eyeglasses and Apple watch and left through the back door of the consulate in an attempt to make it look as if Khashoggi had walked out of the building. Madani went to the Sultanahmet district where he disposed of the belongings.

The official said the team then wrote a false report for superiors saying they had allowed Khashoggi to leave once he warned that Turkish authorities could get involved and that they had promptly left the country before they could be discovered.

​Many questions

Skeptics have asked why so many people, including military officers and a forensics expert specializing in autopsies, were part of the operation if the objective was to persuade Khashoggi to return home of his own volition.

The disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider turned critic, has snowballed into a massive crisis for the kingdom, forcing the 82-year-old monarch, King Salman, to personally get involved. 

It has threatened the kingdom’s business relationships, with several senior executives and government officials shunning an investor conference in Riyadh scheduled for next week and some U.S. lawmakers putting pressure on Trump to impose sanctions and stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The official said all 15 team members had been detained and placed under investigation, along with three other local suspects.

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Українська сторона СЦКК повідомляє про неможливість евакуації 2 цивільних, які підірвалися біля позицій бойовиків

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Українська сторона у Спільному центрі з контролю та координації (СЦКК) заявила про неможливість евакуації тіл двох мирних громадян, які 18 жовтня підірвалися неподалік позицій підтримуваних Росією бойовиків на Донбасі. Згідно з повідомленням, йдеться про 46-річну жінку і 45-річного чоловіка – жителів Золотого-4, які йшли в бік окупованого бойовиками Золотого-5.

Згідно з повідомленням, координати, де знаходяться тіла, визначені завдяки безпілотникові місії СММ ОБСЄ.

«19 жовтня родичі загиблих звернулися до Міжнародного комітету Червоного Хреста, а українська сторона СЦКК до офісу СММ ОБСЄ, який знаходиться в Донецьку і моніторить ситуацію на непідконтрольній українським військовим території, з метою їх впливу на ворога задля надання можливості евакуації загиблих представниками МКЧХ.  Трагічність ситуації поглиблюється цинічним небажанням бойовиків евакуювати тіла загиблих, які наразі продовжують лежати просто неба», – йдеться в повідомленні.

Водночас бойовики на своїх ресурсах пишуть, що «представництво «ЛНР» в СЦКК» звернулося з проханням до ОБСЄ і МКЧХ допомогти вивезти тіла загиблих в Золотому-4. Луганські бойовики стверджують, що люди підірвалися на міні, яку заклали не вони, а військові ЗСУ, і що тіла лежать за 100 метрів від позицій українських військових.

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Збройний конфлікт на Донбасі триває від 2014 року після російської анексії Криму. Україна і Захід звинувачують Росію у збройній підтримці сепаратистів. Кремль відкидає ці звинувачення і заявляє, що на Донбасі можуть перебувати хіба що російські «добровольці», а дедалі численніші повідомлення про наявність там російських озброєнь не коментує. За даними ООН, за час конфлікту загинули понад 10 300 людей.

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Омбудсмен просить сприяння генсекретаря Ради Європи у поверненні українців з окупованих територій

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Денисова: «Яґланд уже звертався до президента Росії щодо звільнення Олега Сенцова хоча б з гуманітарних підстав. Я вдячна за це»

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З початку року іноземні кораблі почали менше заходити у порти окупованого Криму – МінТОТ

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Від початку поточного року кількість заходів суден іноземних держав до портів окупованого Росією Криму зменшилась, повідомляє Міністерство з питань тимчасово окупованих територій та внутрішньо переміщених осіб.

«За період з 1 серпня 2017 року до 30 вересня 2018 року у  портах та портових акваторіях окупованого Криму зафіксовано 1207 заходів вантажних суден та танкерів», – повідомили у міністерстві і додали, що йдеться про ті судна, які оснащені автоматичною системою ідентифікації.

Згідно з повідомленням, найбільше суден увійшло в морські порти окупованих Євпаторії, Керчі, Севастополя, Феодосії та Ялти під прапором Росії (98). Вони туди заходили понад тисячу разів.

Серед країн, чиї судна входять в закриті, за українським законодавством, морські порти є Палау, Того, Сьєрра-Леоне, Коморські Острови, Молдова, Танзанія, Панама, Мальта, Судану, острови – Кука і Піткерн, Сент-Кітс і Невіс, а також Туреччини.

За законодавством України, морські порти, розташовані в окупованому Росією Криму (Євпаторія, Керч, Севастополь, Феодосія, Ялта) є закритими для судноплавства.

Читайте також: РНБО вирішила посилити військову присутність в Азовському морі

У середині травня, після завершення будівництва автомобільної частини мосту, Росія перемістила військові кораблі до Азовського моря, заявляючи про необхідність посилення безпеки навколо стратегічного об’єкта. Відтоді Росія затримала понад півтори сотні українських та іноземних торговельних кораблів і допитувала членів екіпажів та інших людей, які перебували на таких суднах.

12 жовтня президент Петро Порошенко ввів в дію рішення Ради національної безпеки і оборони України про захист національних інтересів у Чорному та Азовському морях і в Керченській протоці.

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Rights Group Calls on Saudis to Produce Khashoggi’s Body

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Rights group Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to “immediately produce” the body of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi so an autopsy can be completed.

Khashoggi reportedly was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Saudi Arabia says preliminary results from its investigation show he died after a fight with people he met in the consulate.

Amnesty’s director of campaigns for the Middle East, Samah Hadid, said the Saudi version of events cannot be trusted. He said a United Nations investigation would be necessary to avoid a “Saudi whitewash” of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death.

Hadid said such a cover-up may have been undertaken to preserve Saudi Arabia’s international business ties.

Earlier Saturday, a statement from the Saudi public prosecutor carried by Saudi state TV said 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested so far in connection with Khashoggi’s death. The statement said royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Assiri have been fired from their positions.

The prosecutor said the investigation into Khashoggi’s death remains underway.

The state-run news agency also said King Salman has also ordered the formation of a ministerial committee headed by the crown prince to restructure the kingdom’s intelligence services.

 

Saturday’s comments are the first admission by the Saudi government that Khashoggi died.

Turkish officials had said they believed he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after he entered the building on October 2 to retrieve paperwork for his upcoming wedding. Saudi Arabia had previously denied the allegations and said Khashoggi had left the building shortly after.

The White House said in a statement it “acknowledges the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that its investigation into the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified thus far.”

When asked about the Saudi announcement, President Donald Trump told reporters in Arizona “It’s a big first step.” However, he said, “We do have some questions” for the Saudis, and added “we’ll be working with Congress.”

 

He said that he wants to talk to the Saudi crown prince before the next steps are taken.

When asked whether the Saudis can produce a credible report about the killing of Khashoggi, Trump said, “We’re involved. Turkey is involved. … This has been a horrible event. It has not gone unnoticed.”

Before the Saudi announcement, Trump told reporters Friday he might consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Earlier Friday, Turkish police said they questioned employees of the Saudi consulate in their ongoing investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. More than a dozen Turkish employees of the Saudi consulate were interviewed, including the consul general’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the Khashoggi’s disappearance during an interview Friday with VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren.

Trump has warned there would be “very severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia is behind the disappearance of the journalist, but Pompeo said, “I’m not going to get into what those responses might be. We’ll certainly consider a wide range of potential responses, but I think the important thing to do is that the facts come out.”

Pompeo, who traveled to Riyadh earlier this week to speak to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, told VOA, “I made very clear to them that the United States takes this matter very seriously. That we don’t approve of extrajudicial killings. That we don’t approve of that kind of activity. That it’s not something consistent with American values, and that it is their responsibility as this incident happened in the consulate.”

“It’s their responsibility to get to the bottom of this, to put the facts out clearly, accurately, completely, transparently, in a way that the whole world can see,” Pompeo said. “And once we’ve identified the fact set, then they have the responsibility and the first instance to hold accountable those inside the country that may have been involved in any wrongdoing.”

Turkish authorities also denied Friday they have shared with U.S. officials an audio recording of the torture and killing of Khashoggi.

Media reports said Pompeo heard the recording earlier in the week when he visited Turkey. But Pompeo, traveling in Mexico, told reporters, “I’ve seen no tape … I’ve heard no tape. I’ve seen no transcript.”

 

According to Anadolu, Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “It is out of the question for us to share this or that information with any country.”

Late Friday, some U.S. lawmakers weighed in on the Saudi announcement about Khashoggi’s fate.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, tweeted, “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.”

Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. should pursue sanctions against those Saudis involved in the journalist’s death under the Sergei Magnitsky, which is named after the anti-corruption Russian accountant who died in police custody.

“The Global Magnitsky Act doesn’t have exceptions for accidents. Even if Khashoggi died because of an altercation, that’s no excuse for his murder,” Menendez tweeted on Friday. “This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure.”  

 

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Thousands March in London Urging New Brexit Vote

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Thousands of protesters gathered in central London on Saturday to call for a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Organizers want the public to have a final say on the government’s Brexit deal with the EU, arguing that new facts have come to light about the costs and complexity of Britain’s exit from the bloc since Britons voted to leave in 2016.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan from the opposition Labor Party was among those set to address the People’s Vote March, which will culminate at a rally in Parliament Square.

Organizers have brought in some 150 buses to ferry thousands of activists from across the country to the British capital.

Those in favor of pulling Britain out of the EU won by 52 percent in the 2016 EU membership referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May of the Conservative Party has ruled out another public vote on the subject.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but negotiations have been plagued by disagreements, particularly over the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will be the U.K.’s only land border with the EU after Brexit, for Ireland is part of the EU, and Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.

There are growing fears of a “no-deal” British exit, which could create chaos at the borders and in both the EU and the British economies.

May, speaking at an inconclusive EU summit in Brussels this week, said she would consider having a longer post-Brexit transition period — one that could keep Britain aligned to EU rules and obligations for more than two years after its March departure. Pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, however, saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.

“This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain,” said Andrew Adonis, a Labor member of the House of Lords. “Voters will neither forgive nor forget if [lawmakers] allow this miserable Brexit to proceed without people being given the final say.”

 

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Macedonia’s Parliament Approves Change in Country’s Name 

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Macedonia’s parliament has approved a proposal to change the country’s name, a move that could pave the way for it to join NATO and the European Union.

Eighty members of parliament in the 120-seat body voted in favor of the measure Friday to rename the country North Macedonia, just surpassing the two-thirds supermajority needed to enact constitutional changes.

Parliament was forced to address the issue after a September referendum on the matter failed to achieve the turnout threshold of 50 percent.

According to election officials, only about a third of eligible voters cast ballots in the September referendum. However, they said more than 90 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of changing the country’s name to North Macedonia. Conservatives in Macedonia strongly oppose the name change and boycotted the referendum.

Macedonians are being asked to change the name of their country to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece and pave the way for the country’s admission into NATO and the EU.

Athens has argued that the name “Macedonia” belongs exclusively to its northern province of Macedonia and that using the name implies Skopje’s intentions to claim the Greek province.

The two countries agreed on the name change in June.

Greece has for years pressured Skopje into renouncing the country’s name, forcing it to use the more formal moniker Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the United Nations. Greece has consistently blocked its smaller neighbor from gaining membership in NATO and the EU as long it retained its name.

The process for Macedonia’s parliament to fully change the country’s name is lengthy and will require several more rounds of voting.

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Bolton Headed to Russia Amid Fears US Leaving Nuclear Deal

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U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton will meet Saturday in Moscow with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, amid reports that Washington will tell Russia it plans to quit a landmark nuclear weapons treaty.

The visit comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump this year.

Bolton, who will also meet Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, announced the visit to Moscow in a tweet, saying he would “continue discussions that began in Helsinki,” referring to a summit held in July.

The New York Times said the Trump administration plans to inform Russian leaders in the coming days that it is preparing to leave the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF.

The newspaper said the U.S. accuses Russia of violating the deal, signed in 1987 by president Ronald Reagan, by deploying tactical nuclear weapons to intimidate former Soviet satellite states that are now close to the West.

US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election, as well as tension over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.

However, Washington is looking for support from Moscow in finding resolutions to the Syria war and putting pressure on both Iran and North Korea.

No new summit between Trump and Putin has been announced, but one is expected in the near future.

The two leaders will be in Paris on Nov. 11 to attend commemorations marking the end of World War I.

A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said another potential date would be when the presidents both attend the Group of 20 meeting Nov. 30-Dec. 1.

“There are a couple possibilities, including the G-20 in Buenos Aires or the Armistice Day parade in Paris. At the G20 is probably more likely,” the official said. “President Trump’s invitation to Putin to visit Washington, D.C., still stands.” 

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US Officials Warn No Letup in Russian Meddling Attempts

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in ЄС, Новини, Світ

U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and security agencies are warning that Russia is persistently targeting the country’s upcoming midterm elections. They laid out the latest evidence in new charges against a Russian national connected to the oligarch known as “Putin’s cook.”

The U.S. on Friday unsealed the criminal complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, making her the first Russian charged in connection with interference in the 2018 election.

According to the criminal complaint, Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for a Russian effort dubbed “Project Lakhta,” a self-described “information warfare” operation run by the Internet Research Agency — the same social media troll farm indicted earlier this year by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia investigation.

Charging documents say Khusyaynova oversaw spending for social media advertisements and promotions and proxy servers as she helped to create thousands of social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, some of which generated tens of thousands of followers.

Involved in 2018 elections

But unlike previous criminal complaints, U.S. officials said Khusyaynova’s activity extended well beyond the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as she funded efforts to create new social media accounts targeting both issues and candidates, Republican and Democratic, involved the 2018 election, now just a little more than two weeks away.

Like with previous efforts under “Project Lakhta,” all of the accounts were designed to make it appear as though they belonged to actual American political activists, using virtual private networks (VPNs) and other methods to hide their origin. 

U.S. officials also said those running them were told to intensify divisions and distrust between members of all political parties “through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.”

Messaging focused on a variety of topics, including immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag and the debate over American football players kneeling for the U.S. national anthem.

Officials said specific incidents, including mass shootings, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and decisions coming from the Trump White House were also used as fodder.

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger said in a statement.

Asked about the new charges during a visit to Arizona, President Donald Trump called them irrelevant to his efforts.

“It had nothing to do with my campaign,” he told reporters. “If they are hackers, a lot of them probably like [2016 Democratic presidential nominee] Hillary Clinton better than me.”

Warning and reassurance

Friday’s indictment came as U.S. intelligence and security officials sought to both warn and reassure U.S. voters about the upcoming midterm elections.

“We’re not seeing anything anywhere remotely close to ’16,” Chris Krebs, undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, told reporters Friday following a tabletop election security exercise.

“2016 had a long lead-up of spear-phishing campaigns, compromise of networks,” he said. “We’re not seeing them right now.”

Krebs and other officials have also said there had been no increase in attempts to infiltrate U.S. voting systems, and that no system involved in tallying votes had been compromised.

Many of those systems have been upgraded or hardened, U.S. officials said, noting that more than 90 percent of the country’s election infrastructure was now being monitored by sensors that can detect malicious activity.

But at the same time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned Friday of persistent efforts by U.S. adversaries to sway voters.

“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment,” ODNI said in a joint statement with the Justice Department, the FBI and DHS.

“These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections,” the statement said.

U.S. officials say both China and Iran have been increasingly active in their efforts to use influence operations, with current and former officials describing Beijing’s efforts as more sophisticated and more intent on generating a favorable view of China over the long term.

But neither yet compares in scope to the Russian efforts, just some of which were unveiled in the criminal complaint. 

Russian-financed

Financial documents obtained as part of the investigation indicate that as of January 2016, Khusyaynova and “Project Lakhta” were working with a budget of $35 million, spending about $10 million in the first half of 2018 alone.

Khusyaynova’s 2018 expenditures included $60,000 for Facebook advertisements, another $6,000 for ads on Instagram, and $18,000 for “bloggers” and for developing accounts on Twitter.

The money, according to U.S. officials, came from Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

Known as “Putin’s cook” because of his catering company’s work for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin is thought to have extensive ties to Russia’s political and military establishments.

He also controls Concord Management and Consulting LLC, one of three entities under indictment as part of the Mueller investigation.

A Washington-based lawyer representing Concord did not respond to a request for comment.

Masood Farivar contributed to this report

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IMF Reaches Deal with Ukraine on New $4 Billion, 14-Month Loan

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in ЄС, Новини, Світ

The International Monetary Fund announced Friday it had reached an agreement with Ukraine on economic policies that would unlock a new loan deal that will provide nearly $4 billion.

The new 14-month standby loan deal replaces an existing four-year financial aid package agreed in March 2015 and due to expire in five months, the IMF said in a statement.

The agreement must be approved by the IMF board, which will come later in the year after authorities in Kyiv approve a 2019 budget “consistent with IMF staff recommendations and an increase in household gas and heating tariffs,” a step the government had agreed on but never implemented.

But the deal also stresses the need for “continuing to protect low-income households.”

Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman had been seeking the additional financing from the Washington-based lender to help his crisis-hit nation.

Groysman on Friday announced a gas price increase of 23.5 percent to take effect November 1.

He said the “incredible efforts” of Ukrainian negotiators managed to reach a compromise with the IMF and reduce the initial demand to raise prices by 60 percent.

“If we are not able to continue cooperation with our international partners … this could lead to the country being put into default,” he said.

Ukraine has not received any money from the IMF since April 2017, when the fund released $1 billion for the cash-strapped country to repay loans. It had received less than $9 billion of the original $17.5 billion package.

Talks on economic reform measures that would satisfy IMF requirements and allow the release of further aid had been hung up for months, as the fund awaited the government’s approval of a budget, pension reform and an anti-corruption court.

A gas price hike is a sensitive issue for the cash-strapped country as its pro-Western leadership faces presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

The IMF said the new loan “will provide an anchor for the authorities’ economic policies during 2019.”

Building on progress under the previous financing package, the loan will “focus in particular on continuing with fiscal consolidation and reducing inflation, as well as reforms to strengthen tax administration, the financial sector and the energy sector,” the IMF said.

An IMF lifeline helped the country to recover from crises sparked by a Russian-backed war in the separatist industrial east that began in April 2014 and has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The loss of industries in the war zone and flight of foreign investors saw the former Soviet republic’s economy shrink by 17 percent in 2014-2015.

The IMF now forecasts the economy will grow by 3.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2019.

Following the announcement, debt rating agency Standard and Poor’s affirmed the country’s credit score at “B-” with a stable outlook.

“We expect the new arrangement will aid Ukraine’s efforts to cover sizable external debt obligations maturing next year, and also help to anchor macroeconomic policies through the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections,” S&P said in a statement.

The IMF loan is also likely to unlock credit from other international donors, the ratings agency said.

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У 2019 році Росія не повернеться в ПАРЄ – Ар’єв 

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Влада, Новини, Україна

Голова української делегації в Парламентській асамблеї Ради Європи Володимир Ар’єв в ефірі Радіо Свобода заявив, що у 2019 році російська делегація найімовірніше не повернеться до роботи в організації. 

За його словами, єдина можливість відновити повноваження – винести це питання у січні. Однак, зауважив Ар’єв, наразі в проекті порядку денного його немає.

«Якщо Росія не подається в січні, значить, її в 2019 році увесь рік немає. Коли ми побачили проект порядку денного на січень 2019 року, ця доповідь там не стоїть. У кращому випадку вона буде розглядатися у квітні, можливо, навіть улітку наступного року», – сказав Ар’єв. 

Крім того, це малоймовірно, оскільки обмежувальні заходи щодо російської делегації Росії не зняли, зауважив він.

«Потяг пішов. Росія чітко сказала, що вони не подаватимуться доти, доки асамблея не піде назустріч. У плані скасування можливостей запровадження санкцій проти національної делегації. Асамблея не пішла назустріч. Власне, що сталося: Росія сказала, що вона не подаватиме свою делегацію. І питання на січень уже не виноситься. Взагалі всі національні парламенти подають свої делегації лише раз на рік. І цей час – січень, початок чергової сесії ПАРЄ. В інший час можливе подання, лише якщо в парламенті були вибори. Тоді впродовж півроку після цього можна подати свою делегацію. Третього варіанту розвитку подій просто не існує», – додав Ар’єв.

Росія після накладених на її делегацію обмежень у ПАРЄ через анексію українського Криму (делегацію позбавили права голосу, а її членів права брати участь у роботі головних органів асамблеї) сама відмовилася від участі в роботі асамблеї, а влітку 2017 року припинила платити членські внески в Раду Європи. 

Нині Москва домагається від ПАРЄ зміни регламенту, щоб унеможливити такі санкції надалі. 

Повністю інтерв’ю з Володимиром Ар’євим дивіться у програмі Радіо Свобода «Суботнє інтерв’ю» у суботу, 20 жовтня.