Dismissive Words on Abuse Scandal Cast Pall Over Pope’s Trip

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Pope Francis ventured into the Amazon to demand rights for indigenous groups, decried the scourge of corruption afflicting the region’s politics and denounced a culture of “machismo” in which violence against women is too often tolerated.

 

Yet his latest visit to South America is likely to be remembered most for 27 dismissive words that sparked outrage among Chileans already angry over a notorious clerical abuse scandal and haunted the rest of his trip.

 

“That is the enigma of Pope Francis,” Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org said Sunday. “He is so bold and compassionate on many issues but he is an old school defensive bishop when it comes to the sex abuse crisis.”

 

Even before Francis landed in Chile for the first leg of his two-country trip, the pontiff’s visit seemed ripe for contention. Vandals fire-bombed three churches in the capital of Santiago, warning in a leaflet that “the next bombs will be in your cassock,” and an angry group protesting the high cost of hosting him briefly occupied the Nunciature where he would sleep.

 

Also looming over his visit to both Chile and Peru were damaging clerical sex abuse scandals and growing apathy over the Catholic Church. In a Latinobarometro annual poll last year, 45 percent of Chileans identified as Roman Catholic, a sharp drop from the mid-60s a decade ago. Even in deeply religious Peru, where nearly three-quarters of the population calls itself Catholic, the number of faithful has dipped notably from a generation ago.

 

As Francis drove through the streets of Santiago in a popemobile after arriving the crowds standing by to greet him were comparably thin when compared to other papal visits.

 

“Love live the pope!” some yelled. But others weren’t welcoming. “Stop the abuse, Francis!” one person’s sign said. “You can so you must.”

 

Francis almost immediately dove into the thorny topic of the abuse scandal, meeting on his first full day with survivors of priests who had sexually abused them and apologizing for the “irreparable damage” they suffered.

 

He proceeded to take on equally contentious concerns throughout the rest of his stay in Chile. He called on the government and indigenous Mapuche to find ways to peacefully resolve differences that have seen a surge of violence. And he urged Chileans to remain welcoming to a surge of new immigrants.

 

All the while, signs that Francis himself was unwanted continued to emerge. Police shot tear gas and detained dozens of protesters outside a Mass in the capital and there were more church burnings. Aerial photographs taken by local newspapers of all three of Francis’ outdoor Masses showed swaths of empty spaces

 

Then came the 27 words that stunned the nation.

 

Questioned by local journalists about Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who abuse survivors say was present when the Rev. Fernando Karadima molested them decades ago, Francis responded that there was no proof against the bishop he appointed in 2015 and characterized the accusations as slander.

 

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I’ll speak,” he said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

 

The comment, combined with Barros’ presence at several activities during the week, cast a pall over the entire trip.

 

“The pope’s visit in Chile turned into the worst of his five years as pontiff,” read a headline in Clarin, a major newspaper in Francis’ native Argentina.

 

“The principal legacy of this trip will be negative because of Francis’ support of Barros,” said German Silva, a political scientist at the Universidad Mayor in Santiago.

 

The remark followed him into Peru. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the pope’s top adviser on abuse, and the Chilean government publicly rebuked the pope in a remarkable correction. And near a church where the pope prayed on his final day, a banner hung from a building with the words “Francis, here there is proof” and accompanied by the photo of the disgraced founder of a Peru-based Catholic lay movement.

 

The banner was a reference to Peru’s biggest clerical abuse scandal, involving Luis Figari, the former leader of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. An independent investigation found Figari sodomized recruits and forced them to fondle him and one another.

 

Still, despite the outrage that case has stirred in Peru, the pope received a warmer reception here. Thousands waited to greet him each night as he retired to the papal embassy in Lima and people lined the streets wherever he went. Peruvians largely praised his comments condemning corruption in a nation that has been embroiled in Latin America’s largest graft scandal. They also welcomed his call to protect the Amazon and stop crimes like sex trafficking and femicide that plague much of the region.

 

Andrew Chesnut, the Catholic Studies chair at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Francis likely deepened wounds in Chile. But in Peru, “he has helped alleviate the pain of a polarized society, though the medicine won’t last long.”

 

Juan Rivera, 31, who attended a final papal Mass that drew 1.3 million people, said the abuse scandals certainly stain the church’s reputation. But, he added, “Faith itself can’t be stained.”

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Madrid Requests Reactivation of Arrest Warrant for Former Catalan Leader

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Spain’s state prosecutors asked the country’s Supreme Court Monday to reactivate an international arrest warrant for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont is in Denmark to take part in a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen Monday and meet Danish lawmakers on Tuesday.

It is not clear whether the Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, who is handling the case, will grant it.

Madrid had threatened to issue a warrant for Puigdemont’s arrest if he left Belgium, where he fled to avoid prosecution over his role in Catalonia’s independence vote in October.

This is the first time that Puigdemont has traveled outside Belgium. He has been living in Brussels since he was fired by Spain’s central government, immediately after his regional administration declared independence from Spain.

Puigdemont and four members of his ousted government have been fighting return to Spain to face rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, charges that can be punished with decades in prison under Spanish law.

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Germany’s CDU and SPD to Start Formal Coalition Talks

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German conservatives are preparing for formal coalition talks with Social Democrats (SPD) Monday shortly after the center-left party voted to break the months of political deadlock.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Union bloc (CDU) and SPD of Martin Schultz are expected to open formal negotiation this week on extending their coalition of the past four years. 

Conservatives are warning, however, that they are not prepared to renegotiate preliminary agreements on such issues as migration.

Julia Kloeckner (Klöckner), a deputy leader of CDU, told ARD television Monday that the upcoming negotiations will focus on advancing of what was already agreed “but not bring up something that was already rejected.”

An SPD congress voted Sunday to pursue coalition talks with CDU, endorsing a plan agreed to earlier this month to compromise on issues such as health policy and the right of migrants’ families to join them in Germany.

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Pope Wraps Latin America Trip Haunted by Chile Abuse Scandal

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Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Peru on Sunday by denouncing the plague of corruption sweeping through Latin America. But controversy over his accusations that Chilean sex abuse victims slandered a bishop continued to cast a shadow over what has become the most contested and violent trip of his papacy.

 

A day after his top adviser on sex abuse publicly rebuked him for his Chile remarks, Francis was reminded that the Vatican has faced years of criticism for its inaction over a similar sex abuse scandal in Peru.

 

“Francis, here there IS proof,” read a banner hanging from a Lima building along his motorcade route Sunday.

 

The message was a reference to Francis’ Jan. 18 comments in Iquique, Chile, that there was not “one shred of proof” that a protege of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, knew of Karadima’s abuse and did nothing to stop it.

 

Karadima’s victims have accused the bishop, Juan Barros, of complicity in the cover-up. Barros has denied the accusations, and Francis backed him by saying the victims’ claims were “all calumny.”

 

His comments sparked such an outcry that both the Chilean government and his own top adviser on abuse stepped in to publicly rebuke him — an extraordinary correction of a pope from both church and state. The criticisms were all the more remarkable given that they came on the Argentina-born pontiff’s home turf in Latin America.

 

Francis tried to move beyond the scandal Sunday, joking with cloistered nuns that they were taking advantage of his visit to finally get out and get a breath of fresh air. And he denounced a corruption scandal in Latin America that has even implicated his Peruvian host, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

 

In a meeting with bishops, Francis said the bribery scandal centered on Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht was “just a small anecdote” of the corruption and graft that has thrown much of Latin American politics into a state of crisis.

 

“If we fall into the hands of people who only understand the language of corruption, we’re toast,” the Argentine pope said in unscripted remarks.

 

It was the second time Francis addressed corruption during his visit to Peru, where Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment over his ties to Odebrecht in December. The company has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to politicians throughout the region in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

 

Francis was greeted by cheering crowds at nearly every stop of his Peruvian trip. But the cloud of the church’s sex abuse scandal trailed him.

 

Francis’ remarks that he would only believe victims with “proof” were problematic because they were already deemed so credible by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2011 based on their testimony. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.

 

Those same victims accused Barros of witnessing the abuse and standing by.

 

It is extremely rare for a cardinal to publicly criticize a pope, but Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and head of Francis’ own committee of experts on the issue, said Saturday that Francis’ remarks were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse.” He said such expressions of disbelief made abuse survivors feel abandoned and left in “discredited exile.”

 

It is also rare for a government to criticize a visiting pope. But after the remarks, Chilean government spokeswoman Paula Narvaez said there was an “ethical imperative to respect victims of sexual abuse, believe them and support them.”

 

The issue also had resonance in Peru. Last week the Vatican took over a Peru-based Roman Catholic lay movement, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, more than six years after first learning of sexual, physical and psychological abuse committed by its founder.

 

An independent investigation commissioned by the movement found that founder Luis Figari sodomized his recruits, forced them to fondle him and one another, liked to watch them “experience pain, discomfort and fear” and humiliated them in front of others. Figari’s victims have criticized the Vatican for its years of inaction and for eventually sanctioning him with what they considered a “golden exile” — retirement in Italy at a retreat house, albeit separated from the community he founded.

 

The banner hanging from the building along Francis’ motorcade route referred to evidence against Figari and featured a photo of him. Peruvian prosecutors recently announced they wanted to arrest him.

 

It was not clear if Francis would refer to the Sodalitium scandal on his final day in Peru, which was to feature a Mass at an airfield expected to draw hundreds of thousands. In contrast, Francis’ send-off from Chile drew only 50,000 people, a fraction of the number expected.

 

“Hopefully early tomorrow, myself and all of Peru will get a chance to see him up close,” said Nicolas Astete, one of more than 3,000 people who gathered Saturday night outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Lima, hoping for a glimpse of the pope before he retired for the evening.

 

“Come here!” the crowds cried as Francis made his way to the papal embassy.

 

During his seven-day trip in Chile and Peru, Francis personally apologized to survivors of priests who sexually abused them, traveled deep into the Amazon to meet with indigenous leaders, decried the scourges of corruption and violence against women in Latin America and urged the Chilean government and radical factions of the Mapuche indigenous group to peacefully resolve one of the region’s longest-running disputes.

 

But the pope also attracted unprecedented rejection: At least a dozen churches across Chile were set aflame, and riot police shot tear gas at and arrested protesters in Santiago.

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France, Germany Pledge Closer Ties With New Bilateral Treaty

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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have pledged to agree on a new French-German treaty this year to deepen cooperation between the two countries.

 

In a joint statement Sunday, both leaders say they will seek closer economic ties and convergence on tax issues.

 

They also want to develop a common diplomatic approach, boost cooperation on foreign affairs and security including the fight against terrorism, and “defend more effectively French-German common interest and values.”

 

The statement was timed to commemorate 55 years since the signing of the 1963 Elysee friendship treaty, which marked the reconciliation between France and Germany after World War II.

 

The leaders also pledged to improve cooperation in education and research and to develop joint proposals for climate protection.

 

 

 

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Turkey: Border Town Hit by Rockets From Syria

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Four rockets fired from Syria hit a Turkish border town Sunday as Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters pushed forward with an offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish forces from an enclave in northern Syria, the state-run news agency reported.

Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan said four rockets struck the town of Kilis, hitting two houses, an office and slightly wounding one person. The Turkish artillery returned fire, the governor said.

The attack came after dozens of Turkish jets pounded the Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin on Saturday as part of an offensive, codenamed Olive Branch. Ten civilians were wounded in the airstrikes, three seriously, according to the Syrian Kurdish group.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey views as part of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast. The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. ally against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said Turkey-backed Syrian forces have penetrated the enclave and were advancing but did not provide details. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says a Turkish ground offensive could begin Sunday.

Associated Press journalists on the border saw a convoy of trucks, believed to belong to the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition fighters, carrying pick-ups mounted with arms or radar equipment. Artillery shelling could be heard in the distance.

Turkey has prepared around 10,000 Syrian fighters to storm Afrin, according Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

A Syrian commander speaking to the AP by phone from northern Syria said there were thousands of fighters positioned in Azaz, at the frontier with the Kurdish enclave, awaiting orders. Another commander said hundreds more were stationed in Atmeh, south of Afrin. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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Turkey Aims Airstrikes at U.S.-backed Kurdish Group in Syria

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Turkish warplanes have launched airstrikes against a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.

Turkey says the offensive, which was expected, struck more than 100 targets, including the city of Afrin itself. The city has several hundred thousand residents.

The airstrikes were aimed at positions occupied by the YPG Kurdish militia. Ankara accuses the militia of ties to the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the offensive before it began. He said it would “clear our land up to the Iraqi border” of what he called “terror filth that is trying to besiege our country.”

US forces

Erdogan warned that, after Afrin, the Turkish military would target the YPG in the Syrian city of Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed.

The U.S. backs the YPG in its fight against Islamic State militants. Washington has announced the intention to create a security force in Syria in conjunction with the YPG. The announcement has provoked outrage in Turkey.

The Syrian government has condemned the Turkish airstrikes, calling them “aggression” and a “brutal attack.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Saturday. The State Department did not provide details on what was said.

Last week the U.S. government urged Turkey not to attack the YPG. Russia, too, has called for restraint. Moscow says it will defend Syria’s territorial integrity diplomatically.

Russia, UN also weigh in

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday that it received the information about the airstrikes “with concern” and added it is closely monitoring the situation.

Russia repeated its position that the search for solutions be based on preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, respect for its sovereignty, and pursuing a long-term political settlement.

 

On Friday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the U.N. has seen the reports of shelling in Afrin and reiterates the call on all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people.

“All parties must ensure protection of civilians at all times, under any circumstances,” he said.

Political solution in danger

Shahoz Hasan, head of Syria’s main Kurdish political party, told VOA Saturday that the Turkish operation could get in the way of a political solution in Syria.

He said the people of Afrin were among those who helped defeat Islamic State militants in Syria. He said the world now needs to look after the people of Afrin.

VOA’s Turkish service contributed to this report.

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Russia Probe Dogs Trump’s First Year in Office

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If there is one single word that has dogged and defined Donald Trump’s presidency, it is Russia. Several congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Trump campaign contacts with Moscow, focusing this week on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. VOA White House correspondent Peter Heinlein has a look at how Trump’s relationship with Russia, and the Kremlin’s role in his election, has hung over every moment of his first year in office.

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Tax Cut, US Economy, Fair Trade on Trump’s Davos Agenda

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U.S. President Donald Trump will be entering something of a lion’s den when he visits the elitist enclave of Davos next week, rubbing shoulders with the same “globalists” that he campaigned against in winning the 2016 election.

Aides said some of Trump’s advisers had argued against him attending the World Economic Forum in order to steer clear of the event, which brings together political leaders, CEOs and top bankers.

But in the end, they said, Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the forum since Bill Clinton in 2000, wanted to go to call attention to growth in the U.S. economy and the soaring stock market.

A senior administration official said Trump is expected to take a double-edged message to the forum in Switzerland, where he is to deliver a speech and meet some world leaders.

Invest in US

In his speech, Trump is expected to urge the world to invest in the United States to take advantage of his deregulatory and tax cut policies, stress his “America First” agenda and call for fairer, more reciprocal trade, the official said.

During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blamed globalization for ravaging American manufacturing jobs as companies sought to reduce labor costs by relocating to Mexico and elsewhere.

“Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache,” he said June 28, 2016, in Pennsylvania.

Trump retains the same anti-globalist beliefs but has struggled to rewrite trade deals that he sees as benefiting other countries.

Merkel and Macron

Trump will be speaking two days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron take the stage in Davos.

Both ardent defenders of multilateralism and liberal democratic values, they are expected to lay out the counter-argument to Trump’s “America First” policies. Merkel and Macron have lobbied Trump hard to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear pact, only for him to distance himself from those deals.

Trump will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Davos, the White House said.

Bark becomes bite?

There is acute concern in European capitals that 2018 could be the year Trump’s bark on trade turns into bite, as he considers punitive measures on steel and threatens to end the 1990s-era North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

He has backed off withdrawing from a U.S. trade agreement with South Korea and while he has threatened to terminate NAFTA, he has yet to do so.

Trump’s tax cuts are a source of concern in Europe, where policymakers are discussing steps to extract more tax dollars out of U.S. multinationals such as Google and Amazon. European governments now fear a “race to the bottom” on corporate tax rates and a shift to more investment in the United States by some of their big companies.

Trade war

In a Reuters interview on Thursday, Trump lamented that it is rare that he meets the leader of a foreign country that has a trade deficit with the United States.

Based on official data for the year to November, China exported goods worth $461 billion and the United States ran a trade deficit of $344 billion. Trump said he would be announcing some kind of action against China over trade. He is to discuss the issue during his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on Jan. 30.

Asked about the potential for a trade war with China depending on U.S. action over steel, aluminum and solar panels, Trump said he hoped a trade war would not ensue.

“I don’t think so, I hope not. But if there is, there is,” he said.

Trump and the U.S. Congress are racing to meet a midnight Friday deadline to pass a short-term bill to keep the U.S. government open and prevent agencies from shutting down.

Trump could still go to Davos next week as planned even if the federal government shuts down, senior U.S. administration officials said Friday, citing the president’s constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy.

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Britain Wants Comprehensive Trade Deal With EU, May Says

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Britain wants to have a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union as well as a defense pact in place once it leaves the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May said in remarks published in a German newspaper Saturday.

May added that her government was not seeking to “cherry pick” in the negotiations and that it wanted a trade deal that goes further than the one that the EU has with Norway or Canada, simply because Britain is negotiating from a different position that those two countries.

“It is not about cherry picking,” May told the Bild newspaper. “We want to negotiate for a comprehensive free-trade deal and security pact. We are in a different starting position than Canada or Norway.”

Britain and the EU struck a divorce deal last month that paved the way for talks on future trade ties and boosted hopes of an orderly Brexit.

“We are leaving the EU but not Europe,” she said.

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US Criticizes Turkish Shelling of Kurdish-Held Syria Region

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While the United States supports Turkey’s concern about a safe and secure Turkish-Syrian border, military operations by Turkey into northeast Syria will not advance regional stability, the State Department said Friday.

Turkey was reportedly intensifying the shelling into Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Afrin region. 

“We do not believe that a military operation, whether in Afrin or directly against the self-defense Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the north or northeast of Syria, serves the cause of regional stability, Syrian stability or indeed Turkish concerns about the security of their border,” a State Department official said, adding that he could not comment further without more information about Ankara’s reported operations.

Border force

Turkey’s threat to intervene in Afrin came after a U.S.-led coalition said it would form a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border security force in northern Syria.

Washington later said the effort had been mischaracterized and that the U.S. was not creating a border force, but that the coalition would provide security to liberated areas, blocking escape routes for Islamic State militants.

The United States has led a coalition carrying out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria and Iraq since 2014, and the Pentagon said last month that there were about 2,000 U.S. military personnel in Syria.

Despite suffering apparent defeats on the ground in Iraq and parts of Syria, IS is far from dead.

“ISIS is still present” and a lethal force, the State Department official said using an acronym for the group. “The military campaign against the so-called caliphate is not over. There is heavy fighting. … ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq have chosen not to fight and die but move out of the combat area.”

Broader settlement

Some experts warned that even after areas in Syria have been liberated from IS, the country will need a broader political settlement that reflects regional and national realities to bring displaced people home.

“A Syrian political settlement and the refugee crisis should not be addressed separately,” said Kheder Khaddour, a scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Khaddour added that “a settlement without a refugee return will hinder reconstruction by keeping away needed professionals and civil society actors. A return without a settlement will lead to local conflicts between traditional leadership and emerging ones empowered during the war.”

The State Department is facilitating Syrian refugees’ safe return home by de-mining and restoration efforts.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out Washington’s objectives for a “whole and unified sovereign Syria.” He announced Wednesday a revitalized diplomatic and military strategy in Syria, including the defeat of IS and al-Qaida; a U.N.-led political process under a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria that is stable, unified and independent; diminished Iranian influence; conditions that allow refugees to return; and a country free of weapons of mass destruction.

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After Brexit, Johnson Says, Why Not a Channel Bridge?

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Britain’s most prominent campaigner for leaving the European Union, Boris Johnson, has suggested building a giant bridge across the English Channel to France after Brexit, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Foreign Secretary Johnson, who led the campaign to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, told French President Emmanuel Macron that he felt it was ridiculous that the two countries were linked by just a single railway.

The leading Brexiteer then suggested building a second crossing, to which Macron said: “I agree. Let’s do it,” the newspaper reported.

“Our economic success depends on good infrastructure and good connections. Should the Channel Tunnel be just a first step?” Johnson said on Twitter.

Johnson did not mention the idea of a bridge explicitly in public and it was unclear if any detailed discussions had taken place about how such a large project might be built or financed.

The Daily Telegraph said that Johnson believes a privately funded 22-mile Channel Bridge may now be an option and would provide the capacity for increased tourism and trade after Brexit.

“Technology is moving on all the time and there are much longer bridges elsewhere,” Johnson told his aides, according to the newspaper.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office declined to comment.

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Time After Time: Luxury Watchmaker to Sell Pre-owned Pieces

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Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet said it would launch a second-hand business this year, becoming the first big brand to announce plans to tap into a fast-growing market for pre-owned premium watches.

The company told Reuters it would launch the business at its outlets in Switzerland this year. If this proved successful, it would roll out the operation in the United States and Japan.

“Second-hand is the next big thing in the watch industry,” Chief Executive Francois-Henry Bennahmias told Reuters in an interview at the SIHH watch fair in Geneva this week.

Going to the ‘dark side’

Luxury watchmakers have hitherto eschewed the second-hand trade, fearing diluting the exclusivity of their brands and cannibalizing their sales. They have instead ceded the ground to third-party dealers.

But some are now looking to change tack, driven by an industry-wide sales slowdown combined with a second-hand market that is expanding rapidly, fuelled by online platforms like Chrono24 and The RealReal.

“At the moment, in watches, we leave it to what I call the ‘dark side’ to deal with demand for pre-owned pieces,” added Bennahmias, whose company is known for its octagonal Royal Oak timepieces that sell for 40,000 Swiss francs ($41,680) on average.

“Anybody but the brands (is selling second hand) — it’s an aberration commercially speaking,” he said.

Others may follow

Several smaller brands, including H.Moser & Cie and MB&F, have signaled interest in the second-hand trade.

“It is important to control the sale of second-hand watches to protect the owners and the value of watches already in the market by keeping the grey market in check,” H.Moser & Cie boss Edouard Meylan told Reuters.

MB&F, which plans to launch second-hand sales via its website this year, told Reuters it expected to typically give a 20-30 percent discount on second-hand watches. A spokesman said customers buying from established watch brands could feel confident they were getting genuine products in good working order and with a valid warranty.

Bigger brands Rolex, Patek Philippe, Swatch Group, Richemont and Breitling all declined to comment, when asked whether they planned to enter the second-hand market, while LVMH’s watch division was not immediately available.

Starting small

Audemars Piguet said it would initially allow customers to trade in old watches as part-exchange for new ones, and then sell the second-hand watches. It has not yet decided whether to buy second-hand watches for cash.

Experts say the second-hand luxury watches business, mostly done via online platforms or specialized retailers, is growing rapidly as a new generation of customers that values variety more than permanent ownership enters the luxury world.

In an example of the discounts offered online, a diamond-studded Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “with moderate scratches” sells for $9,450 on The RealReal, about a third of the estimated retail price.

Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said he estimated the size of the second-hand market at $5 billion a year in revenue, including watches sold at auction, and that it had outperformed the market for new pieces in the last couple of years.

That is still dwarfed by a new luxury watch sector worth 37 billion euros ($45.3 billion), according to consultancy Bain & Cie. However Swiss watch exports fell 3.3 percent in 2015 and 9.9 percent in 2016 before posting a modest 2.8 percent rise in the first 11 months of 2017.

US top market for pre-owned

The United States, where sales of new watches have been falling for years, is the No. 1 market for pre-owned watches, followed by Britain and Japan, said U.S. retailer Danny Govberg, who sells new watches for Rolex and other brands, but also an increasing number of second-hand timepieces.

His company said its second-hand sales had grown by 37-40 percent year-on-year over the past five years. In an example of prices, it said it listed a second-hand Audemars Piguet Royal Oak for $24,950 compared with a $32,000 retail price.

Together with a partner in Hong Kong and a Singapore-based investor, Govberg recently launched global e-commerce platform WatchBox for buying and selling pre-owned luxury watches.

“People sell us watches by the bucket,” he said.

He said many people sold watches to buy a new one so the pre-owned market was actually driving new sales, like in the car market. 

“The brands are still trying to figure it out, they don’t have the solution yet,” he said.

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Peru’s Indigenous People Look for an Ally in Pope Francis

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After lengthy treks through the muddy Amazon, indigenous men, women and children will greet Pope Francis on Friday in a visit to the world’s largest rainforest that native leaders hope will mark a turning point for the increasingly threatened ecosystem.

Francis is expected to meet with several thousand indigenous people gathering in a coliseum in Puerto Maldonado, the scorching city considered a gateway to the Amazon, in the first full day of the pontiff’s visit to Peru.

Indigenous leaders, many sporting headdresses with brightly colored feathers and intricate beaded jewelry, said they are optimistic the pope can serve as a bridge with Peru’s government to help resolve long-standing issues like land rights.

“His desire to be with us signals a historic reconciliation with the Amazon’s indigenous communities,” said Edwin Vasquez, an indigenous leader who traveled to Puerto Maldonado to hear the pope. “We consider it a good step forward.”

​More mines, farms, roads, dams

Francis’ trip to the Amazon comes as the expansion of illegal gold mining and farming as well as new roads and dams have turned thousands of hectares of once lush green forest into barren, contaminated wasteland. Francis has previously called on world leaders to protect the Amazon, likening it to one of the “lungs of our planet,” and is widely expected to reiterate that message when he speaks in Puerto Maldonado Friday.

He is also using the trip to set the stage for a big church meeting next year on the Amazon and the native peoples who reside there.

A meeting with members of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche community was one of the highlights of the first-leg of the pope’s weeklong trip to the region. Francis urged Mapuche leaders to refrain from political violence and called on the Chilean government to better engage its indigenous communities.

The call for peace came as 11 firebombs damaged and in some cases burned churches to the ground in several parts of Chile during the pontiff’s visit. Investigators found pamphlets promoting the Mapuche cause at some of the churches.

​350 indigenous groups

The Amazon’s native peoples hail from about 350 indigenous groups, some of which live in voluntary isolation. In the centuries after Spanish colonization most traces of native spiritual beliefs were lost as missionaries converted indigenous Peruvians to Catholicism.

The Catholic Church maintains a strong presence in the region, though these days few indigenous men and women go to mass and most identify as evangelical, said Lizardo Cauper, president of the Amazon’s largest indigenous organization.

Many Peruvian native peoples are curious about why Francis wants to meet them, Cauper said, while also hoping he can serve as an influential messenger.

“We are hoping for a reflective message that will help those in power,” he said.

Land rights and a voice

In a letter sent to Francis this week, the leaders of three predominant indigenous groups called on Francis to back their call for the state to grant 20 million hectares in collective land rights to native peoples. They also want him to urge Peru’s government to clean up rivers tainted from illegal gold mining.

Rather than a halt on all mining and exploration in the Amazon, Vasquez said that what indigenous communities want is to be a part of any discussions that take place to decide where and how those activities are conducted.

Studies confirm that contamination from mining is having an impact on the health of many of those who live in the Amazon.

“They have lead in their blood,” Vasquez said. “Is that development?”

Cesar Yojaje, leader of the Palma Real indigenous group, was among the many trekking by boat to greet the pontiff Friday. After a three-hour journey along a brackish river he said he hoped to hear a forceful message from the pope.

He said he wants the state to return indigenous lands and publicly apologize “for robbing us of our lands and turning them into a park.”

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Turkey Business Lobby Calls for end to Emergency Rule

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Turkey’s main business lobby on Thursday called on the government to end the state of emergency as parliament extended it for a sixth time since it was imposed after an attempted coup in 2016.

Emergency rule allows President Tayyip Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms. More than 50,000 people have been arrested since its introduction and 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to extend the state of emergency, with the ruling AK Party and the nationalist opposition voting in favor.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent and crush his opponents. Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog, downgraded Turkey to “not free” from “partly free” in an annual report this week.

In order to preserve its international reputation, Turkey needs to start normalizing rapidly, Erol Bilecik, the head of the TUSIAD business lobby said.

“The first step in that regard is bringing an end to the state of emergency,” he told a meeting in Istanbul.

Parliament was due to extend emergency rule after the national security council on Wednesday recommended it do so.

The state of emergency has negatively impacted foreign investors’ decisions, another senior TUSIAD executive said.

“As Turkey takes steps towards becoming a state of law, direct investments will increase, growth will accelerate, more jobs will be created,” Tuncay Ozilhan said, adding that he hoped this would be the last extension of emergency rule.

The government says its measures are necessary to confront multiple security challenges and root out supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

But critics fear Erdogan is pushing the NATO member towards greater authoritarianism.

Some 30 emergency decrees have been published since the failed coup. They contain 1,194 articles and cover defense, security, the judiciary, education and health, widely restructuring the relationship between the state and the citizen.

A total of 2,271 private educational institutions have been shut down in the crackdown, as well as 19 labor unions, 15 universities, 49 hospitals and 148 media outlets.

The two co-heads of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, parliament’s third-largest, are in jail on terrorism charges, as are several of the parties deputies.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association says about 160 journalists are in jail, most held since the failed coup. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Turkey the world’s top jailer of journalists.

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Italy Breaks up Chinese Crime Ring Involved in Drugs, Prostitution

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Italy ordered the arrest of 33 people on Thursday on suspicion of running a Chinese mafia group involved in gambling, prostitution, and drugs and which dominated the transport of Chinese goods across Europe.

The group’s base was in Prato, near Florence, a hub for the textile industry where many factories are owned and run by Chinese, police said in a statement. But the network had members in other parts of Italy and across Europe, with arrests sought in Rome, Milan, Padua, Paris, Madrid and Neuss, Germany, the statement said. Police did not say how many had been arrested so far.

They are accused of being members of a mafia organization and other crimes.

The suspected boss, Zhang Nai Zhong, was based in Rome. He used profit from illegal activities to build a massive transport company that dominated the trucking of goods for thousands of Chinese companies, police said.

Zhong had won a near-monopoly in distribution through threats and violence against Chinese company owners, anti-mafia prosecutors said. The investigation, called “China Truck”, began in 2011.

The operation broke up “a dangerous organization that had used force to take control of trucking, and was financed by its illegal activities,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said in a statement.

Italy has a long history of home-grown organized crime, including the Sicilian Mafia and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, but immigration to Europe has opened the way for foreign crime groups to take root, including the Nigerian and Chinese mafias.

“Being able to shed light on mafia character of this group is almost incredible,” Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s chief anti-mafia prosecutor, told a news conference. “It’s quite unusual to be able to identify a complex Chinese mafia organization.”

Investigators said Zhong emerged the winner of a conflict between rival Chinese gangs in which some 40 people were thought to have been murdered between 2005-2010. They estimated the group’s business activities were worth “hundreds of millions of Euros.”

Apart from the arrests, prosecutors seized eight companies and an equal number of vehicles and “a few” millions of euros.

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Turkey Votes to Extend State of Emergency

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Turkey’s parliament voted Thursday in favor of extending a state of emergency in place since a failed coup in the summer 2016, Turkish media reported.

The sixth extension will become effective from Friday at 1.00 a.m., Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. According to Turkey’s constitution, a state of emergency can be declared for a maximum of six months.

Turkey will have spent a year and a half under emergency rule after the latest extension, during which time the president and government are allowed to bypass parliament in passing new laws and suspend rights and freedoms.

Roughly 50,000 people have been jailed and over 110,000 dismissed or removed from their jobs in Turkey since the state of emergency was first declared in 2016.

 

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Britain Appoints Minister of Loneliness

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Britain has appointed a minister of loneliness to combat social isolation experienced by one in 10 Britons. 

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch will add the job to her existing portfolio to advance the work of slain lawmaker Jo Cox, who set up the Commission on Loneliness in 2016.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday. “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

The British Red Cross says more than 9 million Britons describe themselves as being always or often lonely, out of a population of 65.6 million.

Most people over age 75 in Britain live alone, and about 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, government data show.

“We know that there is a real impact of social isolation and loneliness on people, on their physical and mental well-being but also on other aspects in society, and we want to tackle this challenge,” Crouch told the BBC. 

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Syrian Kurds Appeal to UN as Turkey Prepares to Attack

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Syria’s dominant Kurdish party on Wednesday called on the U.N. Security Council to act quickly to ensure the safety of Kurdish-controlled territories in the country’s north, including an enclave that Turkey has threatened to attack.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will launch a military offensive in the coming days against territories controlled by the dominant Syrian Kurdish militia in northwestern and eastern Syria, and in particular the enclave of Afrin, where an estimated 1 million people live. 

Turkey views the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces as terrorists, and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in its southeast. It has criticized the U.S. for extending support and arming the Kurdish forces as part of the campaign that drove the Islamic State group from large parts of Syria. 

Coalition upsets Turkey

The Kurdish militia, which forms the backbone of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, now controls nearly 25 percent of Syrian territory. It is the U.S.-led coalition’s chief ally in the campaign against IS in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition recently said it is planning a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force, further angering Turkey. 

“Turkey has reached the end of its patience,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. “No one should expect it to show more patience. Turkey is determined to take whatever steps are necessary.”

Turkey’s National Security Council also met Wednesday and vowed to take steps to “eliminate” threats from western Syria — in an apparent reference to Afrin.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting also criticized the United States, saying Turkey was saddened by the fact an ally has “declared terrorists as partners”  and “armed them without taking our security into consideration.” It called on the U.S. to reclaim all arms supplied to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

In reference to the planned Kurdish-led border force, the statement added: “Turkey will not allow the creation of a terror corridor or an army of terror near its border.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that those plans were a “perilous” step that would “seriously endanger ties.” The two met in Vancouver Tuesday. 

“Such a development would damage Turkish-American ties in an irreversible manner,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying on Wednesday.

Operation set to ‘purge terror’

Erdogan said the imminent military operation is to “purge terror” from near its borders. Along with Afrin, Erdogan has also threatened Manbij, a town the Kurdish-led SDF seized from IS in 2016.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, the political arm of the main Kurdish militia, said that if Turkey launches an operation against Afrin, the world will bear responsibility for the lives of people residing there. The PYD called on the Security Council to “move immediately” to ensure the security of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria. 

“Such a responsible behavior will lead to the desired result in finding a resolution for the Syrian crisis,” the PYD said in a statement. 

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad has meanwhile accused the SDF of being “traitors” for cooperating with the United States. 

On Monday, Erdogan vowed to crush the border force and called on NATO to take a stand against the United States, a fellow ally.

Shelling continues near Afrin

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said Turkish military activities near the borders with Afrin have continued, as well as shelling of the outskirts of the town. Tanks amassed near the border with Syria, while Turkish media reported that medical personnel in Kilis, a Turkish town across the border from Afrin, were asked not to take leave, apparently in anticipation of military operations. 

Turkey’s private Dogan news agency quotes Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as saying they are awaiting Turkish orders to launch the Afrin operations. It says some 3,000 fighters are ready to participate in operations against Afrin and Manbij.

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Women March in Polish Cities to Demand Abortion Rights

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Polish abortion rights proponents, most of them women, marched Wednesday in Warsaw and elsewhere in Poland to express their opposition to a proposal in parliament to further tighten the country’s already restrictive abortion law.

Hundreds took part in a march in Warsaw. The turnout appeared far smaller than similar marches that mobilized huge crowds in 2016.

The march, organized by a group known as the Women’s Strike, came after lawmakers voted recently to refuse to consider a proposal to liberalize the abortion law and moved forward with a separate proposal to tighten the law.

Abortion is illegal in most cases in heavily Catholic Poland, and some conservative lawmakers are seeking to restrict it further.

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As Migrants Return To French Port Of Calais, Macron Demands Britain Pay Up

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France is set to demand that Britain pay more to deal with the ongoing migrant crisis around the port of Calais, the main gateway from the European mainland to the UK. 

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the northern town Tuesday, where he met migrants at a local shelter, and praised the commitment of the police in a speech to local officers.

“Under no circumstances will we allow illegal networks to emerge or develop here. Under no circumstances will we let another jungle camp appear here, or any other illegal occupation of land,” he said, criticizing those who accuse the police of abuses against the migrants.

Macron is expected to unveil new immigration policies in the coming weeks. Official figures this week showed a record number of asylum applications in 2017, exceeding 100,000 people.

 Currently, British border controls are hosted in Calais under an agreement between Britain and France.

Macron is due to travel to London Thursday for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and is expected to demand Britain accept more asylum seekers and pay more toward policing the border.

Hundreds of asylum seekers, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are living in dire conditions in makeshift camps around Calais. The roads leading to the port are lined with rows of razor wire fences, but the migrants regularly scale the barriers and attempt to hide in trucks and cars heading across the English Channel. 

Migrants and volunteers accuse police of routine violence. One 22-year-old Afghan refugee, who has been in Calais for three weeks, said authorities regularly raid the camps. 

“When the police stop us, they hit us, they beat us. And when we sleep at night, they take away our tents, they tear them, they gas us, and there’s nothing we can do.”

At its peak, up to 10,000 migrants lived in a sprawling camp known as ‘the jungle” just outside Calais. Former president Francois Hollande sent in bulldozers in 2016, and his successor, Macron, has taken a tougher line, insisting that migrants are bussed away from Calais to processing centers where their asylum status can be assessed.

Many migrant charities refused to meet Macron during his visit to Calais, in protest of the crackdown.

“Now there really is an incomprehensible step backwards, and it can be qualified as harassment,” said Jean-Claude Lenoir, head of the migrant charity, Salam.

Critics say the French and British governments are failing to address the factors that drive migrants to Calais.

“Particularly the fact that some people have family links in the U.K., or they have other reasons behind their willingness to go to the U.K. For example, they believe that there are more integration prospects, or they have language skills that would work better in the U.K. Calais is a symptom, it’s an example of how the U.K. is shirking their responsibilities,” Maria Serrano from Amnesty International told VOA in an interview.

Britain says it has a rigorous asylum process and insists that it is one of the biggest global donors to refugee aid programs. 

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Sweden Already Schooling Future Winter Olympians

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Next month’s Winter Olympics is the immediate focus for Sweden but the country is already training its next generation of winter sports athletes in special high school programs that combine sports and education for ambitious teenagers.

At the Jamtlands Gymnaisum high school in Ostersund, some 550 kilometers (340 miles )north of Stockholm, promising young skiers and biathletes are put through their paces four mornings a week by highly-qualified coaches at a local ski stadium.

They return to school at lunchtime, piling their plates high with pasta and salad in the cafeteria before heading to the classroom to catch up on their studies.

And when they are done in the classroom, they head back to the gym to work on their strength and conditioning before finishing their homework and heading for bed at the end of a long day.

It sounds like a gruelling schedule, but for those taking part it is a dream way to spend their school years.

“It’s very important, it feels like this is my life,” Julia Albertsson, a budding cross-country skier, told Reuters after strapping on her skis for her morning training session.

“You feel like you’re not just a person, you’re a cross-country skier. Right now it’s the most important thing,” she said before setting off at a blistering pace under the watchful eyes of coach David Engstrom.

Application period

“Eventually, we want them to reach the elite. It’s a very long way, and this is just the start of that long road,” Engstrom said as the skiers raced away.

“We’ve just completed an application period, and I’d say we take in around eight (athletes) every year. It’s up to themselves how good they can be.

“They decide the level of ambition, and how much time they put into training and everything else they need to become really good.”

Albertsson and the cross-country students train alongside the school’s biathletes, who are coached by Jean-Marc Chabloz, a four-time Olympian from Switzerland who has made his home in the area.

“We have good clubs in the area who work with young people, so we have them served up to us on a silver platter,” Chabloz said as he gave the teenagers shooting tips.

Despite his own Olympic history, where he took part in the Games in Albertville, Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City, the 50-year-old said it was not essential for him that the athletes go on to compete at the Games, or in the World Cup.

“I wouldn’t say that’s what drives me as a coach, it’s more about creating a platform so that they can move on in their sporting lives, or in something else. But obviously it’s great when they succeed in sport,” he explained.

School sporting director Michael Soderkvist and his team of teachers and coaches look after the student athletes, making sure they stay focussed on their studies as well as their dreams of representing Sweden at a future Olympics.

“The goal is to give students a chance to get an education, and in combination to see how far you can get with your sporting talent,” Soderkvist said.

Wrestling with maths

Back in the classroom, some of the student athletes wrestle with mathematics while those with no lessons scheduled sit on sofas in common areas, catching up on schoolwork or talking through the competitions they took part in at the weekend.

Aside from winter sports, the school offers a number of other pursuits such as soccer, basketball and fencing.

The local soccer club in Ostersund, which the school is in regular contact with, is set to meet Premier League giants Arsenal in the last 32 of the Europa League in February.

For Soderkvist, Sweden’s long-held tradition of making both sport and education accessible to all is the secret behind the success of the programs offered by similar schools, where there are no tuition or coaching fees.

“If we compare it to the States, where most of the sports are in college or schools or the private market, it’s very much different here. Because of this culture with no-profit clubs, many people can afford to do sport.” Soderkvist said.

The school is one of many with such programs all over Sweden, and every year dozens of athletes from the age of 16 and upwards apply to attend.

The handful of chosen athletes aim to follow in the footsteps of Charlotte Kalla, who had a similar high school education before going on to win multiple Olympic gold medals, and will head to Pyeongchang as one of the country’s brightest medal hopes.

Julia Albertsson is typical of the well-mannered, conscientious teenagers attending the school, and though she could never be described as cocky or arrogant, the 17-year-old is crystal clear about her burning ambition to emulate Kalla.

“You work successively, year after year, to be better, and in the end you want to get to the Olympics,” she said.

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Bosnia to Investigate Suspected Serb Paramilitary Group

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Bosnia’s security agencies are investigating a Serbian right-wing group that the national government said Tuesday was a paramilitary unit formed to create “a problem” for those opposed to Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik.

Members of Serbian Honor caused an uproar when they marched in full combat gear in the Bosnian Serb capital, Banja Luka, during a January 9 military parade to mark a national holiday in one the country’s two autonomous regions.

The parade was staged as a challenge to a ruling by Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to ban the holiday because it discriminated against the country’s other ethnic groups. Bosnia is split into the Federation, shared by the Bosnian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, and the Serb-dominated Serb Republic.

Serbian Honor is registered in neighboring Serbia but has an informal wing in the Bosnian Serb Republic, whose leaders say they are in the process of registering as a charity there.

“For me this is a paramilitary formation,” Security Minister Dragan Mektic told reporters Tuesday. “The way they showed up is dangerous and their claims to be a charity are ridiculous.”

Dodik’s office said the reports were false and dangerous.

Mektic, member of a party that opposes Dodik, said the group was formed to “sow fear” and “pass a pre-election message that those who oppose the current government will have a problem.”

A national election is due in Bosnia in October.

Dodik’s SNSD party, which had been the dominant Bosnian Serb party at regional and national levels since 2006, saw its popularity slide in the last national vote and was excluded from a ruling coalition.

Russian link reported

Bosnian investigative web portal Zurnal, without citing sources, said the group had been trained in a Russian-funded humanitarian center in Serbia and would be organized to act against Dodik’s political opponents.

The Russian Embassy said it did not even want to comment on something so ridiculous.

Mektic compared the group to paramilitary groups led by criminal gang leaders that emerged on the eve of Bosnia’s war in the 1990s, and later committed some of the most gruesome atrocities against civilians during the conflict.

“What we need the least is the repetition of such events,” Mektic warned. “I call on all institutions to protect this country and I expect a quick response.”

Mektic told reporters he could not provide much of the operational data, but said the case would be documented and forwarded to the prosecutor this week.

Concerns are high regarding increasing instability in the Balkans, including secessionist pressures in Bosnia, a parliamentary boycott in Montenegro and renewed tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo.

Western leaders have accused Russia, traditional ally of the Serbs, of seeking to exploit diminishing European Union leverage in the Balkans by manipulating political events in the region. Russia denies such allegations.

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Pope Begs Forgiveness for ‘Irreparable Harm’ From Sex Abuse

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Pope Francis begged for forgiveness Tuesday for the “irreparable damage” done to children who were raped and molested by priests, opening his visit to Chile by diving head-first into a scandal that has greatly hurt the Catholic Church’s credibility here and cast a cloud over his visit.

 

Speaking to Chile’s president, lawmakers, judges and other authorities, Francis said he felt “bound to express my pain and shame” that some of Chile’s pastors had sexually abused children in their care. He was interrupted by applause from the dignitaries at La Moneda palace when he pronounced the words.

 

“I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again,” he said.

 

History’s first Latin American pope didn’t refer by name to Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned in 2011 by the Vatican to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for sexually molesting minors. Nor did he refer to the fact that the emeritus archbishop of Santiago, a top papal adviser, has acknowledged he knew of complaints against Karadima but didn’t remove him from ministry.

 

Karadima had been a politically connected, charismatic and powerful priest who ministered to a wealthy Santiago community and produced dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops. Victims went public with their accusations in 2010, after complaining for years to church authorities that Karadima would kiss and fondle them when they were teenagers.

 

While the scandal rocked the church, many Chileans are still furious over Francis’ subsequent decision, in 2015, to appoint a Karadima protege as bishop of the southern city of Osorno. Bishop Juan Barros has denied knowing about Karadima’s abuse but many Chileans don’t believe him, and his appointment has badly split the diocese.

 

“Sex abuse is Pope Francis’ weakest spot in terms of his credibility,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican expert and theology professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. “It is surprising that the pope and his entourage don’t understand that they need to be more forthcoming on this issue.”

 

The Karadima scandal and a long cover-up has caused a crisis for the church in Chile, with a recent Latinbarometro survey saying the case was responsible for a significant drop in the number of Chileans who call themselves Catholic, as well as a fall in confidence in the church as an institution.

 

That distrust extends to Francis, who is making his first visit as pope to this country of 17 million people. The Argentine pope is nearly a native son, having studied in Chile during his Jesuit novitiate and he knows the country well, but Chileans give him the lowest approval rating among the 18 Latin American nations in the survey.

 

“People are leaving the church because they don’t find a protective space there,” said Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of church members in Osorno that has opposed Barros’ appointment as bishop. “The pastors are eating the flock.”

 

People angry over Barros planned a protest for Tuesday, when Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park.

 

Other groups also called demonstrations against the pontiff.

 

Victor Hugo Robles, an activist in Chile’s lesbian and gay community, said the Vatican tries to paint an image of the pope as being close to the people, particularly those with the most needs.

 

“We are the ones who need help,” said Robles. “Gay people, people living with AIDS. When it comes to those things, the church has an attitude of intolerance, of disgust.”

 

Felipe Morales, from a group called the Workers’ Socialist Front, said many were unhappy with the pope and the church’s historical influence in Chile. They planned to protest outside while Francis celebrated Mass.

 

“The role of the church has been nefarious,” said Morales. “Sex abuse cases have been covered up and people are unhappy with many other issues.”

 

To be sure, many are excited to see the pope. Thousands lined the streets of Santiago to get a glimpse of Francis after he arrived Monday night, though the crowds were notably thin compared to previous visits to other Latin American capitals. O’Higgins Park, though, was teeming with faithful waiting for the pope’s Mass, with some pilgrims camping out overnight.

 

“It was amazing to see him,” said Luis Salazar, a young boy who came out with his family to see Francis pass by in his popemobile Monday.

 

The pope will try to inject new energy into the church during his visit, which includes sessions with migrants, members of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous group and victims of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. It remains to be seen if he will meet with sex abuse survivors. A meeting wasn’t on the agenda, but such encounters never are.

 

 

 

 

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