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Poll: Optimism About the Future Greater in Youths from Lower-Income Countries

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Out of 15 countries polled, young people in China, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico were found to be more optimistic about the future than youths in the other countries, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Young people in these countries are more likely to believe they can affect the way their countries are governed and that their generation will have a more positive impact on the world than their parents’ generation, according to the Goalkeepers Global Youth Poll, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

The poll surveyed more than 40,000 people age 12 and older and asked for “their outlook on their personal lives, challenges for their communities, and the direction of their countries,” according to the foundation report. Youths expressed more optimism than older people about their futures at home and globally.

In the poll, Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the United States and Saudi Arabia were deemed higher-income countries. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia were considered middle- or lower-income. 

Happiness ratings show general contentedness among the 15 countries, but youths in lower- and middle-income countries reported the highest levels of optimism. 

Relationships with friends and family were the most important influence on a person’s life, and was highest in Sweden, the poll found.

Mexicans, Kenyans and Americans also ranked their relationships very high, like most countries, and more important than the impact of social media. And while social media scored high among Mexican youths, it remained lower than the positive impact of friends and family.

Health or well-being, and finances followed family and friends in importance. If they could have any job, most youths said they wanted to be doctors, while most adults said they wanted to be entrepreneurs.

Optimism about the ability to find good jobs was highest in China and lowest in Nigeria. Most countries hovered in the midrange. 

Worldwide, most people, young and old, agreed “life is better for men and boys than for women and girls,” and will continue that way, and there was very little difference between male and female responses, the poll found.

“This is particularly true in India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the U.S. and Brazil,” the results said. Most responses said they thought conditions would improve for women.

Religion was most important to youths in Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Sweden and Kenya, and least important to youths in China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Mexico and Russia.

In China, both youths and adults reported overwhelming optimism in the future of their country: 90 percent of youths and 78 percent of adults feel good about the future of their country. India, Nigeria, Mexico, Kenya and Indonesia reported similar levels of optimism about their countries.

In the U.S., 35 percent of youths and 18 percent of adults reported feeling optimistic about their country. Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain and France also reported feeling less optimistic.

In response to the sentence, “My generation is better off than my parents were,” both Chinese youth (90 percent) and adults (80 percent) were most positive. Nigerian, Indian, Indonesian and Saudi Arabia youths followed in line for youths. Indian, Indonesian, German, Saudi Arabian and Swedish adults in succession said their generation was better off than their parents.

Government or political leaders, and climate change or pollution had the most negative impact on life for both youths and adults.

Both younger and older respondents cited ending poverty and improving education as paramount over other issues, including ending conflicts.

Cancer was the No. 1 health concern universally. HIV/AIDS came in second globally, with greatest concern in Kenya, Nigeria and Mexico.

The “sadness of aging” bummed out everyone, youths and adults, with responses ranking in the negatives, meaning no one was happy about aging. 

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Nigeria: Pirates Kidnap 12 Crew Members of Swiss Ship

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Twelve crew members of a Swiss commercial ship have been taken hostage by pirates who attacked the vessel as it sailed off the coast of Nigeria.

Massoel Shipping said in a statement Sunday that the ship MV Glarus, with 19 crew on board, was attacked as it was carrying wheat from the Nigerian commercial capital Lagos to Port Harcourt.

Reuters news agency reported late Sunday the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had identified the nationalities of the kidnapped crew. It said seven crew members were from the Philippines and others were from Slovenia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia and Bosnia.

Nigerian officials said the 12 were still unaccounted for.

Massoel Shipping said the vessel was attacked around 45 nautical miles southwest of Bonny Island early Saturday.

“It is understood the pirate gang boarded the Glarus by means of long ladders and cut the razor wire on deck to gain access to the vessel and eventually the bridge,” the company said. “Having destroyed much of the vessel’s communications equipment, the criminal gang departed, taking 12 of the 19 crew complement as hostage.”

Piracy has been rising in the southern Niger Delta region in the past few years, along with the number sailors kidnapped for ransom.

According to a study published by the EOS Risk Group in July, the number of kidnappings in the region rose from 52 in 2016 to 75 last year. In the first half of this year, pirated kidnapped 35 sailors, it said.

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International Organizations Join Tech Powerhouses to Fight Famine

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The United Nations, the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross are partnering with technology powerhouses to launch a global initiative aimed at preventing famines.

“The fact that millions of people — many of them children — still suffer from severe malnutrition and famine  in the 21st century is a global tragedy,” World Bank President Jim Young Kim said announcing the initiative.

The global organization will work with Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services to develop the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM), a system capable of identifying food crisis area that are most likely to turn into a full-blown famine.

“If we can better predict when and where future famines will occur, we can save lives by responding earlier and more effectively,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement.

The tech giants will help develop a set of analytical models that will use the latest technoligies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to not only provide early warnings but also trigger pre-arranged financing for crisis management.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning hold huge promise for forecasting and detecting early signs of food shortages, like crop failures, droughts, natural disasters and conflicts,” Smith said.

According to the U.N. and World Bank, there are 124 million people experiencing crisis-level food insecurity in the world today.

FAM will be at first rolled out in five countries that “exhibit some of the most critical and ongoing food security needs,” according to the World Bank, which didn’t identify the nations. It will ultimately be expanded to cover the world.

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Russia Blames Israel for Downing of Plane by Syrian forces

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The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday again blamed Israel for the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian government forces and said Israel appeared “ungrateful” for Moscow’s efforts to rein in Iran-backed fighters in Syria.

Syrian government forces mistook the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane for an Israeli jet and shot it down Monday, killing all 15 people aboard. While the Russian military initially blamed the plane’s loss on Israel, President Vladimir Putin later attributed it to “a chain of tragic, fatal circumstances.”

The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday presented its latest findings on the Il-20’s downing, laying the blame squarely on Israel.

“We believe that the Israeli Air Force and those who were making decisions about these actions are fully to blame for the tragedy that happened to the Russian Il-20 plane,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Russia has provided key air support to President Bashar Assad’s forces since 2015, while Israel has carried out dozens of strikes against Iran-linked forces. Israeli military officials have previously praised the hotline’s effectiveness.

But Konashenkov on Sunday accused Israel of using the hotline to mislead Russia about its plans. He said the Russians were unable to get the Il-20 to a safe place because an Israeli duty officer had misled them, telling them of an Israeli operation in northern Syria while the jets were actually in Latakia, in the country’s west.

Konashenkov said an Israeli fighter jet flying over Syria’s Mediterranean coast shortly before the downing deliberately used the Russian plane as a shield, reflecting “either lack of professionalism or criminal negligence.”

He also complained that the Israelis over the years have waited until the last minute to notify Russia of their operations, endangering Russian aircraft. He described Israel’s actions as “a highly ungrateful response to everything that Russia has done for the State of Israel recently.”

He referred to efforts by Russia to rein in Iran-backed forces in Syria, including a deal struck in July to keep such fighters 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.

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Pope Warns Lithuanians to Guard Against Anti-Semitism

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Pope Francis warned Sunday against any rebirth of the “pernicious” anti-Semitic attitudes that fueled the Holocaust as he marked the annual remembrance for Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community that was nearly wiped out during World War II.

Francis began his second day in the Baltics in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, where an estimated 3,000 Jews survived out of a community of 37,000 during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation.


During Mass in Santakos Park under a brilliant autumn sun, Francis honored both Jewish victims of the Nazis and the Lithuanians who were deported to Siberian gulags or were tortured, killed and oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.


“Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors,” Francis told the crowd, which was estimated by the local church to number 100,000. “Kaunas knows about this. Lithuania as a whole can testify to it, still shuddering at the mention of Siberia, or the ghettos of Vilnius and Kaunas, among others.”


He denounced those who get caught up in debating who was more virtuous in the past and fail to address the tasks of the present — an apparent reference to historic revisionism that is afflicting parts of Eastern Europe as it comes to terms with wartime-era crimes.


Francis recalled that Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Ghetto in the capital Vilnius, which had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics. Each year, the Sept. 23 anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps.


The pope warned against the temptation “that can dwell in every human heart” to want to be superior or dominant to others. And he prayed for the gift of discernment “to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs.”


Across Europe, far-right, xenophobic and neo-fascist political movements are making gains, including in Lithuania.


Francis noted that he would pray later in the day at a plaque in the Ghetto itself and called for “dialogue and the shared commitment for justice and peace.”


Francis will also visit the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius that is now a museum dedicated to Soviet atrocities, and will hear from Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, who was persecuted by the Soviet regime and was detained in the facility’s chambers.


Francis is travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark their 100th anniversaries of independence and to encourage the faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. Lithuania is 80 percent Catholic; Lutherans and Russian Orthodox count more followers in Latvia and Estonia, where Francis visits on Monday and Tuesday.


The Baltic countries declared their independence in 1918 but were annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940 in a secret agreement with Nazi Germany. The Vatican and many Western countries refused to recognize the annexation. Except for the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation, the Baltic countries remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s.


Francis’ trip changed its schedule three weeks ago to allow him to acknowledge the slaughter of some 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews at the hands of Nazi occupiers and complicit Lithuanians.


The issue of Lithuanian complicity in Nazi war crimes is sensitive here. Jewish activists accuse some Lithuanians of engaging in historical revisionism by trying to equate the extermination of Jews with the deportations and executions of other Lithuanians during the Soviet occupation.


Many Lithuanians don’t make any distinctions between the Soviets who tortured and killed thousands of Lithuanians and the Nazis who did same with Jews.


Until recently, the Vilnius museum was actually called the “Genocide Museum” but changed its name to the “Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights” since it focuses on Soviet atrocities, not Nazi German ones.


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UK’s Labour Party Considers Backing New Brexit Vote

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Britain’s Labour Party may hold the fate of Brexit in its hands — if only it can decide what to do.

With the U.K. and the European Union at an impasse in divorce talks, many Labour members think the left-of-center opposition party has the power — and a duty — to force a new referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.


Labour’s leadership has long opposed that idea, and a showdown on the issue looms at the party’s annual conference, which starts Sunday in the port city of Liverpool.


Ever since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, Labour has said it will respect the result, though it wants a closer relationship with the bloc than the one Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government is seeking.


Now, with divorce negotiations stuck and Britain due to leave in March, many Labour members think the party must change course.


“Labour have to come to a decision. The time has gone for sitting on the fence,” said Mike Buckley of Labour for a People’s Vote, a group campaigning for a new referendum.


More than 100 local Labour associations have submitted motions to the conference urging a public plebiscite, with a choice between leaving on terms agreed by the government or staying in the EU.


Party chiefs will decide Sunday, the first day of the four-day conference, which motions will be up for debate and votes.


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — a veteran socialist who views the EU with suspicion — has long been against holding a second public vote on Brexit, though his opposition appears to be softening.

Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror newspaper “I’m not calling for a second referendum.” But, he said, if Labour’s conference “makes a decision, I will not walk away from it and I will act accordingly.”


Deputy leader Tom Watson was even firmer.


“We must back it if Labour members want it,” he told The Observer newspaper.


Still, Labour faces a major political dilemma over Brexit. Most of the party’s half a million members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit.


“For Labour to adopt a second referendum policy would spell political disaster in all those Labour seats that voted leave,” said Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave.


Since the 2016 referendum, Labour has stuck to a policy of “constructive ambiguity” in a bid to appeal to “leave” and “remain” voters alike. The party opposes May’s “Tory Brexit” but not Brexit itself. It calls for Britain to leave the EU but remain in the bloc’s customs union with “full access” to the EU’s huge single market.


Pro-EU party members, including many Labour lawmakers, say that is both vague and unachievable as long as Labour remains in opposition.


The Conservative government’s blueprint for future trade ties with the bloc was rejected last week by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg, Austria. That left May’s leadership under siege and Britain at growing risk of crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal in place.


Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords who supports holding a second referendum, said Labour can’t sit on the sidelines while the country staggers toward political and financial chaos.


“This is as big a crisis as I can remember in my lifetime,” Adonis said. “And no one has a clue at the moment what is going to happen.


 “That’s why I think we now need to take a stand — we the Labour Party and we the country.”

Brexit is one of several challenges facing Corbyn, who heads a divided party. He has strong support among grassroots members, many of whom have joined since he was elected leader in 2015. But many Labour lawmakers think his old-fashioned socialism is a turnoff for the wider electorate.


Labour has also been roiled by allegations that Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitism to fester inside the party. He has denied it and condemned anti-Semitism, but the furor has angered many Jewish party members and their supporters.


If Corbyn does back a second Brexit referendum, he will be going against his long-held euroskepticism. Labour backed the “remain” side during the 2016 referendum, but Corbyn’s support was lukewarm.


“Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer and always has been,” said Chilton of Labour Leave.


“More and more people now support us leaving the European Union and getting on with it,” he said. “They don’t want to re-fight the referendum. They don’t want to open up old wounds.”

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Pope Begins Baltics Pilgrimage With Plea for Tolerance

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Pope Francis on Saturday urged Lithuanians to use their experience enduring decades of Soviet and Nazi occupation to be a model of tolerance in an intolerant world as he began a three-nation tour of the Baltic region amid renewed alarm over Russia’s intentions there.

Francis was greeted by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at the airport and immediately launched into a hectic schedule of political meetings, encounters with Lutheran and Russian Orthodox leaders, and the ordinary Catholic faithful who are a majority in Lithuania but minorities in Latvia and Estonia.

Speaking outside the presidential palace in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Francis recalled that until the arrival of “totalitarian ideologies” in the 20th century, Lithuania had been a peaceful home to a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.

He said the world today is marked by political forces that exploit fear and conflict to justify violence and expulsions of others.

“More and more voices are sowing division and confrontation – often by exploiting insecurity or situations of conflict – and proclaiming that the only way possible to guarantee security and the continued existence of a culture is to try to eliminate, cancel or expel others,” Francis said.

He said Lithuania could be a model of openness, understanding, tolerance and solidarity.

“You have suffered `in the flesh’ those efforts to impose a single model that would annul differences under the pretense of believing that the privileges of a few are more important than the dignity of others or the common good,” he said.

Francis was traveling to the region to mark the 100th anniversaries of their independence and to encourage the faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. During the 1940s Nazi occupation, Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community was nearly exterminated.

Scars of occupation

“Fifty years of occupation left their mark both on the church and on the people,” said Monsignor Gintaras Grusas, archbishop of Vilnius. “People have deep wounds from that period that take time to heal.”

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which each have ethnic Russian minorities, are also in lockstep in sounding alarms about Moscow’s military maneuvers in the Baltic Sea area following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support of separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.

The Vatican, however, has been loath to openly criticize Moscow or its powerful Orthodox Church.

The Baltic countries declared their independence in 1918 but were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained part of it until the early 1990s, except for the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation during World War II. All three joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and are strong backers of the military alliance, which sees them as a bulwark against Russian incursions in Eastern Europe.

The trip, featuring Francis’ fondness for countries on the periphery, will be a welcome break for the Argentine pope. His credibility has taken a blow recently following missteps on the church’s priestly sex abuse scandal and recent allegations that he covered up for an American cardinal.

His visit to Vilnius coincides with the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto, on Sept. 23, 1943, when its remaining residents were executed or sent off to concentration camps by the Nazis.

Until Francis’ schedule was changed three weeks ago, there were no specific events for him to acknowledge the slaughter of some 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews at the hands of Nazi occupiers and complicit Lithuanian partisans — a significant oversight for the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

At the last minute, the Vatican added in a visit to the Ghetto, where Francis will pray quietly on the day when the names of Holocaust victims are read out at commemorations across the country.

Francis will also visit the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, located in a former gymnasium that served as the headquarters of the Gestapo during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation and later as the headquarters of the feared KGB spy agency when the Soviets recaptured the country.

The issue of Lithuanian complicity in Nazi war crimes is sensitive here, with the Jewish community campaigning to have street signs named for heroes who fought the Soviets removed because of their roles in the executions of Jews.

“I think the presence of the pope is showing attention to the Holocaust and to the Holocaust victims,” said Simonas Gurevichius, chairman of the Vilnius Jewish Community. “However, it is not the pope who has to do the work, it is Lithuania as a country and as a society who needs to do the work.”



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Path Partially Clears for Russia’s Return to International Sports

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Russia cautiously celebrated a move by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to reinstate its own laboratory for testing athletes for performance enhancing drugs, a decision that has divided the sports world by clearing a path for Russian athletes to return to international competition following a three-year suspension over allegations of state-sponsored doping.

The decision by WADA marks the latest chapter in the long-running saga that has divided Russia and the West in recent years, including the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, meddling in the 2016 elections in the U.S., and intervention in Syria’s civil war.

In Russia, the move was heralded as largely overdue recognition of its progress on an issue Russian sports officials say goes beyond Russia.

“The most important thing is that during this time we managed to make big strides forward in the anti-doping culture in the country,” said Pavel Kolobkov, Russia’s Minister of Sport, in reaction to the decision.

Yet, from President Vladimir Putin on down, Russian officials have vehemently denied WADA’s charges of direct state involvement, saying the suspension is a politically-driven campaign to outlaw Russian athletes collectively for the sins of a few.

Roadmap to return

The vote by WADA’s board — in a split 9-2 to ruling with one abstention — amounts to a partial walk back of key demands of Russia’s so-called “roadmap to return” to competition.

The roadmap’s key provision: Russia formally acknowledge two WADA-triggered investigations that found widespread cheating by hundreds of Russian athletes in what the reports alleges was a massive state-sponsored doping program between 2011 and 2015. A related demand requires that RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency, offer complete access to its store of past urine samples of Russia’s athletes.

Critics argue Russia has done neither.

Yet a majority of WADA officials said they were satisfied by Russian progress and promises by Kolobkov for future compliance, with the caveat of possible future suspensions, should policies not be implemented.

“Today, the great majority of the WADA Executive Committee (EXCO) decided to reinstate RUSADA as compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, subject to strict conditions,” said WADA’s President Craig Reedie said in a statement released to the media.

​Fair play?

The decision was widely condemned by sporting federations in the U.S. and Europe, who suggested the decision cast WADA’s role as an arbiter for fair competition in doubt.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of RUSADA-turned-whistleblower whose testimony provided key details about the doping effort, argued reinstatement amounted to a “catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes.”

Richard McClaren, the Canadian lawyer whose initial report prompted the WADA ban, also condemned the move.

“Politics is dictating this decision,” McClaren said. “The Russians didn’t accept the conditions, so why will they accept the new ones?”

Yet independent Russian sports commentators noted that despite suggestions of a Russian diplomatic victory, not much had in fact changed for Russian athletes themselves.

Russia could now certify its own athletes for competition and host international events once again. They could also certify so-called “therapeutic use exemptions” granted — too often, Russian officials argue — to Western athletes.

Yet some observers noted that Russia’s banned track and field association must still be cleared independently by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which signaled it would set its own criteria for reinstatement.

The return of Russia’s Paralympic squad, banned from the last two Olympic Games, faces similar hurdles.

“Unfortunately, the return of RUSADA automatically doesn’t give them the flag to compete,” wrote Natalya Maryanchik in the daily Sport-Express newspaper. 

“For top sportsman from Russia almost nothing has changed,” agreed Alexei Advokhin in sports.ru, a popular Russian sports fan website. “Yes, their doping samples will again be tested in Russia.”

“If that’s a case for joy,” he added, “it means for three years we’ve understood nothing.”

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Macedonian PM Seeks US Support in Quest to Join NATO, EU

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Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says he expects his countrymen will vote for a deal that will rename the country to “North Macedonia” in exchange for Greece’s ending its objections to Macedonia’s eventual membership in NATO and the European Union.

In a VOA interview, he said, “There is no other alternative. I am an optimist primarily because I know my people. They have a history of making smart decisions and this one will be no different.”

Zaev said he wants Macedonia to soon become the 30th member of NATO in order to secure peace, economic prosperity and security for his country, and that Washington strongly supports Macedonia’s NATO aspirations.

“The message was sent yet again that America stands firmly beside Macedonia as an unwavering strategic partner,” Zaev told VOA Macedonian in an exclusive interview following his meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.

Zaev was invited to the White House after working to secure the Prespa Agreement with Greece on the long-standing name issue between the two countries, according to a statement issued by the vice president’s office. 

“I am convinced that the United States will stay focused on a Southeast Europe benefiting all the citizens in the region, including the citizens of Macedonia,” said Zaev.

Renaming Macedonia is a key element of a deal with neighboring Greece to end a decades-old dispute. Greece says Macedonia’s current name implies claims on its own northern province of Macedonia, and on its ancient heritage.

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Romanian Ruling Party Leader Defeats Dissenters Who Want Him Out

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The leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats Liviu Dragnea retained control of the party Friday, defeating dissenters who said his criminal record had made him a liability, but his victory seems likely to heighten political infighting.

A past conviction in a vote-rigging case earned him a suspended jail term, which prevented him from being prime minister. And he is due next month to launch an appeal against a three-and-a-half year prison sentence passed in a separate abuse of office case.

He is also under investigation in a third case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded.

But he emerged unscathed from an eight-hour meeting of the party’s executive committee on Friday at which he won a comfortable majority of support, beating off critics who wanted him out.

Analysts said his latest confrontation with internal party critics might also complicate Dragnea’s and his allies’ efforts to stall the fight against corruption in one of the European Union’s most graft-prone states.

Dragnea led the party to a sweeping victory in a December 2016 parliamentary election, but since then its attempts to weaken the judiciary have dominated the public agenda.

An attempt to decriminalize several corruption offences last year via emergency decrees triggered massive protests and was ultimately withdrawn. Changes to criminal codes this year invited comparisons with Poland and Hungary, which are embroiled in a standoff with Brussels over the rule of law.

Deputy Prime Minister Paul Stanescu, Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea and lawmaker Adrian Tutuianu — all vice-presidents of the party — called for his resignation, saying his management has hurt the party’s popularity.

Dragnea has previously argued in favor of an emergency decree that would grant amnesty for some corruption offenses — potentially affording him protection against prosecution — or retroactively scrap wiretap evidence collected by Romania’s intelligence service SRI on behalf of prosecutors.

After Friday’s executive meeting, Dragnea said Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, a close ally, had not supported the idea of an emergency decree on amnesty at this time.

But Dragnea vowed to continue fighting against what he calls a “parallel state” of prosecutors and secret services who want to bring the party down via corruption trials.

“I personally no longer care [about] an emergency decree regarding amnesty,” Dragnea said. “If the government wants to pass it, it’s up to them, whenever they want.”

“As long as I remain party president I will do all I can to bring down this heinous system that is ruining lives.”

Unlike bills passed through parliament, which can be challenged and take a long time, emergency decrees take effect immediately.

“He [Dragnea] might have broken them [his critics] today,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University. “But he is gradually losing control, his enemies are consolidating, and the next round might be fatal.”

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Dangers, Opportunities for Turkey in Idlib Deal, Analysts Say

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Ankara is signaling its readiness to use force against radical groups in the Syrian Idlib enclave as part of a deal struck with Moscow, which has been pressuring the Turkish government to comply with terms of an accord made between the Russian and Turkish presidents.

Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed to create a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the rebel-controlled Idlib enclave.

The deal, heralded as a diplomatic triumph by Ankara, averted a Syrian regime offensive backed by Russian forces against the last rebel bastion. With 3 million people trapped in the region, aid groups have been warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Ankara now faces the formidable task of removing radical Islamist groups, along with the heavy weapons of rebel forces, from a 15- to 20-kilometer zone by October 15.

“It is one thing to speak in the chambers of the palaces to hold press conferences and so forth. It’s another thing to fight on the ground,” former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen said. “Especially because of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham elements, which are a 30,000-strong jihadi force in west Idlib, and especially near the Turkish border and within Idlib town itself, what will they decide? Will they agree on this solution? This is the question.”  

While addressing reporters Friday, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin indicated a readiness to use force against radical groups if they don’t agree to leave the DMZ.

“Persuasion, pacification, other measures, whatever is necessary,” Kalin said. Last month, Ankara designated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, (formally called al-Nusra), as a terrorist organization.

Tall order

Analysts say Ankara will be careful to avoid a military confrontation and will look to its influence on the rebel opposition.

“The leverage Turkey has is that Turkey is still supporting the Free Syrian Army and many other groups. From the very beginning, they have looked to Turkey for support in fighting [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” according to international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“But the radical groups linked to Daesh [Islamic State], al-Qaida, al-Nusra,” Bagci continued, “whether Turkey will be effective with those groups, I have some doubts. But Russia is expecting Turkey to get full success to convince all of them to leave, which is very, very difficult, I would say.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stepped up the pressure on Ankara. “Nusra Front terrorists should leave this demilitarized zone by mid-October; all heavy weaponry should be withdrawn from there,” Lavrov told a press conference Friday.

Critics of the Idlib deal insist Moscow has trapped Ankara into committing itself to remove or eradicate radical groups from the DMZ, which carries the risk of Turkey being sucked into a conflict with the jihadis.

However, the Idlib deal gives Ankara an opportunity to strengthen its hand in Syria.

“Turkey will definitely increase the number of military personnel in [Idlib] and its influence [in Syria],” said Bagci. “It [Turkey’s military presence] will become a part of the negotiations process in the future with Russia. Definitely, Turkey is using the opportunity, since it’s available, to get more military personnel there and keep them there longer.”

Under a previous agreement between Moscow and Tehran, Ankara established 12 military observation posts across Idlib. The outposts were part of a deal to create a de-escalation zone for Syrian rebel forces and their families. The threat of a Syrian regime offensive against the region prompted the Turkish military to bolster its presence around the outposts.

‘Twin objectives’

Analysts suggest a further consolidation of Turkey’s military presence in Idlib, along with Turkish forces’ current control of a large swath of northern Syria, will strengthen Ankara’s efforts to secure its Syrian goals.

“Turkey wants to create a situation in Syria so that these neighboring regions to Turkey that are controlled by pro-Turkish elements continue [to be controlled by them] so that there is no security threat to Turkey,” said Sinan Ulgen head of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, or Edam.

“Secondly, as a result of a political settlement,” he continued, “enough of [a] security guarantee would be provided so that some of the Syrian refugees [in Turkey] can go back to their homes. They are the twin objectives of the Turkish government regarding Syria.”

Turkey claims it is hosting more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees. The Idlib deal between Ankara and Moscow at least for now has removed the threat of another significant exodus of refugees into Turkey.

With Lavrov warning the deal is only an “intermediate step,” critics caution the Idlib deal may offer only a reprieve from a Syrian regime offensive against the rebel enclave. As Ankara seems prepared to use the coming weeks to step up its military presence in Idlib, that will bring a heightened risk of confrontation with jihadi groups.

Analysts say such a marked armed presence, however, also likely will enhance Erdogan’s bargaining position the next time he sits down with Putin to discuss the future of Idlib.

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Mass Tourism Threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Town

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Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.

Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.

Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.

“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” said van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.

On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.

“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them [the tourists] because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”

The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.

The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”

It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”

It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”

In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.

“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.

But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring  new tourists.

Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.

The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.

Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”

The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.

“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic said. “Where are these people running to?”

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Major Powers, Except US, Try to Keep Iran Nuclear Deal Alive

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Nations that struck the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, except for the United States, meet on Monday in what many diplomats fear may prove a quixotic effort to keep the agreement alive after U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports resume in November.

Ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran will gather in New York at 8 p.m. EDT on Monday (0000 GMT Tuesday) to grapple with U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to withdraw from the deal and restore the full force of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Their delicate, and perhaps unrealistic, task is to build a case for Tehran to respect the deal’s limits on its nuclear program even though Washington has pulled out, depriving Iran of many of the economic benefits it was promised.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “needs arguments to defend the deal in the face of the radicals. He needs us to give him ammunition,” said a senior European diplomat, referring to Iranian hard-liners who oppose the agreement.

“We are trying to give him ammunition, but what we can do, to be honest, is limited,” the diplomat added.

The crux of the deal, negotiated over almost two years by the Obama administration, was that Iran would restrain its nuclear program in return for the relaxation of sanctions that had crippled its economy. Trump considered it flawed because it did not include curbs on ballistic missiles or regional activity.

The United States began reimposing economic sanctions this summer and the most draconian measures, which seek to force Iran’s major customers to stop buying its oil, resume Nov. 5.

Their impending return has contributed to a slide in Iran’s currency. The rial has lost about two-thirds of its value this year, hitting a record low against the U.S. dollar this month.

The European Union has implemented a law to shield European companies from U.S. sanctions. Still, there are limits to what it can do to counter the oil sanctions, under which Washington can cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that facilitates an oil transaction with Iran.

‘Hurt them more than us’

Many European companies are withdrawing or have withdrawn from Iran because of U.S. sanctions that could cut them off from the American market if they stay.

Iran believes the United States acted in bad faith by withdrawing from the deal even as Tehran has adhered to its terms and has rejected U.S. overtures to meet.

The most recent confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog, found Iran had stayed within the main limitations imposed under the deal, whose formal name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

In recent weeks, Iranian officials have begun arguing that if the Europeans cannot preserve trade with Iran, perhaps Tehran should reduce, but not eliminate, its compliance with the accord.

On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted as telling Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that Iran could “reduce its implementation” and possibly increase uranium enrichment activities if the deal was jeopardized by “the actions of the Americans and the passivity of the Europeans.”

European diplomats wish to avoid this. Hoping to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check, they have told Tehran that if it stops carrying out the deal to the letter, they will have no choice but to restore their own sanctions.

“They keep telling us the situation is horrible, they are going to leave the accord or just keep partially implementing the deal. It’s the same old music, but for now they continue to implement the JCPOA,” said a second senior European diplomat.

“We [are] warning them that if they were to pull out it would hurt them more than us,” he added.