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Four More Countries Vote in EU Election

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Voters in Slovakia, Malta, Latvia and the Czech Republic are casting ballots Saturday in European Parliament elections.

The stakes for the European Union are especially high in this year’s selections, which are taking place over four days and involve all 28 EU nations.

Many predict nationalists and far-right groups will gain ground, and would try to use a larger presence in the legislature to claw back power from the EU for their national governments.

Moderate parties, on the other hand, want to cement closer ties among countries in the EU, which was created in the wake of World War II to prevent renewed conflict.

Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands have voted, and the Czech Republic started voting Friday and continues Saturday.

Slovakia, Malta and Latvia are holding their European Parliament elections Saturday, and all the other nations vote Sunday.

Official results will be released Sunday night, after all countries have voted.

A Dutch surprise?

Voting in the Netherlands may have already produced a surprise. An Ipsos exit poll forecast a win for the Dutch Labor Party, and predicted that pro-European parties would win most of the Netherlands’ seats in the European Parliament, instead of right-wing populist opponents.

Overall, the European Parliament’s traditional political powerhouses are expected to come out with the most votes. But the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists & Democrats look set to lose some clout and face their strongest challenge yet from an array of populist, nationalist and far-right parties skeptical of the EU.

Emulating Trump, Brexiteers

Those parties hope to emulate what President Donald Trump did in the 2016 U.S. election and what Brexiteers achieved in the U.K. referendum to leave the EU: to disrupt what they see as an out-of-touch elite and gain power by warning about migrants massing at Europe’s borders ready to rob the continent of its jobs and culture.

The traditional parties warn that this strategy is worryingly reminiscent of prewar tensions, and argue that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security challenges posed by a China and U.S.-dominated new world order.

Voters across Europe are electing 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when Britain eventually leaves the EU. Each EU nation gets a number of seats in the EU parliament based on its population.

The legislature affects Europeans’ daily lives in many ways: cutting smartphone roaming charges, imposing safety and health rules for industries ranging from chemicals and energy to autos and food, supporting farming, and protecting the environment.

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Senate Foreign Relations Chief: North Macedonian NATO Accession Vote Possible by June

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This story originated in VOA’s Macedonian Service. 

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers may vote to approve North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO as early as next month, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator James Risch.

“The process is that we need to have a hearing on it in the Foreign Relations Committee, and I have tentatively scheduled that for approximately two weeks from now,” the junior Idaho Republican senator told VOA’s Macedonian Service. “Then, as far as when it will be finalized, it goes to the Senate floor, and we would very much like to have that done in June, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can get that done in June.”

North Macedonia’s long-standing bid to join the military alliance was blocked for more than a decade because of a name dispute with neighboring Greece, which has a province called Macedonia.

North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, changed its name under the Prespa Agreement in June 2018 with Greece, opening the path to NATO and EU membership.

North Macedonia’s accession protocol was signed by all member states in Brussels on Feb. 6. The accession process continues in the capital of each allied nation, where individual protocols are ratified according to national procedures.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has praised the country as a “steadfast security partner,” submitted its NATO accession protocol to the Senate for ratification on April 30.

North Macedonia’s full accession to the alliance would represent a blow to Russia, which opposes NATO expansion and, therefore, the country’s accession.

Asked if North Macedonia’s NATO membership can reduce Russian influence or political meddling within North Macedonia, he said “that’s going to be up to the North Macedonian people themselves.”

“But they’ve already spoken on that,” Risch said. “I think the election itself, regarding accession, was a good, clear indication that they don’t want that Russian influence, that they don’t want that Russian propaganda. So, this taking of what would really be a final step into NATO is a final rejection of Russia and what it stands for and the kind of malign influence they bring.”

Last August, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, sponsored a bipartisan resolution to put the tiny Balkan country on the path to NATO and European Union membership.

Risch also said he anticipates near-unanimous support for North Macedonia’s accession protocol when the bill arrives on the Senate floor.

 

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Turmoil Deepens With May’s Exit in Britain

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation Friday, plunging the country deeper into chaos as it tries to negotiate its exit from the European Union. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the race to become her successor will begin June 7, and the scene is set for more political drama and uncertainty.

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Pompeo to Make Up Canceled Germany Trip on Europe Tour

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week will make up a trip to Germany he canceled earlier this month amid heightened tensions with Iran.

The State Department says Pompeo will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin before heading to additional stops in Europe.

Pompeo abruptly canceled a planned May 7 stop in Germany to make an unexpected visit to Iraq, shortly after the Trump administration announced it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in response to threats from Iran.

After meeting Merkel and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the department said Pompeo would travel on to Switzerland and the Netherlands before joining President Donald Trump on his state visit to Britain in London. Pompeo leaves Washington on Thursday.

 

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Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

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The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.

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US Charges WikiLeaks Founder With Violating Espionage Act

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U.S. prosecutors Thursday announced new criminal charges under the Espionage Act against jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over his alleged role in what they termed “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in U.S. history.

The charges are not related to WikiLeaks’ alleged role in disseminating stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

An 18-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Assange of working with former Army specialist Chelsea Manning to obtain and publish on WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive U.S. government reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Guantanamo Bay prison.

The documents, many of them classified as secret, contained the names of journalists, dissidents and other human sources that provided information to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to U.S. diplomats around the world.

Warned in 2010

Assange, prosecutors allege, knew that disseminating the names endangered the human sources and that he continued to do so even after a warning by the State Department in late 2010.

Assange was charged last year with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in connection with working with Manning. The indictment was unsealed in April after Assange was expelled from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’d taken refuge in 2012, and arrested by British police.

He remains in jail on charges of violating his bail conditions and faces possible extradition to the U.S. and Sweden.

The new charges against Assange include conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information as well as obtaining and disclosing national defense information. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Each new count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Assange has long maintained that he’s being targeted for his work as a journalist.

“This is madness,” WikiLeaks tweeted after the charges were announced. “It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment.”

Press and government transparency advocates have come to Assange’s defense, arguing that prosecuting Assange could endanger others who publish classified information.

But U.S. law enforcement officials were quick to emphasize that they don’t see Assange’s work as journalism.

“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters. “It has not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist.”

​‘Complicity in illegal acts’

U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger stressed that Assange is only charged for his “complicity in illegal acts” and for “publishing a narrow set of classified documents” that contained names of confidential human sources.

“Assange is not charged simply because he is a publisher,” Terwilliger told reporters.

Assange, a 47-year-old Australian computer programmer and activist, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as “an intelligence agency of the people.”

To obtain secret documents to publish, he “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

Manning, an intelligence specialist based in Iraq, responded to Assange’s call by stealing and providing to him databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan war reports, 400,000 reports about the Iraq war, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables, according to the indictment.

Manning served seven years in a military prison for her role in the WikiLeaks disclosures before then-President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence shortly before he left office in January 2017.

She spent 62 days in federal jail earlier this year on civil contempt charges after she refused to answer questions to the federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Last week, a federal judge ordered her back to jail.

The charges against Assange predate by several years allegations that the anti-secrecy website published tens of thousands of Democratic documents stolen by Russian agents during the 2016 election.

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Iran Tells German Envoy Its Patience Is Over, Fars Reports

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Iran told a German envoy seeking to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal that its patience was over and urged the treaty’s remaining signatories to fulfill their commitments after the United States pulled out, the Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Jens Ploetner, a political director in the German Foreign Ministry, met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. A German diplomatic source told Reuters that talks with other Iranian officials were also planned.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Araghchi had relayed Iran’s impatience during the talks.

Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from

the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to U.S. measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed

to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

“At the center of the political director’s visit is the preservation of the Vienna nuclear accord (JCPOA),” the German diplomatic source told Reuters. “After Iran’s announcement to partly suspend its commitments under the JCPOA, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to persuade Iran to continue to fully comply with the JCPOA.”

U.S., Iran tensions

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States since Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the Defense Department was considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Despite such pressure, Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that there would be no negotiations with Washington.

He said officials from several countries had visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States,” but that Tehran’s message to them was firm. 

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said. 

‘Clash of wills’

Fars earlier quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying the U.S.-Iranian standoff was a “clash of wills” and any enemy “adventurism” would meet a

crushing response.

The German diplomatic source added: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation around the Vienna nuclear accord is extremely serious. There is a real risk of escalation. … In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

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Brexit Crisis: Minister Quits, Piling Pressure on Britain’s May

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Prominent Brexit supporter Andrea Leadsom resigned from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Wednesday, piling pressure on the British leader after a new Brexit gambit backfired and fueled calls for her to quit.

So far May has resisted, vowing to press on despite opposition from lawmakers and other ministers to her bid to get her Brexit deal through parliament by softening her stance on a second referendum and customs arrangements.

But Leadsom’s resignation further deepens the Brexit crisis, sapping an already weak leader of her authority. Almost three years since Britain voted to leave the European Union, it is not clear when, how or even if Brexit will happen.

Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, said she could not announce the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will implement Britain’s departure, in parliament on Thursday as she did not believe in it.

“I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result,” Leadsom, once a challenger to May to become prime minister, said in a resignation letter. “It is therefore with great regret and with a heavy heart that I resign from the government.”

A Downing Street spokesman praised Leadsom and expressed disappointment at her decision, but added: “The prime minister remains focused on delivering the Brexit people voted for.”

May might still try to press on with her new Brexit plan, which includes a vote on whether to hold a second Brexit referendum — once her legislation passes the first stage — as well as closer trading arrangements with the EU.

But it has been met with a swift backlash, with several lawmakers who have supported her in previous Brexit votes saying they could not back the new plan, particularly over her U-turn regarding a possible second referendum.

“I have always maintained that a second referendum would be dangerously divisive, and I do not support the government willingly facilitating such a concession,” Leadsom said.

“No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have,” Leadsom wrote to May. “But I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this government and our party.”

Labour lawmaker Ian Lavery, chair of the opposition party, said the resignation underlined that “the prime minister’s authority is shot and her time is up.”

“For the sake of the country, Theresa May needs to go, and we need an immediate general election,” he said.

Time to go

Labour’s call echoed those of many of May’s own Conservatives, who say that a fourth attempt to get her deal approved by parliament should be shelved and she should leave office to offer a new leader a chance to reset the dial.

“There is one last chance to get it right and leave in an orderly fashion. But it is now time for Prime Minister Theresa May to go — and without delay,” said Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

“She must announce her resignation after Thursday’s European (Parliament) elections,” he wrote in the Financial Times.

But while so much about Brexit is up in the air, what is clear is that May plans to stay for now, or at least for the next few days.

The chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, told lawmakers that she planned to campaign in the European poll on Thursday before meeting with the group on Friday to discuss her leadership.

May has so far fended off bids to oust her by promising to set out a departure timetable once parliament has had a chance to vote again on Brexit, but a new discussion on a possible date could now take place on Friday.

Earlier on Wednesday, May stood firm during more than two hours of questions in parliament, urging lawmakers to back the bill and then have a chance to make changes to it, so they can have more control over the final shape of Brexit.

Asked by euroskeptic lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg whether she really believed in the new deal she had proposed or whether she was simply going through the motions, May said, “I don’t think I would have been standing here at the despatch box and be in receipt of some of the comments I have been in receipt of from colleagues on my own side and across the house if I didn’t believe in what I was doing.”

Britain’s marathon crisis over Brexit has stunned allies and foes alike. With the deadlock in London, the world’s fifth-largest economy faces an array of options including an exit with a deal to smooth the transition, a no-deal exit, an election, a second referendum, or even revocation of the Article 50 notice to leave the EU.

The pound was on track for its longest-ever losing streak against the euro as some traders said they saw the rising chance of a no-deal Brexit. Those fears pushed investors into the relative safety of government bonds — particularly those that offer protection against a spike in inflation.

“The proposed second reading of the WAB is clearly doomed to failure so there really is no point wasting any more time on the prime minister’s forlorn hope of salvation,” Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker, told Reuters. “She’s got to go.”

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Stoltenberg: NATO Summit Set for London on Dec. 3-4 

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The next NATO summit will be held in London in December, marking the alliance’s 70th anniversary, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. 

 

“The next summit of Allied leaders will take place on 3-4 December 2019 in London. … I look forward to a successful summit,” he said. 

 

Stoltenberg said the had discussed preparations for the summit of heads of state and government with British Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to London last week. 

 

The December summit will be a chance to “address current and emerging security challenges and how NATO continues to invest and adapt to ensure it will remain a pillar of stability in the years ahead,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. 

 

He added that London was a fitting venue to mark 70 years of transatlantic military cooperation because it was home to the alliance’s first headquarters after the United Kingdom become one of NATO’s 12 founding members in 1949. 

 

Nowadays there are 29 member states and the headquarters is in Brussels. 

 

“London was the home of our first headquarters, so it is a fitting venue for NATO heads of state and government to plan the Alliance’s future,” said Stoltenberg. 

 

Delicate time 

 

The 70th anniversary comes at a delicate time for NATO. 

 

Tensions with Russia are at a high not seen since the Cold War. There are also concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to the alliance and his willingness to honor its mutual defense pact.  

Trump has been unstinting in his criticism of NATO’s European members, accusing them of freeloading on the protection offered by the U.S. military while not spending enough on their own armed forces. 

 

Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete.”

 

NATO summits normally conclude with a formal, binding statement of aims and actions agreed by all allies — such as the 2014 agreement to try to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. 

 

It is yet to be confirmed whether a statement will be issued at December’s meeting. 

Brexit and NATO

 

Britain is due to leave the European Union in October, and the December summit will be seen as a signal of solidarity between NATO and the U.K., which is the continent’s leading military power, along with France. 

 

“Brexit will change the United Kingdom’s relationship to the European Union but it will not change the United Kingdom’s relationship to NATO,” Stoltenberg said in February. 

 

On Wednesday, he was back in London for talks with British Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt. On Thursday, he will participate in a conference on cybersecurity in the British capital. 

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Swiss Propose House Arrest, Including for Teenagers, to Curb Extremism

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The Swiss government on Wednesday proposed new laws aimed at preventing extremist violence and forcing people including children deemed a threat to be registered with authorities, with house arrest a last resort in some cases.

The measures, due now to be considered by Switzerland’s parliament, are part of an evolving national action plan against violent extremism introduced in 2017.

Though Switzerland has, so far, been spared deadly Islamist militant attacks that hit Germany, France and Belgium in recent years, it is wary and has been tracking hundreds of suspected extremist threats under a national jihad monitoring program.

Federal Police Director Nicoletta della Valle told a news conference in Bern she expects “a few dozen people” could be affected by the expanded measures, should they be enacted.

Such individuals, according to the legislation, could be made to report their whereabouts to police stations. Their passports could be confiscated, to prevent travel abroad, and they could be slapped with no-contact orders.

People slated for deportation who are deemed threats would be incarcerated, while Swiss police would get new powers to covertly track suspected threats via electronic media.

“House arrest is seen as a last resort and would require permission from the Swiss Federal Police as well as approval from the courts,” a cabinet statement said.

Such measures could last six months and be renewed. Children as young as 12 could be required to register with authorities, placed under surveillance or have passports confiscated. Those as young as 15 could get house arrest, according to the legislation.

The 28-page legislative proposal stops short of allowing so-called “secure housing” for suspected extremists — something Swiss law enforcement agencies had wanted — “because it was determined to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights,” the cabinet said.

Switzerland has prosecuted several extremism-related cases in recent years, including three Iraq men jailed in 2016 for between 42 and 56 months for belonging to or supporting a terrorist organization.

In July, a trial is slated for a 48-year-old Kosovo native accused of breaking Swiss laws forbidding Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

Of 92 Swiss “jihad travelers” identified as having journeyed to the Middle East to participate in violent conflicts since 2001, 31 are dead. Another 16 have returned to Switzerland, the government has said.

“All this shows that while Switzerland is a safe country, there’s still a threat,” Interior Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said with respect to why the new measures are needed.

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Manchester Marks Anniversary of Concert Bombing

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Like last year on May 22 bells will toll across the northern English city of Manchester to mark the anniversary — this time the second— of the suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena that left 23 concert-goers dead, including the attacker, and 139 wounded, more than half of them children.

Many of the survivors and relatives of the dead say they remain unable two shake off the terrors of the blast and loss of loved ones. Many of the physically wounded still struggle to overcome injuries and disabilities. 

Several hundred of the concert-goers at the arena, there to listen to American singer Ariana Grande, are still grappling with the effects of psychological trauma of the deadliest terrorist attack, and the first suicide bombing in Britain since the 7 July 2005 London bombings.

The parents of eight-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest of those killed, say they remain stuck in 2017 when radical Islamist Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old local man of Libyan descent, detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb that shred bodies and lives. He is thought to have trained for the attack in Libya.

“Saffie had got hold of my hand, and she was pulling me, jumping about,” Lisa Roussos told the BBC on the eve of the anniversary. 

“And the next minute I just hit the floor with a thud,” she added. She couldn’t move, but she could blink and willed herself to keep her eyes open. Lisa Roussos was gravely injured and had to relearn to walk. She was in a coma for six weeks and only learned about her daughter’s death after she woke up.

Two years on Saffie’s parents say the bombing remains raw. The time makes no difference, the parents said. “I feel like we’re stuck in 2017,” said little girl’s father, Andrew Roussos. 

In a statement marking the anniversary, Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said the city “will never forget the terrible events of May 22, 2017, nor the remarkable display of unity and love which followed. Those who were killed and their loved ones, as well as all those left physically or mentally injured, have a place in our hearts.”

Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State group, the danger of radical Islamist terrorism remains far from over, say counter-terror experts. More than 500 incarcerated Islamist militants are due to be freed in Europe over the next two years, according to Olivier Guitta, head of the geopolitical risk company GlobalStrat. 

Guitta, who contributed to a report released Wednesday by GlobSec, a think tank, on the criminal ties of many of Europe’s Islamist militants, says European governments need to consider lengthening jail terms for those convicted of terror offenses and not granting early release for good behavior.

While the security services are doing a “good job at honing down on the potential terrorists, he says in a conclusion to the report, “the sheer number of people, up to 30,000, recorded on Britain’s main terror watchlist including 3,000 branded as dangerous, make it impossible for security services to monitor even a fraction of that, knowing that about 30 officers are needed per individual.”

He adds: “Due to early releases from prisons and generally short sentences, the situation is even more problematic and will allow 500 dangerous jihadists to be freed in the next two years in Europe.”

According to the report, most of the Islamist militants who’ve carried out attacks in Britain in the past six years were already on terror watch lists, and more than half of British militants arrested for terrorist offenses were under surveillance prior to their detention.

Like most of jihadists who carried out attacks on European soil, Manchester bomber Abedi was “on the radar of security services and was at one point actually monitored until the investigation was dropped off because nothing happened,” says Guitta.

Many of the relatives of the dead attending services in Manchester Wednesday say the government needs to mandate tougher security checks at large public events.

Earlier this week, Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid announced plans to update the country’s treason laws to cover terrorists. British-born jihadis returning from the battlefields of the Middle East would be open to prosecution under the planned updated law, say officials.

Calls for an updated treason law increased have increased after officials said they were abandoning efforts to prosecute two alleged members of the Islamic State so-called “Beatles” cell, a quartet of Britons responsible for torturing and beheading Western hostages in Syria, including American journalist James Foley. 

A paper drawn up by the Policy Exchange think-tank last year suggested defining treason as “aiding a hostile state of organization.”The paper set out a series of actions that could be deemed treason, including helping prepare or commit an attack in Britain, aiding the military or intelligence operations of a state or organization intending to attack Britain or “prejudicing the security and defense of the UK”.

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Bulgaria, Greece Start Work on Gas Pipeline from Azerbaijan

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Bulgaria and Greece are launching the construction of a pipeline to transport Azeri gas to Bulgaria to ease its almost total dependence on Russian gas supplies.

At a ceremony near the border on Wednesday, the two prime ministers, Boyko Borissov and Alexis Tsipras, oversaw the formal start to construction of the 182-kilometer (114 miles) link between the two countries’ gas transmission systems.

The pipeline is scheduled to become operational at the end of 2020, when Bulgaria is due to receive deliveries of Azeri gas from the Shah Deniz 2 development.

The link is estimated to cost 220 million euros ($245 million) and its projected capacity will be between 3 and 5 billion cubic meters (105-175 billion cubic feet) per year.

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Embattled May Dangles Promise of New Brexit Vote

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British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed Tuesday to give lawmakers a vote on holding a second Brexit referendum as part of her final effort to salvage her hated EU divorce deal.

The embattled British leader dangled a package of sweeteners that she hopes can resolve the Brexit crisis three years after the country first voted to end more than four decades of membership in the European project.

Success on the fourth attempt in parliament would help May reclaim her legacy as the leader who kept her promise to safely steer a bitterly divided nation through its most profound strategic shift in generations.

May has already said she will leave office shortly after the measures she outlined Tuesday are put up for a vote early next month — no matter the outcome.

The most eye-catching is a promise to give lawmakers a chance to set a confirmatory referendum on whatever version of Brexit they end up approving in the weeks or months to come.

“I recognize the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the house on this important issue,” May said in a nationally televised address delivered from the offices of a major accounting firm in London.

“The government will therefore include in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum,” she said.

“This must take place before the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified.”

The measure is a key demand of the main opposition Labor Party.

But it is also bitterly opposed by Brexit-supporting Conservatives whose votes May also needs if she is to get her deal passed.

The British pound rose sharply in response to May’s announcement. Many businesses oppose Brexit and hope that the two sides can preserve much closer ties.

‘Last chance’

May said her proposals were this parliament’s “last chance” to end a political deadlock that has already delayed Brexit past its original March deadline and caused huge public anger.

She called them “a new Brexit deal” that Britain must now rally behind.

The government is aiming for the law to be approved by the time that parliament’s summer recess begins on July 20, which would allow Britain to leave the EU at the end of that month — as long as MPs reject a second referendum.

Otherwise the process could be delayed until October 31 — the deadline set by the EU — or even later if EU leaders grant Britain another postponement.

“The majority of MPs say they want to deliver the result of the referendum. So I think we need to help them find a way. And I believe there is now one last chance to do that,” May said.

May set out 10 incentives in all that will be included in a new Brexit bill that is expected to come up for a vote in the week starting June 3.

The measures would give parliament a chance to approve a temporary customs union with the other 27 nations.

They also commit the government to preserve the rights of European workers and maintain EU environmental standards.

These are all major Labor demands.

But they threaten to only reinforce the resistance within Brexit-backing ranks of her own Conservative Party.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the favorite to replace May in a leadership contest, said on Twitter that he would not support the new incarnation of the deal, having voted for it the last time it was put to parliament. 

“The Bill is directly against our manifesto – and I will not vote for it. We can and must do better – and deliver what the people voted for,” he said, rejecting the idea of any customs union or second referendum.

May warned EU skeptics within her party ranks that a rejection of her final throw of the dice threatened to doom Brexit for good.

This compromise solution “is practical,” May said. “It is responsible. It is deliverable. And right now, it is slipping away from us.”

‘Harder than anticipated’

The last vote on the Brexit deal in March was the closest. She lost that by 58 votes in the 650-seat House of Commons.

But most analysts and UK newspapers still give May little-to-no chance of winning on this occasion.

The vote also comes with the race to succeed her as party leader in full swing.

British media estimate that a third of her cabinet members have either openly declared their ambitions to become prime minister or are preparing their campaigns.

Her speech was billed by some as her possible swan song — and May conceded that her time in office has not been smooth.

“I knew that delivering Brexit was not going to be simple or straightforward,” May said.

“It has proved even harder than I anticipated.”