Stabbing Death of British MP Amess Called Terrorist Attack

A British member of Parliament died Friday after being stabbed several times at a church in what police said Saturday was a terrorist attack. 

David Amess, 69, was a member of the Conservative Party and represented Southend West in Essex, England. He was attacked Friday while visiting constituents in his home district in southeastern Britain, officials said.

In a statement Saturday, the Metropolitan Police said that while their investigation was in its early stages, it “has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” 

Police have not identified a 25-year-old suspect, who is in custody. 

“All our hearts are full of shock and sadness today at the loss of Sir David Amess,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who called Amess one of the “kindest, nicest and most gentle people in politics” and noted his efforts to end cruelty to animals. 

Amess, who had been a member of Parliament since 1983, was married and had five children.

Amess is the second member of Parliament to be killed in five years. Jo Cox was murdered by one of her constituents, a far-right extremist, five years ago.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

 

 

 

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World Donors Seek Ways to Help Afghans, Not Taliban

At an emergency conference this week, the European Union pledged more than 1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and neighboring countries, as the United Nations warns millions of Afghans are facing famine. But the United States has been cautious, saying it is sending humanitarian aid, but cannot provide funds directly to the Taliban-led government until they start respecting human rights and women’s rights. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Turkish Media Face 18 Trials in One Week

Eighteen journalists, nearly all of whom work for Kurdish media outlets, stood trial at hearings across Turkey this week. 

Lawyers and media rights groups say the trials show how Turkey’s laws on terrorism and protests can be used to detain or harass journalists. 

Nearly all those in court this week face accusations of belonging to or creating propaganda for a terrorist organization—often a reference to the militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Others face charges of defying Law 2911, which regulates public meetings and demonstrations, according to the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), a Turkey-based group that offers legal support to journalists.

Media who cover protests can sometimes be accused of organizing an illegal gathering. And in April, Turkey’s Interior Ministry issued an order requiring journalists to have permits for covering approved protests. 

Some rights lawyers have said the ruling appears designed to silence journalists.

“The order is problematic because it only recognizes journalists who are given permits by the government to cover protests,” said Erselan Aktan, an Istanbul-based lawyer who has represented dozens of journalists in recent years. 

“It doesn’t consider freelance journalists and those who work for opposition media outlets as journalists and this is against the core of the freedom of expression,” he told VOA.   

One of those in court this week on charges of defying the law on protests was freelance journalist Rusen Takva. 

The journalist, who contributes to the pro-opposition Arti TV, was charged in connection with his coverage of a protest calling for Kurdish rights, in the eastern Turkish city of Van in January. 

A prosecutor had recommended that Takva be sentenced to 18 years in prison. But at a hearing on Tuesday, a new prosecutor dropped the charges, citing a lack of evidence. 

“It was clear from the beginning that this case was not holding,” Takva said. “I was merely doing my job as a journalist. When the original prosecutor was replaced, the new prosecutor concluded that there was no evidence to support the charges against me.”

Others on trial have cases going back more than four years, like journalist Hayri Demir, who worked for outlets including the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency. 

In 2017, authorities charged Demir with belonging to and creating propaganda for the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.  

The journalist’s case has received media attention because evidence presented in the indictment included photographs from a memory stick that was stolen from Demir’s home in Ankara. 

The images were taken by Demir while he was on assignment in northeast Syria in 2015. 

“Six months after that robbery, the pictures on that card came out in the court as evidence in my case file for my conviction,” Demir told VOA.

“My previous telephone conversations with Selahattin Demirtas were also included in my court file as a crime.” 

Demirtas, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been in prison since 2016 on terror charges.  

The journalist had his ninth hearing Tuesday, but the case remains open with the hearing adjourned. If Demir is convicted, he could face up to 22 years in prison.    

Turkey’s Interior Ministry and Ankara’s High Criminal Court didn’t respond to VOA requests for comment.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkish media is “incomparably free,” and that he does not accept the findings of media rights groups that show mass arrests.

“We don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms,” Erdogan told U.S. broadcaster CBS.

But media lawyer Aktan said that arrests and trials are common. 

In September alone, 65 journalists had hearings across Turkey, mostly on terror-related charges, defying the protest law or insulting the head of state, Aktan said.  

The country’s media came under pressure following a failed attempted coup in 2016, after which Ankara arrested dozens of journalists it accused of supporting or being sympathetic to the coup.

As of August, data by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, an advocacy groups that documents human rights abuses with a special focus on Turkey, showed 174 journalists either detained pending trial or serving sentences and a further 167 accused of a crime but who are in exile or at large.

Turkey also ranks poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, coming in at 153 out of 180 countries, where 1 is the freest, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service.

Correction: Paragraph 22 has been updated to correctly reflect Aktan’s role.

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US Defense Secretary Heads to Europe to Focus on Black Sea Stability, NATO 

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is heading to Europe this weekend to meet with leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Romania and to participate in a NATO defense ministers meeting in Belgium. 

 

“The Department of Defense steadfastly supports its European Allies and partners in the face of Russia’s destabilizing actions in the critical Black Sea region, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting with his counterparts and other senior officials to reinforce the United States’ commitment to a safe, stable, and prosperous Europe,” the Pentagon said in a statement. 

 

In Georgia, Austin will meet with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Minister of Defense Juansher Burchuladze to discuss bilateral relations and regional security. 

 

In Ukraine, the secretary will meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Minister of Defense Andriy Taran to discuss “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” as well as the country’s defense industry reforms. 

 

In Romania, Austin will meet President Klaus Iohannis and Minister of National Defense Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca to discuss bilateral relations. He also will visit U.S. forces at Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base. 

 

In Belgium, Austin will attend a meeting of his NATO counterparts and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to ensure the alliance “is prepared for the challenges of the future.” 

 

 

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Stalled EU Membership for Western Balkans Prompts Fears of Democratic Backsliding

It wasn’t the deal they were hoping to be offered. Instead of agreeing on a timetable for aspiring Balkan countries to join the European Union, the bloc’s 27 member states offered warm words at a summit in Slovenia last week, some pandemic recovery cash and a commitment to cut mobile-phone roaming charges for Balkan nationals when traveling in any part of the EU bloc.

The refusal of the EU member states earlier this month to outline a membership schedule is reverberating across the Balkans and stands in contrast to the intense courtship of countries in the region by the United States. Midweek, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed an amended defense cooperation agreement with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias. 

Dendias said the amended agreement not only will safeguard Greek security interests but will enable deeper collaboration beyond defense issues. “It also creates a shell [framework] that allows the United States to invest in Greece, not only for the improvement of our country’s defense facilities, but to do so in a broader framework of cooperation that is being established and improved,” he said.

Warming relations between the U.S. and Greece are seen in Washington as a crucial part of a broader courtship strategy in the Balkans, one that has been pursued with mounting intensity in recent years by a succession of U.S. administrations, aimed at stemming and reversing the growing influence in the region of China and Russia. 

In an interview with RFE/RL last month, and ahead of the Slovenia summit, Gabriel Escobar, deputy assistant secretary of state, said Washington would make a renewed push to help the countries of the region achieve EU integration. He urged the bloc to begin accession talks this year with at least Albania and North Macedonia. Both had hoped two years ago to begin concrete negotiations that would see them join the European bloc. 

France and The Netherlands blocked the membership schedule for Albania and North Macedonia last year in what advocates of EU enlargement, including Jean-Claude Juncker, then president of the European Commission, called an “historic error.” 

French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU wasn’t in any shape to admit new members, let alone states from the Balkans, which, he noted, are still struggling with crime and corruption and had not yet overcome the ethnic divisions that led to wars in the 1990s.

North Macedonia, Albania and four other Balkan countries — Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia — have been trying to join the world’s biggest trading bloc since 2004. But they keep encountering setbacks. And frustration is rising in the Balkans at the obstacles being thrown up and at the lack of progress.

At the summit in Slovenia on October 6, featuring all 27 EU leaders and their six Balkan counterparts, the bloc declined to agree on a timetable for membership. EU leaders reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to an enlargement process for the six Western Balkans states and acknowledged their future lies as members of the bloc. In a joint declaration, the EU leaders said the bloc “reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans.”

But the lack of a concrete schedule is prompting fears the delay will only serve to further the influence of Russia and China, especially in Serbia, and won’t help to stabilize a region that has still to lay to rest the ghosts of the ethnic wars of the 1990s.

“If the EU doesn’t expand, others will expand,” Slovenia’s Prime Minister, Janez Jansa, told German broadcaster ARD, referring to Russia and China.

Germany’s Angela Merkel, currently acting as her country’s caretaker chancellor, has also expressed concern. “There is an absolute geo-strategic interest for us to really accept these countries into the European Union,” she said in Slovenia.

But geo-strategic interests have failed to overcome objections, large and small, to enlargement from most of the EU member states. Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to acknowledge its language has Bulgarian roots, and until it does Sofia plans to continue to veto enlargement. 

Other EU governments are worried about a migration surge from the Balkans, if the candidate countries are admitted. 

“Western Balkans citizens are increasingly losing faith in seeing their countries ever joining the EU,” notes Engjellushe Morina, a Balkans expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR), a pan-European think tank.

And there are risks of democratic back-sliding as a consequence of the delay, she fears.  

“Progress toward EU membership has been slow for these countries, which is arguably part of the reason for the region’s recent democratic backsliding,” Morina notes in an ECFR commentary. “Populist nationalism is now a powerful force, which combined with an absence of functioning checks and balances, has created new political and security risks for the region.” 

She adds: “The risks for the EU are considerable. Any greater flourishing of the nationalist and illiberal leadership in the region could at some point cause a slide into ethnic violence.”

The prospects of EU membership have been a major driver of political and judicial reforms in the Balkans since the former Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s into warring parts. Candidate countries are required to meet certain democratic standards, implement socio-economic reforms and show due respect for the rule of law. 

And the chance to join the EU also has helped to drive some progress toward a normalization of relations between the states of the Western Balkans, according to European diplomats and analysts. With membership prospects dashed, or forever stalled, they fear the determination to reform and to overcome a past of ethnic grievance will be lost, too.

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US, Greece Enhance Ties with China, Turkey in the Background

The United States and Greece upgraded an existing Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement on Thursday, a move seen as elevating bilateral ties in defense and overall relations.

The amendment to the MDCA was signed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and visiting Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Washington as part of the third round of the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue. The talks were launched in 2018 by then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Greek counterpart.

Blinken described the dialogue as “a signal of our shared commitment to deepen our partnership” through which the two countries will become “an even more powerful force for peace, prosperity and human dignity.”

The amendment will enable U.S. forces in Greece “to train and operate from additional locations,” Blinken told a Thursday news conference.

Dendias described the amendment as one that safeguards Greek interests and enables collaboration beyond defense issues.

“It also creates a shell [framework] that allows the United States to invest in Greece, not only for the improvement of our country’s defense facilities, but to do so in a broader framework of cooperation that is being established and improved,” he said.

The agreement comes as tension appears to be rising in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and its neighbor Turkey have recently accused each other of aggressive actions that threaten an escalation of territorial disputes.

Reliable ally

Congressman Ted Deutch, a senior member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also met with Dendias this week. In written response to VOA’s request for comment, Deutch, chairman of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, said Greece is a reliable ally in the eastern Mediterranean region.

“The U.S.-Greece relationship is vital to U.S. national interests and to the security and stability of the Eastern Mediterranean region. Greece has consistently proven itself to be a reliable ally in the region, and the United States must continue to support its efforts to modernize its armed forces and strengthen our nations’ strategic partnership,” Deutch said.

Deutch said the importance of this partnership is behind his decision to sponsor, with Representative Gus Bilirakis, the United States-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act of 2021.

The bill, he said, is designed to foster interparliamentary engagement among Greece, Cyprus and Israel, known as the “3+1 process,” in addition to supporting Greece’s military modernization.

“Encouraging continued security cooperation among our allies and partners, including Greece, will help us ensure stability throughout the region and bolster global security,” Deutch told VOA in a written statement.

Stephen J. Blank, a senior fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told VOA in a phone interview that while the strengthening of defense ties with Athens sends a signal that the U.S. will support Greece, Washington’s overriding concern is ensuring that the “two NATO allies that have a long history of mutual enmity dating back to Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, don’t start a war.”

China

China’s influence in Greece, particularly its purchase of a majority stake in the largest and strategically located port in Greece, the Port of Piraeus, is another factor in the background of talks between Washington and Athens.

China Ocean Shipping Company purchased a 51% stake in the Piraeus Port Authority in 2016 and signed a deal to obtain an additional 16% stake last month, despite having delivered only a third of agreed-to investments under the initial agreement.

Eric Brown, who studies China’s strategic designs at the Hudson Institute in Washington, told VOA that the Port of Piraeus “has featured prominently in the [People’s Republic of China’s] imagining of the new world system that it is striving to build,” as a key component to China’s maritime Silk Road Initiative.

Even though Beijing’s control of a key Greek and European strategic asset may put a question mark in the minds of policymakers in Washington and Brussels, the fact that China is situated in a different part of the world limits its potential as a guarantor of security for countries like Greece, Brown said.

“Geography matters,” he said.

Chinese ownership of a key port at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa nonetheless poses significant security concerns, U.S. analysts say.

“They own it now, they can use for economic, military, intelligence purposes, whatever they want,” Blank said.

David Stilwell, a former Pentagon and State Department official who served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said deals Beijing has managed to strike may not always last, pointing to recent reports that the 99-year lease between a Chinese state-backed entity and the Australian Port of Darwin may either be scrapped or subjected to additional scrutiny on security grounds.

In Stilwell’s view, the more distance democratic countries put between themselves and Beijing, the better. He considers Lithuania’s recent decision to withdraw from a multilateral forum designed to increase collaboration between China and Central and Eastern European countries as a model that other countries can learn from. 

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Turkey Presses Taliban for Female Education and Inclusive Afghan Government 

Turkey hosted leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban government for the first time Thursday, repeating its advice to the Islamist group on the need to form an inclusive government in the war-torn South Asian nation and to ensure Afghan female participation in education as well as public life. 

 

After Thursday’s meeting with the visitors, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a televised news conference in Ankara that the Taliban asked for humanitarian aid and the continuation of Turkish investment in Afghanistan.

 

Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and his delegation arrived in Turkey for the talks following meetings in Qatar this week with envoys from the United States and European diplomats. In those discussions, Muttaqi warned that attempts to pressure his government through sanctions would undermine the security of not only Afghanistan but the world in general and spark an exodus of Afghan economic migrants.

 

“We have told the international community about the importance of engagement with the Taliban administration. In fact, recognition and engagement are two different things,” Cavusoglu said. 

 

The Taliban have been seeking international legitimacy for their male-only Cabinet in Kabul since returning to power two months ago after waging an insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government for 20 years. Several members of the Taliban Cabinet have been blacklisted by the United Nations. 

Cavusoglu said that in talks with the Taliban delegates, the Turkish side underscored the importance of Afghan girls’ education and women’s employment in business life. 

 

While boys were allowed last month to return to secondary school, the hardline movement has not permitted girls at the same level to resume their education, insisting that it must put in place a “safe learning environment” before female students could return. 

 

Taliban acting Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi wrote on his Twitter feed that the wide-ranging discussions with officials in Ankara covered bilateral diplomatic ties, humanitarian aid, Afghan refugees and resumption of Turkish commercial flights to Afghanistan.

Washington has frozen nearly $10 billion in Afghan assets — parked mainly in the U.S. Federal Reserve — since the Taliban took over the country. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have also halted financial assistance and lending programs for Kabul, citing human rights concerns under the Taliban rule. 

 

The U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing the Taliban to keep their promises to form an inclusive Afghan government, protect human rights (especially those of women), fight terrorism and not restrict freedom of expression. 

 

However, critics say freezing Afghan assets could trigger an economic meltdown that could worsen the growing humanitarian crisis facing the country.

The United Nations has warned that about 1 million Afghan children are at risk of starvation and more than 18 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance. A deepening drought and the approaching harsh winter are only going to make matters worse, the U.N. says. 

 

U.N. officials told reporters in New York on Thursday that they are working to scale up assistance to reach Afghans in need. 

 

The World Food Program last month reached 4 million people with food and nutrition assistance across all 34 Afghan provinces, three times the number it reached in August, said U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric 

 

The head of WFP, David Beasley, stressed that if international aid did not flow as soon as possible, it would be catastrophic, and that this was a war on hunger. 

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

 

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La Palma Records Strong Earthquake as Volcano Eruption Continues

A 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Spanish island of La Palma overnight Thursday, officials said, the strongest recorded since the island’s Cumbre Vieja volcano began erupting last month. 

Spain’s National Geographic Institute reports the earthquake was one of as many as 100 that shook the island in the past 24 hours. Earthquakes have been a regular feature of the volcanic eruption that began on the island September 19 and shows no signs of stopping soon. 

Meanwhile, the Canary Islands Security and Emergencies Department has ordered 300 more residents to evacuate from Tazacorte and La Laguna as the lava flow advances closer to those towns. 

The eruption has forced more than 6,000 to abandon their homes on the island. 

More than 1,500 buildings and more than 600 hectares of land on the western side of the island have been destroyed by lava flows

The La Palma government said the flow from three rivers of molten rock has broadened to more than 1.7 kilometers. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the Island Wednesday and said the government is considering additional aid for the island residents and its industries, which have been disrupted if not devastated by the eruption. 

The government has already approved about $250 million in assistance. 

La Palma is part of the Canary Islands archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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Biden to Meet With Pope, Attend Climate Talks in Europe

U.S. President Joe Biden plans to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican later this month, the White House said Thursday. 

“They will discuss working together on efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor,” the White House said in a statement. The statement said first lady Jill Biden will also take part in the audience with the pope. 

The meeting on Oct. 29 comes on the eve of a two-day summit of G20 leaders in Rome. Biden hopes to reach agreement at the meeting on a global minimum corporate income tax rate of 15% to help ensure businesses don’t continue to avoid taxation, according to the Reuters news agency, which cited a White House official.

Biden will then attend the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 1-2, when the official said the president would announce “key actions.” 

Biden, the second Roman Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, meets with the pope as some Catholic bishops in the U.S. have admonished Biden for his support of abortion rights. 

Biden’s pending visit to Europe will mark the second foreign trip of his presidency. Biden attended a European Union summit in Brussels in June and later met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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Russia Sets COVID-19 Death Record for 3rd Straight Day

Russian health officials Thursday reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths – 986 – for the third consecutive day, while also reporting a record 31,299 new confirmed infections.

The number of new cases breaks a record set last December, and marks the first time Russia has officially reported more than 30,000 cases in a single day. The nation has repeatedly set records for deaths while new infections have surged for much of the past month.

Russian officials have blamed the rise in infections on the nation’s sluggish vaccination program.

The Health Ministry reports this week that barely one-third of Russia’s population of 146 million has been fully inoculated, despite the fact the nation was quick to roll out its Sputnik vaccine early this year.

According to the Reuters news agency, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday urged newly elected lawmakers to actively support efforts to vaccinate more of the population. The government, however, has been reluctant to impose vaccine mandates.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday it was up to regional authorities to establish such rules.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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Paris Threatens Retaliation in an Explosive Anglo-French Fishing Dispute

France has threatened to retaliate against Britain in yet another post-Brexit dispute, this time over fishing rights in what the British call the English Channel and the French refer to as La Manche, the narrow arm of the Atlantic Ocean separating England’s southern coast from the northern shores of France.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday retaliation could begin by the end of next week.

France is fuming at the British government’s refusal to allow more French boats to fish in its territorial waters near Britain’s Channel Isles. Britain has issued 325 fishing licenses but declined 125 applications from French fishermen who say they also have been trawling those waters in recent years. Under the terms of the trade deal struck last year by Britain with the European Union as it exited the bloc, they should be granted access too, the fishermen say.

An exasperated French government has threatened a dramatic escalation in the dispute and warned it is considering cutting or reducing electricity supplies to the Channel Islands and the British mainland, which gets 7% of its power from France.

The dispute over French trawlers accessing waters off Britain’s Channel Islands prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this year to dispatch Royal Navy vessels to patrol the area with France responding by sending patrol ships to protect French trawlers.

 

On Tuesday French Prime Minister Jean Castex said his government was ready to review all bilateral cooperation with Britain, and French President Emmanuel Macron has been pressing the EU to consider wider reprisals.

Speaking in France’s National Assembly Castex called on the EU to get tougher with Britain and said Brussels should “do more.” He added, “We will refer the matter to the arbitration panel of the agreement to lead the British to respect their word [and] we will question all the conditions for the more global implementation of the agreements concluded under the aegis of the European Union, but also, if necessary, the bilateral cooperation that we have with the United Kingdom,” he said.

But Brussels appears reluctant to get deeply involved in the fishing dispute, although officially it is backing Paris and has berated the British.

Dueling  

France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune has outlined some possible reprisals, including slapping tariffs on British fish exports. “Britons need us to sell their products, including from fishing, they need us for their energy, for their financial services and for their research centres,” Beaune said last week. “All of this gives us pressure points. We have the means to modulate the degree of our cooperation, to reduce it, if Britain does not implement the agreement,” he added.

In the grander scheme of things, a dispute over 125 fishing licenses would seem a minor matter that should not derail relations between European neighbors, but the two governments have been dueling angrily for months and the clash over post-Brexit fishing is adding venom to an already poisonous relationship.

 

Diplomats on both sides describe Anglo-French relations as “dreadful” and acknowledge they have never been as bad in their professional lifetimes. They say for a comparison you would have to go back to the 1960s. That was when French President Gen. Charles de Gaulle kept slamming the door on British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s efforts to get France’s backing for Britain to join the then-European Community. Macmillan was reduced to tears of frustration after one meeting with De Gaulle.

But at least the two statesmen met face-to-face. The British say they have been trying to arrange sit-down talks for months between Johnson and Macron. Their French counterparts say they doubt a sit-down between the two leaders would accomplish anything.

Other historians cite as a comparison the 1890s when Britain and France were locked in rivalry in a scramble for African colonies. That competition eventually ended when the two signed in 1904 the Entente Cordiale, a set of agreements that marked a significant improvement in Anglo-French relations.

But there are few prospects of a new Entente Cordiale. Some former British diplomats agree there is little point in a Johnson-Macron face-to-face. “The bilateral rows are more numerous and more public than at any time since the major rift over Iraq in 2003. Some level of trust has to be rebuilt before a summit would be worthwhile,” tweeted Peter Rickets, a retired senior diplomat and former chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Post-Brexit friction

Since formally departing the EU more than year ago — and in the years of ill-tempered negotiations between Brussels and London leading up to Brexit — hardly a week has gone by without the British and French sniping at each other, a squabbling that has been amplified by Britain’s notoriously Francophobe tabloid press and France’s equally patriotic media.

In his New Year address in January, Macron assured Britain that France would remain a “friend and ally” despite Brexit, but he slammed the British decision to leave the bloc as one born from “lies and false promises.”

This year alone the two countries have clashed cross-Channel migration with London accusing French authorities of not doing enough to stop migrants and asylum-seekers — more than 10,000 this year so far — crossing La Manche in dinghies and small boats. The French have accused Britain of not having paid money it promised to help French authorities police their coastline to prevent migrants from trying to cross the Channel.

The countries have clashed also over supplies of the COVID vaccine made by AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, with the French left fuming at the Johnson government’s frequent readiness to compare the speed of the vaccine rollout earlier in the year in Britain with the much slower inoculation programs in France and the rest of Europe.

 

British ministers this week accused France of having stolen – earlier this year – five million coronavirus vaccine doses manufactured in Holland but destined for Britain. They say Macron worked with EU chiefs to divert the large batch of Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs to France. British government officials told Britain’s The Sun newspaper that the diversion was “outrageous” and could have cost lives, if Britain had not managed to secure Pfizer vaccines.

And the two governments have bickered over Australia’s decision last month to abandon a $66 billion deal to buy 12 French diesel-electric submarines and to purchase instead at least eight much more sophisticated nuclear-powered attack boats from Britain and America.

France’s defense minister cancelled scheduled talks with her British counterpart as the submarine row reverberated and amid accusations from Paris that Britain had been “opportunistic” and underhanded. Johnson responded blithely by saying in Franglais, “I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip [get a grip] about all this and donnez-moi un break [give me a break].”

With next year’s French presidential election looming and the British prime minister under mounting economic pressure, both Macron and Johnson have domestic political reasons to prolong the duel, fear some political commentators. “French President Emmanuel Macron faces a tough and unpredictable election in six months’ time, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is looking for distractions and scapegoats as reality starts to contradict his cheerful bluster about a plucky, triumphant, stand-alone Brexit Britain,” John Lichfield, a former foreign editor of Britain’s Independent newspaper, noted in a commentary for the Politico.eu news site.

“Both countries are obsessed with each other, for different reasons, and often with silly outcomes,” tweeted Jonathan Eyal, an associate director of the Royal United Services Institute, a London defense think tank.

Ten EU member states including Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium have joined the French in signing a joint statement that calls on Britain to abide by the terms of the Brexit trade agreement and to ensure “continuity” for French fishing fleets. But the joint statement also called for a negotiated solution and avoided any mention of retaliation.

Privately, EU officials say they are determined to ensure the Anglo-French fishing dispute does not escalate and are playing down the prospect of the bloc as a whole agreeing to retaliatory action. Their priority is on resolving a bigger dispute between the EU and Britain over Northern Ireland.

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Five Killed, Two Hurt in Norway Bow-and-Arrow Attack; Suspect Arrested

A man armed with a bow and arrows killed five people and wounded two others on Wednesday in southeastern Norway, police said, adding that they had arrested the suspect. 

The motive for the attack, which took place in several locations in the center of Kongsberg, was not yet known, but police said terrorism could not be ruled out. 

Local police official Oyvind Aas confirmed that five people were dead. The two wounded were in critical care units in the hospital but their lives did not appear to be in danger, he told a news conference. 

One of the wounded was an off-duty police officer who had been in a store, one of the several places attacked. 

The suspect “has been arrested by the police and, according to our information, there is only one person involved,” Aas told the news conference.

He said that “given how events unfolded, it is natural to assess whether this is a terrorist attack.” 

“The arrested man has not been interviewed and it is too early to say anything about his motives,” he said, adding that “all possibilities were open.” 

Norway’s intelligence service PST had been alerted, spokesman Martin Bernsen told AFP. 

“It is all conjecture at the moment,” he said when asked about the possibility of a terrorist motive. 

Police said the suspect had been taken to a police station in the nearby town of Drammen but gave no other details about the man, including whether he had previously been known to the authorities. 

Police were informed of the attack at 6:13 p.m. local time (1613 GMT) in the town of 25,000 people, around 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the capital Oslo. The suspect was arrested at 6:47 p.m. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Twitter that he was “shocked and saddened” by the tragedy.

“These events shake us,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg on her last day in office. 

On Thursday she will hand over the prime ministership to Jonas Gahr Store, whose Labour Party won parliamentary elections on September 13. 

The scene of the attack was blocked off by police, an AFP correspondent said. 

Police urged the public to stay at home and several neighborhoods were cordoned off, with television footage showing ambulances and armed police in the area.

Police in the Scandinavian country are not normally armed, but after the attack the National Police Directorate ordered that officers be armed nationwide. 

A helicopter and bomb disposal team were also sent to the scene. 

The website of public broadcaster NRK published an image sent by a witness of a black arrow sticking out of a wall.

In other pictures from the scene, what looked like competition-grade arrows could be seen on the ground. 

Norway suffered one of history’s worst mass shootings on in July 22, 2011, when right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people. 

Breivik first set off a bomb in Oslo next to the building that housed the office of the prime minister, then went on a shooting spree at a summer camp for left-wing youths on the island of Utoya. 

In another right-wing attack, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Philip Manshaus opened fire into a mosque on the outskirts of Oslo in August 2019 before being overpowered by worshippers, with no one being seriously injured.

However, he had earlier shot dead his step-sister, who had been adopted from China, in what prosecutors termed a “racist act.” 

Several planned jihadi attacks have also been foiled by security services. 

 

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WHO Honors Henrietta Lacks, Woman Whose Cells Served Science

The chief of the World Health Organization on Wednesday honored the late Henrietta Lacks, an American woman whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge during the 1950s and ended up providing the foundation for vast scientific breakthroughs, including research about the coronavirus. 

 

The recognition from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came more than a decade after the publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” Rebecca Skloot’s book about the discrimination in health care faced by Black Americans, the life-saving innovations made possible by Lacks’ cells and her family’s legal fight over their unauthorized use. 

 

“What happened to Henrietta was wrong,” Tedros said during a special ceremony at WHO Geneva headquarters before handing the Director-General’s Award for Henrietta Lacks to her 87-year-old son Lawrence Lacks as several of her other descendants looked on.

Reproduced infinitely ever since, HeLa cells have become a cornerstone of modern medicine, including the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping and even COVID-19 vaccines. 

Tedros noted that Lacks lived at a time when racial discrimination was legal in the United States and that it remains widespread, even if no longer legal in most countries.

“Henrietta Lacks was exploited. She is one of many women of color whose bodies have been misused by science,” he said. “She placed her trust in the health system so she could receive treatment. But the system took something from her without her knowledge or consent.” 

 

“The medical technologies that were developed from this injustice have been used to perpetuate further injustice because they have not been shared equitably around the world,” Tedros added.

The HeLa cell line — a name derived from the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last names — was a scientific breakthrough. Tedros said the cells were “foundational” in the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, which can eliminate the cancer that took her life.

As of last year, WHO said, less than 25% of the world’s low-income countries and fewer than 30% of lower-middle-income countries had access to HPV vaccines through national immunization programs, compared to over 85% of high-income countries. 

 

“Many people have benefited from those cells. Fortunes have been made. Science has advanced. Nobel Prizes have been won, and most importantly, many lives have been saved,” Tedros said. “No doubt Henrietta would have been pleased that her suffering has saved others. But the end doesn’t justify the means.”

WHO said more than 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world and used in more than 75,000 studies. 

 

Last week, Lacks’ estate sued a U.S. biotechnology company, accusing it of selling cells that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took from her without her knowledge or consent as part of “a racially unjust medical system.” 

 

“We stand in solidarity with marginalized patients and communities all over the world who are not consulted, engaged or empowered in their own care,” Tedros said. 

 

“We are firm that in medicine and in science, Black lives matter,” he added. “Henrietta Lacks’ life mattered — and still matters. Today is also an opportunity to recognize those women of color who have made incredible but often unseen contributions to medical science.”

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Increased Turkish-Syrian Tensions Over Idlib Could Benefit Putin

Syrian government forces backed by Russia have recently ramped up attacks against Idlib, the last rebel enclave. A Turkish military force stands in the way of Syrian troops that are poised to seize Idlib, a move Ankara fears could result in millions of refugees fleeing to Turkey. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul

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Erdogan Says Media Are ‘Incomparably Free,’ But Turkish Journalists Disagree

Turkey’s president has brushed aside criticism of the country’s press freedom record, telling a U.S. broadcaster the country is “incomparably free.”

But his comments on CBS came in the same month that several journalists were fighting lawsuits.

One of those — journalist and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative Erol Onderoglu– was back in court on September 30 for a trial related to his role in a 2016 solidarity campaign with Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

“Turkey is still one of the countries with the harshest conditions for arresting journalists in Europe, if not in the world,” Onderoglu told VOA.

As well as arrests, often on accusations of supporting or producing propaganda for terrorist organizations, Onderoglu said that opposition journalists have problems in obtaining press cards; critical TV channels are arbitrarily fined by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) regulator; and opposition newspapers have lost government advertising revenue. 

But during his interview, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that U.S. President Joe Biden has not raised Turkey’s treatment of journalists during private conversations between the two leaders and that Erdogan does not accept the findings of media rights groups that have documented mass arrests.

“We don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms. Turkey is incomparably free,” Erdogan told CBS.

Turkey’s communication directorate did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. RTUK directed VOA to fill out a form providing personal information such as address, date of birth and identity card number.

Media watchdogs including RSF and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have documented hundreds of arrests or lawsuits filed against the media in the past five years.

Because of that, Onderoglu said, “Our view cannot be similar to Mr. Erdogan’s understanding of media freedom and his view of critical and alternative media in Turkey. We see severe problems in the field.”

Gorkem Kinaci, of Turkish daily Evrensel, also believes that arrests and lawsuits counter Erdogan’s view. 

“The trials of journalists, fines handed to newspapers, and censorship laws reveal the government’s record on freedom of the press very clearly,” Kinaci told VOA via email. 

Kinaci holds the title of responsible news editor at Evrensel, a unique role that makes him legally responsible for the content his outlet produces.  

Others, however, said that Turkey’s record needs to be viewed in the context of an attempted coup in 2016. 

Hilal Kaplan, a columnist at the Sabah newspaper and its English edition Daily Sabah, told VOA, “It is necessary to look at the unique conditions in Turkey” following the coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of more than 250 people. 

Legal threats

Kinaci, from Evrensel, is one of the many journalists in Turkey facing legal action. He and his paper are fighting a civil defamation suit filed last month over its reporting on allegations of corruption directed at the deputy health minister, Selahattin Aydin. 

The paper later published a rebuttal from the deputy minister, as ordered by the court, but Aydin is still seeking thousands of lira in damages.   

VOA emailed Aydin and the Ministry of Health for comment but did not receive a reply.

Evrensel’s lawyer Devrim Avci called the case a violation of press freedom and said the case is just one example of dozens made against the outlet.

“Honestly, it can be challenging to catch up with all of them sometimes,” Avci told VOA.

Evrensel “has always paid the consequences of being an opposition newspaper,” but this has increased after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, Avci said.

Beside the defamation case, Avci said the outlet has been accused of insulting the president and inciting hatred and enmity among the public.

The lawyer said she believes the government is trying to silence Evrensel by punishing it financially. As well as legal cases that can result in fines or damages, Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BIK) banned the paper from receiving an allocation of government ad revenue in September 2019.   

Overseen by the presidency’s directorate of communication, the BIK is responsible for distributing official announcements that provide a regular source of revenue for newspapers. 

The government body has power to impose public advertisement bans on newspapers deemed to have violated press ethics.  

Media freedom advocates have said the BIK is using bans to stifle critical media and is not being transparent about the distribution of public money. 

BIK ended the practice of sharing its annual reports with the public when Turkey transitioned to a new presidential system in 2018.

Details of how the body works however, were revealed in May when the Turkish service of Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle published details from an internal report it had obtained. 

DW reported that in 2020, pro-government newspapers received around 78% of public funds paid for official announcements, while

97% of advertisement bans were issued against five opposition outlets including Cumhuriyet, Evrensel, and BirGun. 

When VOA sent an email to BIK requesting comment it was directed to fill out a form requesting personal information.

Coup investigation

The number of journalists jailed in Turkey rose sharply in 2016 as authorities arrested those it said were connected to the coup attempt. Data from the end of that year by CPJ, which covers media workers imprisoned as a direct result of their work, showed 86 journalists in custody.

Media watchdogs have accused Ankara of using the coup attempt as an excuse to silence critical or opposition voices.

Kaplan, who contributes to outlets that are part of the Turkuvaz Media Group, a company widely described as pro-government, believes some people used their profession as a cover during that time.

“In Turkey, there are people who serve the terrorist organization with their journalistic identity,” Kaplan said, referring to the Gulen movement which Turkey blamed for the coup attempt. The group is led by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom President Erdogan says masterminded the failed coup. The cleric, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., denies involvement.

As well as Gulenists, supporters of groups including the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front use their journalism as a cover, Kaplan said. 

Both groups are designated as terrorist organizations by Turkey and the United States.

This distinction, Kaplan said, is not taken into account when watchdogs condemn Turkey for jailing journalists.

“Therefore, considering all these, I think that a correct assessment, file by file, should be done. But unfortunately, without taking this into account, there is a biased view that calls anyone who says they are just a journalist, a journalist, and does not seek any credibility, in this sense,” Kaplan said.

RSF’s Onderoglu, who has documented and advocated for hundreds of journalists detained or facing legal charges for their work, says media repression is ongoing.

“The enmity to the critical press and the environment in which the critical, independent media are wanted to be brought to their knees did not end,” Onderoglu said.

 

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Shipping Giant Diverts Vessels From Crisis-Hit UK

Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk said Tuesday it had started to divert vessels away from Britain’s biggest container port because of congestion, the latest fallout from multiple crises hitting the United Kingdom. 

The country is suffering runaway energy prices, shortages of goods, fuel delivery issues and a worsening long-term shortage of lorry drivers, with post-Brexit immigration controls and the pandemic among the causes cited by experts.   

Felixstowe in eastern England has been particularly hard hit, prompting Maersk to divert one ship each week out of the usual two or three that call there. 

A company spokeswoman said the ships, each carrying thousands of containers, were being redirected to continental ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp.   

Cargo would then be loaded onto smaller vessels to dock at other British ports or at Felixstowe when space opens up. 

The spokeswoman said the firm was committed to getting goods to Britain for Black Friday and Christmas.   

Maersk official Lars Mikael Jensen said the driver shortage had slowed down container movements at Felixstowe, which deals with just over one-third of U.K. freight container volumes.   

“We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo,” he said. 

“We did it for a little while over the summer, and now we’re starting to do it again.” 

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