UK: G-7 to Set Up Group to Study Russian ‘Malign Behavior’

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations will create a working group to study Russia’s “malign behavior” given concerns about Moscow’s actions, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have increased steadily over recent years as Russia has become involved in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, and Russia is also blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain last month.

Johnson said the G-7 ministers, wrapping up a two-day meeting in Toronto, had agreed on the need to be vigilant about Russia, which denies interfering in the U.S. election, or involvement in the attack in Britain.

“What we decided yesterday was that we were going to set up a G-7 group that would look at Russian malign behavior in all its manifestations – whether it’s cyber warfare, whether it’s disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be and collectively try to call it out,” he told reporters.

The challenge for the G-7 is that it also needs Moscow’s help to solve the crisis in Syria, where Russia and Iran are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that the final communique “establishes again that there will be no political solution in Syria without Russia … and that Russia has to contribute its share to such a solution.”

The G-7 meeting is the first high-level gathering of the allies since the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack on April 7.

The Western countries blame Assad for the attack that killed dozens of people. The Syrian government and its Russian ally deny involvement or using poison gas on April 7.

“We spent a considerable amount of time talking about Russia … we all share deep concerns about what we agree is unacceptable behavior including the despicable nerve agent attack in the U.K.,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told a closing news conference.

“The countries of the G-7 are united in our resolve to work together to respond to this continued flaunting of international laws,” she said, adding that the working group would help democracies from being undermined.

Maas also said the leaders of France and Germany would urge U.S. President Donald Trump not to pull out of an Iran nuclear deal with major powers.

Trump has given the European signatories of the deal a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear agreement, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

The agreement offered Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

“We accept that Iranian behavior has been disruptive in the region, we accept the president has some valid points that need to be addressed but we believe they are capable of being addressed [inside the deal],” said Johnson.

 

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Karadzic Launches Appeal Against UN War Crimes Convictions

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic insisted Monday that Serb forces acted only in self-defense during Bosnia’s bloody 1992-95 conflict as he called on appeals judges to overturn his multiple convictions and 40-year sentence for masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war.

 

Karadzic and his legal team argued that prosecutors and trial judges committed a string of legal and procedural errors during his lengthy U.N. trial.

 

“Certain statements were misused, rights were neglected, facts were distorted and motives were concealed,” Karadzic told a five-judge panel. “The consequences of this entire conduct were then portrayed as sheer madness.”

 

The 72-year-old former Bosnian Serb strongman said that after studying all the evidence and defense arguments, “I believe that the chamber … will find this judgment unsafe and quash it.”

 

Karadzic is one of the most senior leaders from the Balkan wars of the 1990s to be convicted at a U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He was found guilty in March 2016 of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in crimes including the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

 

Now, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, a court set up to deal with cases arising from international tribunals that have now closed, is hearing appeals both by Karadzic and by prosecutors, who argue that he should have been convicted on two counts of genocide and given a life sentence. Judges will likely take months to reach a decision.

 

Defense lawyers said that trial judges denied Karadzic the right to testify in his own defense in the manner he wanted – by giving a narrative account of his version of events. Attorney Kate Gibson said that denial was a procedural error “so fundamental, so manifest that alone it warrants a retrial.”

 

Prosecution lawyer Katrina Gustafson rejected the assertion, telling judges that during his trial Karadzic “didn’t challenge the ruling that he was to testify in question and answer format.”

 

Karadzic used his comments Monday to present his side of the war, underscoring his longtime contention that Serbs acted in self-defense and accusing trial judges of ignoring testimony of his defense witnesses.

 

“There is so much evidence that our strategy was not offensive,” he said. “Our strategy was defensive in all of Bosnia. The territories were not taken by force.”

 

In total, Karadzic raised 50 grounds of appeal in a lengthy written document. The appeals hearing is the latest legal twist in Karadzic’s long fight to clear his name. In a separate case, his former military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, also is appealing his 2017 convictions and life sentence based on a near-identical indictment.

 

Munira Subasic, who leads an organization called the Mothers of Srebrenica, said Karadzic should have used the hearing to apologize.

 

“But the lies he told today, the statements he made today – it all left me in state of shock,” she told Al Jazeera Balkans.

 

She said Karadzic is seeking to blame Mladic, “But in fact, the truth is that he [Karadzic] created Mladic, he was the man in charge, he was commander-in-chief.”

 

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Macron Starting State Visit with Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump is welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House on Monday for a three-day state visit, during which the two leaders have scheduled a mix of official meetings and social events.

WATCH: Macron remarks shortly after landing in Washington

Shortly after his arrival, the French leader and his wife Brigitte Macron, Trump and his wife, first lady Melania Trump, are planting a European Sessile Oak sapling on the South Lawn of the White House, a gift from the Macrons.

About a meter and a half tall and between five and 10 years old, the tree comes from Belleau Wood, where more than 9,000 American Marines died in a 1918 World War I battle on French soil as allied forces fought off German troops.

​The two couples are then taking a helicopter tour of historic monuments in Washington before heading to Mt. Vernon, the majestic 18th century estate of the first U.S. president, George Washington, that overlooks the Potomac River in nearby Virginia. They are touring Washington’s white, British Palladian-style mansion, one of the country’s most popular tourist sites, before having dinner there.

On Tuesday, Trump and his wife are hosting the official military welcoming ceremony at the White House for the Macrons that will include nearly 500 U.S. troops from all five branches of its armed forces.

The leaders will then hold official talks, with Macron set to try to keep Trump from withdrawing next month from the 2015 international pact restraining Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The United States and France, along with Britain, Germany, Russia and China, negotiated the agreement with Tehran in exchange for lifting sanctions that had hobbled Iran’s economy.

But Trump says the deal is the “worst ever” negotiated by the United States and will eventually allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. Macron and Trump are also expected to discuss trade issues, the continuing civil war in Syria and other world concerns.

The Trumps are hosting their first state dinner for the Macrons on Tuesday at the White House, with the Washington National Opera set to entertain.

Macron is addressing Congress, in English, on Wednesday, before heading back to Paris.

 

 

 

 

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France’s Macron: US Role in Syria Vital

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to the United States for a state visit with President Donald Trump, looking to convince him of the need to keep a U.S. presence in Syria even after the defeat of Islamic State terrorists.

Ahead of his arrival in Washington Monday, Macron told Fox News during an interview at the Elysee Palace in Paris, “We will have to build a new Syria after war. That’s why I think the U.S. role is very important.”

He described the U.S. as “a player of last resorts for peace and multilateralism.”

Trump has said he wants to pull the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as soon as possible, even as a week ago he ordered the U.S. military to join France and Britain in launching a barrage of missiles targeting Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to a suspected Syrian gas attack. Trump’s planned troop withdrawal comes after the fall of Raqqa, IS’s self-declared capital of its religious caliphate in northern Syria.

“I’m going to be very blunt,” Macron said in the interview. “If we leave … will we leave the floor to the Iranian regime and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad? They will prepare a new war.”

He said the U.S. and France are allied but that “even Russia and Turkey will have a very important role to play to create this new Syria and ensure the Syrian people decide for the future.”

Macron is set to arrive in Washington on Monday for three days of meetings, a speech in English to Congress, social events and Trump’s first state dinner.

His visit is occurring as an international chemical weapons monitoring group said its team of inspectors has collected samples at the site of the alleged gas attack two weeks ago in the Syrian town of Douma.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a report based on the findings and other information gathered by the team will be drafted after the samples are analyzed by designated laboratories.

The group added it will “evaluate the situation and consider future steps, including another possible visit to Douma.”

The fact-finding team’s attempts to enter the town were initially postponed for several days due to a series of security-related setbacks.

Emergency responders said at least 40 people were killed in the suspected April 7 gas attack, which the U.S. and its allies blamed on the Assad regime.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, a violation of international law, and invited inspectors to investigate.

They arrived in Syria on April 14, the same day the U.S., Britain and France launched missiles targeting three chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

Ken Ward, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, claimed on April 16 the Russians had already visited the site of the chemical weapons attack and “may have tampered with it,” a charge Moscow rejected.

On April 9, Moscow’s U.N. ambassador told the U.N. Security Council that Russian experts had visited the site, collected soil samples, interviewed witnesses and medical personnel, and determined no chemical weapons attack had taken place.

U.S. military officials have said the airstrikes were designed to send a powerful message to Syria and its backers, showing that the United States, Britain and France could slice through the nation’s air defense systems at will.

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Turkey Opposition OKs Party Switch in Challenge to Erdogan

More than a dozen Turkish opposition lawmakers switched parties Sunday in a show of solidarity as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rivals scramble to challenge him in a surprise snap election that could solidify his rule.

A year ago, Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to change Turkey’s form of government to an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister and giving the president more powers. The change will take effect after the next elections.

 

The snap elections, called for June, caught Turkey off guard and come as the opposition is in disarray as it struggles to put forward candidates and campaign plans. The elections were initially supposed to take place in November 2019.

 

Officials from the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said 15 of its lawmakers would join the Iyi Party. The CHP, which is the main opposition party, said the decision was borne out of “democratic disposition.”

 

The center-right Iyi Party, established last fall, has been facing eligibility issues before the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, including not having enough seats in parliament.

 

The Iyi Party, which means “Good Party,” now has 20 lawmakers in parliament, enough to form a political group, satisfying an eligibility requirement. It wasn’t immediately clear if they would be asked to fulfill other requirements, including establishing organizations in half of Turkey’s provinces and completing its general congress, all to be completed six months before voting day.

 

But the party said it had already fulfilled those requirements as well.

 

That timing has posed a challenge after Erdogan agreed Wednesday to hold the elections more than a year ahead of schedule.

 

Iyi Party founder Meral Aksener, a former interior minister, is considered a serious contender against Erdogan and has announced her candidacy. She defected from Turkey’s main nationalist party allied with Erdogan, whose leader Devlet Bahceli called for the early elections.

 

Aksener, 61, can run for the presidency even without her party, if she can get 100,000 signatures from the public.

 

Turkey’s electoral board has yet to announce the presidential candidates and parties eligible to run.

 

 

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Armenian Opposition Leader Arrested

Armenia’s opposition leader was arrested Sunday, hours after the country’s prime minister walked out of a televised meeting between the two.

Opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan was arrested Sunday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, as he participated in one of the demonstrations that began last week when parliament elected Serzh Sargsyan prime minister after a decade serving as president.

Critics see the move as an attempt by Sargsyan to hold on to power.

Pashinyan has said he would like the demonstrations to be the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution,” a reference to the protests in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

About 15,000 people began the rallies Wednesday at Yerevan’s central Republic Square, with some holding posters that read “Make a step and reject Serzh.”  

The meeting Sunday between Sargsyan and Pashinyan was held with the aim of ending continuing anti-government protests.  Sargsyan walked out of the meeting when Pashinyan told him that he came to discuss his resignation, to which the prime minister responded, “This is blackmail.”

Sargsyan was nearing the end of his second and final term as president earlier this year when the country moved from a presidential to parliamentary system, empowering the position of the prime minister, which does not face term limits.  In April, Armenia’s ruling party moved to appoint Sargsyan as prime minister.

 

 

 

 

About 15,000 people began the rallies Wednesday at Yerevan’s central Republic Square, with some holding posters that read “Make a step and reject Serzh.”

 

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World Bank Shareholders Back $13 billion Capital Increase

The World Bank’s shareholders on Saturday endorsed a $13 billion paid-in capital increase that will boost China’s shareholding but bring lending reforms that will raise borrowing costs for higher-middle-income countries, including China.

The multilateral lender said the plan would allow it to lift the group’s overall lending to nearly $80 billion in fiscal 2019 from about $59 billion last year and to an average of about $100 billion annually through 2030.

“We have more than doubled the capacity of the World Bank Group,” the institution’s president, Jim Yong Kim, told reporters during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings in Washington. “It’s a huge vote of confidence, but the expectations are enormous.”

The hard-fought capital hike, initially resisted by the Trump administration, will add $7.5 billion paid-in capital for the World Bank’s main concessional lending arm, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Its commercial-terms lender, the International Finance Corp, will get $5.5 billion paid-in capital, and IBRD also will get a $52.6 billion increase in callable capital.

Lending rules

The bank agreed to change IBRD’s lending rules to charge higher rates for developing countries with higher incomes, to discourage them from excessive borrowing.

IBRD previously had charged similar rates for all borrowers, and U.S. Treasury officials had complained that it was lending too much to China and other bigger emerging markets.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Saturday that he supported the capital hike because of the reforms that it included. The last World Bank capital increase came in 2010.

Cost controls

The current hike comes with cost controls and salary restrictions that will hold World Bank compensation to “a little below average” for the financial sector, Kim said.

He added that there was nothing specific in the agreement that targeted a China lending reduction, but he said lending to China was expected to gradually decline.

In 2015, China founded the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and lends heavily to developing countries through its government export banks.

The agreement will lift China’s shareholding in IBRD to 6.01 percent from 4.68 percent, while the U.S. share would dip slightly to 16.77 percent from 16.89 percent. Washington will still keep its veto power over IBRD and IFC decisions.

Kim said the increase was expected to become fully effective by the time the World Bank’s new fiscal year starts July 1. Countries will have up to eight years to pay for the capital increase.

The U.S. contribution is subject to approval by Congress.

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Russia Considers Banning Facebook After Blocking Telegram

Russia says it may block Facebook if the social media company does not put its Russian user database on servers in Russian territory. The warning Wednesday by the head of the country’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor comes just days after a Russian move to block Telegram, the encrypted messaging app. VOA’s Iuliia Alieva has more in this report narrated by Anna Rice

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Plastic: If It’s Not Keeping Food Fresh, Why Use It?

The food industry uses plastic to wrap its products in many places around the world. Plastic manufacturers say that keeps produce and meat fresh longer, so less goes bad and is thrown away. But, according to a new European study, while the annual use of plastic packaging has grown since the 1950s, so has food waste. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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