Russia Blames Israel for Syrian Missile Downing Russian Plane

Russia’s Defense Ministry says “hostile” actions by Israeli fighter jet pilots led to Syrian air defense systems shooting down a Russian military reconnaissance plane.

Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Tuesday that Israeli forces were carrying out an attack in Syria’s Latakia province when they hid behind the Russian plane, using it to shield themselves from Syrian missiles.

Konashenkov said an S-200 missile brought down the Russian plane, killing 15 people.

Israel and Russia have for several years used a special hotline to notify each other of certain military actions in the region in order to prevent clashes. But Konashenkov said Israel gave Russia only one minute of notice of its operation, leaving the Russian plane no time to get out of the area.

He called Israel’s actions “irresponsible” and said Russia would have an “appropriate response.”

Israel’s military disputed Russia’s accusation it used one of its planes as cover, saying the aircraft “was not within the area of the operation” when it was hit.  It also said “when the Syrian army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, [Israeli] jets were already within Israeli airspace.”

The Israeli military blamed the militant Hezbollah group and and Iran for shooting down the plane and expressed sorrow for the deaths of the Russian aircrew.





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United States Keen to Invest Strategically in Greenland

The United States wants to invest in Greenland to enhance its “military operational flexibility and situational awareness,” its Department of Defense (DoD) said on Monday.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

The U.S. intends to “pursue potential strategic investments vigorously, including investments that may serve dual military and civilian purposes,” the DoD said in a statement published by the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen.

Greenland picked Denmark as its partner in a planned upgrade of two airports last week, seeking to defuse a diplomatic row over how the projects, of strategic interest to both Washington and Beijing, should be financed.

Greenland is a self-ruling part of the Kingdom of Denmark and while its government decides on most domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Copenhagen.

Denmark has been concerned that a Chinese investment — on the agenda since Greenland’s Prime Minister Kim Kielsen visited Beijing last year — could upset its close ally the U.S. 

The DoD said in Monday’s statement that it intends to analyze and, where appropriate, strategically invest in projects related to the airport infrastructure in Greenland.

The one-page “Statement of Intent” did not go into financial details.

“We welcome the American Statement of Intent, and look forward to discuss details of possible U.S. airport investments in Greenland,” Greenland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Motzfeldt, said in a statement.

Greenland’s government lost its parliamentary majority as a row between coalition partners escalated last week over how the planned airport projects should be financed.

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Macron Eyes Purchasing Power Boost to Ease Reform Fatigue

With his popularity ratings in freefall, French President Emmanuel Macron is counting on a rebound in family purchasing power to keep voters from turning against his reforms.

Macron’s government has lined up several tax cuts taking effect in the coming months that should boost the closely tracked measure of disposable income in France.

It could hardly come at a better time for Macron, with many voters saying the former investment banker has spent his first year in office cutting taxes for the wealthy and big companies.

More purchasing power was the single biggest priority in voters’ eyes, well ahead of cutting unemployment or the tax burden, according to a Kantar Sofres poll released on Sunday.

Squeezed by tax hikes on petrol and tobacco as well as oil price-driven inflation, household spending has floundered this year whereas it is traditionally the single biggest source of growth, accounting for 52 percent of economic output.

But next month workers will see a cut in payroll tax they pay to fund jobless insurance and the health system, followed by a cut in a city tax for all but the wealthiest in November.

“We are gradually going to improve French workers’ purchasing power,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told LCI television on Monday. “We are going to make work pay better. The French are going to see the fruit of these policies in the coming months.”

Consumer relief

With a solid parliamentary election behind him, Macron faced little resistance in his first year in office to a major overhaul of the labour code and the scrapping of the wealth tax.

But it earned him a reputation as a “president of the rich” that has been hard to shake off. A summer scandal over his bodyguard beating May Day protesters has further dented his image, and a popular environment minister resigned live on radio over frustration that Macron’s agenda was not green enough.

With his popularity ratings at all time lows, Macron needs to rebuild political capital before he launches what are set to be contentious reforms to unemployment insurance and the pension system next year, while also trying to cut public spending.

In addition to tax cuts this year, Macron’s government has pledged to scrap payroll tax next year on overtime work and profit participation schemes in small firms.

The central bank said in its latest economic outlook on Friday that the stars were aligned for a rebound in purchasing power starting at the end of this year and into 2019.

“We’re expecting about 200,000 [job creations] this year, that should translate into purchasing power for the French,  especially with inflation due to fall,” Bank of France governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told Europe 1 radio.

The government is counting on the rebound to help the economy grow 1.7 percent next year. While the central bank is optimistic about the outlook for disposable income, it is only expecting GDP growth of 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, despite the planned tax cuts, questions linger over whether households will actually feel any better off.

From January, taxes will be automatically deducted from people’s monthly pay slip, leaving those who are not already on a monthly plan – about 40 percent of taxpayers — with smaller net take-home pay.

Meanwhile, since the government’s measures to boost purchasing power mainly benefit workers, retirees are likely to be left out. Additionally, while the government has said it will raise the state pension next year it will do so by less than the rate of inflation so as to save money.

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Russia, Turkey Announce Plans for Demilitarized Zone in Syria’s Idlib Region

Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a “demilitarized zone” in Syria’s Idlib region to separate Syrian government forces from rebel fighters, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday after a lengthy meeting in Sochi with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The planned zone would be 15- to 20 kilometers deep, said Putin, and patrolled by Turkish and Russian soldiers. Putin said the zone is to be established by October 15.

Idlib is one of the last remaining areas resistant to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. About half the population of 3 million are already displaced from other areas, and international observers have voiced concerns that a government offensive could lead to further displacement and a massive loss of civilian life.

Although Russia is a close ally of Assad’s government and has expressed that his government has the right to recapture the region, Turkey has increasingly voiced concerns about a potential humanitarian disaster and sent troops to the area to ward off an assault.

Earlier this month, Erdogan met with Putin, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a trilateral summit in Tehran. The talks appeared to end in deadlock over efforts to avert conflict in Idlib. Tehran also backs Damascus in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.

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UK Police Say No Novichok Link to Salisbury Mystery Illness

British police said Monday that there is “nothing to suggest” two people who fell ill in a restaurant near the scene of an attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

Police officers and paramedics descended on the Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury after a man and a woman became sick on Sunday evening. Roads were cordoned off as medics in protective suits investigated.

The major response followed the March poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, and the later poisoning of two local people who came into contact with Novichok, one of whom died.

Wiltshire Police said the man and woman had been clinically assessed and “we can now confirm that there is nothing to suggest that Novichok is the substance.”

Police said the man in his 40s and woman in her 30s, whose names were not released, remained in hospital under observation.

Amanda Worne, who was at the restaurant, said a police officer told her the couple who fell ill were Russian. The police force declined to comment on their nationality.

The force said “it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed and inquiries remain ongoing.”

British officials blame the Russian government for the Novichok attack. The U.K. has charged two suspects in absentia, and said they worked for Russian military intelligence.

The two men went on Russian TV last week and said they were only tourists who had visited Salisbury to see its famous cathedral.

Health authorities say there is little risk to the public in Salisbury, but acknowledge they can’t be sure whether all of the nerve agent has been found and removed.

Salisbury City Council leader Matthew Dean tweeted that there had been “a number of false alarms since the Skripal poisoning.”

He said it was correct for emergency service personnel to start with a “highly precautionary approach until they know otherwise.”

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Anti-Kremlin Activist Treated in Berlin for Suspected Poisoning

An anti-Kremlin activist is being treated in a Berlin hospital for what members of the Pussy Riot band have called poisoning.

The publisher of a Russian online news outlet that criticizes the government, Pyotr Verzilov, reportedly lost his vision, hearing, and ability to walk Tuesday, following a court hearing

Verzilov was treated in a Moscow hospital last week, but was flown to Germany late Saturday on a flight chartered by the Cinema for Peace Foundation, which has long supported his and punk band Pussy Riot’s anti-Kremlin activism.

Verzilov’s wife, band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told the German newspaper Bild she believed he was poisoned. Another member of the band, Veronika Nikulshina, told a Russian website it was “definitely poisoning”.

His collapse Tuesday followed a 15-day sentence he served with Nikulshina and two other members of the band for storming the soccer field during the World Cup final in July to highlight Russian police abuses.

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Chair Umpire Ramos Hands Cilic Warning for Slamming Racket

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos has issued a code violation to Croatia after Marin Cilic slammed his racket to the clay and mangled the frame during a tense Davis Cup match against Sam Querrey of the United States.

Since it was the first violation of the match, it was only a warning. No points were deducted and Cilic did not exchange any words with Ramos.

Ramos was also the umpire who gave Serena Williams three code violations in her straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka during last weekend’s U.S. Open final. The American great argued she wasn’t being treated the same as some male players.

The normally collected Cilic lost his cool after committing a series of uncharacteristic errors late in the third set against Querrey.

After winning the opening set, Cilic wasted a 6-1 lead in the second-set tiebreak.

Querrey, who played in place of Steve Johnson, won the third set to take a two sets to one lead.

Croatia leads the best-of-five semifinal 2-1.

Croatia’s Borna Coric is due to face Frances Tiafoe in a potentially decisive fifth rubber.

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London Mayor Calls for Second Referendum on Brexit

London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for another referendum on Britain’s European Union membership, saying the prime minister’s handling of Brexit negotiations had become “mired in confusion and deadlock” and was leading the country down a damaging path.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29. But with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans still not accepted, some lawmakers, as well as union and business leaders are increasingly arguing for people to have a final say on any deal struck with Brussels.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding a second referendum following the vote two years ago to leave the EU. She says members of parliament will get to vote on whether to accept any final deal.

But with time running out for London and Brussels to thrash out a Brexit deal, the British government is preparing plans for a no-deal Brexit.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond told senior ministers last week that Brexit could have to be delayed beyond March 29 in order to pass new laws, The Sun newspaper said on Saturday.

The idea was immediately rejected by May, the report said. Khan, a senior member of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said Britain was now facing either a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit, both of which were “incredibly risky” for Britain.

Writing in Sunday’s Observer newspaper, Khan blamed the government’s handling of the negotiations and said the threat to living standards, the economy and jobs was too great for voters not to have a say.

“The government’s abject failure.” and the huge risk we face of a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit.” means that giving people a fresh say is now the right — and only.” approach left for our country,” he said.

Khan’s support for a second referendum, which supporters call a “people’s vote”, will put more pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to change his opposition to the idea.

Labour is due to start its four-day annual party conference in a week’s time.

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Famous Italian Designer Touts Vision of Humanistic Capitalism

An Italian designer’s dream to improve the quality of life of his workers and the environment where his company is located has turned his vision into reality in the past 40 years. Brunello Cucinelli calls his philosophy humanistic capitalism. He has adapted the practice to his cashmere empire based in the rolling hills of Italy’s lush central region of Umbria. VOA’s Sabina Castelfranco visited the Umbrian countryside.

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