Italy, Malta in Fresh Standoff Over Boat Carrying 59 Migrants

A rescue boat saved 59 migrants at sea off Libya on Saturday and Italy immediately said it would not welcome them, setting up a fresh standoff with Malta and adding to tensions among European governments over immigration.

The migrants on board Open Arms, a boat run by the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms charity, include five women and four children, said Riccardo Gatti, head of the organization’s Italian mission.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League Party, said there would be no exception to his policy of refusing to let humanitarian boats dock in Italy and added that Malta was the nearest port of call.

“They can forget about arriving in an Italian port,” he tweeted.

Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia, shot back on Twitter that the rescue had taken place closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa than to Malta. He told Salvini to “stop giving false information and involving Malta without any reason.”

Gatti told Italian radio broadcaster Radio Radicale that the migrants on board included Palestinians, Syrians and Guineans and were all in good condition.

He later told Reuters that Open Arms had received no authorization from any country to dock and did not know where it would take the migrants.

German ship docked

On Wednesday, Malta let the German charity ship Lifeline dock in Valletta with 230 migrants on board, after it was stuck at sea for almost a week following Italy’s decision to close its ports to rescue vessels run by nongovernmental organizations.

However, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the gesture was a one-time solution, and the following day Malta announced it would not allow any more charity boats to dock.

European Union leaders on Friday came to a hard-fought agreement on migration that Salvini and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said was positive for Italy.

However, the agreement does not oblige other EU states to share the burden of sea rescues.

More than 650,000 migrants have come ashore in Italy since 2014, mostly after being rescued at sea off the Libyan coast by private and public groups. Italy is sheltering about 170,000, but the number of arrivals has plummeted this year.

Despite the decline in arrivals, there are still daily stories of disasters as migrants make the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. The Libyan coast guard said around 100 were thought to have drowned off Tripoli on Friday.

That tragedy raised the political temperature in Italy, where the government dismissed opposition accusations that it was responsible because of its crackdown on NGOs and said the best way to save lives was by preventing departures from Libya.

“The fewer people set sail, the fewer die,” Salvini said.

Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries

Fourteen European Union countries have said they are prepared to sign deals with Germany to take back asylum seekers who had previously registered elsewhere, part of an effort to placate Chancellor Angela Merkel’s restive Bavarian allies.

 

In a document sent to leaders of her coalition partners, seen by Reuters, Merkel listed 14 countries, including some of those most outspoken in their opposition to her open-door refugee policy, which had agreed to take back migrants.

Under the EU’s Dublin convention, largely honored in the breach since Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders, asylum seekers must lodge their requests in the first EU country they set foot in.

Merkel needs breathing space in her standoff with Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, whose leader, interior minister Horst Seehofer threatened ahead of this week’s Brussels summit to defy Merkel by closing Germany’s borders to some refugees and migrants, a move that would likely bring down her government.

EU leaders agreed at the summit to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centers” inside the European Union to process asylum requests.

According to the document seen by Reuters, the bilateral agreements will make the deportation process for refugees who have earlier registered elsewhere far more effective.

“At the moment, Dublin repatriations from Germany succeed in only 15 percent of cases,” the document says. “We will sign administrative agreements with various member states… to speed the repatriation process and remove obstacles.”

Among the countries that have said they are open to signing such agreements are Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, countries which have opposed any scheme to share out asylum seekers across the continent.

The other countries named are Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. Austria, where new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is an immigration hard-liner who governs in coalition with the far right, is absent from the list.

US Ambassador to Estonia Resigns Over Trump Comments

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia says he has resigned over frustrations with President Donald Trump’s comments about the European Union and the treatment of Washington’s European allies.

In a private Facebook message posted Friday, James D. Melville wrote: “For the President to say EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.”

Melville is a senior U.S. career diplomat who has served as the American ambassador in the Baltic nation and NATO member of Estonia since 2015. He has served the State Department for 33 years.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn did not immediately comment.

Exhibit Showcases Delicate Beauty of US Botanical Art

Botanical artist Carol Malone-Brown is seated, bent forward, intently concentrating on a painting she is working on of a green apple with leaves.

She carefully puts a small amount of paint on one leaf using the “dry brush” method — mixing tiny drops of water with watercolors and then using a paintbrush to draw short, fine lines. She will sit at her desk, painting this leaf for many days to get the shades of light and dark just right.

While many people might find this tedious, for Malone-Brown, creating botanical art is “very soothing and meditative.” She draws inspiration from her beautiful garden, filled with a variety of plants at her home in Alexandria, Virginia. This allows her to combine her love of plants with botanical art, painting only what she grows.

Botanical art combines art with science because each piece must have botanically accurate details. 

“The garden is like your laboratory,” Malone-Brown explained. “I mean you can run in and out, and maybe you’re in there drawing and painting, and you’re saying to yourself, ‘How does that leaf connect to the stem exactly?’”

Her images, which are mostly watercolors, show the delicate beauty of plant species.

A garden of botanical art

Malone-Brown’s art is being showcased, along with 45 other pieces, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington. It’s part of a series of botanical art exhibits worldwide, featuring native plants in 25 countries, including China, South Africa, Indonesia, Russia and Colombia. The idea is not only to highlight botanical art but the great diversity of plants.

Malone-Brown’s painting of a Virginia strawberry plant is on display at the U.S. show, white flowers and red strawberries that look good enough to eat.

“To be authentic,” she said, “I had to make sure that the plant actually flowered and produced fruit at the same time.”

It took her four hours each day for five months to complete the image. She painted it on vellum, a parchment made from calfskin, which gives the image a lovely luminescence.

The Botanic Garden art exhibit also features other flora, like the saguaro cactus of the U.S. Southwest, the bigleaf maple tree from the West Coast, and a variety of flowers, including violets and sunflowers. A sunny orchid, called a yellow lady slipper, was painted by well-known botanical artist Carol Woodin, who also serves as exhibitions director for the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Distinctive styles

Woodin says every artist has a distinctive style. 

“Some tell a story, others capture a moment in time, or study a plant and focus on each stage of its growth,” she said.

Besides watercolor, oil, colored pencil and etching were used to create the pieces on display.

Botanical artist Alice Tangerini used pen and ink. She is the only botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s botany department in Washington. For more than four decades, Tangerini has been drawing meticulous botanical images that scientists use for research.

She said photos cannot capture details the same way botanical drawings do.

“Every time I’m making a line it’s a little bit exciting,” she said. “You see a leaf or flower that is different from any other, or a small portion of a seed.”

Like other botanical artists, Malone-Brown said there is pleasure in the process of painting the plants.

“They are our best friends,” she joked. “You truly have to love a plant that you paint because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it!”

Istanbul LGBT Pride March Will Go Ahead Despite Ban

Istanbul’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride march will go ahead on Sunday even though the governorship of the Turkish city banned it citing security concerns, the organizers of the event said on Friday.

In a statement published on the Facebook page of Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week, the organizers said the decision to ban the march was discriminatory and illegitimate.

“This march is organized in order to fight against the violence and discrimination fuelled by that governorship decision,” the organizers said.

“We would like to inform the press and the public that we will go ahead with our prideful march with the same ambition as we had before.”

Gay pride parades have been banned in Istanbul for the last three years. Although homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, unlike in many other Muslim-majority countries, there is widespread hostility to it across Turkish society.

On Thursday, authorities in the Turkish capital Ankara banned the screening of movie Pride, a 2014 comedy-drama with LGBT themes, citing risks to public safety.

Civil liberties in Turkey have become a particular concern for the West after a crackdown following an attempted military coup in July 2016.

Turkey has detained about 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of state employees since the coup attempt, the United Nations said in March. Of those, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and are being kept in jail during trial.

Turkey’s Re-Elected Leader Eyes Less Tension With NATO

There is momentum for improving Turkey’s frayed relations with the West even as it warms up to Russia, a senior Turkish government adviser told VOA on condition of anonymity, days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected.

Erdogan’s adviser said that in February, during a visit by then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, both sides committed to the creation of a road map to address many differences that had sent relations between Washington and Ankara plunging to a crisis point. The adviser noted that bilateral relations were “better than six months ago, thanks to steps agreed on during Tillerson’s visit.”

He said the process led to the recent withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the Syrian city of Manbij.

Ankara accuses the YPG of being linked to Kurdish insurgents fighting in Turkey. Washington, however, has backed the militia in the war against Islamic State. The YPG’s presence in Manbij with U.S. forces had become a focal point in Turkey’s tense relationship with the United States, a NATO ally.

Ankara trumpeted the Kurdish militia withdrawal as a triumph and a template for a further rollback of YPG-controlled areas across northern Syria. “We expect this process to continue,” said the adviser.

Regarding areas of contention, he said, “There is a process to compartmentalize issues of disagreement.”

“Each issue is being addressed separately by working groups,” he added, so as to prevent differences on one issue from affecting others.

The adviser, however, acknowledged that no progress had been made on the key issue of a Turkish request for the extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara alleges Gulen initiated a failed 2016 coup that claimed 250 lives. The cleric, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, denies the accusations. The U.S. says extradition is a matter for the courts.

Adding to the souring of ties is the imprisonment in Turkey of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. He has been jailed for nearly two years and is currently on trial on charges of supporting Gulen.

U.S. President Donald Trump has strongly criticized the case, with some members of Congress accusing Ankara of hostage-taking. Erdogan has linked the Brunson case to calls for Gulen to be extradited.

The Brunson case has become a lightning rod for wider U.S. concerns about Turkey. The worsening of bilateral relations is countered by Ankara’s warming ties with Moscow.

Missile system purchase

Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Friday reaffirmed Turkey’s controversial purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system. Washington strongly opposes the deal, warning the missiles could compromise NATO systems.

The S-400 controversy comes as Ankara and Moscow increasingly cooperate over Syria. While Turkey strongly backs Syrian rebels, it is working with Russia and Iran, which support the Damascus government, to end the civil war under a peace effort named the Astana Process.

The Erdogan adviser sought to allay concerns by Turkey’s NATO allies about its intentions toward Moscow.

“Turkey is not moving away from the West,” he said. “Our relationship with Russia is specific to working on Syria, based on a necessity of cooperation. Our relationship with the West is a strategic relationship.”

“The situation is a failure of the West to intervene in the Syrian conflict. It left a vacuum, which Russia filled. That has created a situation where we have to work with Russia,” added the adviser.

Fears of a potential pivot toward Moscow are fueled by criticism of the decline in human rights in Turkey and Erdogan’s authoritarianism. Critics increasingly draw parallels between Erdogan’s rule and that of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following Turkey’s June 24 elections, Erdogan is likely to use his renewed electoral mandate to answer critics regarding his democratic credentials. International monitors have criticized the fairness of the election, which he won by a wide margin, but the actual voting and counting were broadly accepted by the rival candidates.

The Turkish president also reportedly is set to lift the much-criticized emergency rule introduced after the failed coup. This past week also saw an Istanbul court release from jail Mehmet Altan, a high-profile Erdogan critic; however, police raids on those who oppose the president, including some news media, continue.

Analysts suggest such moves will be welcomed by Turkey’s Western allies, in particular the European Union. Human rights concerns are major obstacles to relations, but Brussels needs Turkey to continue a migrant deal that has markedly reduced the number of people seeking sanctuary in Europe.

With Turkey currently hosting more than 3 million refugees, mainly from Syria, Erdogan is also looking to build on that cooperation.

“There is a need for a strategic cooperation on refugees. The problem is going to continue with instability in the region. Turkey cannot take any more [refugees],” said the adviser.

Agony, Ecstasy Loom as Penalty Shootouts Come into Play at World Cup

Football’s cruel mistress — the penalty shootout — arrives at the World Cup on Saturday after a packed fortnight of group games, ready to dispense her characteristic doses of unbridled joy and heartbreak in the knockout stages.

There has been a penalty shootout at every World Cup since 1982 in Spain, and while it is still a matter of contention whether this is the best way to decide a winner, the post-match shootout is now common at all levels of the game.

But the consequences of failure are nowhere more devastating than at a World Cup, where two previous finals and five semi-finals have been decided by the gut-wrenching lottery of penalties.

Inevitably it is the misses that are best remembered, none more so than Italy’s Roberto Baggio blasting over the bar to hand Brazil the World Cup in 1994 or Chris Waddle with a similarly wild and wayward effort for England in the semi-final four years later.

In all, 26 World Cup clashes have needed penalties to produce a winner, although only twice have they gone past the first stage of five kicks each.

Of the 16 teams in the second round in Russia starting Saturday, all but four have had past experience of a World Cup shootout.

Argentina should be the most confident, having been involved in more World Cup shootouts than any other country and winning four out of five.

Brazil have won three of four, including the 1994 final in Los Angeles, and France two of four, losing to Italy in the deciding game in Berlin in 2006.

But for the likes of England, Mexico and Switzerland the prospect of progress in Russia hinging on spot kicks will verge on the terrifying.

England have lost all three of their shootouts, and Mexico two out of two. The Swiss, bucking the national stereotype of calm efficiency, failed to convert any of their kicks in their one previous shootout, going out to Ukraine in the last 16 in Cologne in 2006.

For Colombia, Croatia, Denmark and Russia it will be a new World Cup experience if they are forced into the post-match tie breaker, although the Danes succeeded in the semi-finals on their way to their shock European Championship success in 1992.

Conversion rate

In the entire World Cup finals history, there have been a total of 240 post-match penalties taken, with 170 of them scored.

That is a decent conversion rate given the gut-thumping tension that always goes with the shootouts. The stress of nail-biting fans in the stands has nothing on the pressure felt by the players involved, many of whom often cannot bare to look while their colleagues step up to take their shots.

Penalty shootouts were first introduced at the 1978 World Cup but were not needed until four years later. Before that, an even more unsatisfactory toss of the coin was used to break the deadlock.

One consolation for the teams now faced with the prospect of penalties in Russia is that they will not have to face Germany.

Their 100 percent record in World Cup shootouts remains intact due to their unexpectedly early departure.

‘This Is Congo’ Explores Everyday Voices Amid Conflict

“To grow up as a child in Congo, according to God’s will, is to grow up in paradise,” Col. Mamadou Ndala says in the opening scenes of “This Is Congo,” a film making its theatrical release Friday in the United States.

Strolling outside the eastern city of Goma where he is stationed, Ndala adds: “Perhaps because of the will of man, growing up in Congo is to grow up in misery because of these endless, unjust wars imposed on the people.”

Congo has been in the headlines as it faces its latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, and as a long-delayed presidential election is set for December. Dozens of armed groups continue to wreak deadly havoc on the vast, mineral-rich nation.

“This Is Congo,” directed and filmed by former photojournalist Daniel McCabe, gives an insider’s view on the diverse lives behind the headlines. It follows four people — a military commander, a mineral dealer, a tailor and a high-ranking, anonymous military intelligence officer — to show the humanity in the middle of crisis.

Traveling around the Kivu regions in the east, McCabe sought to explore the root causes of conflict in Congo. He ended up on the front lines of fighting between the army and M23 rebels as they marched into Goma in 2012 and were pushed out the following year. He gained unprecedented access through Ndala, the film’s main subject.

Though filming mostly took place in 2012 and 2013 the scenes of fighting appear timeless, reflecting Congo’s continuous upheaval as some soldiers are recruited by ever-changing rebel groups and later reintegrated back into the army, which is poorly organized and badly paid.

“This is a revolving cycle of conflict,” McCabe told The Associated Press. “The film to me is about the banality of war and the corruption of man. Our hope is that the audience can identify with the characters.”

Another of the four main characters is Mama Romance, who turned to selling gemstones to support her family, eventually sending her children to good schools and breaking the cycle of poverty. The dangerous work, as she crosses borders to sell, shows how entrepreneurial Congolese make money from the rich mineral resources around them. Often the proceeds from exports never trickle down.

“This Congo” also follows Hakiza Nyantaba, a tailor who has been displaced for years by conflict, as he ekes out a life at the kind of camp that is home to many Congolese. As of January 4.5 million people had been displaced, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

“It seems God has forgotten us,” Nyantaba says.

McCabe honors his resilience.

“There are displacement camps where people have been living for 20 years. It’s unfathomable,” the filmmaker said.

Alleged corruption by officials and mining companies in part drives the fighting in Congo, which has trillions of dollars of mineral deposits ranging from diamonds and zinc to copper and tin.

“This is Congo” makes clear that civilians are the victims.

McCabe, who clearly adores the complexities of Congo, said he wants the film’s viewers to “dig up more information on their own . read more books, have more interest in the area.” He urged people to “broaden their gaze.”

The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival but will release on Friday in theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. It also is being released on the BBC in the UK on iTunes in more than 70 countries.

“This is Congo” also will screen in Goma on July 15 on the closing night of the Congo International Film Festival.

Bob Mackie Gowns Worn by Carol Burnett, Cher up for Auction

Gowns and ensembles worn by Carol Burnett, Cher and Raquel Welch are going up on the auction block.

The clothing was created by 78-year-old fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie, who has been honored for his work in motion pictures, television and the fashion industry.

Julien’s Auctions says the highlights include two gowns that were worn by Burnett and a pair of Punch and Judy costumes that she and Joel Grey wore on her CBS program.

There’s a hand-painted silk ensemble that Cher wore to the 1974 Academy Awards, along with a gown that Raquel Welch wore.

The exhibition will be displayed aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 on an Aug. 19 trans-Atlantic crossing before the auction takes place in Los Angeles at Julien’s on Nov. 17.