Star Wars Fans March with Glowing Lightsabers for Earth Hour

Twelve years after the inaugural Earth Hour observance in Australia, countries around the world continue joining the grassroots gesture against manmade CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. This year in the Philippines, armed with lightsabers, fans of the movie Star Wars joined the world with a nod to a galaxy far, far away. Arash Arabasadi has more.

German Train Car Arrives in New York for Auschwitz Exhibit

On a Sunday morning, a crane lowered a rusty remnant of the Holocaust onto tracks outside Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — a vintage German train car like those used to transport men, women and children to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.

The windowless boxcar is among 700 Holocaust artifacts, most never before seen in the United States, which are being prepared for one of the largest exhibits ever on Auschwitz — a once ordinary Polish town called Oswiecim that the Nazis occupied and transformed into a human monstrosity.

The New York exhibit opens May 8, the day in 1945 when Germany surrendered and the camps were liberated.

German-made freight wagons like the one in the exhibit were used to deport people from their homes all around Europe. About 1 million Jews and nearly 100,000 others were gassed, shot, hanged or starved in Auschwitz out of a total of 6 million who perished in the Holocaust.

That fate awaited them after a long ride on the kind of train car that’s the centerpiece of the New York exhibit.

“There were 80 people squeezed into one wooden car, with no facilities, just a pail to urinate,” remembers Ray Kaner, a 92-year-old woman who still works as a Manhattan dental office manager. “You couldn’t lie down, so you had to sleep sitting, and it smelled.”

She and her sister had been forced to board the train in August 1944 in occupied Poland, after their parents died in the Lodz ghetto where Jews were held captive.

The Germans promised the sisters a better new life.

“We believed them, and we schlepped everything we could carry,” she said. “We still had great hope.”

Once in Auschwitz, “they took away whatever we carried,” and prisoners were beaten, stripped naked and heads shaved bald.

Titled “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” the upcoming exhibit will transport visitors into the grisly faceoff between perpetrators and victims.

On display will be concrete posts from an Auschwitz fence covered in barbed and electrified wires; a gas mask used by the SS; a desk belonging to Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss; and a dagger and helmet used by Heinrich Himmler, the chief architect of Hitler’s “final solution.”

The collection of prisoners’ personal items includes a comb improvised from scrap metal; a trumpet one survivor used to save his life by entertaining his captors; and tickets for passage on the St. Louis, a ship of refugees whom the United States refused to accept, sending them back to Europe where some were killed by the Nazis.

The materials are on loan from about 20 institutions worldwide, plus private collections, curated by Robert Jan van Pelt, a leading Auschwitz authority, and other experts in conjunction with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland and Musealia, a Spanish company that organizes traveling shows.

The New York one will run through Jan. 3.

The eight-decade-old box car brought to New York on a cargo ship came from a German auction, in terrible condition. Van Pelt’s team bought it and restored it.

“The dark, smelly car represents that moment of transition from the world of the living that people understood and trusted to the radically alien world of the camps where the doors opened and families were separated forever,” said van Pelt, whose relatives in Amsterdam lived down the street from Anne Frank’s family.

“The Nazis wanted to wipe out every last Jew in the world,” and at the end of a train trip, “this is where the last goodbyes were said.”

The exhibit items all belonged to somebody — most now gone, either because they were murdered in camps or survived and have since died. Some people who inherited artifacts came forward with stories attached to them.

Thousands of survivors live in New York City, among the last who can offer personal testimony.

And that’s why the exhibit is important, said real estate developer Bruce Ratner, the chairman of the museum’s board of trustees.

“While we had all hoped after the Holocaust that the international community would come together to stop genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing, these crimes continue and there are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War,” said Ratner. “So my hope for this exhibit is that it motivates all of us to make the connections between the world of the past and the world of the present, and to take a firm stand against hate.”

Zelenskiy Leads Poroshenko in First Round of Ukraine’s Elections

Comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky was the top vote getter, ahead of incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, in Ukraine’s first round of presidential elections, according to exit polls Sunday, leading the two candidates into a run-off election.

Zelensky, a comedian who plays the role of the president in a television comedy series, was projected to win 30.4 percent of the vote, easily beating Poroshenko, in power since 2014, who earned 17.8 percent, according to the Central Election Commission’s report as of 6pm.

If no candidate wins more than half of the votes, the election will proceed to a run-off to be held on April 21.

“This is only the first step toward a great victory,” Zelensky told reporters after the initial results were released.

Zelenskiy is seeking to prove life can indeed imitate art. He in the protagonist of a long-running popular series called the “Servant of the People,” in which he plays a teacher who unexpectedly finds himself president after a student posts on YouTube one of his rants denouncing the elite.

President Petro Poroshenko had the support of just 13.7 percent of the voters, according to a pre-election poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

The 53-year-old billionaire dubbed the chocolate king because of his confectionery business has been accused by opponents of running schemes to buy votes, especially in small towns where the pull of political paternalism is strong.

Center in Havana Opens to Preserve Hemingway’s Legacy

U.S. donors and Cuban builders have completed one of the longest-running joint projects between the two countries at a low point in bilateral relations.

Officials from the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation and Cuba’s National Cultural Heritage Council cut the ribbon Saturday evening on a state-of-the-art, $1.2 million conservation center on the grounds of Ernest Hemingway’s stately home on a hill overlooking Havana.

 

The center, which has been under construction since 2016, contains modern technology for cleaning and preserving a multitude of artifacts from the home where Hemingway lived in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

When he died in 1961, the author left approximately 5,000 photos, 10,000 letters and perhaps thousands of margin notes in roughly 9,000 books at the property.

 

“The laboratory we’re inaugurating today is the only one in Cuba with this capacity and it will allow us to contribute to safeguarding the legacy of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba,” said Grisell Fraga, director of the Ernest Hemingway Museum.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, spoke at the ceremony and called it a sign of the potential for U.S.-Cuban cooperation despite rising tensions between the Communist government and the Trump administration.

 

McGovern, who met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel and other Cuban officials during his visit, said that despite tensions over Venezuela, a Cuban ally, he still believed respectful dialogue was the most productive way of dealing with Cuba’s government.

 

The Trump administration has said it is trying to get rid of socialism in Latin America.

 

 

Thousands March in Spain to Demand More Help for Rural Areas

Thousands of Spaniards gathered in Madrid on Sunday to demand that the government take steps to curb the depopulation of rural areas.

Sunday’s march under the slogan “The Revolt of the Emptied Spain” was organized by grassroots groups from rural areas in the southern European Union nation.

 

In Spain, 90 percent of the population is now concentrated in 30 percent of the country’s territory, namely in Madrid and the coastal areas. That leaves 10 percent of its people spread over large swaths of the interior.

 

On Friday, the government announced measures to improve internet networks in the countryside.

 

The march comes before Spain’s April 28 general election, when rural areas could play a key role in deciding if the Socialists stay in power. Spanish election law gives more weight to underpopulated areas.

 

 

Is Britain Heading for Constitutional Crisis?

At no time since the Great Depression of the 1930s, when a Labour leader had to break with his party and head a national unity government, has a British prime minister been so boxed in as Theresa May, say analysts.

British lawmakers, exhausted and on edge from the political turmoil of last week — when the country was meant to have left the European Union, but didn’t — fear this coming week could be more traumatic for a constitutional order that’s cracking under the stress of a Brexit impasse that’s also fracturing Britain’s two storied parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, outraged party activists by suggesting Saturday a national unity government may have to be formed to find a way out of the political dead-end.

“If needs must, we have to then do what’s right,” he said.

Former Conservative minister Nicky Morgan has also hinted that a national government might be the only option, if May declines to implement any alternative Brexit policy for lawmakers to vote on Monday in a second stage of so-called indicative voting.

Last week, for the first time since 1906, lawmakers seized control of the parliamentary agenda from the government, aided by the House Speaker, to debate 16 Brexit options.  They voted in the end on eight, although none secured a majority.

But two came close — one calling for a second referendum and another for a so-called soft Brexit that would see Britain remaining in a customs union with the bloc.  A third that would see an even closer relationship with the European Union also did fairly well and behind-the-scenes is reportedly picking up more promises of support.

May has reserved the right not to implement what the House of Commons decides, but could be forced by parliament to do so, a further overturning of constitutional practice.  She still hopes to secure backing for her thrice-defeated and highly contentious Brexit withdrawal deal that’s anathema to a large group of hardline Conservative Brexiters and a Northern Irish party she relies on in her minority government.

No-deal Brexit

More than half of her Conservative lawmakers signed a letter Saturday insisting May decide to go for a no-deal Brexit and leave without any agreement with Brussels, a move that could wipe out 10 percent of Britain’s trade, according to economists, disrupt crucial supply chains and push Britain into a recession.

It would also leave up in the air the fate of 3.5 million Europeans living in Britain and as many as 1.5 million Britons living on the continental mainland.

But there is no majority in parliament for such a sharp break.

With all avenues seemingly leading to dead-ends, half her Cabinet is pushing for a general election, hoping it would return a parliament not so undecided.  But the other half is adamantly opposed to a snap poll, pointing out that an early election she called two years ago crippled the Conservatives, losing them their majority in the Commons.

“It would be an act of extraordinary self-harm,” a minister told VOA.  “How can we fight a general election when we are so bitterly divided and with a leader who’s promised to relinquish leadership soon.  What will be the manifesto that can unite the party,” he said.

His fears may not be misplaced. Despite poisonous divisions in the Labour Party over Brexit, allegations of anti-semitism and over the ideology of Jeremy Corbyn, the most far-left leader the party has had since the 1940s, an opinion poll on Saturday put Labour five points ahead of the Conservatives.

If repeated in an election, that would leave Labour the largest party, although shy of an overall majority.  It would likely form a coalition government or agree to voting arrangements with the pro-EU Scottish nationalists, Liberal Democrats and a new breakaway centrist party made up of Labour and Conservative defectors.

But it too has sharp Brexit differences, replicating the irreconcilable difficulties the Conservative government is finding impossible to overcome.

Few lawmakers and commentators now think Britain will escape the mess without wide-ranging and long-term constitutional and political wreckage.  That could possibly draw the queen into the crisis, and right into the center of party politics, something modern-day monarchs have avoided as they are meant to stay above the political fray.

‘Nuclear option’

Two constitutional lawyers have advised the government it would have the legal right to ask the queen to withhold her royal assent to any bill foisted on the government by parliament.  Stephen Laws, a former parliamentary counsel, and Richard Elkins, an Oxford University law professor, argue parliament would be abusing constitutional process and “the government might plausibly decide to advise Her Majesty not to assent.”

Ministers have tagged that approach a “nuclear option.”  It would propel the monarchy onto a collision course with parliament, something not seen since the 18th century.

Exasperation is rising across the country that is angrily split down the middle over staying a member of the EU or quitting.  The one thing uniting the nation is frustration bordering on contempt for the country’s political class.

Commentator Charles Moore, a former editor of the pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph, argues parliament members are putting themselves above a public vote that decided for Brexit.  

But pro-EU commentators, while agreeing the constitutional order is at risk of unraveling, say voters were tricked and many who voted for Brexit had no idea that could put Britain outside the EU single market and customs union, something leading Brexit politicians promised wouldn’t happen.

Денісова отримала понад 200 звернень через порушення виборчих прав

Прес-служба Уповноваженої Верховної Ради з прав людини Людмили Денісової повідомляє, що омбудсмен отримала 218 телефонних звернень і 21 електронне звернення від виборців станом на 13 годину дня.

На брифінгу Денісова уточнила, що 40% звернень стосуються реєстру.

«В списках виборців допущені неточності, технічні помилки, описки в даті народження, в адресі проживання виборця. Таких у нас 40%, це 114 тільки сьогодні звернулося. Ми радимо нашим громадянам звертатися до голови ДВК, контролюємо це питання, коли вони звертаються. Всі, хто звернувся до 14 години, виборче право реалізували і проголосували. Потім – немає у списках виборців, але тут вже складніше питання, тому що зараз вже нічого не можна зробити, тільки, вже якщо буде другий тур, звернутися до відділу реєстру і встановити, щоб там була в списках ця людина занесена», – повідомила вона.

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Крім того, Денісова зазначила, що деякі дільниці відкривалися з запізненням, а низка дільниць непристосовані для людей з інвалідністю.

Раніше Центральна виборча комісія повідомила, що три виборчі дільниці відкрилися з запізненням, але наразі всі вони працюють.

В Україні 31 березня відбувається голосування на чергових виборах президента країни. Голосування закінчиться о 20:00. У бюлетень для голосування внесено прізвища 39 кандидатів.

У ЦВК дозволили використовувати в Ізмаїлі печатку з невідповідним номером «як виняток»

Центральна виборча комісія надала роз’яснення з приводу випадку в Ізмаїлі, де номер печатку дільничної виборчої комісії не відповідав номеру дільниці. Згідно з повідомленням ЦВК, окружна виборча комісія територіального округу №143 (Ізмаїл) повідомила, що виявила невідповідність номеру на раніш виданій печатці на одній із виборчих дільниць номеру дільниці. Номер печатки – 51002, номер дільниці – 511002.

«Комісія надала дозвіл вказаній дільничній виборчій комісії та окружній виборчій комісії з виборів Президента України територіального виборчого округу № 143 для забезпечення проведення голосування, підрахунку голосів виборців на цій виборчій дільниці під час складання протоколу про підсумки голосування на виборах Президента України в межах цього округу використовувати та враховувати, як виняток, раніше виготовлену та передану окружною виборчою комісією ТВО № 143 печатку, а саме – із зазначенням номеру виборчої дільниці на печатці вказаної дільничної виборчої комісії: «Звичайна виборча дільниця № 510002» «Територіальний виборчий округ № 143», – йдеться в роз’ясненні.

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У ЦВК додають: в разі другого туру печатку використовувати не будуть, після першого туру її мають повернути окружній виборчій комісії округу і знищити.

Заступник голови ЦВК Олег Конопольський повідомив на брифінгу, що на дільниці триває голосування.

Зранку дільниця в Ізмаїлі не відкрилася вчасно, оскільки було виявлено невідповідність між номером печатки і номером дільниці.

В Україні 31 березня відбувається перший тур чергових виборів президента країни. Голосування закінчиться о 20:00. У бюлетень для голосування внесено прізвища 39 кандидатів.

New Exhibit Commemorates 50 Years of Gay Rights Movement

A groundbreaking new exhibit at the Newseum in Washington marks the 50th anniversary of a police raid on a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and highlights key moments in the modern gay rights movement in America that many believe was born out of that historic event. For some members of the LGBTQ community, the exhibit is deeply personal. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.