US Extends Deadline for Sanctions on Russian Van-Maker GAZ

The United States on Tuesday gave American customers of Russia’s biggest van manufacturer GAZ more time to comply with sanctions, further backing away from its initially uncompromising stance on GAZ’s owner, Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

The United States slapped sanctions on Deripaska and his companies — including GAZ — and some other Russian tycoons in April, in response to Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and what Washington called other “malign activities.”

Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters previously that sanctions on GAZ could affect its contracts with German carmakers Volkswagen and Daimler, as well as with U.S. firm Cummins Inc.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday gave Americans until Oct. 23 instead of June 5 to wind down operations and contracts with GAZ and said it would consider lifting the sanctions if Deripaska ceded control of the company.

GAZ declined to comment. The company competes with firms including a joint venture between Ford Motor Co and its Russian partner Sollers.

The same extension was previously given and the same mechanism for potential lifting of sanctions was described by the United States for Deripaska’s main asset, the world’s second-biggest aluminum producer Rusal.

The move was preceded by a lobbying campaign from Europe as the sanctions against Rusal caused a turmoil in the aluminum market.

Deripaska has already said he agreed in principal to reduce his influence in another company which controls Rusal.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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Japan, Russia, Turkey Bring Potential US Tariff Retaliation to $3.5 bln

Japan, Russia and Turkey have warned the United States about potential retaliation for its tariffs on steel and aluminium, the World Trade Organization said on Tuesday, bringing the total U.S. tariff bill to around $3.5 billion annually.

The three countries detailed their compensation claims in notifications to the world trade body, following similar moves by the European Union, India and China. Each showed how much the disputed U.S. tariffs would add to the cost of steel and aluminium exports to the United States, based on 2017 trade.

Russia said the U.S. tariffs, which President Donald Trump imposed in March, would add duties of $538 million to its annual steel and aluminium exports. Japan put the sum at $440 million. Turkey added a further $267 million.

China, the 28-nation EU and India have put their claims at $612 million, $1.6 billion and $165 million respectively.

They all reject the U.S. view that the import tariffs – 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium — are justified by U.S. national security concerns and are therefore exempt from the WTO rules.

They say the U.S. tariffs have all the hallmarks of “safeguards”, a trade restriction that can be legitimately used to protect a struggling industry from an unforeseen surge in imports.

A country using safeguards must compensate other WTO members who stand to lose out from the restriction on their trade, normally by rebalancing their trading relationship with a net increase in imports of other goods.

But the United States denies its tariffs are safeguards and has offered no compensation, prompting the retaliatory action.

The compensation would normally take years, but because the U.S. steel and aluminium sectors were not facing an absolute increase in imports, the WTO rules permitted retaliation in just 30 days’ time, they said.

Japan said it was free to impose at least $264 million of its retaliation after 30 days, suggesting that the rest might be delayed, since some of the U.S. products covered by the tariffs were subject to an absolute increase in imports from Japan.

Neither Russia nor Japan specified how they might retaliate against U.S. exports, but Turkey listed 22 U.S. goods that it was planning to target, ranging from nuts, rice and tobacco to cars and steel products.

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Gay Man Says Pope Told Him: ‘God Made You Like This’

A gay Chilean man who survived abuse by a Catholic priest said Pope Francis told him that his sexual orientation “doesn’t matter” to him and that “God made you like this.”

Juan Carlos Cruz said he spoke to the pope about his homosexuality during their recent meetings at the Vatican. The pope invited Cruz and other victims of a Chilean predator priest to discuss their cases last month.

“Juan Carlos, that you are gay doesn’t matter,” Cruz said Pope Francis told him, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. “God made you like this and loves you like this, and it doesn’t matter to me. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”

The Vatican has refused to confirm or deny the remarks, citing its policy not to comment on the pope’s private conversations.

Cruz, who was abused as a child by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, told the paper that his sexual orientation came up during the discussion because he has been targeted for being gay after speaking out about his abuse.

Whether the pope’s comments will bring about change within the Catholic Church is debatable. Pope Francis has sought to make the church more welcoming to gays, most famously with his 2013 comment, “Who am I to judge?”

He also has spoken of his own ministry to gay and transgender people, insisting they are children of God, loved by God and deserving of accompaniment by the church.

While the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with “homosexual tendencies” “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” it also calls a “deep-seated” homosexual inclination and its acts “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.”

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Turkey’s Erdogan Says Nuclear-Armed States ‘Threatening the World’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused countries with nuclear weapons of “threatening the world,” and criticized the United States’ withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Those who have more than 15,000 nuclear warheads are currently threatening the world,” he said, referring to the approximate total number of warheads worldwide, most of which are held by the United States and Russia.

Apparently referring to such states as Iran, he added: “Why are countries with nuclear warheads posing a threat to them?”

“If we are to be fair, to show a just approach, then the countries with nuclear weapons, which portray nuclear power stations as threats, have no credibility in the international community,” he said at an iftar dinner for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Erdogan said the Middle East had to be cleansed of all nuclear weapons, in an apparent reference to Israel, believed to be the only nation in the region to possess them.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States 10 days ago from the deal between Tehran and six major powers which limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Trump ordered that sanctions be reimposed.

Earlier on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded Iran take additional steps such as pulling out of the Syrian civil war. Iran dismissed Washington’s ultimatum and a senior Iranian official said it showed the United States was seeking “regime change” in Iran.

The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal comes as relations between NATO member Turkey and Washington have soured over a host of issues, ranging from U.S. policy in Syria to Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. France, Germany and Britain have said they will try to save the nuclear deal with Tehran.

“As Turkey, we do not accept re-igniting issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, that have been put to bed. We find the other signatories stating their loyalty to the agreement in the face of the U.S. administration’s decision very positive,” Erdogan said.

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Grenfell Tower Survivors Weep as Inquiry Begins in London

Survivors of a devastating high-rise fire in London wept Monday as relatives paid tribute to some of the 72 victims at the opening of an inquiry into Britain’s deadliest blaze in decades.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry is beginning with two weeks of tributes to those who died when a fire that began in a faulty fridge raced through the 24-story apartment block in June 2017. The statements from friends and family members are meant to keep the victims at the center of the inquiry, which will try to determine how the disaster happened and prevent a similar tragedy happening in the future.

“When we die, we live on in the memories of those who knew and loved us,” said retired judge Martin Moore-Bick, who is leading the inquiry. “It is fitting therefore that the opening hearings … should be dedicated to the memory of those who died.”

The victims included baby Logan Gomes, who was stillborn after his family escaped from the 21st floor of the building.

“He might not be here physically, but he will always be here in our hearts, and will be forever,” said his father Marcio Gomes, his voice breaking. “I know he’s here, with God, right next to me, giving me strength and courage to take this forward.”

The inquiry heard a message left by Mohamed Amied Neda from inside his apartment.

“Goodbye, we are leaving this world now, goodbye,” said the 57-year-old, who came to Britain from Afghanistan and ran a chauffeur company. He was found dead after falling from the building. His wife and son were left comatose but survived.

Mohammadou Saye remembered his 24-year-old daughter Khadija Saye, a promising visual artist whose work was shown at last year’s Venice Biennale.

“Her burning passion was photography, encouraged by her mother, Mary Mendy, who also lost her life in the same fire,” he said in a statement read by a lawyer.

“Khadija said to me one day: `Daddy, I’m in love with images.”

Moore-Bick’s inquiry will look at causes of the blaze, the response of local authorities and the country’s high-rise building regulations. But some survivors are critical because it won’t investigate wider issues around social housing that many residents had wanted to include.

Many residents accuse officials in Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s richest boroughs, of ignoring their safety concerns because the publicly owned tower was home to a largely immigrant and working-class population.

Police say they are considering individual or corporate manslaughter charges in the blaze, but no one has yet been charged.

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EU Parliament to Broadcast Zuckerberg Hearing

A European Parliament meeting on Tuesday with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be broadcast live, parliamentary officials and the company said on Monday after controversy over plans for a closed-door hearing.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who was criticized by legislators and some senior EU officials over arrangements for the discussion on public privacy concerns, tweeted that it was “great news” that Zuckerberg had agreed to a live web stream.

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “We’re looking forward to the meeting and happy for it to be live streamed.”

Zuckerberg, who founded the U.S. social media giant, will be in Europe to defend the company after scandal over its sale of personal data to a British political consultancy which worked on U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign, among others.

He will meet Tajani and leaders of parties in the European Parliament in Brussels from 6:15 p.m. (1615 GMT) on Tuesday.

He is also due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday.

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Defiant New Catalan Leader Wants Jailed Separatists in Government

Catalonia’s newly-elected president is showing no sign of backing down from the region’s political standoff with Spanish authorities, insisting he wants jailed former lawmakers to join his pro-independence Catalan government.

 

Quim Torra says Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, prominent secessionists who are in pre-trial detention, are keen to become government ministers and have asked a judge to release them. Torra visited them at their jails near Madrid on Monday.

 

But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he won’t grant Catalonia independence and won’t allow anyone under criminal investigation to take office there.

 

Torra also wants Antoni Comin and Luis Puig, separatists who fled to Belgium, in his Cabinet.

 

Torra’s four picks were members of a Catalonia government dismissed by Rajoy following October’s illegal declaration of independence by regional lawmakers.

 

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Russian Billionaire Abramovich Runs into UK Visa Issues

Many wondered why Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich wasn’t in the stands to see his Chelsea soccer club win England’s FA Cup this weekend, and an associate confirmed Monday that his British visa hasn’t been renewed.

 

An associate of Abramovich, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified further because he was not authorized to comment publicly, told The Associated Press that Abramovich’s visa renewal application is taking longer than usual, saying it is unclear why.

 

Britain recently pledged to review long-term visas of rich Russians in the aftermath of the poisoning of a Russian former spy and his daughter.

 

Abramovich’s visa troubles were first reported Sunday by the Russian media outlet The Bell. It quoted two unnamed sources as saying his British visa expired last month.

 

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg, EU Lawyers Locked in Negotiations

Facebook and European Union officials were locked in high-stakes negotiations Sunday over whether founder Mark Zuckerberg will appear Tuesday before EU lawmakers to discuss the site’s impact on the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Europeans, as well as Facebook’s impact on elections on both sides of the Atlantic and the spreading of fake news.

Being debated is whether the meeting would be held after EU Parliament President Antonio Tajanibe agreed to have it live-streamed on the internet and not held behind closed-doors, as previously agreed.

The leaders of all eight political blocs in the parliament have insisted the format be changed.

Lawmakers say it would be deeply damaging for Zuckerberg, if he pulls out simply because they want him to hold what they say is the equivalent of a “Facebook Live.”

Claude Moraes, chairman of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs panel, warned Zuckerberg will have to go into greater detail than he did in his testimony before U.S. Senate and Congressional panels last month on the “issues of algorithmic targeting, and political manipulation” and on Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook shared with the British firm the data of millions of Americans and Europeans, which was subsequently used for election campaigning purposes. Facebook did not return calls from VOA asking about whether Zuckerberg’s meeting with EU lawmakers would still go ahead.

“EU governments are absolutely aware that every election now is tainted. We want to get to the heart of this,” said Moraes. EU lawmakers say Zuckerberg’s appearance is all the more important as he has declined to appear before national European parliaments, including Britain’s House of Commons.

Terrorist connections

Zuckerberg is likely also to be pressed on why Facebook is still being used by extremists to connect with each other and to recruit. Much of the focus in recent weeks on Facebook has been about general issues over its management of users’ data, but analysts are warning the social-media site is enabling a deadly form of social networking and isn’t doing enough to disrupt it.

“Facebook’s data management practices have potentially served the networking purposes of terrorists,” said the Counter Extremism Project, nonprofit research group, in a statement.

“CEP’s findings regularly debunk Facebook’s claims of content moderation. This week, a video made by the pro-ISIS al-Taqwa media group was found that includes news footage from attacks in the West and calls for further violence, encouraging the viewer to attack civilians and ‘kill them by any means or method,” according to CEP

CEP researchers say Facebook’s “suggested friends” feature helps extremists connect to each other and is “enabling a deadly form of social networking.” “Worldwide, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there has been a spike of militant activity on social media channels … Encrypted messaging apps like Facebook-owned WhatsApp are well known mechanisms used by terrorists to communicate, plot and plan attacks, a practice that is tragically continuing,” CEP says.

New rules

Aside from the EU parliament, Zuckerberg has agreed to be interviewed onstage Thursday at a major tech conference in Paris, and is scheduled to have lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron during the week.

His visit comes as the British government is threatening social-media companies with a tax to pay for efforts to counter online crime. According to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, British ministers have instructed officials to carry out research into a new “social media levy” on internet companies.

Culture Minister Matt Hancock indicated Sunday the British government is beginning to move away from allowing the internet companies to regulate themselves and is ready to impose requirements on them, which if approved by parliament will make Britain the “safest place in the world” to be online.

A new code of practice aimed at confronting social-media bullying and to clear the internet of intimidating or humiliating online content could be included in the legislation, say officials. Other measures being considered include rules that have to be followed by traditional broadcasters that prevent certain ads being targeted at children. Hancock said work with social-media companies to protect users had made progress, but the performance of the industry overall has been mixed, he added.

Hancock said, “Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better.”

 

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