INTL Europe: Politics, Economics, Military- April 2021

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
March thread is here:

Main Coronavirus thread beginning page 1337:

Conflict in Mediterranean thread beginning page 72:

Ukraine thread beginning page 16:

Italy Expels Russian Diplomats Over "Extremely Serious" NATO Spy Case
Tyler Durden's Photo

THURSDAY, APR 01, 2021 - 02:45 AM
What's being described as an "extremely serious incident" and fast escalating spy case has resulted in the Italian government expelling two Russian diplomats from the country on Wednesday. Russian Ambassador Sergei Razov had been immediately summoned and informed of the drastic punitive action.

The case reportedly involves an Italian navy captain who was caught passing secret documents belonging to the NATO member state to a Russian military official on Tuesday night. The Italian navy officer is alleged to have received money in return.

It's since escalated into a major diplomatic spat between Italy and Russian, with the Kremlin now vowing retaliation for the expelling of the two diplomats. Western allies are now weighing in on the dispute, fueling the controversy further, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying the UK "stands in solidarity with Italy and its actions today, exposing and taking action against Russia’s malign and destabilising activity that is designed to undermine our NATO ally."
Here are the few details known related to the spy charges as laid out in Reuters:
The Italian, a captain of a frigate, and the Russian, who was accredited at the embassy, were accused of "serious crimes tied to spying and state security" after their meeting on Tuesday night, Italian Carabinieri police said.
The suspects were not officially identified. A police source said the captain was called Walter Biot, adding that he added accepted 5,000 euros ($5,865) in return for the information.
Italian news sources identified that "NATO documents were among the files that the Italian had handed over" - which has led to inquiries over security vulnerability by other NATO members of the alliance. And further the AFP described "confidential documents" passed during a "clandestine meeting" - after which Russia's ambassador on Wednesday morning was issued notification of "the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this very serious affair".

It appears the "clandestine meeting" was being monitored by Italian police and intelligence, given there's widespread reports that the Italian captain was "caught red-handed". The Russian officials involved avoided arrest due to diplomatic immunity.
The Russian Embassy in Italy, via Wiki Commons
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio stated of the developing case Wednesday that "The accusation of espionage against Italian and Russian officers shows that we must continue to work closely with Europe and our allies to constantly improve our means of protecting the safety and well-being of our citizens."

No further information has been publicly released as to the identities of the Russians expelled, but it's being reported via the Russian embassy in Rome that the pair worked in the Russian military attaché’s office, according to Reuters.
The Italian captain Biot meanwhile has been arrested and is undergoing questioning and an investigation.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Lockdown is getting old in Europe.

Belgium: Police clash with April Fool's Day party crowd
Thousands defied COVID restrictions and showed up at the fake concert, which promised a performance by producer Calvin Harris and a one-off reunion of French band Daft Punk.

Crowds walk as police uses water cannons to disperse them
Police moved in to enforce the COVID-19 social-distancing rules that prohibit large gatherings

Police on Thursday dispersed some 2,000 people gathered in the "Bois de La Cambre" park in Brussels in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus lockdown.

People gathered for a fake concert dubbed "La Boum" (the party), although the organizers announced on social media that it was an April Fool's Day prank.

Hundreds of police, many in riot gear and some on horseback, used water cannon trucks and teargas to break up the crowds.

Police told the Associated Press that four people were arrested and three police officers were injured.

Many in the crowd pumped their fists and chanted "freedom" and some threw bottles and stones at the water cannon trucks.
A pile of trash with a sign that reads 'On nous empeche de vivre pour ne pas mourir' (we are prevented from living so as not to die) at the Bois de La Cambre in Brussels, Thursday 01 April 2021.
A sign read 'on nous empeche de vivre pour ne pas mourir' (we are prevented from living so as not to die) at the Bois de La Cambre in Brussels

The party was announced on Facebook in March. Organizers promised a lineup of singer and producer Calvin Harris and a one-off reunion of French band Daft Punk.

"We are all depressed. I'll be 18 in two weeks, we want to take advantage of our youth," high school student Amelie, who had come for the party, told Reuters. "We came not to annoy the police, but to show that we also have a life and want to enjoy it."

'Gathering would not be tolerated'
Brussels Mayor Philippe Close said he understood that people need to get some fresh air, but such gatherings would not be tolerated. "We evacuated the wood. Those who do not obey police risk arrest and prosecution," Close said on Twitter.

The unusually sunny, warm weather has prompted crowds to gather in Brussels parks this week.

Belgium has recorded at least 882,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 23,000 virus-related deaths. The rise in coronavirus cases has put pressure on hospitals in recent weeks.

Current COVID restrictions in Belgium include a nighttime curfew, limited gatherings and a ban on nonessential international travel.
fb/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Spain too!

Spanish Tourism Industry Rebels Against Outdoor Mask Decree As Drones Used To Spy On Beachgoers
Tyler Durden's Photo

FRIDAY, APR 02, 2021 - 03:45 AM
For more than a year now, Spain's tourism industry, which accounts for more than 10% of average annual GDP in Europe's 4th-largest economy, has been hanging by a thread.

And while the world is nearing the 600MM vaccine jabs-in-arms mark, Southern Europe is still nowhere near the level of herd immunity needed (according to the bloc's public health nabobs) for crowds of German, British, American and Chinese tourists to fill hotels and inns, crowd on to beaches and into bars, and take planes and cruises to popular holiday destinations.

Data released by Eurostat in February showed non-resident holiday nights, a key indicator of demand in the local tourism & hospitality industry, fell by at least 70% in Italy, Spain and Greece. And with France, Germany and others reimposing, or at least pushing to reimpose, national lockdowns and curfews (including restrictions on travel and movement), business owners are bracing for another quiet season. Unfortunately for many, they will either need to be bailed out, or succumb to bankruptcy.

Spain's coronavirus alert system has officially triggered fears of a "fourth wave" of COVID infections (distinctions between various "waves" can be blurry, and the Continent is generally said to be seeing a third wave of infections). The latest government data show the first three indicators now exceed the established thresholds. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100K inhabitants stands at 152, the seven-day incidence rate is at 79.8 and COVID patients are occupying 18.4% of the country's ICU beds. Spain's 7-day moving average of new cases rose to 6,144 on Wednesday, the highest level since February.

The 7-day average for deaths, meanwhile, was 199 on Wednesday.

Source: Worldometer
As Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias urges all Spaniards to act responsibly to try and quell the pandemic, the Spanish government earlier this week passed a new law making mask-wearing mandatory in all public spaces, regardless of the distance between the people. Many were less than thrilled by the restrictive new mask rules. As Spanish newspaper El Pais reports, some regional officials reacted defiantly to the news. For example, the government of the Balearic Islands said the new rules wouldn't be enforced on its beaches and swimming pools.

And according to a Guardian report, representatives of the tourism industry are reporting a growing backlash to the rules. They have already given up Easter as a lost cause. But many fear another slow summer season will destroy their livelihoods.
The Spanish tourist industry has reacted with dismay to the government’s decree that face masks must be worn in all outdoor spaces, including beaches and swimming pools, even when it is possible to maintain social distancing.
"We’re going through hell with thousands of jobs and businesses threatened and now they want to turn the beaches into open-air field hospitals," José Luis Zoreda, vice-president of Exceltur, the umbrella organisation that represents Spain’s tourism industry, told El País newspaper.
Industry representatives complain that they were not consulted over the decision, which was announced in an official state bulletin on Tuesday.
"We’ve already given up on Easter as a lost cause," said Zoreda. "Now we have to put our hopes on summer."
Scientists have long warned that there's little benefit to wearing masks in the open air. But despite this, masks have been mandatory both indoors and outdoors (in public places) in Catalonia and Valencia since early this year.
Earlier this month Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s coordination centre for health emergencies and alerts, said: "I don’t believe that masks are the key to reducing transmission. It’s not necessary for everyone to wear one. What’s important is that people who are infected wear one, although we don’t know who is infected and who isn’t."

But it's not just the new rules that have the tourism industry spooked. In some cases, enforcement will be almost draconian. The Daily Mail reports that sunbathers in Mallorca, one of the country's most popular tourism hotspots, will be spied upon by police drones aiming to enforce all COVID restrictions, including the mask bill. Police and government inspectors in Calvia, Mallorca's party hotspot before the pandemic, are also carrying out a 'thorough inspection' of hotels to make sure people are following the rules.

To be sure, Europe isn't the only the region struggling with a resurgence. COVID cases globally have been expanding at their fastest rate since last fall. India reported 72,330 new cases Thursday over the last 24 hours, the biggest single-day increase since October, as the Indian government moves to ramp up vaccinations by limiting exports. And the US earlier this week reported its biggest daily jump in cases in months as the growing dominance of the B.1.1.7 variant, first spotted in the UK, stoke fears that the current surge will worsen.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

EU Infighting Over Vaccine Supplies Intensifies As France, Germany Turn To Russia
Tyler Durden's Photo

FRIDAY, APR 02, 2021 - 06:30 AM
Alexei Navalny is on hunger strike, prompting European governments to again criticize the Kremlin for alleged human rights abuses (both the US and EU slapped more sanctions on Russia over Navalny's alleged "poisoning" and are now complaining about Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border) and demand his release. But while they publicly bash President Vladmir Putin, European leaders are quietly negotiating with his government to try and get their hands on supplies of "Sputnik V".

At this point, the US has tried to pressure friendly governments into rejecting the vaccine to no avail. With Washington hogging most of its supplies, asking allies to pass up desperately needed vaccines to help further a geopolitical agenda was simply too big an ask. Despite Brussels' scorn, Russia has struck a production deal with Italy, - while Hungary and Slovakia have already approved the vaccine for use on adults.

And pretty soon, France and Germany, the EU's two largest economies, might defy bureaucrats in Brussels and approve "Sputnik V" as well.

According to a report in RT, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of importing the Sputnik jabs. The conversation occurred one day before Macron announced a new four-week national lockdown in France. According to a statement published by the Kremlin, the leaders discussed “registration of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in the European Union, as well as possible supply and co-production of this drug in EU countries."

Pressuring is growing on EU member states to accelerate their vaccination rollout as a "third wave" of the virus is forcing another round of lockdowns. In Spain, the tourism industry is furious about new restrictions requiring masks to be worn outdoors, as they fear they will miss out on a second straight summer season.

Regulators at the EMA, the agency that has defended AstraZeneca's jab by declaring that the benefits far outweigh the risks, began a review of Sputnik V in March.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is also planning to buy a large shipment of the jabs,
he said.

Despite the obvious need, several senior bureaucrats are doing everything they can to stymie the Russian jab. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the 27-nation group has "absolutely no need" for the vaccine.

All this is happening as the infighting among EU countries over how to disburse extra vaccine doses among member states worsens. Austria is leading a group including the Czech Republic and Slovenia that continued to block a proposal Thursday morning that would divert 3MM extra Pfizer doses to countries more in need as countries do everything they can to hang on to supplies, according to Bloomberg, especially as public skepticism of the AstraZeneca vaccine remains high. The vaccines are part of a 10MM batch Pfizer will deliver ahead of schedule.

Sputnik V became the world's first registered Covid-19 vaccine in August last year. Produced by Moscow's Gamaleya Center, western authorities greeted it with immediate skepticism - former FDA head Dr. Scott Gottlieb infamously declared "I wouldn't take it" - before studies published in the British medical journal The Lancet revealed that it has an efficacy of 91.6%.

northern watch

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Pink cake on canals: Amsterdam celebrates same-sex weddings
A huge inflatable pink cake with candles spouting rainbow flames has glided through Amsterdam's canals as the Dutch capital celebrates the 20th anniversary of the world’s first legal same-sex marriages

By MIKE CORDER Associated Press
1 April 2021, 06:20

A large rainbow flag flies from the bell tower of Wester Church to mark the 20th anniversary of the first legalized same-sex marriage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Twenty years ago, the mayor of Amsterdam married four couples in

Image Icon
The Associated Press
A large rainbow flag flies from the bell tower of Wester Church to mark the 20th anniversary of the first legalized same-sex marriage in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Twenty years ago, the mayor of Amsterdam married four couples in City Hall as the Netherlands became the first country in the world with legalized same-sex marriage. It's now legal in 28 countries. The three crosses of the coat of arms of the city of Amsterdam are seen above the flag. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM -- A huge inflatable pink cake with candles spouting rainbow flames glided through Amsterdam's canals Thursday as the Dutch capital celebrated the 20th anniversary of the world's first legal same-sex marriages.

But even as the city marked the milestone in LGBTQ rights, its mayor said that striving for equality remains a work in progress.

“At the same time it is a moment to recognize that the struggle is not yet over; not worldwide, not nationally, but also not in Amsterdam,” Mayor Femke Halsema told The Associated Press.

Since the historic event in Amsterdam 20 years ago, same-sex marriage has been made legal in 28 countries worldwide, as well as the self-governing island of Taiwan.

Gert Kasteel and Dolf Pasker were celebrating 20 years of married life Thursday. It's an anniversary made all the more special as they were among the first four couples who tied the knot just after midnight on April 1, 2001.

Wearing suits and bow ties, they were married in a ceremony led by then-mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen in a wedding that made headlines around the world.

“It is very nice to look back to see how young we were,” said Pasker after watching video of the wedding on the evening before the anniversary.

Amsterdam also marked the anniversary by flying a huge rainbow flag from the bell tower of the landmark Wester Church church next to the Anne Frank House museum.

Later, the city was holding an online symposium, and it designated a “rainbow walk” route along 20 sites considered important in the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

In the city of Utrecht, Mayor Sharon Dijksma officiated the marriage of Romy Schouten and Jeannette van Nus and said the wedding ceremony should be an example for others.

“To all the boys and girls who are sitting at home and thinking, ‘Maybe I fall for people of the same sex but I dare not say it,’ the message here is: You can be who you are,” Dijksma said.

Sitting with his husband at a table in their backyard in a small town close to Amsterdam on a warm spring evening Wednesday, Pasker said he is pleased that the trail they blazed has been followed by many other nations.

“Nearly 30 countries followed the Netherlands so that’s really very nice. Very good for the gay people and for society as a whole, I think, because it’s important that everyone in society feels at home,” he said.

Henk Krol, a former editor of the Netherlands' largest gay newspaper, this week called same-sex marriage the country's “most beautiful intangible export.”

But COC, the country's largest LGBTQ rights organization, also said that work toward full equality is not complete in the Netherlands even two decades after the first same-sex marriage.

LGBTQ people “still regularly face exclusion, violence and discrimination,” the organization said in a statement.

Pasker agrees, though he said it has not affected his marriage.

“In our private life it could not be better," he said. "But we know from newspaper, television and people we speak (to) that there still are homophobic people and there is some aggression to gay people. That’s still a problem.”

But as he counted down to his anniversary, he hoped others could live in the same wedded bliss.

“We wish all gay people in the world that they can have a life as we can live. It’s very important,” Pasker said.

Pink cake on canals: Amsterdam celebrates same-sex weddings - ABC News (

northern watch

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Greece accuses Turkey of escorting migrant smuggling boats
Greece is reporting a series of brushes with Turkey’s coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast

By ELENA BECATOROS Associated Press
2 April 2021, 06:22

In this photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard and taken from a vessel shows a dinghy with migrants, left, with Turkish ships in the background, in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast on Fr

Image Icon
The Associated Press
In this photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard and taken from a vessel shows a dinghy with migrants, left, with Turkish ships in the background, in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast on Friday, April 2, 2021. Greece is reporting a series of incidents with the Turkish coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast, at a time of generally testy relations between the two neighbors and NATO allies. The Greek coast guard said three incidents occurred Friday morning northeast of Lesbos, an island on the main migrant smuggling route from Turkey to Greece. It said two involved Turkish coast guard vessels escorting or pushing dinghies carrying migrants toward Greek territorial waters. There was no immediate reaction from Turkish authorities. Turkey and Greece have long traded accusations over the migration issue. (Hellenic Coast Guard via AP)

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece is reporting a series of brushes with Turkey's coast guard in the narrow stretch of water between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast, at a time of generally testy relations between the two neighbors and NATO allies.

The Greek coast guard said that in six incidents between Thursday night and Friday morning, Turkish patrol vessels escorted dinghies filled with migrants attempting to enter Greek territorial waters. It said that in another incident, a Turkish coast guard vessel harassed a Greek coast guard vessel.

All occurred northeast of Lesbos, an island on the main migrant smuggling route from Turkey to Greece.

None of the migrant dinghies, which had been carrying around 300 people in total, managed to enter Greek territorial waters, and all the passengers were eventually picked up by the Turkish coast guard, the Greek coast guard said.

“This morning, the Hellenic Coast Guard reported multiple incidents of the Turkish Coast Guard and Navy accompanying flimsy migrant boats to the border of Europe in an effort to provoke an escalation with Greece,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in a statement. “It is beyond doubt that these migrants departed Turkish shores and given the fact they were supported by Turkey, were not at risk.”

Mitarachi called on Turkey to “stand down and stop this unwarranted provocation.”

There was no immediate reaction from Turkish authorities.

Turkey and Greece have long traded accusations over unauthorized migration. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizations and aid groups, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks — illegal summary deportation — by pushing migrants back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum in Greece.

Greece adamantly denies it carries out pushbacks accuses Turkey of not only failing to crack down on migrant smugglers operating from its shores but actively encouraging migrants who seek to enter Greece illegally.

The Greek coast guard provided details about three of the incidents. It say that in the first, a Turkish patrol vessel entered Greek territorial waters and harassed a Greek coast guard boat by conducting dangerous maneuvers. It provided a video showing a clearly marked Turkish coast guard vessel bearing down on the Greek craft at high speed from behind, passing very close to the Greek boat and leaving it rocking in its wake.

The Greek coast guard said the second incident involved a Turkish coast guard vessel escorting a dinghy with migrants toward Greek territorial waters that didn't respond to “repeated efforts of communication” by a Greek patrol boat. The migrant dinghy didn't enter Greek waters, and the passengers were eventually picked up by a second Turkish coast guard vessel, after the first one had departed, the statement said.

In the third incident, the Greek coast guard said two Turkish vessels approached a migrant dinghy still inside Turkish territorial waters and attempted to push it into Greek waters without success.

The Greek coast guard said it was “successfully monitoring the country's and the European Union's sea borders under particularly adverse conditions that the continued Turkish provocativeness creates.”

Located on the EU's southeastern fringe and with islands within easy reach of the Turkish coast, Greece has found itself at the forefront of migration to Europe. Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have entered Europe through the Greek islands from Turkey.


Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed.


Follow AP’s global migration coverage at Migration

Greece accuses Turkey of escorting migrant smuggling boats - ABC News (

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

US lifts Trump sanctions on International Criminal Court officials
President Joe Biden has repealed sanctions on top officials of the Hague-based court imposed by Donald Trump. The move is in line with bringing the US back into the multilateral fold under the new administation.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague
The Hague-based International Criminal Court was established in 2002 by the international community to prosecute war crimes

The United States on Friday lifted sanctions on the International Criminal Court's top prosecutor as President Joe Biden seeks to reverse the previous administration's aggressive moves targeting international institutions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the decision saying an assessment concluded that the measures adopted by the previous administration "were inappropriate and ineffective."

Why were the sanctions imposed?
The Trump administration had imposed financial sanctions and a US visa ban on the ICC's Gambian-born chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last year after she launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by American forces in Afghanistan.

The Hague-based court also pressed ahead with an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories by Israel, a US ally.

Angered by the investigations against the US and its allies, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the tribunal as a "kangaroo court," accusing the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty.

Watch video06:07
US Sanctions the ICC
Sanctions also targeted Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division while other court staff were slapped with visa bans.

Biden on Friday revoked the executive order by Trump, terminating all sanctions and visa bans.
However, he added that the United States would "vigorously protect current and former United States personnel" from any ICC attempts to exercise jurisdiction over them.

A move toward cooperation
Blinken said that the United States continued to "disagree strongly" with the court's moves on Afghanistan and Palestine.

"We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions," he said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the ICC said the court and its governing body of member states, known as the Assembly of States Parties, welcomed the move.

Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, President of the Assembly of States Parties, voiced hope that the decision "signals the start of a new phase of our common undertaking to fight against impunity" for war crimes.

Lifting of sanctions would contribute to "strengthening the work of the Court and, more generally, to promoting a rules-based international order," she said.

The United States and ICC
The US is not a member of the court and remains out of the Rome Statute that established the tribunal.

While the Democratic administrations have been more supportive of the ICC, there was little prospect of the US joining the court, amid fierce opposition from Republicans.

In 2002, the US Congress even passed a law authorizing military force to free any US personnel held by the court, theoretically giving the president authority to invade NATO ally The Netherlands.

Watch video03:02
Nuremberg trials – the trials that lead to the ICC
adi/sri (AFP, Reuters, AP)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Bulgaria heads to the polls amid COVID discontent
Bulgarians are electing a new parliament after months of anti-government protests. Despite demonstrations and scandals, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's party is predicted to win, but a majority may prove elusive.

A man walks past a wall with election posters of the ruling centre-right GERB party
A man walks past a wall with election posters of the ruling centre-right GERB party

Bulgarians are casting their ballots on Sunday with the center-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his GERB party seeking a new mandate to govern.

While GERB — in power for almost a decade — has seen its support eroded by a series of scandals and protests, the party is expected to finish first.

Who's in the running?
Polls show GERB garnering up to 29% of the vote, which could give it some 76 seats in the 240-seat legislature.

The main challenger to GERB, the Socialists, lie about 5-10% points behind the frontrunner.
In this March 2017 file photo, Boyko Borissov speaks at a news conference
Boyko Borissov is seeking a fourth term in office
Several smaller political groups are riding on the wave of strong anti-government sentiment and are projected to pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament for the first time.

One such party, led by a popular television entertainer, is expected to finish third.

Some 12,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT/UTC) and are set to close at 8 p.m., with some 6.7 million people eligible to vote.

Watch video02:56
Young people call for change ahead of Bulgaria elections
'Fragmented and unconvincing opposition'

Borissov, who is seeking a fourth term, has avoided all contact with the media since the demonstrations over alleged corruption.

He has instead focused on social media to highlight campaign trail visits to the countryside with the slogan: "Work, work, work!"

It's thought that GERB will emerge weakened after "a build-up of discontent" over its alleged links with the country's oligarchy.

Political analyst Antony Todorov told news agency AFP up to six parties were expected to win seats in parliament.

He added that this could make it difficult to form a government.

"It's the absence of an alternative due to the fragmented and unconvincing opposition that explains GERB's hegemony," said Todorov.

The vote for the incumbents — strongly criticized because of a perceived ineffective response to the pandemic could be boosted by a lower turnout because of fears of infection with the coronavirus, as well as the absence of postal or proxy voting.
rc/rs (dpa, AP, AFP)

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Germany's Political Crisis And The Future Of Nord Stream 2
Tyler Durden's Photo

SUNDAY, APR 04, 2021 - 08:10 AM
Submitted by South Front,
In a Blinken of an Eye
The Biden Administration entered the White House accompanied by hopes that it would return to some kind of normal in its relations with the European Union. While Biden, unlike Obama, would not score a Nobel Peace Prize solely for his existence, his victory was warmly welcomed in capitals around Europe as a sign that liberalism would vanquish populism ushering in a new era of “business as usual” in the form it was practiced during the Obama Administration.

Once in office, however, the Biden Administration has been working overtime in order to dispel any notion of a relationship of mutual respect between two more or less equal allies, US and EU. Instead, Biden officials have acted as if US and EU are a contemporary version of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two countries with ostensibly separate political systems linked by a personal union in the form of the Emperor (Biden), held together by a common army (NATO) whose main task is preventing any separatism by “Hungary” (the EU) and whose foreign policy is made wholly in “Austria” (United States).

Events like Brexit merely represent a part of the empire moving from “Hungary” to “Austria” for a variety of cultural and racial reasons. In practice it meant that, in addition to Biden replying affirmatively to a court journalist’s question whether Vladimir was a “killer” and Blinken provoking a major row with a Chinese delegation by informing them the US intended to deal with China from a “position of strength”, Blinken also issued a blunt warning to European companies working on Nord Stream 2 could be subject to US sanctions if they did not immediately withdraw from the project.

To make matters worse, at the EU summit Blinken pointed out that his threats aimed at Nord Stream 2 are a reflection of US Congress laws demanding any and all firms participating in its construction to be sanctioned, though omitting that the Executive Branch has considerable freedom of action in implementing legislation impinging on the presidential foreign policy prerogatives.

It does not appear as if Blinken’s “shock and awe” show on three continents has had the desired results. Germany’s Foreign Ministry pointedly refused to endorse Biden’s characterization of Vladimir Putin as a “killer”, in contrast to several other European countries traditionally adhering to an anti-Russia stance. Moreover, there is no evidence that German companies are about to drop their work on Nord Stream 2. Doing so would be a fatal blow to Germany’s position as the leading EU member state and would introduce a greater degree of chaos into EU power struggles.

Factors putting a certain degree of steel into Germany’s spine is the apparent realization that, emboldened by the effectiveness of a mere threat of sanctions against Germany, the US State Department will grow accustomed to using that instrument on a routine basis with Germany and other members of the EU. United States’ apparent desire to denigrate Germany’s international status seems to have led to a few other snubs, such as the failure to invite it to a high-level meeting on Afghanistan that Russia, China, and even Turkey will attend.

Germany’s Green Hell
If the United States has an ace in a hole that might yet reverse the decline of its fortunes, it is the gradual ascendancy of Germany’s Green Party. German and indeed international public opinion have come a long way from the heady days of Spring 2020, when Angela Merkel was roundly hailed as the “scientist” whose combination of empirical astuteness and political savvy would bring COVID-19 to heel, in stark contrast to the ignorant fools that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump were supposed to be. Back in May or June 2020, it certainly did not appear as if anything could threaten Merkel’s political fortunes. Yet it is Merkel who is now facing calls for a Bundestag vote of confidence.

The botched pandemic response, the puzzling back-and-forth of lockdowns, relaxations, then new lockdowns, and a number of corruption scandals associated with pandemic response contracts that implicated a number of CDU/CSU deputies, have undermined the public’s confidence in the ruling party and its leadership. It certainly did not help matters that the EU official most closely associated with the botched vaccine procurement at the Union level is the President of the European Commission Ursula van der Leyen who previously occupied several ministerial posts, including that of Defense, in the various Merkel governments.

It is therefore unsurprising that Germany is potentially facing a major electoral upheaval that threatens to significantly rearrange the country’s political landscape. As of March 27, 2021, a Kantar opinion poll attempting to ascertain the level of support each of Germany’s parties might enjoy during this year’s Bundestag elections showed CDU/CSU still in the lead with potentially 25% of the vote, with the Greens in close second at 23%. The other political parties posted notably weaker figures. The once-dominant SPD scored only 17%, Alternative for Germany (AfD) and FDP 10% apiece, Die Linke 9%, with 6% distributed among the remaining parties. Other German opinion polls delivered roughly similar results, varying only by a couple percentage points.

Its rise is driven by several factors, including the exhaustion with the ruling CDU/CSU coalition, the SPD suffering from the abandonment of its leftist principles in favor of Blair/Clinton-like “third way” neoliberal policies, Die Linke still lingering under a cloud of suspicion due to its German Democratic Republic ancestry, and of course the Alternative for Germany attracting unwanted attention from Germany’s own “Deep State” which, like its US and British counterparts, is playing an increasingly active role in the country’s politics.

Gruen Nach Osten
That the Greens’ coming to power is bound to result in Germany becoming more militaristic and interventionist on the world stage is also suggested by the curious case of Tareq Alaows, a Syrian man born in Damascus who came to Germany in 2015 and, only six years later, was declared a Bundestag candidate from the Green Party already as a German citizen. Given that the rest of the 1.5 million refugees who arrived in Germany at roughly the same time are still not German citizens and are likely never to become them, Alaows’ rapid elevation suggest that the Greens have friends within Germany’s “deep state”, and are interested in following US and British lead in “weaponizing” social issues such as gender rights, environmentalism, and other issues in order to justify aggression against countries deemed insufficiently dedicated to what the West claims to be “universal values”.

They would not be Europe’s first “Green” party to go neo-conservative. Sweden’s Greens have likewise inducted many Islamists into their ranks in order to press for greater foreign interventionism. Moreover, since Germany’s Green Party is a relatively recent invention and is therefore not associated with Germany’s earlier military aggressions (and here one should note that even the SPD was staunchly supportive of Germany’s aggression in World War I, and likely would have been in World War II had it not been banned by the Nazis), they are the most logical front for Germany’s neo-cons.

One can readily imagine empowered Greens declaring Germany has a sacred mission to rid the world of coal, oil, and natural gas as sources of energy which naturally means a confrontation with China and Russia in order to install governments in those countries that naturally share the Greens’ priorities and incidentally also enact policies highly favorable to German business interests. While the Green Party began its existence as a radical party of the Left, by the end of the Cold War it began to reinvent itself along neo-conservative lines.

Its support for NATO’s wars against Yugoslavia and other military adventures, its peculiar interest in Aleksey Navalny who is not exactly known as an environmentalist, combined with strident opposition to Nord Stream 2, collectively make it very attractive to the Bidens and Blinkens of the world interested in making Germany a US client state. What remains to be seen is whether German and US “deep states” are capable of smoothing the Greens’ path into power, and whether the German people will accept the Green regime that is being prepared for them.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Wow, Irish members! What do you know of this?

'Troubles' 2.0? Riots Erupt In Northern Ireland Amid Brexit Tensions, COVID Confusion
Tyler Durden's Photo

SUNDAY, APR 04, 2021 - 01:15 PM
Social unrest broke out across Newtownabbey and Belfast, located in Northern Ireland, for the second night (Saturday night) amid rising post-Brexit tensions, reported Irish Times. A more immediate catalyst to the unrest over Easter weekend was last week's decision by public prosecutors not to charge anyone with alleged breaches of COVID regulations at an IRA funeral sparked Unionist outrage.
Many blamed pro-British unionists for stoking tensions over their vehement opposition to new post-Brexit trade barriers.
“By their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas,” Gerry Kelly, a lawmaker from the pro-Irish Sinn Fein party, which shares power in the devolved government with the DUP, said in a statement.
Others pinned the blame on unequal treatment of COVID restrictions.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lawmaker, Christopher Stalford, told Reuters that demonstrators were “acting out of frustration” after prosecutors did not charge any members of Sinn Fein last week for alleged public health breaches.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster urged calm:
"I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better. And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend. I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives."
Social disturbances began on Friday and continued well into Saturday night. Political leaders stressed peace but unrest quickly spiraled out of control in Newtownabbey and Belfast.

Demonstrators threw petrol bombs at police, hijacked three vehicles, and caused damage. Police said dozens of demonstrators gathered around Cloughfern roundabout in the O'Neill's Road area of Newtownabbey around 19:30 BST to 22:30 BST.

North Area Commander Chief Superintendent Davy Beck described Saturday's attack on police as "orchestrated."
"No one, no matter what line of work they are in, deserves to be subjected to any kind of violence," Beck said.
Saturday's unrest followed riots on Friday night in which 27 police officers were injured in Belfast and Londonderry.
Video footage has emerged of burned-out cars and a police van being targeted.


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Police Federation for Northern Ireland



What is the point in this? Destroying your own communities is not the way to protest or vent. Why is it always our
colleagues who face the brunt of this pointless violence?


Embedded video

Here's more video of the Easter weekend unrest.

Mark Simpson


NEW: Man injured by petrol bomb in Newtownabbey last night. The flames were eventually put out before his injuries were more severe.

6:15 AM · Apr 4, 2021

As Reuters reminds us, the British-run region remains deeply split along sectarian lines, 23 years after a peace deal largely ended three decades of bloodshed. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland while Protestant unionists want to stay in the UK.


Disaster Cat
What I was afraid of happening, is happening; it kind of started the night before last and continued last night. I waited to post because sometimes these things go for a short time and fizzle out but this time I'm not sure that it will.

Basically, the Ulster Unionists, the "Ulster-Scotts" who want to stay part of the United Kingdom are furious beyond furious that the "agreement" with the EU means in reality that Northern Ireland is treated completely differently than the rest of the UK (after being promised they wouldn't be).

It isn't helping that the EU has tried to punish England for BREXIT by requiring more paperwork to ship things either to the EU or Northern Ireland than the other nations do in TOTAL overall paperwork in any given year.

The upshot is that many (if not most) British companies are refusing to ship to Northern Ireland and many
EU businesses are also refusing to ship to Northern Ireland (and in many cases to any part of Ireland).

While the Republic hasn't been that badly affected in terms of imports (yet), Northern Ireland is actually having some shortages of food and other imported items. The Republic is being badly affected in terms of exports, many of which used to to the UK or through the UK on their way to Europe.

Anyway, now the "young folks" in the "Unionist" areas are starting to throw homemade bombs, blowing up cars, and attacking police, just the way they used to before the Peace Accords about 20 plus years ago.

This is likely to just keep escalating as we get towards "the Marching Season" in July when traditionally the Ulster Unionist men parade about, often intentionally marching through Republican (Catholic) areas in hopes of stirring up even more trouble.

Again, I have no sides in this race, but that used to happen a lot; the Official Parade Routes wouldn't go there and the marchers would turn around and do it anyway, making the Republican Catholics mad so they would start rioting and burning things down too.

There have already been some bombing attempts and other situations that could have caused a large loss of life but the cops have found them in time and they were under-reported.

Ultimately there are only two "solutions" to this mess - a hard border in Ireland which no one wants (there is no traditional border as there was between England and Scotland) and would force either England or the EU/Irish to have a military border 24/7. It would also probably cause a return of the civil war in the North, the one even the Brits couldn't afford after a couple of decades.

Or ultimately a "United Ireland" where the Northern Counties leave the UK and either join with the Republic (and therefore return to the EU) or the less likely the Northern Irish counties become a separate Common Wealth country and apply for EU membership.

It is extremely unlikely short of an actual break up of the EU that the Irish Republic would leave, partly because they get too much out of being members and partly because the bad blood between the Republic and England is still so massively bad I can't see Ireland even having serious trading packs with England. Unless the EU totally fell apart and/or Europe fell into utter chaos and war.

Sorry this is a bit long, but as I've said before, this situation is very complicated, there is no "right" or "wrong" side, but either England has to tell the EU to go jump in a lake and start supplying Northern Ireland (which will result in the EU trying to force Ireland to set up a hard land border) or this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

One thing people notice is empty shelves in supermarkets...

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Bulgaria's PM to face tough coalition talks as protest parties surge
Issued on: 04/04/2021 - 20:29
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov casts his ballot in the town of Bankya on Sunday, April 4, 2021.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov casts his ballot in the town of Bankya on Sunday, April 4, 2021. © GERB Party, AP
3 min
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will have difficulty holding onto power after a surge of votes in an election on Sunday for anti-establishment and anti-corruption parties that want him out.

Exit polls forecast his centre-right GERB party to remain the largest party in parliament, but with only around 25% of the vote, compared with the 33.5% it won four years ago.

Behind it, the opposition Socialists and a new anti-establishment party founded by a singer vied with each other for second place, and two other protest parties that reject Borissov were also forecast to enter the parliament.

After a decade of dominating Bulgarian politics, Borissov has few natural coalition partners.

Weeks of talks, or even another election, cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member, may have difficulty tapping the EU's 750 billion euro ($884 billion) coronavirus Recovery Fund.

A former fireman and bodyguard, Borissov, 61, sought to showcase his successes in modernising Bulgaria's creaking infrastructure in a low-key campaign after his popularity was eroded last year by massive rallies against corruption and the power of oligarchs.

"We are seeing the outlines of one new Bulgaria, where Borissov can continue to win elections with his huge administrative and financial resources, but cannot hold on to power," said Hristo Ivanov, a leader of the anti-graft Democratic Bulgaria party.

Complicating Borissov's coalition-building options is the emergence of the anti-establishment There is Such a People party of popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov. A Gallup International exit poll put it second, ahead of the Socialists, while a poll by Alpha Research had them in reverse order.

Trifonov, 54, whose concerts peppered with patriotic songs have attracted thousands, has ruled out governing with either GERB or the Socialists.

Democratic Bulgaria, one of biggest forces in the massive protests last summer, won some 10-11%, the polls showed. Another protest party, Stand Up! Mafia Out! will also enter the next parliament.

Borissov's government has presided over a 36% increase in the average monthly salary to 1,468 levs ($882), has kept public debt low, and secured entry to the "waiting room" for joining the euro currency.

But its failure to tackle endemic corruption and reform the judiciary brought thousands of protesters onto the streets for months during 2020.

The protesters accused Borissov of cosying up to local oligarchs and funnelling EU aid to businesses close to GERB, allegations he denies.

Bulgaria ranks as the EU's most corrupt member state according to Transparency International. A recent U.S. State Department report on human rights highlights serious problems with judicial independence and media freedom in the country.

President Rumen Radev, a critic of Borissov and an ally of the Socialists, says Bulgaria needs new faces and ideas.

"These election will be the first step to the return to normality, to laws and rules," he said after voting on Sunday.

The ethnic Turkish MRF party won 10-11%, polls showed, while the nationalist VMRO party is at 4.0-4.4%. The threshold to win seats is 4%. Both have been GERB's governing coalition allies following the last election.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Putin Signs Law Allowing Possibility He Could Rule Until 2036
Tyler Durden's Photo

TUESDAY, APR 06, 2021 - 04:15 AM
On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation which formalizes the possibility that he could run for two more six-year presidential terms if he chose.

It's part of a long-in-process overhaul of the Russian Constitution which the population approved overwhelmingly in a nationwide vote last year. Despite his not indicating plans for another presidential bid, he could now theoretically stay in power until 2036. He would be 83-years old that year.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing him to run for two more terms in the Kremlin once his current term ends in 2024, a document posted on a government website showed on Monday," Reuters confirms further.

The law now in effect basically "resets" his number of terms already served, which considerably stretches all the way back to 2000.

If it actually happened this would put him up there in Russian history as among the top three longest rulers... to review:
Having first been sworn in office in 2000, Putin served two four-year terms in a row. Hitting the logjam of a ban on three consecutive terms, Putin put Dmitry Medvedev in office as president while effectively ruling Russia in the capacity of prime minister. While Putin was serving as prime minister, Russia’s presidential term was extended to six years. In 2012, Putin rose back to power and won another election in 2018. If Putin stays in power until 2036, it will get closer to the ruling years of Russia’s founding emperor Pyotr Alekseevich (43 years from 1672 to 1725.), far exceeding Joseph Stalin’s 31 years in dictatorship from 1922 to 1953, according to CNN.
The last indicator of his Putin's intentions came last summer, when he said: "I do not rule out the possibility of running for office, if this comes up in the Constitution. We’ll see."
He had added at a moment the new Constitution was headed to a vote that "I have not decided anything for myself yet,” according to state television interview statements at the time.

The Biden White House could actually make his extending his rule as president more of a likelihood. As relations between the US and Russia continue to deteriorate, with Biden in an interview last month agreeing that Putin is a "killer" who is "soul-less", the Russian population will probably gravitate toward desiring a 'strong' and 'proven' leader that can stand up to the West, and to Washington in particular.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Siestanomics? Spain's Ruling Socialists Launch Nationwide Test Of 4-Day Work Week
Tyler Durden's Photo

TUESDAY, APR 06, 2021 - 05:45 AM
As corporations ponder the future of work in the post-pandemic era, labor economists have been bandying about the possibility that the four-day work week might be one legacy of the pandemic. In the US, data on job postings advertising a four-day work week have surged since the start of the pandemic, according to Zip Recruiter.

When we first shared the chart above, Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, an enterprise software company, said: "The four-day week is picking up momentum. For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal."

Now, as some popular billionaires like Jack Ma have hailed a six day a week work week as "vital for long-term success", some countries and companies are experimenting with the possibility. During last year's election in the UK, the Labour Party listed reducing the work week to a 32-hour (or 4 day) standard over a decade as part of its platform.

Unilever is running a trial of the 4-day work week in New Zealand, and Japanese lawmakers are considering a proposal to grant an extra day off to all workers. As we have noted, German technology firm Arwin has started cutting hours.

To wit, Bloomberg reports that Spain is about to ask 100s of domestic companies to join in one of the biggest-ever tests of whether a four-day workweek can be implemented without harming the economy. To hasten this, left-wing Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has decided to invest €50 million ($59 million) of public money into a three-year, nationwide program.

Spain's pilot program is the brainchild of Mas Pais, a small left-wing part that managed to persuade Sanchez's ruling socialists to give the program a change. Mas Pais leader Inigo Errejon said he expects 200 employees to sign up for the program, with a start date set for the fall. The ruling socialists reportedly agreed to the trial in exchange for securing Mas Pais's votes for the administration's budget, which includes allocations under the EU's COVID recovery fund. Bloomberg stressed that for the ruling socialists, the 4-day week isn't a policy priority.

But since remote work has reportedly strained work-life balance for office workers has become an important issue for left-wing politicians. "What’s important isn’t how many days are worked but rather work-life balance," said Joaquin Perez Rey, Secretary of State at Spain’s Labor Ministry. "That won’t be resolved with one day less."

Under Errejon’s program, employees will get the same salaries despite putting in fewer hours. Unless they significantly boost their productivity, companies will pay their workers more to do less.

"A hundred years have passed since we last shortened the working day, meaning when we won the right to eight hours," Errejon told Bloomberg. "In the past 100 years, we’ve continued to produce more with fewer hours of labor, and yet this ability to produce more thanks to technology hasn’t generated more free time for people."
Opponents of a mandatory 4-day week, however, insist that Spain's economy simply isn't ready for such a policy, as its productivity and innovative capacity lag the rest of Europe.

Spain’s challenge is that it has long been plagued by high unemployment, low productivity, and one of the highest proportions in Europe of workers on precarious, temporary contracts. The Bank of Spain has criticized the country's labor market - which, at one point during the European sovereign debt crisis 8 years ago, sported youth unemployment at a staggering 50% - as "dysfunctional."

Source: Bloomberg
Successive Spanish governments have tried tweaking labor rules, but in practice, the country's labor laws contain many loopholes allowing people to work more than 35 hours, especially with a shift toward services and freelance jobs.

While Errejon's plan is being financed with government money to compensate employers by allowing them to hire more workers, a four-hour work-week would almost certainly dampen Spain's already weak competitiveness.

The risk is that Spanish companies, already relatively uncompetitive within Europe, fall even further behind. Maria Jesus Fernandez Sanchez, an economist at Spanish think tank Funcas, notes that there’s nothing stopping businesses from implementing a four-day workweek now.
"If they wouldn’t do it without these funds, then that probably means it’s not feasible," she said. "If this were Switzerland or Japan, it could work perfectly. But not in Spain."
Right now, Spain's ruling socialists say they're focused on making sure workers furloughed during the pandemic are all able to return to steady jobs as the economy reopens.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Left-wing party opposed to rare earth mining project wins Greenland election
Issued on: 07/04/2021 - 09:37
Members of the IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit) party wave party flags as they celebrate following the exit polls results of the legislative election in Nuuk, Greenland, on April 6, 2021.

Members of the IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit) party wave party flags as they celebrate following the exit polls results of the legislative election in Nuuk, Greenland, on April 6, 2021. © Emil Helms, AFP
3 min
A left-wing environmentalist party opposed to a controversial mining project won a clear victory in Greenland's parliamentary election, according to results released Wednesday.

With 36.6 percent of the vote, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) was ahead of Siumut, a social democratic party that has dominated politics in the Danish territory since it gained autonomy in 1979.
"Thank you to the people who trusted us to work with the people in the centre for the next four years," IA leader Mute Egede said on KNR public television after the results were announced.

IA, which was previously in opposition, is expected to grab 12 out of the 31 seats in the Inatsisartut, the local parliament, up from eight currently.

But without an absolute majority, the most likely scenario is that IA joins forces with smaller parties to form a coalition.

Siumut, which headed the outgoing government, was partly weakened by internal struggles. It gained 29.4 percent of the vote, still two percentage points higher than its results in the 2018 election.

The dividing line between the two parties was whether to authorise a controversial giant rare earth and uranium mining project, which is currently the subject of public hearings.

The Kuannersuit deposit, in the island's south, is considered one of the world's richest in uranium and rare earth minerals -- a group of 17 metals used as components in everything from smartphones to electric cars and weapons.

IA has called for a moratorium on uranium mining, which would effectively put a halt to the project.

Divisions over Kuannersuit originally triggered the snap election in the territory after one of the smaller parties left the ruling Siumut coalition.

Opponents say the project, led by the Chinese-owned Australian group Greenland Minerals, has too many environmental risks, including radioactive waste.

Egede told KNR he would immediately start discussions to "explore different forms of cooperation" before forming a coalition government.

The 34-year-old, who has been a member of the Inatsisartut since 2015, took over the reins of the left-green party a little over two years ago.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Navalny 'needs to be freed,' Amnesty International's chief says
The NGO's chief "knows that Navalny is facing prison conditions that amount to torture, including through sleep deprivation." She said Amnesty's recent removal of his "prisoner of conscience" status would be reviewed.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a screen set up at a hall of the Moscow Regional Court via a video link from Moscow's penal detention center Number 1
The German Foreign Ministry and Amnesty International on Wednesday called for Navalny's release

Amnesty International's chief called for the release of the imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

"He needs to be freed immediately, he needs to be protected against torture, and he needs to receive medical care," Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of the UK-headquartered nonprofit, told DW on Wednesday during her first month in her new post.

Her comments come as Germany's Foreign Ministry also called for Navalny's release from "unlawful" detention.

Why is Navalny imprisoned?
Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, is currently serving a two-and-half-year sentence on for violating the conditions of his bail on a 2014 fraud conviction in one of Russia's toughest prisons.

He was detained in January 2021 after arriving in Russia from Berlin where he recovered from a suspected poisoning incident with the Soviet-developed Novichok nerve agent.
He has since gone on hunger strike, protesting poor medical care.
Agnes Callamard speaks to reporters
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard spoke to DW following the release of the NGO's annual report

Callamard also addressed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on inequality and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

She spoke to DW following Amnesty International's release of its annual human rights report on Wednesday.

'Prisoner of conscience' status back up for review?
"We know that he [Navalny] is facing prison conditions that amount to torture, including through sleep deprivation," Callamard told DW.

She said the nonprofit knows that Navalny was not getting specific care that he needs due to his Novichok poisoning, as "one of the few people" to have survived poisoning with the nerve agent. Navalny this week complained of being offered painkillers as treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Watch video03:38
Kremlin targets TikTok over critical content
"We know that is arbitrarily detained because of the position he has espoused and because he is a vocal critic of President Putin," Callamard added.

She stressed that the organization was campaigning "equally for Alexei at the moment, as we would have two months ago."

This was a reference to her organization's decision in February to strip Navalny of his "prisoner of conscience" status in response to his past "advocacy of hatred" — a decision taken before Callamard was appointed.

Navlany's supporters accused Amnesty of having caved to a pressure campaign, after Russian users inundated the NGO with examples of past social media comments from Navalny deemed in some way insensitive or distasteful.

The decision is currently "under review," with "the outcome of that process will be made public when it's finished, which should be anytime soon," Callamard told DW on Wednesday.

Germany's Foreign Ministry wants Navalny's release
Germany's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday joined Callamard's calls for Navalny to be released. "Mr. Navanly is now detained in a prison camp unlawfully and in contradiction to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]," a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said.

"It is our very clear expectation that Mr. Navalny should be released," the spokesperson added.

Reports of the Kremlin critic's poor health were "disturbing," he said.

Navalny is currently serving his sentence for disobeying the terms of his probation over a 2014 money laundering conviction that the ECHR in 2017 was "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable."

Berlin has previously called for Russia to released Navalny.

Callamard also criticized a global failure to act in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

The Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey's largest city in 2018.

"Unfortunately [the US] did not act on their findings" that Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were involved in Khashoggi's murder, Callamard, who previously worked as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, told DW. She added that the US failure to act was likely down to legal and geo-strategic reasons.

She also called out "the entire EU" for failing to take action against Bin Salman, adding: "The fact is Saudi Arabia is a partner of choice for many countries around the world."

Callamard said that nevertheless, the Saudi crown prince could face continued difficulties as a result of the case.

"There are many countries around the world where he [Bin Salman] is unable to go because he could be sued immediately …including in Germany where Reporters Without Borders has filed a complaint of crimes against humanity," she said.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a complaint of over 300 pages against several high-ranking members of the Saudi government and Bin Salman with the German Office of the Federal Prosecutor in March.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Northern Ireland clashes must stop before someone gets killed - Ireland's Coveney
By Jason Cairnduff

BELFAST (Reuters) - Nightly outbreaks of street violence in Northern Ireland must stop before somebody is killed, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Thursday, calling on political and community leaders to work together to ease tension.

The region’s devolved government will hold an emergency meeting later on Thursday to be briefed on an escalation of rioting overnight with sectarian clashes, continued attacks on police and the setting alight of a hijacked bus.

The violence comes amid growing frustration among many pro-British unionists at new post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that many warned could be a trigger violent protests.

“This needs to stop before somebody is killed or seriously injured,” Coveney told national broadcaster RTE, describing the spreading of violence to an interface between unionist and Irish nationalist communities as “particularly worrying”.

“These are scenes we haven’t seen in Northern Ireland for a very long time, they are scenes that many people thought were consigned to history and I think there needs to be a collective effort to try to diffuse tension.”

Large groups threw fireworks, bricks and petrol bombs at each other from either side of one of Belfast’s so-called “peace walls” that have divided the two communities in parts of the city since the violent “Troubles” began more than 50 years ago.

Parts of the region remain deeply split along sectarian lines, 23 years after a peace deal largely ended the bloodshed. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland while Protestant unionists want to stay in the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland riots must stop before someone killed: Ireland's Coveney

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” by the violence, which has injured dozens of police officers in recent days. At least seven officers were wounded on Wednesday, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, told BBC Northern Ireland.

While Northern Irish politicians from all sides condemned the clashes, the Irish nationalists and unionist rivals that lead its compulsory power-sharing coalition blamed one other.

Sinn Fein and others have accused the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of First Minister Arlene Foster of stoking tensions with their staunch opposition to the new trading barriers that many unionists feel erases part of their UK identity.

The DUP in turn have pointed to a decision by police not to prosecute Irish nationalists Sinn Fein for a large funeral last year that broke COVID-19 regulations. They also called for Northern Ireland’s police chief to step down over the matter.

Coveney, who spoke to Britain’s Northern Ireland minister on the violence late on Wednesday, said a number of factors were inflaming division and polarisation, and that the post-Brexit protocol arrangements were clearly one of them.

“I don’t believe a political vacuum where we are all speaking separately rather than together with one voice is the way to show leadership in our community,” Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister, Naomi Long, a member of the cross-community Alliance Party, told the BBC.

Additional reporting and writing by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

See this thread:


Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Click to copy
In his first travel abroad, new Italian PM visits Libya
By RAMI MUSAApril 6, 2021

1 of 5
Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity, right, and Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Italy, speak to media, Tuesday, April, 6 2021 in Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Nada Harib)

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Italy’s prime minister on a visit Tuesday to the Libyan capital of Tripoli — his first trip abroad since taking office — lauded the North African country’s efforts to curb the flow of migrants to Europe.

Following in the footsteps of other European leaders who recently met with Libya’s new interim government, Premier Mario Draghi held talks with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Libya’s interim government, which took power last month, is meant to bring together a country that has been torn apart by civil war for nearly a decade. It is also meant to shepherd the country through general elections on Dec. 24.

Speaking at a press conference, Draghi said the fact that he made Libya the destination of his first trip outside Italy as premier was evidence of the solid, historic ties between the two countries that he aimed to deepen.

“There’s a desire for a future, to restart quickly,” Draghi said. He added that Italy was satisfied with Libya’s efforts on migrant rescues, and said the European Union was invested in the issue, which he said “is not just geopolitical but humanitarian.”

Italy, as part of the EU, has cooperated with local Libyan institutions to try to stem the tide of migrants, with tens of thousands setting off from Libyan shores, many with Italy as an intended destination.

In recent years, the union has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.

Draghi’s statements come amid criticism by Italian journalists and lawmakers at home over the wiretapping of reporters’ phone calls during investigations into Libya-based migrant trafficking and humanitarian rescue groups.

The investigations date back a few years ago when former Italian government officials were cracking down on humanitarian vessels that were rescuing migrants in the central Mediterranean from traffickers’ unseaworthy boats.

Meanwhile, Dbeibah said the two leaders had agreed to take steps towards fully resuming commercial air traffic between their countries, and to make it easier for Libyans to apply for visas to Italy from inside the country.

Also on Tuesday, Dbeibah sought to address Greece’s concerns over a maritime deal that a previous Libyan administration struck with Turkey that angered Athens.

“We are looking for Libya’s interests ... we are reviewing all agreements, especially the Turkish and Greek ones,” he told a news conference in Tripoli with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

He said his government is willing to establish a joint Libyan-Greek committee to resume negotiations to set the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcate an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights.

There was no immediate comment from Ankara.

In 2019, Turkey singed an agreement with a Libyan faction to delineate the maritime boundaries between the two countries, a move slammed by Cyprus and Greece as a serious breach of international law that disregards the lawful rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country was in recent years split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

The meeting of the two leaders underscores the interest Italy has maintained in Libya in recent years, especially when it comes to migration. Italy was a supporter of the Libya’s previous U.N.-backed government that was also based in Tripoli. However, that government failed to gain acceptance in the country’s east, where commander Khalifa Hifter holds sway, backed by countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

northern watch

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Hungarian Central Bank Boosts Gold Reserves By 3000% In Less Than 3 Years

FRIDAY, APR 09, 2021 - 06:30 AM

Submitted by Ronan Manly,

The central bank of Hungary, the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB), has just announced a purchase of a massive 63 tonnes of Good Delivery gold bars, and in doing so tripled the nation’s gold holdings from 31.5 tonnes to 94.5 tonnes.

In its press release about the huge transaction, published 7 April, the Hungarian central bank explains its rationale for the dramatic purchase of what is approximately 5040 large (400 oz) gold bars, highlighting that gold has no credit risk and no counterparty risk, and so reinforces sovereign trust over all economic environments (normal and extreme), while being one of the most crucial reserve assets that a central bank can hold.

Hungarian soldiers guarding central bank gold repatriated from London, 2018.
Source.From 10 Fold to 30 Fold

For those who may remember, this is not the first major gold purchase by the Hungarians in recent times, as the Hungarian central bank also caused shockwaves in October 2018 when it purchased 28.4 tonnes of gold, on that occasion increasing its gold reserves 10 fold from 3.1 tonnes of 31.5 tonnes, or a 1000% increase. See the BullionStar article “In surprise move, Central Bank of Hungary announces 10-fold jump in its gold reserves” from October 2018.

This means that over exactly two and a half years, the Hungarians have increased their sovereign gold reserves by a staggering 3000%, or 30 fold, from 3.1 tonnes to 94.5 tonnes, an absolute increase of 91.4 tonnes. How’s that for a conviction trade?

On the October 2018 occasion, the Hungarians purchased their 28.4 tonnes of gold at the Bank of England in London, and repatriated it back to Hungary in the same month, announcing the purchase and the repatriation at the same time, saying that ‘the repatriation has already taken place‘.

On this occasion, the MNB does not say where it bought its 63 tonnes of gold, but it may well have been again at the Bank of England in London. Nor does the MNB say if the 63 tonnes of gold has been repatriated to Hungary yet. However, going on the previous pattern from 2018, one would expect that yes it has been brought back to Hungary by plane and under heavily armed guard.

A No Confidence Vote in the System

Interestingly, this time around in 2021, the Magyar Nemzeti Bank says that part of the motivation for the new gold purchase is in “managing new risks arising from the coronavirus pandemic”, which is a subtle way of saying that since central banks and governments around the world have used the Covid excuse to ramp up debt levels, ramp up quantitative easing and ramp up money supply growth, therein debasing their fiat currencies and introducing inflationary risks to bond holders, the Hungarians are simultaneously ramping up their physical gold holdings to counter this insanity.

Or said in the diplomatic language of the latest Hungarian central bank press release, these concerns “further increase the importance of gold in national strategy as a safe-haven asset and as a store of value.

Gold bars in the Central Bank of Hungary’s vaults in Budapest

The language of the NMB in 2021 is also similar to that which it used in 2018 when the Monetary Council of the Hungarian central bank said it was buying large quantities of physical gold since:

“Gold is still considered to be one of the world’s safest assets, whose characteristics can be attributed to gold’s unique properties such as finite supply of physical gold, and lack of credit and counterparty risk given that gold is not a claim against a specific partner or country.”
“gold remains one of the safest instruments in the world, and, even under normal market conditions, provides a stability and confidence-building function.”
The latest Hungarian central bank press release also describes its new 63 tonne gold purchase as part of a process, the first phase of which was the increase in its gold reserves by a factor of 10 in October 2018. So this new 2021 purchase can now be seen as phase 2, and as the MNB says “with these purchases [in 2021], the MNB continued the process it started in 2018.” In both sets of gold transactions, the Bank describes the gold buying as being in line with its “long-term national and economic policy strategy objectives”.

While the phase 1 gold purchases took place over the first 2 weeks of October 2018, the Bank does not state exactly when the new 63 tonnes of gold was acquired, but assuming in was within the last month, it also looks like good timing, as the spot gold price has been mostly trading in a range of $1750 - $1700.

The average LBMA Gold (fix) Price (an average of both the AM and PM fixes) over the month of March 2021 was $1720, so this would put the 63 tonnes gold transaction at an average purchase value of US $3.484 billion.

Unpacking gold bars from crates in Budapest after being flown from London, 2018
Hungary - Now a Major League Gold Holder

This huge new gold purchase also catapults Hungary into 36th position in the international rankings of country gold reserves (excluding IMF, ECB and BIS gold), from 56th position previously. Going back to pre-October 2018, the combined gold purchases of 91.4 tonnes in 2018 and 2021 boost Hungary from a minnow gold holder which was languishing in about 87th position in the international league table, to a major player on the central bank stage within the top 30% of central banks.

Hungary will obviously now turn more heads at the BIS central banker cocktail parties in Basle. But maybe more importantly to the Hungarian central bankers, the latest gold purchase boosts Hungary from the 6th largest to the 3rd largest sovereign gold holder in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region, and boosts gold reserves per capita in Hungary from 0.1 ounce to 0.31 ounce, the highest gold reserves per capita in the CEE region.

It also boosts the MNB’s gold as a percentage of its total reserve assets from 4.7% to about 14.1%, assuming the same reserve base. So since 2018, Hungary has now risen from far down in the international gold reserves league table to a respectable position towards the top, in terms of both the absolute size, and the proportion of gold reserves to total reserves that it holds.

Last time around in October 2018, the Hungarian central bankers said that:
“the possession and the increase of nations’ precious metals holdings appear to be decisive international trends.”
This time around, the MNB press release puts figures on the huge combined gold buying by this select group of central banks over recent years, acknowledging that:
the role of gold within international reserves has been enhanced at several central banks. At 656 tons, central banks’ demand for gold reached record highs in 2018 and also in 2019 (669 tons).
These exact figures were actually highlighted in a recent BullionStar infographic about ‘Central Bank Gold Buying and Gold Repatriation’, which can be seen here. In fact, the Hungarian gold purchase and repatriation from 2018 is prominently featured in that infographic.

Furthermore, the 63 tonne gold transaction by Hungary is the largest accumulation of gold by any central bank in 2021, the second biggest gold purchase by any central bank since the start of 2020 (and the biggest if excluding Turkey whose central bank gold purchases are difficult to decipher since they are intertwined with Turkey's commercial banking system).

The Hungarian 63 tonne transaction is also one of the biggest ‘on market’ central bank gold transactions since the start of 2019, second only to Poland’s 100 tonne purchase in 2019. Note that Russia purchased 158 tonnes of gold in 2019 but that gold was from domestic mining production.

Central bank gold bars flow to Central and Eastern Europe – Image from BullionStar Infographic. Source here.Poland and Hungary – In Sync

Speaking of Poland, its worth a reminder that the central bank of Hungary’s regional neighbour to the north, the National Bank of Poland (NBP), purchased 100 tonnes of gold in the first half of 2019, also at the Bank of England in London (see here), and over the next few months, airlifted that 100 tonnes of gold back to Poland to the NBPs vaults in Warsaw.

A total of eight flights transported the Polish gold over a few months, with one thousand gold bars in each flight, with the final flight being in November 2019. See here for details. This gave the NBP a sizeable 228.6 tonnes of gold in its reserves, as it had purchased 25.7 tonnes of gold in 2018, and prior to that claimed to hold 103 tonnes of gold.

Not only that, but very recently in an interview in mid-March 2021, the governor of the Polish central bank, Adam Glapinski, said that the NBP now wants to buy another 100 tonnes of gold and store this gold in its vaults in Warsaw – “’Over the course of a few years we want to buy at least another 100 tonnes of gold and keep it in Poland as well,’ he said”. See Polish language report of this interview here.

Like Hungary, Glapinski thinks that having large gold reserves increases “the perception of the state and its economic strength”, and he actually wants the NBPs gold reserves to increase to 20% of total NBP reserve assets, from the current 9% now.

Gold Delivery gold bars in storage at the vaults of the Magyar Nemzeti Bank, Hungary.
Do you believe Bloomberg?

The Polish central bank’s actions also may have been in the minds of the Hungarian central bankers when deciding upon an appropriate gold accumulation and benchmark level for Hungarian gold reserves. Could we now be witnessing a physical gold accumulation race between the savvy central bankers of central and eastern Europe. It sure looks like it!
This all seems to be lost, however, on Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal who ironically on 5 April, two days before the Hungarians' huge 63 tonnes of physical gold purchase was announced, tweeted that “GOLDBUG MACRO IS DEAD. I'm officially calling it. Goldbugs have had enough time to make their case. They failed. It's over.”

So who do you trust, the central banks of old Europe such as Hungary and Poland who say that “gold has a confidence-building effect in normal times and can play a role in stabilizing and defending, and also gold is for extreme market environments, structural changes in the international financial system, and deeper geopolitical crises”, or do you trust a Bloomberg columnist in Manhattan who has “officially called it” and said that gold “is over”?

This article was originally published on the website under the same title "Hungarian central bank boosts its gold reserves by 3000% in less than 3 years".

Hungarian Central Bank Boosts Gold Reserves By 3000% In Less Than 3 Years | ZeroHedge
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Plain Jane

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UK's Prince Philip, Husband Of Elizabeth II, Dead At 99
Tyler Durden's Photo

FRIDAY, APR 09, 2021 - 07:05 AM
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the husband of Britain's long-serving Queen Elizabeth II, a critical figure in shaping the modern royal family over 7 decades, has died.

The Prince, who died at 99, was just months away from his 100th birthday. His passing was confirmed by the royal family on Twitter

Read the official royal statement below:
It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.
Further announcements will made in due course.
The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.
The Duke was married to Queen Elizabeth II for more than 70 years and became the longest-serving consortin British history. He carried out an active public schedule into his 90s, though he retired from public duties back in 2017, when he made his final official appearance at a Royal Marine parade at Buckingham Palace. Still, he continued to make appearances reflecting his own charitable interests.

The Prince's sometimes outspoken remarks in later years made him a target of progressives around the world, and that anger was seemingly reinvigorated after the Prince's grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife, Megan Markle, accused the Royal Family of racism during a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey.

A meme featuring a photo of the elderly prince being driven back from the hospital went viral, as some twitter users joked that the Prince was "afraid" to meet Princess Diana in the afterlife.

While the Prince died a royal, his early years were marked by hardship. Prince Philip’s father effectively abandoned the family when the prince was 9, and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and spent many years in mental health clinics. Prince Philip eventually was sent to live with relatives in England. He was sent to boarding school at Gordonstoun, a private institution in Scotland with a reputation for strict discipline.

After graduation, the prince attended the Royal Naval College in the town of Dartmouth, where he met the future queen, during a visit by the royal family in 1939. Philip, then 18, was taken to see the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her sister who were playing with a clockwork train, according to a biography of the Prince. Allegedly, the new friendship was sealed with ginger crackers and lemonade, and by a game of tennis.

WSJ wrote that Philip's passing marks "the start of a generational transition for Britain’s royal family, which has been a bastion of stability for the nation since Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952." Queen Elizabeth is increasingly stepping back from royal duties, with their eldest son, Prince Charles, and grandson Prince William (along with his wife, Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge) moving to take over instead.

See this thread also:


Plain Jane

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Ukraine says it could be provoked by Russian 'aggression' in conflict area
By Reuters Staff

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s defence minister said on Saturday his country could be provoked by Russian aggravation of the situation in the conflict area of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

The minister, Andrii Taran, said Russian accusations about the rights of Russian-speakers being violated could be the reason for the resumption of armed aggression against Ukraine.

“At the same time, it should be noted that the intensification of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is possible only if an appropriate political decision is made at the highest level in the Kremlin,” he said in a statement.

Kyiv has raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces near the border between Ukraine and Russia, and over a rise in violence along the line of contact separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Donbass.

The Russian military movements have fuelled concerns that Moscow is preparing to send forces into Ukraine. The Kremlin denies its troops are a threat, but says they will remain as long as it sees fit.

Senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak last week said Russia would be forced to defend its citizens in eastern Ukraine depending on the scale of the military conflict there.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French and German counterparts on Friday called on Russia to halt a troop buildup and reaffirmed their support for Kyiv in its confrontation with Moscow.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by William Maclean
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Italy: Matteo Salvini should not face trial over migrant case, prosecutor says
A public prosecutor said Salvini's decision to block the Gregoretti ship carrying 116 migrants from Italian shores does "not amount to kidnapping."

Matteo Salvini in Rome
Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Lega Nord party, is known for his hardline views on immigration

Italian Prosecutor Andrea Bonomo said Saturday that former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini should not face trial on kidnapping charges after he blocked more than 100 migrants from entering the country two years ago. The case is currently being deliberated by a court in the Sicilian city of Catania, with a judge expected to make a decision on whether to open a trial against Salvini on May 14.

In July 2019, Salvini used his ministerial powers to prevent the Gregoretti coast guard ship carrying 116 migrants to reach Italian shores, forcing the ship to linger at sea for six days until other EU states would take responsibility for the asylum-seekers. Magistrates have characterized Salvini's actions as an illegal abuse of power.

Watch video04:47
"Sardines" movement against Salvini
What did the prosecutor say about Salvini's actions?

Bonomo said Salvini's conduct during the incident "does not amount to kidnapping," claiming the former minister "did not breach any international convention" in his handling of the asylum-seekers.

If the 48-year-old Salvini is convicted in a possible trial, he could potentially face up to 15 years in prison. A conviction could potentially bar Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Lega Nord party, from future political office.

How did Salvini react to Bonomo's remarks?
Salvini, an immigration hardliner, has defended his conduct during the 2019 incident and said he was happy with Bonomo's comments on the case.

"I'm happy because today the public prosecution said there was no crime, no kidnapping… so I calmly return to my children and that this will be over on May 14," Salvini said about the prosecutor's remarks.

Watch video01:24
Italy allows underage migrants to leave rescue ship
Is Salvini facing any other court cases regarding his migrant policies?

Salvini is also facing a potential trial in Palermo over his decision to block a Spanish charity ship carrying over 100 migrants from reaching Italian shores in August 2019. A prosecutor in that case has called for the former minister to be indicted on kidnapping charges, but Salvini claims he was just defending Italy's borders.

Salvini was ousted from power in September 2019, after the populist Five Star Movement formed a new coalition government with the center-left Democratic Party. Lega Nord is now part of a unity government under technocratic Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
wd/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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Blinken to return to Brussels for talks on Ukraine, Afghanistan
By Reuters Staff

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to Brussels this week for discussions on Iran, Afghanistan and Russian activities directed at Ukraine, a U.S. official said.

Blinken will join U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Brussels. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, did not release additional details on the trip.

Austin was scheduled to visit NATO headquarters in Belgium on a trip that started on Saturday and also includes Israel, Germany and Britain, the Pentagon said last week.

The trip by two of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet members coincides with increasing tensions over Russian activities near Ukraine’s eastern border, where Washington says Russia has amassed more troops than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Friday of “dangerous provocative actions” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

Turkey, a NATO ally, said on Friday the United States would deploy two warships to the Black Sea from April 14-15.

Blinken first visited Brussels in March for talks with European Union and NATO allies and pledged to rebuild and revitalize trans-Atlantic alliances.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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UK lobbying scandal snares ex-PM Cameron; govt starts probe
By DANICA KIRKAyesterday

FILE - In this Monday, June 27, 2016 file photo, the then Britain's Prime Minister David

Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to address Parliament on Britain's European Union referendum choice to leave. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron has broken his silence on allegations that he improperly lobbied government officials on behalf of a financial services firm, saying there are “important lessons to be learnt” from the scandal.

The comments, released late Sunday April 11, 2021 in an 1,800-word written statement, are Cameron’s first since Greensill Capital collapsed more than a month ago, threatening thousands of jobs at a British steelmaker it had financed. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
LONDON (AP) — The controversy over former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of a now-bankrupt financial services firm deepened Monday as the government launched an investigation that opponents immediately labeled a “cover-up.”

The Conservative government announced plans for an independent inquiry into Greensill Capital after Cameron made his first comments on the scandal and two senior politicians called for new rules on contacts between business representatives and government officials.

Over the past month, a series of news reports revealed that Cameron lobbied government officials, including Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, on behalf of Greensill, which collapsed last month, threatening thousands of jobs at a British steelmaker that it helped finance.

Gordon Brown, U.K. prime minister from 2007 to 2010, on Monday called for a five-year ban on lobbying by former ministers. But Bernard Jenkin, a lawmaker who led an inquiry into links between government and business, said the only way to combat this long-running problem is to require serving ministers and civil servants to report inappropriate conduct by lobbyists.
“It’s been a culture in Whitehall that’s been building up for a long time,” Jenkin told the BBC, using a British term for central government. “This very informal way of conducting relationships about very important matters and the distribution of public money — well, I don’t think the public thinks that’s acceptable.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the Cabinet Office has commissioned an independent review into Greensill and its work on “supply-chain finance,” a technique the government sought to use to expedite payments to contractors, including pharmacies supplying the National Health Service. The review will be led by attorney Nigel Boardman and will look at the way contracts were secured and “how business representatives engaged with government,” Max Blain said.

Johnson is the leader of the Conservative Party, the same party Cameron represented when he led the nation.

Rachel Reeves, the opposition Labour Party’s spokeswoman on treasury issues, said the investigation was an attempt to sidestep the controversy until the public forgets about it, just as the government did with earlier allegations of bullying by a cabinet minister. She called on Cameron, Sunak and Hancock to appear before Parliament as soon as possible.

“This has all the hallmarks of another cover-up by the Conservatives,” Reeves said.

British media began digging into Cameron’s work for Greensill after the company’s collapse forced the owner of Liberty Steel, which employs about 5,000 people, to seek a government bailout. Greensill was one of the company’s key financial backers.

The developments came after Cameron made his first comments on Greensill late Sunday, when he released an 1,800-word statement on his involvement with the firm.

News reports showed that Cameron sent text messages to Sunak in an effort to secure government-backed loans for Greensill under a program to help companies hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also lobbied Hancock on behalf of a Greensill product that would have allowed NHS workers to receive advance payments on their salaries.

Cameron, who was employed as a part-time adviser to Greensill, said his work on behalf of the company didn’t break any rules or codes of conduct on the activities of former ministers.

“However, I have reflected on this at length,” Cameron said. “There are important lessons to be learnt. As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”

Cameron was prime minister from May 2010 to July 2016, resigning after he led the failed campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union. Lex Greensill, a banker who later founded Greensill Capital, began working as a government adviser in 2011.

Cameron said he started working for Greensill in August 2018, and that he received shares in the company as part of his compensation. He rejected press reports that he expected the shares to be worth $60 million when Greensill went public.

“Their value was nowhere near the amount speculated in the press,” he said.

Brown said the government must act quickly in response to the Greensill affair because it has the potential to bring public service into “disrepute,” just like the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2008. At that time, several members of Parliament were found to have improperly inflated their expenses, leading to new rules governing their conduct.

“For me, there are principles about public service,” Brown told the BBC. “It cannot ever become a platform for private gain. Ministers must never be lobbying — former ministers, prime ministers — must never be lobbying for commercial purposes.”
Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless contributed.

Plain Jane

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Germany, US revive security cooperation
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is the first Biden administration official to come to Germany. Several high-stakes issues have been on his agenda — and he has made some surprise announcements.

Lloyd Austin with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was the first official from the Biden cabinet to visit Germany

Germany is getting 500 more US troops. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made the announcement at a news conference with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Tuesday in Berlin.

"These forces will strengthen deterrence and defense in Europe," Austin said. "And, if necessary, fight and win."

If the deployment bears out, which Austin said could happen as early as the fall, it would reflect a sharp departure from the policies of Former President Donald Trump. In 2020, Trump said he wanted to move as many as 12,000 US troops out of Germany — as well as the headquarters of the US military's European and African Commands.

President Joe Biden ordered that decision paused for review shortly after taking office in January.

"Today's visit and the approval of new troops send a very strong signal about the alliance between America and Germany," Kramp-Karrenbauer said. "The American decision to do this encourages us in Germany to further contribute" to strengthening both the bilateral and NATO partnerships.

Austin's visit is part of a tour including visits to key allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom and NATO in Brussels. He served in Germany during his military career, but this is his first trip as defense secretary: a civilian role. He is also the first Biden administration official to make an in-person visit to Germany.

Watch video00:37
Biden: 'We'll be stopping any planned troop withdrawals from Germany'
Alliance doubts, external threats

His presence in Europe comes as pressure mounts on multiple fronts. Russian troops appear to be massing along Ukraine's border. An Afghanistan withdrawal deadline looms. Israel is suspected of sabotaging an Iranian uranium enrichment facility, which happened while Austin was in Israel and as European countries attempt to restart nuclear talks with Iran.

Easy solutions to these and other global security problems are in short supply, and the alliance remains divided over several of them. The high-ranking US visit is part of the Biden administration's diplomatic effort to reestablish the United States as a leader in managing global stability, and to reassure nervous allies shaken by the former Trump administration's often dismissive, sometimes bullying tone.

"You can't overstate the signal Lloyd Austin gave by making his announcement," Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the German Marshall Fund, told DW. "That doesn't solve anything, but it gets you on track to talking about things completely differently."

News of extra US troops was unexpected, Kleine-Brockhoff added, saying it puts the ball in Germany's court as it evaluates its own commitment to the military alliance.

It is unclear if the announcement is a direct response to Russian troop activity near Ukraine, which Kleine-Brockhoff said is a Russian effort to test the Biden administration. It also presents a challenge to NATO in how to respond, as the alliance sees itself as responsible for defending eastern Europe.

Despite short-term success at halting a Russian advance in Ukraine, the West has "failed to turn it into a political process that gets us any step closer to a longer-term solution. How prescient that is, the Russian troop movements are showing us," he said.

Watch video01:37
US renews warning about Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline
Top brass get down to brass tacks

Like Trump, Biden opposes Nord Stream 2, an undersea gas pipeline that could double Russian natural gas sales to Germany. Biden has called it a "bad deal" for Germany and looks set to continue a policy of sanctions from the Trump era in hopes of killing the project.

The German government defends Nord Stream 2 as a commercial deal divorced from geopolitics. The US and many of Germany's European allies say that is naive, worrying that it undermines climate goals and jeopardizes both German and European security. They want to cut off Russian state coffers, which can fund saber-rattling near Ukraine and elsewhere, from a potentially lucrative source of revenue.

In a possible step towards resolution, the German government's coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations repeated his call for a moratorium on pipeline construction.

"It is an obstacle to restarting the German-American relationship," Peter Beyer told DPA, the German Press Agency, during Austin's visit.

Defense spending is another holdover from the Trump years — and the Obama ones before that, when Joe Biden was vice president.

Trump frequently berated Germany for not meeting spending targets, which NATO members agreed to set at 2% of national GDP. His administration often overlooked the fact, however, that members have until 2024 to do so.

Germany's defense budget has increased by about one-third since 2013, according to NATO figures, but that remains below the NATO median. It is also one of the western alliance's few members to fall short of a lesser-known metric — that 20% of spending goes towards equipment.

On Tuesday, Austin said he would like to see military spending pick up, but acknowledged Germany's progress and that it still has time to fulfill its commitments.

Watch video01:55
2019: US criticizes Germany over defense spending
The Greens question

From Berlin, Austin plans to head south, where Germany hosts one of the largest contingents of US troops abroad. Their decades-long presence is broadly supported for symbolic, security, and economic reasons.

The military lovefest is not total, however. A strong antiwar and anti-nuclear streak runs through German postwar history, which the ascendant Greens are tightly connected to. The party is in a strong position to join the next government after September's general elections, and possibly even run it.

The Greens campaign platform is supportive of NATO and transatlantic relations while calling for a nuclear-weapons-free Germany. That would undo US military planning and contradict NATO's nuclear sharing policy.

"Aside from the ethical aspects, nuclear sharing is a completely outdated and unsuitable answer to the wide range of current threats that NATO faces today," the Greens' Tobias Lindner, who chairs the German parliament's defense committee, told DW in a statement.

The party platform also rejects the two percent spending target as "arbitrary," calling instead for "fair burden-sharing."

Lindner, who considers himself a staunch supporter of the trans-Atlantic partnership, last month voted to extend Germany's military mission in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella. Most of his party colleagues voted against it or abstained.

When and how to withdraw after 20 years in Afghanistan was a top issue for Austin's meeting with Kramp-Karrenbauer. At a news conference last month, Biden said the US does plan to withdraw its own troops at some point, but unlikely by a May 1 deadline. Both sides say they will consult each other before making any decisions.

That is especially critical for Germany, whose troops often rely on US firepower when they get into trouble on the ground.
This is an updated version of a previous article.

Plain Jane

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President asserts Latvia's unwavering support for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Integration
  • 2021-04-08
  • LETA/TBT Staff
RIGA - Latvia firmly supports Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Integration, including by providing practical assistance as part of NATO's cooperation program, President Egils Levits said on Wednesday during a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze.

Justine Deicmane, head of the president's press office, told LETA that Burchuladze briefed the Latvian president on Georgia's active participation in multinational operations, including in Afghanistan, as well as the modernization of the Georgian armed forces. The talks between the Latvian president and the Georgian minister also touched on current geopolitical developments in Georgia's neighbor countries and the region.

The Latvian president indicated that Georgia's active involvement in multinational operations is a positive factor, promoting its efforts to integrate with European and transatlantic structures. The Georgian minister pointed out that public support for Euro-Atlantic Integration is strong in Georgia.

Burchuladze also informed Levits about the political situation in Georgia, with the Latvian president voicing hope that with the help of EU mediators, the Georgian government and opposition will manage to come to a mutually acceptable agreement.

Georgia has been in a political crisis since last October's parliamentary election. The Georgian Dream party as declared winner of the poll, but the opposition claims that the election was rigged and its representatives refused to take their seats in the parliament.

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EU Slams Door On Montenegro Plea For €1BN China Loan Bailout
Tyler Durden's Photo

THURSDAY, APR 15, 2021 - 05:45 AM
The European Union this week rebuffed a desperate plea from the tiny country of Montenegro - among the Balkans' youngest nations after it broke from from a federation with Serbia in 2006 - to pay off an almost one billion euro loan from China which it borrowed for an ambitious highway project, deemed among the world's most expensive.

At a moment Beijing is said to hold a quarter of all Montenegro's debt, the state-owned China Road and Bridge Group has completed one-third of the highway at an estimated cost of €20 million per kilometer. Part of Xi's 'Belt & Road Initiative' the highway is so expensive in part due to Montenegro's extreme mountainous terrain and "difficult geological conditions" - according to a recent Chinese government statement.

The Financial Times reported this week that Montenegro has essentially begged the European Union to step in, and to help a rescue deal along officials are now hyping the "Chinese influence threat" on Europe's periphery. It should be noted that tiny Montenegro became a NATO member in 2017, to Russia and Serbia's great consternation.

Unfinished Bar-Boljare motorway in Montenegro, via Shutterstock
A European Commission spokesperson said at the start of this week that there's essentially no chance that the EU will come in to bail out Montenegro, which hopes to within the next few years become an EU member - a process it started immediately upon breaking with Serbia.

"We are not repaying the loans they are taking from third parties," said the European Commission statement. The statement went on to voice concern over the sizeable Chinese investment in the country. "There is the risk of macro-economic imbalances and debt dependency."

And further an EU official was cited in FT as explaining the following:
The EU has indicated a willingness to help but a commission official said it would be hard to find the proper financial instruments, a task made harder because the project was almost complete. "Politically we want to help . . . But the size of the loan is disproportionate to the size of the economy, so the mechanics are not obvious yet," the official said.
Montenegro would also need to commit to fiscal reforms, the official added, noting that the highway project did not match EU standards.
FT noted further the China loan has "imperilled the finances of the small western Balkan nation."
Critics have accused China of luring small and struggling Asian and Balkan nations into signing onto huge infrastructural investment project deals as part of the BRI, which often involve outsized loan packages that their already strapped governments and tiny populations can't handle.

Further, "Montenegro will have to find its own way to handle the Chinese loan, spent on a 44 km stretch of the 165 km motorway, the spokeswoman said, but the EU was willing to help with money for the rest of the road through its 9 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans," Reuters noted of the statement.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

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Greek, Turkish FMs meet to mend ties, trade barbs instead
By SUZAN FRASERyesterday

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, walks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left following their joint media statement after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Dendias travelled to Ankara for talks on the two NATO allies' fraught relationship, following a slight easing of tensions between the neighbors. The visit is the first between the two nations following a tumultuous year. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A meeting aimed to improve fraught ties between NATO allies Greece and Turkey quickly descended into a tense exchange of accusations between the two neighbors’ foreign ministers on Thursday.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias traveled to Ankara to discuss ties with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, following a slight easing of tensions. Appearing before the cameras to deliver their press statements, the two men initially spoke about keeping the channels of dialogue open and increasing economic cooperation in an effort to improve relations.

But their meeting soon turned sour after Dendias accused Turkey of violating Greece’s sovereign rights in the eastern Mediterranean and warned that Ankara would face European Union sanctions if the violations continue. Cavusoglu retorted calling Dendias’ remarks “unacceptable.”

The two ministers then proceeded to list grievances against each other’s country.

The visit was the first by a Greek minister following a tumultuous year. Angered by what it perceived to be a lack of support for its policies in Syria, Turkey announced last year that it was opening its western borders, prompting thousands of migrants to gather at entry points to Greece, which promptly closed them down. This led to chaotic scenes at the frontier.

Tension flared again in the summer over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean, leading to a military buildup that featured warships from the two countries facing off. The dispute strained Ankara’s relations with the whole European Union.

Tensions eased after Turkey pulled back its energy research vessel and adopted a more conciliatory tone toward Greece and other EU nations.

“First of all, we should move away from the discourse and actions which are provocative and which raise tensions, which is a condition for our relations to improve,” Dendias said.

“Breaches have increased recently and such infringements are an obstacle to creating an environment of trust.”

He added: “If Turkey continues violating our sovereign rights, then sanctions, measures that are on the table, will be put back on the agenda.”

Cavuoslugu responded: “Nikos Dendias unfortunately made some extremely unacceptable accusations against my country ... He said ‘Turkey violated Greece’s sovereign rights.’ It is not possible for us to accept this.”

“Turkey is obliged to protect its own rights, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, and those of Cypriot Turks; all the steps we take are aimed at protecting our rights,” Cavusoglu said.

“We’re not a country that (is afraid of) the European Union,” he continued.

Dendias’ visit was also meant to pave the way for a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In an indication of the meeting’s importance, Dendias met with Erdogan as well as Cavusoglu.

His visit follows talks between Turkish and Greek diplomats who have met in Istanbul and Athens, resuming a series of meetings designed to build trust between the historic regional rivals. The two have been at odds over decades-old issues including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of ethnically split Cyprus. They have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s.

Turkey and Greece have also traded accusations over unauthorized migration. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizations, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks — illegal summary deportations — by returning their boats to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum in Greece.

Greece denies it carries out pushbacks and accuses Turkey of failing to crack down on migrant smugglers operating from its shores.

There were also some lighter moments Thursday between the two ministers, who despite the friction between their countries, refer to each other as a “friend.”

“By the way, I hope our disagreement hasn’t led you to cancel the dinner invitation. Because I’m exceptionally hungry,” Dendias said, in reference to the Iftar, the Ramadan fast-breaking meal the two were scheduled to have together.
Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Ayse Wieting in Istanbul contributed.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Salvini is not out of the woods yet.

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Italy judge weighs Salvini trial for 2019 migrant standoff
16 minutes ago

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2020 file photo, then opposition leader Matteo Salvini speaks at the end of the debate at the Italian Senate on whether to allow him to be prosecuted, as he demands to be, for alleging holding migrants hostage for days aboard coast guard ship Gregoretti instead of letting them immediately disembark in Sicily, while he was interior minister, in Rome. An Italian prosecutor on Saturday, April 10, 2021 told a court that there's no reason to order right-wing leader Salvini to stand trial for alleged kidnapping for his role in keeping rescued migrants aboard a coast guard ship for days in summer 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

ROME (AP) — A judge in Sicily on Saturday began weighing whether to put former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on trial for having refused to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock in an Italian port in 2019, keeping the people at sea for days.

Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, was on hand for the preliminary hearing in the bunker courtroom of the Palermo tribunal. He tweeted that he was certain he did the right thing under Italian law, “defending the security and dignity of Italy” by refusing entry to the Open Arms rescue ship.

The judge for the preliminary hearing, Lorenzo Iannelli, is deciding whether to put Salvini on trial or archive the case.

Palermo prosecutors have accused Salvini of kidnapping, for having kept the migrants at sea off the coast of Lampedusa for days in August 2019. During the standoff, some of the migrants threw themselves overboard in desperation as the captain pleaded for a safe, close port. Eventually after a 19-day ordeal, the remaining 83 migrants on board were allowed to disembark in Lampedusa.

Salvini had maintained a hard line on migration as interior minister during the first government of Premier Giuseppe Conte, from 2018-2019. While demanding European Union nations do more to take in migrants arriving in Italy, Salvini argued that humanitarian rescue ships were only encouraging Libyan-based traffickers and that his policy actually saved lives by discouraging the risky trips across the Mediterranean.

Salvini is also under investigation for another, similar migrant standoff involving the Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti that Salvini refused to let dock in the summer of 2019.

The prosecutor in that case, Catania, Sicily Prosecutor Andrea Bonomo, recommended last week that Salvini not be put on trial, arguing that he was carrying out government policy when he kept the 116 migrants at sea for five days.

Plain Jane

Has No Life - Lives on TB

Prince Philip: A final farewell in Windsor
The day was inevitable. But with COVID placing restrictions on the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral, the memorial service seemed more surreal than many other royal events. Sertan Sanderson reports from London.

Watch video02:51
Prince Philip laid to rest at Windsor Castle
The funeral procession to St. George's Chapel across the grounds of Windsor Castle looked at first more like a military parade, with soldiers of various ranks and battalions taking part in the event. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had requested a full military procession for his memorial service, having served as a naval officer during World War II and beyond.

With COVID-19 restrictions spelling severe limitations on the event, many aspects of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral had to be adapted from the standard royal funeral playbook. In this regard, it was a rather simple but highly dignified affair, at least by royal standards.
Soldiers marching on the grounds of Windsor Castle
The Duke of Edinburgh wanted military honors to be part of his memorial service

The sight of masks, all in a uniform black to signify the mourning for the loss of the Queen's consort, were commonplace at the memorial with few exceptions. There was also a clear sense of social distancing throughout among all those present at Windsor, which made the service look even more choreographed than previous royal funerals.

Procession by Land Rover
Nevertheless, more than 700 servicemen and servicewomen from the military took part in supporting the funeral procession, largely performing ceremonial roles, carefully spaced apart.

Relatively few people came to witness the proceedings from outside the castle grounds, as people in Windsor and beyond adhered to COVID-related government limitations on gatherings and travel, which were also echoed by the royal family.
Philip's coffin is being taken off the Land Rover by soldiers
The royal pickup truck: Philip was involved in the design of this repurposed Land Rover

As the coffin was moved from the royals' private chapel at Windsor Castle to St. George's Chapel in a converted Land Rover, which rather resembled a pickup truck than a hearse — a design by Philip himself, apparently — senior members of the royal family started to walk behind, led by Charles, Prince of Wales and his sister Anne, the Princess Royal.

Only 30 people allowed at service
Following immediately behind Charles and Anne, the public was treated to a rare public sighting of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, who since getting embroiled in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal had largely withdrawn from public engagements. He walked alongside Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, who is the youngest of the queen's and Philip's children.
Prince Andrew at the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral service
A rare sighting of Prince Andrew (center) with other senior members of the royal family

Philip's grandsons, Princes William and Harry, were seen walking side by side behind the more senior royals with no sign of conflict between the two, as opposed to what parts of the press have been reporting.

Seeing the two princess walk in a funeral procession was somewhat reminiscent of scene from 1997, when the then-teenage princes joined the funeral procession of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, on the way to Westminster Abbey.

A faithful soldier — and the queen's rock
St. George's Chapel itself looked positively half-empty, as a very limited number of people were allowed to attend the funeral with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Even the cantors were limited in numbers, with only four singers performing in a socially distanced manner in the nave of the chapel after all attendees had arrived.
People gathered in Windsor to mourn Philip
Outside the castle walls, only few people came to mourn the Duke of Edinburgh

The music was deliberately chosen by the duke, with the hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" opening the service.

The hymn, which is associated with the naval armed services, reinforced the notion that Philip wanted to be remembered in his own right as a military man — even if the queen regarded her faithful consort as her "strength and stay" and her "rock."

But the choice of opening hymn also reflected something about the long arch of history that spanned Philip's life, who died on April 9 at the age of 99: the hymn had also been sung at the funeral of Philip's uncle, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was murdered by the IRA in 1979 — an event that shook the entire royal family, but Charles and Philip in particular.

Shielding the monarch from harm
First to enter the chapel was Queen Elizabeth II, who was accompanied by a number of female members of the royal family, including Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The queen, however, had been told to take social distancing particularly seriously, as the monarch has to be protected from harm even during her husband's funeral.
Queen Elizabeth II inside St. George's Chapel during Prince Philip's funeral
Once inside the chapel, the queen had to keep her distance to protect herself from COVID
Seeing the matriarch of the royal family, who is just days shy of turning 95, sit alone and somewhat sequestered away from the rest of the mourners was a heartbreaking sight in itself during the occasion of Philip's funeral. Having lost her husband of more than seven decades, the monarch appeared weakened, with the black mask over her face probably shielding her from more than just the virus but also from curious glances by the public that followed the event via global live broadcasts.

As the rest of the royals joined her, in particular the Duke of Edinburgh's children, the service started with a minute of national silence. That silence, however, was not transported far beyond the castle grounds in Windsor, as people across the UK, especially in England, were enjoying their first Saturday with bars and restaurants reopened for outdoors service. The funeral service may not have been everyone's high priority, as Philip had a rather divisive reputation.
Festive atmosphere on Old Compton Street in London with people dining outdoors
With restaurants and bars reopened for outdoors service, many British people likely missed the funeral

A humble farewell
Philip's coffin stood in the chapel throughout the memorial service — with a sense of gravitas that he perhaps might not have enjoyed if the funeral had gone ahead at Westminster Abbey with 800 guests under pre-COVID guidelines. Instead of a packed abbey, there was a desolate-looking chapel with only 30 people in attendance, as is laid out in UK government guidelines on funerals during COVID.
Prince Harry sitting alone during Philip's memorial service
Prince Harry attended the funeral without his wife, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex
However, among the rather few attendees there were also several German royals present at the funeral, as Prince Philip was related to various German monarchies, which are all now defunct. Among those attending the service from Germany were Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse, Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden, and Philipp, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

David Conner, the Dean of St. George's Chapel, and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury — the highest-ranking figure in the Church of England and the global Anglican Communion after the queen herself — masterfully filled the void in chapel together, with a choice of apt readings from the scripture that reflected the duke's values.

Requiescat in pace
There was no eulogy spoken, as per Philip's wishes, making the service a rather quick affair. In life as in death, Queen Elizabeth's consort remained a humble man, whose actions often reflected little of the ceremonial grandeur that is otherwise associated with the Royals.

The duke's coffin being lowered into the royal vault under St. George's Chapel came almost as the lowlight of the memorial service; after such a carefully staged event, the mechanical disappearance of the coffin spelled out a rather anticlimactic ending to the funeral service.
A final lament was played on the bagpipe by a Pipe Major from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, who slowly vanished out of sight on the television broadcast — as did the coffin bearing Philip's remains.
  • Artist Kaya Mar holds Prince Phillip portrait.

    Britons pay tribute ahead of service
    Artist Kaya Mar holds a portrait of Prince Philip ahead of his funeral service, after he died earlier this month at 99-years-old. Coronavirus restrictions meant only 30 mourners could take part in the ceremony, instead of initial plans for 800 people at the funeral. Britons paid tribute to Philip in a variety of ways from laying flowers to flying flags at half-mast.

    A final act to follow
    That coffin will, however, reappear again one day — though probably without the kind of elegant yet understated fanfare that was involved in today's funeral service.

    The royal crypt under St. George's Chapel is technically not the duke's final resting place: When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth passes away one day, Philip's coffin will be moved to join hers at King George VI's memorial chapel, also located on the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is where Elizabeth II wishes to be interred. That chapel also houses the remains of Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, the queen's father, King George VI and those of her sister, the late Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.

    After 73 years of marriage, the royal couple will then be united again once more. But even though the general interest in Prince Philip's deathand funeral may have been somewhat low, many Brits hope that it will still take many years until the day comes that they will have to say goodbye to their monarch.
    • Choir stalls at St. George's Chapel

      Service at St. George's Chapel

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