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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Poland's conservative president, Andrzej Duda, takes office

August 06, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Conservative Andrzej Duda was sworn in as Poland's new president Thursday, bringing political change to the nation's top office. However, confusion surrounded the absence from the ceremony of European Union leader and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk.

Some officials insisted Tusk had been invited to the ceremony, but aide Pawel Gras told PAP agency that Tusk had no invitation from Duda and was "respecting" that decision. At the start of his time as prime minister, from 2007, Tusk had tense relations with then-President Lech Kaczynski, who co-founded Duda's opposition Law and Justice party. Later, the party accused Tusk of contributing to Kaczynski's death in a 2010 plane crash through lack of concern for the president's security.

Tusk's absence Thursday suggests that Duda might have a hard time working alongside the centrist government that Tusk led until becoming EU leader last year. In his inauguration speech, Duda, 43, now the supreme commander of Poland's armed forces, said his chief concern was for the nation's security in the face of a resurgent Russia.

"We need a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe and in our country," Duda said. He vowed to press for more security guarantees at next year's NATO summit in Warsaw. Within the European Union, he said Poland needs to speak with more authority about its goals and needs, in order to make them clearer to political partners.

The powers of Poland's president are limited to approving or rejecting legislation and proposing new laws. He formally represents Poland in the international arena. Duda quit Law and Justice after winning the May elections, in a sign that he would be the president of all Poles. In his speech Thursday he appealed for mutual respect and cooperation.

Rafal Grupinski, a prominent lawmaker of the ruling Civic Platform, said that the president and the government — now coming from opposing political forces — will have to show a "maximum of good will" in order to cooperate.

Duda was sworn in before the National Assembly of lawmakers and senators at the Parliament, in the presence of the government, his predecessor Bronislaw Komorowski, and other former presidents, including Lech Walesa. Duda's wife, Agata, was by his side. His parents and daughter were also present.

Later he attended a special Mass at Warsaw's St. John Cathedral and was given authority over Poland's top state distinctions, or medals, at the Royal Castle. Duda's May victory over Komorowski was a surprise, and a warning to the ruling coalition that it may lose power in October general elections. The reason seemed to be the dissatisfaction of many Poles who say they are not benefiting from Poland's economic success.

Greek coast guard rescues 1,417 migrants over 3 days

August 10, 2015

KOS, Greece (AP) — Greece's coast guard rescued more than 1,400 migrants near several Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea over the past three days as the pace of new arrivals increases, authorities said Monday.

Tens of thousands of people, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, have been making their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in inflatable dinghies, overwhelming cash-strapped and understaffed authorities on the islands. The vast majority then head to mainland Greece and from there, try to reach more prosperous European Union countries by either walking across the Balkans from northern Greece, or sneaking onto Italy-bound ferries from the west.

The 1,417 migrants rescued between Friday morning and Monday morning were picked up at sea in 59 incidents off the coasts of the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi and Kos, the coast guard said.

Those figures do not include the hundreds of others who manage to reach the islands' coasts themselves, walking to the main towns to turn themselves in to local authorities and receive registration papers.

The increasing pace of arrivals comes on top of the roughly 124,000 migrants who reached the Greek islands by boat in the first seven months of 2015, a 750 percent increase from the same period last year, according to UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency. In July alone, there were 50,000 arrivals, about 70 percent from Syria. Most land on five islands: Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros.

In all, 156,726 migrants had been arrested for entering or remaining in the country illegally from January through July this year, compared to 32,070 for the same period last year, the Greek police said Monday.

The numbers have overwhelmed cash-strapped and understaffed police and coast guard officials on the islands, where authorities are unable to keep up with the new arrivals and process them fast enough, leaving many living on the streets or in precarious temporary shelters.

Tension has often escalated on several of the islands, with fights breaking out among groups of migrants, or between migrants demanding faster processing and coast guard or police officers. On Monday, a policeman holding a knife roughly pushed back migrants crowding outside a local authority building in Kos, slapping one man across the face as he shoved others, telling them to get back behind a line he drew on the pavement with the knife.

The scene was filmed by an Associated Press cameraman, before another policeman put his hand in front of the camera and made him stop filming. The policeman was suspended and an investigation ordered into his actions after the images appeared on social media, Greece's police headquarters said in a statement.

"There are thousands of people here. Every day comes about 1,000 people and they give every day paper for 200 people, 300 people and so many people are sleeping in the streets," said Mohammed Riski, a 28-year-old Syrian migrant from Yefrin who arrived on Kos seven days ago. "All of the hotels are full. There are no toilets or any services."

More than 150 migrants in at least six boats landed on Kos just in the early hours of Monday. Some 40 Syrians waved and cheered as their boat arrived at the popular tourist destination. Men jumped into the water to help women and children off the dinghy. One man was so overcome with emotion that he began to sob.

Mukhtar, a Somali migrant who arrived further north, on the island of Lesbos, said he was trying to get to Norway where his family lives. "I haven't seen my family for 20 years," said Mukhtar, who would only give his first name. "I want to see my family."

It was not his first attempt to reach Greece. "It was very dangerous by the sea. We traveled four times, they caught us three times but the fourth time ... we came here on a safe boat," Mukhtar said. Arrivals have become so frequent they are now seen as routine by locals. On Kos, local residents and hotel employees watched unfazed Sunday as a dozen Pakistani migrants punctured their life raft and gathered their belongings as soon as they landed, and asked for directions to the nearest migrant detention center.

Greece, in the throes of its worst financial crisis, is straining to accommodate the inflow. Hundreds are camping out in a public park in Athens. The leftist government is now building a reception center in central Athens where it says migrants will be free to come and go as they please. It expects to start moving people from parks by Tuesday.

Nedeljkovic reported from Mytilene, Greece. Demetri Nellas and Elena Becatoros in Athens and Lida Filippakis in Mytilene contributed.

Huge migrant camp in Calais takes on air of permanence

August 07, 2015

CALAIS, France (AP) — The kitchen is a rustic grill under a tarp in a fetid-smelling camp teaming with migrants — but for Zubair Nazari it means survival. The teen, who ended up in this port city after a perilous escape from the Taliban, sticks with a group of fellow Afghans who do their best to recreate the tastes of home — a stew of eggs, onions and tomatoes — amid a stretch of squalor known as "the jungle."

"We don't eat like this every day," said Nazari of the simple meal that was, in fact, a special treat cooked up for visitors. "The jungle is not a place for humans. It's just for animals." An estimated 2,500 migrants are currently at the wind-swept camp surrounded by sand dunes that sprang up in early April when a state-approved day center for migrants was opened nearby. Unlike the others, this refuge far from Calais' city center — and more than a two-hour walk to the Channel tunnel — has mushroomed into a veritable village. A mosque, church and myriad shops, all built by migrants from plastic tarp and plywood, convey a sense of permanence. It's a sign that, while most migrants are desperate to leave Calais, they appear increasingly resigned to the long haul in a city that is groaning under the strain of the migrant load.

Maya Konforti of Auberge des Migrants — Migrants' Shelter — an NGO that helps supply food, tents and blankets, says the camp's building binge is due in part to its far-flung location, with no nearby grocery stores. But another reason is that some 30 percent of the camp population is seeking political asylum in France — and these people know they are in for a prolonged wait.

Squalor is the only constant between this new "jungle" and the makeshift encampments bulldozed by authorities. "There is no water, no food, no clothing," Nazari said. "Where are the human rights?" Piles of garbage putrefy in the sun. The rare spigots of water and a line of portable toilets are difficult to access for many living in the kilometer-long stretch. One migrant said he last washed his pants in Hungary, weeks ago.

Yet this appears to be the place where France's government is encouraging migrants to huddle, out of sight for most Calais residents and from the Channel tunnel. For the first time since the 2002 destruction of a huge migrant camp outside Calais, Konforti said, "the government says 'Go there. You will be tolerated.'"

Fear follows migrants fleeing war, famine, human rights abuses or poverty — and pervades the camp. Zubair has been in Calais for a month, and cannot shake his fear of the Taliban. He said threatening letters from the Afghan militants drove him to leave his studies and his country.

"My life was in danger in Afghanistan," he said. He refused to provide details, but some other Afghan residents in the camp said they left for similar reasons, and remain fearful of being targeted inside the "jungle."

"We will feel safe in England," said Zubair. "Maybe when we pass to England the fear will go away from us." Calais is a necessary evil for migrants trying to reach Britain, which for many has become a kind of promised land. They believe the country wholeheartedly welcomes newcomers, and that living standards there are the best in Europe. It's a notion the British government is trying to dispel.

One Afghan, Khan Tarakhil, is proof that Britain's arms are hardly wide open. At 14, he sneaked into Britain on a ferry, hiding in a truck loaded with boxes of biscuits. He spent seven years in Manchester, only to be refused political asylum when he was no longer a minor — forcing him into a life in hiding. At 24, unable to apply for asylum elsewhere under European rules, he is trying to sneak back to Britain "to open my case again."

On Wednesday night, "I got over the last fence, dropped down, then the dogs came and they stopped me," Tarakhil said, referring to the dogs used by some security units as part of the effort to block migrants.

Some make it to the other side of the Channel, feeding the hopes of many others. Among them was the father of an 11-year-old who is currently living in the camp. The father reached Britain on Saturday, but the son was caught. His identity was being withheld because of his age.

The child, from Kunduz, Afghanistan, said that he and his father had been in Calais a month. Now, he is determined to join his dad — but knows the journey is daunting. "He's scared about police spray in the eyes," said Tarakhil, acting as translator. It was a reference to the pervasive use, confirmed by French authorities, of pepper spray to force back migrants trying to sneak into the Eurotunnel site.

"He's scared of trains. People die there," said Tarakhil, referring to the 10 migrants killed by trains since the beginning of June. Still, Tarakhil said, "he goes every day."

Calais, hit by migrant woes, a city everyone wants to leave

August 04, 2015

CALAIS, France (AP) — The truck drivers who pass through don't like it. Neither do the millions of tourists who turn up each year. And the migrants who flock here have only one thing on their mind: leaving.

More than ever, it seems, people come to the port city of Calais — on the French side of the English Channel — for the sole purpose of getting out. Calais, which features in the writing of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, is a natural travel hub that evokes France's love-hate relationship with England. Its huge port that welcomes ferry visitors from Dover, its nearby Eurostar train stop, and its crowded highways all attest to its key role.

But these days, everyone who comes seems to be going somewhere else. And one reason is that holidaymakers seeking an escape from reality don't want to stick around in a city full of miserable migrants. City officials place part of the blame on Britain, saying it bears responsibility as the main magnet of the Calais migrants. The mayor says she will seek millions of euros in damages.

"Calais has a big problem," said Kevin Westhead, a British truck driver who crosses the Channel regularly. He says his truck is increasingly brought to a standstill while Eurotunnel clears out migrants trying to sneak a ride to Britain. "With the amount of migrants I believe are here now, it is a big problem. ... I wouldn't like to live in Calais at the moment."

For thousands of migrants, Calais is the penultimate stop in a treacherous journey that most often includes a stint in chaotic Libya and a perilous Mediterranean crossing to Italy. Calais hosts refugee camps in the nearby dunes, wooded areas and near at least one grocery store. The camps started to go up after the 2002 closure of a hangar in nearby Sangatte that housed thousands of migrants.

Mayor Natacha Bouchart managed to get the French government to set up a relief center outside town, where a huge encampment has sprung up. The center provides showers and a daily meal, while reducing migrant traffic in the city.

"The economic lungs of Calais have been extremely affected by this situation," said Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Agius, adding that the hit to tourism has been particularly bad. Some 30 million people pass through Calais each year, notably via the port or the tunnel — but don't stick around to spend money. "These people are potential tourists," Agius said. "But these people aren't tempted to stay ... The migrant problem is, unfortunately, crippling."

Calais, a city of some 75,000, has some reasons to draw in tourists. It is on the Opal Coast of beaches and can vaunt a few cultural treasures, like the red brick city hall with a UNESCO World Heritage clock tower and Rodin's statue "The Burghers of Calais" on the main square. But the town feels joyless, downright grim outside the city center. Small homes need a paint job, and industrial installations blight the landscape. One of them, a chemical factory, once housed hundreds of migrants in its field.

"Today, we consider we have important financial losses," said Agius, reiterating Mayor Bouchart's call for a three-way meeting between herself and the prime ministers of Britain and France. Agius said the mayor wants the summit to be held at the close of summer, with the hope that Calais will be compensated for its losses. She told the French media last week that she would seek 50 million euros.

"The city of Calais has the right to live like any European city," Agius said, "has the right to develop like any European city." Calais has taken hard knocks in the past, notably from the British. It fell to the British in 1347 in the Hundred Years' War — and remained in British hands for more than two centuries. The Calais of the 21st century needs British tourists, who account for 20-25 percent of visitors to the Tourism Office, according to its director, Solange Leclerq. But the number took a "dizzying fall" in July to 8 percent. Leclerq blamed the drop not on migrants but on a strike by workers at one of the ferry companies in liquidation that blocked access highways, causing chaos for truckers and travelers.

The manager of the Family Pub on a main Calais drag said he feels the drop in foreign clients in his coffers. Foreign tourists represent at least 30 percent of the pub's earnings, usually vacationers from Britain heading south or French and Spanish heading north.

Xavier Elfassy blames the French and British governments for failing to solve the migrant situation, and says most of his clients see the migrants as "the unfortunate fleeing wars." "We are but spectators of their suffering," said the pub manager.

Croatia celebrates independence while rival Serbs mourn

August 04, 2015

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Tanks rumbled and soldiers marched as Croatia held a military parade Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of sealing its independence from Yugoslavia, while neighboring Serbia mourned victims of the military operation that marked the end of a four-year war.

The parade in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and other events were hailed as victory celebrations in Croatia. In Serbia, the anniversary was marked as a day of mourning for the nearly 700 ethnic Serbs who died in the Croatian "Operation Storm" that crushed the Belgrade-backed insurgency in western Croatia in 1995.

Some 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled the offensive that sealed Croatia's declaration of independence made in 1991. Most of the ethnic Serbs have never returned to their homes in and around the town of Knin, the center of the rebellion.

The war in Croatia claimed at least 10,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless when Serbs launched the rebellion, wanting to remain within the Serb-led Yugoslavia. The anniversary celebrations have for years burdened relations between Croatia and Serbia, the wartime Balkan foes who are trying to patch up economic and political relations. Serbian officials have called the offensive "genocide" against the Serbs, while Croatian officials have hailed it as the greatest day in Croatia's recent history.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said the offensive was "a clean, legitimate and brilliant military operation." The parade included about 3,000 Croatian soldiers and 300 military vehicles, with air force jets and helicopters flying above. Although invited, NATO troops did not take part in the parade, but Western representatives were present among the public.

In Serbia, officials attended church commemorations for the dead and those who fled. Croatia is a member of the European Union and NATO. Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, wants to join the EU.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

Ukraine to establish Crimean Tatar military unit

04 August 2015 Tuesday

Ukraine has stepped up to establish a troop of Muslims, leader of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoglu, said on Aug. 3. according to a report in the IB Times.

The troops will be deployed in the Kherson region on the Crimean border and would monitor transportation of goods and people between Ukraine and the peninsula, he said speaking at a congress.

The troop will be formed of Crimean Tatars, Kazan Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens, Azeris, Meskhetian Turks and other Muslim groups, Kirimoglu noted.

Kirimoglu met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after attending the 2nd World Crimean Congress, which convened in Ankara July 31-Aug. 2

An autonomous Crimean Tatar Republic will be formed, Kirimoglu said, calling on the Crimean people to take an active role in Ukrainian politics. He expressed expectation from the diaspora on this bid.

The Muslim battalion is part of growing relations between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians and will report to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said Kirimoglu. Crimean Tatars are an ethnically Turkic and religiously Islam minority group that has faced decades of religious and political persecution under Russian rule.

Ukraine has halted train services to Crimea after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, instead directing services to Novooleksiyvka and Kherson. Turkish Airlines also added an additional flight to Kherson after the annexation.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/162777/ukraine-to-establish-crimean-tatar-military-unit.

Disorder as Haitians vote in long-delayed elections

August 10, 2015

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Delays, disorder and sporadic violence troubled Haitian legislative elections on Sunday as voters chose lawmakers for the next Parliament after a years-long wait.

The legislative elections had been postponed for nearly four years due to a political showdown between Haiti's executive and opposition, and they have been billed as a crucial test of the country's electoral system ahead of a presidential vote in late October.

Sunday's first round sought to fill two-thirds of the 30-member Senate and the entire 119-member Chamber of Deputies in the nation still struggling to recover from a 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital and surrounding areas.

But a number of polling stations across the Caribbean country of 10 million people had to wait for ballots a few hours after voting was supposed to start at 6:00 a.m. (1000 GMT). In sections of Port-au-Prince, voters also grew exasperated after being told they couldn't cast ballots because their names weren't on official voting lists.

"This is very frustrating. Are they trying to discourage voting?" gardener Gerald Henry complained after election workers turned him away. In the crowded capital, at least three voting centers were shut down by authorities after fistfights broke out as partisans attempted to stuff ballot boxes and engage in other visible irregularities. At one voting center in downtown Port-au-Prince, groups of young men ripped up paper ballots as heavily armed police shot into the air to re-establish order. Rocks were thrown in response before authorities closed the polling station.

Local media also reported the closure of numerous polling places in other sections of the country and scattered arrests of people accused of voting more than once. Observers from various political parties complained election officials did not give them access to voting centers.

Still, Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul said the government was satisfied with how the legislative elections were handled, "despite the incidents that we would like to firmly condemn." Voting was extended for two hours at some polling stations due to ballot delays earlier in the day.

After voting ended, Pierre-Louis Opont, the head of the country's Provisional Electoral Council, told reporters that 54 polling stations, roughly 5 percent of the total, were closed Sunday amid violence and other disruptions. He also disclosed that a council staffer stole some of the elections material and vanished, but Oponte declined to provide more specifics other than the police were looking for him.

"We still don't know what his intention was," Oponte told reporters. Authorities were also trying to confirm reports of one election-related fatality. "We know that there were instances of violence throughout the country," Oponte said.

The vote took place roughly eight months after Haiti's legislature was dissolved because the terms of lawmakers expired before new elections could be held. It's the first election Haiti has held under President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 and is in the final year of a five-year term. He has governed by decree since Parliament dissolved in January and cannot run for a consecutive term. In the absence of elections, Martelly has been accused of stacking the deck in his favor by appointing mayors and other municipal officials to replace those whose terms expired.

Roughly 5.8 million people were registered to vote and over 1,850 candidates from nearly 130 political parties competed. Elections in Haiti are never easy and the Provisional Electoral Council has long been criticized for votes plagued by disorganization, ballot irregularities and fraud allegations.

Final results were not expected for several days and a significant amount of work will be needed to get the next Parliament up and running after it is installed. The first round of Haiti's presidential election and the second round of local elections are set for Oct. 25.

After voting at a heavily secured polling station, Martelly was asked what he thought of Sunday's disorder. He told reporters: "I hope that the election officials are better organized for the presidential elections in October."

AP writer David McFadden contributed to this report from Kingston, Jamaica.