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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Refugees break through police cordon in Hungary, run west

September 04, 2015

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hundreds of refugees have broken through a police cordon and have begun running westward on a train track leading away from the Bicske railway station in Hungary, interrupting train traffic.

Surprised riot police scrambled for their helmets as the huge crowd suddenly surged from the front of the train. Police were able to block only a minority of the estimated 500 people inside. Police pushed those they blocked back onto the train amid much shouting and screaming and infants crying.

In the receding distance, an Associated Press reporter saw at least 200 migrants, probably more, running in a wide group along the railway line west of Bicske and heading for Austria 135 kilometers (84 miles) to the west.

French farmers stage 1,000-strong tractor protest in Paris

September 03, 2015

PARIS (AP) — More than 1,000 tractors — and a few cows — descended on Paris on Thursday in a boisterous protest by farmers who blocked highways to express their anger over falling prices for their goods and high taxes.

They're facing increasingly slim margins they blame on cheap imports and high payroll charges, which they say make them unable to compete against producers in Germany and Eastern Europe. The farmers are seeking tax breaks from the French government and EU action.

Andie Le Mellionnec, 59, has run a dairy farm in western France for 40 years. Sporting a red hat, traditional to his home region of Brittany, and a Breton flag as a cape, he said his problem "is not whether France is a competitor or not. My problem is simply to live — meaning to feed my family, my kids."

Tractors spray-painted with "Anger" or "Enough Bureaucracy" trundled Thursday morning along major arteries to the French capital and headed toward the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris. Some farmers headed to Parliament later in the day.

Protest organizer FNSEA, France's largest farming union, said 1,733 tractors from around the country contributed to the show of force. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is pushing for reforms in the farming sector, said he would meet with the FNSEA chief Thursday.

The evening before heading to Paris, grain farmer Pierre Bot said at his farm in Vauhallan, just south of the city, that he feels increasingly squeezed by larger factory farms. "It's not popular to annoy all the people on their way to work," Bot acknowledged. "Nevertheless, it's one of the only ways to make ourselves heard."

Agriculture "is part of the French identity," he said outside his small fruits and vegetables store, which Bot runs alongside his grain cultivation business. French farmers have been particularly vocal this summer, blocking roads on the German border and major tourist destinations such as the Mont Saint-Michel peninsula. Their demonstrations are part of a larger debate over how to keep European farming globally competitive. A pan-European protest is expected Monday in Brussels during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

Thursday's commotion clogged traffic and caused headaches for some, but it brought a smile to the face of one Parisian bystander. Echoing widespread support for farmers in this country so proud of its land and world-famous food, she said, "Vive la France."

Britain's Cameron: Independent Catalonia would be out of EU

September 04, 2015

MADRID (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron says the Catalonia region of Spain would be forced to leave the European Union if separatists manage to pull off a secession drive and carve out a new Mediterranean nation.

Speaking in Madrid Friday, Cameron said, "if one part of a state secedes from that state it's no longer part of the European Union and it has to take its place at the back of the queue, behind those other countries applying to become members of the European Union."

Catalonia has regional parliamentary elections Sept. 27. Separatists hope voters will elect lawmakers committed to setting Catalonia on a path toward a unilateral independence declaration. Many insist an independent Catalonia will remain in the EU.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says secession for Catalonia is unconstitutional.

Austria says it and Germany will take refugees from Hungary

September 05, 2015

BICSKE, Hungary (AP) — After misery, delivery. Hundreds of migrants, exhausted after breaking away from police and marching for hours toward Western Europe, boarded buses provided by Hungary's government as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann announced the decision early Saturday after speaking with Angela Merkel, his German counterpart — not long after Hungary's surprise nighttime move to provide buses for the weary travelers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

With people streaming in long lines along highways from a Budapest train station and near a migrant reception center in this northern town, the buses would be used because "transportation safety can't be put at risk," said Janos Lazar, chief of staff to the prime minister.

Lazar blamed Germany's "contradictory communications" and the European Union for the crisis. The asylum seekers had already made dangerous treks in scorching heat, crawling under barbed wire on Hungary's southern frontier and facing the hostility of some locals along the way. Their first stop will be Austria, on Hungary's western border, though most hope to eventually reach Germany.

Hungarian authorities had refused to let them board trains to the west, and the migrants balked at going to processing centers, fearing they would be forced to live in Hungary. But government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press the government was providing buses for the migrants on a one-time basis and Hungary would continue to abide by European Union rules, including the obligation to register all migrants reaching the country.

"The situation at Keleti train station, on the highways and on the train lines threatened to shut down part of Hungary's transportation system, which led to the decision to take the migrants to the Hungarian side of the border," he said.

Abdullah Baker, 26-year-old physician from Aleppo, who left his parents and four sisters behind, wants to work at a hospital in Freiburg, Germany, where a friend is already employed. He and his two friends seemed to be the only Syrians on a bus carrying about 50 people.

"My family had tears of joy when I told them about the bus," Baker said. "We always fear the unknown but I long for closure." Mohammed, a 35-year-old Syrian man who was packing his belongings in the sunken plaza of Keleti train terminal and informing other migrants about the buses, said he was happy to be leaving Hungary.

"The situation is so ugly here and I want to send message to all Syrian people and all refugee people — do not come to Hungary," he said. Under European law, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first European Union country they enter. But many see limited economic opportunities and a less welcoming atmosphere in Hungary than in Germany, Sweden and other Western nations.

In what the Hungarian media called a "day of uprisings," about 350 people broke through a police cordon Friday and began heading to Austria, 135 kilometers (85 miles) to the west, on tracks leading away from the railway station. Surprised riot police scrambled for their helmets as the crowd surged from the front of the train.

One man, a 51-year-old Pakistani, collapsed about 800 meters (yards) from the station and died despite efforts to rescue him. Those left behind, mostly women and children, were boarded onto buses and taken to the nearby asylum center.

Hours earlier, about 2,000 people set out from Budapest's Keleti station for a 171-kilometer journey (106-mile) to the Austrian border. At first police tried to block them, but they quickly gave up. By nightfall, the marchers had already covered about 50 kilometers (30 miles).

Along the way, some met with gestures of support. Many flashed the V-sight for victory, while some handed out bottles of water to the weary travelers. A small number made clear the new arrivals were not welcome. "Go home already," one man shouted in Hungarian from a passing car.

Austrian police were making preparations at main border points, with reception areas and first aid facilities. Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief in easternmost Burgeland province, said those measures should be sufficient for the initial arrivals.

Also on Friday, the Hungarian parliament tightened its immigration rules, approving the creation of transit zones on the Hungarian border with Serbia where migrants would be kept until their asylum requests were decided within eight days. Migrants would have limited chance to appeal those decisions.

One man leaving Budapest on foot said he expected the journey to Austria to take three days. Osama Morzar, 23, from Aleppo, Syria, was so determined not to be registered in Hungary that he removed his fingerprints with acid, holding up totally smooth finger pads to an Associated Press reporter as proof.

"The government of Hungary is very bad," said Morzar, who studied pharmacology at Aleppo's university. "The United Nations should help." A couple from Baghdad, Mohammed and Zahara, who marched with a toddler, said they had been in a Hungarian asylum camp and got roughed up by guards because they refused to be fingerprinted. She said she has family in Belgium and is determined to seek asylum there. They would not give their last names.

Saleh Abdurahman, a Palestinian refugee from Syria who marched from Budapest, said he was set on escaping a Middle East made intolerable by wars that he blames on the United States and Europe. "We don't want to go to their countries because we'd like to be rich," he said. "We only need to be human beings."

In Syria, a man whose family died when a small rubber boat capsized during a desperate voyage from Turkey to Greece buried his wife and two sons in their hometown of Kobani. Photos of the lifeless body of Abdullah Kurdi's 3-year-old son after it washed up on the beach drew the world's attention to the dangers faced by those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"He only wanted to go to Europe for the sake of his children," said Suleiman Kurdi, an uncle of the grieving father. "Now that they're dead, he wants to stay here in Kobani next to them." Across Europe, the refugee crisis is becoming more dramatic.

In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday that nearly 5,600 people crossed from Greece to Macedonia a day earlier. That's roughly double the already high 2,500 to 3,000 per day in recent weeks. "That is a dramatic number," said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, saying it was the highest she's heard yet.

Earlier Friday, Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, issued a statement urging the EU to create a "mass relocation program ... with the mandatory participation of all EU member states" for would-be recipients who clear a screening process.

He said a "very preliminary estimate" would be for the creation of at least 200,000 places to be added across the bloc. The U.N. comments came a day after a round of recriminations among EU leaders. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the human wave is a German problem, but Merkel said the obligation to protect refugees "applies not just in Germany, but in every European member."

Mstyslav Chernov in Bicske, Alexander Kuli in Budapest, and George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report. Gorondi reported from Budapest.

NATO opens military center in Lithuania amid Ukraine crisis

September 03, 2015

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Fighter jets roaring overhead, NATO on Thursday inaugurated a military center in the Lithuanian capital amid growing concerns in the Baltic countries over Russia's military presence.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who joined Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite for the opening ceremony, described the new unit as a "big step forward toward greater solidarity, greater strength and greater readiness."

The NATO force integration unit in Vilnius is one of six small headquarters — manned by some 40 staff each — that opened this month in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania, as part of the alliance's biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War.

Grybauskaite welcomed the new units, saying they would ensure the quick and effective movement of troops. "And they help send a very clear message — no NATO ally stands alone," she said, pointing to Russian aggression in Ukraine as threatening the security of Europe. "This is why we have decided to bolster our security."

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, were occupied for nearly five decades by the Soviet Union. After regaining independence in 1991 they joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, but continue to be suspicious of Moscow's intentions.

Earlier this year, Lithuania distributed wartime survival manuals to schools across the country — a 98-page booklet with advice on building basement shelters to handling hostage dramas and evacuating from fighting zones. It also organized survival camps for families, teaching them to shoot and how to survive in war zones and threatening situations.

In February, the government restored compulsory military service for men aged 19 to 27, but is reconsidering the measure after a flood of applications from volunteers wanting to serve in the armed forces, expected to reach 3,000 by the end of the year.

Drilling at a parade ground in the coastal city of Klaipeda, Junior Pvt. Saulius Sirvinskas learns how to disassemble, clean and repair his rifle until it becomes second nature. "I love my country and it's like I'm returning the favor to my country by serving this military duty," he said.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas recalled the events in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Soviet era and said that similar aggression in Ukraine now should be met by "showing our readiness" to act.

"This is the only answer which can be understood by Russian President (Vladimir) Putin," he said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week. Although Moscow has made no moves against its small Baltic neighbors, which all have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities, they are worried about its increased military presence in the vicinity of the outpost of Kaliningrad, partly a Russian military base, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

NATO, which patrols the airspace of the three Baltic allies, has reported more than 400 intercepts by NATO fighter jets of Russian military aircraft flying near the borders of the Baltic countries last year, an increase of 50 percent over 2013.

Trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Lopez nears end

September 05, 2015

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The more-than-yearlong trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez neared an end Friday as the imprisoned politician prepared to give his final remarks in a closed courtroom.

The hearing was delayed for hours as the court waited for one of Lopez's four co-defendants, 19-year-old Marco Coello, to appear. In the afternoon, the Prosecutor's Office announced that Coello caught a flight to Miami on Thursday.

Lopez is charged inciting violence in his role as leader of a protest movement in 2014 and could face more than 10 years in prison. His co-defendants are accused of colluding with him to hijack peaceful protests.

He denies calling for violence, saying he only called for peaceful protests, and his supporters say pro-government forces were to blame for most of the clashes that broke out. The four student protesters charged alongside Lopez had all been released on probation. Their parents seemed optimistic at a hearing earlier this week, saying the government rarely releases a person and then imprisons them again here. Coello spent more than 100 days in jail before being granted conditional release last year.

Lopez was expected to deliver his final remarks to the court very late Friday night after both sides concluded their closing arguments. The judge could issue a verdict immediately afterward. Hundreds of his supporters gathered in the streets outside the court under piercing morning sun demand his release, though few thought it likely that he would be found innocent. By nightfall the group had dispersed, but another group of supporters took up a vigil in the posh eastern Caracas district where Lopez once was mayor.

Opposition figures delivered statements calling on President Nicolas Maduro to roll back what they say has been a consistent policy of attacking and imprisoning critics. Maduro was in Qatar Friday, continuing a multi-nation tour to seek loans and action on oil prices as the socialist South American country's economy sinks deeper into recession.

As they have done for each hearing during the 13 months of proceedings, armed soldiers shut down the area around the courthouse ahead of the audience. U.S. officials have made Lopez's release a key demand for normalizing diplomatic relations.

Venezuela abolishes entrance visa for Palestinians

Thursday, 03 September 2015

Venezuela has abolished entrance visas for Palestinians, the Palestinian ministry of foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

“The Venezuelan authorities have issued a decision on Wednesday exempting Palestinian passport holders from entry visas,” the ministry said in a statement.

The statement added that “the decision comes as part of an agreement signed between the Palestinian and Venezuelan authorities on 4 December, 2012,” pointing out that “the decision reflects the depth of relations between the two countries.”

Venezuela also raised Palestinian diplomatic representation to the level of an embassy earlier in ??May.

Diplomatic relations between Palestine and Venezuela began during the rule of Venezuela's late President, Hugo Chavez in 2009.

Venezuela cut all diplomatic ties with Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador and all diplomatic staff members from Caracas in the wake of the Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip in 2008 and early 2009.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/20819-venezuela-abolishes-entrance-visa-for-palestinians.

Guatemala ex-president tells court he's innocent of graft

TEMALA CITY (AP) — Otto Perez Molina sat in a defendant's chair Friday and declared his innocence in a customs corruption scandal that forced him to resign a day earlier as president of this Central American nation.

The former leader denied prosecutors' allegations that he was involved in a conspiracy to defraud the state by letting businesses evade import duties in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes. "The first thing I want to deny, I don't belong to 'La Linea,'" Perez Molina said, referring to the name of the fraud scheme, Spanish for "The Line."

The hearing wrapped up in the afternoon, and Judge Miguel Angel Galvez said he would make a ruling Tuesday on whether to order a trial. Perez Molina was ordered to remain in custody until then at the same military barracks where he spent his first night as an ex-president.

Prosecutors argued that Perez Molina was aware of the conspiracy, and formally asked the judge for a trial on charges of illicit association and graft. They presented 77 wiretap conversations totaling more than five hours and recorded over multiple days, as well as photographs and seized documents that detailed how the bribes were divvied up.

Prosecutors contend that when people in the wiretaps refer to No. 1, they were alluding to Perez Molina and that former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was 2. "The structure under the 1 and 2 received 50 percent, and the 1 and 2 received the other 50 percent" of the money, prosecutor Jose Antonio Morales alleged.

Baldetti resigned May 8 after her former private secretary, who remains a fugitive, was named as the alleged ringleader of the scheme. Baldetti, now jailed and facing charges, also says she is innocent.

One recording played twice for the court was of two voices said to be Baldetti and Salvador Estuardo Gonzalez, the alleged financier of the ring, who has also been jailed. Prosecutors argued that it was evidence of a hierarchical relationship between the two, and that they discussed "numbers" and "payments."

Prosecutors alleged that Perez Molina knew about the scheme, cooperated to allow it to operate and received a percentage of the illicit proceeds. They also showed a photo of Gonzalez with Perez Molina.

Defense lawyer Cesar Calderon invoked a restaurant metaphor to argue that the state's case was weak. "I was left waiting for the main course ... of their investigation," Calderon said. "Your honor, I am not going to risk my dignity, my work, nor all the effort I have made for Guatemala in return for $800,000," Perez Molina said in allusion to dollar figures presented by prosecutors.

Dressed in a sharp blue suit and striped tie, Perez Molina addressed reporters as the hearing concluded and before he returned to the military base. He expressed regret about his legal situation and that the political drama was playing out on the eve of elections.

"Personally I am very saddened," he said. Earlier he told The Associated Press he had been uncomfortable and slept little the previous night, and hoped to be granted bond or house arrest. "No jail is good. ... I hope the judge gives me an alternative," Perez Molina said.

Perez Molina formally stepped down Thursday as Guatemala's political crisis came to a dramatic climax, and Vice President Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in hours later as the country's new leader. Maldonado promised to lead an honest and inclusive transition government, and to restore Guatemalans' confidence in their democracy.

He will serve the rest of Perez Molina's term, which ends in January. The country is set to vote Sunday for the next president in an election whose timing has nothing to do with the crisis. At least 100 people are under investigation in connection with the "Linea" case.

Soyuz with Russian, Dane, Kazakh docks at space station

September 04, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new crew docked at the International Space Station on Friday after a safe but unusually long two-day flight.

The arrival of Russia's Sergei Volkov, Denmark's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov brings the number of astronauts on the orbiting space outpost to nine for the first time since November 2013.

Mogensen, the first Dane in space, got a message from his mother shortly after he arrived. "I am really looking to have you back on Earth again," Lisa Bjerregaard said during a video link from Baikonur, the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where the spacecraft was launched Wednesday with relatives in attendance. "Don't forget to call me when you land."

Mogensen answered: "Yeah, yeah, I promise." The exchange was shown live on television in Denmark. Mogensen and Aimbetov will return to Earth on Sept. 12 along with Russian Gennady Padalka, the current station commander. Command will then be passed to NASA's Scott Kelly, who along with Mikhail Kornienko of Russia is spending a full year on the station to study the effects of long space travel in preparation for a possible future trip to Mars.

Russian Mission Control said the Soyuz docked on time at 10:42 a.m. Moscow time (0742 GMT) Friday, about 51 hours after blasting off from Baikonur, the launch complex operated by Russia. For the past two years, the space station crews have taken a more direct, six-hour flight to the station. This time, however, the Russian Federal Space Agency decided to revert to the traditional route, citing security concerns after the International Space Station had to adjust its orbit to dodge space junk.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.