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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Macedonians vote in early elections after wiretap scandal

December 11, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Polls opened Sunday in Macedonia for a general election called two years early as part of a Western-brokered agreement to end a paralyzing political crisis. The crisis began after the opposition accused the conservative government of an illegal wiretapping operation that targeted 20,000 people, including politicians, judges, journalists, police and religious leaders.

Former conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who had headed the government since 2006, is seeking a fresh mandate. His VMRO-DPMNE party leads a 25-party coalition called "For a Better Macedonia."

His main opponent is Zoran Zaev, who heads a left-leaning coalition called "For Life in Macedonia." While Gruevski has accused Zaev of plotting a coup and creating the political crisis, Zaev has accused Gruevski of massive theft, social injustice and corruption.

Nearly 1.8 million registered voters are eligible to choose 123 lawmakers for the single-chamber parliament. Three seats are reserved for Macedonians living abroad. Over several months, Zaev released audio of dozens of wiretapped phone conversations that he said indicated Gruevski and his aides were involved in multimillion-dollar corruption deals, tampered with election results and brought spurious criminal prosecutions against opponents.

The conservatives vehemently rejected the charges, saying the wiretaps were conducted by unnamed foreign spies. Gruevski is under investigation by the country's Special Prosecution branch and has already been charged with enticement and carrying out a criminal act against public order.

The scandal led to months of street protests and has been the worst political crisis in Macedonia, which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, since the country survived a conflict with its ethnic Albanian minority in 2001.

Italy's new government looks much like just-ended one

December 12, 2016

ROME (AP) — Italy's latest government was formed and rapidly sworn in Monday, a center-left coalition headed by new Premier Paolo Gentiloni and strikingly similar in makeup to the just-ended one that Matteo Renzi quit after a humiliating loss.

Economist Pier Carlo Padoan remains as finance minister of the new government, which inherits the same deteriorating banking crisis, stubbornly flat economy and other urgent problems that marked Renzi's tenure.

The largely unchanged composition of the newly forged coalition government fueled fresh calls from opposition forces and even from within Gentiloni's ruling Democrat party for hastened elections. Gentiloni, 62, served as Renzi's foreign minister until the latter resigned after voters resoundingly defeated a Dec. 4 referendum on government-backed constitutional reforms.

Renzi kept his promise to quit if the referendum failed. "I won't hide the political difficulties that derive from the referendum's outcome and the political crisis that followed," Gentiloni said. He also acknowledged Italy's persistent economic malaise. "We cannot ignore the suffering, especially in the middle class and in the south were work is scarce," Gentiloni said.

Youth employment hovers at 36 percent, down from 40, nationally, but it runs about 50 percent in the underdeveloped south. The new prime minister is a staunch backer of Renzi's. Even before he announced his Cabinet, some observers took to dubbing it the "Renziloni" government.

Gentiloni is "Renzi's double," Roberto Fico, a leader of the populist 5-Star Movement, said in comments to Corriere della Sera daily. "It's a government identical to the last one, (but) more fragile," said Liguria Governor Giovanni Toti, from former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right opposition party.

Toti was referring to a last-minute defection by a centrist Renzi coalition ally who was angered his small party didn't get any Cabinet posts in the new Gentiloni government. That defection risks narrowing the new government's margin for victory in mandatory confidence votes this week in Parliament. But the squabbling Democratic Party, still led by Renzi, would still hold a majority, barring defectors from his own fold.

Gentiloni was scheduled to make a pitch for support with speeches to Parliament on Tuesday. The 5-Star Movement, founded by comic Beppe Grillo, is Parliament's largest opposition force and eager for elections soon in a bid to gain its first premiership.

Critical of harsh austerity measures advocated by European Union leaders, they want a popular referendum on whether Italy should keep the euro as its official currency. Among the holdovers from Renzi's Cabinet is Roberta Pinotti, who continues as defense minister.

Another is Angelino Alfano, who crossed over a few years ago from former Silvio Berlusconi's center-right to become the leading non-Democrat in Renzi's government. He now switches from interior minister, where he dealt with the flood of migrants across the Mediterranean to Italian shores as well as domestic anti-terrorism strategy, to foreign minister.

After seeing 64 governments in some 70 years, Italians are used to political crises. Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, summoned Gentiloni to the Quirinal presidential palace on Sunday to ask him to try to forge a government, working with the same Democrat majority in Parliament.

By Monday night, Gentiloni was back at the palace and sworn in as premier, along with the ministers whose names he had announced only 90 minutes earlier. Italy's politics remain roiled. Matteo Salvini, who heads the anti-migrant Northern League, said he would hit the streets of Palermo and Milan this weekend seeking signatures to "ask for elections immediately." Later, on Facebook, Salvini slammed the minor changes in the Cabinet.

"It's not a government. It's a jumble of chair-holders," he said. Former Premier Massimo D'Alema joined some others in the Democratic Party who viewed the referendum debacle as an expression of citizens' impatience for early elections.

"I think the government has a limited assignment," D'Alema said. But many, starting with President Mattarella, agree Italy must first urgently overhaul its election law to make the country more governable.

The current law has one set of electoral rules for the Senate and another for the lower Chamber of Deputies. That's because voters in the recent referendum rejected changes that would have made the Senate not directly elected.

The economy is another urgent matter. Renzi's labor reforms, on which he staked much of his prestige, barely nudged the economy to grow. The lackluster economy factors into the crisis suffered by Italy's banking sector, burdened with non-performing loans.

Italian foreign minister looks poised to get premier's job

December 11, 2016

ROME (AP) — Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has been summoned to the presidential palace in Rome to see the president, who could ask him to be premier and try to form a government. The palace's one-line statement Sunday morning did not elaborate about President Sergio Mattarella's request to Gentiloni.

But Mattarella, in wrapping up consultations Saturday night with political leaders, said he hoped in the "next hours" to confer the mandate to form a fresh government following Matteo Renzi's resignation as premier on Dec. 7.

Renzi quit as head of the center-left government after losing a voter referendum to approve constitutional reforms. Gentiloni is a member of the same party as Renzi. Italian state radio said Gentiloni would see Mattarella at 12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

Italian populists renew anti-euro stance while eyeing power

December 08, 2016

ROME (AP) — A leader of Italy's populist 5-Star Movement is pressing for a vote on whether the country should keep the euro as its official currency, a pitch for support as the party eyes national power for the first time.

Alessandro Di Battista, one of the populist party's several leaders, said in comments published Thursday in La Repubblica newspaper that "euro and Europe aren't the same thing." "We want only that the Italians decide," Di Battista said, suggesting the party might push for a referendum on abandoning the single currency.

Movement founder Beppe Grillo has long railed against Italy's membership in the eurozone, the 19 countries where the euro is the official currency. The Movement, Parliament's second-largest party, is hoping to gain the premiership following Matteo Renzi's resignation Wednesday night as head of Italy's center-left government.

Renzi's tenure came to an abrupt end when voters by a wide margin rejected constitutional reforms he had made an essential goal of his nearly three years in office. The next national election is not scheduled until 2018, but the 5-Star Movement and other opposition parties have started advocating for voting to take place earlier.

President Sergio Mattarella, as head of state, opened formal talks Thursday as he weighs who should get the mandate to try to form a new government to lead in the meantime. The heads of both chambers of Parliament, as well as Mattarella's predecessor as president, Giorgio Napolitano, left the presidential palace without commenting to reporters about their meetings.

Mattarella is scheduled to start consulting the leaders of Italy's political parties on Friday, beginning with representatives from the parties with the smallest number of seats in Parliament. He expects to finish the talks on Saturday after meeting with Renzi's Democrats, the 5-Star Movement, the anti-migrant Northern League and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia.

Some Democrats, whose party is the largest in Parliament, are lobbying for the broadest possible coalition government to guide the country to elections. Whoever succeeds in cobbling a governing coalition will have overhauling Italy's election law as an urgent first task.

Parts of the current law are being challenged in the Constitutional Court, which plans to rule in late January. Even if the challenges are rebuffed, lawmakers are insisting on new rules for electing the Senate.

The defeated constitutional reforms would have made the Senate of Parliament no longer elected by voters. Unless lawmakers fashion a fresh electoral law for the upper chamber, the country risks going to the polls with one set a rules for electing the lower Chamber of Deputies, and another for the Senate. Many political leaders predict that would invite government gridlock.

Renzi quits; Italian populists seek quick vote to win power

December 05, 2016

ROME (AP) — Italian voters dealt Premier Matteo Renzi a stinging defeat on his reforms referendum, triggering his resignation announcement and galvanizing the populist, opposition 5-Star Movement's determination to gain national power soon.

"I lost, and the post that gets eliminated is mine," Renzi said early Monday about an hour after the polls closed. "The government's experience is over, and in the afternoon I'll go to the Quirinal Hill to hand in my resignation" to President Sergio Mattarella.

Besides the "anti-establishment" 5-Stars, the outcome energized another "anti" party, the anti-immigrant Northern League, an ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a candidate in France's presidential race.

In voting No, Italians also delivered a rebuke to Italy's industrialists, banks and other establishment institutions, which had staunchly backed the referendum. The anti-reform victory, which could spook investors, comes just as the government had made some inroads in cutting the staggering rate of youth employment and while Italy's banks have urgent need for recapitalization.

During the campaign, the risk of political instability in Italy, Europe's fourth-largest economy, triggered market reaction, with bank stocks sinking and borrowing costs on sovereign debt rising. But some analysts predicted the political crisis sparked by Renzi's exit would be short-lived, as politicians focus on lining up support for a new electoral law they view as boosting their parties' chances for whenever elections are called.

Wolfango Piccoli, a London-based analyst and co-president at Teneo Intelligence, said the main risk of Renzi's "devastating defeat" will lie in the medium term. That could see "a prolonged muddle-through period, the emergence of an ineffective patched-up coalition government in the post-election phase and continuously poor economic performance," Piccoli said in an emailed comment.

The 5-Star Movement, led by anti-euro comic Beppe Grillo, spearheaded the No camp on the constitutional reforms, a package aimed at updating Italy's post-war Constitution that Renzi had depicted as vital to modernizing Italy and reviving its economy.

Characteristically confident -- detractors say arrogant -- Renzi, 41, and Italy's youngest premier, had bet his political future -- or at least his current premiership -- on a Yes vote win, and campaigned hard for a victory in recent weeks to confound opinion polls indicating that it would likely go down to defeat.

With votes counted from nearly all the polling stations in Sunday's referendum, the No's were leading Yes votes by a 6-to-4 margin, Interior Ministry data indicated. The turnout of 67 percent was especially high for a referendum, and more in line for a vote for Parliament.

Renzi had been hoping to beat off the rising populist forces that have gained traction across Europe, as well as with the U.S. presidential victory last month by billionaire political outsider Donald Trump.

Earlier on Sunday, in Austria's presidential runoff, left-leaning candidate Alexander Van der Bellen prevailed over a right-wing populist. Leaders of the populist 5-Star Movement, which is led by Grillo, joined the chorus among opposition forces for early elections. The 5-Stars are the chief rivals of Renzi's Democrats and are anxious to achieve national power for the first time.

"Today the caste in power lost," said a 5-Star leader, Luigi Di Maio. It was a sharp retort to Renzi's characterizing the reforms as an opportunity to shrink the "caste" of elite, perk-enjoying politicians by reducing the numbers and powers of Senators.

"Arrogance lost, from which we'll learn many things in forming our team for government and our platform," Di Maio said. "Starting tomorrow we'll be working on a government of the 5-Stars, we'll involve the energies and the free persons who want to participate."

The 5-Stars' constituency is largely internet based, and bills itself as anti-establishment. "The man alone at the command doesn't exist anymore, but the citizens who govern the institutions" do, Di Maio told a news conference minutes after Renzi conceded.

In Bologna, traditionally a left-leaning city, about 100 people rallied after the defeat to burn several Yes-vote flags and carried a banner saying "Renzi go home." Mattarella, as head of state, would have to decide whether to accept Renzi's resignation.

Renzi is widely expected to be asked to stay on at least until a budget bill can be passed later this month. Then he or some other figure, perhaps from his Democrats, Parliament's largest party, could be asked to lead a government focused electoral reform.

The current electoral law would grant the biggest vote-getting a generous bonus of seats in Parliament. Renzi's Democrats and the center-right opposition of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi want the law changed to avoid risking that the bonus would go to the 5-Stars should they lead the vote-getting.

Elections are due in spring 2018, but Renzi's resignation could prompt their being moved up a year. Another opposition leader, Matteo Salvini, of the anti-immigrant Northern League, hailed the referendum as a "victory of the people against the strong powers of three-quarters of the world." He urged elections straightaway.

Many had read the referendum as an outlet for growing anti-establishment, populist sentiment in Europe. When Renzi late last year promised to resign if the referendum was defeated, it was months before Britain's David Cameron had made his ill-fated bet that a referendum would cement the U.K.'s membership in the European Union. Cameron was forced to resign when Britons instead voted to leave the EU fold.

In Italy, the referendum was required because the reforms were approved by less than two-thirds of Parliament. The reforms included steam-lining the Senate and giving the central government more powers at the cost of the regions.

"We didn't exit from Europe, but we didn't 'exit,' from the Constitution either," said former Premier Massimo D'Alema. A former Communist, D'Alema opposed fellow Democrat Renzi on the referendum issue, aggravating tensions within their bickering party.

Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

Italy's voter referendum: The nuts and bolts behind the buzz

December 03, 2016

ROME (AP) — A voter referendum on changes to Italy's post-war Constitution scheduled for Sunday has turned into a virtual plebiscite on Premier Matteo Renzi's center-left government. Will Italy become the next Western country to turn on established political leaders? A rundown on what's at stake in the constitutional referendum:


Nearly 51 million Italians are eligible to cast ballots, ticking off "Yes" or "No" to whether they approve the proposed reforms hammered out by Parliament. Voting begins at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) and ends at 11 p.m., (2200 GMT). Ballots already cast by Italians living abroad will be counted along with the Election Day tally.


The biggest change would be to Italy's lumbering lawmaking process. The revised Constitution no longer would require both chambers of Parliament to vote on all legislation, including after each time a bill gets amended.

Instead, only the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies would make most laws. The Senate would shrink from 315 to 100 members. Five would be appointed by Italy's president and the other 95 drawn from the ranks of Italy's mayors and regional representatives.

Confidence votes, which determine a ruling government's survival, also would be the exclusive province of the Chamber.

The other major reform transfers some authority from Italy's regions to the central government. Currently, jurisdictional disputes end up in Italy's slow-moving court system.

A recent example of the kind of tug-of-war the change is designed to address: Italy's Constitutional Court threw out a national law that would have made it easier to fire workers who punch time cards, then effectively don't go to work. The court said Renzi's government should have involved the regions in making the change.


Renzi, his center-left allies, and banks and industrialists say the reforms would help modernize Italy. Opponents, including the populist 5-Star Movement, which is now the chief rival of Renzi's Democrats, contend the reforms would erode democracy by concentrating too much power in the premier's office.

Others urging voters to reject the amendments are former center-right Premier Silvio Berlusconi, hardliners with Communist roots who are now in Renzi's Democratic Party, and Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, which wants regions to have more, not fewer, powers.


By law, the last opinion polls were published on Nov. 14. The "No" camp was leading, but many voters were undecided.


Renzi has ruefully confessed to making a big "mistake" by saying early on he'd tender his resignation if the "No" votes prevail. His pledge effectively transformed a straightforward vote on the reforms into an opportunity to send him packing.


Renzi argues the reforms would drastically reduce the so-called cozy "caste" of perk-enjoying politicians in Parliament. At age 41 the youngest prime minister to serve Italy, he depicts himself as anti-caste. But 5-Star co-founder, comic Beppe Grillo contends Renzi is himself part of the party system and thus, a caste member, too.

The "caste" mantra taps into a wave of populist anger rippling through much of Europe.


If he makes good on his earlier vow, Renzi would be expected to offer his resignation to Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella. But Renzi has not always kept big promises. He barged his way into national power in early 2014 by ousting fellow Democrat Enrico Letta from the premiership, only days after promising he'd never take that office without elections.


Answer: Renzi. Since he heads the Democrats, Parliament's largest party, Mattarella could ask him to try to form a new government. A so-called "technocrat" government — made up of economists and other individuals from outside politics, might be even more unpalatable than Renzi Redux for many Italians.

The last "technocrat" premier was Mario Monti, a former EU commissioner, who prescribed harsh austerity measures to fix Italy's finances.


Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the spring of 2018. While a political crisis might advance the date, many politicians in Italy are in no hurry.

As the election laws now stand, the party with the most votes gets a big bonus of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, a feature designed to encourage stability in a country long on short-living governments.

But after the populist Grillo's stunning wins in Rome and other mayoral races earlier this year, the 5-Stars are eager to take national power. So a post-referendum priority of Parliament would likely be tweaking the electoral law to minimize a potential 5-Star surge.

Prime minister announces handouts as strike cripples Greece

December 08, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — As thousands of Greeks protested against government spending cuts during a general strike that crippled the country Thursday, struggling Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced one-off measures to ease the burden on pensioners and island residents.

Tsipras said the government would distribute a total of 617 million euros this Christmas to some 1.6 million low-income pensioners, replacing a holiday bonus scrapped by Greece's bailout creditors. In a nationally televised address, Tsipras said the cash would come from a larger-than-expected surplus in Greece's primary budget, which excludes the cost of servicing the country's crippling debt.

Tsipras has seen his popularity plummet after a series of income cuts and tax hikes demanded by creditors. His left-wing Syriza party trails the main opposition conservatives by more than 10 percentage points in opinion polls.

Tsipras also said his government would restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders who are struggling to cope with mass arrivals of migrants from Turkey. "The more the country recovers, the broader and more effective the social redistribution will be, to support those who are in true need," Tsipras said. "We are covering the last hard meters of a very difficult marathon.We will succeed in exiting the crisis."

Thursday's nationwide strike disrupted public transport, state-run schools, ferries and national rail services, and left public hospitals running with emergency staff. "We can either accept our continuing descent into poverty or fight against it," theater actor Dionysis Xenakis said.

Protests were held in cities around Greece, with more than 7,000 demonstrators marching in the capital of Athens and 5,000 in the country's second-largest city, Thessaloniki. Years of recession and austerity have left nearly a quarter of Greeks unemployed — with most no longer receiving any state benefits.

Thursday's 24-hour strike went ahead despite a decision this week by bailout lenders to grant Greece a series of short-term debt relief measures aimed at evening out the country's repayment schedule. Tsipras' government is still negotiating a new series of reforms that are expected to remove protection measures for private-sector jobs and distressed mortgage-holders.

"Nothing has been decided until everything is decided," Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, referring to the ongoing negotiations, told parliament. Bailout negotiators, he said, were expected to return to Athens next week, with a deal possible by the end of the month on the term of upcoming bailout payout.

"We've been at this stage before. Everyone has to stay calm." The reforms are part of requirements the country must meet to continue qualifying for emergency loans from its international bailout — the third such rescue package for Greece since 2010.

In return for the cash, successive governments have had to implement sweeping reforms. The crisis has wiped out a quarter of Greece's economy.

Nicholas Paphitis in Athens and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.

Germany to begin constructing Egypt's first military submarine

December 3, 2016

Germany is to start building the first Egyptian military submarine this month, the Egyptian ambassador to Berlin, Bader Abdel-Ati announced yesterday.

In a press conference, Abdel-Ati said that the mutual relationship between Egypt and Germany became stronger and reinforced when Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi became president of Egypt.

He said that there had been an increase in the number of official visits between the two countries as Germany and Europe are convinced that the EU’s stability is highly connected with Egypt’s own.

“Currently, Egypt builds its relations with Germany and the EU on the basis of a strategic partnership, not on the basis of a giver to a recipient,” the Egyptian ambassador said.

In addition, he said that there is mutual cooperation in several sectors, including education and tourism, believing that Egypt has “big opportunities.”

Abdel-Ati claimed that the German Central Bank said during the G20 summit that “Egyptian economic decisions are courageous and unprecedented because they treat the roots of the economic crisis…This proves the political will [in Egypt] is credible.”

As a sign of improving Egyptian-German relations, the ambassador said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Al-Sisi met five times in the last year and a half, while her deputy visited Egypt three times this year.

He noted that 100 German businessmen had visited Egypt recently, adding that mutual meetings between for officials from both countries are continuous.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161203-germany-to-begin-constructing-egypts-first-military-submarine/.

France's court annuls Kazakh banker's extradition to Russia

December 10, 2016

PARIS (AP) — A top French court refused to hand over a Kazakh banker-turned-dissident to Russia despite accusations he embezzled millions, saying it considered the extradition request from Moscow to be "politically motivated."

Hours after Friday's ruling, Mukhtar Ablyazov walked free from a French prison, hugging his son, brother and lawyer. It was a surprise twist in a winding legal saga that has lasted years and spanned several countries.

Ablyazov's lawyers had asked France's Council of State to block his extradition, fearing Russia would quickly send him back to Kazakhstan. The Council of State noted in its decision that the Kazakh and Russian authorities have "repeatedly" held consultations on Ablyazov's case. Requests for the return of criminal suspects can be rejected if they are judged to be politically motivated.

A former energy minister who founded an opposition party in Kazakhstan, he was charged by Kazakh authorities with stealing billions of tenge from a bank he founded, BTA. Russia, a close ally of Kazakhstan, says its citizens were also defrauded in the collapse of the bank.

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from BTA or Russian or Kazakh authorities. "We are thrilled with the result today," Ablyazov's lawyer, Peter Sahlas, told The Associated Press. "This is a huge step forward for human rights law in France and Europe."

Last year, France's top appeals court, the Court of Cassation, had approved Ablyazov's extradition. The French government signed an extradition decree in September 2015, but Ablyazov appealed to the Council of State, France's highest administrative body.

Ablyazov didn't speak about his ordeal after being released from the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris late Friday night. His 24-year-old son Madiyar couldn't contain his emotions. "Oh wow, we just feel so great. It is so unexpected today," he said. "We are so glad to have Dad back finally ... It's the best New Year's present."

Ablyazov's lawyers argued he was being pursued because of his activities as an opposition leader in autocratic Kazakhstan, and feared he would not get a fair trial in Russia or Ukraine. They also suspected he could be eventually transferred to Kazakhstan.

The banker fled Kazakhstan amid the nationalization of BTA Bank. He was arrested in southern France in 2013 on embezzlement allegations. Both Russia and Ukraine have requested his extradition. France has no extradition agreement with Kazakhstan.

Schaeffer reported from Fleury-Merogis.

EU, Cuba sign cooperation pact, vow Trump will not hurt ties

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and Cuba signed a first-ever agreement on closer ties on Monday, and vowed that the arrival in office of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump would not impact on their future relations.

"This is a historic day, we've turned a page. Today we're starting to write together a new chapter," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini as the 28-nation EU's top diplomats and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed the pact in Brussels.

The accord, aimed at supporting economic development and promoting democracy and human rights on the island, will form the legal platform for future ties between Brussels and Havana. The EU's official stance toward Cuba dates from 1996.

Rodriguez said the priority would be to develop the Cuban economy, but he noted "one major obstacle to trade relations between the EU and Cuba" — the U.S. economic and financial blockade. "We'll have to see how things develop. But we very much hope that relations between the European Union and Cuba will continue to grow and enrich both sides," he said, adding that ties "between the EU and Cuba do not go by Washington."

Mogherini said the agreement is the result of a long process and that Trump's inauguration in January "will not affect in any way relations between the European Union and Cuba." She also underlined that "the European Union has raised concerns about the extraterritorial effect of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. We will continue to do so because we believe that this is not only in the interest of the island and its people — all of them — but most of all in our case, it's in the interest of Europeans to tackle this issue."

Cuba puts the total cost of the 55-year-old embargo at $125.9 billion, including $4.6 billion last year. The new pact must now be ratified by national and regional parliaments in all EU member states before it can enter completely into force, although the bloc has decided to provisionally apply parts of it immediately.

Donald Trump: I'll solve the Dakota Access pipeline question

By Daniel J. Graeber
Dec. 12, 2016

NEW YORK, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- If it's not "solved" by the time he's scheduled to take office in January, the U.S. president-elect vowed quick action on the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in early December said it would not approve an easement for further construction on the pipeline to bridge Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Jo-Ellen Darcy, an Army assistant secretary for civil works, said the decision stemmed in part from water-quality concerns expressed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

State regulators and industry leaders say there's not enough pipeline capacity to carry all of the oil produced from the region, leaving rail as the primary alternate transport method. Several derailments of trains carrying oil from North Dakota proved deadly over the past few years.

Donald Trump, who is slated to assume the U.S. presidency in mid-January, told Fox News during the weekend he'd step into the process if it's required.

"Let me not answer the Dakota [oil pipeline question] because perhaps that'll be solved by the time I get there, so I don't have to create enemies on one side or the other," he said. "But I will tell you when I get to office, if it's not solved, I'll have it solved very quickly."

He did not elaborate on what "solved" implied.

Energy Transfer Partners, a company in which Trump once invested, and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the two companies behind the pipeline's construction, said the decision from the Army Corps of Engineers was a delay tactic from President Barack Obama, whose administration ruled against the Keystone XL oil pipeline on environmental grounds.

Pipeline developers are pressing their case in court, pointing to July permits from the Army Corps for construction in the area of concern. According to a report in The Hill, a judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia said additional briefs from both the tribes working to halt construction and the companies behind the projects are due in February.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Donald-Trump-Ill-solve-the-Dakota-Access-pipeline-question/2841481539265/.

EU warns of possible new sanctions in South Sudan

December 12, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it stands ready to impose fresh sanctions against anyone who incites ethnic hatred, obstructs the peace process or stops U.N agencies from doing their work in South Sudan.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement Monday that they are "profoundly disturbed" by intensifying conflict five years after South Sudan gained independence. They called on the transitional government to protect civilians, and for all parties to respect international law and bring an end to human rights violations.

The U.N. recently warned that South Sudan is at risk of genocide and that ethnic cleansing is being carried out in several parts of the country. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million people displaced by the civil war.

Nigerian church collapses, 160 dead, says hospital director

December 11, 2016

WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Mortuaries overflowed with bodies Sunday from a church collapse in southern Nigeria that killed at least 160 people, and worshippers said construction of the building had been rushed.

Hundreds had been inside the Reigners Bible Church International in the city of Uyo on Saturday for the consecration of founder Akan Weeks as its bishop when the metal girders fell and the corrugated iron roof caved in.

Screaming survivors streamed out amid cries from the injured inside. "There were trapped bodies, parts of bodies, blood all over the place and people's handbags and shoes scattered," said computer analyst Ukeme Eyibio.

Officials feared the death toll could rise. Weeks and Akwa Ibom state Gov. Udom Emmanuel were among the survivors. Eyibio had parked his car outside the complex to make a phone call when he heard a deafening crash and saw that the church had disappeared.

He and three others dragged 10 injured people from an overflow area for worshippers just outside the collapsed church. They did not enter the main structure because a construction worker warned it was not safe.

The worker called his boss at Julius Berger construction company, which sent a crane to help lift debris off bodies. While they waited for the crane, Eyibio helped a man whose legs were trapped under a girder.

"I rushed to my car, got out the tire jack and used that to get the beam off his legs," the 27-year-old said by telephone. "We managed to get him out, but we saw others dying all around us," he added. "I'm so traumatized I could not sleep last night for the horrors repeating themselves in my mind."

Mortuaries in Uyo were overwhelmed by the disaster, medical director Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital told The Associated Press. Many of the dead were taken to private mortuaries scattered across the city, said youth leader Edikan Peters. Some people were taking the bodies of relatives to their homes because of the overcrowding.

Peters said he counted 90 bodies removed from the church before he was stold to stop his tally Saturday night. Journalists also said that church officials sought to prevent them from documenting the tragedy, trying to seize cameras and forcing some to leave the area.

The church had been still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday's ceremony, congregants said. The governor's spokesman, Ekerete Udoh, said the state government will investigate if any building standards were compromised.

Buildings collapse often in Nigeria because of endemic corruption, with contractors using substandard materials and bribing inspectors to ignore shoddy work or a lack of permits. In 2014, 116 people died when a multistory guesthouse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. Most victims were visiting South African followers of the megachurch's influential founder T.B. Joshua.

Two structural engineers, Joshua and church trustees were accused of criminal negligence and involuntary manslaughter after a coroner found the building collapsed from structural failures caused by design and detailing errors. Efforts to bring them to court have been foiled by repeated legal challenges.

Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria

Kenya president: International Criminal Court not impartial

December 12, 2016

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's president on Monday criticized the International Criminal Court as "not impartial," saying his government "will give serious thought" to its membership of the court. In a speech during celebrations marking 53 years since Kenya became independent, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he believed he would win a second term next year despite what he called "divisive politicians, external powers, the ICC or paid protesters."

Kenyatta was elected in 2013 as he and his running mate, William Ruto, faced criminal charges at the ICC over their alleged roles in post-election violence in 2007-2008. The charges against Kenyatta were withdrawn in 2014 while the case against Ruto was terminated earlier this year.

"In our pursuit of a more stable and just order, we are champions of global institutions grounded in fairness and respect for national sovereignty," Kenyatta said Monday. "The Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court have ended but the experience has given us cause to observe that this institution has become a tool of global power politics and not the justice it was built to dispense."

He added: "We have started to see many more nations openly recognizing that the ICC is not impartial. Some have withdrawn. Others have considered that step. Twice, our parliament has passed motions to withdraw. We have sought the changes that will align the ICC to respect national sovereignty. Those changes have not been forthcoming. We will therefore need to give serious thought to our membership."

South Africa, Burundi and Gambia have announced plans to withdraw from The Hague-based court. Meanwhile, Kenyan police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse a protest march against government corruption.

The march was part of a protest movement by activists who want the government to do more to stem what they charge is rampant graft within the administration. Police arrested at least three protesters in the capital, Nairobi, when they broke up the demonstration. The group later reunited at another location and resumed the march.

Kenya is considered to be among the world's most corrupt countries, ranking 139 out of 168 countries in a 2015 index by Transparency International.

Ghana TV: President concedes defeat to opposition leader

December 10, 2016

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Ghana's longtime opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo won the presidency late Friday on his third run for the office, a race that was largely seen as a referendum on how the incumbent party had managed the economy in this long stable democracy.

The country's election commission said Akufo-Addo received 53.8 percent of the vote, compared to 44.4 percent for President John Dramani Mahama. It was the largest margin of victory by a presidential candidate since 1996, upending pre-election predictions that the race would be neck and neck.

After the announcement, thousands of Akufo-Addo's supporters converged on his residence in the capital of Accra to celebrate and listen to the president-elect deliver his victory speech. "There's never been a more humbling moment in my life," Akufo-Addo said. "I make this solemn pledge to you tonight: I will not let you down. I will do everything in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations."

Akufo-Addo went on to commend Ghanaians for the "mature, peaceful and orderly manner" in which they exercised their right to vote. "The democratic credentials of our nation have been further enhanced by your conduct," he added, addressing Ghanaians.

Mahama's concession solidifies Ghana's status as a model of democracy in West Africa, a region historically plagued by coups and strongman rule. Ghana has experienced a peaceful transition of power every time there has been a change in government since the country moved to democratic rule in 1992.

Sandra Kwakye, a 38-year-old businesswoman in Accra, told The Associated Press that she is hopeful for the future now that there has been a change in government. "I'm so happy and grateful because we've all been facing hardships for a long time, but we know now that we will have a good president," she said. "(Akufo-Addo) will make everything better for us. That's what he promised."

Mahama called Akufo-Addo to concede defeat shortly before the commission's announcement. He also delivered a concession speech in which he congratulated Akufo-Addo and promised to remain committed to the unity and stability of the country.

"I want to assure the people of Ghana of my commitment to the sustenance of our country's democracy and would work to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition for the incoming administration. As president, I've done my bit," Mahama said as party supporters surrounded him.

It took almost 72 hours for the commission to declare a winner, leaving many Ghanaians skeptical about the delay and impatient for a verdict...

Gambia's president-elect says Jammeh can't demand new vote

December 10, 2016

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's president-elect said Saturday that the outgoing leader who now rejects his defeat has no constitutional authority to call for another election, and he called on President Yahya Jammeh to help with a smooth transition in the interest of the tiny West African country.

Jammeh's surprise reversal late Friday was certain to spark outrage among the tens of thousands who took to the streets after Adama Barrow was announced the president-elect in the Dec. 1 vote, shouting "Freedom!"

The United States and others quickly rejected Jammeh's new stance, and the African Union on Saturday called for security forces to remain neutral. Soldiers were in the streets of the capital, Banjul, as Gambians closed down shops in fear of unrest.

Barrow said the Independent Electoral Commission is the only competent authority to declare a winner. "It was already done so, and I am the president-elect," Barrow said. "President Jammeh is the outgoing president. He is to hand over executive powers to me when his term is expires in January."

Jammeh, whose 22-year rule has been marked by repeated accusations of human rights abuses, late Friday announced that he rejects the results of the presidential election, a week after he jovially conceded to Barrow. "Allah is telling me my time is up," he said then.

Jammeh now says investigations have revealed a number of voting irregularities. The head of the electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, would not comment to The Associated Press on whether Jammeh had filed a formal challenge to the vote.

On Saturday, Barrow recalled Jammeh's telephone call Dec. 2, broadcast on state television, to concede defeat. "The outgoing president told me in a simple, clear language that the results were regarded of the people and God," Barrow said after meeting with the coalition government at his home.

Barrow, a 51 year-old real estate mogul and former security guard, called on Jammeh to join his side for a smooth transition. "Let him know that leaders come and go. Sooner or later, I must also go," Barrow said. "I urge him to change his current position and accept the verdict of the people in good faith for the sake of the Gambia, our homeland, whose people deserve peace and freedom and prosperity."

Jammeh's reversal drew swift criticism from the international community. African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Saturday called his rejection of the election results "null and void." The United States government called it an attempt to remain in power illegitimately.

The West African regional body, known as ECOWAS, along with the AU and U.N. urged "all Gambian stakeholders, including the elected leadership, the armed forces, political parties and civil society organization to reject violence and peacefully uphold the will of the people as clearly expressed through the ballot box."

The foreign minister in neighboring Senegal, which surrounds the small country of 1.9 million except for its coastline, called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the situation.

The U.N. Security Council called on Jammeh to respect the choice of Gambia's people, and "to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to the president-elect." The Security Council members also "urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence and remain calm," and called on international parties, including ECOWAS, to preserve stability and work toward the installation of a democratically elected government in Gambia.

Jammeh's protest is "an extremely dangerous move that risks leading to instability and possible repression," Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher, said in a statement. Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless 1994 military coup, has long been accused of overseeing a government that imprisons, tortures and sometimes kill its opponents, according to human rights groups.

Mai Ahmad Fatty of the opposition Gambia Moral Congress, one of eight parties that backed Barrow, said the coalition has the will of the people on its side. "Remain calm. We are working round the clock to restore sanity. We have the full support of our people. The world is with us," Fatty said. "Gambia cannot afford instability."

An Associated Press reporter in Yundum, Gambia, contributed to this report. AP writers Krista Larson and Abdoulie John in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

Longtime Gambian ruler now refuses to step aside

December 10, 2016

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's ruler of more than 22 years announced late Friday that he no longer accepts defeat in the country's presidential election, reversing course a week after he conceded to his rival.

In a speech on state television, President Yahya Jammeh said that investigations since the Dec. 1 vote have revealed a number of voting irregularities that he called unacceptable. "I hereby reject the results in totality," he said in his address that aired late Friday. "Let me repeat: I will not accept the results based on what has happened."

Only one week ago, a jovial Jammeh was filmed on state television calling opposition candidate Adama Barrow to wish him the best. "You are the elected president of The Gambia, and I wish you all the best," Jammeh told Barrow at the time. "I have no ill will."

The dramatic about-face was certain to spark outrage among the opposition and the tens of thousands of Gambians living in exile abroad. Already in the week since Jammeh had been defeated, several dozen political prisoners had been released on bail.

"We are deeply concerned by reports of belated objections to the Gambian election results raised by President Jammeh," said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. "The international community, notably (regional bloc) ECOWAS and the African Union, should loudly protest any unlawful attempt to subvert the will of the Gambian people."

The U.S. government also condemned Jammeh's rejection of the election result, calling it an attempt to remain in power illegitimately. "The people have spoken and it is time for Gambians to come together to ensure a peaceful transition to President-elect Barrow," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a statement.

It remained unclear whether the tiny country of 1.9 million people would accept Jammeh's continued rule. As news spread last week of his defeat, Gambians took to the streets — singing, dancing and shouting "Freedom!"

Under Jammeh's rule, the country surrounded almost entirely by Senegal has become notorious for its abysmal human rights record as well as the president's erratic behavior. The Jammeh regime has long been accused of imprisoning, torturing and killing its opponents, according to human rights groups. He also has issued increasingly virulent statements against sexual minorities, vowing to slit the throats of gay men.

In 2007, Jammeh claimed to have developed a cure for AIDS that involved an herbal body rub and bananas. Alarming public health experts, he insisted patients stop taking antiretroviral medications so his remedy could have an effect.

He also has increasingly isolated Gambia, whose economy has long been dependent on tourism. In 2013 he exited the Commonwealth, a group made up mostly of former British colonies, branding it a "neo-colonial institution." And in October, Jammeh said Gambia would leave the International Criminal Court, which he dismissed as the 'International Caucasian Court.'"

In his speech Friday, Jammeh said some figures in the results had been transposed and that voter turnout had been suppressed. "Our investigations reveal that in some cases voters were told that the opposition has already won and that there was no need for them to vote and, out of anger, some of them returned home," he said.

For tech hub in Russia's rustbelt, recession's a godsend

December 12, 2016

VORONEZH, Russia (AP) — Russia's economy is in a quagmire thanks to sanctions and low oil prices, but it's a boom time for Mikhail Khorpyakov. The 32-year-old, who develops software for Russian and foreign clients, has seen his earnings rise over the last two years even as the country fell into recession and the national currency lost half its value.

At the airy, well-lit office he shares with friends in a newly built block in the thriving provincial tech hub of Voronezh, Khorpyakov recalls his last workspace was "in a basement, with noisy sewer pipes all around," before their earning power allowed them to aim higher.

Khorpyakov and his friends are part of an unlikely tech revolution in Voronezh, a former Soviet industrial town where startups and online contract work are proving the only source of good jobs and escape from economic decline.

In fact, the crisis has turned out to be the tech sector's biggest fortune. As Russia fell into recession, the ruble's nosedive to record lows made tech workers here much cheaper for foreign companies to hire or buy from — letting them compete with traditional tech offshoring hubs like India and China.

Even as officials in the United States and Europe warn about the threat posed by government-backed Russian hackers, tech workers in Voronezh say security concerns don't affect their international business relationships.

Ivan Grishaev, a 30-year-old software engineer, moved to Voronezh with his wife and son from Chita, a remote city in Eastern Siberia, in 2013. He chose Voronezh because it offered better career options, lower rent and warmer weather than traditional magnets for migrants such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.

First he worked for DataArt, a Russian software company with more than 800 employees in Voronezh. But when the ruble's value plunged, Grishaev struck out on his own, working directly for foreign clients. As well as financial benefits, the change also brought a more flexible work schedule, meaning he can collect his son from school.

Now a self-employed IT specialist developing websites for a Swiss firm, Grishaev makes nearly twice as much as he used to thanks to the difference in local and European salaries, and in currency-exchange rates.

A qualified remote IT services provider working for a Western firm can make $2,000-$3,000 per month. That is up to eight times the average salary for the local region, and double what IT specialists can earn working for Russian companies in Voronezh.

"We've become less constrained financially, could afford to have a second child, and now go on vacations abroad," says Grishaev. Boasting several Soviet-era technology-focused universities, Voronezh serves as an outsourcing hub for many Russian and foreign companies. Reachable in six hours by car from Moscow — comparatively close by the standards of the world's largest country — office rent and salaries here are significantly lower than in the capital.

Other rust-belt towns around the world, such as Pittsburgh in the U.S., have seen their local economies helped by a rise in tech companies taking advantage of cheap rents and educated workforces. But Voronezh stands out as an extreme example due to the enormous gains that the ruble's drop gives tech workers compared with the rest of the local economy.

"We produce games for the Russian-speaking CIS (former Soviet) countries, and make versions for Europe and the U.S., which bring us revenue in foreign currency. Thanks to the exchange rate, this revenue is even bigger in rubles," says Sergey Khatenkov, head of the Voronezh office of Mail.Ru Group, one of Russia's largest internet companies.

In 2006, Mail.Ru opened its Voronezh office with five employees. Now it employs 200 people and almost entirely focuses on developing multiplayer online games. Some of the games developed by Mail.Ru in Voronezh, such as Allods Online, count tens of thousands of daily players globally and are one of the company's main sources of income.

"Thanks to the (cheap currency) we've significantly increased benefits for our employees," says Andrey Shinkarenko, head of the Voronezh office at Murano Software, a U.S.-Russian company whose business is entirely based on outsourcing. "We've expanded their medical insurance to the fullest, organized meals in the office, that kind of thing."

With the lower cost, Russian IT software developers are now competing more effectively against their counterparts in India and China. According to TAdviser, an analytics company, software and IT services exports from Russia have been steadily growing since 2010 and hit $7 billion in 2015.

That's still far from the $82 billion brought in by India's thriving tech sector, based largely on outsourcing, but Russia has only one-sixth of India's population. A key problem for startups in Voronezh is a lack of investment to grow. Many locals with promising ideas eventually up sticks for Moscow or foreign countries.

"The Russian regions are almost dead in this sense — everything revolves around Moscow at a great speed, so if you want to be noticed and newsworthy, you have to go to Moscow," said Vitaly Yagodkin, head of Perezoni.com, a Voronezh-based online service which provides widgets for websites. He now spends time between the capital, where he holds business meetings to attract new clients, and Voronezh, where his team is based.

Other startup founders head to countries like Germany or the U.S. due to worries that Russia's legal system doesn't offer enough protection from predatory officials and investors seeking to seize control of small firms.

Many software engineers in Voronezh are reluctant to leave, given the new tech hub's combination of low costs and big opportunities. "As soon as my family and I move (abroad), I will find myself with quite a small salary by European standards," said Grishaev, the independent outsourcing worker. "I would have to climb up the career ladder again, so I don't think I need to give it all up and go."

James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.

A look at Bill English, New Zealand's new prime minister

December 12, 2016

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Bill English was sworn in Monday as New Zealand's 39th prime minister after John Key resigned. Here's a glance at English's life:

Born Dec. 30, 1961 (aged 54). Simon William "Bill" English was raised on a farm near Dipton, which has population of about 150, on the South Island.


Head boy at St. Patrick's College, Silverstream, a Roman Catholic high school near Wellington.

Completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Otago, and a Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington.


Married to Dr. Mary English, a general practitioner. They have six adult children.

Says his Catholic faith is an influence but doesn't define him. Opposes abortion and euthanasia. Voted against same-sex marriage but says he now supports it.


First elected to the Parliament in 1990 as the member for the Wallace electorate, later renamed Clutha-Southland.

Leader of the National Party from October 2001 to October 2003. Led the party to its worst-ever defeat in the 2002 election.

Became finance minister and deputy prime minister in 2008, when Key became prime minister.


Has pledged to use budget surpluses to cut taxes, spend more on infrastructure and pay down government debt.

Says he's not bound by Key's pledge to keep the age at which people can receive a government pension at 65. Some people say the age should be raised to reflect an aging population which is working longer.

Says he supports the British monarchy and has no timetable for New Zealand to become a republic. Says any constitutional change would need to be driven by the people.

Iran's Cabinet votes to change national currency

Changiz M. Varzi
December 8, 2016

President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet voted on Dec. 7 to approve a bill that proposes to change Iran’s currency from the rial to the toman, and to remove one zero, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The measure was proposed by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and needs parliament and Guardian Council approval to take effect.

The move came less than a month after Abolfazl Akrami, the director general for economic affairs at the CBI, told the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency that the CBI had no plans to slash zeros from Iran’s national currency. On Nov. 14, he stressed, “If the inflation rate remains below 10%, if we manage to unify multi-tier exchange rate and if economic growth remains stable, then we can remove [a] zero from the national currency.” Iran currently has two exchange rates; the CBI fixes the official one, and the other is the informal open market rate.

Meanwhile, the deputy governor of the CBI, Akbar Komijani, on Dec. 8 told IRNA that the move should not be considered as the implementation of “monetary correction” in the country, but to “respect the public and accept the currency that they use on a daily basis.”

The rial has been Iran’s official currency since March 23, 1932. Nevertheless, apart from officials and due to the sharp fall of the rial’s value in recent years, Iranians in their daily lives use the toman, which is equal to 10 rial. Neither "rial" nor "toman" are Persian words, but have Turko-Mongol and Spanish-Portuguese origins, respectively, with "rial" deriving from "real" (royal).

It is not the first time Iranian authorities proposed a program to eliminate zeros from the national currency. In 1993, the CBI worked on a plan to remove three zeros from Iran’s currency, but officials never reached an agreement on the proposal. Then on Jan. 20, 2010, the proposal was in the spotlight again when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that his administration would remove three zeros from the national currency — that plan was never implemented either.

Analysts believe that the unknown outcomes of such plans are the main reasons administrations avoid removing several zeros from Iran’s currency. The Reformist Shahrvand newspaper in a Dec. 8 article published the viewpoints of various economists on the recent decision to change the official currency.

The daily quoted Hadi Hagh-Shenas, an economist and former member of parliament, as saying that “nothing will change” in Iran’s economy by slashing one zero from the national currency. “It has been a long time since the public used the toman to trade. The official market has also been working with the toman. Today, the rial has no meaning in our country.”

The daily Etemad also said that removing one zero from the currency will not resolve Iran’s economic issues. “Facilitating daily trade, simplifying accounting operations and reducing the expenses of issuing banknotes were the main reasons to remove zeros from the currencies in other countries,” wrote the daily. “If we remove only one zero from our currency, none of those goals can be met.”

Meanwhile, the government-run newspaper Iran warmly endorsed the move and led its coverage of the bill with “Toman: The New Currency of Iran.” The daily quoted Mohsen Bahrami Arze Aghdas, a member of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, as saying, “This will be a good move in favor of our national economy.”

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/12/iran-cabinet-vote-rial-toman-redenomination-name-change.html.

Scientists say reindeer may be shrinking due to warming

December 13, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Reindeer living on the Arctic island of Svalbard are getting smaller — and scientists say climate change may be the cause. Scientists from Britain and Norway have found that adult Svalbard reindeer born in 2010 weigh 12 percent less on average than those born in 1994.

Ecologist Steve Albon of Scotland's James Hutton Institute says rising temperatures in the Arctic mean Svalbard is getting more rain, creating a hard ice sheet the island's reindeer can't easily break through to reach food.

Reindeer populations are also increasing due to warmer summers, stoking competition. Albon says researchers think there is a correlation between rising temperatures and reindeer weight. He says more research is needed to confirm the link.

Their findings were presented Monday at a meeting of the British Ecological Society.