U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

U.S., EU agree to talks, truce in steel and aluminum dispute

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Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo participate in a roundtable with women-led small business owners Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 17, 2021

The U.S. and the European Union agreed Monday to begin talks on steel and aluminum supply in a bid to smooth over trade relations and lift tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on national security grounds.

The parties said they want to reach a solution by the end of the year that addresses World Trade Organization disputes over tit-for-tat levies and “global excess capacity” from China and elsewhere.

“The distortions that result from this excess capacity pose a serious threat to the market-oriented EU and U.S. steel and aluminum industries and the workers in those industries,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in a joint statement.

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The parties “agreed that, as the United States and E.U. Member States are allies and partners, sharing similar national security interests as democratic, market economies, they can partner to promote high standards, address shared concerns, and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account.”

Mr. Trump imposed a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum in 2018 as part of his penchant for using levies to gain an upper hand in trade relations and protect domestic workers.

The moves chagrined allies abroad and free-trade supporters at home and led to disputes before the WTO.

The EU imposed more than $7 billion in retaliatory tariffs in phases but delayed the second batch until June of this year.

Now, the EU says it will hold off completely as the talks unfold.

“In our effort to reboot transatlantic relations, EU will temporarily suspend the increase of its rebalancing measures on U.S. 232 steel & aluminum tariffs,” Mr. Dombrovkis tweeted. “This gives us space to find joint solutions to this dispute & tackle global excess capacity.”

U.K. set to rediscover freedom after vaccination success

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In this Monday, April 12, 2021, file photo, a woman takes a photo on her phone of her drink in Soho, London, as some of England’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased by the government. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File) more >

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By Sylvia Hui

Associated Press

Friday, May 14, 2021

LONDON (AP) — When London’s Science Museum reopens next week, it will have some new artifacts: empty vaccine vials, testing kits and other items collected during the pandemic, to be featured in a new COVID-19 exhibition.

Britain isn’t quite ready to consign the coronavirus to a museum — the outbreak is far from over here. But there is a definite feeling that the U.K. has turned a corner, and the mood in the country is jubilant. “The end is in sight,” one newspaper front page claimed recently. “Free at last!” read another.

Thanks to an efficient vaccine rollout program, Britain is finally saying goodbye to months of tough lockdown restrictions.

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Starting Monday, all restaurants and bars in England can fully reopen, as can hotels, theaters and museums. And Britons will be able to hug friends and family again in public, with the easing of social distancing rules that have been in place since the pandemic began.

It’s the biggest step yet to reopen the country following an easing of the crisis blamed for nearly 128,000 deaths, the highest reported COVID-19 toll in Europe.

Deaths in Britain have come down to single digits in recent days. It’s a far cry from January, when up to 1,477 deaths a day were recorded amid a brutal second wave driven by a more infectious variant first found in Kent, in southeastern England.

New cases have plummeted to an average of around 2,000 a day, compared with nearly 70,000 a day during the winter.

Since then, British health officials have raced to get ahead of the virus by vaccinating hundreds of thousands of people a day at hospitals, soccer pitches, churches and a racecourse. As of this week, about 35.7 million people – or approximately 68% of the adult population – have received their first dose. Over 18 million have had both doses.

It’s an impressive feat, and many credit Britain’s universal public health system for much of the success.

Experts say the National Health Service, one of the country’s most revered institutions, is able to target the whole population and easily identify those most at risk because almost everyone is registered with a local, state-employed general practitioner.

That infrastructure, combined with the government’s early start in securing vaccine doses, was key. British authorities began ordering millions of doses from multiple manufacturers late last spring, striking deals months ahead of the European Union and securing more than enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population.

“I don’t think it’s surprising that the two countries in the world with probably the strongest primary care systems, which are us and Israel, are doing the best with vaccine rollout,” said Beccy Baird, a policy researcher at the King’s Fund, a charity for improving health care.

“We have the medical records. We can understand where our patients are. We’re not trying to negotiate with loads of different insurance companies. … It’s the same standard right through the country,” she added. “Whereas in the States, it’s going to be harder to really think about how do you reach underserved communities, how do you get out there and provide the same access to everybody to this vaccine?”

David Salisbury, a former director of the government’s immunization program and a fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank, added that Britain also has the edge because of its track record in successfully rolling out other vaccines, such as the seasonal flu shot.

Many around the world were skeptical about Britain’s decision to delay the second dose by up to 12 weeks to free up vaccine for more people, but that strategy also paid huge dividends. The two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were intended to be given three and four weeks apart.

Anthony Harnden, an Oxford academic and a top government vaccination adviser, said “there were lots of questions asked” and “we were up against many countries” who disagreed with spacing out the two doses, but officials stuck to the plan.

“You have to remember, looking back at that time, there were a thousand or more people dying every day in the U.K. So there was a huge imperative to get our vulnerable people vaccinated,” he said. “It was an innovative strategy, a bold strategy, but it was based on our experience of previous vaccines.”

The vaccine program’s success has been a much-needed boost for Britain.

Many of those who accuse the government of poorly managing the outbreak last year say the U.K. is finally doing something right.

“We didn’t hand (the vaccine rollout) over to an outsourcing company. That would have been a major failure. And we also didn’t delay the way we did in the first wave. We moved quickly,” said Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “So it was almost like the mirror image of the mistakes we made in the first wave.”

Still, McKee said he is worried that too many people may throw caution to the wind too soon.

Young people, who run a much lower risk of serious illness but can still spread the virus, are not included in the vaccination program. Official figures also show significant gaps in vaccine uptake among minorities and poor people.

McKee and many others are also concerned about the variants of the virus that are turning up. That risk is especially worrying as the U.K. slowly reopens to foreign tourists this summer.

“We’ve seen very discouraging evidence from Chile and from the Seychelles, both of which have high proportions of people who have been vaccinated and where many restrictions were lifted, and they’ve had upsurges,” McKee said.

Harnden is more optimistic. If the U.K. can roll out a booster vaccine program later this year and if people remain cautious, he said, “we can get ourselves out of this” and get close to normal by the summer of 2022.

“We’re not completely out of this yet,” he said, “but we’re in a much, much better place than in the last few months.”

___

Associated Press producer Mike Fuller in London contributed.

EU calls on US to push exports to counter vaccine shortage

EU calls on US to push exports to counter vaccine shortage

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French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaks with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during the opening ceremony of an EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal, Friday, May 7, 2021. European Union leaders are meeting for … more >

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By RAF CASERT and BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – The European Union called on the United States Friday to start boosting its vaccine exports to contain the global COVID-19 crisis, and said that the U.S. backing of patent waivers would provide only a long-term solution at best.

“We invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for (Intellectual Property) rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

In the wake of the U.S. backing calls to waive patents on vaccine technology, French President Emmanuel Macron summarized the view from Europe when he said at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal: “You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They won’t produce it tomorrow.”

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave the idea endorsed by U.S. President Joe Biden this week a guarded welcome, but he immediately added, “We believe it is insufficient. It should be more ambitious.”

While the U.S. has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants. Many EU nations, however, have demanded a stop to vaccine nationalism and export bans.

Von der Leyen said that any patent waiver “will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short and medium term.”

Macron said it was more important for Biden to work on exports. “The Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients” needed to make vaccines, the French leader said, referring to Washington and London. “Today, 100% of vaccines produced in the United States of America are for the American market.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the EU had distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount had been exported abroad.

“Around 50% of what is being produced in Europe is exported to almost 90 countries,” von der Leyen said, and called on Biden and other vaccine producing regions or nations to step up their effort.

“We are the most generous in the world of developed nations. Europe should be proud of itself,” Macron said.

The EU is trying to regain the diplomatic initiative on vaccines after Biden put it on the back foot with his surprising endorsement of lifting patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, seeking to solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.

EU leaders said they were ready to discuss the U.S. backing for proposals first submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa, but they said many other initiatives would be more effective at this point, ranging from ramping up production capacity to distributing raw materials. So far, they insisted, the issue of waiving patents is not a big problem.

___

Casert reported from Brussels.

EU chided for not ensuring improved social rights at summit

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Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa gestures as he attends the opening ceremony of an EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal, Friday, May 7, 2021. European Union leaders are meeting for a summit in Portugal … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – Hardship felt during the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred European Union leaders to add muscle to the bloc’s safeguards for its 450 million citizens in welfare, jobs and gender equality.

But not everybody’s impressed by their good intentions, which are non-binding for the bloc’s 27 governments.

EU leaders held a summit in Porto, Portugal on Friday to discuss how they can ensure “equal opportunities for all and that no one is left behind.”

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The plans and promises contained in a summit draft declaration on social rights, obtained by The Associated Press, are ambitious.

“As Europe gradually recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the priority will be to move from protecting to creating jobs and to improve job quality,” the declaration states.

The leaders say they are “committed to reducing inequalities, defending fair wages, fighting social exclusion and tackling poverty.”

They also vow to “step up efforts to fight discrimination and work actively to close gender gaps in employment, pay and pensions.”

However, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, was critical of the plan, saying in a statement it is “insufficiently ambitious.”

That’s because countries which miss targets in the plan suffer no consequences. Also, there is no mechanism for Europeans to hold their governments accountable if they don’t abide by the program.

Already, 11 EU countries last week reminded European authorities that social policy is set by sovereign national governments, not Brussels – suggesting they don’t feel obliged to comply with the program.

The European Trade Union Confederation, which represents 45 million members in 38 European countries, rebuked the 27 EU leaders, too.

Its general secretary, Luca Visentini, said that “less talk and more action (is) needed” from governments.

“We have to be very clear that legislation and money are the only things that can really make a difference. All the rest is blah blah,” Visentini said in a statement.

International official: Bosnian Serbs seek to split country

International official: Bosnian Serbs seek to split country

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The top international official in Bosnia warned Tuesday that ethnic Serb leaders are making a concerted effort to split the country, or failing that to roll back many reforms achieved during the last 25 years, and he called for “a decisive stand” to stop any division.

Valentin Inzko told the U.N. Security Council the challenge to Bosnia’s once multiethnic society comprising Serbs, Muslims and Croats is being led by the Bosnian Serbs’ top politician, Milorad Dodik, who is the Serb member of the country’s three-member presidency.

He said the Serbs’ campaign “could have political and security implications not only for the country, but also the region, and the rest of Europe.”

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In what he said is likely his last briefing to the council after 12 years as the international community’s “high representative” in Bosnia, Inzko strongly criticized what he called “the destructive long-term policy” of authorities in the Serb region, known as Republika Srpska.

The region’s National Assembly adopted a measure in March that leaves open the option “for the so-called `peaceful dissolution’ of the country,” Inzko said. In April, leaders of Republika Srpska’s governing coalition parties met and Dodik announced the formation of negotiating teams, making clear the region “reserves the right to finally decide on its future status.”

The Bosnia war – the worst carnage in Europe since World War II – was fueled by the Bosnian Serbs’ 1992 declaration of their own state within Bosnia, and their separatist ambitions remain strong.

Bosnia remains torn by divisions stemming from the 1992-95 war among Serbs, Croats and Muslims during the breakup of Yugoslavia. A U.S.-brokered peace deal signed in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, divided Bosnia into a federation composed of two autonomous regions – Republika Srpska for Bosnian Serbs and one for Muslims and Croats.

The high representative oversees the civilian implementation of the Dayton agreement and is filled by the Peace Implementation Council, which consists of 55 nations.

Inzko stressed to the Security Council that “Dayton does not give the right to entities to secede.”

He said the Bosnian Serbs’ actions have “poisoned” the political atmosphere and sidelined reforms at a time when the country is “in the grip” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosnia should be firmly on the path to membership in the European Union, he said, “but here we are today and one of its political leaders is openly advocating dividing the country, disparaging and mocking the EU in the process.”

Inzko warned that even if a breakup is prevented, the Serbs’ aim is “a perpetually dysfunctional” country. That is already happening “in the near-paralysis of the highest institutions … including the presidency, the Council of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly,” he said.

He said Bosnia’s multiethnic and diverse society that existed before the war “has all but disappeared” and defending multiethnic spaces has become more difficult than creating single ethnicity ones.

“Hate speech, the glorification of war criminals, and revisionism or outright genocide denial, despite the verdicts of international judicial bodies, remain very common in political discourse,” he said.

“We must not allow this process to lead to further ethnic or territorial divisions,” Inzko said.

The divisions within Bosnia also reflect a mounting conflict between the West and Russia over the future of the Balkans. While the West wishes to see the still-volatile region reform and eventually join the EU and NATO, Russia has used its historic ties with Serbs to undermine this idea.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, accused Inzko of being “very misbalanced,” saying he blames Bosnian Serbs and Croats “for every difficulty in the way of national reconciliation” and engages in “scaremongering.”

She called the situation in Bosnia “rather stable,” saying “it poses no threat to the international peace and security.”

Evstigneeva said a resolution adopted by Republika Srpska’s parliament March 21 demanding that the Office of the High Representative close and hand its authorities to the national Bosnian government “cannot be ignored.” She reiterated Russia’s demand for the office’s “soonest closure.”

But several speakers said conditions adopted in 2008 for closure of the office have not been met, including constitutional reforms and other measures set by the EU.

The United States, EU member Ireland, the United Kingdom and other council members all strongly backed Bosnia remaining a single, united, multi-ethnic and democratic nation.

“There is no future for either of the entities outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, stressing that now is the time for the country to meet the criteria to graduate from international supervision by the high representative.

“That means first and foremost tackling the rampant corruption that threatens the rule of law,” she said. “Right now, corrupt politicians, a judiciary under political influence, public offices that promote personal or party interests, and state-owned enterprises that prioritize patronage, all enable corruption to thrive. The result: The country is losing its talented young people.”

Boris Johnson South China Sea carrier deployment to project Britain power

Britain strives to project power with carrier deployment to South China Sea

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The HMS Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth Naval Base on Saturday for exercises off Scotland before a 28-week trip through the Pacific that will take the Royal Navy to more than 40 countries. (Associated Press) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Post-Brexit Britain is thrusting itself into 21st-century great power competition with the deployment of a massive carrier strike group through Asia and the bitterly contested South China Sea this month, marking the Royal Navy’s most ambitious mission since the Falklands War of the early 1980s.

It’s the clearest example to date of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to reinvent and reenergize British foreign policy as the nation emerges from its divorce from the European Union with grand ambitions of once again becoming a major player on the world stage. Having largely played a supporting role to the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere during the post-9/11 counterterrorism era, regional analysts say, London is turning its attention to the east as China continues its rapid ascent as a global military and economic powerhouse.

Like the U.S., Australia and other allies around the world, the United Kingdom has a vested interest in ensuring that the critical waterway of East Asia does not fall under full Chinese control. The naval mission through the South China Sea, the same type of “freedom of navigation” expedition that the U.S. has become known for in the region, is a clear sign of Britain’s willingness to reassert itself.

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But the mission has even deeper significance. It’s Britain’s first major military excursion since formally exiting the EU. Although a deployment of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its accompanying flotilla had long been in the works, analysts say, the timing of the voyage is no accident.

“This all needs to be viewed in a post-Brexit lens,” said Leah Scheunemann, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative.

“They’re trying to re-find their footing vis-a-vis the United States, and vis-a-vis Europe,” said Ms. Scheunemann, who previously served as country director for the United Kingdom and Ireland at the Pentagon. “Because of historic ties to the Indo-Pacific and historically the strength of their naval assets, specifically, there definitely is the view that this is a little bit of going back to the past, regaining that glory” of the heyday of the British Empire.

The British Navy’s 28-week trip through the Pacific will cover 26,000 nautical miles with visits to more than 40 countries, officials said. Led by the Queen Elizabeth, a fleet of submarines, destroyers, anti-submarine frigates and other vessels also will set sail. A U.S. Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands will accompany the British strike group.

“When our carrier strike group sets sail … it will be flying the flag for ‘global Britain,’ projecting our influence, signaling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said last week. “The entire nation can be proud of the dedicated men and women who for more than six months will demonstrate to the world that the U.K. is not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st century.”

‘Renewed commitment’

Mr. Johnson, who owes his office and strong parliamentary majority largely to the politics of Brexit, in March laid out his “Global Britain” plan as the nation’s post-Brexit road map. Now disentangled from the EU and able to make foreign policy decisions entirely on its own, Britain will center its future on a “robust position on security and resilience” and a “renewed commitment to the U.K. as a force for good in the world,” the proposal reads in part.

Brexit skeptics argued that Britain’s clout going it alone will pale beside the combined heft of EU membership, but Mr. Johnson appears determined to prove them wrong.

As a key member of NATO, the U.K. will remain a major player in the U.S.-European effort to blunt Russian aggression on the continent. While all British forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan as part of the joint U.S.-NATO pullout, the U.K. still is expected to be involved in counterterrorism efforts, particularly if more hot spots emerge in Africa and the Middle East.

Britain, which this week is playing host to foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations and will welcome Mr. Biden and fellow G-7 leaders to Cornwall next month, also is deeply involved in the push to renegotiate an international deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

The most pressing challenges of the next several decades, however, all revolve around China.

The U.K. plan to push back militarily and economically on Chinese expansion has met with an especially chilly reaction in Beijing. Across the region, the effort also is likely to stir memories of Britain’s long, complex history in the theater, from its colonization of Hong Kong to the 19th-century opium wars with China.

Chinese officials have made no secret that they disapprove of the Royal Navy’s move through the Pacific.

China hopes that countries outside the region will respect the aspiration of countries in the region to maintain peace and stability and promote cooperation for development, and refrain from taking actions that could complicate the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters last week when asked about the mission.

As its military encroaches further into the South China Sea and invests heavily in new warships, fighter planes and cutting-edge weapons, Beijing also is using its vastly ambitious Belt and Road economic initiative to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure projects in developing economies around the world. That effort has helped China cultivate new alliances in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere while ensuring that dozens of countries are now in debt — financially and politically — to the Chinese Communist Party.

Nations such as Pakistan that were once under British control now have a burgeoning partnership with China.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies such as Huawei are playing a leading role in key 21st-century technological infrastructure such as 5G networks. The U.S. and U.K. have taken steps to ban Huawei products in their nations’ networks largely out of suspicion that Chinese equipment contains secret “back doors” that could be used to eavesdrop and gather intelligence.

In Washington, Britain’s involvement in Pacific freedom of navigation operations and a broader pushback against China is welcome news for the Biden administration, which is eager to enlist allies in the fight. In a speech to Congress last week, President Biden said he recently told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. and its allies will not cede the region to Beijing. He also said the U.S. and its partners oppose Chinese human rights abuses such as the treatment of minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

“I also told President Xi that we’ll maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific, just as we do with NATO in Europe: not to start a conflict, but to prevent one,” Mr. Biden said. “I told him what I’ve said to many world leaders: that America will not back away from our commitments — our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms and to our alliances.”

Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

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By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Lithuania‘s president said Monday that his country will never accept Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow’s military pressure on eastern Ukraine, or the Kremlin’s attempts to influence Belarus.

President Gitanas Nauseda was in Warsaw addressing a remote session of Poland‘s and Lithuania‘s parliaments marking the 230th anniversary of their joint constitution, Europe’s first such written democratic document.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the presidents of Latvia and Estonia – countries on the European Union’s border with Russia and Belarus – were also among the guests at the ceremonies in Warsaw.

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Lithuania will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and will be taking steps toward ending the actual occupation of part of eastern Ukraine,” Nauseda said. “Whatever happens, we cannot allow Ukraine to slide back into the past.”

He also said Lithuania backs the freedom drive in neighboring Belarus and will never allow it to be influenced by Moscow.

“There is no room in the Europe of the 21st century for new areas of influence that negate the sovereignty of independent countries,” Nauseda said.

During a later televised debate among the presidents, Poland‘s Andrzej Duda assured Zelenskyy it was also Warsaw’s view that Russia‘s actions in Ukraine “must not be accepted.”

Zelenskyy, who is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week in Kyiv, said that the war against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine means that “there is war in Europe.”

“No one today will give up our sovereignty. We are fighting … because we want to be free,” Zelenskyy said.

Following one-on-one talks with Duda, Zelenskyy thanked Poland for its strong support for Ukraine‘s territorial integrity and condemnation of Crimea’s annexation.

Zelenskyy said he invited Duda to ceremonies in August marking 30 years of Ukraine‘s independence and to the accompanying meeting of state leaders that is to discuss the “de-occupation of Crimea.”

During the presidents’ debate Monday on the European Union and the pandemic, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine, which is aspiring to one day join the club, said it has not yet received any of the promised COVID-19 vaccines from the EU.

He said only 1 million people in his nation of more than 44 million have been immunized.

The five presidents signed a declaration stressing that solidarity among nations is the basis for peace, stability and development in today’s world.

Poland’s 1791 Constitution was intended to strengthen its political system and rule of law and protect it against aggression from neighboring powers, including Russia. Historians say the effort came too late, and failed to avert annexations by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires that in 1795 wiped Poland from maps for more than a century.

Poland and neighboring Lithuania were one state at the time of the 18th-century constitution.

Russia blacklists 8 EU officials in retaliatory action

Russia blacklists 8 EU officials in retaliatory action

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In this photo takes from a video provided by the Babuskinsky District Court on Thursday, April 29, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on TV screens during a hearing on charges of defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court … more >

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Friday, April 30, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia on Friday blacklisted eight officials from the European Union in retaliation for EU sanctions over the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Russian list includes European Parliament President David Sassoli and Vera Jourova, the vice president of the European Commission for values and transparency.

European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Sassoli condemned the Russian move, saying it’s “unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless.”

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They said in a statement that Moscow’s action is “the latest, striking demonstration of how the Russian Federation has chosen confrontation with the EU instead of agreeing to redress the negative trajectory of our bilateral relations.”

“The EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response to the Russian authorities’ decision,” the statement said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the EU of trying to punish Moscow for its “independent foreign and domestic policies” and of trying contain its development with “unlawful restrictions.” It particularly referred to the EU sanctions slapped on six Russian officials in March.

“All our proposals for settling problems between Russia and the EU through a direct professional dialogue have been consistently ignored or rejected,” the ministry said.

The EU sanctions targeted the Russian officials involved in the imprisonment of Navalny, the most adamant opponent and critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin – accusations that Russian officials reject. European labs have confirmed that Navalny was poisoned.

In February, Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of violating the terms of a suspended sentence while he was in Germany. The sentence stemmed from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as politically driven.

Russia has rejected the U.S. and the EU criticism of Navalny‘s imprisonment and of Russia‘s crackdown on protests demanding his release as meddling in its internal affairs.

The tensions over Navalny have further exacerbated Russia‘s relations with the West, which plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Those ties have become further strained over U.S. and the EU accusations of Moscow’s interference in elections and hacking attacks.

The Russian sanctions list also includes Ilmar Tomusk, the head of Estonia’s Language Inspectorate; Ivars Abolins, chairman of Latvia’s National Electronic Media Council; Maris Baltins, director of the Latvian State Language Center; Jacques Maire, a French lawmaker who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Berlin chief state prosecutor Jorg Raupach; and Asa Scott, head of chemical and biological defense and security division at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

___ Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

EU says Apple is violating competition rules in music-streaming market via the App Store

EU says Apple is violating competition rules in music-streaming market via the App Store

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European Commissioner for Europe fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager speaks during an online news conference on Apple anti trust case at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, April 30, 2021. European Union regulators are accusing Apple of violating … more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

The European Commission said Friday that Apple had “abused its dominant position” for the distribution of music-streaming apps via the company’s App Store.

The new antitrust action from the European Union signals that new regulatory action will likely hit Apple regardless of how the U.S. federal government decides to act.

“Our preliminary conclusion: @Apple is in breach of EU competition law,” said Margrethe Vestager, head of competition policy at the European Commission, on Twitter. “@AppleMusic compete with other music streaming services. But @Apple charges high commission fees on rivals in the App [S]tore & forbids them to inform of alternative subscription options. Consumers losing out.”

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The European Commission sent its statement of objections to Apple, which is part of Europe’s investigatory process but does not mean the regulators have reached a conclusion. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the EU’s action.

The EU’s new antitrust action is the latest bit of mounting antitrust scrutiny facing the company from regulators across the western world. In March, the United Kingdom’s government said it launched an investigation into suspected anti-competitive behavior involving Apple’s App Store.

Last week, the U.S. Senate held a hearing focused squarely on Apple‘s and Google’s app stores. The Senate’s top antitrust panels probed Apple over potential anti-competitive concerns at the hearing, which Apple first declined to participate in before reversing its decision at the request of Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, and Mike Lee, Utah Republican.

Court: Germany must share climate burden between young, old

Court: Germany must share climate burden between young, old

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FILE-In this Oct. 4, 2016 taken photo wind turbines spin near Halle, central Germany. Germany’s top court has ruled that the government has to set clear goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2030, arguing that current legislation doesn’t go … more >

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By FRANK JORDANS

Associated Press

Thursday, April 29, 2021

BERLIN (AP) – In a ruling hailed as groundbreaking, Germany‘s top court said Thursday the government must set clear goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2030, arguing that existing legislation risks placing too much of a burden for curbing climate change on younger generations.

The verdict was a victory for climate activists from Germany and elsewhere who – with the support of environmental groups – had filed four complaints to the Constitutional Court arguing that their rights were at risk by the lack of sufficient targets beyond the next decade.

Like other European Union countries, Germany aims to cut emissions 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Legislation passed two years ago set specific targets for sectors such as heating and transport over that period, but not for the long-term goal of cutting emissions to “net zero” by 2050.

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The 2019 regulations “irreversibly pushed a very high burden of emissions reduction into the period after 2030,” judges said in their ruling.

The court backed the argument that the 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times should be a benchmark for policymakers. It ordered the German government to come up with new targets from 2030 onward by the end of next year.

In a striking precedent, the court also acknowledged the idea that Germany has a finite emissions “budget” before the Paris goal becomes impossible. While it didn’t specify what Germany‘s share of the global carbon budget is, scientists have said at current rates of emission it could be used up in less than a decade.

Lawyer Felix Ekardt, who brought one of the cases, called the verdict “groundbreaking” for Germany.

Germany’s climate policy will need to be massively adjusted,” he told reporters.

Fellow lawyer Roda Verheyen said the decision would likely mean Germany‘s plans to phase out coal use by 2038 would need to be brought forward, in order to realistically achieve the country’s long-term emissions target.

“A simple calculator shows that this will be necessary,” she said.

Germany has managed to cut its annual emissions from the equivalent of 1.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 740 million tons last year – a reduction of more than 40%.

The current target would require cuts of 178 million tons by 2030, but a reduction of 281 million tons in each of the following decades.

Judges said it would be wrong to allow one generation “to use up large parts of the CO2 budget with a comparatively mild reduction burden, if that simultaneously means following generations are left with a radical reduction burden and their lives are exposed to comprehensive limits to freedom.”

Climate activists expressed delight at the verdict.

“With today’s decision, generational justice has been achieved,” said plaintiff Luisa Neubauer, a member of the Fridays for Future group. “Because our future freedoms and rights aren’t less important than the rights and freedoms of today’s generation.”

Germany’s main industry lobby group, BDI, called for transparent and feasible targets to give companies the certainty needed to plan and develop new technologies and make the necessary investments required to shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free alternatives.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said after the verdict that she would propose new measures for Europe’s biggest economy in the coming months.

The court’s unanimous ruling plays into the hands of the environmentalist Greens party, which is leading in several polls ahead of Germany‘s national election on Sept. 26.

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, called for “concrete action, here and now.”

She said the Greens want to double the rate by which wind parks, solar farms and other sources of renewable energy sources are expanded over the next five years, ban the sale of new combustion engine vehicles starting in 2030, bring forward the deadline to end coal use and set additional emissions targets after 2030.

Britain earlier this month announced it will aim to cut its emissions 78% from 1990 levels by 2035, the most ambitious target of any industrialized nation. The U.K. hosts this year’s international climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Christiana Figueres, who as U.N. climate chief was instrumental in negotiating the Paris accord, said the German court’s unanimous verdict made clear the need to speed up efforts to reduce emissions.

“We need to focus on shorter-term mitigation and emission reductions,” she said, adding that this urgency was reflected in last week’s climate summit organized by President Joe Biden, who announced a doubling of the U.S. target for 2030, now aiming to cut emissions 52% from 2005 levels.

The legal cases in Germany are part of a global effort by climate activists to force governments to take urgent action to tackle climate change.

One of the first successful cases was brought in the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court two years ago confirmed a ruling requiring the government to cut emissions at least 25% by the end of 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.

In February, a Paris court ruled that the French government had failed to take sufficient action to fight climate change in a case brought by four nongovernmental organizations.

___

Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/Climate

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

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FILE – In this March 21, 2019 file photo, United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, speaks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at the Lebanese foreign ministry, in Beirut, Lebanon. Pederson says key global players are interested in … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Wednesday that key global players are interested in stepped-up international diplomacy to “unlock progress” toward ending the country’s 10-year war.

Geir Pederson called for exploratory discussions to “help test possibilities and bridge the gaps of mistrust.”

Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council he spoke about the need for more constructive and comprehensive diplomacy to make progress toward resolving “this highly internationalized conflict” with senior officials from a number of countries. They include Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, the Arab world, Europe and other council members. He said he also spoke to the Syrian government and opposition.

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“I appreciate that key international interlocutors are expressing interest in this idea,” Pedersen said. “At the same time, it is clear that mistrust and a desire for others to move first are prominent elements in the minds of many.”

Syrians in March marked a decade since peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s government erupted in March 2011, touching off a popular uprising that quickly turned into a full-blown civil war. Despite a decade of fighting and a broken country, Assad remains firmly in power and the country is economically devastated.

Pedersen said a “new international format” could bring stakeholders to the table. “With a relative, albeit fragile, calm on the ground, and many capitals understanding the need for a way forward, we need to explore what is possible” and “we should not lose further time,” he said.

Since the war erupted, there have been many high-level gatherings designed to stop the fighting and guide Syria to a political transition. Locations included Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Geneva and included assemblies with names such as “Friends of Syria” and the “London 11.” In 2016 it was the “International Syria Support Group.” None has made a lasting impact.

Pedersen’s contention that international diplomacy is essential for peace in Syria came with “a warning to prioritize the proactive search for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.” He said that’s especially the case in light of the potential for the last year of relative calm to deteriorate.

Pedersen pointed to “a significant escalation” in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria, including airstrikes on a U.N.-supported hospital, the shelling of residential areas in western Aleppo, and strikes on the Syrian-Turkish border among several other trouble spots.

The worsening violence comes ahead of a government-scheduled presidential election May 26, which Pedersen stressed is being held under Syria’s current constitution without any U.N. involvement.

The United Nations continues to emphasize the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict as called for in a Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015, Pedersen said. It unanimously endorses a road map to peace in Syria approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the U.N., Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members.

It calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with U.N.-supervised elections under that document with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

Pedersen has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the Syrian government and the opposition to start negotiating a new constitution.

He told the council that after the co-chairs from both sides couldn’t agree on terms and methodology for a sixth session of the constitutional committee he proposed a compromise on April 15, which the government said it will respond to next week.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council “the failure to enact a new constitution is proof positive that the so-called election on May 26 will be a sham.” Until U.N.-supervised elections occur under a new constitution, she said, “we will not be fooled.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is Syria’s closest ally, said Moscow continues efforts “to make sure the intra-Syria dialogue is successful” and hopes Pedersen can bring the government and opposition together for a new session of the constitutional committee.

As for the upcoming presidential vote, he said: “We lament the fact that some countries are up in arms against the very idea of the upcoming elections and have already declared them illegitimate.”

On the economic front, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that Syria‘s economic crisis is worsening, with more than half the households reporting “not having sufficient, or sufficiently nutritious food.”

Turkey says it’s glad a woman leads EU’s executive branch

Turkey says it’s glad a woman leads EU’s executive branch

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Brussels, Monday, April 26, 2021. European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were reporting back … more >

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By SUZAN FRASER

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – The Turkish government again rejected the accusation that it snubbed the head of the European Union‘s executive arm because she is a woman, insisting Wednesday that internal EU squabbling was to blame for a protocol gaffe during a meeting with Turkey‘s president.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said Ankara was pleased the European Commission had a woman at the helm and called on EU institutions to reach a “consensus” among themselves to avoid similar lapses in protocol in the future.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EU commission’s president, and European Council President Charles Michel traveled to Turkey this month to discuss the troubled relationship between the 27-nation bloc and Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Michel and Erdogan took the only two chairs placed in front of the EU and Turkish flags, leaving von der Leyen to sit on a large sofa away from the men.

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In an address to the European Parliament on Monday, von der Leyen said she believes she was treated disrespectfully simply because of her gender.

“I felt hurt, and I felt alone, as a woman, and as a European. Because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are,” von der Leyen said in the speech. “This goes to the values our union stands for, and this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals, always and everywhere.”

Turkey has insisted the EU’s own protocol requests were applied. The European Council’s head of protocol said his team did not have access during a preparatory inspection to the room where the seating incident happened.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic denied in an emailed statement Wednesday that von der Leyen was slighted because of her gender, stating that “Turkey does not apply separate protocol arrangements according to the gender of the person holding office.”

Turkey is pleased that for the first time ever, the presidency of the EU Commission was taken over by a woman and believes that this constitutes an important step toward women’s empowerment and equal rights,” Bilgic said.

He added: “It is regrettable that this event, which originates from internal EU political fights,…is still being used as material for political debates and is being associated with gender discrimination.”

EU lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade treaty

EU lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade treaty

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Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier, center, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, attend a debate on the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders, their British counterparts and European businesses expressed hope Wednesday that the final ratification of the post-Brexit trade deal will open a new, positive era of cooperation despite the many divisive topics remaining between the former partners.

After European lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement ensuring that free trade continues between the two sides without tariffs and quotas, U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson said the vote marked the “final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the accord’s “faithful implementation is essential” while EU Council chief Charles Michel welcomed the beginning of a “new era.”

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Relations between the EU and the U.K. have been strained since a Brexit transition period ended on Jan. 1. The two sides have argued so far this year over issues ranging from violations of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the full diplomatic recognition of the EU in Britain.

EU lawmakers approved the final ratification of the deal nearly five years after Britain decided to leave the bloc. The deal, which was finalized on Christmas Eve, had already been ratified by the U.K. Parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval, which marks the final legal hurdle.

Lawmakers at the European Parliament voted 660-5 with 32 abstentions to endorse the free trade agreement. Voting took place Tuesday but results were not announced until Wednesday morning.

EU legislators said in a resolution accompanying their consent that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was a “historic mistake, as no third country can enjoy the same benefits as an EU member.”

The United Kingdom joined the bloc in 1973, and its citizens decided in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the bloc. In a debate ahead of Tuesday’s ratification vote, many EU lawmakers rued Britain’s departure but insisted that approving the text was the best option to avoid economic disruptions and ensure the integrity of the EU’s single market.

While the long-term effects of Brexit on trade remain to be seen, BusinessEurope, a lobby group representing enterprises in the EU said the ratification brings “clarity and legal certainty.”

“The U.K. is the third biggest trading partner of the EU, which makes this deal one of the most important trade agreements the EU has ever finalized,” said BusinessEurope president Pierre Gattaz. “The positive vote of the European Parliament removes a major element of uncertainty, while companies on both sides are still adjusting to the new reality of trading while struggling with COVID-19 challenges.”

British exports to the EU plummeted by 5.7 billion pounds ($8 billion) in January compared to the previous month and recovered by 3.7 billion pounds ($5.2billion) in February. Imports also saw a sharp decline in January and a weaker rebound in February. The British government has downplayed the impact of Brexit, saying coronavirus restrictions played a role in the economic slump.

Amid ongoing tensions between London and Brussels over Northern Ireland trade rules, the EU Parliament also said that the agreement will provide extra legal tools to “prevent and protect against unilateral divergence from the obligations to which both parties signed up.”

Earlier this year, the European Union accused Britain of breaching international law after the U.K. government unilaterally extended until October a grace period for not conducting checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The move led the EU to start legal action against its former member nation.

Those checks were agreed to as part of the EU-U.K. divorce deal in order to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland because an open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

But tensions and violence have escalated in recent weeks in the territory, with British unionists saying the arrangement the British government and the EU worked out has amounted to the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Unionist politicians are demanding the government rip up the Northern Ireland arrangements in the Brexit agreement,

The sensitivity of Northern Ireland’s status also was seen in September when the U.K. Parliament considered legislation that would have given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government the power to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

The tension increased in January when the EU threatened to ban shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland as part of moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. That would have drawn a hard border on the island of Ireland – exactly the scenario the Brexit deal was crafted to avoid.

EU finalizing plans to allow U.S. tourists back this summer

EU finalizing plans to allow U.S. tourists back this summer

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In this Wednesday, July 1, 2020, file photo, Marcel Schmetz raises the U.S. flag next to a WWII American Sherman tank at his Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. Tourists from the United States who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 … more >

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By Samuel Petrequin

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is finalizing plans to allow tourists from the United States to travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, officials said Monday.

More than a year after the EU restricted travel to the region to a bare minimum in a bid to contain the pandemic, the European Commission said it would make a recommendation to member states to allow American travelers back.

The commission didn’t say when exactly tourists will be allowed back inside the bloc, and if a reciprocal approach will apply to European tourists willing to travel to the U.S.

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European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters that the EU’s executive body is hoping to restore nonessential “trans-Atlantic travel as soon as it is safe to do so.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if only full vaccination would be accepted for entry, or whether a negative PCR test or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19 could be presented as well.

“These are among the questions we’ll still need to figure out,” Jahnz said. “The proposal is not yet made. For now, we have nothing more to go by than what the (European Commission) president said.”

On Sunday, The New York Times published an interview with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, reporting that fully vaccinated Americans would be able to visit EU countries this summer since all coronavirus vaccines currently used in the U.S. have also been approved by the EU’s drug regulator. But the report didn’t mention whether she was asked about whether Americans could also provide a negative PCR test or evidence of recovering from COVID-19.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said in the interview. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union. Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by EMA.”

Jahnz insisted that the return of American tourists to EU nations will be conditioned on the epidemiological situation in both the U.S. and within the bloc.

The European Union is putting the finishing touches to a system of certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the region by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease. Under the plan discussed with their U.S. counterparts, American tourists could be included in the program.

With more than 15 million Americans estimated to travel to Europe annually before the crisis, the recommendation from the commission is manna from heaven for the heavily hit European tourism sector. But EU member states will have the final say on whether to implement the guidelines.

The commission said other third countries have made similar requests, but didn’t name them. Asked whether negotiations with the United Kingdom were ongoing, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said “no contact to this end” has been made.

Travel to the EU is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low infection rates including Australia and New Zealand. But Greece, which is heavily reliant on tourism, has already lifted quarantine restrictions for the U.S., Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, Israel, and non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that are part of a European travel pact. Travelers from those countries will no longer be subject to a seven-day quarantine requirement if they hold a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test.

“Uniliteral approaches, from our perspective should be avoided,” Jahnz said. “The objective is to continue to have a coordinated approach on the European level.”

UN faces tough task to get Cyprus peace talks restarted

UN faces tough task to get Cyprus peace talks restarted

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A Greek Cypriot protestor waves a banner, during a peace protest in divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Saturday, April 24, 2021. Guterres will host an informal gathering of the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva, as well as … more >

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By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Normally, trying to get the two sides on ethnically divided Cyprus to sit down for yet another round of talks is preceded by plenty of well-wishing and messages of hope that perhaps this time a peace deal will be worked out.

This week it’s different – quite different. The mood is dour even before the two sides agree to sit down for real talks because they no longer seem to share the same vision of how a final peace deal should take shape.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres will host an informal gathering of the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva as well as the foreign ministers of Cyprus ‘guarantors’ – Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain. The goal is to get the two sides back on the same page and embarking on a fresh round of formal talks.

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Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, has urged the sides to “come with creativity” to the informal meeting. Here’s a brief explainer of where things stand:

WHY THE CHANGE?

Over 47 years of talks, the ultimate goal endorsed by the U.N. Security Council had been to reunify a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south as a federation – two zones running their own affairs with a federal government overseeing the core elements of national governance like foreign policy and defense.

But now Turkey and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara have changed the rules, dismissing further talks about a federation-based accord as a “waste of time” because nearly five decades of talks on that model have gone nowhere. They’re proposing instead essentially a two-state model that Greek Cypriots say they’d never accept because it would legitimize the country’s partition forever.

WHY NO DEAL FOR SO LONG?

Much of how a federation would work has already been agreed upon, but the nitty-gritty details sank the previous round of talks in 2017.

The minority Turkish Cypriots are upset because they say Greek Cypriots refuse to accept them as 50-50 partners in a federal partnership – what they term “political equality” or equal decision-making powers on all levels of government. Greek Cypriots argue that granting veto powers to a minority defies democratic principles and is without international precedent, could logjam the running of government and potentially allow Turkey to meddle in the island’s internal affairs.

Instead, they propose a formula in which Turkish Cypriots would have a say if any law or government decision infringes on their interests. Despite Turkish and Turkish Cypriot resistance, the Greek Cypriots also want the European Union to take part in formal talks in order to assure any peace deal conforms with EU laws and norms.

SOLDIERS OR NOT?

Turkey insists on keeping a military presence on the island for an indeterminate amount of time as part of a peace accord to ensure that Turkish Cypriots are protected. More than 35,000 Turkish troops have been stationed in the north of Cyprus since 1974 when a Turkish invasion split the country following an Athens junta-backed coup aimed at union with Greece. But Greek Cypriots reject such a military presence because they see it as an existential threat and a serious breach of any country’s sovereignty. Greek Cypriots also say any unilateral military intervention rights in the country’s 1960 constitution must be expunged.

WHY A PEACE DEAL MATTERS BEYOND CYPRUS

A Cyprus accord would go a long way in helping to ease tensions between Turkey and NATO ally Greece, as well as helping to get Ankara’s troubled bid to join the EU back on track. It could also unlock a wave of new cooperation between regional neighbors to harness the significant gas deposits believed to lie beneath the east Mediterranean seabed.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, disputes its rights to already-discovered offshore deposits and is prospecting for hydrocarbons off the island. But Turkey has so far remained the outsider in new, energy-based cooperation pacts that Israel, Egypt, Greece and Jordan have forged with Cyprus.

A peace deal would also ease progress on potential projects such as pumping east Mediterranean gas to Europe through a pipeline that would run through both Cyprus and Turkey.

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will embark on his first overseas trip in office in June, the White House announced Friday, with the aim of demonstrating his administration’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and reengagement with key allies.

Biden will attend the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, set for June 11-13, followed by a visit to Brussels, where he will hold meetings with European Union leadership and attend the June 14 summit of leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The meetings with the United States’ closest allies come as Biden has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit in the coming months in a third country, though no date has yet been set.

Most recent American presidents have selected North American neighbors for their first cross-border trips, though former President Donald Trump, whose penchant for unilateral action and open skepticism of the NATO alliance unsettled American allies, made his first overseas stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For Biden, the first trip is meant to turn the page from Trump’s approach to alliances.

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“It’s both a practical chance to connect with key allies and partners on shared opportunities and challenges,” said Yohannes Abraham, the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council, in an interview with the AP. “But also it’s an illustration of something that the president has been clear about that the transatlantic alliance is back, that revitalizing it is a key priority of his, and that the transatlantic relationship is a strong foundation on which our collective security and shared prosperity are built.”

Biden, for his part, held “virtual bilateral” meetings with the leaders of Canada and Mexico in February and March, respectively. The June trip will follow after Biden‘s first in-person bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House last week and next month’s planned visit by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

In Cornwall, Biden will hold bilateral meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders. He will hold additional one-on-one meetings in Brussels with NATO allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests,” she said in a statement.

The announcement comes shortly after the conclusion of Biden’s two-day virtual climate summit, in which he received praise from leaders, particularly those in Europe, for returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and reengaging on a host of other issues of shared concern.

The trip will mark the most ambitious travel schedule yet for Biden since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as the president has sought to model safe behavior for the nation.

It comes as the U.S. has stepped up its travel warnings for much of the world due to the virus. Both the U.K. and Belgium are listed by the State Department under level four, the highest, “do not travel” advisory, and are the subject of specific prohibitions preventing most travel to the U.S. by noncitizens.

The White House said it is working closely with host countries to ensure the safety of all attendees at the summits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month lifted quarantine guidance for international travel for those fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but still recommends that vaccinated individuals returning from overseas monitor their symptoms and take a test 3-5 days after returning to the U.S.

The Latest: World leaders pledge climate action at summit

The Latest: World leaders pledge climate action at summit

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U.S. President Joe Biden is seen on a screen as European Council President Charles Michel attends a virtual Global Climate Summit via video link from the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP) more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on President Joe Biden‘s global climate summit (all times local):

10:40 a.m.

World leaders are pledging action on climate change on the virtual climate summit’s second day.

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Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Friday renewed her country’s pledge to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, switching to massive wind farms. Danish companies are planning several wind farms off the U.S. East Coast as part of the Biden administration’s plan to boost offshore wind.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country is a global leader in cutting coal use and says renewable energy will be producing a third of Israel’s energy by the end of the decade. Netanyahu also pledges improvements on battery storage, saying hundreds Israeli start-ups are working on the issue.

Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc says climate disasters have taken hundreds of lives in his country, which he says is “suffering immensely from rising sea levels.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says his government has implemented programs to transition from use of wood stoves to kerosene and other energy sources.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta calls on wealthy nations to contribute at least $100 billion to address climate change.

___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GLOBAL CLIMATE SUMMIT:

The White House brings out the billionaires, the CEOs and the union executives to help sell President Joe Biden’s climate-friendly transformation of the U.S. economy at his virtual summit of world leaders.

Read more:

– EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

10:10 a.m.

Opening the final session of the two-day virtual global climate summit, President Joe Biden says he wants to shift the conversation from climate threat to economic opportunities.

Biden said Friday, “This is a moment for all of us to build better economies for our children, our grandchildren.”

Biden says America “is once again stepping into a leadership role” and pledges to cooperate with other nations in researching and deploying new strategies to decarbonize key industries.

Biden says future jobs will involve installing electric-vehicle charging stations, manufacturing solar panels, researching sustainable farming practices and working in other new industries. But he says economic transitions shouldn’t leave other workers behind. He says, “We must ensure that workers who thrived in yesterday’s and today’s industries” also have a bright future.

Biden says the hard work of implementing the ambitious climate change targets lies ahead and the two-day summit “is a start.”

___

9:20 a.m.

An independent research organization says the American goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels puts the United States among the four most ambitious nations in curbing climate change.

The Rhodium Group said early Friday that using the U.S.-preferred 2005 baseline, America is behind the United Kingdom but right with the European Union. It’s ahead of countries that include Canada, Japan, Iceland and Norway.

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. goal at the virtual climate summit on Thursday.

Different nations use different base years for their emission cuts so comparisons are difficult and can look different based on baseline years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 2010 levels to limit warming to the strictest of the Paris agreement goals. Rhodium calculates the U.S. target translates to 49% below 2010 levels.

___

9:10 a.m.

An analysis shows President Joe Biden’s climate summit and the run-up to it cut the so-called emissions gap, a crucial measurement used to see if the world can limit global warming, by about one-eighth.

Climate Action Tracker is a group of scientists who monitor nations’ pledges of carbon pollution cuts. It calculated that targets announced since last September cut about 12% to 14% from the emissions gap.

That emissions gap is that big area between what nations promise to do and the pollution reductions needed by 2030 to limit future warming to another half a degree, which is the stricter of two goals adopted by the 2015 Paris climate deal.

The tracker calculated the announcements cut between 2.9 and 4.1 billion tons of carbon from the gap.

With the new targets from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and Canada, the new emissions gap is 22 to 26 billion tons of carbon pollution. The tracker says before those pledges it was 25 to 30 billion tons.

Climate scientist Niklas Hohne says “we are now starting to see the kind of near-term climate action the world needs to win the race to zero by 2050.” Hohne says, “While the gap is still huge, the summit created new momentum.”

___

8:55 a.m.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates have helped pitch President Joe Biden’s climate-friendly transformation of the U.S. economy on Day 2 of the world leaders’ virtual summit.

Bloomberg says combatting climate change will depend on improving financial transparency about the risks of global warming.

Bloomberg said Friday that companies need to provide financial disclosures on climate risks, so that investors can direct funding to businesses that are mitigating the threats of climate change. He says it will take historic investments to beat the challenge of global warning.

Bloomberg says mayors and CEOs tell him they want to do more to tackle climate change but need more help. The multibillionaire founder of a financial data and news company is a special U.N. envoy on climate change issues.

Gates thanked Biden and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry for reestablishing the U.S. leading role on tackling climate change. Gates says, “This is a promising moment.”

Gates says activists and young people are rightly demanding action. He says, “Governments around the globe are meeting those demands with ambitious commitments.”

Gates says climate change is “an incredibly complex issue and using just today’s technologies won’t allow us to meet out ambitious goals.”

___

8:45 a.m.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has kicked off the second day of the global climate summit with a commitment to meet the challenge with historic amount of new investment.

The former secretary of state said Friday he heard from representatives of 63 countries on the first day of the summit, from all regions of the world. Many nations have bold plans but lack the resources to implement those plans.

Kerry says, “There is polite but obvious frustration that was manifested by many who have contributed so little to the crisis but who have to deal with so much of the consequences.″

At the same time, Kerry said participants enthusiastically reported one after the other about “significant and exciting measures that they’re taking.″

The agenda for the second day will focus on the economic opportunities of combating climate change and the need for technological innovations.

Albania heads to polls after a bitter political fight

Albania heads to polls after a bitter political fight

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Albania’s Socialist Party Leader Edi Rama reacts as he delivers his speech during a political rally in Albania’s capital Tirana on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Albania holds parliamentary elections on upcoming Sunday amid the virus pandemic and a bitter political … more >

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By LLAZAR SEMINI

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Albania holds parliamentary elections on Sunday amid the virus pandemic and a bitter political rivalry between the country’s two largest political parties.

Albania, with its population of 2.8 million, has been a NATO member since 2009 and is looking forward to launching full membership negotiations with the European Union later this year. The voting is considered as a key milestone in that path.

But the political confrontation is severe.

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___

A REFORMED ELECTORAL LAW

Last year, Albania’s main political parties approved electoral reforms following two days of meetings at the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Tirana.

The new laws follow recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has monitored the country’s post-communist elections – always marred by irregularities.

It guarantees free and fair elections, focusing on voters’ electronic identification, partly depoliticizing the electoral commission and a pilot project on full digitalization of the voting and counting process.

Some 3.6 million eligible voters, who include many Albanian residents in other countries, will elect 140 lawmakers among some 1,800 candidates from 12 political parties or coalitions and independent candidates.

No early or postal voting is allowed in Albania.

It’s unclear whether voters with COVID-19 will venture out to cast their ballot. By law they are obliged to stay isolated at home, but election commissioners won’t test voters before they enter the polling station.

The opposition has complained, too, because Albanians living in neighboring Greece and North Macedonia are practically excluded from voting as they would need to be quarantined for two weeks upon entering the country.

___

CAMPAIGNING AMID A PANDEMIC

Albania has seen a significant fall in new daily virus cases in the past week, despite political rallies around the country.

Also more than 380,000 people have been vaccinated and the government is hoping to reach half a million during May, creating better conditions ahead of the summer tourist season.

The governing left-wing Socialist Party is stressing its work to improve health care, making political capital from ceremonies to mark the opening of a new hospital or the renovation of others.

Rallies of the main opposition center-right Democratic Party have openly defied rules on gatherings. The Socialists have tried to respect them better, gathering supporters sitting apart in soccer stadiums, but nevertheless has not been able to keep them apart all the time.

Albania has enforced an overnight curfew, no group gatherings and mandatory mask wearing.

___

POLITICAL PLEDGES

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the governing Socialists, who are seeking their third consecutive mandate, aims to turn Albania into a “champion” in various sectors.

“We want to be the champions in tourism. We want to be the champions in energy and we can, in agribusiness for sure,” Rama said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”We need to go further. And these are the goals.”

“Leaving behind the pandemic and the consequences of the earthquake and bringing Albania up” will be his main issues of the post-election efforts. Albania saw a 3.31% drop in GDP in 2020 due to the pandemic, while an earthquake in northwestern Albania in November 2019 killed more than 50 people and caused substantial economic damage.

Lulzim Basha of the Democratic Party is repeating accusations of government corruption and links to organized crime. He is pledging lower taxes, higher salaries and more social financial support.

“Change is necessary, vital (after) eight years of stalemate,” he said at a meeting with a farmers association on Thursday.

Basha declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press.

Confrontations between government and opposition supporters have been a problem, culminating on Wednesday with the killing of a governing Socialist Party supporter, which police say occurred during an argument between supporters from opposing political parties.

___

THE MAIN PLAYERS

Incumbent Prime Minister Edi Rama claims his Socialists will win 74-78 seats, allowing them to continue governing on their own. He says he will not form a coalition with others if they don’t win the required 71 seats and he will “leave the burden on others,” hinting he will resign from the party leadership.

The Democrats’ Basha has resisted answering questions about whether he would resign if fails to win in Sunday’s polls.

President Ilir Meta has turned into a firebrand government opponent, accusing Rama of running a “kleptocratic regime,” bungling its pandemic response and delaying the country’s integration into the European Union, as well as concentrating all legislative, administrative and judiciary powers in his hands.

“I see ahead a democratic turnover,” Meta told the AP. “On April 25, the Albanian people re-take sovereignty and control of the political class.”

Meta said he would resign if Rama’s Socialists win “in a democratic way” a majority in the 140-seat parliament.

___

ALBANIA’S EUROPEAN UNION PROSPECTS

The European Union has made holding an election in line with international standards a condition of starting full negotiations to admit the small Balkan nation as a member.

Brussels gave the green light to Albania and North Macedonia last year for the launch of full membership negotiations, but no date has been set for the first meeting.

EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca told the AP it is up to member states to decide, likely in June, whether to hold the first inter-governmental meeting with Albania.

“The conduct of this election is crucial for the next step of the Albanian path on integration into the European Union,” said Soreca.

OSCE observers and staff of the Western countries’ embassies will closely watch Sunday’s polls.

___

Follow Semini at http://twitter.com/lsemini

Denmark tells some Syrians to leave, separating families

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Faeza Satouf, a Syrian refugee who was granted asylum in Denmark in 2015, talks to The Associated Press during an interview in Nivaa, Denmark, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Ten years after the start of the Syrian civil war, Denmark has … more >

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By DAVID KEYTON

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – An email brought Faeza Satouf’s world to a standstill.

The 25-year-old Syrian refugee had fled the civil war with her family in an all-too-familiar journey across the sea to Europe, where they finally arrived in Denmark and were granted asylum in 2015. Yet six years later, she was being told she had to go back – alone, and soon.

Ten years after the start of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Denmark has become the first European country to start revoking the residency permits of some Syrian refugees, arguing that the Syrian capital, Damascus, and neighboring regions are safe. Yet few experts agree with Denmark’s assessment.

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“There are no laws in Syria that can protect me like here in Denmark,” Satouf said with palpable anxiety. “My father is sought after in Syria, so of course I will be arrested upon my return.”

In the past six years, Satouf has learned Danish, graduated from high school with flying colors and is now studying to be a nurse while working in a supermarket. She can’t understand why a country that encouraged integration and which needs nurses amid a pandemic would expel her and others, mainly women.

For now, the decision affects only people from certain areas of Syria who got their initial asylum because they were fleeing civil war. It doesn’t include those who can prove a specific threat to their lives, such as men who could face conscription into Assad’s army.

“This is very much down the line of gender,” said Satouf’s lawyer, Niels-Erik Hansen. “When I have a male client, I will send him right away to the Immigration Service and he will get asylum within three weeks. A female client will get rejected … and we will have to take this case to the refugee board. So when I look into the pile of cases that I’m representing at the board, it’s like 90% women and 10% male.”

Because Denmark has no diplomatic relations with Syria, those who refuse to leave the country cannot be sent to Syria. Instead, they are sent to deportation centers, separated from family, unable to work and withdrawn from education programs.

Single women are likely to be sent to the Kaershovedgaard deportation center, a remote complex of buildings about 300 kilometers (185 miles) west of Copenhagen. Access is strictly limited, but Red Cross photos show rudimentary infrastructure where cooking is banned and activities are restricted. Even Danish language lessons are not allowed.

“It is like a prison, but they are allowed to go out in the daytime,” said Gerda Abildgaard, who has visited the center for several years for the Red Cross.

The policy is the product of a left-wing Social Democratic-led government, whose immigration stance has come to resemble that of far-right parties after years of large migrations peaked in 2015 with 1 million new arrivals in Europe. The large numbers of people coming from Africa and the Middle East energized populist movements across the continent, pushing parties that had a more welcoming position to embrace stricter policies.

It’s a dilemma that Democrats are facing in the U.S., as a surge of young migrants at the Southern border tests President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to accept more refugees than in the Trump era.

Though the numbers of asylum-seekers in Denmark have since plummeted, particularly during the pandemic, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen reiterated in January a vision of having “zero asylum-seekers.”

The Danish government argues that it made clear to the Syrians from the beginning that they were being offered only temporary protection.

“It’s a cornerstone of our legislation … that you get temporary protection, and as soon as you don’t need protection anymore, you will have to leave Denmark,” said Rasmus Storklund, a Social Democratic lawmaker and member of Parliament’s Immigration and Integration Committee.

Standing in front of the deportation center’s heavy gates, Abildgaard pleads: “But is Syria safe again? It’s only Denmark who says that. All the other European countries don’t say that. Only Denmark.”

This week, experts who contributed to reports on which the Danish authorities based their assessment condemned that conclusion, warning in a joint statement published by Human Rights Watch that “conditions do not presently exist anywhere in Syria for safe returns.”

In government-controlled areas, including in the suburbs of Damascus and many parts of central Syria previously held by opposition rebels, the security situation has stabilized, but entire neighborhoods are destroyed, and many people have no houses to return to. Basic services such as water and electricity are poor to nonexistent.

Moreover, forced conscription, indiscriminate detentions and forced disappearances continue.

In a borderless European Union, Denmark tightening migration regulations means that people facing deportation may flee to neighboring Sweden or to Germany, which welcomed refugees in past years but where there is little political will now to take more.

“This is also a lack of solidarity with the rest of Europe,” said Hansen, Satouf’s lawyer. “As the first country that starts to withdraw residence permits for these refugees, we are, in fact, pushing people to go to other European countries.”

Denmark‘s approach marks a dramatic transformation of a nation that was the first to sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, and which was long seen as a paragon of openness and tolerance.

“We used to be known as one of the most humanitarian countries in Europe, with a lot of freedom, a lot of respect for human rights,” says Michala Bendixen, the head of Refugees Welcome Denmark, a non-governmental group. Now, she notes, Denmark’s policies look much more like those of countries with hard-line immigration policies, like Hungary.

The ultimate goal, Bendixen believes, is “making it less attractive for refugees and foreigners to arrive in Denmark.”

On Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered in front of parliament to protest the deportation orders, surrounded by Danish friends, classmates and work colleagues.

Addressing the crowd, a nervous Satouf told her story.

Others also spoke: A brother and sister facing separation, siblings whose residence permits were expiring the next day, a high school student surrounded by her Danish classmates, a single woman who couldn’t comprehend how Denmark, with its claim to uphold and defend women’s rights, could be doing this.

“They say I should marry someone who has political asylum to stay here,” said Nevien Alrahal who traveled to Denmark with her elderly father and who faces her final appeal on Friday. “That’s a choice I don’t want to make.”

___

Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Zeina Karam in Beirut and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

EXPLAINER: How come nations’ climate targets don’t compare?

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President Joe Biden and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listen during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By SETH BORENSTEIN

Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – This week’s climate change summit features lots of talk from different nations about their goals for reducing carbon emissions. But in the weird world of national climate pledges, numbers often aren’t quite what they seem.

Sometimes a 55% reduction is about equal to 50% to 52%. Sometimes it’s even less. Sometimes it’s way more.

As part of the Paris climate agreement process, each nation picks its own national goals for how much greenhouse gas should be cut by 2030 and – crucially – what baseline year it starts counting from for those cuts. That makes it difficult to compare countries’ emissions-cutting pledges to see who is promising more.

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US AND EU GOALS

Both the United States and the European Union are offering similar-sounding pledges of cutting around half their emissions by 2030. But depending on what year you start from, each can sound significantly deeper than the other.

The European Union goal, newly approved by the union’s parliament, is 55% below 1990 levels. The new U.S. goal announced Thursday by President Joe Biden is 50% to 52% below 2005 levels.

If you convert the European goal to the American-preferred 2005 baseline, the two are the same. The European Union goal translates to 51% below 2005 levels, which is on par with the U.S. goal, said former Obama White House environmental aide Kate Larsen, a director at the private research Rhodium Group.

But if you compare them using Europe’s preferred 1990 as the baseline, the 50% minimum U.S. cut is only 41%, far shy of the 55% EU goal, according to Larsen’s calculations.

If you compare the numbers to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the U.S. goal looks more ambitious than Europe’s. The minimum the United States would be cutting is about 40% from today’s level and the EU only 35%, said Niklas Hohne, a climate scientist who helps run the Climate Action Tracker, which monitors world emission pledges.

WHY DIFFERENT BASELINES?

The idea behind different baselines goes back to a logjam that bogged down climate talks in 2009.

Developed countries that already spewed lots of carbon pollution wanted poorer nations that were counting on fossil fuels for economic development to forgo the dirtier fuels, said John Podesta, who was then-President Barack Obama’s climate czar. So a solution was struck for the 2015 Paris agreement that allowed nations to voluntarily choose their own goals tailored to each country.

Those nationally designed goals also included countries choosing their own baseline years. So countries tend to choose years in which they peaked or near peaked on carbon emissions.

For example, Europe, which took early action after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, chose to keep that treaty’s 1990 baseline because it factored in early cuts. This way, Europe gets credit for acting early.

DOES IT MATTER?

Many developed nations’ goals pretty much even out, said Nigel Purvis, who was a U.S. State Department climate negotiator for the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

“At 50%, they’re all doing a lot,” Purvis said. “The baselines are becoming less important.”

HIGHER GOALS

Some nations are shooting higher.

University of Maryland global sustainability professor Nate Hultman pointed to Denmark, which he said did the math to see how much emissions cutting was feasible for the future and found it to be 65% below 1990 levels. Denmark then purposely set a tougher goal, 70%, counting on unforeseen changes in technology that often happen.

Climate Action Tracker’s Hohne said that despite the White House’s claims, the U.S. target is not enough to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, the tougher Paris agreement target.

The entire world must cut its emissions in half compared to 2019, Hohne said. But Biden’s new U.S. target only translates to about 40% from 2019 levels.

“If you take that comparison, then it doesn’t work,’’ Hohne told The Associated Press on Thursday.

NOT JUST CARBON DIOXIDE

Like other nations, the U.S. goal includes methane and hydrofluorocarbon gases that trap more heat but don’t last as long as carbon dioxide. Including those in the goals allows the United States to pick low-hanging fruit to better reach its goal, Larsen said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized how slashing methane pollution quickly can get the world nearly halfway to its 1.5 degree Celsius goal.

Reducing methane and HFCs gets results more quickly than cutting carbon dioxide, so cutting them “can buy us a lot of time,” Larsen said.

HOW TO REACH US GOAL

Most of the U.S. emissions reductions – about 70% – will likely come from the power sector, Hultman said. Switching to greener electricity would more quickly reduce overall emissions because people keep their cars for almost a dozen years.

U.S., EU ramp up sanctions amid junta’s crackdown on democracy in Myanmar

U.S., EU ramp up sanctions amid junta’s crackdown on democracy in Myanmar

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A man runs past a road barricade and burning debris Monday, March 22, 2021, in Mandalay, Myanmar. The BBC said Monday that a journalist from its Burmese-language service was released by authorities in Myanmar but gave no details, as protesters … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, March 22, 2021

The U.S. on Monday escalated its sanctions targeting officials in Myanmar in response to the increasingly violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators unfolding in the Southeast Asian nation since the military coup that took place there last month. 

“The military regime continues its violent crackdown, which has killed at least 194 people to date, including peaceful protesters,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing new U.S. sanctions in coordination with the European Union.

Officials said the Treasury Department will freeze assets and block U.S. market access for Myanmar’s Chief of Police, Than Hlaing, and Bureau of Special Operations commander, Lieutenant General Aung Soe. The sanctions will also target two army units of Myanmar, also known as Burma, that have been involved in the crackdown on protesters.

The sanctions are designed to “show that this violence will not go unanswered,” said Mr. Blinken.

“The United States continues to call on the military regime to release all those unjustly detained; stop its attacks on civil society members, journalists, and labor unionists; halt the brutal killings by its security forces; and return power to the democratically elected government,” the secretary of state said.

The announcement was coordinated with the European Union, which announced its own slate of measures aimed at imposing costs on Myanmar‘s military regime, including sanctions against 11 Burmese individuals associated with the last month’s coup and related violence.

The Biden administration has gradually increased sanctions targeting Burmese officials since the early-February coup by Myanmar‘s military, which arrested the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior democratically elected politicians.

The weeks since the coup have seen massive pro-democracy street demonstrations and an economic shutdown in Myanmar, whose strategically sensitive location between China and the Indian Ocean have made the country a flashpoint in U.S.-China tensions in recent years. While the U.S. and its allies remain sharply criticized the military coup, Beijing has not condemned it.

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Eritrea says EU sanctions on security agency are ‘malicious’

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By RODNEY MUHUMUZA

Associated Press

Monday, March 22, 2021

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Eritrean authorities described European Union sanctions targeting a security agency Monday as “malicious” and charged the EU with having “ulterior motives.”

Eritrea was one of three African nations subject to EU sanctions announced Monday for alleged human rights violations, including killings and enforced disappearances. The others are Libya and South Sudan.

The Eritrea sanctions target the National Security Office, including its leader, Maj. Gen. Abraha Kassa. In its official journal, the EU said, “The National Security Office is responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture committed by its agents.”

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The EU‘s new sanctions system is similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, Obama-era legislation that authorized the government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries, in response called the sanctions offensive.

“The EU has no legal or moral prerogative for its decision and has merely invoked trumped-up charges to harass Eritrea for other ulterior motives,” said a statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The statement also accused the EU, without citing evidence, of “doggedly and working to save and bring back to power” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a party in Ethiopia that once dominated power there and whose soldiers are fighting alongside government troops in the embattled Tigray region.

“The EU has particularly targeted Eritrea in a futile attempt to drive a wedge between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” the ministry’s statement said.

Soldiers from Eritrea are reportedly helping Ethiopian government forces in the Tigray war, which started in November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the region after an attack there on federal military facilities. Fighting persists in the region’s rural areas even as Ethiopian authorities insist the situation om Tigray is returning to normal.

The U.S. has urged Eritrean troops “to come out” of Tigray, where abuses include reported massacres, rapes, and enforced disappearances. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized some of the atrocities in western Tigray as equal to “ethnic cleansing.” Ethiopia said the allegation was unfounded.

EU, US, UK, Canada target China officials over Uyghur abuses

EU, US, UK, Canada target China officials over Uyghur abuses

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media prior to a meeting of the European Foreign Affairs Ministers, at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 22, 2021. (Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Monday, March 22, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States on Monday launched coordinated sanctions against officials in China over human rights abuses in the far western Xinjiang region, provoking swift retaliation from Beijing.

The EU targeted four senior officials in Xinjiang. The sanctions involve a freeze on the officials’ assets and a ban on them traveling in the bloc. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.

The 27-nation bloc also froze the assets of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which it describes as a “state-owned economic and paramilitary organization” that runs Xinjiang and controls its economy.

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British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the measures were part of “intensive diplomacy” by the U.K, the United States, Canada and the 27-nation EU to force action amid mounting evidence about serious rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim people.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that “a united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse international human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with likeminded partners.”

“We will continue to stand with our allies around the world in calling for an immediate end to the PRC’s crimes and for justice for the many victims,” Blinken said.

China responded immediately to the EU‘s move, slapping sanctions on 10 European individuals and four institutions that it said had damaged China’s interests and “maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”

Initially, China denied the existence of camps for detaining Uyghurs in Xinjiang but has since described them as centers to provide job training and to reeducate those exposed to radical jihadi thinking. Officials deny all charges of human rights abuses there.

Xinjiang had been a hotbed of anti-government violence, but Beijing claims its massive security crackdown brought peace in recent years.

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the EU sanctions as “based on nothing but lies and disinformation” as it issued its own retaliatory measures.

The ministry announced sanctions against 10 individuals and four institutions, saying that they and their family members would be barred from entering mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao and cut off from financial dealings with those areas.

Among those targeted was Adrian Zenz, a U.S.-based German scholar who has publicized abuses against minority groups in China’s regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. China has said companies and individuals have petitioned to sue Zenz, but it wasn’t clear who the plaintiffs were or how they would pursue legal action across borders.

Others targeted for sanctions include five members of the European Parliament: Reinhard Butikofer, Michael Gahler, Raphael Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Miriam Lexmann.

The ministry did not say what measures would be taken against the organizations. They were listed as the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, where the 27 national envoys decide foreign and security policy; the EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights; the German-based Mercator Institute for China Studies; and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting of foreign ministers, expressed dismay at China’s reaction and said the EU‘s sanctions respect the “highest standards of rule of law.”

“Rather than change its policies and address our legitimate concerns, China has again turned a blind eye, and these measures are regrettable and unacceptable,” Borrell said.

“There will be no change in European Union determination to defend human rights and to respond to serious violations and abuses,” he added, and described the coordination between the EU, Britain, Canada and the U.S. as “perfect.”

The new EU sanction system is similar to the Magnitsky Act – Obama-era legislation that authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

As part of Monday’s move, the EU also imposed sanctions over repression in North Korea, “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Libya, torture and repression against LGBTI people and political opponents in Chechnya in Russia, and torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings in South Sudan and Eritrea,” a statement said.

Those targeted in Libya were Mohammed Khalifa al-Kani, leader of Libya’s notorious al-Kaniyat militia, and his brother Abderrahim al-Kani, a member of the same militia. Both are accused of committing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances between 2015 and June 2020 in the town of Tarhuna, which they had controlled for years.

Since their escape from Tarhuna last summer following a military defeat, dozens of mass graves have been discovered and attributed to al-Kaniyat militiamen. Last year, the U.S Treasury targeted al-Kaniyat and its leader over the same alleged crimes.

___

Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, and Noha ElHennawy in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

Whiskey makers face worsening hangover from trade dispute

Whiskey makers face worsening hangover from trade dispute

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FILE – In this March 4, 2011, file photo, a bartender begins to pour a drink from a bottle of Jack Daniels at a bar in San Francisco. Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey were left out of a recent … more >

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By BRUCE SCHREINER

Associated Press

Sunday, March 21, 2021

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – A hangover from Trump-era tariff disputes could become even more painful for American whiskey distillers unless their entanglement in a trans-Atlantic trade fight is resolved soon.

Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey were left out of recent breakthroughs to start rebuilding U.S. trade relations with the European Union and the United Kingdom in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. Tariffs were suspended on some spirits, but the 25% tariffs slapped on American whiskey by the EU and UK remain in place. And the EU‘s tariff rate is set to double to 50% in June in the key export market for U.S. whiskey makers.

A leading spirits advocate is imploring top U.S. trade envoy Katherine Tai to not leave whiskey producers behind. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States urged her to press for an immediate suspension of the European tariffs and to secure agreements removing them.

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“Swift removal of these tariffs will help support U.S. workers and consumers as the economy and hospitality industry continue to recover from the pandemic,” the council said in a recent statement after Tai was confirmed by the Senate.

American whiskey makers have been caught up in the trans-Atlantic trade dispute since mid-2018, when the EU imposed tariffs on American whiskey and other U.S. products in response to Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum.

Since then, American whiskey exports to the EU are down by 37%, costing whiskey distillers hundreds of millions in revenue between 2018 and 2020, the council said. American whiskey exports to the UK, the industry’s fourth-largest market, have fallen by 53% since 2018, it said.

The tariffs amount to a tax, which whiskey producers can either absorb in reduced profits or pass along to customers through higher prices – and risk losing market share in highly competitive markets.

Amir Peay, owner of the Lexington, Kentucky-based James E. Pepper Distillery, said American whiskey has become “collateral damage” in the trade disputes. It’s cost him about three-fourths of his European business, and the looming 50% EU tariff threatens to drain what’s left.

“That could possibly end our business in Europe as we’ve known it over the years,” Peay said in a phone interview Thursday.

He’s already curtailed some whiskey shipments to Europe as a hedge against the potential doubling of the EU tariff. His distillery’s signature bourbon and rye brand is James E. Pepper 1776.

Peay spent years and significant money cultivating European markets, especially in Germany, France and the UK. He was planning to double his European business before the trade disputes hit.

“The way things are going, everything that we invested to date looks like it could be destroyed,” he said.

The tariffs have hurt spirits industry giants as well.

“We estimate that our company … has borne roughly 15% of the entire tariff bill levied against the U.S. in response to steel and aluminum tariffs,” Lawson Whiting, president and CEO of Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp., said recently. “They have become a big problem for us and it’s imperative that we get it resolved as soon as possible.”

Brown-Forman’s leading product is Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, a global brand.

For Kentucky bourbon producers, tariffs slashed their exports by 35% in 2020, with shipments to the EU plummeting by nearly 50%, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said.

The EU had traditionally been the largest global market for Kentucky distilleries, accounting for 56% of all exports in 2017. It’s now about 40%, the association said.

“Our signature bourbon industry has sustained significant damage for more than two years because of a trade war that has nothing to do with whiskey,” KDA President Eric Gregory said. “And it will get much worse if we can’t deescalate this dispute.”

Kentucky distilleries craft 95% of the world’s bourbon supply, the association estimates.

The thaw in the U.S. disputes with the EU and UK were part of an effort to resolve a longstanding Airbus-Boeing dispute. The tariff suspensions applied to duties that had been imposed on some spirits producers on both sides of the Atlantic. But the breakthroughs left plenty unresolved, including disputes that led to the retaliatory tariffs still hitting American whiskey.

The suspended tariffs mean some European spirits producers can ship their products into the U.S. duty free, while American whiskey makers are still subject to tariffs, Whiting said.

“We just want a level playing field for American whiskey,” he said.

The Latest: Italy offers vaccination for all by summer’s end

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Women laying in coffins representing women killed in domestic violence during an event for upcoming International Women’s Day in front of Tel Aviv’s district court, Israel, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Sunday, March 7, 2021

ROME – Italy’s health minister says that all Italians who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to do so by summer’s end.

Minister Roberto Speranza told state TV on Sunday that Italy expects to receive delivery of more than 50 million doses in the second quarter of this year, including the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, whose approval by European Union medicine authorities is expected soon.

As of Sunday, about 3.7 million people in Italy had received at least one injection of an anti-COVID-19 vaccine. That’s just over 5% of Italy’s population.

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Health authorities in Lazio, the region including Rome, have expressed eagerness to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in pharmaceutical plants near the capital.

After months of a plateau in daily caseloads of coronavirus since late fall 2020, last week saw a steady climb in new infections in Italy.

Epidemiologists say Italy should brace for a new peak of infections in about two weeks, warning that daily caseloads could reach as high as 40,000 unless more severe restrictions of citizens’ movement and activities are swiftly put into place.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Biden, Democrats prevail as Senate OKs $1.9 trillion virus relief bill

Russia scores points with vaccine diplomacy, but snags arise

– Europe staggers as virus variants spark infection surges across the continent

– Murder, but gentler: ‘Cozy’ mysteries a pandemic-era balm

– AP PHOTOS: Cyprus keeps Carnival spirit alive amid COVID-19

– Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON – Dr. Anthony Fauci is projecting U.S. high school students will be able to get vaccinated early in the next school year and that elementary school students should be line for vaccinations in early 2022.

Fauci, who serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer and director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” predicted that vaccines for teens will be available “maybe not the first day but certainly in the early part of the fall.”

Currently, three vaccines are approved for use in the United States. The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-shot Moderna vaccine are approved for individuals 18 and older. Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for 16 and up.

Trials are underway to determine the safety of vaccines on younger people.

Teenagers contract the coronavirus almost twice as often as younger children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

___

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia has become another country to have identified a fast-spreading coronavirus variant that is believed to originate in South Africa.

Slovakia’s Health Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Eliasova says the variant has been detected in seven samples. Four of the people returned from abroad, one of them from the African island of Zanzibar. Three have been infected at home.

Slovakia is one of the hardest-hit European Union countries. It has been recently facing a surge of another highly contagious variant found in Britain.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Slovak hospitals surpassed a record of 4,000 earlier this week.

___

LONDON – British children are gearing up to return to school on Monday after a two-month closure, part of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said was a plan to get the country to “start moving closer to a sense of normality.”

As part of the plan, millions of high school and college students coming back to U.K. classrooms will be tested for the first few weeks. Authorities want to quickly detect and isolate asymptomatic cases in order to avoid sending entire schools home.

“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far,” Johnson said as he urged people to get vaccinated.

High schools and colleges can reopen in phases to allow for testing. The U.K. government has distributed nearly 57 million rapid “lateral flow” test kits to schools across the country, but there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests, which may result in pupils being forced to self-isolate unnecessarily.

But Susan Hopkins, a director at Public Health England, told the BBC on Sunday that evidence from testing over the past eight weeks suggested less than 1 in 1,000 tests resulted in a false positive.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with nearly 125,000 COVID-19 deaths.

___

FLORIDA CITY, Fla. – A Florida vaccination site had so few eligible takers Saturday that it started inoculating any adult who wanted a shot rather than let the vaccine on hand go to waste.

Word spread and on Sunday the Florida City site was overwhelmed, particularly after local state Sen. Annette Taddeo incorrectly tweeted that the federally-run site would again take all comers. The Democrat, who was the party’s lieutenant governor candidate in 2014, later deleted that tweet and corrected herself.

Police had to calm the crowd when the site again enforced the state’s eligibility rules: 65 and older; frontline medical workers and police officers, teachers and firefighters over 50; and younger people with a physician’s note saying they would be endangered if they caught the virus.

According to the Miami Herald, a Florida City police officer through a megaphone told 200 people waiting in line, “If you do not meet the criteria, you will not be vaccinated today.” Vaccines must be refrigerated at extremely cold temperatures and used that day once they are removed.

___

BUCHAREST, Romania – Around 3,000 anti-vaccination protesters from across Romania converged outside the parliament building in Bucharest on Sunday as authorities announced new restrictions amid a rise of COVID-19 infections.

It has been less than six weeks since COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in Bucharest, but rising infections have prompted authorities to reimpose tighter restrictions for a 14-day period effective as of Monday.

The restrictions will see bars, restaurants, theaters, gambling venues, and cafes close indoor spaces as the capital’s infection rate rose above three cases per 1,000 inhabitants over a 14-day rolling period – effectively entering a “red scenario,” which the authorities use as a threshold to manage both restrictions and the spread of the virus.

___

BRUSSELS -The Belgian government issued a decree Sunday that will allow for some relaxation of the strict coronavirus measures as fears for a new spike in infections abate somewhat.

The measures, which were approved on Friday, increase the number of people allowed to meet outside from four to 10 but still keep social distancing rules in place. Funerals will be allowed to have 50 people attend instead of 15.

The Belgian government stressed that social distancing remained a key part of any relaxation measure. It hoped that restaurants and bars would be allowed to open again, under certain conditions, beginning May 1.

Both hospital admissions and new infections have tapering off while they were increasing by 25% on a weekly basis only 9 days ago.

Over 22,000 people in Belgium have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic struck.

___

NOUMEA, New Caledonia – Local authorities ordered New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the South Pacific, to be placed under lockdown for at least two weeks to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

The decision comes after nine new infections were confirmed on Sunday. The president of the Caledonian government, Thierry Santa, said “there’s a very strong risk that the virus starts circulating” on the archipelago.

Beginning Monday, a ban all nonessential activities will apply and all schools and universities will be closed.

The territory of 270,000 people went under a one-month lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, which successfully prevented the virus from spreading. Since then, restrictions had been lifted.

New Caledonia has kept its borders almost completely closed, suspending nearly all flights with only few exceptions and imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine and testing for travelers.

___

MOSCOW – Russia’s boast in August that it was the first country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine led to skepticism at the time because of its insufficient testing. Six months later, as demand for the Sputnik V vaccine grows, experts are raising questions again – this time, over whether Moscow can keep up with all the orders from the countries that want it.

Slovakia got 200,000 doses on March 1, even though the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulator, only began reviewing its use on Thursday in an expedited process. The president of the hard-hit Czech Republic said he wrote directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin to get a supply. Millions of doses are expected by countries in Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East in a wave of Russian vaccine diplomacy.

“Sputnik V continues to confidently conquer Europe,” anchor Olga Skabeyeva declared on the Russia-1 state TV channel.

The early criticism of Sputnik V has been blunted by a report in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91% against the virus.

___

JERUSALEM – Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.

Bars and restaurants, wedding halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education were reopening Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.

The Israeli government approved easing the limitations Saturday night, including reopening the main international airport to a limited number of passengers.

Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.

Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 infections overall, including 5,856 deaths.

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal has received 248,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine under a United Nations-backed program known as the COVAX.

The shipment, the first of 1.92 million doses to be sent to Nepal, was flown to Kathmandu’s airport on Sunday as the country begins inoculating its elderly population.

Nepal has already received 2 million AstraZeneca doses and 1 million more are due to arrive within a week. Another 800,000 vaccine doses donated by the Chinese government are also shortly.

Nepal has recorded 274,655 cases of the coronavirus, including 3,010 deaths.

___

NICOSIA, CyprusCarnival is usually the highlight of the year for Cyprus, when residents let loose in bizarre and colorful costumes, joyfully dancing and celebrating during the Mediterranean island nation’s biggest annual party scene.

But in the COVID-19 era, the revelry has taken a backseat to lockdowns and bans on public gatherings. Although the parade went ahead last year, this year carnival’s floats, huge puppets and other decorations are sitting in warehouses.

But Limassol city authorities aren’t letting the festive spirit completely wither away, organizing some events that comply with virus restrictions. The culmination of this is the secret outing of King Carnival, the lead float that marks the season’s annual theme.

Skevi Antoniadou, a city official, said the float, which has an abstract figure frozen in a dancing pose, will make the rounds of Limassol’s main thoroughfares without prior notice to avoid mass gatherings.

The exact route will remain a secret and police will be out to discourage people from gathering in large numbers. One foray already took place on Thursday.

“The message to all is that we’re looking forward to having you back next year, because we’ll bounce back from this even stronger,” Antoniadou said.

___

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX program.

It received 264,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be given to the most vulnerable people over 60 in the most high-risk areas.

The vaccines, which were delivered through UNICEF, mark the first allocation of 1.44 million doses of vaccines from the COVAX program that the island nation will receive. Sri Lanka is expected to get the rest in stages through May.

Sri Lanka has so far received 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in neighboring India, which donated half of the doses. Sri Lanka purchased the balance from India’s Serum Institute.

EU, US agree to suspend tariffs over Airbus-Boeing dispute

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FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 file photo, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference in Brussels. In a sign of goodwill to rebuild trans-Atlantic relations, the European Union and the United States … more >

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – A first phone call Friday clinched the first trade breakthrough to start rebuilding trans-Atlantic relations between the United States and the European Union in the wake of the Trump presidency.

After U.S. President Joe Biden and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen spoke, both sides decided to suspend tariffs used in the longstanding Airbus-Boeing dispute for the next four months.

Von der Leyen said that “as a symbol of this fresh start, President Biden and I agreed to suspend all our tariffs imposed in the context of the Airbus-Boeing disputes, both on aircraft and non-aircraft products, for an initial period of 4 months.”

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It hardly covered all outstanding issues which were left to fester ever more under the four-year presidency of former president Donald Trump, but the EU gladly took whatever it could get from the first personal exchange between the two.

Von der Leyen called it “a very positive signal for our economic cooperation in the years to come.”

“This is excellent news for businesses and industries on both sides of the Atlantic,” she said.

With the initiative to ease the aircraft fight that long weighed on trade relations, the 27-nation bloc is seeking to rekindle the spirit of cooperation between Washington and Europe that has long defined global diplomacy.

Von der Leyen hopes it is the first indication that both the United States and Europe will stand shoulder to shoulder like they so often over the past century to face global challenges.

Von der Leyen said she invited Biden to a global health summit in Rome on May 21 to streamline the fight against COVID-19, the common enemy that has killed over a million people in the EU and U.S. combined. She hope it would extend to foreign policy issues as well, where both could cooperate better to face the rising power of China.

On Friday though, it was trade that mattered and the suspension will give a four-month window to address the more fundamental issues. In the aircraft dispute, the U.S. was allowed to impose tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU exports to the U.S and as a result of the deal, EU tariffs will be suspended on $4 billion of U.S. exports.

The tariff suspension will affect everyone from French winemakers to German cookie bakers in Europe and U.S. spirits producers among many others.

“Lifting this tariff burden will support the recovery of restaurants, bars and small craft distilleries across that country that were forced to shut down their businesses during the pandemic,” the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council said.

Not that both sides can now drink to the cessation of trade hostilities.

Still outstanding, for example are the tariffs that Trump slapped on EU steel and aluminum, which enraged Europeans and other allies by calling their metals a threat to U.S. national security. The so-called Article 232 proceeding both hurts European producers and raises the cost of steel for American companies. Europe retaliated by raising tariffs on U.S.-made motorcycles, bourbon, peanut butter and jeans.

And Friday’s mellow phone call has not dented Europe’s push for digital taxes on American tech behemoths like Google and Amazon.

The breakthrough in the aircraft dispute, heading into its 17th year, should not be underestimated though.

Only last November, the EU imposed tariffs on up to $4 billion worth of U.S. goods and services over illegal aid for plane maker Boeing, even though the 27 EU nations already held out hope relations would improve under Biden.

The move came only a few weeks after international arbitrators gave the EU the green light for such punitive action. The World Trade Organization had deemed illegal some U.S. support for Boeing – which is a bitter rival to Europe’s Airbus – and said the EU could make up for that with a limited amount of penalties on U.S. trade.

The WTO had ruled that Boeing was given an unfair edge over Airbus by tax breaks from Washington state, where Boeing once had headquarters. But after the WTO decision, the state repealed the tax breaks, making the EU’s complaint obsolete in the view of U.S. officials.

Israel, Denmark and Austria join forces against COVID-19

Israel, Denmark and Austria join forces against COVID-19

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, visits a fitness gym with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, center, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, to observe how the "Green Pass," for citizens vaccinated against COVID-19, is used, in Modi’in, Israel, Thursday, March … more >

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By LAURIE KELLMAN

Associated Press

Thursday, March 4, 2021

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Israel, Denmark and Austria agreed on Thursday to join forces in the fight against COVID-19 with an investment in research and roll-out of vaccines to protect people against new surges and mutations of the coronavirus.

The leaders of the three countries said their alliance will set up a foundation and vaccine distribution plants in Europe and Israel, based on Israel’s world-leading inoculation drive.

The effort is aimed at getting ahead of another expected surge of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how long inoculations will remain effective. Details, such as costs and the time frame for opening the projects, were still being worked out, the leaders said.

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“We think that by joining the resources of three small but very able and gifted countries, we can better meet these challenges,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. He added that other countries have also expressed interest in the effort.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added that “this pandemic can only be overcome through global cooperation.”

That has been a delicate question as virus-fighting campaigns faced challenges in places like Europe and raised concerns that the pandemic would last longer in poorer countries that cannot afford vaccination campaigns.

Israel has inoculated more than half of its population in one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, though it has faced some criticism for not sending significant amounts of vaccines to the Palestinians.

That’s expected to change next week with Israel providing vaccines to some 100,000 Palestinian laborers who work in Israel or its West Bank settlements. Still, the vast majority of the estimated 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will remain unvaccinated.

For Netanyahu, the alliance served as a way to flex his political muscle on the international stage ahead of the March 23 elections. “Vaccination nation,” as he calls Israel, would become “vaccination nations,” to include Denmark and Austria, he said, adding the group would welcome more international partners.

While Israel does not produce vaccines, the prime minister has moved aggressively to secure enough vaccines for Israel’s 9.3 million people in deals with Pfizer and Moderna. Netanyahu has even offered some surplus vaccines to allied nations.

The European leaders said they wanted to learn from Israel‘s success. Austria is among a number of European Union members that have expressed frustration over the vaccine’s slow rollout among the 27-nation bloc. Kurz said he was happy with some of the EU’s handling of the crisis, “but we also need to cooperate worldwide.”

Earlier in the day, Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen joined Netanyahu at a gym in Israel to observe how vaccine certifications, known as the “green pass,” or passport, work. Only people with the badge indicating they have been vaccinated, obtained through an app, can use gyms and go to concerts.

“Vaccine production involves many steps, so we will divide the task between us, and each is to focus on specific ones,” said Kurz, who said his country will need about 30 million doses for the pandemic’s next expected stage. Austria has vaccinated just over 6% of its population.

Frederiksen said that she would also like to see the countries cooperate on clinical trials. Denmark has inoculated a little over 7% of its population as of March 1.

“We all have promising research that could pave the way for next generation platforms,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

___

Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

EU sees must-not-miss chance to revive Iran nuclear deal

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By

Associated Press

Friday, February 26, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The top European Union diplomat supervising the international agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions called Friday for a concerted effort to reinvigorate the pact even as Tehran appears to be reneging on some of its commitments.

“This is an occasion that we cannot miss,” to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters via video-link.

The deal almost collapsed after the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the U.S. out three years ago, triggering crippling economic sanctions on Iran. Britain, France and Germany notably struggled to keep it alive and have been heartened by President Joe Biden’s willingness to bring the U.S. back in.

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“I am convinced as coordinator of the JCPOA that we do have diplomatic space, a diplomatic window of opportunity to dialogue” in line with Biden’s aims, Borrell said. “We need to use this opportunity and focus on solutions to bring the JCPOA back on track in order for everybody (to fulfil) their commitments.”

Iran this week effectively set a deadline to lift the U.S. sanctions within three months, after which it said it would erase surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities. It has also limited some monitoring of its activities, which the EU says are meant to help ensure that Tehran‘s nuclear work is peaceful.

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has also reported that Iran has added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20% to its stockpile as of Feb. 16 – far past the 3.67% purity allowed under the JCPOA.

Borrell said that Iran’s latest moves “are very much concerning.”

Biden, Trudeau lavish praise upon each other in Zoom bilateral

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President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged Tuesday to unite in fighting COVID-19, but the United States’ northern neighbor is being left behind in a key way — despite buying enough doses to vaccinate its population several times over, it is a global laggard in getting shots in arms.

The slow start is because of Canada’s lack of homegrown vaccine production and reliance on imports that were hampered by manufacturing delays at a Pfizer plant in Europe, even as the U.S. is fed a steady supply from a plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 140 miles from Ontario.

“You can literally drive [doses] to Canada in a couple of hours. But we have to get our vaccines through Belgium,” said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital. 

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Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau said they will commit to combatting climate change and enhancing the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and the Canadian leader said his country is sending power to beleaguered Texas. The pair didn’t publicly address vaccine access in an unusual bilateral meeting conducted by telelink, though they said they would work together to beat the virus.

“We’re standing united in this fight,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The White House said it will focus on vaccinating Americans before it looks for ways to spread doses to Canada and elsewhere. While it likely will send vaccines north once the U.S. market is sated, the administration couldn’t provide a timetable Tuesday. 

“There are multiple ways we can work together on a COVID response,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “All options are on the table down the road. I don’t have anything to update you on about Pfizer providing vaccinations, other than we remain committed to getting Americans vaccinated.”

For now, Canada is banking on a recent uptick in shipments and expected windfall by late March to play catch-up in vaccinating its nation of 38 million.

Current metrics put Canada behind other big nations. It has delivered slightly more than 4 doses per 100 residents compared to more than 19 per 100 in the U.S., according to OurWorldinData.org.

Major parts of the European Union got off to sluggish starts, too, with Germany and France at 6 and 5.5 per 100, respectively.

Israel is the king of per-capita vaccinations currently. The nation of roughly 9 million is celebrating a shift to normalcy after about half of its population was vaccinated due to its technologically advanced health system and aggressive purchases of Pfizer’s vaccine in exchange for medical data.

“They are serving as a demonstration ground for what happens with mass vaccination and getting the majority of the country vaccinated quickly,” said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. “In the last few days and weeks, some incredible data coming for the health system showing a reduction in hospitalization and deaths and a reduction in transmission. We are generating better data because of the route Israel has taken.”

Other studies are hinting at a way to stretch global vaccine supply: Previously infected persons might do just fine after the first dose of a messenger-RNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna.

In a blog post, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said if more studies back up the findings, the Food and Drug Administration “might decide to consider whether one dose is enough for people who’ve had a prior COVID-19 infection.”

“Such a policy is already under consideration in France and, if implemented, would help to extend vaccine supply and get more people vaccinated sooner,” he wrote.

Experts said Canada got an early start on its vaccination campaign and made good bets in securing doses from successful drugmakers. But efforts to spur domestic production of the vaccines won’t take off until at least the fall, leaving Canada reliant on foreign shipments. 

“Even though we have contracts and arrangements with these companies, it doesn’t mean you can get as much as you want, whenever you want,” Dr. Bogoch said.

Pfizer said its Michigan facility is approved by Canadian regulators to serve their market, but “the supply to Canada has been allocated from our Puurs site in Belgium for the time being.”

“Our facility in Kalamazoo is the primary manufacturing site of our COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. Our Puurs site is supplying the rest of the world,” said Christina Antoniou, director of corporate affairs for Pfizer Canada. “We are producing millions of doses of our COVID-19 vaccine each day. Putting two parallel supply chains in place — one in the U.S. and one rest of world — ensures that our efforts are robust and have the appropriate redundancies.”

She said there were three weeks of reduced deliveries in January and February as the company modified its Belgian facility to scale up manufacturing. Those changes are done, so the company began to speed up deliveries last week.

Pfizer said it will be able to accelerate deliveries to Canada in the second and third quarters of this year and meet its commitment of 40 million doses by the end of September.

Dr. Bogoch said he expects Canada to massively scale up its campaign by the end of March.

“That’s when the taps really turn on,” he said. “Coast to coast.”

More Myanmar protests follow strike amid foreign concerns

More Myanmar protests follow strike amid foreign concerns

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Anti-coup protesters display an image of protester who was shot and killed by Myanmar security forces during a protest two-days earlier as they gather to protest in Yangon, Myanmar Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Protesters gathered in Myanmar’s biggest city despite … more >

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Associated Press

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Protesters against the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar were back on the streets of cities and towns on Tuesday, a day after a general strike shuttered shops and brought huge numbers out to demonstrate.

In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, a funeral was held for 37-year-old Thet Naing Win, one of two protesters shot dead by security forces on Saturday.

He and a teenage boy were killed when police and soldiers opened fire on a crowd that had gathered to support dock workers whom the authorities were trying to force to work. They have been on strike, as have many civil servants and state enterprise workers, as part of a nationwide civil obedience movement against the Feb. 1 military takeover.

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Numbers were down from Monday’s massive crowds, but groups of demonstrators in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, assembled again at various venues on Tuesday for peaceful protests.

Protesters trained their ire on a new target Tuesday, gathering outside the Indonesian Embassy in response to a news report that Jakarta was proposing to its regional neighbors that they offer qualified support for the junta’s plan for a new election next year. The demonstrators demand that the results of last year’s election, won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, to be honored.

The protesters chanted slogans against the military coup and held banners, one of which read “Friend or Enemy. You choose, Indonesia.”

“What I hope, as a citizen of Myanmar, is to stand with the truth. We can’t wait one year,” said one demonstrator, Han Ni.

The report by an international news agency, published Monday, triggered dismay among supporters of the protest movement. It said Indonesia was seeking to have fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agree on an action plan to hold the junta to its promise to hold free and fair elections in a year’s time.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah denied the report, saying Tuesday that it “is not Indonesia’s position at all to support a new election in Myanmar.” He said Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was gathering the views of fellow ASEAN members ahead of a special meeting it hopes will be held on the situation in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military says it took power because last November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the state election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.

Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.

There is continuing international concern over Myanmar, with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations on Tuesday issuing their second statement since the coup.

The group, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union, condemned violence committed by Myanmar’s security forces and demanded they act with restraint according to international standards for human rights.

“Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account,” they said.

The group also condemned restrictions on freedom of expression, including arrests and the blocking of internet access, and called for the release of Suu Kyi and her colleagues.

The United States and several Western governments have called for the junta to refrain from violence, release detainees and restore Suu Kyi’s government.

On Monday, the U.S. said it was imposing sanctions against more junta members because of the killing of peaceful protesters by security forces.

Lt. Gen. Moe Myint Tun and Gen. Maung Maung Kyaw were added to other military leaders and entities facing U.S. sanctions. Britain and Canada have taken similar actions since the coup.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the U.S. condemns the attacks on protesters and vowed to take further action if more violence occurs.

“We call on the military and police to cease all attacks on peaceful protesters, immediately release all those unjustly detained, stop attacks on and intimidation of journalists and activists, and restore the democratically elected government,” Blinken said.

Also Monday, European Union foreign ministers ordered a series of measures to be drawn up to target those responsible for the coup. They said the EU is ready “to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible” and keep all other options “under review.” Such sanctions usually involve a freeze on people’s assets and a ban on them traveling to Europe.