Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

Insults, slammed fists: EU virus summit goes into 4th day

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, leaves the European Council building in the early morning during an EU summit in Brussels, Monday, July 20, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations met throughout the night Sunday to assess an overall budget … more >

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By Raf Casert and Mike Corder

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Weary and bleary, European Union leaders were gearing up Monday for a fourth day of fighting over an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, barely recovered from a weekend of walkouts, fists slamming into tables and insults.

With a brilliant sun warming the negotiating sundeck at the Europa summit center early Monday, there finally was a glimmer of hope that the talks to help the continent emerge from the pandemic through an unprecedented economic aid package are not doomed after all.

“It looks more hopeful than when I thought during the night: ‘It’s over,’” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the target of much of the criticism. The meeting — one of the longest-running ever in the bloc’s history — broke up temporarily and is due to resume on Monday afternoon.

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“All want a solution instead of shelving the problem,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. Alluding to the infighting, he added, “It also shows: massive efforts are needed to make Europe strong again together. The corona pandemic shocked all of us.”

It took a heart-tugging dinner speech by EU Council President Charles Michel about leaders not failing their union, French President Emmanuel Macron slamming his fist in anger into the table, and a new set of budgetary numbers to send this epic summit onward.

It was planned as a two-day summit scheduled to have ended Saturday, but there are deep ideological differences between the 27 leaders forced the talks into two extra days.

Rutte, defending the cause of a group of five wealthy northern nations – the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark – sought to limit costs and impose strict reform guarantees. He came under criticism from Macron, Italy and Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked why the Dutchman had such “hate” toward him.

Rutte took it in stride.

“We are not here because we are going to be visitors at each other’s birthday party later. We are here because we do business for our own country. We are all pros,” he said.

On Sunday night, after three days of fruitless talks and with hope dimming, Michel implored leaders to overcome their fundamental divisions and agree on the budget and recovery fund.

“Are the 27 EU leaders capable of building European unity and trust or, because of a deep rift, will we present ourselves as a weak Europe, undermined by distrust,” he asked the leaders. The text of the behind-closed-doors speech was obtained by The Associated Press.

“I wish that we succeed in getting a deal and that the European media can headline tomorrow that the EU succeeded in a Mission Impossible,” Michel said.

The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin, killing around 135,000 of its citizens and plunging its economy into an estimated contraction of 8.3% this year.

The bloc’s executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders had been haggling over for months even before the pandemic hit.

Even with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance could not get the quarreling nations in line.

At their dinner table Sunday night, the leaders mulled a proposal from the five wealthy northern nations that suggested a coronavirus recovery fund with 350 billion euros of grants and the same amount again in loans. The five EU nations – nicknamed “the frugals” – had long opposed any grants at all, while the EU executive had proposed 500 billion euros.

“We are ready to take the leap from loans to subsidies,” Rutte said.

All nations agree they need to band together but the five richer countries in the north, led by the Netherlands, want strict controls on spending, while struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy say those conditions should be kept to a minimum.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said negotiations are at a “delicate moment” but that Spain still expects that an agreement that will set new foundations for the bloc will be achieved. Speaking to Cadena SER radio in an interview Monday, she said that Spain is open to a plan that comes with strings attached.

“We do not reject conditionality and we do not reject that there is good governance that offers trust,” she said. “What we do want is for that to have a framework, a framework that offers trust, clarity and transparency, which is the basis of a family’s relationship, same as the relationship within the European Union.”

Rutte has long been known as a European bridge builder, but this weekend his tough negotiating stance was being blamed for holding up a deal. He and his allies have been pushing for labor market and pension reforms to be linked to EU handouts and a “brake” enabling EU nations to monitor and, if necessary, halt projects that are being paid for by the recovery fund.

“He can’t ask us to do specific reforms,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, complaining Rutte may look like a hero in his home nation, but nowhere else.

Rutte also wants a link to be made between the handout of EU funds and the rule of law – a connection aimed at Poland and Hungary, countries with right-wing populist governments that many in the EU think are sliding away from democratic rule.

That drew Orban’s anger.

“I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he’s attacking so harshly and making very clear that because Hungary, in his opinion, does not respect the rule of law, (it) must be punished financially,” Orban said.

____

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. Samuel Petrequin and Aritz Parra contributed from Brussels, Madrid.

EU leaders extend summit as they haggle over budget, virus

EU leaders extend summit as they haggle over budget, virus

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face for a second day of an EU summit to assess an overall … more >

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By RAF CASERT and MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Saturday, July 18, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders on Saturday extended their summit by an extra day in the hope they were finally closing in on a deal for an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

A deal was still far off, but several key nations said negotiations were at least heading in the right direction despite anxieties that were running high after months of battling the pandemic.

Heading into a balmy summer night, those tensions were showing when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron got up and walked out of a meeting with the so-called Frugal Four group of wealthy northern nations that want to limit grants and impose strict conditions on mostly southern nations that have suffered most from the pandemic.

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“A few people ran off,” acknowledged Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered the leader of the Frugals. When asked if it was Merkel and Macron, he said: “Yes, precisely. So we didn’t get a breakthrough tonight.”

The Franco-German alliance is seen as key to any major deal within the 27-nation EU.

When asked what he thought, Rutte said: “They run off in a bad mood. We will continue tomorrow.”

It was typical of two full days and almost two full nights of discussions by EU leaders, oscillating between raw irritation over how the huge sums should be spent and what strings should be attached and a glimmer of hope that somehow a deal could materialize – if not this weekend, then at least within a few weeks.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “It it is of course, as you would expect, a tough struggle, a tough negotiation, but we’re moving in the right direction, and that is the most important thing.”

Rutte showed some hope, too. “The fact that we continue talking shows we all have optimism. But if we will succeed, we have to wait and see.”

The leaders are dealing with their toughest crisis in years, one that has burdened the bloc with its worst recession ever. The pandemic has sent the EU into a tailspin and around 135,000 of its citizens have died from COVID-19.

The EU executive has proposed a 750 billion-euro fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the most needy countries. That comes on top of the seven-year 1 trillion-euro EU budget that leaders were fighting over even before the virus slammed their continent.

Despite the urgency and seriousness of the crisis, there were deep rifts between some richer nations in the north, led by the Netherlands, which want strict controls on spending, and struggling southern nations like Spain and Italy, which have been especially hit hard by the pandemic and are looking for as much help as they can get.

Michel’s latest proposals reduced the proportion of grants in the rescue package and raise the proportion of loans that would have to be paid back, in an apparent enticement for the Frugals.

But the issue of how to track the rescue money remained the key sticking point, Rutte said. Michel proposed a measure that would stop short of allowing any country a veto on how governments spend the money and Rutte said that was still up for discussions Sunday.

Kurz said major issues still under discussion include linking rule of law guarantees in EU nations to the allocation of funds to member states. Hungary has threatened to veto any such move.

____

Associated Press writer Raf Casert reported this story in Brussels and AP writer Michael Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands. AP writer Angelas Charlton in Paris and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

___

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

EU tells US: Stop threatening our companies with sanctions

EU tells US: Stop threatening our companies with sanctions

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Friday, July 17, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face on Friday for the first time since February, despite … more >

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By BY RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union is warning the Trump administration to hold off threatening trade sanctions against EU companies involved in the completion of new German-Russian and Turkish-Russian natural gas pipelines and instead discuss differences as allies.

This week, the Trump administration warned companies involved in the projects they will be subject to U.S. penalties unless they halt their work.

The move has further increased tension in already fraught U.S.-European ties.

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“I am deeply concerned at the growing use of sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, by the United States against European companies and interests,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, adding similar attempts had already been made in cases involving Iran, Cuba and the International Criminal Court.

“Where policy differences exist, the European Union is always open to dialogue. But this cannot take place against the threat of sanctions,” Borrell said. “European policies should be determined here in Europe, not by third countries.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week the administration is ending grandfather clauses that had spared firms previously involved in the pipelines’ construction from sanctions authorized by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a 2017 law aimed at punishing Russia, in particular, for interference in U.S. elections and other matters.

The move opens the door for U.S. economic and financial penalties to be imposed on any European or other foreign company over the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream piplelines, including those that had been working on the projects before the passage of the act and had been previously exempted from the penalties.

Borrell said that “as a matter of principle the European Union opposes the use of sanctions by third countries on European companies carrying out legitimate business.”

The Trump administration has lobbied Europe, particularly Germany, to abandon the pipelines, which it believes put Europe under greater influence from Russia, which has used its energy exports as political leverage.

Pompeo called the pipeline projects the “the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies,” which he said “ultimately undermine trans-Atlantic security.”

Elbows? Masks? Presents? Let this divisive EU summit begin!

Elbows? Masks? Presents? Let this divisive EU summit begin!

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, greets Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel with an elbow bump during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, July 17, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet … more >

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – At the start of one of the most daunting and divisive summits in recent history, the atmosphere among the European Union leaders was downright giddy.

Blame the coronavirus pandemic. With all kinds of masks, social distancing rules, and new ways of greetings, some of the leaders reveled in the novelty of it all as they met in person for the first time since February.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, so often a study in gravity at such meetings, was all merriment when she saw Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov with his mask slipped. With her face drawn in fake shock and horror, she pointed at his exposed nose to show he had committed a serious COVID-19 faux pas.

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Other leaders were trying out various versions of the elbow bump, with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel almost turning it into an elbow duel. But there was no mistaking his good nature since he had “Moien!” – the Luxembourgish for “Good morning!” – printed on his mask.

The apparently carefree mingling and schmoozing disguised the reason they had all gathered in a cavernous Brussels meeting room instead of holding their summit by videoconference: The issues they are grappling with are so historic and divisive they need to look one another in the eye, and have face-to-face talks as they negotiate.

Since the pandemic hit Europe early this year, the EU has seen an unprecedented recession with the economy of the 27-nation EU contracting by 8.3% this year, according to the latest predictions. Around 135,000 of its citizens have died from the disease.

To make sure the hardest hit nations can bounce back and the bloc as a whole can recover, the leaders are considering a 750-billion-euro recovery fund and at the same deciding on a 1.1-trillion-euro, seven-year budget. With 27 leaders coming in with diverse demands the two-day summit might not even be enough to settle their differences.

That magnitude was what made the moment of lightness at the start of the summit Friday morning so special.

Summit host and European Council President Charles Michel was first in the room, and was soon bumping elbows with Borissov and others as they arrived. European Parliament President David Sassoli first went for a zen-like bow but soon got his elbow out like his chums did.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen crossed her arms across her chest. Merkel clasped her hands together as a greeting. Soon they were elbow bumping each other too – and others.

For Merkel it was even a more special since she turned 66 and got presents from French President Emmanuel Macron, Borissov and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who also celebrated his birthday.

Soon Michel called them all to their desk, which had been especially spaced out as a health precaution.

Then, literally, the masks came off. Metaphorically, the gloves did too.

___

Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague, Netherlands.

Far apart: EU holds masked budget summit in pandemic times

Far apart: EU holds masked budget summit in pandemic times

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French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Friday, July 17, 2020. Leaders from 27 European Union nations meet face-to-face on Friday for the first time since February, despite the dangers of … more >

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By Raf Casert and Mike Corder

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders acknowledged Friday they are about as far apart from reaching a deal on an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and virus recovery fund as the seating distance imposed upon them for health reasons at their summit center.

“The differences are still very, very big and so I can’t predict whether we will achieve a result this time,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrived at the Europa summit site. “So I expect very, very difficult negotiations.”

The challenges facing the 27 EU leaders – some of whom arrived masked, some unmasked – are formidable. The bloc is suffering through the worst recession in its history and member states are fighting over who should pay the most to help other countries and which nations should get the most to turn around their battered economies.

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As the summit got underway all leaders were wearing masks. The usual hugs, handshakes and kisses were replaced by friendly nods and elbow bumps. The jovial atmosphere was not expected to last long at what will likely be one of the most brutal and bruising summits of recent times. What is slated as a two-day meeting could go even longer, if necessary, to bridge the differences between leaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the early negotiations, arriving Thursday and using the the pre-summit hours to meet with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a stringent budget hardliner and considered one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a deal at the two-day meeting.

“I am not optimistic, but you never know. Nobody wants another meeting,” said Rutte.

Macron underscored the importance of the challenge. “The coming hours will be absolutely decisive,” he said. “It is our project Europe that is at stake.”

The urgency is such that the leaders have ended a string of coronavirus-enforced videoconference summits and are meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began its devastating sweep around the globe.

The usual summit venue, an intimate room high up in the urn-shaped Europa center, was deemed too snug to be safe and instead the leaders have been sent down to meeting room EBS-5, whose 850 square meters (9,150 square feet) normally fits 330 people.

Delegations were cut to a minimum, leaving leaders more dependent on their own knowledge of complicated dossiers. It should put a smile on the face of Merkel, who has been in office for 15 years and seen countless leaders come and go.

Since the pandemic struck, she is seen as a safe pair of hands to lead her country through the crisis and now that Germany holds the rotating six-month EU presidency her stature will be even greater at the summit. And throw in that she is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday.

Macron, her geopolitical equal at the table, gave her a fine bottle of Burgundy. There may be cake later but the summit will hardly be a cakewalk for Merkel.

The members were already fighting bitterly over the seven-year, 1-trillion-euro EU budget when COVID-19 was still a local story in Wuhan, China, late last year. Then the virus hit the EU head-on and estimates are now that the economy of the 19 countries that use the euro currency will contract by 8.7% this year.

It sent the EU into a panic as it was at a loss on how to coordinate policies of its member states early on. Now, the EU’s executive is proposing a 750-billion-euro recovery fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the most needy countries.

Merkel, who is in her last term and has her political legacy at stake, already got Germany to agree to join in a common debt program to alleviate the economic suffering in mostly southern and eastern member states.

And she has agreed to include grants and not just loans in the recovery package to avoid overburdening member states with high debt already.

Rutte doesn’t like that and Dutch officials said they would stick to their tough line going into the summit, raising the specter that a further summit might be needed.

There are also plans to link budget funds to respect for basic democratic rights that the European Parliament says are under threat in nations like Hungary and Poland. Some eastern European nations will be objecting to having that as part of the deal.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was clear upon departure that he would fight any such strings attached to the plan.

“The Hungarian position is clear: Hungarians should decide about Hungarians’ money,” he said.

___

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands; Pablo Gorondi contributed from Budapest, Hungary; Geir Moulson from Berlin; and Angela Charlton from Paris.

Brexit is back: UK aims to prepare public for Jan 1 EU break

Brexit is back: UK aims to prepare public for Jan 1 EU break

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in London, Monday July 13, 2020. (Ben Stansall/Pool via AP) more >

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By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Monday, July 13, 2020

LONDON (AP) – The British government told individuals and businesses Monday to get ready for new costs and red tape – but also an exciting “new start” – when the U.K. leaves the European Union’s economic embrace in less than six months.

The government unveiled details of new border arrangements and a major public information campaign to remind Britons that Brexit has not gone away, even though it has been knocked out of the headlines by the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain officially left the EU on Jan. 31, but remains inside the bloc’s economic orbit until the end of 2020.

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Advertisements under the “The U.K.’s new start: let’s get going” campaign will warn British tourists that starting Jan. 1 they’ll need to buy health insurance, arrange paperwork for their pets and check their telephone provider’s roaming policy when they travel to the EU.

Companies that do business with the 27-nation bloc – which accounts for about half of Britain’s trade – will have to fill in customs declarations and potentially pay tariffs, depending on the outcome of talks about a post-Brexit free-trade deal.

The British government has softened the blow for importers by saying they would not have to complete full customs declarations or pay tariffs for the first six months of next year.

Even with a deal, the U.K. will need a vast new customs and border infrastructure to deal with trade that has flowed unimpeded during the U.K.’s 47 years as a member of the European bloc. The government announced Monday that it plans to spend 705 million pounds ($890 million) on new border posts, computer systems and personnel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government says the burdens of Brexit will be offset by new economic opportunities as the U.K. strikes fresh trade deals around the world.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who is in charge of Brexit preparations, said the full break with the bloc “will herald changes and significant opportunities, for which we all need to prepare.”

Britain and the EU have given themselves until the end of the year to strike a deal on trade, security and a host of other issues.

But negotiations have bogged down amid wide differences on major issues including fishing rights and competition. Even with a deal, the U.K. faces new barriers to business with the EU. Without one, it faces an abrupt, disruptive departure that would hammer many businesses, and with the U.K. economy already hammered by COVID-19.

One major change will be the end of Britons’ freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU, and of Europeans’ right to settle in the U.K.

More than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the U.K. are entitled to stay. But from January 1, 2021, new immigration rules will apply to EU and non-EU citizens alike.

Britain is introducing a “points based” immigration system that will assess prospective immigrants on criteria including English-language ability, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.

The system is designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year, but also aims to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get U.K. visas.

Johnson said it would be “a humane and sensible system” that allows the U.K. to attract the best talent from around the globe.

“Although of course we are going to be taking back control and we are controlling our immigration system we’re not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country,” he said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced new details of the system on Monday, including a special fast-track visa for health care workers.

Hundreds of thousands of people who work in Britain’s publicly funded National Health Service come from abroad, and many in the sector fear post-Brexit staff shortages.

The government said social care workers will not be eligible for the special health care visa. Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said “immigration is not the sole answer here” and that care homes should “invest more in training and development” to recruit more staff.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, accused the government of treating social care workers “as second-class citizens.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a member of the main opposition Labour Party, accused the government of “pulling up the drawbridge to much of the talent we continue to need as a city and a country.”

“Rushing through these proposals during the middle of a global pandemic is particularly irresponsible,” he said.

The new border rules announced Monday do not apply to trade between the EU and Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with the bloc. Britain and the EU have agreed that Northern Ireland’s currently invisible border with the Republic of Ireland must be kept free of customs posts and other obstacles to the movement of people and goods to maintain peace on the Emerald Isle.

The U.K. has promised to set out exactly how it will do that later this month.

EU, Turkey clash over Hagia Sophia, Mediterranean drilling

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reads a statement as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, July 13, 2020. European Union foreign ministers meet for the first time … more >

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Monday, July 13, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – Turkey and the European Union clashed on Monday over Ankara’s decision to change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque and its continued energy exploration in disputed Mediterranean waters.

After their their first face-to-face meeting in months, the 27 EU foreign ministers said that they “condemned the Turkish decision to convert such an emblematic monument as the Hagia Sophia,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

“This decision will inevitably fuel the mistrust, promote renewed division between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialog and cooperation,” he said after the meeting of EU foreign ministers.

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He said there was “broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently consider and reverse this decision.” Hagia Sophia was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral, and the pope and others have expressed their sadness and criticism of the move by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Monday that the EU was “faced with a challenge and insult” meted out by Erdogan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hit back and rejected international intervention concerning its decision to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

“Hagia Sophia was left as a legacy as a mosque and must be used as a mosque,” Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT. “We strongly reject comments that amount to an intervention in Turkey’s sovereign rights.”

Borrell was in Turkey last week where he also discussed Ankara’s disputes with Greece and Cyprus over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean region. Turkey has dispatched warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas in an area where Cyprus insists it has exclusive rights. The Turkish government has said it’s acting to protect its interests in the area’s natural resources and those of Turkish Cypriots.

Petsas said that Turkish drilling was blatantly contrary to international obligations and international law” and said that Greece would be looking to prepare a list for possible “political, diplomatic and financial” sanctions.

Again, Cavusoglu stood firm.

“If Greece were to turn away from its maximalist ways and agree to a fair sharing (of rights), and if it were to convince Cyprus to a fair sharing of revenues (from the exploration of natural resources), then 80% of our problems would solved,” Cavusoglu said.

Borrell said there were no immediate decisions at Monday’s meeting but that the ministers would revisit the issue at their next meeting in Berlin in August.

Even as the rift between both sides was deepening, the 27 EU ministers couldn’t get that close among themselves either. It was their first in-person meeting since the coronavirus lockdown set in, but because of social distancing rules, there was only room for lots of elbow bumping for a greeting and little reading of lips, since ministers were wearing masks around the meeting table.

___

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

UN approves aid to Syria’s rebel area through 1 crossing

UN approves aid to Syria’s rebel area through 1 crossing

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FILE – In this Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, local residents receive humanitarian aid from the Russian military in the town of Al-Rastan, Syria. Over the last two days, members of the UN Security Council have been haggling over cross-border … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Saturday, July 11, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Russia scored a victory for its ally Syria on Saturday by forcing the Security Council to limit humanitarian aid deliveries to the country’s mainly rebel-held northwest to just one crossing point from Turkey, a move that Western nations say will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million people.

Russia argues that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines, and says only one crossing point is needed.

U.N. officials and humanitarian groups argued unsuccessfully – along with the vast majority of the U.N. Security Council – that the two crossing points in operation until their mandate expired Friday were essential for getting help to millions of needy people in Syria’s northwest, especially with the first case of COVID-19 recently reported in the region.

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The Security Council vote approving a single crossing from Turkey was 12-0, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining.

The vote capped a week of high-stakes rivalry pitting Russia and China against the 13 other council members. An overwhelming majority voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey, but Russia and China vetoed both resolutions – the 15th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the ninth and 10th by China.

Germany and Belgium, which had sponsored the widely supported resolutions for two crossing points, finally had to back down to the threat of another Russian veto. The resolution they put forward Saturday authorized only a single crossing point from Turkey for a year.

In January, Russia also scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.

Before adopting the resolution Saturday, the council rejected two amendments proposed by Russia, including one suggesting that U.S. and European Union sanctions on Syria were impeding humanitarian aid. That contention was vehemently rejected by the Trump administration and the EU, which noted their sanctions include exemptions for humanitarian deliveries. It also rejected an amendment from China.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said after the vote that from the beginning Moscow had proposed one crossing – from Bab al-Hawa to Idlib – and that Saturday’s resolution could have been adopted weeks ago. He said Russia abstained in the vote because negotiations over the resolution were marred by “clumsiness, disrespect.”

Polyansky accused Western nations on the council of “unprecedented heights” of hypocrisy, saying they were ready to jeopardize cross-border aid over the references to unilateral sanctions.

He said cross-border aid to Syria’s northwest doesn’t comply with international law because the U.N. has no presence in the region, which he described as being controlled “by international terrorists and fighters” that make it impossible to control and monitor who gets aid.

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen retorted that while Russia talks about delivery of aid across conflict lines, “in practice it doesn’t” happen.

He said his side fought to maintain multiple crossing points for aid, including the Al-Yaroubiya crossing point from Iraq in the northeast that was closed in January, because that is what is needed for efficient delivery of aid to millions in need – and he asked Polyansky “this is clumsy?”

“This is what we tried to do over these past weeks, to get the optimum to the population,” Heusgen said.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council: “Today’s outcome leaves us sickened and outraged at the loss of the Bab al-Salaam and Al Yarubiyah border crossings.”

“Behind those locked gates are millions of women, children, and men who believed that the world had heard their pleas. Their health and welfare are now at great risk,” she said.

Still, Craft called the authorization of access through Bab al-Hawa for 12 months “a victory” in light of Russia and China’s “willingness to use their veto to compel a dramatic reduction in humanitarian assistance.”

“This solemn victory must not end our struggle to address the mounting human needs in Syria – that fight is far from over,” Craft said.

Belgium and Germany said in a joint statement that 1.3 million people, including 800 000 displaced Syrians, live in the Aleppo area, including 500,000 children who received humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Salam crossing – and now have that aid cut off.

“Today is yet another sad day. It is a sad day for this council, but mostly, it is a sad day for the Syrian people of that region.,” they said. “Both Yarubiyah and Bab al-Salam were vital crossings to deliver, in the most efficient way possible, the humanitarian help, those people deserve.”

In a later statement, they added: “One border crossing is not enough, but no border crossings would have left the fate of an entire region in question.”

Kosovo extends EU’s rule of law mission mandate

Kosovo extends EU’s rule of law mission mandate

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – Kosovo’s president on Saturday announced a one-year extension of the mandate of the European Union’s mission to ensure the rule of law in Kosovo.

Hashim Thaci said in a statement the extension was made following an exchange of letters with Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

The EU asked for a one-year extension of EULEX, because the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold meetings to review the bloc’s missions, Thaci said.

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After Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, the EU mission there was set up as the largest civilian mission under the bloc’s common security and defense policy. It scaled down operations in 2018 from an executive to a monitoring and advisory one.

A previously-negotiated two-year mandate has gradually decreased, with many areas being transferred to local authorities.

Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians. Most Western states have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but not Serbia.

Brussels has since 2011 served as moderator between Serbia and Kosovo, telling them they must normalize relations in order to advance toward membership in the bloc.

Following a 20-month stalled negotiations Pristina and Belgrade leaders will hold a virtual meeting on Sunday.

Relations between the two countries remain tense.

Germany’s Merkel: Pandemic highlights limits of populism

Germany’s Merkel: Pandemic highlights limits of populism

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, addresses the plenary chamber at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Germany has just taken over the European Union’s rotating presidency, and must chaperone the 27-nation bloc through a period of deep … more >

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By LORNE COOK and GEIR MOULSON

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic is showing the limits of “fact-denying populism,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday, as she urged European Union countries to quickly agree on a major economic recovery package and deprive nationalists of any opportunity to take advantage of the crisis.

The virus has killed more than 100,000 people in the 27 EU nations. It sparked what is likely to be the worst economic crisis in Europe in almost a century, according to the European Commission, after the disease ravaged health care systems and forced the closure of businesses, transport systems and schools.

Merkel’s remarks to the European Parliament came as the leaders of Italy and Spain – the first EU countries to impose far-reaching lockdowns and two of the worst-hit countries in the world – urged fellow EU members to agree at a summit next week on “ambitious terms” for the recovery fund to help get economies back on track.

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“The depth of the economic decline demands that we hurry,” Merkel told lawmakers. “We must waste no time – only the weakest would suffer from that. I very much hope that we can reach an agreement this summer. That will require a lot of readiness to compromise from all sides – and from you too.”

Germany took over the task of chairing EU meetings on July 1 and faces the daunting challenge of seeking a compromise on the coronavirus recovery fund worth as much as 750 billion euros ($850 billion). Berlin must also help chaperone through a European budget for the next seven years, which will be linked to the recovery fund, to confront the recession.

“We must not be naive: In many member states, opponents of Europe are just waiting to misuse the crisis for their ends,” Merkel said. “We must show them all where the added value of cooperation in the European Union lies. We must show that a return to nationalism means not more, but less control.”

Without explicitly naming any countries or politicians, Merkel pointed to cautionary examples elsewhere.

“We are seeing at the moment that the pandemic can’t be fought with lies and disinformation, and neither can it be with hatred and agitation,” she said.

“Fact-denying populism is being shown its limits,” she added to applause. “In a democracy, facts and transparency are needed. That distinguishes Europe, and Germany will stand up for it during its presidency.”

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in May proposed creating a one-time 500 billion-euro ($563 billion) recovery fund that would be filled through shared EU borrowing. That is a big step for Germany, breaking with its long-standing opposition to any kind of joint borrowing.

The EU’s executive commission expanded on the proposal, putting forward plans for a 750 billion-euro fund made up mostly of grants. It faces resistance from countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – that oppose grants and are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

“It is right and important for the regions particularly hard hit by the crisis, and above all the people who live there, to be able to count on our solidarity,” Merkel said Wednesday. “It is in our very own interests – but at the same time, that also means the effort that is necessary for the good of all must not overburden the economically strong member states in a one-sided way.”

Merkel is scheduled to hold talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Berlin on Thursday.

In Madrid, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte exhorted his European partners to be bold in their response to the pandemic or risk endangering the bloc’s common market and economy.

“If we end up going for the most diluted option, that would be an erroneous approach because it wouldn’t help any country at all,” Conte told reporters after meeting with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez. “Europe must give an ambitious political response.”

Southern European countries are pressing for a no-strings-attached approach to the recovery fund at the summit in Brussels on July 17-18. That will be first in-person meeting of the bloc’s leaders since the outbreak hit the continent.

Sánchez, said that the planned fund could be “historic” and comparable to the significance of the EU’s foundation or the establishment of the euro single currency. He said consensus among EU leaders was needed no later than this month.

“Recovery and unity are two faces of the same coin,” Sánchez said. “Without unity, there will be no recovery, it’s important that we convey that to our European partners.”

___

Moulson reported from Berlin. Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Czech volunteers develop functioning lung ventilator in days

Czech volunteers develop functioning lung ventilator in days

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A worker checks a lung ventilator “Corovent” manufactured in Trebic, Czech Republic, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. A group of volunteers in the Czech Republic was working round the clock to prevent critical shortage of ventilators for COVID-19 patients. A team … more >

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By Karel Janicek

Associated Press

Monday, July 6, 2020

PRAGUE (AP) — Tomas Kapler knew nothing about ventilators — he’s an online business consultant, not an engineer or a medical technician. But when he saw that shortages of the vital machines had imperiled critically ill COVID-19 patients in northern Italy, he was moved to action.

“It was a disturbing feeling for me that because of a lack of equipment the doctors had to decide whether a person gets a chance to live,” Kapler said. “That seemed so horrific to me that it was an impulse to do something.”

And so he did. “I just said to myself: ‘Can we simply make the ventilators?’” he said.

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Working around the clock, he brought together a team of 30 Czechs to develop a fully functional ventilator – Corovent. And they did it in a matter of days.

Kapler is a member of an informal group of volunteers formed by IT companies and experts who offered to help the state fight the pandemic. The virus struck here slightly later than in western Europe but the number of infected was rising and time was running out.

“It seemed that on the turn of March and April, we might be in the same situation as Italy,” Kapler said.

Ventilators had become a precious commodity. Their price was skyrocketing and so was demand that the traditional makers were unable to immediately meet.

Components for the ventilators were also in critically short supply. So Kapler said he set out to “make a ventilator from the parts that are used in common machines.”

A crowd-funding campaign ensured the necessary finances in just hours.

Kapler approached Karel Roubik, professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Czech Technical University for help. He, in turn, assembled colleagues through Skype, while his post-graduate student tested the new design in their lab in Kladno, west of Prague.

They had a working prototype in five days, something that would normally take a year.

Roubik said their simple design makes the machine reliable, inexpensive, and easy to operate and mass produce.

A group of volunteer pilots flew their planes to deliver anything needed. And then MICO, an energy and chemical company based in Trebic, 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Kladno, offered to do the manufacturing.

Flights between the two places helped fine-tune the production line in a few weeks.

“I didn’t do anything more than those people who were making the face masks,” said MICO’s chief executive, Jiri Denner. “They did the maximum they could. And I did the maximum I could.”

With the certification for emergency use in the European Union approved, the ventilator was ready in April – but it was not needed in the Czech Republic, which had managed to contain the outbreak.

MICO has submitted a request for approval for emergency use in the United States, Brazil, Russia and other countries. Meanwhile, they’ve applied for EU certification for common hospital use.

“Originally, we thought it would be just an emergency ventilator for the Czech Republic,” Kapler said. “But it later turned out that the ventilators will be needed in the entire world.”

Kapler looks back at the effort with satisfaction.

“I had to quit my job and I have been without pay for several months,” he said. “But otherwise, it was mostly positive for me. I’ve met many fantastic people who are willing to help.”

Or to quote the slogan printed on the ventilator’s box: “Powered by Czech heart.”

___

While nonstop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, so, too, have tales of kindness. “One Good Thing” is a series of AP stories focusing on glimmers of joy and benevolence in a dark time. Read the series here: https://apnews.com/OneGoodThing

Poland wants generous EU budget for Central Europe

Poland wants generous EU budget for Central Europe

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Friday, July 3, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Polish President Andrzej Duda said Friday that the European Union’s budget for the next seven years should be generous for Central European nations, which aim to help drive the economic recovery from the coronavirus recession.

Duda spoke to open a summit of prime ministers of the Visegrad Group, a regional cooperation alliance that also includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland is taking over the group’s rotating 12-month presidency from the Czech Republic.

“We want our region to be one of the poles of development in Europe after the pandemic. We have great ambitions but also great development needs,” Duda said.

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“For that reason, we want an ambitious European budget that will be focused on development, on European cohesion and on big structural investments that will fuel European economy in our region,” he said.

Duda urged the government leaders to agree on a joint strategy for the ongoing 2021-2027 budget negotiations among the 27 members of the European Union. Some member nations want the budget reduced for Poland and Hungary,arguing that government policies in the two countries violate EU principles of the rule of law and democracy.

“I want the budget negotiations to be closed as soon as possible, with the desirable results,” Duda said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said later that he trusts the negotiations during a July 17-18 EU summit in Brussels will be successful, but he stressed that he views the existing proposals as “very far” from the “wise financial compromise that we need.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described the proposals on the table as “not bad and interesting.”

Also attending the Warsaw meeting were Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovic and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for a quick agreement on a recovery fund aimed at pulling the EU out of the coronavirus recession. Speaking to the upper house of parliament she said that “every day counts.”

Germany this week took over the rotating EU presidency for six months, giving it a key role in trying to reach a deal on the recovery fund.

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

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In this Monday, May 25, 2020, file photo, people stroll at Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. European Union envoys are close to finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed back into Europe once it … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is edging toward finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter Europe again in coming days, with Americans almost certain to be excluded in the short term due to the number of U.S. coronavirus cases.

Spain’s foreign minister said that the list could contain 15 countries that are not EU members and whose citizens would be allowed to visit from July 1. EU diplomats confirmed that the list would be made public on Tuesday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the procedure is ongoing and politically very sensitive.

EU envoys in Brussels worked over the weekend to narrow down the exact criteria for countries to be included, mostly centered on their ability to manage the spread of the disease. Importantly, the countries are also expected to drop any travel restrictions they have imposed on European citizens.

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The number of confirmed cases in the United States has surged over the past week, and President Donald Trump also suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel zone in a decree in March, making it highly unlikely that U.S. citizens would qualify.

Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high, too, and their nationals are also unlikely to make the cut.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the EU is considering whether to accept travelers from China if Beijing lifts restrictions on European citizens. Morocco is another possibility, although its government doesn’t plan to open borders until July 10.

She said she wasn’t aware of pressure from the United States for the EU to reopen travel to its nationals, adding that countries have been chosen according to their coronavirus statistics – whether similar or not to that in the EU – trends of contagion and how reliable their data is.

“This is not an exercise to be nice or unfriendly to other countries, this is an exercise of self-responsibility,” she told Spain’s Cadena SER radio on Monday.

The safe country list would be reviewed every 14 days, with new countries being added and some possibly dropping off, depending on how the spread of the disease is being managed. Non-EU nationals already in the bloc wouldn’t be affected.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe annually, and any delay would be a further blow to virus-ravaged economies and tourism sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. Around 10 million Europeans are thought to cross the Atlantic for vacations and business each year.

The 27 EU nations and four other countries that are part of Europe’s “Schengen area” – a 26-nation bloc where goods and people move freely without document checks – appear on track to reopen borders between each other from Wednesday.

Once that happens and the green light is given, restrictions on nonessential travel to Europe from the outside world, which were imposed in March to halt new virus cases from entering, would gradually be lifted.

Brussels fears that opening up to countries outside in an ad hoc way could lead to the reintroduction of border controls between nations inside the Schengen area, threatening once again Europe’s cherished principle of free movement, which allows people and goods to cross borders without checks.

___

Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Hungary worries virus could spur more migration to Europe

Hungary worries virus could spur more migration to Europe

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Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – The Hungarian government is “very concerned” that the coronavirus pandemic will trigger more waves of migrants trying to reach Europe from poorer nations where the disease will have a greater impact, the country’s foreign minister said Friday.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said European Union leaders are obligated to help citizens who lost jobs due to the pandemic by stemming “labor-oriented migration” that is “definitely against the interests” of Europe.

Szijjarto said he thinks the EU’s migration policies must be scrapped because they “can be understood as an invitation for those who consider coming to Europe illegally.”

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“We reject all attempts for legalizing illegal migration,” he said after talks with the foreign minister of Cyprus. “We consider migration as a dangerous phenomenon, from a security perspective. There’s a cultural risk, and now there is a health care risk as well.”

Szijjarto said the EU must wage a strong battle against human traffickers and take action against non-governmental organizations that in his view “basically cooperate with these trafficking organizations.”

Hungary will take a “very tough position” in upcoming EU discussions on the migration, the minister said.

The foreign minister of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, said the east Mediterranean island nation faces its own migration challenges. Cyprus ranked first among EU member countries for three consecutive years in number of first-time asylum applications relative to population.

Asylum applications filed in Cyprus increased 76% last year compared to 2018, Christodoulides said.

Danish PM postpones wedding because of EU summit

Danish PM postpones wedding because of EU summit

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FILE – In this Friday, May 29, 2020 file photo, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks during a news conference in Copenhagen. Frederiksen is postponing her wedding next month because of a European Union summit on the future of the … more >

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Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is postponing her wedding next month because of a European Union summit on the future of the bloc’s budget.

“The Council meeting in Brussels takes place on the Saturday in July, where we had planned a wedding. Darn. But I have to take care of my work and take care of Denmark’s interests. So, we have to change plans once again,” Frederiksen said on her Instagram account.

It is the second time she has rescheduled the ceremony. Last year, Frederiksen postponed it because of national elections on June 5 that led her Social Democrats to form a one-party, minority government.

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Frederiksen and her fiance Bo Tengberg met in 2014 and got engaged in 2017, according to Ekstra Bladet.

Frederiksen said she would “probably succeed in getting married soon” and praised her fiance’s patience.

After a number of virtual meetings, The EU has scheduled a physical meeting of the European Council July 17-18 to discuss, among other things, a new long-term EU budget.

Denmark is one of four countries that opposes grants, as opposed to loans, under the recovery fund, and also insists on the 2021-27 EU budget not exceeding 1.0% of the bloc’s gross national income. The four countries – Demark, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands – have been arguing for a smaller sum after Britain’s departure from the EU.

They oppose the plan by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have agreed on a one-off 500 billion-euro ($543 billion) fund to help the EU recover from the coronavirus pandemic, a proposal that would add further cash to an arsenal of financial measures the bloc is readying to cope with the outbreak’s economic fallout. That plan would involve the 27-member bloc borrowing money in financial markets to help sectors and regions that are particularly affected by the pandemic.

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department, Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP) more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Thursday, June 25, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down concerns Thursday that the European Union might refuse to allow Americans into the 27-nation bloc as it considers lifting restrictions on overseas travelers starting next week, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

“It’s a challenge for all of us to decide how and when to open up our economies and our societies. Everybody’s trying to figure that out,” Pompeo said during a videoconference organized by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right.”

European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1. Their envoys to Brussels are debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting entry restrictions on travelers from outside the EU that were imposed in March.

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As the criteria are narrowed down, a list of countries whose citizens might be allowed in is being drawn up. The list would be updated every 14 days based on how the coronavirus is spreading around the world.

The EU’s executive commission recommends that “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

That is likely to rule out people living in the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Beyond epidemiological concerns, any country being considered would first be expected to lift its own travel restrictions on visitors from all 31 European nations.

This would also rule out the U.S. In a March 11 decree, President Donald Trump suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel area. More than 10 million Europeans usually visit the United States each year.

But Pompeo said it’s important for everyone to help “get our global economy back going again.”

“We’ve denied travel to Europe and vice-versa. That’s the posture that we all sit in now, and I think we’re all taking seriously the need to figure out how to get this up,” he said. “We’ll work to get this right. We want to make sure that it’s health-based, science-based.”

The European Commission on Thursday insisted that it’s not trying to target any country or that the list might be politicized as tourism-reliant countries around Europe push to get their borders open again.

“The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” spokesman Eric Mamer said, adding that the EU’s decisions are “based on health criteria.”

___

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Greece slams Turkey’s actions in Aegean, eastern Med

Greece slams Turkey’s actions in Aegean, eastern Med

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By ELENA BECATOROS

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greece’s foreign minister accused Turkey on Wednesday of undermining stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean and causing problems with all of its neighbors, while also violating Greek airspace and territorial waters daily.

Nikos Dendias slammed Turkey’s actions in recent months in the Aegean Sea, which separates the two countries, saying Ankara must “abstain from its illegal gunboat diplomacy.” Dendias spoke during a visit to Greece’s northeastern border with Turkey, accompanied by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

NATO allies and neighbors Greece and Turkey have long had difficult relations, and the two countries have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s. Divided over a series of issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean, relations have become increasingly strained in recent months.

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Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the borders with Europe were open to migrants living in Turkey who wanted to head into the European Union. Although Turkey also shares a border with EU member Bulgaria, it was only on the Greek land border crossing that tens of thousands of migrants gathered, demanding to be allowed to cross.

Dendias described the action as “the exploitation, on the part of Turkey, of the hopes of tens of thousands of civilians for a better life … misled through a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Turkish officials at the highest level.”

Dendias and Borrell toured the Kastanies border crossing in the Evros region where the migrants had gathered in late February.

“It’s very clear that we are determined to protect the external borders of the European Union and to strongly support Greece’s sovereignty,” Borrell said.

The EU foreign policy chief said his visit to Greece had been planned but had been pushed forward after recent incidents involving Turkey “in order order to show our solidarity and to show how much we share your concerns.”

Greece and Turkey are also in dispute over oil and gas exploratory drilling rights in the Mediterranean, with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt outraged at a Turkish agreement with the U.N.-recognized government in Libya laying claim to rights of a swathe of the Mediterranean that they say infringes on their sovereign rights.

Borrell said he and Dendias had discussed the deteriorating relations with Turkey and “about how we can stop the dynamics of escalation.”

Dendias said that after a brief respite while countries dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, “Turkey has once again declared that its land borders to Europe are open. At the same time, its coast guard escorts boats laden with migrants to the Greek islands. But it also persists in undermining security and stability, as well as peace, in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

The Greek minister accused Turkey of “continuously violating the sovereignty of Libya, Syria, Iraq and our EU partner, the Republic of Cyprus. It is violating almost daily Greece’s national airspace and territorial waters, including overflights of inhabited areas here in Evros and the Aegean Sea by armed warplanes.”

He said that while Greece was “open to dialogue” to resolve differences with its neighbor, “we are not prepared to discuss under duress or help legitimize Turkey’s persistent violations of legality.”

Borrell stressed the importance of good relations for all involved.

“I think this is in our interests and the interests of the European Union, Turkey and Greece to try to solve the current difficulties and improve the current relations,” he said.

Turkey says will work with Italy for Libya peace, slams EU

Turkey says will work with Italy for Libya peace, slams EU

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio say goodbye by using their elbows after their joint press conference, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, June 19, 2020.(Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool) more >

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By SUZAN FRASER

Associated Press

Friday, June 19, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey and Italy will continue to work for a lasting peace and political solution in Libya, Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday, while slamming the European Union’s naval operation in the Mediterranean that tries to enforce a U.N. arms embargo on the conflict-torn country.

Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments during a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio. Italy and Turkey support the U.N.-backed government that is based in Tripoli against the rival forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter, who is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries.

Turkey says the EU’s naval operation – dubbed Irini – is focusing its efforts on the Tripoli-based administration and not enough on Hifter’s forces who launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture the capital.

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“We will continue to work with Italy for a last peace and a solution-oriented political process,” Cavusoglu told reporters, praising Italy for what he described as its “balanced stance” on Libya.

“Operation Irini is not balanced. It has never met any of the (Tripoli-based) Government of National Accord’s requests and concerns,” Cavusoglu said. He maintained that the operation ignores alleged “constant arms transfers to Hifter by France.”

Cavusoglu’s comments come amid growing tensions between Turkey and France over Libya. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the military alliance would investigate an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, as France accused Turkey of repeated violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya and branded Ankara an obstacle to securing a cease-fire there.

Di Maio said neither side in the Libyan conflict should have access to arms, adding that Rome welcomed indications that the sides were willing to negotiate.

He also defended the EU naval operation, describing it as “balanced.”

“The aim is to control the arrival of all armaments,” Di Maio said. “It is not a remedy for all ills, but at least it ensures that the embargo is observed.”

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

Turkish military support to the U.N.-backed government has turned the tide in the conflict, driving back Hifter’s forces. Turkey has also sent Syrian militias to fight for the Tripoli government.

Bob Menendez, Eliot Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

Menendez, Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel D-N.Y., speaks during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela at Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Thursday unveiled legislation to restrict funding to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany and other European allied countries.

President Trump confirmed on Monday that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

The plan has received swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers and European leaders who say a U.S. troop withdrawal would hinder the historic U.S.-European alliance and could pave the way for Russian interference in the region.

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Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the legislation that prohibits the use of funds to reduce the presence of U.S. armed forces in Europe unless requested by the host country, the president gives 180 days notice of the withdrawal, or the Secretaries of State and Defense publicly testify on Capitol Hill within 14 days of the announcement.

“The current U.S. troop presence in Germany is in the U.S. national security interest. Full stop,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement. “The Administration has made no effort to explain how our country is stronger because of this drawdown decision. Because we’re not,” he continued. “This drawdown weakens America and Europe. And [Russian President] Vladimir Putin understands and appreciates that better than anyone.”

“Rather than heeding the overwhelming bipartisan rebuke from Congress about this scheme and its catastrophic consequences, President Trump has once again made foreign policy decisions based solely on his absurd affection for Vladimir Putin, a murderous dictator who has attacked America and our allies,” Mr. Engel said. “President Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw thousands of troops from and reduce the total force cap in Germany endangers our national security. Our legislation will stop the Administration from carrying out this calamitous policy.”

Although around 50,000 American troops are authorized to be stationed in Germany, currently there are about 34,000 U.S. troops deployed in Germany. There has also been speculation that some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

Mr. Trump suggested Monday that he could change his mind about the withdrawal of troops if Germany also gives the U.S. more favorable terms on trade in its dealings with the European Union.

“We’re negotiating with them on that,” Mr. Trump said, “but right now I’m not satisfied with the deal they want to make.”

No agreement in sight as EU leaders meet for big money talks

No agreement in sight as EU leaders meet for big money talks

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FILE – In this Wednesday, April 15, 2020 file photo, European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference on the European Union response to the COVID-19 crisis at EU headquarters in Brussels. European leaders on Friday June 19, … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Thursday, June 18, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – With much discord still among European Union leaders, a video summit this week seems to have no hope of finding a compromise on a multibillion-euro post-coronavirus recovery plan or on the long-term EU budget.

Several EU officials and government leaders have shot down expectations ahead of Friday’s meeting, warning that the remote discussions will mainly serve as a springboard for a future accord to be sealed, possibly in July, when leaders will be able to convene for in-person negotiations.

Friday will be the first time leaders will discuss the 750 billion-euro ($825 billion) coronavirus recovery fund proposed in May by the EU’s executive arm to help countries weather the downturn triggered by the deadly virus. The aid plan, a blend of debt mutualization, grants and loans, is linked to another thorny issue which is far from being agreed – the EU’s seven-year budget.

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“You need this moment when you have collective discussions. Leaders need to feel what the others feel. That’s already a first step,” a senior EU official said on Thursday. “We enter a phase of negotiations. We hope there is a momentum and that it will be appropriate for Europe to have an agreement before the summer break.” The EU closes for business in August.

Backed by Germany and France, the recovery fund should be incorporated in the 2021-2027 EU budget under the commission’s plans. Two-thirds of the fund – a half-trillion euros – would take the form of grants, while the rest would be made up of conditions-based loans for which countries could apply.

A group of four countries, however, the so-called “Frugal Four” consisting of the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden, argue that grants should not be just handed over and that rescue funds should be paid back.

In a letter published by the Financial Times this week, the four countries’ leaders pleaded for a “realistic level of spending,” asking “how could it suddenly be responsible to spend 500 billion euros of borrowed money and send the bill into the future?”

Under the commission’s project, applicant countries would have to outline their aims for the money and what reforms they intend to undertake to ensure their economies are more resilient in the future. The applications would have to be endorsed by the EU partners.

To fund the plan, the Commission proposed borrowing money on financial markets. The European Commission has a triple A credit rating, which would give it favorable loan terms. Repayments would not begin before 2028, with the full amount due after 30 years.

Asked about the Frugal Four’s opposition, the senior EU official said dealing with the opposition of a group of countries makes negotiations more difficult since the Council decides by unanimity.

In his invitation letter to member states’ leaders, summit host and EU Council president Charles Michel said Friday’s discussions should help clarify the size and duration of the recovery plan. He asked for a constructive debate on the loans and grants issue.

Michel also pointed out several points where a consensus is emerging, including the need for the money to target the sectors and EU regions the most affected by the crisis.

As for the overall long-term budget, its size, financing and programs have yet to be agreed. The EU money is used for a variety of purposes, from transport and energy policy to space programs, migration and border management, security and farm subsidies. The last time they discussed the matter, EU leaders could not find a compromise after 28 hours of talks,

Taking into account the coronavirus crisis, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has since proposed a revised long-term budget of 1.1 trillion euros for 2021-2027 that would represent around 1.1% of European GDP after the U.K.’s departure, coupled with the temporary reinforcement of the 750 billion euros ⁠set aside to combat the virus. In total, it would amount to 1.85 trillion euros.

“Our ultimate goal is to reach a deal as soon as possible,” Michel wrote. “There is still quite some way to go towards an agreement, so we will need to work hard in the coming days and weeks. We will succeed if we enter talks with a sense of responsibility and the willingness to come out of this major challenge united and strong.”

With US summit planned, Russia prefers EU-Kosovo mediation

With US summit planned, Russia prefers EU-Kosovo mediation

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, shakes hands with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic after a joint press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, June 18, 2020. Lavrov is on a two-day official visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) more >

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By DUSAN STOJANOVIC

Associated Press

Thursday, June 18, 2020

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Russia’s foreign minister said Thursday that Moscow will need to approve any solution reached in peace talks between Kosovo and Serbia that have gained momentum after U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy called for a summit between the two former wartime foes in the White House next week.

Sergey Lavrov, on his first visit outside Russia after the coronavirus outbreak, said that the European Union has the mandate to negotiate in the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, suggesting that Moscow doesn’t back a meeting later this month called by Washington.

Russia assumes that the European Union, which has the mandate of the U.N. General Assembly as a mediator between Belgrade and Pristina, shouldn’t absolve itself of its duties, should carry them out impartially and efficiently and seek those solutions that were agreed before,” Lavrov said.

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He said that any agreement between Serbia and Kosovo must be approved by the U.N. Security Council, the body where Russia has veto power.

Trump envoy Richard Grenell invited Kosovo and Serbian officials to meet in the White House on June 27 after getting confirmation from Serbia it would temporarily pause its campaign for countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo, which itself agreed to pause efforts to win more international memberships.

“This White House opportunity opens the door to new economic development and investment,” Grenell said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Thursday. “The U.S. hopes leaders in Kosovo and Serbia will seize this chance to return to dialogue and begin a new era of stability and prosperity. The people of this region deserve nothing less.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU and the U.S. haven’t always been coordinating efforts toward urging Serbia and Kosovo to reach a deal.

The EU mediator in the talks, Miroslav Lajcak, said in Kosovo on Thursday that Washington hadn’t contacted Brussels on its latest summit initiative and that the EU role is necessary for any future deal.

“We communicate with our partner the U.S. on our initiatives and we expect them to do the same,” Lajcak said. “A good agreement would bring Kosovo and Serbia closer to the EU and I don’t believe that such an agreement can be reached without the EU presence there.”

“The United States is a very important partner and history has shown we are successful when we work together,” Lajcak said.

He said that the Brussels-facilitated dialogue would resume soon and the date would be set after his visit to Belgrade next week.

Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority population in 1998-1999 triggered a bloody Serb crackdown. This in turn prompted a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia to force its troops out of Kosovo. Belgrade and Moscow both refuse to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

At the news conference in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Russia warned Serbia of certain “plans and ideas” regarding possible solutions for the Kosovo problem that fueled concerns about what might be on the table.

“Estimates presented by our Russian friends suggest we will have to be extremely cautious and careful in monitoring any ideas that might be presented to us,” Vucic said, apparently referring to the summit in Washington.

Despite formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been establishing close political, economic and military ties with its Slavic ally Russia.

___

Jovana Gec in Belgrade, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.

Turkey the key to unlocking NATO help for EU naval operation

Turkey the key to unlocking NATO help for EU naval operation

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FILE – In this Jan. 17, 2020, file, photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter joins a meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens. Two families targeted in a campaign of violence more than five years ago are suing … more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – Turkey is hindering European Union attempts to secure NATO’s help for the bloc’s naval operation in the Mediterranean as its tries to enforce a U.N. arms embargo on conflict-torn Libya, according to diplomats and officials in Brussels.

The operation – dubbed Irini, the Greek word for “peace” – was launched on April 1. The European Council said it has as “its core task the implementation of the U.N. arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets.”

But Turkey, a NATO member whose efforts to join the EU have stalled, suspects that Irini focuses too much on the internationally recognized Libyan administration in Tripoli and not enough on rival forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter, who launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture the capital.

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Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

Hifter is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli led by Fayez Sarraj is backed by Turkey, which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January, as well as Italy and Qatar.

On Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc and NATO “are discussing how to establish a new arrangement of cooperation – not participation – cooperation between Operation Irini and NATO, once again in our shared interest.”

“I hope that this cooperation agreement can be set up on the next days,” said Borrell, who is set to take part in a video conference with NATO defense ministers on Thursday.

But two NATO diplomats raised doubts about whether Turkey would let such an arrangement happen, and because the 30-nation military alliance operates on the basis of unanimity, NATO’s support cannot be guaranteed. The diplomats’ job descriptions do not allow them to speak on the record about in-house deliberations.

Asked Wednesday what the response might be, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said “we are looking into possible support, possible cooperation, but no decision has been taken. There is dialogue, contacts, addressing that as we speak.” He noted that NATO did provide support to the EU’s previous naval operation, which had a different mandate to Irini.

So far, Turkey does not seem to be entirely helpful to the EU operation, and a recent incident highlights the limitations of Irini, which only has two ships and three planes and needs more.

Borrell said that Irini personnel tried to make contact last week with a “suspicious” Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship that was being escorted by two Turkish warships. He said the ship refused to respond, but its Turkish escorts said the cargo was medical equipment bound for Libya.

He said the personnel contacted the Turkish and Tanzanian authorities to try to verify the information, and they also informed the United Nations. Borrell added that had Irini received no reply from any of the ships, it could have taken other action. He refused to elaborate.

“It is only in the cases in which the ship is not answering that we can take another kind of activities, we can do something more,” Borrell said. “We cannot do anything more than to transmit this information to the United Nations. It is the United Nations who gathers this information in order to control the implementation of the arms embargo.”

The Latest: France to end border lockdown, open up to Europe

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A policeman wearing a protective suit stands watch people living surrounding the Xinfadi wholesale market arrive to get a nucleic acid test at a stadium in Beijing, Sunday, June 14, 2020. China is reporting its highest daily total of coronavirus … more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Sunday, June 14, 2020

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin says the country is emerging from the coronavirus crisis, but that the United States is struggling because it has a fragmented government system.

In an interview on state television Sunday, parts of which were reported before broadcast by news media, Putin said “we are working quite steadily and getting out of this situation with the coronavirus confidently, with minimal losses.”

In the U.S., “this is not happening,” he said, noting the central and regional governments work more closely in Russia. “I doubt that someone somewhere in the government or in the regions suddenly said: ‘We will not do what the government says or the president says. We consider this inappropriate,’” Putin said.

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___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Russia’s low virus death toll still raises questions in West.

China, Korea, Egypt report rise in virus cases as curbs ease.

– Europe opens its borders to Europeans, but not Americans, Asians.

– Thai entrepreneur connects Michelin bistros to those in need.

– Bars are being allowed to reopen in party-loving New Orleans after a long shutdown prompted by coronavirus fears.

– Workers who agreed to live at a Georgia nursing home to keep residents safe from the coronavirus are back with loved ones.

– Major League Baseball appears headed to its shortest season since the 1870s.

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

LIMA, Peru – Archbishop Carlos Castillo on Sunday looked out over a cathedral full of faces – none of them now alive.

The cleric had his church filled with more than 5,000 portraits of those who have died in the pandemic that is burning across Peru and South America as a whole, using his broadcast homily to criticize a health system he said “is based on egotism and on business and not on mercy and solidarity with the people.”

COVID-19 has taken at least 6,400 lives in the nation of some 32 million people – a toll second only to that of Brazil within South America.

Hundred of them have died without receiving help from the health system, and many families have faced financial ruin due to the cost of trying to care for the ill. The nation as a whole faces a projected economic contraction of 12% this year, and Castillo called for solidarity with the poor.

“An even harder moment is coming,” he said. “It would be terrible if in the times to come we have thousands of these photos – but dead of hunger.”

Church workers spent days filling the pews with images of coronavirus victims, and when the 84 pews were filled, the archbishop ordered thousands of photos more attached to the base of the columns that rise to the arched ceiling.

___

PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron announced that France is fully reopening its economy, including all restaurants, to accelerate the country’s recovery after virus crisis.

Macron said restaurants in the Paris region will be allowed to open indoor seating starting on Monday. Until then, only outdoor seating was permitted.

Restaurants in other French regions have already reopened.

From June 22, all nursery schools, primary schools and junior high schools will be open and mandatory for all students – instead of classes capped to small groups and many children staying at home.

Macron also confirmed that the second round of local elections that have been interrupted by the virus lockdown will take place on June 28.

“We must relaunch our economy,” Macron said.

France is reopening its borders with other European countries at midnight and will start allowing visitors from other continents on July 1st.

The country, which has reported at least 29,398 deaths from the virus in hospitals and nursing homes, has been under strict lockdown from March 17 to May 11, before gradually easing restrictions.

___

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a review of the government’s two-meter (6.5-feet) social distancing rule, saying the falling number of coronavirus cases gives the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the guideline.

Johnson said that “probably” fewer than one in 1,000 people now have the virus, and the chance of coming in contact with someone who’s infected are increasingly remote.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said that officials will be drawing on advice on the issue from economists as well as the government’s scientific and medical advisers.

Conservative lawmakers and businesses have been putting increasing pressure on the government to ease the two-metre rule, arguing that it will make it extremely difficult for many pubs and restaurants to operate.

They say that the government in the U.K. can follow other countries and ask people to socially distance at one meter or 1.5 meters.

___

MILAN – Italy added 44 deaths from coronavirus on Sunday, with nearly half of those in hardest-hit Lombardy.

While most Italian regions counted fewer than 10 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours, with eight regions at zero, Lombardy’s count remained stuck in the triple digits, numbering 244, according to the civil protection agency.

The next highest number was in neighboring Piedmont, at 30. As of Sunday, more than a month after a gradual easing of lockdown started and nearly two weeks since regional borders opened, the number of people currently positive for the virus is 26,274 — with 3,800 being treated in the hospital.

___

ATHENS, Greece – Greece has announced zero new fatalities for the fifth consecutive day, the longest such run since mid-March.

Thus, fatalities remain at 183, while nine new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours have pushed the total to 3,121.

Thirteen patients remain hooked up to ventilators, while 116 have exited intensive care units, authorities said Sunday.

On Monday, Greece is opening a second airport to international traffic, in Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city, part of an attempt to ease into the tourist season. Depending on the country of origin, arriving passengers will either be tested at random or will follow the existing protocol, which mandates that all aboard an arriving flight be tested.

Flights will be allowed only from European Union countries, at least until June 30. But while routes from France, Italy and the Netherlands to Athens will resume Monday, the ban remains in Thessaloniki.

Also, land travel with Bulgaria, the only neighboring country that is also an EU member, will be permitted from Monday.

Greece’s museums reopen Monday, after a three-month shutdown. Masks, social distancing and limits to groups will be enforced.

___

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey is “moving away from the target,” the country’s health minister warned Sunday as the daily number of new coronavirus cases rose above 1,500 following the relaxation of restrictions.

Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 1,562 new cases were recorded over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily figure since June 3.

Reporting 1,330 recoveries, he said: “Our number of recovered patients fell below the number of new cases. The need for intensive care and respiratory equipment is rising.”

Koca also reported 15 deaths due to coronavirus, taking the total since the first case on March 11 to 4,807. Turkey has recorded a total of 178,239 coronavirus cases.

At the start of June, the government authorized cafes, restaurants, gyms, parks, beaches and museums to reopen and eased stay-at-home orders for the elderly and young.

A weekend curfew that was due to be implemented last week was canceled, ending the series of part-time lockdowns in place since April.

Koca called for people to switch to a period of “controlled social life” from Monday to halt the rise in cases.

___

CAIRO – Egypt says it will resume international flights starting July 1 with countries that will open its airports.

Minister of Civil Aviation Mohammed Manar told a news conference on Sunday that all of the country’s airports will be reopened allowing travelers around the world to return to parts of the country less hard-hit by the coronavirus.

Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled el-Anany also says the government will open three provinces to tourists starting July 1.

Those include the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, home to the major resort and beach destination of Sharm el Sheikh, the Red Sea resort areas of Hurghada and Marsa Alam, as well as Marsa Matrouh, on the Mediterranean coast.

The government hopes to draw tourists to popular yet remote attractions that have been spared the ravages of the virus.

The decision comes even as the pandemic surges in the Arab world’s most populous country, which has at least 1,484 deaths among 42,980 confirmed cases.

___

PARISFrance is opening its borders with other European countries at midnight for the first time since shutting them amid virus fears three months ago, and will start opening up to visitors from other continents July 1.

It’s among several European countries opening borders first thing Monday – though it’s not clear how many Europeans are ready to travel again.

The French government has urged fellow EU members to coordinate their border rules, and is sticking to calendar recommendations from the European Commission last week.

“Given the favorable evolution of the health situation in France and in Europe,” the French government said in a statement it’s opening its borders to all arrivals from the EU and countries in the border-free Schengen zone Monday.

People arriving from inside Europe won’t need to undergo quarantine. But France will apply different rules to visitors from Spain and Britain because those countries established different reopening schedules.

France will gradually allow visitors from outside Europe starting July 1, based on the virus situation in countries of origin.

The French government promised to ease entry for foreign students in particular ahead of the new academic year.

___

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – El Salvador’s president says that a stringent quarantine imposed to fight COVID-19 has legally expired and a gradual reopening of the economy will begin Tuesday.

The Central American nation’s Supreme Court ruled that the strict measures decreed by President Nayib Bukele were unconstitutional and Bukele said Saturday night that he is going to veto the alternative restrictions passed Friday by the National Assembly.

As a result, he acknowledged, by law the region’s most restrictive legal lockdown has ended, though he asked citizens to continue in quarantine voluntarily until Tuesday, when phased measures to reactivate economic life would begin.

Under Bukele’s stay-at-home decrees, violators were sent to government-run containment centers for month-long stays. He had resisted loosening the orders, arguing that the country’s medical system could be quickly overwhelmed, resulting in much greater loss of life.

Health Minister Francisco Alabí said that the nation’s health system is already strained, with 90 of its 105 available intensive care beds already occupied. He said he expected to see an increase in COVID-19 cases with the end of restrictions.

The country of nearly 6.5 million people has reported 3,603 confirmed cases of the disease, with 72 deaths.

___

SKOPJE, North Macedonia – Authorities in North Macedonia have reported a new record day of fatalities from the coronavius.

The Health Ministry announced Sunday nine deaths from COVID-19 and 162 new cases over the past 24 hours, which brings the total number of infected to 4,064 with 188 deaths.

The figures place the small Balkan nation of about 2 million people at the top of the list of infections and deaths in the region.

Despite the spike, North Macedonia has lifted a state of emergency as of midnight Saturday. It has also adopted a protocol for visitors transiting through the country, either through the land crossings with neighboring Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo and Serbia, or through the international airport in the capital Skopje. Transiting visitors are allowed to remain in the country for five hours maximum and will be obliged to fill out a form upon entry in North Macedonia and to hand it over to the border police at the exit as proof of the duration of transit.

Macedonian citizens can leave the country, but they are obliged to sign a statement at the exit that, if they are infected with COVID-19 while abroad, they will pay for their treatment. Upon re-entry, they must present to border authorities the results of a diagnostic test taken within the past 72 hours.

___

MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says Spain will open its borders to travelers from Europe’s Schengen travel areas except Portugal on June 21, moving up the original date by 10 days.

Spain will drop its requirement for people arriving from abroad to stay in quarantine, either at home or in a hotel, for 14 days on arrival, when it reopens on that day.

Sánchez said Sunday that Spain and Portugal will keep their border closed to non-essential crossings until July 1.

Spain’s government had already announced that on June 21 it will end the nation’s state of emergency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. From then on, Spaniards will be able to move freely around the country without restrictions, but face masks will remain obligatory in public transport and crowded spaces.

On Monday, Spain’s Balearic Islands test their reopening strategy by accepting the first flights from Germany of tourists who will be exempt from a quarantine. The islands plan to welcome up to 10,900 Germans during the trial.

Over 27,000 Spaniards have died in the country’s pandemic.

___

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh reported 3,141 new cases and 32 more deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday, raising its total caseload to 87,520, including 1,171 fatalities.

Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Health Directorate, said a junior minister from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Cabinet and a former health minister and close aide to Hasina both died of the virus on Saturday in Dhaka, the capital.

Bangladesh’s main state-run hospitals are overwhelmed, with many critical COVID-19 patients being deprived of intensive care beds and ventilators.

___

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – The Yemeni Embassy in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, is shuttering indefinitely due to a number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus among staff.

The embassy made the announcement on Twitter late Saturday, but did not specify how many people had contracted COVID-19.

Similarly, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh also announced that starting Sunday its office for labor affairs will close after a number of employees were tested for the coronavirus and six people were confirmed positive for the disease. The office is being sterilized and employees were working remotely, according to the embassy.

Despite taking early and unprecedented measures to curb the spread of the virus, Saudi Arabia’s numbers continue to climb by more than 3,000 cases daily with more than 123,000 confirmed cases overall.

___

BEIJING – China is reporting its highest daily total of coronavirus cases in two months after the capital’s biggest wholesale food market was shut down following a resurgence in local infections.

Officials say there were 57 confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midnight Saturday. That was the highest daily total since mid-April and included 36 new cases in Beijing.

The Xinfadi market on Beijing’s southeast side was closed Saturday and 11 neighboring residential compounds locked down after more then 50 people in the capital tested positive for the virus. They were the first confirmed cases in 50 days in the city of 20 million people.

China had relaxed most of its anti-virus controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the disease in March.

___

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has confirmed 34 more coronavirus cases in a continuation of an upward trend in new infections, mostly in the densely populated Seoul region.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that 30 of the 34 new cases are in the grater Seoul area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live.

The agency says South Korea has now recorded 12,085 virus cases. It says 10,718 have recovered, 1,090 remain in treatment and the other 277 died.

New cases have been linked to nightlife establishments, church services, a large-scale e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sellers.

In late February and early March, South Korea reported hundreds of new cases daily, then a significant easing prompted authorities to ease social distancing rules.

___

CAIRO – Egypt’s Health Ministry has announced 1,677 new confirmed cases of coronavirus – the highest 24-hour infection total since the virus was first detected in the country in mid-February.

The ministry also reported 62 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus.

The figures announced Saturdays raise Egypt’s coronavirus totals to 1,484 deaths and 42,980 confirmed cases. The ministry says 11,529 patients have been discharged from quarantine after their recovery.

Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and it has the highest death rate from COVID-19 among Arab nations. It ranks third in the Middle East after Iran and Turkey.

___

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis celebrated Mass Sunday for about 50 socially distanced and masked faithful inside St. Peter’s Cathedral, the first time the pontiff said Mass with ordinary congregants since restrictions were put in place for the coronavirus epidemic.

The Mass marked the Corpus Christi holiday, celebrating the Roman Catholic belief that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ. During lockdown, the faithful could follow Mass on television but were unable to receive communion, one of the church’s holy sacraments.

The faithful – standing at a safe distance from one another – also were present in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly Sunday blessing. The pope led a prayer for Libya, and urged political and military leaders to end hostilities and for the international community to take “to heart” the plight of migrants trapped in the lawless nation. “There is cruelty,” the pope said. “We all have responsibility. No one can feel exempt.”

___

PARISFrance’s highest administrative court says coronavirus concerns no longer justify banning public protests.

In a country that sees thousands of protests annually, the Council of State’s ruling Saturday night allows demonstrations to resume as long as health protections are respected and the events are declared in advance to authorities and not deemed a risk to public order.

The council says that “the ban on protesting is not justified by the current health situation” and the right to protest is a “fundamental freedom.”

The ruling came as an unauthorized protest against police violence and racial injustice wound down in Paris. Police stopped at least 15,000 protesters from marching through the city Saturday, citing virus restrictions on any gathering of more than 10 people.

Germany seeks ‘stable’ ties with China, EU investment deal

Germany seeks ‘stable’ ties with China, EU investment deal

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks prior to the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Fabrizio Bensch/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, June 11, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her country wants stable relations with China and greater access to the Chinese market for foreign companies.

In a statement, her office said Merkel stressed Germany’s interest in “rules-based and free multilateral trade” during a video call Thursday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

It said she also noted Germany’s desire to “strengthen the World Trade Organization and in stable bilateral relations” with China.

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European Union officials have emphasized the need to maintain good ties to China, a growing economic, political and military power, as relations with the EU’s old ally, the United States, have been strained during the Trump presidency.

German had planned to host a summit in September with all EU leaders and China, but that was recently postponed due to the pandemic.

According to Merkel’s office, the German chancellor raised the virus outbreak, the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in general during her call with Li.

On trade, Merkel “noted the need for further steps on market access, reciprocity and equal treatment for foreign companies” in China, it said.

“The conclusion of an ambitious investment agreement between the EU and China would be an important element there,” Merkel’s office said.

NATO chief urges allies not to go it alone

NATO chief urges allies not to go it alone

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Monday, June 8, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday urged the 30 members of the world’s biggest military alliance to defend the rules-based global order and to champion democracy amid challenges from Russia and China.

In a speech laying out his vision of NATO for 2030, Stoltenberg said that the U.S.-led organization must become more political, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which exposed a lack of preparedness in many countries and severe weaknesses in their health systems.

“As we look to 2030, we need to work even more closely with like-minded countries, like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, to defend the global rules and institutions that have kept us safe for decades,” Stoltenberg said during an online event.

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He urged them to “stand up for a world built on freedom and democracy. Not on bullying and coercion.”

President Donald Trump has routinely berated U.S. allies in Europe and Canada for what he considers to be insufficient defense spending, and trans-Atlantic relations are at their lowest ebb for decades over his threats to slap tariffs on steel, aluminum or cars exported from Europe.

Trump has also pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal and has threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organization, accusing it of being effectively controlled by China and misleading the world about the virus.

Stoltenberg said that “the challenges that we face over the next decade are greater than any of us can tackle alone. Neither Europe alone nor America alone. So, we must resist the temptation of national solutions.”

He added that the allies “must live up to our values, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

Stoltenberg said that Russia continues to develop new weapons, including recently a medium-range missile, while “the rise of China is fundamentally shifting the global balance of power,” and that the spread of the coronavirus has increased security tensions.

The disease has often been framed as a silent enemy and has killed hundreds of thousands of people on both side of the Atlantic, but the military alliance has only been able to play a limited role in combating it, compared with other multinational institutions like the United Nations and European Union.

Stoltenberg said the allies “need to use NATO more politically,” with military, economic and diplomatic resources to help strengthen societies and lessen their vulnerabilities to threats like the coronavirus or hybrid and cyber-attacks.

Vietnam ratifies trade deal with EU in boost for economy

Vietnam ratifies trade deal with EU in boost for economy

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Containers are loaded on a ship at Saigon port in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam May 3, 2020. Vietnam on Monday, June 8, 2020, ratified a significant trade deal with the European Union, which is expected boost the country’s manufacturing … more >

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By HAU DINH

Associated Press

Sunday, June 7, 2020

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Vietnam ratified a landmark trade deal Monday with the European Union that is expected to energize the country’s manufacturing sector and exports, as it recovers from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers approved the agreement in their first National Assembly session since the pandemic began.

The deal was signed in Hanoi last June and was ratified by the European Parliament in February.

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When it takes effect next month, the EU will lift 85% of its tariffs on Vietnamese goods, gradually cutting the rest over the next seven years. Vietnam will lift 49% of its import duties on EU exports and phase out the rest over 10 years.

The implementation of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement “can’t come at a better time for Vietnam when it’s on the path of economic recovery after several months of closure due to COVID-19,” said economist Pham Chi Lan, a former adviser to several of Vietnam’s prime ministers.

Vietnam prioritized public health and safety when the coronavirus started to peak in China. It closed the border with China in January and with the rest of the world in February while imposing a social shutdown that lasted until the end of April. The tough measures contained Vietnam’s outbreak to just over 300 cases with no known deaths. No local infections have been reported for almost two months.

Still, the economy has been hit as the shutdowns at home and abroad restricted movements of goods and people.

The pandemic revealed shortcomings in Vietnam’s manufacturing sector. After Vietnam’s own factories reopened, output was constrained by a lack of supplies of materials from China. That was particularly true for textiles, footwear and electronics, the country’s key exports.

“COVID-19 has given Vietnam a hard lesson about being dependent on China,” Lan said. “It also showed other countries, including the EU, the negative impact of relying too much on China in their product value chain. The EVFTA (free trade agreement) comes in the right time as all parties realize they need to pivot and restructure to diversify the supply chain.”

Vietnam is the EU’s second-largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, with two-way trade reaching $56 billion last year, according to the national general statistics office.

The agreement with the EU is expected to improve Vietnam’s competitiveness, enhancing its attractiveness for investors shifting factories out of China.

Tiny Singapore is the only other country in Southeast Asia that has a free-trade agreement with the EU.

“EVFTA will add to the positive momentum drawing manufacturing to Vietnam,” said Michael Sieburg, a partner of YCP Solidiance, a corporate strategy consulting firm focusing on Asia.

“Manufacturers looking to locate in the region and seeking a more competitive access to EU markets will be more inclined to shift manufacturing to Vietnam as a result of EVFTA,” he said.

Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit a 10-year high of $38 billion in 2019. About two-thirds of that went into manufacturing, and the agreement should help sustain that trend, Sieburg said.

Lawmakers also ratified a second pact that protects investors. Negotiated since 2012, it gives EU companies equal treatment with domestic bidders in competing for public contracts in Vietnam. Vietnam, a communist-ruled country, also committed to standards for sustainable development, including improving its human rights record, protecting labor rights and upholding its pledges to deal with climate change under the Paris accord.

Vietnam has agreed to similar pledges in a Pacific Rim trade deal called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

More than 30 years since carrying out economic reforms to integrate with the global economy, the country with a population of 95 million, is emerging as a manufacturing powerhouse.

But it has a long way to go, trailing far behind Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, with a per capita GDP of about $2,600, or less than half that of Thailand.

The aim is to build ties with countries that have advanced technologies and good corporate governance, said Lan.

“The free trade agreement with the EU will help Vietnam raise its skills and standards. It is a great opportunity for Vietnam to excel,” Lan said.

Albanian parties reach consensus on electoral reform

Albanian parties reach consensus on electoral reform

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By LLAZAR SEMINI

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Albanian political parties on Friday reached a long-sought consensus on electoral reform aimed at guaranteeing free and fair elections and considered a key condition to start accession negotiations with the European Union.

The new agreement focuses on the electronic identification of the voters, depoliticizing the election administration and other technicalities in line with recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has monitored the post-communist country’s elections.

Albania’s post-communist elections have continually been marred by irregularities, like vote buying or manipulation in baloot counting.

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After failing to conclude an agreement by the May 31 deadline that had been set by the political parties, two days of meetings of the main political actors were held at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim, facilitating the dialogue together with her EU and British counterparts.

“They address a key condition to start EU accession negotiations, as stated in the Council conclusions of March 2020, thereby moving Albania one step closer to its EU future. This bodes well for future progress on reforms needed on Albania’s EU path,” said a joint statement of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi.

In March Albania and North Macedonia were given the green light by the European Union to begin membership talks, though a starting date has yet to be set.

A U.S. Embassy statement said, “This important milestone was reached because Albania’s leaders put their differences aside and worked to deliver a tangible result to the Albanian people.”

The OSCE, which assisted in drafting the reform, urged that “all the proposed and agreed changes (are) voted” on in the parliament soon so they can be applied in next year’s elections.

Rescued migrants stranded on chartered Maltese tourist boats

Rescued migrants stranded on chartered Maltese tourist boats

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Migrants dry their clothes aboard a tourist boats some 20 kilometers from Malta, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. More than 400 migrants are living aboard pleasure cruise vessels, bobbing in the sea off Malta, many of them for weeks now. Rescued … more >

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By FRANCES D’EMILIO and RENE ROSSIGNAUD

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) – More than 400 migrants are living aboard pleasure cruise vessels bobbing in the sea off Malta, many of them for weeks now. But for them, it’s no pleasure, only uncertainty over their fate and they aren’t cruising anywhere.

Rescued from human traffickers’ unseaworthy boats in several operations in the central Mediterranean since late April, the migrants, along with the Maltese government, are waiting for European Union countries to offer to take them in. So far, only France has stepped forward, pledging to accept some of the asylum-seekers.

France is one of a handful of EU countries which agreed last year to share the burden of caring for migrants rescued at sea by Malta and Italy.

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But that arrangement often yielded pledges that weren’t fully met, and that was before COVID-19 containment measures in Europe made movement of peoples across borders even more complicated.

On Wednesday, SOS Mediterranee, a European humanitarian group which has operated rescue boats in the Mediterranean Sea, lamented that the migrants being held on the chartered tourist boats were being used as political pawns.

“Instead of disembarking them in a safe place, as international law requires, the persons rescued at sea get used for political negotiations with member states of the European Union, which, despite the urgency of the situation, haven’t proposed a coordinated solution for their transfer,” the group said in a statement.

On Tuesday, some of the migrants could be seen walking on deck. Their laundry hung from improvised clothes lines. Maltese armed forces, arrayed in boats, keep watch on the four vessels usually used for pleasure excursions to ferry tourists to the tiny Mediterranean island nation’s attractions, like the blue grotto and beaches accessible by sea. The small flotilla of tourist boats is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) off shore.

With Malta under COVID-19 containment measures, its ports have been closed, and the four tourist cruise boats can’t operate for business now. But this week, Malta announced that on July 1 it re-opens to tourism. The government is paying several thousand euros a day to charter the boats from a Maltese company.

At a news conference Monday to outline the July 1 travel rules, Prime Minister Robert Abela was asked about the migrants’ fate. Abela described the situation as unfortunate. He noted that while Malta reopens its airport on July 1, its ports stay closed for now as part of coronavirus containment rules.

Malta has registered 620 known cases of COVID-19. About 50 of those infections were suffered by migrants in one of its reception centers on land. With that one under quarantine and others full in late April, Malta decided to charter private vessels, in this case from a tourist pleasure craft company, to house the migrants.

The numbers of migrants kept at sea swelled last week to past 400, with the latest sea rescue on May 27.

Abela said this week he hoped a European solution will be found for these migrants as well in case of future rescues of migrants from boats launched by Libya-based traffickers. The migrants flee conflict and poverty, with many of them coming from sub-Saharan Africa. Migrants who embark on the dangerous journeys because of economic reasons usually see their asylum bids denied.

Two weeks ago, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration said it was “unacceptable to leave people at sea longer than necessary, especially under difficult and unsuitable conditions.” The organizations noted that 21 people, mostly families and children, had been evacuated and brought ashore to Malta earlier in May.

Early in the standoff at sea, Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo said that since 2005, other EU countries had taken what he called a “miserly 8% of all those who were saved and brought to Malta.”

___

Frances D’Emilio reported from Rome. Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.

Kosovo lawmakers vote in new center-right prime minister

Kosovo lawmakers vote in new center-right prime minister

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Newly elected prime minister Avdullah Hoti, speaks to the media in the capital Pristina, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Kosovo’s parliament voted in a new prime minister Wednesday to lead a fragile coalition government that will inherit the economic impact of … more >

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By ZENEL ZHINIPOTOKU and LLAZAR SEMINI

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – Kosovo’s parliament voted in a new prime minister Wednesday to lead a fragile coalition government that will inherit the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and stalled normalization talks with neighboring Serbia.

Lawmakers voted 61-24 with one abstention to approve the nomination of Avdullah Hoti, 44, of the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK. Members from the left-wing Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje!, party that had been governing Kosovo did not attend the vote.

By securing the lowest possible number of votes in the 120-seat parliament, Hoti replaces Acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti, whom the LDK party overthrew with a no-confidence vote in late March when it was part of Kurti’s coalition government.

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A small number of Vetevendosje! supporters protested outside the parliament building.

Hoti’s party came in second behind the Vetevendosje! in an October snap election. To form the new Cabinet approved Wednesday, LDK joined forces with two smaller ethnic Albanian parties, the ethnic Serb minority party and other minority lawmakers.

Hoti, an economics professor, said his government aimed to collect 1.2 billion Euros ($1.4 billion) from the national budget and international resources to counter the negative impact of the pandemic on Kosovo’s economy.

Resuming the internationally facilitated dialogue over ties with Serbia remains a top challenge. The talks stalled in November 2018 after government then running Kosovo set a 100% tariff on Serb imports.

Hoti did not say whether he would reverse a “reciprocity” standard Kurti introduced that as of Sunday required Serbian authorities to apply the same documentation standards for their exported goods to Kosovo as they require for Kosovar goods entering their country.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described Kosovo’s new rules as “insane,” adding that his country was losing a million euros per day, according to state broadcaster RTS.

Hoti said the United States and the European Union both should be involved in the normalization talks and help guarantee the implementation of any deal that comes out of them.

“We believe the dialogue with Serbia to achieve the overall agreement, based on the reciprocal recognition of the two countries, is of vital interest for Kosovo,” Hoti said.

The United States and the European Union repeatedly have called on Kosovo and Serbia to resume dialogue.

Both EU leaders and the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina welcomed the new government.

“The EU-facilitated dialogue is the only way to turn Kosovo’s European future into a reality for its citizens,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said in a statement.

Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising in 1998-1999 by the ethnic Albanian majority population triggered a bloody Serb crackdown. A NATO bombing campaign to force Serbia’s troops out of Kosovo ended the war.

Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Ivana Bzganovic contributed from Belgrade.

Bank of England reminds banks of ‘no deal’ Brexit risk

Bank of England reminds banks of ‘no deal’ Brexit risk

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In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier, right, speaks with the British Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost during the start of the first round … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

LONDON (AP) – The Bank of England is reminding British banks to prepare for the possibility that the U.K. and the European Union will fail to agree on a trade deal by the end of the year, amid few signs of progress in discussions between the two sides.

In a statement Wednesday following reports that its governor, Andrew Bailey, is asking banks to step up their preparations for a “no-deal” scenario, the Bank of England said it is “fundamental” that it prepares the financial system for “all risks that it might face.”

“In performing that role, the Governor meets the leadership of U.K. banks on a very regular basis,” it said.

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“As we have said previously, the possibility that negotiations between the U.K. and EU over a future trading relationship might not conclude in a deal is one of a number of outcomes that U.K. banks need to prepare for over the coming months.”

Though the U.K. left the EU’s political institutions in January, it remains within its economic orbit – the tariff-free single market and customs union – until the end of the year.

The country has an option to extend this so-called transition period designed to smooth the Brexit process, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he won’t be asking for a delay. Any request has to be made by July 1.

Discussions over a trade deal have made little headway, with both sides arguing that the other is creating unnecessary obstacles. The British government says the EU is being unreasonable on fishing rights, for example, while the EU counters that the U.K. is trying to cherry-pick the best parts of being a member of the bloc.

And that’s raised concerns that the British economy faces the prospect of a ‘no deal’ scenario at a time of acute stress related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese carmaker Nissan joined other businesses in expressing concerns, warning it will not be able to sustain operations at its plant in Sunderland, northeast England, if the negotiations fail to lead to a trade deal.

Nissan’s global chief operating officer, Ashwani Gupta, told the BBC that the company wants to remain in the U.K. but that the business “will not be sustainable” if the current tariff-free arrangement disappears.

“That’s what everybody has to understand,” he said.

Another round of Brexit talks is taking place via video conferencing and is expected to conclude Friday. Johnson is then expected to take part in a summit with EU leaders this month.

___

Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit