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Coronavirus deals blow to Putin’s plans to stay in power until 2036

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures to cope..

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures to cope with the spread of the virus and its widening economic effects."Let's not rely on our Russian luck," he said. "Please do not think, as we often do: 'Oh, this will not touch me.' It can touch everyone. And then what is happening today in many Western countries, both in Europe and overseas, could become our immediate future."Some of the measures were meant to soften the economic blow. Starting on March 28, Russians will have a week's paid leave — to stay home. Russians will see a moratorium on mortgage payments, and enterprises will be given credit holidays. And families entitled to government payments to support multiple children will receive extra monthly payments.But coronavirus has taken on a political dimension for the Russian leader: Putin also announced that a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments scheduled for April 22 has been postponed until further notice."We'll evaluate the situation and based only on the recommendations from doctors and specialists we will decide on a new date," Putin said.It's hard to understate how important that vote was to securing the Russian president's hold on power. Putin has grasped the reins of power in his country for two decades, but his current term ends in 2024, leaving Russia with a potential succession crisis. Putin's system of managed democracy means that power flows from one man: The president has no serious political competition, his friends and allies control the commanding heights of the economy and Putin is the ultimate arbiter of disputes between elites. The current constitution requires Putin to step down after his current term, meaning that the system he presides over could quickly unravel.The April 22 vote was supposed to remedy that, in typically Putinesque fashion. The country's rubber-stamp parliament rammed through amendments to the constitution that could pave the way for the president stay in power after his current term ends, potentially until 2036. Putin signed the amendments, and the constitutional court endorsed the proposed changes, which must now be put to the popular vote.Coronavirus, then, is a new political battlefield for Putin, and the Kremlin leader preceded his speech Wednesday with a public relations offensive.Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a hospital in Kommunarka in protective gear.On Tuesday, the Russian leader paid a visit to the main Moscow hospital for monitoring suspected coronavirus patients, donning protective gear to visit the hospital in the city's suburb of Kommunarka. It was the kind of costume play we're used to seeing from the Kremlin, and reminiscent of one of his earliest moves as Russia's acting president: flying to the war-torn republic of Chechnya in 2000 in the co-pilot's seat of an Su-27 fighter jet.Putin cast the current campaign against coronavirus in martial terms."I watched how they [the hospital staff] are working, everyone is at their battle positions," he said, according to a Kremlin statement. "Everyone works like clockwork, good and well-coordinated."Putin wasn't just playing the decisive commander-in-chief for a domestic audience. He also deployed his military as part of an international campaign to battle the pandemic. Over the weekend, the Russian military announced it was deploying a group of 100 doctors and virologists along with disinfection equipment to Italy to assist that country in countering the outbreak.Why Vladimir Putin is shaking up RussiaRussian Aerospace Forces Il-76 aircraft departed Sunday from Moscow's Chkalovsky military airfield with Russian military specialists and equipment aboard. The Russian Ministry of Defense posted a photo of one of the transport planes: the fuselage was decorated with a picture of two hearts, one each in the colors of the Italian and Russian flags."From Russia with love," the sign read in Russian, English Read More – Source


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LGBT rights at heart of Poland presidential-election fight

While campaigning for re-election ahead of Sundays final-round vote, Polands President Andrzej Duda ..

While campaigning for re-election ahead of Sundays final-round vote, Polands President Andrzej Duda has used harmful rhetoric and called for policies that deny human rights to LGBT people. But longtime activists see Polish attitudes changing, and are pushing back.


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During his re-election campaign, Duda has compared what he calls “LGBT ideology” to Communism. He does not support the right of same-sex couples in Poland to marry or form civil unions, and believes that schools should not teach classes on gay rights.

His anti-LGBT rhetoric echoes the comments of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Polands ruling Law and Justice party, who in September 2019 said that “the family as we know it is under attack”. In the same month, Marek Jedraszewski, the archbishop of Krakow, linked totalitarian regimes and their “systems for destroying people” with “gender ideology and LGBT ideology”.

Dudas opponent in Sundays vote, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, signed a resolution in February 2019 declaring his city a welcoming place for LGBT people, and attended Warsaws Pride parade later that year. He supports same-sex civil unions and has also promised to prevent Law and Justice, which controls Polands parliament, from further restricting abortion rights.

The stakes for LGBT people in Poland in the election are high. As of late June, approximately 100 Polish municipalities had adopted resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT-free zones”, a movement that began after Trzaskowski committed to support LGBT rights in Warsaw. At Pride marches in Poland in 2019, participants suffered verbal abuse and physical attacks, and two people were sentenced to a year in jail for bringing explosives to an event in Lublin.

There has also been plenty of evidence that Poles are rejecting discrimination and violence. After an Equality march in Bialystok last July that suffered violent attacks from anti-LGBT demonstrators, event organisers told FRANCE 24 that they received donations that allowed them to rent office space for the first time. When counter-protesters shouted a homophobic slur at a September parade in Katowice, a middle-aged woman who identified as a straight ally shared a message with FRANCE 24 at the scene: “Id like to apologise to the whole of Europe for the fact that scenes like this are happening here.”

This past February, after Saint-Jean-de-Braye, a small town in the centre of France, cut its sister-city relationship with Tuchow, a Polish town that adopted an anti-LGBT resolution, AP reported that Tuchows mayor regretted the move and said that numerous locals didnt feel that the towns council spoke for them.

Duda prevailed in the 2020 elections first round with 43.5 percent of the vote, with Tzsaskowski finishing second with 30.46 percent, setting the two up for Sundays run-off. A recent poll released by Kantar and cited by Euronews shows the two candidates in almost a dead heat.

As Poland votes, Europe is watching. In a June 29 interview with FRANCE 24, Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality – a new EU position – said that if Polish towns use EU funds in accordance with anti-LBGT policy, the allocations “will have to be revisited”. Dalli also said labour discrimination based on sexual or gender identity in so-called “LBGT-free zones” would be “unacceptable”.

While some Polish LBGT activists told FRANCE24 they arent happy with parts of Trzaskowskis platform – for instance, his support for civil unions falls short of marriage equality – they support him nonetheless, and their work has brought them into the street and onto the campaign trail.

Fighting hate, and fatigue

On Thursday, LGBT activist Magdalena Dropek, 37, travelled from her home in Krakow to a rally for Duda in the nearby town of Olkusz. She and fellow protesters shouted “Enough!” and waved rainbow and EU flags as the presidents supporters held red-and-white “Duda 2020” signs.

Dropek, who has co-organised Krakows annual Equality March since 2012 and sits on the supervisory board of the Znaki Rownosci (Equality) Federation of LGBT activist organisations, said she heard calls of “traitor” and "pervert” at the rally. But she also told FRANCE 24 that she was surprised that “so many young, diverse people came … to show their disagreement for Dudas actions and words”.

Speaking the night before the event, Dropek said that LGBT activists in Poland have had to “constantly defend” themselves since early 2019, when Law and Justice, which holds a parliamentary majority, began casting them as a threat to traditional Polish values. It has made it difficult for activists to focus on developing their organisations, she said.

“Were burned out,” Dropek said, although she planned to attend a protest of a recent beating that occurred outside an LGBT club in Krakow on Friday.

She has seen three prominent activist organisations mount online efforts to discourage Polish voters from supporting Duda. One, the Stonewall Project, has exhorted visitors to its Facebook page to vote for Trzaskowski, whereas the Campaign Against Homophobia and Love Does Not Exclude have stated Read More – Source

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Srebrenica: 25 years on, Europe remembers its largest massacre since the Second World War

Commemorations are being held in Bosnia on Saturday (July 11) to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sr..

Commemorations are being held in Bosnia on Saturday (July 11) to mark the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre — Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War.

The events to mark the occasion have been scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces over a week from July 11, 1995 in and around the town of Srebrenica, in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Official commemorations in the morning are to be followed by the burial of nine bodies of victims identified over the past year. Their remains will be laid to rest in the cemetery of a memorial centre to the genocide at Potocari, a village near Srebrenica which was home to a UN peacekeeping base during the Bosnian war.

Srebrenica was supposed to be a UN safe haven when it was taken by the Bosnian Serb army. Its military and political chiefs, Radovan Karadzic et Ratko Mladic, were sentenced to life imprisonment by a world tribunal over the massacre and the siege of Sarajevo.

Twenty-five years after the Srebrenica genocide, the events that unfolded continue to be a source of dispute and tensions in the area.

Yugoslavia collapses

Nationalism and sectarianism began to rise in what was then Yugoslavia following the death of dictator Josip Broz Tito in 1980.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union deepened the crisis and in 1991, war erupted along ethnic lines after Slovenia and Croatia both declared their independence.

Bosnia followed suit by declaring independence in March 1992 with forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the Republika Srpska — also known as Bosnian Serbs — quickly taking up arms.

The Bosnian war

By April and May 1992, the Bosnian Serb army, aided by the Yugoslav army and paramilitary groups from Serbia, started an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against all non-Serbian inhabitants from much of Bosnia.

Among the tactics used by Bosnian Serbs were forced evictions, destructions of religious sites, sieges, concentration camps, torture and rape. Between 20,000 and 50,000 women are estimated to have been raped during the three-year conflict.

The international community responded by calling for an end to the atrocities and sending in a few hundred United Nations peacekeepers.

A UN resolution in 1993 also established Srebrenica and its immediate surrounding as a safe haven to remain “free from any armed attack or any other hostile acts.”

The Srebrenica massacre

On July 11, 1995, UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica were awaiting the arrival of NATO airplanes. They had called for their assistance after Bosnian Serb forces had besieged and overwhelmed other UN posts in the enclave over the previous few days.

Instead, Bosnian Serb forces began shelling the area, prompting more than 20,000 civilians who had sought refuge in the city to flee towards another UN base in Potočari, three miles away.

Srebrenica was quickly captured by Bosnian Serbs who then advanced towards Potočari. Fearing for their lives, more than 10,000 Muslim men and boys set out on foot in the middle of the night for Tuzla, some 45 kilometres away.

Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb rounded up civilians in Potočari. Women and children were eventually bused to Tuzla but Muslim men and boys were taken to the nearby town of Bratunac.

The men who had set on foot were also met at various locations along the way by Bosnian Serb forces with hundreds shot on sight and large numbers taken captive.

On July 14, the execution of the thousands of men held in Bratunac began. They were buried in mass graves near the killing sites.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 men and boys were killed during that week in what the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled was a genocide. It was the largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.

After Srebrenica

The scale of the massacre jolted the international community and prompted the Clinton administration in the US into action.

NATO started a prolonged bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb positions which shifted the tide of the war towards the Bosnian Croat forces.

A peace agreement was reached in November in Dayton in the US and signed in Paris in December.


A total of 161 people were indicted by the ICTY between its creation in 1993 and its dissolution in 2017, when the final trial in the first instance was completed.

Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander who orchestrated the capture of Srebrenica, was convicted on November 22, 2017, for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Radovan Karadzic, a former President of the Republika Srpska, was convicted for genocide in 2013 while Slobodan Milosevic, a former president of Serbia, indicted in charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of the laws or customs of war died before his sentencing.

“This has given some satisfaction to the survivors and families of victims,” Jasna Dragovic-Soso, Professor of International Politics and History at Goldsmiths, University of London, told Euronews.

However, she added, “many former RS [Republika Srpska] soldiers and Serb paramilitaries who took part in the massacres have gone unpunished and kept their positions in the security and police forces.”

“Compensation and reparations for survivors and families have been insufficient and ‘ethnic cleansing’ carried out during the Bosnian War has for the most part not been reversed,” she went on to say.

Genocide denial

Twenty-five years later, and despite two international courts ruling that the events in Srebrenica were genocide, many around the region continue to reject the term.

“Disputes over the circumstances and nature of the massacres committed in July 1995 in Srebrenica continue to act as a source of tension and division,” Dragovic-Soso said.

“Widespread denial of the number of Bosniak men killed in and around Srebrenica and the refusal to accept the term ‘genocide’ by most Serbs continues to sour inter-ethnic relations,” she added.

A report commissioned by the Srebrenica memorial warned earlier this year that the 25th anniversary of the massacre also marked “25 years of genocide denial.”

“Rather than abating with time, denial of genocide has only grown more insidious in recent years — locally, regionally, as well as internationally,” it stated.

The authors of the report contend that the current president of Republika Srpska and the mayor of Srebrenica are among those peddling conspiracy theories about the event of July 1995.

They also flagged that in an official report released in 2002, the Documentation Center of Republic of Srpska for War Crimes Research referred to the genocide throughout as the “alleged massacre” and that it asserted that no more than 2,000 Bosnian Muslims, all of them armed soldiers rather than civilians, were killed in Srebrenica.


The fact that ethno-nationalism persists can be attributed to “insufficient political and institutional reform, continued reliance on corrupt informal networks of power, political party control of the segregated media, along with the inability of civil society efforts at truth-telling about the war to reach broader audiences,” Dragovic-Soso stressed.

But it has also increasingly led to political gridlock in the country.

“It is now fully and cynically exploited and fueled by politicians and political forces in the region” and “threatens internal cohesion and increasingly ineffective governing structure,” a report from the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank warned last year.

The report urged Bosnia’s three constituencies to work together or for a new generation of politicians to emerge and outline a positive alternative.

“The idea of ethnic separatism is, unfortunately, gaining traction in the region as land swaps are contemplated and ethnic divisions are viewed as acceptable diplomatic solutions rather than clear warning signs. As ethno-nationalism is cynically deployed in Bosnia, the red lights are blinking brighter,” it added.

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Brexit: Britons warned of ‘thorough’ EU border checks after transition period ends

The European Commission has given a stark warning of the barriers that will go up between the EU and..

The European Commission has given a stark warning of the barriers that will go up between the EU and the UK when the post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year, whatever the outcome of negotiations on future relations.

Britons are told that they will be “subject to thorough checks” at borders when entering EU countries (apart from Ireland) and the Schengen area, as they will be “treated as third-country nationals”.

EU pet passports will no longer be valid for people travelling with animals from the UK to the EU, and UK driving licences will not be automatically recognised but will be subject to the approval of individual countries.

The EU ban on additional mobile roaming charges will no longer be guaranteed for travellers between the UK and the continent, leaving British and EU operators free to slap on extra fees.

UK nationals will not need visas to stay in EU countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, as long as they don’t work and Britain acts likewise for EU visitors. But passengers may no longer be protected by EU consumer rights when travelling between the EU and the UK depending on the mode of transport, the Commission says.

The warnings come in a document published on Thursday, which calls for awareness of “these broad and far-reaching changes, which will arise under any scenario” (in italics in the original text).

The Commission makes it clear that the changes are the consequence of the British government’s choices on future relations, and on the decision not to extend the transition period.

New barriers and red tape

The paper focuses on areas not covered by the talks, which it says it does not want to prejudge. The UK left the EU on January 31 but most arrangements from its membership remain in place throughout the transition period.

Post-Brexit negotiations continued in London this week after both sides agreed to intensify talks. “Regardless of the outcome, there will be inevitable changes on 1/1/21,” tweeted the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Even under “an ambitious partnership”, the future relationship will be very different from the UK’s membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, the document says. Britain’s exit from EU policies will “create barriers” to trade, movement across borders and exchanges.

“These inevitable disruptions will occur as of 1 January 2021 and risk compounding the pressure that businesses are already under due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the paper says.

In the EU paper, businesses are urged to prepare for the post-Brexit regime, involving customs formalities which on the EU side will lead to “increased administrative burdens” and “longer delivery times”.

“Rules of origin” regulations will have to be followed, which could result in customs duties being imposed even if a zero-tariff, zero-quota EU-UK trade deal is struck. VAT and excise duties will be due on goods entering the EU from the UK.

The UK’s exit from the Single Market means there will no longer be a single regulatory framework, but two separate legal structures. This means that for imports, companies on both sides will need to take steps to ensure products — which will be subject to checks and controls — comply with potentially different rules and standards.

UK services lose automatic right to operate in EU

UK authorisations for services — in the financial, transport, audiovisual and energy sectors — will no longer be valid in the EU from January. This means that UK service providers and professionals will have to demonstrate they comply with EU conditions imposed on foreign firms or individuals. Professional qualifications will no longer automatically be recognised.

Financial services will no longer benefit from “passports” enabling them to operate across the bloc, and their ability to do so may be subject to the relevant EU nation’s rules on third countries.

The Commission document also outlines the changes to be expected in the transport industry. Outside the Single Market, UK operators of air, rail and road transport services will no longer have automatic access. Instead this will depend on the outcome of post-Brexit negotiations.

There is a repeat of a recent warning that the UK will have to comply with EU rules on data protection in order for transfers of personal data to continue.

Finally, the Commission points out that from the end of the transition period, the UK will no longer benefit from several hundred international agreements struck by the EU with third countries in matters such as trade, mutual recognition, veterinary arrangements or aviation.

The British government has argued that the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deals is one of the advantages of Brexit. Official information updated in late June lists agreements with 20 countries or trading blocs ready to take effect in January 2021.

Changes ‘unavoidable’

All the above changes will happen in any case, regardless of whether an agreement on the future relationship is struck, the EU document says. It describes them as “unavoidable” and simply the consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, its Single Market and Customs Union.

Failure to reach a deal “would lead to disruptions that would be more far-reaching”, it adds, as tariffs would be imposed on imports and exports between the EU and the UK.

After the latest talks in London on the post-Brexit relationship, EU and UK negotiators agreed to continue discussions in Brussels next week ahead of the next formal round later in July.

Both sides remain far apart on matters such as trade, fisheries, governance and fairness in competition.

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