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Serbia’s Opposition to Boycott Vote Held During Pandemic

BELGRADE, SERBIA – A Serbian opposition leader whose group is boycotting the country’s parliamentary..

BELGRADE, SERBIA – A Serbian opposition leader whose group is boycotting the country’s parliamentary election says taking part in the vote amid the coronaviorus pandemic and without free media in the Balkan country would only legitimize what he called a “hoax vote.”

The Serbian opposition leader , the leader of the pro-boycott Union for Serbia coalition, told The Associated Press that Sunday’s vote is being held despite health risks and a lack of democratic standards for the campaign.

Most of the main opposition parties will boycott the vote because of what they say is Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s iron grip on the country’s media and the electoral process, as well as potential coronavirus infection hazards at voting stations.

The boycott means Vucic’s right-wing Serbian Progressive party will emerge as an overwhelming winner and continue its eight years of political dominance. Vucic and his allies have denounced the boycott, saying it includes parties that would not get enough votes even to make it into Serbia’s 250-seat parliament. All the seats are up for grabs. Vucic’s party now has by far the most seats in parliament with 104. The next are his allied Socialists with 22.

Although Serbia is facing a spike in new coronavirus cases, the populist leader claims the virus spread is under control and that masks will be made available for voters at polling stations.

Serbia went from having very strict lockdown measures to a near-total lifting of the government’s emergency rules in early June. Opponents say Vucic eased the restrictions so he could hold the election, which originally was scheduled for April and cancelled because of the pandemic, in order to cement his grip on power.

“At the start the COVID-19 pandemic, our president said all will be OK if we take a shot of brandy every day,” Djilas said Wednesday in an interview. “And then he introduced the toughest possible lockdown measures, including an 84-hour curfew. Those older than 65 were kept indoors for 35 days.”

“Then the measures were lifted as if nothing has happened. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
Serbia is now seeing an infection spike after mass gatherings were allowed without people being instructed to keep social distance or wear masks.

On June 1, Serbia had 18 new virus cases. On Wednesday, there were 96. Many peg the surge to the mass gatherings that have been allowed, including a soccer match in Belgrade that was attended by 20,000 people — the largest gathering in Europe in recent months. Other nations such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain have had soccer clubs play in empty stadiums.

“What led to the boycott by most of the opposition is the fact that we in reality have no elections,” Djilas said. “For democratic elections, you have to have conditions for people to hear something different and freely express themselves.”

“Not a single of those conditions has been met,” said Djilas, who is a frequent target of smear campaigns by the pro-government tabloids. “Media is not only closed for us, but it is used to attack people who think differently.”

In its annual report published in April, human rights watchdog Freedom House listed Serbia among “hybrid regimes” in which power is based on authoritarianism and can no longer be considered a democratic state. Serbian officials have vehemently rejected the report, saying it’s based on wrong research and criteria.

European Parliament members Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik, who before the vote tried to negotiate election conditions between Vucic and the opposition, said in a statement they are saddened by the boycott and urged voters to follow health and security measures on election day.
Djilas said in Serbia there will be no change without pressure on Vucic from the West.

“We don’t expect them to topple Vucic, we only want them to create conditions for free and fair elections.”

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Instagram to block all content promoting LGBT conversion therapy

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 20:35Modified: 10/07/2020 – 20:38

Instagram said on Friday it would block ..

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 20:35Modified: 10/07/2020 – 20:38

Instagram said on Friday it would block content that promotes so-called conversion therapy, which aims to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, as pressure to ban the practice grows.

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The social media giant announced earlier this year it would no longer allow adverts for conversion therapy services, which can range from counselling and "praying away the gay" to electric shocks and sexual violence.

"We don't allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Tara Hopkins, Instagram's public policy director for Europe, Middle East and Africa said in an emailed statement.

"(We) are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services."

A spokesman for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it would take time to update all policies and content flagged by users may not be removed immediately.

The United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity called last month for a global ban on conversion therapy, describing it as "cruel, inhumane and degrading".

A growing number of countries – including the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico – are reviewing their laws. Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have nationwide bans on conversion therapy, while Germany outlawed the treatment for minors in May.

'Step in the right direction'

Instagram's move is "a step in the right direction, but we'd have to wait and see exactly what kind of actions they take," Harry Hitchens, co-founder of the campaign group Ban Conversion Therapy, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ban Conversion Therapy sent an open letter yesterday to Britain's Equalities Minister Liz Truss, urging her "to introduce a truly effective ban on conversion therapy for all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and gender diverRead More – Source

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Europe

Serbia, Kosovo resume very difficult talks on normalising ties

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 19:27Modified: 10/07/2020 – 19:30

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Frid..

Issued on: Modified:

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Friday held their first talks in 18 months on resolving one of Europe's most intractable territorial disputes, agreeing to a face-to-face meeting next week on the “very difficult” process.

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Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence after the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Kosovos Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a video summit that was also joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

These discussions will be followed by more online talks on Sunday between Hoti and Vucic as well as EU officials, and then their meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Macron and Merkel said in a joint statement after the talks.

They encouraged Hoti and Vucic to “achieve substantial progress in the negotiations in the coming months,” the statement said.

“There are very difficult perspectives for the outcome of this dialogue, but there is a commitment by everyone to proceed step by step,” added a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse, which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

“The normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is essential for the security and stability of the region and of great importance if the two countries are to join the EU,” the statement by the French and German leaders said.

A senior EU official in Brussels who followed the talks echoed the sentiment that significant challenges remained, saying “This is the beginning of the story.”

Hoti told the online summit that the normalisation of relations “can be achieved only if Kosovo and Serbia respect each other's statehood,” his office said.

Leadership test

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

Vucic, who is facing a major crisis at home after protests over a new coronavirus lockdown in Serbia, had warned ahead of the talks that he did not expect a smooth ride and that “no one is going to cuddle us or give us a present.”

The new push comes after Kosovos President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague.

Thaci's indictment led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June.

European officials had bristled at the US initiative to deal with Thaci on its own — a strategy now torpedoed by the indictment — and the EU now appears newly determined to resolve the issue.

The French official acknowledged that this issue was a “tRead More – Source

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UK travellers hope to salvage holidays as government eases quarantine rules

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 17:09

The traditional British summer getaway to the sun-soaked beaches of ..

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 17:09

The traditional British summer getaway to the sun-soaked beaches of the Mediterranean Sea is set to pick up steam Friday as U.K. quarantine restrictions are removed from dozens of countries, including France, Greece and Italy.

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But with many flights still canceled, holiday resorts still working on ensuring that they are Covid-safe and many potential holidaymakers reluctant to make a trip abroad in light of the pandemic, Britain's airports are much less busy than they would be in any other year.

However, last weeks announcement by the British government to ease its quarantine requirements for anyone arriving back in England has given some enough of a nudge to take the plunge.

“We probably would have gone later,” said Ray Gordge, 64, at Gatwick Airports North Terminal, south of London.

“Its exciting, Im pleased the quarantine has been lifted to be honest,” said Gordge, who was on his way to Paris to see his daughter for the first time in six months, and meet his new grandson, born last week.

As of Friday, anyone arriving back in England from around 75 countries and territories wont have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Boost for travel industry

The aviation and travel industries are hoping that the new rules will help them salvage part of the summer holiday booking season that has been so battered by the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic – thousands of people have lost their jobs as business ground to a halt.

The crucial period will be later this month after schools formally close for the summer and travel companies and airlines start ramping up operations. Confidence is key, though, and is susceptible to any new outbreaks that may start appearing over the coming weeks.

Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said the relaxation of the rules can make a “massive difference,” given that around three-quarters of the destinations the airport serves are now free from quarantine requirements.

“From a consumer point of view, what were hoping is that will persuade people to take advantage of the flights,” he said.

Wingate said that there would be around 50 flights at the airport on Friday, rising to around 100 by the end of the month and possibly to around 400 later in the summer – way below the 900 or so the airport normally handles in the peak season.

Masks compulsory

The list does not include the United States, which is still considered high-risk. Portugal, another popular destination for British holidaymakers, also isn't on the list, though discussions between the respective governments are ongoing. Serbia was originally on the list but was removed on Friday because of a spike in coronavirus infections in the country.

One of the major changes that will greet holidaymakers is the necessity tRead More – Source

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