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Poland Begins Voting in Election Delayed by Virus

WARSAW, POLAND – Concerns over democratic standards and bread-and-butter issues top the agenda as Po..

WARSAW, POLAND – Concerns over democratic standards and bread-and-butter issues top the agenda as Poles began voting on Sunday in round one of a tight presidential race that had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Incumbent Andrzej Duda, 48, is campaigning for reelection in a vote that could determine the future of the right-wing government that supports him.

Ten candidates are vying to replace him, but opinion polls show that Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a liberal from the main Civic Platform (PO) opposition party, will enter a neck-and-neck run-off on July 12.

Victory for Trzaskowski, also 48, would deal a heavy blow to the Law and Justice (PiS) government, which has relied on its ally Duda to endorse polarizing legislation, especially judicial reforms.

While the PiS insists the changes are needed to weed out judicial corruption, critics and the European Union insist they erode judicial independence and democracy just three decades after Poland shed communism.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who regards the populist PiS administration as a key European ally, gave Duda his blessing this week.

Trump invited him to the White House on Wednesday as the first foreign leader to visit since the coronavirus pandemic began, just four days ahead of election day.

Originally scheduled for May, the ballot was postponed due to the pandemic and a new hybrid system of postal and conventional voting was in place on Sunday in a bid to stem infections.

While official figures show over 33,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,400 deaths, the health minister has admitted that there are likely up to 1.6 million undetected cases in Poland, an EU country of 38 million people.

Anti-gay rhetoric

Duda has promised to defend the governing party’s raft of popular social benefits, including a child allowance and extra pension payments — a key factor behind the populists winning a second term in October’s parliamentary election.

Bread-and-butter issues are weighing heavily on voters’ minds as the economic fallout of the pandemic is set to send Poland into its first recession since communism’s demise.

“I’m happy. I can’t complain; I get an extra pension payment and children are getting 500 zloty,” Irena, a 63-year-old pensioner, told AFP in the central Polish town of Minsk Mazowiecki.

“I’d like this to continue,” she added, declining to provide her surname.

Duda has also echoed PiS attacks on LGBT+ rights and Western values, something analysts see as a bid to attract voters backing a far-right candidate.

Campaigning with the slogan “Enough is Enough,” Trzaskowski promises to use the experience and contacts he gathered as a former European affairs minister to “fight hard” for a fair slice of the EU’s 2021-27 budget, and to repair tattered ties with Brussels.

He has however vowed to keep the PiS’s popular welfare payments.

While many see his PO party as a weak and ineffectual opposition, Trzaskowski supporters regard him as a bulwark against the PiS’s drive to reform the courts, something they insist risks destroying any notion of an independent judiciary.

“I’m a lawyer and this (PiS justice reforms) affect me directly,” Marek, 60, told AFP in Minsk Mazowiecki, also declining to provide his surname.

“It’s as if a blacksmith would go to a watchmaker’s shop and try to put things in order. People might support it, but in the long run these reforms will have to be reversed.”

‘Budapest model’?

Since winning power in 2015, both Duda and the PiS have in many ways upended Polish politics by stoking tensions with the EU and wielding influence through state-owned companies and public broadcasters.

Some analysts view the election as a crucial juncture: a second five-year term for Duda would allow the PiS to make even more controversial changes while defeat could unravel the party’s power.

A win for Duda would pave the way to “bolstering ‘Eastern’ tendencies, like the rise of oligarchs… and a drift to the Budapest model (of Hungary’s Viktor Orban) – that’s the danger,” Warsaw University political scientist Anna Materska-Sosowska told AFP.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 9:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) with an exit poll expected as soon as voting ends.

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Migrants leave Ocean Viking rescue ship in Sicily after tense wait

Issued on: 07/07/2020 – 01:46

Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Medite..

Issued on:

Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Mediterranean Sea began to leave the vessel in Sicily late on Monday after nine days stuck on the ship.

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An AFP journalist aboard the Ocean Viking watched as the migrants, in single file and carrying backpacks, regained dry land at Porto Empedocle on the Italian island's western coast.

Police escorted them a short distance to another vessel, where they will be quarantined to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus.

The arrival of the boat chartered by charity group SOS Mediterranee capped a tense few days onboard marked by migrants jumping overboard, a suicide attempt and bouts of violence.

After being rescued in four separate operations on June 25 and 30, the migrants waiting on the ship became increasingly agitated, according to SOS Mediterranee, as the charity awaited the go-ahead from either Italy or Malta to dock at a safe port.

However, approval did not arrive until Sunday, after the group declared a state of emergency on board, adding it could no longer guarantee the safety of the migrants or the crew.

Soon after 8:00 pm (18:00 GMT), the Ocean Viking docked at the port directly in front of Italian ferry Moby Zaza, where the migrants will wait out a two-week quarantine period.

Tensions mount

Earlier on Monday, a separate group of 169 migrants disembarked from the Moby Zaza after a two-week quarantine.

Thirty of the group — all of whom were rescued last month by Sea-Watch, another humanitarian group — tested positive for coronavirus and will remain on the ferry in an isolated "red zone" area.

SOS Mediterranee spent most of Monday waiting roughly four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the coast before being allowed to dock, as it warned that tensions were rising and the long wait was "amplifying risks on board".

From the deck of the Ocean Viking, migrants who have waited for more than a week to disembark could make out both the Sicilian coast and the immense ferry, the Moby Zaza, according to an AFP reporter on board.

The mayor of Porto Empedocle, Ida Carmina, told reporters that the migrants' arrival was too much for the economically suffering community to support.

"Now that we&#Read More – Source

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Reaching the bottom of the barrel: Coronavirus pandemic batters European wine production

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46

It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in ..

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46

It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in France that the legendary Victor Hugo once provocatively wrote: “God made only water – but man made wine”. Aside from being a staple at many family dinner tables, wine is also a massive European industry – and one thats going through its own coronavirus-induced crisis. This in a sector that was already battling against 25% tariffs imposed by Donald Trump in 2019 that have seen exports slump.

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Up to one third of French vineyards are believed to be in potential danger – in a sector that employs around 700,000 people in France alone.

FRANCE 24 has been investigating how winemakers have been coping – as some say they might end up forced to give up altogether.

Vincent Bouzereau, winemaker: "I think were going to have to pick up the pieces. We are all going to pay. I always say to my children, 'we can always tear up a vine, and put sheep out to graze, and then we can eat the sheep'.”

"We are farmers – thats where we began, as farmers."

Aubert Lefas, winemaker and secretary-general of the Bourgogne winemakers confederation warns that small family vineyards will go under as they do not have the resources to pay for wages and outgoings.

"If their land is valuable, theyll be sold to big international groRead More – Source

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Child sex abuse warning as coronavirus school closures continue

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:33

Child sex abuse offenders are “taking advantage” of the coronavirus ..

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Child sex abuse offenders are "taking advantage" of the coronavirus pandemic to make and share more abusive material online. That warning from Catherine De Bolle, head of European law enforcement agency Europol. In an interview with FRANCE 24, she explains that with millions of children at home, many are going unsupervised, using outdated and poorly secured software which leaves them at greater risk from exploitation.

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"You have to be aware, when your child goes on the internet, the child has access to the world – but also the world has access to your child. You have to be aware of this, and you have to protect your child in this situation."

Catherine De Bolle says that organised criminals have exploited the pandemic in other areas too, with a "huge impact" on cyber crime; with counterfeit and sub-standard goods, and property crime also singled out.

The Europol Executive Director also cautions for the coming months of economic crisis in Europe, saying that the end of the pandemic will not be the end of pandemic-related crime.

"We are convinced that criminal organisations will try to make profit out of the pandemic, long after the pandemic. They will make use of the economic downturn, they will make use of economic sectors in difficulty, like tourism,Read More – Source

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