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EU leaders ‘far apart’ on trillion-euro COVID-19 recovery package deal

European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday for their first face-to-face summit in months ..

European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday for their first face-to-face summit in months to thrash out a post-coronavirus economic recovery package.

The good news is that the leaders of the 27 member states agree that a common response is needed. But the bad news is that they disagree on how the money should be handed out.

The Commission has proposed a recovery fund totalling €750 billion and has backed a joint Franco-German motion that most of the money — €500 billion — be dished out as grants to the member states most economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also the trillion-euro EU budget, also known as the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) at stake.

The plan would be financed by a common debt — a first for the bloc.

But no sooner was the plan announced than cracks in the bloc’s unity once again started to appear.

Southern member states — Italy and Spain in particular — are all for it but they are opposed by the so-called “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands — which want the amount to be handout out as grants and are wary of pooling debt with less solvent countries.

Dutch premier Mark Rutte said that he could ‘understand’ that southern countries are asking for help, but added, “I think it is only reasonable for us to ask for a clear commitment to reforms.”

While the Austrian Chancellor tweeted that there had been ‘positive steps’ but their positions on the long-term EU budget ‘remain far apart’.

Another issue which is proving divisive, linking EU funding to the respect of rule of law. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has threatened to veto over this.

Speaking to Euronews correspondent Shona Murray, the Irish prime minister Michael Martin said that Orban’s opposition to the rule of law conditionality was a ‘significant challenge’, adding that Europe is about values, freedom of speech, free media.

Unanimity is needed for the package to be approved so leaders have been holding rounds of talks ahead of the crunch summit.

Angela Merkel, who is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday, met with Guiseppe Conte and Pedro Sanchez earlier this week, respectively her Italian and Spanish counterparts.

Merkel, who assumed the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency earlier this month, told the EU parliament that “Germany is prepared to show extraordinary solidarity”.

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile met with Conte and Portuguese leader Antonio Costa — who also celebrated his birthday at the summit — on Thursday. Earlier this month, he visited the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte.

Arriving at the summit, Macron said he that the meeting was “a moment of truth for the ambition of Europe.” He added that the health, economic and social crisis across the bloc requires “much more solidarity and ambition.”

EU leaders must also find common ground on the bloc’s next seven-year budget — known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which EU Council leader Charles Michel wants to amount to just under €1.1 trillion.

While EU diplomatic sources were divided over the chances of clinching a deal this weekend, the ball is now in the court of European Council president Charles Michel who brokers the talks.

“I know it will be very difficult,” he said arriving at the summit, “because it’s not only about money, it’s about people about European future, about our unity. And even if it’s difficult, I’m convinced with political courage it’s possible to reach a deal.”

According to one EU diplomat leaders have been ‘locked in intense discussions since 10.25 this morning. It’s too soon to say what direction the negotiations are taking’.

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Illegal Immigrants Building Paris 2024 Olympics Amidst Political and Social Tension

Gaye Sarambounou is used to toiling long days for a pittance. He’s a Malian living in France with no working papers, but it’s a situation that occurs around the world. The difference here is that Sarambounou is one of an army of construction workers preparing next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

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Aliku Ogorchukwu: Wife of Nigerian killed in Italy demands justice

The wife of a Nigerian street trader who was killed in Italy has told the BBC she is seeking justice following his “painful death”.

Aliku Ogorchukwu, 39, was reportedly selling handkerchiefs in the seaside town of Civitanova Marche on Friday when he was chased and beaten to death.

A 32-year-old Italian has been arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery.

A video circulating online shows a man on top of Ogorchukwu, punching him with his bare hands.

None of those who witnessed the broad daylight attack appeared to intervene.

“This is a form of wickedness I don’t know,” Ogorchukwu’s wife, Charity Oriachi, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa.

Ms Oriachi said she had received help in coming to terms with her husband’s death but was tired of “talk”. Now, she was only interested in justice, she insisted.

Her family had lived in Italy for a long time, she said, stressing that her husband had never sought any trouble.

The killing has sparked outrage in the local community, including Nigerians, who took to the streets over the weekend and are planning another demonstration soon.

The Nigerian government has asked Italian authorities to quickly “bring the perpetrator of the heinous act” to justice.

Suspect not released

The suspect – a white man named as Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo – has been ordered to remain in jail as the investigation continues.

His defence lawyer told the media the suspect had said he was sorry and that there was “no racial element” involved.

A police investigator said Ogorchukwu was attacked after the trader’s “insistent” requests to the suspect and his partner for spare change.

The partner, identified as Elena D, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Ogorchukwu had touched her arm, but that did not bother her.

Ms Oriachi now wants to see the suspect “face to face”, to understand why he killed her husband, the family’s lawyer told the Associated Press.

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Ukrainian widow confronts Russian soldier accused of killing her husband

In the very first days of this invasion a 62-year-old unarmed civilian was shot dead on a village street outside his Ukrainian home. His name was Oleksandr Shelipov.

Three months later and the captured Russian soldier accused of killing him is in Kyiv being tried for a war crime.

Standing up in court to confront the 21-year-old defendant on Thursday was Kateryna Shelipova, the widow of the man killed.

Did he repent his crime, she asked?

The Russian tank commander, Vadim Shishimarin, replied that he admitted his guilt and asked for her forgiveness. “But I understand you won’t be able to forgive me,” he added.

Kateryna Shelipova hadn’t finished. “Tell me please, why did you [Russians] come here? To protect us?” she asked, citing Vladimir Putin’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

“Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The soldier had no answer to that.

This landmark trial marks the first time a Russian serviceman has been put on the stand for war crimes since the invasion of Ukraine was launched in February.

And perhaps such raw encounters are what such trials are about, at least in part. Forcing a soldier – who ignored all the rules of war – to face up to exactly what he has done and the suffering he has caused.

Sgt Shishimarin has pleaded guilty and Ukrainian prosecutors are asking for him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

On Wednesday, Ms Shelipova told me she actually felt sorry for the soldier, but she could not forgive him for this crime.

She heard the shots that killed her husband, then saw Sgt Shishimarin through her gate – holding his weapon.

Five minutes later she says she saw her husband’s body: “He was dead with a shot in his head. I started screaming very loudly.”

“The loss of my husband is everything for me,” Ms Shelipova said, adding: “He was my protector.”

‘It killed him’

Recalling the events of 28 February, Vadim Shishimarin said he and a small group of other Russian soldiers had become separated from their unit and hijacked a car in order to return to it.

“As we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone,” the defendant said.

He claimed that he hadn’t wanted to fire the fatal shots, that he was following orders – threatened by another soldier if he refused to do as he was told.

“He said I would be putting us in danger if I didn’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him,” the 21-year-old tank commander told the court.

Interestingly, his defence lawyer – appointed by the state – told me that no Russian official has been in touch with him, including from its defence ministry.

There is no Russian embassy in Kyiv these days, so no contact from there either.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman yesterday told the BBC that the Kremlin has “no information” about this case.

All in all, it feels rather like the young soldier has been abandoned to his fate by the commanders who sent him to war and continue to deny that their forces commit crimes here.

We also heard from a second Russian soldier who witnessed the killing in February and later surrendered to Ukrainian forces.

Ivan Maltysev, another slight and young-looking 21-year-old, told the court how the Russian soldiers spotted Oleksandr Shelipov while they were driving the stolen car.

Mr Maltysev claimed that Vadim Shishimarin was then ordered to shoot the victim because he was on the phone.

“Vadim didn’t do it. So the soldier, whose name I don’t know, turned round in the car and shouted that Vadim had to carry out the order, or we would be informed on.

“At this point, we were almost alongside the civilian and, under pressure, Vadim fired. He fired three or four rounds.”

Ukraine has so far identified more than 11,000 possible war crimes committed by Russia.

Moscow has denied its troops have targeted civilians, but investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

This trial is Ukraine’s chance to prove, beyond doubt, that a Russian soldier killed a civilian with no regard for the rules of war.

Its prosecutors know they are in the spotlight, proceeding so quickly, and in the middle of a war.

That is why they are keen to be as transparent and thorough as possible – so that this is not seen as a show trial, but part of a vital quest for justice.

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