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European Nations Plan to Use More Hydrogen for Energy Needs

Dozens of European countries are backing a plan to increase the use of hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels to cut the continent’s carbon emissions.

 

Energy officials from 25 countries pledged Tuesday to increase research into hydrogen technology and accelerate its everyday use to power factories, drive cars and heat homes.

 

The proposal, which was included in a non-binding agreement signed in Linz, Austria, includes the idea of using existing gas grids to distribute hydrogen produced with renewable energy.

 

The idea of a “hydrogen economy,” where fuels that release greenhouse gases are replaced with hydrogen, has been around for decades. Yet uptake on the concept has been slow so far, compared with some other technologies.

 

Advocates of hydrogen say it can solve the problem caused by fluctuating supplies of wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energies. By converting electricity generated from those sources into hydrogen, the energy can be stored in large tanks and released again when needed.

 

Electric vehicles can also use hydrogen to generate power on board, allowing manufacturers to overcome the range restrictions of existing batteries. Hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in a fraction of the time it takes to recharge a battery-powered vehicle.

 

On Monday the world’s first commuter train service using a prototype hydrogen-powered train began in northern Germany.

 

The European Union’s top climate and energy official said hydrogen could help the bloc meet its obligations to cut carbon emissions under the 2015 Paris accord. Miguel Arias Canete told reporters it could also contribute to the continent’s energy security by reducing imports of natural gas, much of which currently comes from Russia and countries outside of Europe.

 

Kirsten Westphal, an energy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said encouraging the use of hydrogen as a means of storing and transporting energy makes sense, but added the overall goal for should be reducing fossil fuels rather than pushing a particular energy alternative.

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German Spymaster Ousted Over Anti-Migrant Violence

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has been transferred from his job just weeks after he made remarks that appeared to downplay anti-migrant violence.

Hans-Georg Maassen has been embroiled in a controversy since anti-migrant protests began in the eastern German city of Chemnitz in late August. A video was uploaded on social media that appeared to show far-right protesters chasing a man while shouting xenophobic slogans.

Maassen told the Bild newspaper in September that the video might be “false information.” He also said his agency had found no evidence that foreigners were being “hunted” in the city streets. His remarks contradicted those of Prime Minister Angela Merkel, who had condemned the attacks based on the video.

Maassen’s comments caused an uproar among the members of Merkel’s coalition government, with most calling for resignation or termination.

However, the far-right Alternative for Germany party praised Maassen and used his comments to further attack Merkel’s “completely failed asylum policy.”

Merkel’s interior minister and rival, Horst Seehofer, also backed Maassen.

On Tuesday, Merkel’s government announced that Maassen would be relieved of his duties at the intelligence agency and be made deputy interior minister under Seehofer.

It is not clear who will replace Maassen as intelligence chief.

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Hungary’s Orban Warms to Putin Over Nuclear Deal

Russia has reiterated its commitment to investing tens of billions of dollars in Hungary’s energy sector, despite the ongoing European sanctions against Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the deal Tuesday after hosting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Kremlin.

Orban said his country’s relationship with Russia was of great importance.

“I am very glad that over the last years we have had balanced, predictable relations,” he told Putin.

Hungary’s European Union partners see relations with Russia very differently and the bloc has enacted a raft of sanctions against Moscow following its 2014 forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Orban’s visit to Moscow was primarily about economic ties, said Ian Bond of the London-based Center for European Reform.

“Hungary is one of the most dependent countries in Europe on Russia for its energy supplies. Not just for its gas — and I think it gets about three-quarters of its gas from Russia — but also because more than half of its electricity comes from nuclear plants, and 100 percent of the fuel for those nuclear plants comes from Russia. So it’s very easy for the Russians to remind the Hungarians that a cold winter is coming if they want to exercise political leverage,” Bond told VOA in an interview.

After private talks at the Kremlin, Putin reiterated Russia’s commitment to investing in Hungary through its state-owned nuclear giant.

“Rosatom will start constructing two new energy units at the Paks nuclear power plant in the nearest future,” he told reporters.

The Paks nuclear project has caused alarm in Brussels, noted analyst Ian Bond.

“Hungary is taking out a large Russian loan to cover the cost of it. This is something which … the European Commission resisted and tried to block. Eventually, the commission grudgingly cleared the deal, but it’s now running into delays, cost overruns and the like.”

As Hungary warms to Moscow, relations with Brussels are increasingly icy. EU lawmakers voted last week to initiate Article 7 punitive measures against Budapest for flouting the bloc’s treaties on the rule of law.

While Hungary has repeatedly spoken out against sanctions on Russia, so far Orban has resisted voting against the measures in the European Council, a move that would in effect veto them.

“But it may be that as part of thumbing his nose at the rest of Europe now that he faces sanctions over the rule of law, that he may decide that he can actually afford to block the sanctions on Russia the next time they come up for renewal,” Bond said.

For now, it seems the Hungarian leader is not ready to take such a dramatic step, despite such close relations with Moscow.

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United States Keen to Invest Strategically in Greenland

The United States wants to invest in Greenland to enhance its “military operational flexibility and situational awareness,” its Department of Defense (DoD) said on Monday.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

The U.S. intends to “pursue potential strategic investments vigorously, including investments that may serve dual military and civilian purposes,” the DoD said in a statement published by the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen.

Greenland picked Denmark as its partner in a planned upgrade of two airports last week, seeking to defuse a diplomatic row over how the projects, of strategic interest to both Washington and Beijing, should be financed.

Greenland is a self-ruling part of the Kingdom of Denmark and while its government decides on most domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Copenhagen.

Denmark has been concerned that a Chinese investment — on the agenda since Greenland’s Prime Minister Kim Kielsen visited Beijing last year — could upset its close ally the U.S. 

The DoD said in Monday’s statement that it intends to analyse and, where appropriate, strategically invest in projects related to the airport infrastructure in Greenland.

The one-page “Statement of Intent” did not go into financial details.

“We welcome the American Statement of Intent, and look forward to discuss details of possible U.S. airport investments in Greenland,” Greenland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Motzfeldt, said in a statement.

Greenland’s government lost its parliamentary majority as a row between coalition partners escalated last week over how the planned airport projects should be financed.

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Bosnia Adopts EU-required Changes to Criminal Code After Delay

The Bosnian parliament on Monday approved long-delayed changes to a criminal code aimed at bolstering the rule of law and the fight against crime and corruption, which is expected to speed up the country’s progress towards European Union membership.

Bosnia’s top court had given lawmakers a June deadline to bring the country’s criminal procedure code into line with international standards, a key EU requirement for Western Balkan nations aspiring to join the bloc.

But politicians from Bosnia’s three rival ethnic parties could not agree on changes drafted by the Justice Ministry which included the use of undercover police personnel, communications interception, surveillance and the use of informants.

The EU also considered the amendments proposed by the ministry to be too weak, and warned that Bosnian prosecutors would be deprived of one of the major tools to effectively fight against the most serious crime.

A compromise solution agreed under international pressure allows the duration of investigative processes to be cut to a maximum of one year from up to 10 years previously, and reduces the scope for granting immunity to alleged offenders and witnesses.

A majority of lawmakers in Bosnia’s multi-layered parliamentary system have enjoyed immunity from prosecution and analysts in the country, which is mired in corruption, said politicians had resisted major changes to the law in order to keep this privilege.

Disputes among Bosnia’s ethnic leaders have nearly halted the Balkan country’s progress towards the EU and NATO. Bosnia formally applied for EU membership in 2016 but the process of joining is expected to take at least a decade.

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Aid Agency: Greece Must Move Vulnerable Migrants from Island

Greece should urgently move children and other vulnerable migrants and refugees from its most overcrowded island camp to the mainland or to other EU countries for the sake of their mental and physical health, the MSF aid agency said on Monday.

The appeal from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came days after the governor of the region where the Moria camp is based said it should be closed next month unless authorities clean up “uncontrollable amounts of waste.”

MSF said it had witnessed an unprecedented health crisis in the camp, Greece’s biggest and home to some 9,000 migrants, a third of whom are children. It said many teenagers had attempted to commit suicide or were harming themselves on a weekly basis.

Other children suffer from elective mutism, panic attacks and anxiety, it said in a statement.

“This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the EU to take responsibility for their collective failures,” the agency said. “It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries.”

The migrants in the camp, which is on the island of Lesbos, are housed in shipping containers and flimsy tents in conditions widely criticised as falling short of basic standards.

Greece is a gateway into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived since 2015 from Syria and other war-ravaged countries in the Middle East and from Africa.

Athens, which exited the biggest bailout in economic history in August, is struggling to handle the thousands of refugees who are stranded on its islands.

It has criticised Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis and some EU member states for being reluctant to share their burden.

Last week, 19 non-governmental organizations urged Greece to take action to alleviate the plight of refugees in all its island camps, not just Moria, to render them more fit for human habitation. 

The total number of migrants and refugees holed up in the island camps exceeds 17,000.

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Belgium Refuses To Extradite Spanish Rapper

A Belgium court has ruled that there is no reason to return a Spanish rapper to Spain.

Spain had asked Belgium to extradite rapper Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, better known as Valtonyc, on the grounds that the entertainer had written lyrics that “glorified terrorism, insulted the royal family, and contained threats.”

Valtonyc had received a two-year sentence in Spain because of his lyrics, but fled to Belgium.

Simon Bekaert, the rapper’s lawyer said Monday in Ghent that “the judge has decided there will be no extradition and discarded all three charges.”

Bekaert said the judge ruled “there is no terrorism involved, so there is no question of a crime, according to Belgian law.”

It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would appeal the judge’s decision.

 

 

 

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Anti-Kremlin Activist Treated in Berlin for Suspected Poisoning

An anti-Kremlin activist is being treated in a Berlin hospital for what members of the Pussy Riot band have called poisoning.

The publisher of a Russian online news outlet that criticizes the government, Pyotr Verzilov, reportedly lost his vision, hearing, and ability to walk Tuesday, following a court hearing

Verzilov was treated in a Moscow hospital last week, but was flown to Germany late Saturday on a flight chartered by the Cinema for Peace Foundation, which has long supported his and punk band Pussy Riot’s anti-Kremlin activism.

Verzilov’s wife, band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told the German newspaper Bild she believed he was poisoned. Another member of the band, Veronika Nikulshina, told a Russian website it was “definitely poisoning”.

His collapse Tuesday followed a 15-day sentence he served with Nikulshina and two other members of the band for storming the soccer field during the World Cup final in July to highlight Russian police abuses.

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Chair Umpire Ramos Hands Cilic Warning for Slamming Racket

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos has issued a code violation to Croatia after Marin Cilic slammed his racket to the clay and mangled the frame during a tense Davis Cup match against Sam Querrey of the United States.

Since it was the first violation of the match, it was only a warning. No points were deducted and Cilic did not exchange any words with Ramos.

Ramos was also the umpire who gave Serena Williams three code violations in her straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka during last weekend’s U.S. Open final. The American great argued she wasn’t being treated the same as some male players.

The normally collected Cilic lost his cool after committing a series of uncharacteristic errors late in the third set against Querrey.

After winning the opening set, Cilic wasted a 6-1 lead in the second-set tiebreak.

Querrey, who played in place of Steve Johnson, won the third set to take a two sets to one lead.

Croatia leads the best-of-five semifinal 2-1.

Croatia’s Borna Coric is due to face Frances Tiafoe in a potentially decisive fifth rubber.

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London Mayor Calls for Second Referendum on Brexit

London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for another referendum on Britain’s European Union membership, saying the prime minister’s handling of Brexit negotiations had become “mired in confusion and deadlock” and was leading the country down a damaging path.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29. But with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans still not accepted, some lawmakers, as well as union and business leaders are increasingly arguing for people to have a final say on any deal struck with Brussels.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding a second referendum following the vote two years ago to leave the EU. She says members of parliament will get to vote on whether to accept any final deal.

But with time running out for London and Brussels to thrash out a Brexit deal, the British government is preparing plans for a no-deal Brexit.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond told senior ministers last week that Brexit could have to be delayed beyond March 29 in order to pass new laws, The Sun newspaper said on Saturday.

The idea was immediately rejected by May, the report said. Khan, a senior member of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said Britain was now facing either a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit, both of which were “incredibly risky” for Britain.

Writing in Sunday’s Observer newspaper, Khan blamed the government’s handling of the negotiations and said the threat to living standards, the economy and jobs was too great for voters not to have a say.

“The government’s abject failure.” and the huge risk we face of a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit.” means that giving people a fresh say is now the right — and only.” approach left for our country,” he said.

Khan’s support for a second referendum, which supporters call a “people’s vote”, will put more pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to change his opposition to the idea.

Labour is due to start its four-day annual party conference in a week’s time.