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Jordan, Germany Said to Disagree on Status of German Troops

A Jordanian official said Sunday that Jordan is negotiating with Germany over the legal status of German troops to be stationed in the kingdom, amid reports that disagreements delayed deployment.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Germany seeks immunity in Jordan for 250 soldiers who are part of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State group extremists. The report says Jordan balked at the demand.

 

The Jordanian official said talks with Germany are “subject to international diplomatic rules” and “equal mutual treatment.” He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters on the issue.

 

Germany’s Defense Ministry played down the report saying the negotiation process is ongoing and that “we are in fruitful talks with Jordan.”

 

“We already started the deployment… and are expecting to be fully operational by October,” said a spokesman for the German Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

 

Germany chose Jordan after previous host Turkey prevented German lawmakers from visiting the troops there.

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IS Claims Brussels Knife Attacker is One of Their Own

The Islamic State news agency Aamaq has claimed the Brussels attacker who assaulted three soldiers with a knife as an Islamic State group soldier.

In a statement Sunday, it said he carried out the Friday evening attack in response to calls to target countries of the coalition that is fighting IS.

Belgian prosecutors have opened an attempted terrorist murder probe after attacker assaulted the soldiers while shouting “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great.” He was shot dead by troops.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said the man was known to police for assault charges but had no previous terror-related offenses.  The suspect, a Belgian citizen of Somali origin, was also carrying a fake firearm and copies of the Quran.

IS often claims attacks by people who have no known link to the group.

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UK Opposition to Offer Alternative ‘Soft’ Brexit in Policy Shift

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is announcing a policy shift which opens the possibility of the country remaining in the European Union’s single market and customs union for several years as part of a “soft” Brexit, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The party would propose the same “basic terms” as Britain’s current relationship with the EU during a transition period following Brexit in 2019, and after that for all options to be open, a spokesman for Labour said.

His comments came in response to a report in Britain’s Guardian and sister newspaper Observer in which shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer backed “continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU,” so that Labour would become the party of a “soft Brexit” and offer a smoother economic outcome.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party would also “leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period”, the paper said.

However, a longer-term arrangement would only be considered if a Labour government could by that point have persuaded the rest of the EU to “agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules,” the paper said.

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Saakashvili Says Georgia to Charge Him With Plotting Coup

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is also a former governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, has accused the authorities of Georgia and Ukraine of planning to accuse of planning a coup in Georgia.

Saakashvili wrote on Facebook on Saturday that the Georgian authorities “in complete coordination with officials in Ukraine” were planning to make the accusation soon.

“They promised [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko that they would file the charges before September 10,” he wrote.

Saakashvili said the charges would give Ukrainian authorities “a legal basis” for detaining him if he entered Ukraine.

He added that the charges were risible and politically motivated.

Earlier the same day, Nika Gvaramia, the head of Georgia’s Rustavi-2 television, said he believed charges of plotting a coup might be filed against Saakashvili.

Background

Saakashvili, 49, once a lauded pro-Western reformist, served two terms as Georgia’s president, from January 2004 to November 2013.

His popularity declined toward the end of his second term, in part because of a five-day war with Russia during which Moscow’s forces drove deep into the South Caucasus country, and his long-ruling party was voted out of power in a 2012 parliamentary election.

In 2015, Saakashvili forfeited his Georgian citizenship by accepting an offer from his old college friend, Poroshenko, to become governor of Ukraine’s southwestern Odessa Oblast province — a post that required Ukrainian citizenship.

Saakashvili, who harbors Ukrainian political ambitions, resigned as governor of Odessa in November 2016, complaining of official obstruction and corruption. He accused Poroshenko of dishonesty and said his central government had sabotaged democratic reforms required for membership to the European Union and NATO.

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Man in London Sword Attack Being Questioned by Police

A man who assaulted police officers with a four-foot sword outside Queen Elizabeth’s Buckingham Palace residence shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) was being questioned by counterterrorism police on Saturday.

Two unarmed officers suffered slight cuts as they detained the man, who drove at a police van on Friday evening, then took the sword from the front passenger foot-well of his car, London’s Metropolitan Police said.

It was too early to say what the man was planning to do, said Commander Dean Haydon, the head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.

“We believe the man was acting alone and we are not looking for other suspects at this stage,” he said. “It is only right that we investigate this as a terrorist incident at this time.”

Europe has been on high alert following a string of militant attacks, including four this year in Britain which killed 36 people. The country’s threat level remains at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

No members of the royal family were present in the palace, which is a magnet for tourists in Britain’s capital in the peak August holiday weekend.

“I want to thank the officers who acted quickly and bravely to protect the public last night demonstrating the dedication and professionalism of our police,” Prime Minister Theresa May said in a message on Twitter.

Suspect from Luton

The suspect was initially arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and assault on police. He was then further arrested under Britain’s Terrorism Act.

Police said they were investigating a 26-year-old man from the Luton area, an ethnically diverse town 55 km (35 miles) north of London where police have carried out investigations linked to other militant attacks, including one earlier this year on London’s Westminster Bridge.

“My partner saw a sword (…) as well as a policeman with blood on him, looking like his hand or chest was injured. The police officer had it in his hand, walking away with it,” said an unnamed witness quoted by The Times newspaper, who said tourists were running away from the scene.

“Something happened before, which is why the people ran away. I’m not sure what this was. But people were already scared and I saw the policeman pull the man from the car” the witness said.

The suspect was treated at a London hospital for minor injuries, and there were no other reported injuries.

“This is a timely reminder that the threat from terrorism in the UK remains severe,” Haydon added. “The police, together with the security services, are doing everything we can to protect the public and we already have an enhanced policing plan over the Bank Holiday weekend to keep the public safe.”

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EU Ponders Tough Action Against Migrant-source Countries

The EU’s commissioner for migration says Brussels may withhold development aid and impose trade and visa restrictions on migrant-source countries in Africa and Asia to force them to take back failed asylum-seekers.

In an interview with Britain’s The Times published Saturday, Dimitris Avramopoulos said EU chiefs “are considering stopping funding of major development projects. We invested in these regions to create opportunities and keep people there.”

He said countries which failed to cooperate with repatriations could face blanket visa restrictions. Germany recently threatened to withhold visas from the ruling elites of migrant-source countries that do not accept returnees.

But Avramopoulos appeared to indicate a much broader visa embargo is now being contemplated, saying “thousands of foreigners, from diplomats and doctors to students and researchers” would be impacted by the travel restrictions now under discussion.

“The EU is not afraid to make use of leverages in trade or visa policy. Let’s be honest: it is neither good for Africa nor for Europe that so many people cross the Mediterranean,” he said.

This is the first time EU commissioners have threatened to block access to European markets in response to a long-running migration crisis that’s roiling the continent and threatening to upend traditional party politics and empower populist nationalists.

The “hard borders” approach now being considered is being condemned by humanitarian NGOs, which often embrace a “no border” ideology.

On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron of France will chair talks featuring European and African leaders in Paris in a renewed bid to thrash out a more effective strategy to stem migrant flows. African leaders are likely to argue they need more development aid.

Italy’s dilemma

The following day EU national leaders will hold one of their regular summits in which the migration issue will figure prominently.  Both Italy and Germany have national elections in coming months and Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni and Germany’s Angela Merkel will likely want to show voters they are shutting down migrant routes.

Italy will push the EU to try to replicate with Libya a deal that was struck with Turkey last year, which largely shut down the migrant route through the Balkans. But analysts say such a deal would be unworkable when it comes to Libya given the lack of an effective central authority in the northern Africa state.

The migration influx has morphed into a political crisis for Italy’s left-leaning coalition government. In municipal elections earlier this year the coalition lost ground to center-right parties such as Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, which has called for a “stop to the invasion.”

Italy’s right-wing Forza Italia party has campaigned for the denial of landing rights to NGO ships carrying migrants. And even the maverick radical Five Star Movement is moving to an anti-immigrant position, calling for a halt to any new migrants being lodged in Rome.

Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of “looking the other way,” and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean. A burden-sharing system across the EU has failed with just a few thousand taken off Italy’s hands by other EU member states.

Libya has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees from across sub-Saharan Africa, and also from the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh. Many are fleeing war and persecution, but most who are using Libya are seeking to escape poverty. Italy has become the main point of arrival of those rescued off the coast of Libya.

As the economic migration has grown, with only a small proportion of asylum-seekers coming from countries engulfed in war, so sentiment in Italy has shifted with Italians becoming enraged at the strain the influx is having on the country’s migrant facilities, which are now all full, and the appearance of migrants even in far-flung villages.

600,000 asylum seekers

This week, police evicted more than a hundred Eritreans and Ethiopians from an abandoned office building near Rome’s central railway station. The occupants — who had been given refugee status — complained that Italy doesn’t help asylum-seekers integrate, fails to house them and provide language classes.

In fact, the Italian authorities do, housing many in villages across the country, providing months-long language tuition and up to 45 euros a day per refugee. But many refugees bolt the system, preferring to live in large cities such as Rome, Naples, Milan and Bologna and to try their luck.

The sheer numbers — more than 600,000 asylum-seekers have entered Italy since 2014 — are overwhelming. And the assistance asylum-seekers do receive is increasingly infuriating ordinary Italians in villages migrants are sent to for temporary periods. “I don’t get that money from the government and we are struggling as well — we don’t have enough jobs for our kids and now migrant kids will be competing for the few jobs that are around,” says Anna-Maria Bianchi, a mother-of-two from a Lazio village just north of Rome.

The only good news as far as Italian authorities are concerned is that there has been a fall-off in the rate of new arrivals this August and July. Official figures show arrivals in Italy from North Africa dropped by more than 50 percent in July from a year earlier and August arrivals are down even further, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The decline is being put down to several factors — from changeable sea conditions to a heightened Libyan coastguard presence and a reduction in humanitarian rescue-refugee operations.  There are also several probes by Italian authorities, who say NGOs have been colluding with people-traffickers. 

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NATO Says Russia Should Be Transparent About Its Military Drills

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday the alliance would closely watch Russian military exercises in western Russia and Belarus next month, urging Moscow to be transparent about the drills.

The maneuvers, the largest in years, with tanks, naval and air units operating in and around the Baltic and North Sea, have raised NATO’s concern that the official number of troops participating might be understated.

‘Watching very closely’

“We are going to be watching very closely the course of these exercises,” Stoltenberg told reporters after meeting Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on a visit to check on the deployment of the U.S.-led alliance’s forces in the country’s east.

“All countries have the right to exercises of their armed forces, but the countries should also respect the obligation to be transparent.”

Russia has said that 13,000 troops will participate in the Sept. 14-20 drills, which under an international agreement is the limit for not requiring the presence of external observers. Western estimates have put the number of troops involved much higher.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday the drills were purely defensive and concerns about troop numbers were “inflated hype of an artificial nature” in Western media.

“We would like to emphasize that it is precisely these actions which lead to increased military tension in Europe,” the ministry said in a statement.

More meetings

Stoltenberg will meet with Polish, Turkish and Romanian foreign ministers later on Friday before visiting NATO troops in Poland’s Orzysz, about 57 kilometers (35 miles) south of Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, where Moscow has stationed nuclear-capable missiles and an S-400 air missile defense system.

“[The NATO deployment] is a clear signal that an attack on one ally is an attack on the whole alliance,” Stoltenberg said. “The matter here is to prevent conflicts and not to provoke them.”

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Man Arrested Over Assault on Police at Buckingham Palace

A man armed with a knife was detained Friday evening outside London’s Buckingham Palace, and two police officers were injured while arresting him, police said.

The Metropolitan Police force says two officers suffered minor injuries while detaining the suspect, who is being held on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and assaulting police.

Police said the officers did not require hospital treatment. No other injuries were reported.

A large number of police vehicles could be seen in the Mall, the wide road outside the palace.

Police said it was too early to say whether the incident was terrorism-related.

Buckingham Palace is one of London’s main tourist attractions, and the London home of Queen Elizabeth II.

The queen, however, usually spends August in Scotland at her Balmoral estate with family members.

Police stepped up patrols around major U.K. tourist sites after attacks with vehicles and knives earlier this year on Westminster Bridge, which is near Parliament, and London Bridge.

Buckingham Palace, which is surrounded by tall gates, has seen past security breaches. Last year, a man convicted of murder climbed a wall while the queen was at home, and was detained in the grounds.

In 1982, an intruder managed to sneak into the queen’s private chambers while she was in bed. Elizabeth spent 10 minutes chatting with him before calling for help.

A palace spokeswoman said the palace did not comment on security issues.

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Suspected Drug Ring Mastermind Arrested in London, Faces Extradition to US

The suspected mastermind of an international drug-smuggling operation has been arrested in London and faces extradition to the United States on charges that carry at least 30 years in prison upon conviction, prosecutors in New York said Friday.

Muhammad Asif Hafeez, 58, a Pakistani national known as “The Sultan,” was charged with trafficking several tons of heroin and methamphetamine, U.S. prosecutors said. He faces three counts in federal court in Manhattan, each with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

Lawyers for Hafeez could not immediately be identified.

Prosecutors said that from 2013 until his arrest, Hafeez conspired to import methamphetamine into the United States. They said that at one point, Hafeez and others sought to establish a methamphetamine production facility in Mozambique, but had to abandon that plan after authorities seized several tons of ephedrine from a factory in India that was to be used to make the methamphetamine.

Prosecutors have also accused Hafeez of conspiring to import heroin into the United States with Baktash Akasha Abdalla, the leader of an organized crime family in Kenya, and others.

Akasha was arrested in 2014 in a U.S.-led sting operation and was extradited along with three others to face charges in New York in January.

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Mattis: US ‘Actively Reviewing’ Sending Defensive Lethal Weapons to Ukraine

American Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to restoring Ukraine’s soverignty and territorial integrity during a visit to the eastern European country. Mattis met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak. And as VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports, the question over whether the United States will provide Ukraine with lethal weapons loomed large during Thursday’s talks