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Nervous NATO Leaders Await Trump Visit

During President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip, he will meet in Brussels with the other leaders of NATO member states. Some of them are nervous about the president’s commitment to the defense alliance in which the United States has played a central role since NATO’s formation at the start of the Cold War. VOA White House Bureau Chief Correspondent Steve Herman reports.

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US: Turkish Security Detail’s Clash in Washington Is ‘Deeply Disturbing’ 

The U.S. State Department said a clash in Washington this week in which Turkish security personnel apparently attacked demonstrators was “deeply disturbing.”

A State Department statement Friday promised a “thorough investigation’’ to hold those responsible accountable. Tom Shannon, the acting deputy secretary of state, met Wednesday with Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic to discuss the altercation.

“The State Department has raised its concerns about these events at the highest levels,” the statement said.

Watch: Turkish President Erdogan Watched Violent Clash Near Embassy

The clash broke out Tuesday between Turkish security personnel and protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

Protesters say they were attacked by Turkish security forces as they demonstrated peacefully. Turkey blamed the clash on the demonstrators, claiming they aggressively provoked people who had gathered to see Erdogan.

VOA reporters recorded images at the scene that indicated the Turkish security detail suddenly turned on the demonstrators, knocking them to the ground and kicking them until American police pushed the Turks away. The video showed Erdogan standing beside his limousine, watching the brawl.

U.S. officials briefly detained two members of Erdogan’s security detail, but they were soon released, under customary diplomatic protocols granting immunity to aides accompanying a visiting dignitary.

Some U.S. lawmakers have demanded the United States take stronger action.

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Media: French Officials Had Secret Plan in Event of Le Pen Win

A group of top French officials and ministers from President Francois Hollande’s outgoing government drafted an emergency plan to manage the consequences of a win by Marine Le Pen in the recent presidential election and to weaken her, if she were elected, according to French media.

The secret plan, which was seen as a bid to protect France’s Fifth Republic and to keep public order by the officials who drew it up, included delaying the handover of power from Hollande to Le Pen and keeping the outgoing president as head of state until after next month’s parliamentary elections.

That way, Le Pen would not have been in a position to appoint her own prime minister. The officials were calculating her National Front party wouldn’t secure a parliamentary majority, forcing Le Pen to accept a prime minister and Cabinet selected by opposition parties.

“It was like a multistage rocket,” a senior official told L’Obs, a weekly news magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules,” he added.

The plan, which at the very least would have skirted convention, did not have to be put into operation because centrist Emmanuel Macron pulled off a crushing victory, defeating Le Pen by a two-to-one margin.

The first goal in the mind of the plan’s participants was freezing the political situation, according to officials who spoke with French newspapers, and preventing violent civil unrest. The second was to restrain Le Pen.

In the run-up to the elections, French media reported police and intelligence chiefs were alarmed at the prospect of the anti-immigrant and anti-EU Le Pen winning, and they worried France would be drawn into chaos with left-wing protesters refusing to accept the result. In April, Le Parisien, a daily newspaper, reported on a confidential memo drafted by intelligence chiefs saying every local public safety directorate was expressing concern about the consequences of Le Pen being elected.

Officials told L’Obs that under the overall plan to manage a Le Pen victory, parliament would have been recalled in emergency session. “The country would have come to a halt and the government would have just one priority, assuring the security of the state,” an official told the weekly magazine.

Future for party, Le Pen

Meanwhile, Macron’s decisive win over Le Pen has shattered National Front unity, with recriminations flying over the heavy defeat.

“Rarely in French political history had there been such a confluence of favorable conditions for the election of an extremist and populist candidate in a presidential race: a lingering EU migrant crisis, the soaring recurrence of actual and prevented terror attacks throughout the country, increasing segments of French society feeling disenfranchised, a growing voters’ fatigue with worn-out manifestos by self-seeking traditional parties, and a stagnating national economy; all seemed essential ingredients for a majority vote in favor of Marine Le Pen,” notes analyst Solon Ardittis of the Germany-based Institute of Labor Economics, an independent research institute.

 

 

Party critics of Le Pen agree with that assessment — and it is driving rifts within the National Front. Le Pen, who will contest a seat in next month’s parliamentary elections in a mining town in northern France, insists her party still has an essential role to play in French politics and that she will remain at the head of it.

“We are, in reality, the only opposition movement. We will have an essential role to play [and] a role in the recomposing of political life,” she told a French television channel on Thursday.

One of her nieces, 27-year-old Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a rising political star, and one of only two National Front lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, announced this week she’s quitting politics. And Le Pen’s deputy, Florian Philippot, is now forming his own “patriotic” movement.

Opinion polls are now suggesting that the one-year-old party of France’s newly elected Macron, the youngest leader of the country since Napoleon Bonaparte, is surging ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections. A survey puts his La Republique en Marche party at 32 percent of the vote, 13 percent ahead of its nearest rival, Les Republicains.

Macron’s choice of Cabinet members — some prominent figures, others unknown but all drawn equally from the right and left of French politics — has also gone down well with the public, with a 61 percent approval rating.

Le Pen’s defeat has been greeted by many European liberals as a sign that the populist wave that’s been washing across Europe has now run its course. Some analysts, however, say that the populists shouldn’t be counted out yet. Macron’s victory, argues Robert Skidelsky, a political economist at Britain’s Warwick University, amounts to a win in one battle and not the end of the war. “The idea that one in three French citizens would vote for the National Front’s Le Pen was inconceivable only a few years ago,” he said.

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Sweden Drops Rape Investigation Against Wikileaks’ Assange

Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, almost seven years after it began and five years after the WikiLeaks founder sought refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

 

Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson declared Friday that “this is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants.”

 

But the picture is more complicated than that.

 

Has Assange been exonerated?      

 

No. The investigation began after two women accused Assange of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Stockholm. Sweden asked Britain to extradite Assange for questioning, and in June 2012 he sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid arrest.

 

After that, the investigation stalled. Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out in 2015, leaving only the rape allegation.

 

Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions announced Friday that she was dropping the rape case because there is no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden “in the foreseeable future” and it is “no longer proportionate” to maintain the European arrest warrant.

 

She told a news conference in Stockholm that the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020.

 

Ny said the case was not being dropped because Assange has been found innocent.

 

“We don’t make any statement of guilty or not,” she said.

 ___

Is Assange free to leave the Ecuadorean embassy?

 

Sweden has revoked a European Arrest Warrant for Assange, so British police are no longer seeking him for extradition. But there is also a warrant issued by a British court after he skipped bail in June 2012.

 

London’s Metropolitan Police force says that it “is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” The maximum sentence for that offense is a year in prison.

 

Police indicated they will significantly scale back the resources dedicated to making sure Assange does not escape now that he is wanted for a much less serious crime.

 

___

 

 Are there other charges against Assange?     

 

That’s unclear. Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified American documents, which has infuriated U.S. officials. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that Assange’s arrest is a priority.

 

Both U.S. and British officials have declined to comment on whether there is a warrant for Assange’s arrest.

 

___

 

Does Sweden’s action make Assange Safer?     

Some legal experts say it makes his position less secure. Until Friday, Britain was bound to honor Sweden’s extradition request before any warrant from the United States. That is no longer the case.

 

Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: “Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any U.S. extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden.”

 

Assange could fight any U.S. extradition request in the British courts, a process that could take years.

 

___

 

Whither WikiLeaks?    

 

WikiLeaks’ release of classified material has continued unabated during Assange’s five years in the Ecuadorean embassy. On Friday, the group released what it said were new details of CIA cyberespionage tools.

 

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Trump Takes First International Trip as President

Donald Trump begins his maiden international trip as U.S. president Friday, leaving the White House awash in a slew of controversies that has some politicians invoking comparisons to the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

“We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us,” Donald Trump told reporters Thursday.

The controversies include the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey amid allegations Trump wanted Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The president is also facing questions about his ties with Russia during the presidential election and allegations he revealed classified material to Russia’s foreign minister during a meeting in the Oval Office.

The stops include

Stops on the upcoming trip include Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican; places sacred to three of the world’s major religions.

In Saudi Arabia, Trump, who has been outspoken about his mistrust of Muslims and has tried to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., is set to deliver a speech on Islam before a group of Muslim leaders. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, said the president is hopeful for the emergence of a peaceful vision of Islam.

Controversy precedes the U.S. president on his stop in Israel as well, following Trump’s alleged disclosure of Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.

Meeting with Pope Francis

The U.S. president will also go to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis who has said he will not make any judgments about Trump before meeting him.

Trump will then go to Belgium, where he will meet with NATO members in Brussels before ending his trip in the Sicilian town of Taormina for a G-7 summit.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir will not attend the Islamic summit with Trump in Saudi Arabia, according to Sudan’s state news agency SUNA.  The agency said “personal reasons” were preventing him from attending, but did not list the reasons.  

Bashir has for years faced charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed against civilians in Darfur. He has yet to be arrested.

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Erdogan Watched Guards Beat Protesters

U.S. officials and lawmakers may have been outraged when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards attacked and beat peaceful protesters in Washington as their leader watched. Back in Turkey, however, that hard-line approach is welcomed by many of the president’s nationalist supporters.

The clash Tuesday began when Erdogan’s motorcade pulled up in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence, returning from a visit to the White House and a meeting with President Donald Trump. 

Erdogan, emerging from his limousine, stood and watched as his guards and supporters began punching and kicking their way through a group of mostly Kurdish protesters across the street. Eleven people were injured.

Two senators protest

Two U.S. senators protested to Erdogan Thursday about his guards’ behavior.

“The violent response of your security detail to peaceful protesters is wholly unacceptable,” Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain said in a letter to Erdogan. They added that the incident was “unfortunately reflective of your government’s treatment of the press, ethnic minority groups and political opponents.”

While some Turks also decried the use of force to quash a peaceful protest, calling it a blemish on the country’s international reputation and a violation of free speech, those who support Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule felt it was justified.

Protesters ‘deserved to be beaten’

“Those terrorists deserved to be beaten,” Atakan, a taxi driver from the city of Erzurum, told a VOA reporter. “They should not be protesting our president. They got what they asked for.”

Yusuf Kanli, a newspaper columnist and political analyst, said no matter how bad it may have looked, the scene played right into Erdogan’s image.

Watch: Anti-Erdogan Protesters Say They Were Attacked by President’s Bodyguards

“I believe Erdogan makes use of this type of brawl for internal politics, to solidify his electorate and to get more nationalists to move to his party,” Kanli said. “If you are an anti-Erdogan citizen in Turkey, you think like the civilized world and do not approve of beating people who think different from you. But if you are a pro-Erdogan citizen, you applaud when people who don’t think like you do get beaten up.”

Erdogan has bolstered his power base, particularly since a coup attempt last year. He has cracked down hard on dissent, jailing journalists and the leaders and other legislators of the PKK, a Kurdish party that was the second-largest opposition group in Parliament, on allegations of terrorism.

Growing political divide

The result has been a growing political divide in the country, as shown by results of a referendum last month in which voters narrowly approved even more sweeping powers for Erdogan.

“People who support Erdogan approve a show of force,” Orkan, an engineer from Istanbul, told VOA. “So at the end, the sharp polarization within the country deepens more.”

A similar clash between Erdogan’s men and protesters broke out a year ago when he visited Washington for a nuclear conference.

“Turkish people who support Erdogan’s AK Party see this sort of incident as legitimate,” said Ilhan Tanir, a freelance Turkish journalist and analyst. “Pro-government newspapers and columnists are proof of that. They say they had to teach the PKK terrorists a necessary lesson.

“Erdogan’s bodyguards remind me of Moammar Gadhafi’s bodyguards,” Tanir said. “They liked to get into fights, too. But with Erdogan’s guards, violence has almost become a habit.”

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‘Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Co-Pilot (and King)’

Some Dutch passengers on KLM flights might have recognized the co-pilot’s voice when he introduced himself on the airline’s Cityhopper services.

 

It was not just their co-pilot telling them weather conditions and estimated time of arrival. It was their king.

Regular guest pilot 

King Willem-Alexander told national newspaper De Telegraaf in an interview published Wednesday that he has ended his role as a regular guest pilot after 21 years on KLM’s fleet of Fokker 70 planes and before that on Dutch carrier Martinair. He will now retrain to fly Boeing 737s as the Fokkers are being phased out of service.

 

While it is no secret that Willem-Alexander is a qualified pilot who sometimes flew KLM passenger flights, it was not clear how frequently it happened. De Telegraaf said he does it twice a month. As a guest flier, the king is always co-pilot.

Flying relaxing

The 50-year-old father of three and monarch to 17 million Dutch citizens calls flying a hobby that lets him leave his royal duties on the ground and fully focus on something else.

 

“You have an aircraft, passengers and crew. You have responsibility for them,” the king told De Telegraaf. “You can’t take your problems from the ground into the skies. You can completely disengage and concentrate on something else. That, for me, is the most relaxing part of flying.”

 

Willem-Alexander said he is rarely recognized by passengers, especially since security was tightened on board planes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

 

“Before Sept. 11, the cockpit door was open. People regularly came to have a look and thought it was nice or surprising that I was sitting there,” he said, adding that very few people recognize him as he walks through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in KLM uniform and cap.

 

And even when he makes announcements to passengers, Willem-Alexander says that as a co-pilot he doesn’t have to give his name. So while some people recognize his voice, it is far from all passengers.

 

“But most people don’t listen anyway,” he added.

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Anti-Erdogan Protesters Say They Were Attacked by President’s Bodyguards

The United States has expressed concern about Tuesday night’s violence outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington. At least two people were arrested and 11 people were injured in the altercations involving protesters and Turkish security personnel. The incident took place while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House. Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Canada to Expand Sanctions Law to Honor Magnitsky

Canada’s government decided Wednesday to create legislation to expand the country’s international sanctions law to target gross human rights violators, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told Parliament. 

 

A Parliament committee agreed last month to support amending Canada’s sanctions rules to include rights violators, acting in honor of the Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after accusing officials of a $230 million tax fraud. Russia’s presidential council on human rights said the 37-year-old Magnitsky, who was an auditor for Hermitage Capital firm, was beaten and denied medical treatment while in jail.

 

The government’s decision is bound to further strain relations with Russia, which has reacted strongly to the imposition of Magnitsky-style legislation elsewhere. 

 

After U.S. President Barrack Obama signed such legislation into law in 2012, Russia responded by banning American citizens from adopting Russian children. As of May, there were 44 Russian officials on the U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions list, including five Russian officials involved in alleged human rights violations in the Magnitsky case. 

 

Ottawa and Moscow have their own differences, which include a Russian travel ban on Freeland. 

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Putin: I Can Prove Trump Passed No Secrets

Russian President Vladimir Putin says President Donald Trump never passed any classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met last week in Washington, and he has the transcripts to prove it.

Speaking Wednesday alongside Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Putin said Lavrov never passed the purported secrets on to him, and he would be happy to hand over the transcripts of the conversation.

Trump has been defending himself this week after media reports claimed he shared sensitive intelligence with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

The president and his aides have denied Trump shared any information that would have compromised sources or methods of gathering intelligence. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called Trump’s discussion with Russian diplomats “wholly appropriate.”

“I’m not concerned at all,” said McMaster, who sat in on the Oval Office meeting

News accounts of the meeting claim the classified information involved a possible Islamic State plan to smuggle bombs hidden in laptop computers aboard airliners.

Putin said the anti-Russian sentiment in America is damaging the country and not allowing Trump to govern properly. He accused Trump’s detractors of suffering from “political schizophrenia.”