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Norway, China Launch Free Trade Talks

Norway and China have resumed talks on a bilateral free trade deal, Norway’s Industry Ministry said Thursday, in another sign that their relationship was thawing after a row over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Beijing suspended discussions immediately after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Liu in 2010.

The dissident was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after he helped write a petition known as “Charter 08” calling for sweeping political reforms.

Liu died on July 13 from liver cancer.

China and Norway agreed to resume full diplomatic relations late last year and in June stepped up energy cooperation.

Several Norwegian firms, including Statoil, signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Chinese partners.

“It is good that negotiations are resuming,” Trade and Industry Minister Monica Maeland said in a statement.

The two sides had agreed to meet once more before the end of the year to discuss the trade of goods, services and investments, the statement said.

Initial reports from Norwegian negotiators were “very promising,” Maeland said.

A free trade deal would benefit producers of farmed salmon — Norway is the world’s largest producer — such as Marine Harvest, Salmar, Leroey, Norway Royal Salmon and Grieg Seafood.

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Post-Soviet Russia Suffering ‘Extreme’ Wealth Inequality, Study Finds

A new U.S. study has found an “extreme level” of wealth inequality in Russia that has increased much more significantly than it has in former Eastern European communist countries and in China since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The study, conduced by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found inequality in Russia has been driven by the transition from communism, during which wealthy Russians accumulated offshore wealth about three times larger than the net value of the country’s foreign reserves. This offshore wealth is comparable to all the financial assets held by households throughout Russia.

‘Dramatic failure’

“The dramatic failure of Soviet communism and egalitarian ideology … seems to have led to relatively high tolerance for large inequality and concentration of private property,” the study said.

It predicts inequality in Russia will persist “as long as billionaires and oligarchs appear to be loyal to the Russian state and perceived national interests.”

Russian living standards were between 60 percent to 65 percent of the Western European average in 1990 and 1991 and increased to 70 percent to 75 percent by the mid-2010s, according to the study.

Rent-based resources

The levels of inequality in Russia are in part the result of “a persistent concentration of rent-based resources, which are unlikely to be the best recipes for sustainable development and growth,” researchers said.

The study said official estimates of inequality in Russia greatly underestimate the concentration of income. Researchers said the report includes the “first complete balance sheet series” detailing private, public and national wealth and offshore wealth estimates in post-Soviet Russia.

The National Bureau of Economic Research is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

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UK Immigration Falls as EU Nationals Leave After Brexit Vote

Net migration to Britain has fallen to a three-year low as a growing number of European Union nationals left the country following last year’s Brexit referendum, according to official figures released Thursday.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics provide evidence that the uncertainty and economic jitters caused by Britain’s vote to quit the EU are having an impact on immigration.

The statistics office said net migration – the difference between arrivals and departures – was 246,000 in the year to March 31, a fall of 81,000 on a year earlier. More than half the change was due to a decline of 51,000 in net migration from the EU.

A total of 122,000 EU citizens left Britain in the year to March, up 31,000 from the year before and the highest outflow in nearly a decade.

There was a particularly sharp rise in departures from citizens of the “EU 8” — eastern European nations that joined the bloc in 2004. Hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians and other eastern Europeans moved to Britain to work after 2004.

EU citizens have the right to live and work in any member state, and more than 3 million nationals of other EU countries live in Britain.

When Britain formally leaves the EU in March 2019, it will have the power to set restrictions on the movement of people from the EU, leaving many uncertain about their future rights.

Nicola White, head of international migration figures at the statistics office, said the figures “indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the U.K., particularly EU and EU8 citizens.”

“It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend,” she said.

A slowdown in the British economy could be making the country less attractive to migrants. The statistics agency confirmed Thursday that the economy grew by a modest 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2017 from the previous three months, slower than any other Group of Seven economy.

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Mattis: US Sanctions Will Stay Until Russia Changes Behavior

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday during a visit to Ukraine that Russia is “seeking to redraw international borders by force” and that U.S. sanctions against Russia will remain in place until the government in Moscow changes its behavior.

Mattis spoke alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after a meeting with him and other leaders in Kyiv.

The Pentagon chief reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine, and said it does not accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

He also said Russia has not lived up to its commitments in the Minsk Agreement to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as other deals the country has endorsed.

“The U.S. and our allies will continue to press Russia to honor its Minsk commitments and our sanctions will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered them,” Mattis said.

He added that the U.S. remains committed to finding a diplomatic resolution to the situation in Ukraine.

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Switzerland Indicts Woman For Attempting to Join Islamic State

Switzerland’s attorney general’s office said Thursday it indicted a 30-year-old woman for trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group.

A statement said the attorney general had evidence that the woman, who is a Swiss citizen, traveled two years ago with her four-year-old son from Egypt to Greece in an attempt to go further to Turkey and into Syria.

The woman was stopped by Greek authorities, and then later arrested in Zurich in January 2016 as she returned to Switzerland.

Her name was not released.

The attorney general’s office said in its statement that it has a strict policy of prosecuting what it called “Jihadi travelers.”

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Trump Must be Respected as US President, says Germany’s Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday Donald Trump must be shown appropriate respect for holding the office of the U.S. president, even if she may differ with him on policy issues.

Merkel, campaigning for a fourth term in office after a Sept. 24 national election, has refused to bend to pressure from her Social Democrat (SPD) rivals to resist demands by Trump for NATO members to increase their defense spending.

As a committed Atlanticist, she has stressed the strength of German relations with the United States even when flagging differences in opinion on policy.

“If you take the president of the United States, whatever differences of opinion there may be, I know he prevailed in a tough election. It wasn’t reserved for him on a silver platter,” she told business daily Handelsblatt in an interview.

“In the end, he won the election under American electoral law and that means he is democratically elected and that this person should be shown the appropriate respect, regardless of how I assess his views,” she added.

Her SPD challenger, Martin Schulz, has been far more critical of Trump, referring to the U.S. president as “this irresponsible man in the White House.”

Merkel, who enjoyed holidaying in the United States before becoming chancellor in 2005, said she missed the opportunity to vacation there now.

“I can’t go on holiday in San Diego now as chancellor because the time difference is too much, and that is something I miss a bit, but the work itself is so marvelous that I can afford to miss it.”

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France Backs Trump Pledge to Keep US Troops in Afghanistan

France on Wednesday backed a commitment by U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan.

“France recognizes the importance of this undertaking and remains resolutely engaged in the struggle against terrorism,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Trump on Monday rowed back on a campaign pledge to quit Afghanistan, committing instead to an open-ended “fight to win” against Taliban insurgents there.

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Russia Puts Prominent Theater Director Under House Arrest

A Moscow court placed prominent Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov under house arrest Wednesday on embezzlement charges in a case seen by many as an effort by authorities to squash dissent.

The 47-year-old Serebrennikov was arrested Tuesday on the set of a movie he was shooting in St. Petersburg and driven to a jail in Moscow, where he spent the night.

Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling $1.1 million in government money he received to fund his productions between 2011 and 2014. He denied those allegations in court Wednesday.

A judge in Moscow’s Basmanny Court rejected Serebrennikov’s request to be released on bail, even after his lawyer offered to provide as collateral the $1.1 million Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling. He will be under house arrest until October.

Serebrennikov is known in Russia for his theatrical productions that mock the government. His detention is widely viewed as part of Moscow’s efforts to silence critics.

Many members of Russia’s arts community spoke out on behalf of Serebrennikov following his detention. Irina Prokhorova, a sister of billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, called Serebrennikov “the pride of Russia.”

In 2012, Serebrennikov took the helm of an aging Soviet-era theater and turned it into a popular, modern venue known as the Gogol Center. He is considered by many to be a mainstream cultural figure in Russia, although his interpretations of classic works have drawn criticism from conservative Russian politicians.

If convicted on the embezzlement charges, Serebrennikov could face up to 10 years in prison.

 

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Brawls Break Out Among Migrants Near French Port City Calais

As many as 200 migrants clashed near the northern French port city of Calais, using sticks and iron bars in five mass brawls that mainly pitted Afghans against Eritreans, authorities said Tuesday.

A total of 21 migrants and six riot police were injured, none seriously, during the clashes that broke out between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, the Pas-de-Calais prefecture said.

Up to 150 migrants were involved in the last fight, which started on a road leading out of the Calais city center and moved to a highway, the prefecture said. The regional Voix du Nord newspaper said the violent skirmishes held up traffic.

Four other fights began late Monday and continued until dawn as police dispersed the groups with tear gas.

Police detained seven migrants for questioning and put 20 others in administrative detention, meaning they risk expulsion from France, according to the prefecture.

Authorities cleared some 7,000 migrants from a makeshift camp in Calais last fall, but people hoping to enter Britain by crossing the English Channel in trains or ferries are steadily returning. Authorities estimate about 400 migrants are now in the Calais area, while aid groups put the number at about 600.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said three weeks ago that even though there are far fewer migrants in Calais compared to a year ago, 30,000 attempts to sneak into the Eurotunnel complex or onto ferries had been made since the start of 2017. Many of the people on the French side of the Channel make repeated attempts.

The interior minister announced at the end of July that two special centers to shelter migrants in Calais would be opened. However, the shelters for willing occupants are aimed at speeding up assessments of their situations, including whether they are to be expelled from France.

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Ukraine Cyber Security Firm Warns of Possible New Attacks

Ukrainian cyber security firm ISSP said on Tuesday it may have detected a new computer virus distribution campaign, after security services said Ukraine could face cyber-attacks similar to those which knocked out global systems in June.

The June 27 attack, dubbed NotPetya, took down many Ukrainian government agencies and businesses, before spreading rapidly through corporate networks of multinationals with operations or suppliers in eastern Europe.

ISPP said that, as with NotPetya, the new malware seemed to originate in accounting software and could be intended to take down networks when Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day on Aug. 24.

“This could be an indicator of a massive cyber-attack preparation before National Holidays in Ukraine,” it said in a statement.

In a statement, the state cyber police said they also had detected new malicious software.

The incident is “in no way connected with global cyber-attacks like those that took place on June 27 of this year and is now fully under control,” it said.

The state cyber police and the Security and Defense Council have said Ukraine could be targeted with a NotPetya-style attack aimed at destabilizing the country as it marks its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union.

Last Friday, the central bank said it had warned state-owned and private lenders of the appearance of new malware, spread by opening email attachments of word documents.

Ukraine – regarded by some, despite Kremlin denials, as a guinea pig for Russian state-sponsored hacks – is fighting an uphill battle in turning pockets of protection into a national strategy to keep state institutions and systemic companies safe.