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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.

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Tehran Knocks Paris Police Response to Embassy Attack

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday said that extremists were responsible for an attack on Tehran’s embassy in Paris the day before, and that the city police’s response to the attack was slow and weak.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying officers did not arrive quickly after the disturbance was reported. He said the troublemakers were members of an extremist organization, but he did not identify the group, IRNA said. 

“It is necessary for the French government to take serious measures to protect Iranian diplomatic missions in that country,” Ghasemi said, according to the news agency.

A Paris police spokeswoman said “individuals” had thrown objects and smashed windows at the embassy. She said the responding officers searched 12 people but didn’t take anyone into custody because embassy personnel didn’t want to file a complaint.

The spokeswoman provided information about the incident but would not give her name, a common police practice in France.

Ghasemi said that some suspects had been arrested and that Iran had asked the French government to prosecute and punish them, IRNA reported. Tehran is doing its own investigation of the commotion and the allegedly tardy arrival of Paris police, the news agency said.

The Paris police spokesman said she did not have information about the motives or identities of the people outside the embassy.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard last week claimed responsibility for a missile attack targeting an Iraqi base of the Kurdish separatist group Party of Democratic Kurdistan of Iran. The Revolutionary Guard said the attack killed at least 11 people and wounded 50.

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UN Official to Europe: Find Consensus on Migrants

The top U.N. refugee official says Europe has to agree on how to deal with migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

After two days of talks with government officials in Italy, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said Friday that European countries have to unite on addressing migrants arriving in Europe.

Grandi was very clear about the need to rescue anyone found at sea in the Mediterranean. He said migrants should be taken to the nearest safe port. Speaking in Rome, he praised the work of the Italian coast guard.

Italy recently closed its ports to nongovernmental organization vessels engaged in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. The Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has said he no longer will allow migrants to disembark at Italian ports, and he urged other European states to allow vessels carrying migrants into their ports. Salvini has repeatedly said Italy will not continue to assume the brunt of the migration issue.

Grandi said that although the flow of migrants has dropped this year, the lack of NGO vessels operating in the area has brought an increase in the number of migrant deaths at sea. He said he agreed with Italian government leaders on the need to provide more resources to end conflicts in the migrants’ home countries and other root causes of the departures.

More EU resources

He added that he had discussed with Italy’s foreign minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, the need to push for the next EU budget to include important resources strategically aimed at stabilizing situations in crisis areas in order to stem unnecessary flows of people.

Grandi said people do not want to flee from their homes or end of up in the hands of traffickers. That’s why offering economic security alternatives is very important, he said, but this can only occur with resources that go beyond those of each individual member state.

It is essential, Grandi said, to establish a mechanism that will deal with the arrivals of migrants and what happens to them after their arrival, and this mechanism must be shared by European nations. He said it was not possible to deal on a boat-by-boat basis, as recently has been the case.

The majority of refugees who flee crisis areas go to neighboring nations, Grandi said, but often these countries lack the resources to provide humanitarian assistance. Therefore, he added, transit nations also require reinforcement of institutions to deal with the migrant movements. He explained that at present, the most complex and dangerous transit country is Libya, which is torn by violent conflict.

The UNHCR is present in Libya with the International Organization for Migration, he said, because in Libya there is a large population of refugees living in extremely difficult conditions. Many are locked up in detention centers, where the conditions are abominable and completely unacceptable, he said.

Grandi said the U.N. works to assist the most vulnerable people and organizes repatriations and humanitarian corridors so that they may find protection elsewhere. He added, however, that these channels must be intensified and that efforts must continue to obtain an end to the conflict in Libya.

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Pope Francis Urges Mafia Members to Repent

Pope Francis appealed to members of the Sicilian Mafia on Saturday to give up on a life of crime, saying the island does not need men and women of honor but rather of love.

The pontiff was paying a one-day visit to the southern Italian island to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the killing of Father Pino Puglisi by Mafia hitmen.

Celebrating Mass for tens of thousands of Sicilians gathered in Palermo’s port area, Francis said to members of the Mafia: “Change, brothers and sisters! Stop thinking about yourselves and your money. … Convert yourselves to the real God, Jesus Christ.” The pope added, “Mafiosi, if you don’t do this, your very life will be lost, and that will be your greatest defeat.”

Puglisi kept unemployed youths in the rough Brancaccio neighborhood in Palermo from turning to local Mafia bosses for jobs. He was 56 when he was slain, and in 2013 he was beatified after being recognized as a martyr “killed by hatred of the faith.”

In his homily at the open-air Mass, Francis said: “A mafioso does not live as a Christian, because he blasphemes with his life the name of God-love. Today, we need men and women of love, not men and women of honor; of service, not of overpowering. We need men and women to walk together, not to chase power.”

Earlier, the pope visited Piazza Armerina, a small, poor town in central Sicily. He said to the faithful gathered: “I am happy to be here with you. The Sicilian sun is beautiful.”

Sicilians cheered and clapped their hands. He drew more applause when he said, “The wounds which afflict you are many, and they have a name: social and cultural underdevelopment, the exploitation of workers and a lack of decent work for young people.” He also spoke about “extortionate money-lending” and “gambling.”

Francis also visited the house where Puglisi lived and met with the clergy in Palermo’s cathedral before returning to the Vatican.

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Aid Groups Decry Conditions at Greek Isles’ Migrant Centers

Nineteen humanitarian aid groups are urging that steps be taken immediately to ease “desperate conditions” for more more than 17,000 migrants “crammed in Greek island reception centers with a total capacity for only 6,000.”

The groups, in a statement Thursday, said they were seeking “sustainable solutions” to relieve congestion and improve conditions.

Migrants, primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan but also from African countries, are living in squalor on several overcrowded Greek islands near Turkey’s coast, according to the statement, whose signatories include Oxfam International. 

That organization released a separate statement of complaint earlier this week, noting that “thousands of refugees and other migrants are trapped … in trailers and tents that are blazing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Access to running water is limited.”

With overcrowding, “the situation is particularly alarming for women, who are at heightened risk of sexual violence and abuse,” the Oxfam statement said.

“Living conditions are dreadful,” Oxfam’s advocacy officer in Greece, Marion Bouchetel, told VOA’s English to Africa service in a phone interview Thursday.

She said that Moria, a camp on the eastern island of Lesbos near Turkey, holds nearly 8,800 people, almost triple its intended maximum capacity of 3,100.

The aid groups’ complaints dovetail with those of local government authorities, who found that, at Moria, broken sewage pipes have spilled wastewater near the tents and shipping containers that provide housing.

“The fact that there are too many people in tents and containers is also a risk for the spreading of diseases,” Bouchetel said, adding that “there are problems with access to medical services.”

The regional North Aegean Prefecture warned in a Sept. 7 letter to Greece’s Migration Policy Ministry that it would shut down Moria in 30 days unless health hazards there were corrected, various news media have reported.

The Athens government has been transferring some asylum-seekers to the mainland and aims to improve efficiency in processing, Reuters reported this week.

During the first full week in September, 504 asylum-seekers moved to the mainland, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Bouchetel said Lesbos has roughly 11,000 people anticipating asylum hearings, awaiting their interviews “for months and sometimes for years. We meet regularly people who have been stuck in Lesbos for over a year or even two years awaiting a decision or for an interview.”

Different procedures for different nationalities explain some of the holdup, she said. But she also blamed delays on “the lack of staff and the lack of capacity by the asylum service administration in Greece.”

The European Commission this summer announced plans to set up “controlled centers” in volunteer countries in the European Union to process the asylum claims of migrants rescued at sea.

Bouchetel said the plan for controlled centers “would be a recipe for failure,” instead serving as “de facto detention centers inside Europe and basically … replicating a model that is very similar to the ‘hot spots’ that we see here in Lesbos. And it is obviously a system that is not working.”

Lesbos has been a favored entry point to the European Union since the migrant crisis unfolded in 2015. Since then, at least a million migrants have crossed Greek borders, the New Europe website reports.

This report originated with VOA’s English to Africa service.