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Putin: Russian State Has Never Been Involved in Hacking

President Vladimir Putin says the Russian state has never been involved in hacking.

Speaking at a meeting with senior editors of leading international news agencies Thursday, Putin said that some individual “patriotic” hackers could mount some attacks amid the current cold spell in Russia’s relations with the West.

 

But he categorically insisted that “we don’t engage in that at the state level.”

 

Putin also said that “no hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.”

 

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party emails, helping President Donald Trump’s election victory.

 

 

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World Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Fighting Climate Change

World leaders affirmed their commitment to combating climate change on Thursday ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement on whether he would pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Trump is expected to announce his decision on Thursday afternoon U.S. time (3 p.m. EDT; 1900 GMT).

 

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, speaking to reporters during a visit to Berlin, said fighting global warming is a “global consensus” and an “international responsibility.”

 

Without mentioning the U.S. specifically, Li said that “China in recent years has stayed true to its commitment” and pointed out that his was one of the first countries to ratify the 2015 Paris Agreement.

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has in the past even been dubbed the “climate chancellor” for her efforts to fight global warming, welcomed Li’s remarks at their joint press conference.

 

Other European leaders were more explicit in expressing their fears that the U.S. government may abandon international measures against climate change.

“Please don’t change the [political] climate for the worse,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted.

 

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain would continue to press the U.S. to reduce dangerous emissions even if Trump pulls out.

 

Johnson told Sky News that Britain still wants the U.S. to take the lead in fighting climate change and called on individual U.S. states to keep making progress on that front.

 

“We will continue to lobby the Americans and the White House to show the leadership they have shown in the past on reducing CO2,” he said.

 

Abandoning the pact would isolate the U.S. from a raft of international allies who spent years negotiating the 2015 agreement to fight global warming and pollution by reducing carbon emissions.

 

While traveling abroad last week, Trump was repeatedly pressed to stay in the deal by European leaders and Pope Francis. Withdrawing would leave the United States as one of just three countries outside the agreement. The other two are Syria and Nicaragua.

 

Russia joined the chorus speaking out in favor of the climate accord. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia “thinks highly” of the accords and sees no alternative to it. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that its implementation will not be as effective “without the key signatories.”

 

During a trip to Europe this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed India’s commitment to fighting climate change and said it would be a “crime” to spoil the environment for future generations.

 

Scientists say Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner if the U.S. retreats from its pledge because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Calculations suggest withdrawal could release up to 3 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide a year — enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.

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Суд звільнив від примусового психіатричного лікування росіянина за пост про «Уральську народну республіку»

Суд в Челябінську ухвалив рішення випустити із психіатричної лікарні росіянина Олексія Морошкіна, спрямованого туди на примусове лікування через допис у соцмережі «ВКонтакте», повідомив адвокат Андрій Лепьохін.

Лікарі дійшли висновку, що Морошкін не створює небезпеки для себе та інших людей, і через десять днів він зможе вийти з лікарні, в якій провів майже півтора року, цитує юриста російська служба Радіо Свобода.

Кримінальну справу стосовно Олексія Морошкіна було заведено влітку 2015 року, після того, як він опублікував на своїй сторінці «ВКонтакте» пост про необхідність створення «Уральської народної республіки». Слідство побачило в публікації заклики до екстремізму.

Судмедексперти поставили Морошкіну, який також є творцем мережевої спільноти «Церква челябінського метеорита», діагноз «параноїдальна шизофренія». Активіста спрямували на примусове лікування у грудні 2015 року.

Російські силовики також порушували справу проти Морошкіна за звинуваченнями у розфарбуванні бюсту Леніна в Челябінську у кольори українського прапора, приписавши йому «вандалізм».

Правозахисний центр «Меморіал» визнав Олексія Морошкіна політичним в’язнем.

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Кличко просить уряд відновити енергопостачання ТЕЦ-6, щоб увімкнути киянам гарячу воду

Міський голова Києва Віталій Кличко закликав впровадити мораторій на відключення від газопостачання об’єктів, що забезпечують киян комунальними послугами, поки держава не проведе взаєморозрахунки з тепло- та газопостачальними підприємствами. Про це повідомляє прес-служба відомства.

«Усі ви знаєте про складну ситуацію, яка склалася з гарячим водопостачанням у місті. І причина – вже не тільки гідравлічні випробування. У столиці зупинили газопостачання ТЕЦ-6, яка забезпечує теплоенергією Деснянського району Києва. Я звернувся до уряду з тим, аби вирішити цю проблему – запровадити мораторій на припинення енергопостачання стратегічних об’єктів, що забезпечують населення життєво важливими послугами,» – заявив Кличко.

За його словами, відключення здійснив «Укртрансгаз» – дочірнє підприємство «Нафтогазу» – через борг, сума якого перевищує 370 млн грн, із яких 108 млн грн – непрофінансовані з державного бюджету субсидії та пільги.

Тим часом, 31 травня «Укртрансгаз» оприлюднив заяву про те, що підприємства «Київенерго» сформували заборгованість перед Укртрансгазом, яка складає більше 52% заборгованості всіх тепловиробників України.

«Київенерго» у свою чергу раніше, 23 травня, повідомляло про борги за тепло і гарячу воду з боку населення і державного бюджету з компенсації пільг та субсидій.

1 травня стартувала оновлена програма нарахування субсидій. Відтепер, зокрема, на субсидії можуть претендувати люди, що живуть у садових будинках, а соціальна норма для непрацездатних людей зросте.

 

 

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Conflicting Trends Highlight EU-China Business Ties

The business relationship between China and Europe is showing several contradictory trends as Beijing seeks to protect its own state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and its leaders seek foreign investments promising further liberalization in rules.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Berlin on Wednesday calling for joint efforts to promote trade liberalization and investment facilitation. On the same day, a European industry body in China expressed concerns about discrimination against foreign investors and painted a bleak picture of investment growth by Europe-based companies.

Li’s itinerary, which includes a visit to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, comes in the midst of rising political demand for ensuring reciprocity in business dealings with China. Some European countries are asking the EU to make laws enabling them to closely scrutinize Chinese investments and weed out the dubious ones.

 “The discussion in itself shows that there is a lot of frustration in Europe on the lack of reciprocity,” said Mats Harborn, president of the European Chamber. “We have open bets for Chinese investments while for us to go to China is a whiling road, so this is causing now political discussions in Europe,” he said. 

Given such political conditions, Li’s agenda may seem very ambitious unless China is ready to offer major trade-offs. He is trying to persuade European leaders to accord the status of “market economy” to China, and relax their actions on the dumping of Chinese goods. He also wants the EU to grant a certificate of airworthiness for a China-developed large passenger plane, the C919.

Thomas Gatley, head of research at Beijing-based Gavekal Dragonomics, said the central government in Beijing does make some efforts to open up investment sectors by tweaking the negative list. But these actions are not implemented on the ground.

 “We have seen some measures in the form of revised negative list, slowly sub-sector by sub-sector, China opening up to foreign investment in the official capacity,” Gatley told VOA. “But the (foreign) firms continue to find that when they try to operate in these previously closed areas, there is a lot of de facto barriers to success. That continues to be the substance of complaints by foreign companies.”

European companies have reported much better performance in China in the past year. Harborn said this had to do with the government’s stimulus package in 2016, and there are questions if the high growth scenario will continue in the coming months.

Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist for Capital Economics, said the Chinese economy showed signs of recovery in 2016 because of a generous flow of credit by financial institutions. But this may not continue as the government is cracking down on risky lending.

“We had quite a sharp slowdown in credit over the past half year, particularly since the start of the year, they have been cracking down quite hard on financial risks on bank and financial institutions,” Evans-Pritchard told VOA. 

A business confidence survey conducted by the European Chamber revealed over 60 percent of its member-companies regard China’s slowing economy as the number one cause for concern. This is a significant change from past years when the focus of complaints was discriminatory treatment of foreign companies and regulatory controls.

But several members of the Chamber continue to worry about discrimination, saying environmental enforcement agencies are still a lot tougher with foreign companies than they are with local ones.

Another new source of worry for foreign firms is the increasing competitiveness of Chinese companies, which is something that will increase with time as Beijing goes about implementing the China 2025 plan to push the local industry into using the next generation of technology.

“European companies in China acknowledge that Chinese companies are getting increasingly innovative. Rather than a challenge, this should be perceived as an opportunity,” said Denis Depoux, Roland Berger Co-Head for Asia. 

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Canada Threatens to Cancel Boeing Order Over Trade Complaint

Canada’s defense minister repeated a threat Wednesday to cancel the purchase of 18 fighter jets from Boeing Co. because of the company’s trade complaint against Canadian plane maker Bombardier.

 

Harjit Sajjan said Boeing’s action against Bombardier is “unfounded” and not the behavior of a “trusted partner.” He said buying the Super Hornet fighter jets “requires a trusted industry partner.”

Sajjan urged Boeing to withdraw the complaint. Canada’s foreign minister has also threatened to block the order.

 

“Our government — and I stress this — our government is disappointed in the action of one of our leading industry partners,” he said. 

Complaint could mean duties

 

Chicago-based Boeing’s trade complaint prompted a U.S. Commerce Department anti-dumping investigation that could result in duties being imposed on Bombardier’s new larger C Series passenger aircraft. Boeing insists the plane receives Canadian government subsidies that give it an advantage internationally.

 

Canada’s threat is coming amid increasing trade disputes with the U.S. 

 

Scott Day, a spokesman for Boeing, noted that Sajjan also recognized Boeing as a strong partner in the past and for the future. Day defended the company’s trade action. 

 

“This is a commercial matter that Boeing is seeking to address through the normal course for resolving such issues,” Day said in an email. 

 

Boeing petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate subsidies of Montreal-based Bombardier’s C Series aircraft. Boeing says Bombardier has received more than US $3 billion in government subsidies that let it engage in “predatory pricing.”

 

Brazil has also launched a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization over Canadian subsidies to Bombardier. Sao Paolo-based Embraer is a fierce rival of Bombardier.

Government investment

 

The Quebec government invested US $1 billion in exchange for a 49.5 percent stake in the C Series last year. Canada’s federal government also recently provided a US $275 million loan to Bombardier, which struggled to win orders for its new medium-size plane. But Bombardier won a 75-plane order for the C Series from U.S.-based Delta Air Lines in 2016. Bombardier said its planes never competed with Boeing in the sale to Delta.

 

The Canadian government said late last year it would enter into discussions on buying 18 Super Hornet jet fighters from Boeing on an interim basis and hold an open competition to buy more planes over the next five years. Canada remains part of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. 

 

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IOM Head: People Smugglers Make $35 Billion a Year on Migrant Crisis

People smugglers make about $35 billion a year worldwide and they are driving the tragedy of migrants who die trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Reuters on Wednesday.

Increasing numbers of desperate migrants fleeing from Africa and elsewhere due to conflicts and humanitarian crises are dying as they attempt to reach Europe via Libya, coaxed to do so by smugglers as they wait in detention centers.

The death toll of people crossing the Mediterranean has reached 1,700 so far this year before the summer when many more often make the journey, compared to 3,700 for all of 2015 and 5,000 last year, said IOM head William Lacy Swing.

“Now, let’s be careful because those are the people we know who died, how many other bodies are submerged in the Mediterranean or buried in the sands of the Sahara?” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference on migration.

“That’s the tragedy and this is why we are so concerned to try to caution migrants about smugglers. The smugglers are really the big problem. It’s about $35 billion a year [that people smugglers make] and we know they’re making lots of money across the Mediterranean.”

People smuggling now represents the third-largest business for international criminals, after gun and drug trafficking, he said.

Libya has become a major point of departure for migrants from Africa, where lawlessness is spreading six years after the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi and migrants say conditions at government-run migrant centers are terrible.

After visiting Libya in March, Lacy Swing said his organization is “all ready to go” and return international staff to Libya to work at migrant centers but has so far not been allowed to do so by the United Nations.

On Tuesday, the IOM and U.N. refugee agency UNCHR presented plans in Geneva on boosting operations in Libya. Lacy Swing said the IOM was ready to help the government with Libya’s own internally displaced people and work in migration centers.

He said Europe’s migrant crisis has been aggravated by what he called “unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment, fueled now by suspicions that some of those fleeing terrorism might be terrorists themselves.”

But he urged governments to try to address the root causes of migration — conflicts, water shortages and big disparities between rich and poor countries.

“In my lifetime I have never known a situation quite like today, because you have nine armed conflicts and humanitarian emergencies from West Africa to the Himalayas,” he said.

He said Europe needs to come up with a comprehensive plan on migration “but I don’t see it happening any time in the near future, but we’ll do everything we can to support them on it.”

Lacy Swing stressed that “migration is not an issue to be solved, it’s a human reality that has to be managed or governed.”

“We know that historically, migration has always been overwhelmingly positive.”

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From Home Help to Driver, New Class of Indian Homeowner

When Rajnish Dhall’s driver wanted to borrow money to buy a home, Dhall suggested he go to a bank. But without proof of income or tax returns to show his credentials, the driver said no bank would lend to him.

It was the start of a whole new business for Dhall, a former banker whose firm aims to help the hundreds of millions of informal workers who make up the bulk of India’s labor force.

They are the newly emerging home-owning class.

“My driver was earning a steady income and could have paid back the loan easily, yet none of the banks would lend to him because he didn’t have the necessary paperwork,” Dhall told Reuters. “The housing problem is very real and visible, especially in a city like Mumbai. There is certainly aspiration to own a home, but without finance, there is no way to realize the aspiration.”

Dhall lent his driver the money, then looked more closely at home loans for a host of other workers in the informal sector.

Of India’s 470 million-strong workforce, about 90 percent is in the informal sector. They include domestic help, street vendors, daily wage earners and small business operators, who may have no collateral and whose incomes are irregular.

They have few options besides borrowing from money lenders and employers, Dhall found. So he set up Micro Housing Finance Corp. to give home loans to low-income and informal workers.

Housing for all

More homes are desperately needed.

Already, one in three Indians live in cities, many in crowded slums and other informal settlements. Every year, tens of thousands of villagers migrate to cities in search of jobs, and the pace of urbanization is set to rise.

India has a shortage of about 20 million urban homes; the shortfall disproportionately affects families earning less than 16,000 rupees ($248) a month, according to consultancy KPMG.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made affordable housing a priority, offering incentives such as subsidized loans to meet a 2022 target of “Housing for All,” even as critics say the plan bypasses the homeless.

The government plan aims to create 20 million new urban homes and 30 million rural homes.

An affordable home is typically about 250 square feet (23 square meters) in size, and can cost up to 1.2 million rupees ($18,600). It is aimed at families earning 8,000-25,000 rupees a month, and is usually located in the outskirts of the city where land is cheaper.

In recent years, developers including the Tata group, Mahindra and TVS group have entered the affordable housing market, enticed by government incentives and future potential.

These big firms have enhanced the quality and reputation of affordable homes, which were once described as “vertical slums.”

About 15 micro home finance companies have also launched, with reputable builders and more ready finance combining for better results for low-income earners.

Increasingly, it is a choice between “owning a good-quality, formal home in the periphery of the city over a badly made or informal home in the city,” said Vikram Jain, director of social consultancy FSG, which has studied the segment.

“With more developers and better access to finance, they are well designed, quality constructions that residents take pride in owning,” he told Reuters.

From chalk to pigeons

India’s micro housing finance companies have a loan portfolio of more than $160 million, with near-zero defaults, Jain estimates.

But micro home loans of up to 1 million rupees for low-income clients only account for a quarter of home loans.

Micro home finance companies lend up to 90 percent of the value of the property, at slightly higher interest rates of about 13 percent, on average. The repayment term can be up to 25 years.

Since its founding, MHFC has dispensed about 14,000 home loans, Dhall said.

Its customers represent 600 diverse professions — from a man selling grains to feed pigeons, to one making marking chalk for tailors, and a grass seller for people with cows at home.

At Aadhar Housing Finance — owned in part by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation — more than three-quarters of customers did not have a credit history when they asked for a loan, said Chief Executive Deo Shankar Tripathi.

Aadhar has given more than 50,000 home loans, mostly in India’s poorest states where customers typically buy a plot of land and build a modest home, Tripathi said.

The high cost of land needed to build homes can be a challenge to affordable housing. Rising construction costs and limited financing for developers are other constraints.

But Tripathi said nobody should be deterred.

“Owning a home is a dream for everyone. For the low-income segment, a home means security, empowerment and greater inclusion in society,” Tripathi said.

“We cannot give them a big bungalow like Mukesh Ambani’s [India’s wealthiest man], but we can make a decent home within the reach of everyone,” he said.

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Court Rules Against Kremlin Critic, Orders Graft Allegation Video Deleted

A Russian court ruled on Wednesday against Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in a defamation lawsuit brought by one of Russia’s richest businessmen, ordering

the removal of a popular video from the internet which details the offending allegations.

Navalny, who says he plans to run in next year’s presidential election, has emerged as a major irritant for the Kremlin after thousands of people across Russia attended anti-graft protests he organized in March.

A former lawyer, he has revived some Russians’ interest in politics by publicizing what he says are outrageous cases of top government officials and Kremlin-connected businessmen abusing the system to amass huge wealth.

Most of his targets merely deny such allegations, but businessman Alisher Usmanov, part-owner of British soccer club Arsenal, filed a lawsuit against Navalny alleging he had been defamed in a video about Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev and Usmanov said corruption and other allegations leveled against them in the video were utterly false.

On Wednesday, a Moscow court agreed with Usmanov, saying the allegations had wrongly impugned his “honor and dignity.” The presiding judge ordered Navalny to delete all references to the allegations within 10 days and to publish a retraction within

three months.

Usmanov’s lawyer, Genrikh Padva, was cited by the TASS news agency as saying his client’s good name had been upheld.

“Our position – which is that there was no basis for the publication of these slanderous statements – was confirmed in court,” Padva said.

Navalny, who plans to appeal the ruling, said he would not delete the video and stood by the allegations. “The reality that we see around us somewhat contradicts the court’s decision,” said Navalny. “The investigation was based on facts.”

Opinion polls show Navalny would lose next year’s presidential election to the Kremlin candidate – widely expected to be incumbent Vladimir Putin – by a large margin.

The offending video has helped boost his campaign, garnering over 21 million online views, and Navalny successfully used it to get people to take to the streets in March to protest against official corruption.

On Wednesday, after his supporters began recirculating the contested video online, he said his court defeat underlined the need to step up the fight against corruption. He also predicted it would boost turnout at the next anti-government protest.

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Czech Republic Enforces Smoking Ban After Years of Debate

The Czech Republic on Wednesday enforced a smoking ban in bars, restaurants and cafes, putting to an end to the country’s status as one of the last havens for tobacco smokers in Europe.

The ban, which applies to inside areas of bars and restaurants as well as public places like cinemas, theaters and sports venues, was approved by Parliament following years of heated debate and signed by President Milos Zeman, a chain smoker.

Unlike most of Europe, Czechs had remained tolerant of smoking up until now — and it was up to restaurant owners to decide whether to allow it in their establishments.

According to data from the European Union, 17 member states have comprehensive smoke-free laws in place. But some, including Austria, Portugal, Romania and Serbia, only have partial bans on indoor smoking in restaurants and bars.

Others, like Greece, have official bans but the rules are flouted — even by government ministers.

After the Czech ban, Slovakia appeared to be the only EU country left with no official ban in place inside bars.

The Czech Health Ministry said it estimated 18,000 Czechs die of smoking every year and another two thousand non-smokers die due to exposure to second-hand smoke.

From Wednesday, which is World No Tobacco Day, violating the ban would incur a fine of up to 5,000 koruna ($190).

Most Czechs approve the ban, but a group of lawmakers have challenged it at the Constitutional Court.

Jakub Storek, owner of the Cafe Liberal in Prague — a popular hangout among local smokers — said he opposed the ban.

“It’s hard to predict the impact at the moment,” he said. “But I guess it would be different clients coming here in the future.”

Stepan Ourecky said he would still come, but may have a smoke outside the cafe.

“Or perhaps, I will smoke less,” the 18-year-old student said.