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ICC Vows New Libya Charges If Crimes Continue

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court warned Wednesday that the situation in Libya “remains dire” and promised to seek new arrest warrants if serious crimes don’t stop.

Fatou Bensouda also demanded the arrest and transfer of suspects already subject to arrest warrants, including the son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the former head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency and a Libyan military officer alleged to have been involved in the killing of 33 captives “in cold blood.”

Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council that the security situation in Libya “remains unstable with violent clashes occurring between various factions across Libya.” Widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by different parties to the conflict also have been reported, she said.

Arrests, torture, killings

Bensouda pointed to reports emerging that the bodies of 36 men were found in the town of al-Abyar, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Benghazi.

“The bodies were reportedly handcuffed, showed signs of torture, and displayed bullet wounds to the head,” she said.

Bensouda also cited information that the Libyan National Army commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hifter has allegedly intensified restrictions on access to the city of Derna in recent months, blocking medicine and fuel from entering because of fighting with the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council.

She said hundreds of residents attempting to leave the city had been arrested, and she condemned airstrikes on a residential neighborhood that reportedly killed civilians, including 12 women and children.

Chaos in Libya

The overthrow of Gadhafi in 2011 spawned chaos in Libya. The power and security vacuum left the country a breeding ground for militias and militants including the Islamic State extremist group and al-Qaida affiliates. It has also made Libya a gateway for thousands of migrants from Africa and elsewhere seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

Since 2014, Libya has been split between rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes. A U.N.-brokered deal in December 2015 to create a unity government failed, though talks have been taking place to form an administration to lead the country ahead of elections.

Bensouda told the council she is gravely concerned at reports of unlawful killings, including the execution of detained people, kidnappings and forced disappearances, torture, prolonged detention without trial, rape “and other ill-treatment of migrants in official and unofficial detention centers.”

She expressed concern at crimes against migrants transiting through Libya and said “such crimes may fall within the jurisdiction of the court.”

“Let me be clear: If serious crimes … continue to be committed in Libya, I will not hesitate to bring new applications for warrants of arrest,” Bensouda said.

Arrest warrants

As for Libyans already the subject of arrest warrants, Bensouda said her office is trying to confirm the current whereabouts of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the late dictator’s son, who is charged in an ICC arrest warrant with murder and persecution for his alleged role in the violent suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.

He was released from custody in June after more than five years in detention as part of a pardon issued by the Libyan parliament based in the country’s eastern region.

The ICC prosecutor also urged that Hifter transfer to the court without delay Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan military officer suspected of being behind a string of killings earlier this year in the city of Benghazi, including the killing of the 33 captives. Bensouda noted that Hifter “has publicly expressed gratitude for the work of the court in relation to Mr. al-Werfalli’s case.”

She said her office is also trying to locate Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, who is wanted for four crimes against humanity and three war crimes, including torture, persecution, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity. The charges involve prisoners held by Libyan security forces during protests against Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.

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EU Pushes Cut in Car Emissions, Boost for Electric Vehicles

The European Commission said Wednesday it wants to cut emissions of carbon dioxide from cars by 30 percent by 2030 and boost the use of electric vehicles by making them cheaper and easier to charge.


The proposal stops short of imposing fixed quotas for emission-free vehicles and is more modest than goals already set out by some EU members. Still, European automakers said the commission’s targets were too drastic, and Germany’s foreign minister warned against the proposal.


Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic insisted that the plan is the most “realistic” compromise between Europe’s ambitions to blaze trails on clean energy and the costs that the continent’s powerful car manufacturers will have to bear to overhaul workforces and production.


Current targets require automakers to achieve the average permitted emission for new models in the European Union of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer for cars, or 147 grams for light commercial vehicles by 2021.


The new proposal foresees a further reduction of 15 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2021 levels.


Car companies that fail to meet those targets face substantial fines of 95 euros ($110) per excess gram of carbon dioxide – per car. Automakers that manage to equip at least 30 percent of their new cars with electric or other low-emission engines by 2030 will be given credits toward their carbon tally.


The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, an industry body, criticized the 2025 target, saying “it does not leave enough time to make the necessary technical and design changes to vehicles, in particular to light commercial vehicles given their longer development and production cycles.”


The lobby group also said the targeted cut of 30 percent by 2030 was “overly challenging” and called for a 20 percent reduction instead, saying that was “achievable at a high, but acceptable, cost.”


“The current proposal is very aggressive when we consider the low and fragmented market penetration of alternatively-powered vehicles across Europe to date,” the group’s secretary general, Erik Jonnaert, said.


Germany’s foreign minister wrote to the commission last week to say the new rules shouldn’t “suffocate” the ability of automakers to innovate.


In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said all European countries benefit from the jobs the auto industry creates and warned that the time frame for emissions cuts “mustn’t be too restrictive.”


The letter caused friction within the German government, which is currently hosting a two-week United Nations meeting on implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord.


“The contents of this letter weren’t coordinated within the Cabinet,” a spokeswoman for Germany’s environment ministry, Friederike Langenbruch, told reporters in Berlin.


Germany is predicted to fall short of its own climate goals, in large part due to continued high emissions from coal-fired electricity plants and vehicle traffic.


The European executive’s plan also includes 800 million euros in funding for the expansion and standardization of electric charging stations Europe-wide.


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France Urges Berlin to Seize ‘Historic Opportunity’ on Europe

Visiting Berlin in the midst of sensitive coalition talks, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire urged Germany to seize a historic window of opportunity to reform Europe, warning that the bloc could succumb to nationalism if they failed.

The visit comes six weeks after a German election forced Chancellor Angela Merkel into negotiations with parties, including the Free Democrats (FDP), that are sceptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious vision for Europe.

By holding talks with leading members of those parties, including FDP leader Christian Lindner, Le Maire said he hoped to convince members of the next German government to leave the door open to a European deal with France as they hammer out a coalition blueprint for the next four years.

“We are of the view that there is a unique window of opportunity to improve the situation and make the eurozone stronger,” Le Maire said.

“I hope that they will take into account the necessity to

preserve a room of maneuver for negotiation,” he added.

“Because if everything is already decided in the German coalition agreement, what should we negotiate? This is one of the key reasons for my trip to Berlin.”

After nearly a decade of economic and financial crisis, and following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Macron is pushing for a leap forward in European integration, including the creation of a budget for the eurozone and closer cooperation in defense and migration matters.

Merkel has welcomed many of his ideas, but members of her own conservative bloc and the FDP are sceptical, particularly on French plans for the eurozone, fearing Germany will be asked to pay for the policy failures of reform-wary southern states.

Europe faces choice

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Lindner, Le Maire said he believed that the differences could be overcome.

“None of the difficulties are insurmountable. I found a man who is conscious of his political responsibilities, conscious of his historic responsibilities,” he said.

Earlier in a speech to a Franco-German business forum, Le Maire likened the current situation in the eurozone to standing in the middle of a strong-flowing river where the currents were most dangerous.

He said Europe faced a choice: turn back to the shore from where they came, embracing nationalism and isolation, or say “now is the time” and press on to the opposite bank by pursuing closer integration of the eurozone.

“That status quo is not an option,” Le Maire said.

He spelled out four steps for a reform of the 19-nation single currency bloc. In the first, Europe would complete its banking union, capital markets union and harmonise its tax regimes, particularly in the area of corporate taxes.

Second, Europe would bolster its rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and third, it would introduce a budget for the eurozone to fund investments in areas such as transport, energy and artificial intelligence, and help the bloc cope with economic shocks.

In a last step, member states could appoint a finance minister for the eurozone, he said.

Switching between fluent German and French, Le Maire said Franco-German working groups should be created to discuss reform on a “weekly or even daily basis.” He said other countries should be brought into the process, naming Spain and Italy.

In his speech to the business forum, Le Maire urged the bloc to unite in pushing back against powers like China and the United States that he said were determined to shape the world according to their national interests.

German politicians have been sceptical of Macron’s “l’Europe qui protege” (Europe that protects) pledge, fearful of a return to old-fashioned French protectionism.

But Le Maire said Europe should no longer be “naive” in the face of economic challenges from abroad, accusing the Chinese of killing off the European solar panel industry and the Americans of using extra-territorial sanctions to shape global trade rules in their favor.

“Europe needs to stop being scared of its own shadow,” Le Maire said. “Divided we are nothing. Together we are everything.”


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Gang With Suspected Neo-Nazi Links Vows to Force Migrants From Greece

A suspected breakaway faction from Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party says it is recruiting anti-migrant hit squads and has vowed to drive all migrants and refugees out of Greece.

The group, naming itself Crypteia, after a vigilante band of ancient Spartans who terrorized slaves, told a Greek news outlet Tuesday, “We will fight until the last immigrant leaves.  And to that end, we will use force and violence, mercilessly.”

Crypteia claimed responsibility for an attack Friday on the Athens home of an 11-year-old Afghan boy and his family, whose apartment was pelted by rocks and beer bottles.  A note was left that read, “Go back to your village.  Leave.”

The boy, Amir, had drawn local attention days before the attack after having been picked to carry the Greek national flag for his school in a national day parade, only to have the privilege revoked and given a school sign to hold instead.

“I was shouting and calling for help,” Amir’s mother told local reporters.  “The children had woken up, crying; they were very afraid.  The children’s room was full of glass.  A beer bottle was on the bed.  The stones kept coming, one after the other.  I panicked.  I didn’t know what to do,” she added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras condemned the attack, saying, “Amir, and every child in our country, deserves the right to security and Greek education, without discrimination.”  State prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Europe has seen the emergence of other violent anti-migrant groups and a European Union agency reported in May 33 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans in Europe have been victims of at least one racially-motivated crime in the previous 12 months.

A network of civil rights activists, the European Network against Racism, warned recently that crimes against immigrants were under-reported and said minorities“are not targeted randomly by perpetrators.”

Recent opinion polls suggest anti-migrant sentiment is rising in Greece.  The country has witnessed a surge in the past few months in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already terrible living conditions in camps on the Greek islands and shelters on the mainland.

Last month, officials said the number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, had more than doubled since June, with authorities estimating that arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with more than 200 men, women and children being registered every day.

Refugee flows had dropped dramatically after a landmark accord was reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016.  In return for aid Ankara agreed to strengthen border patrols along its Aegean coast and turn back smuggler boats.  

How serious a threat Crypteia poses is the subject of debate within Greek political and police circles with some saying that invoking the ancient Spartan band is nothing more than cover for a bunch of crude thugs.  Others are not so sure.

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the centrist Potami party, complains that Greece is seeing a rise of serious political gang violence across the ideological spectrum, warning, “every day there is a new target.  Gangs intimidate with impunity.”

Analysts say there has been talk within Golden Dawn circles of forming secretive anti-migrant hit squads since several party leaders and lawmakers were arrested following the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by an alleged supporter of the party.  Their trial is ongoing.

Greece has seen a wave of hostility towards the more than 60,000 migrants estimated to be in the country with shelters and refugee squats being targeted.  Civil rights activists say far-right groups have been stoking local grievances and anti-refugee sentiments.  Many attacks and assaults, they say, go unreported

Greece isn’t alone in being buffeted by anti-migrant violence.  German authorities say there were more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters in 2016, amounting to nearly a dozen acts a day of anti-migrant violence, neo-Nazis have been blamed for many of the attacks. 

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German Officials Celebrate Doubled Twitter Character Limit

German bureaucrats — notorious for their ability to create lengthy tongue twisters consisting of one single word — are celebrating the doubling of Twitter’s character limit.

Twitter announced Tuesday it’s increasing the limit for almost all users of the messaging service from 140 to 280 characters, prompting a mix of delighted and despairing reactions.

Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany’s justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling.

The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz.

Munich police, meanwhile, said that “at last” they won’t need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert made clear he’ll keep it short, quoting Anton Chekhov: “Brevity is the sister of talent.”

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British Royals’ Visit to India Clouded by Leaked Finances

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, have begun a two-day visit to the smog-choked Indian capital as leaked documents about his own financial dealings threatened to cloud his trip.

The Prince of Wales was meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday night, and planned to visit a school on Thursday.

New Delhi is the last stop on the royal couple’s 11-day Asian tour, with earlier visits to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

Reports by British media in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists indicate the heir to the throne’s private estate invested in an offshore carbon credit trading company and then lobbied for two climate change deals to be altered.

Nearly 7 million files were leaked from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby.

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Lithuania Expects NATO to Reach Deal on Baltic Air Shield

Lithuania expects NATO to reach an agreement next year to shield Baltic countries with air defenses, plugging a gap in its security against Russia, its defense minister said Tuesday.

Since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and began providing weapons and troops to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, NATO has sent more forces to the Baltics, eastern Poland and around the Black Sea.

Lithuania, which borders the Russian region of Kaliningrad, wants NATO to permanently deploy anti-aircraft weapons in the Baltics or Poland — a move seen by Moscow as an unjustified military buildup on its borders.

“We expect so,” Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told Reuters when asked if he saw an agreement shaping up for the NATO summit in 2018. “Air defense is one of the issues which we need to address. We also need to look at other domains, like NATO command structure reform, we need to move forward on all on these aspects,” he said, also calling for NATO to strengthen maritime defenses in the Baltics.

Karoblis spoke in Helsinki after meeting his counterparts from Northern Group countries, including the Nordic and Baltic states, Britain, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis also joined the meeting.

Karoblis said exercises should be considered by NATO after Russia’s Zapad war games unnerved the West in September.

Mattis told reporters after the meeting that the 12 nations stood together to reaffirm territorial integrity.

“It is clear that one nation thinks it holds some kind of a veto or strong influence over others, that is Russia. The country’s name came up repeatedly over the last 48 hours,” he said.

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EU Eyes Tough Brexit Transition Terms

EU diplomats will start sketching out a Brexit transition offer on Wednesday that would probably let Britain stay in the single market for about two years after it leaves the bloc in March 2019, EU officials said.

But some officials and diplomats involved in preparing for the first “orientation debate” among envoys from the other 27 EU states warned London should not assume it can clinch an initial deal next month to open talks on post-Brexit relations. Some governments see benefits in making Britain wait for it.

An EU official familiar with Wednesday’s agenda said states would be asked their views on the “scope of the transition period, its length” and whether special regulations would be needed to enforce EU rules in Britain, which will no longer be a member but wants to maintain full access to EU markets.

Several officials who spoke to Reuters said that in the transition period Britain would have to abide by all EU laws, even if they are changed during that period, but would have no influence over them. “Anything else would be too complicated,” a second official said. Two others expressed the same view.

“The EU view on the transition period and the future will in a way be a moment of truth, exposing all the lies of those who campaigned for Brexit saying that Britain will be able to have the cake and eat it,” a third official said.

Wednesday’s discussions will also seek to gather views on the future trade relationship with London that is to follow a transition, which may finish in December 2020, at the end of the current seven-year EU budget period.

EU leaders told Prime Minister Theresa May last month they were not ready to negotiate post-Brexit arrangements until London offered more concessions on its “divorce’’ terms. But they held out the prospect of opening such talks at a summit in mid-December and ordered their officials to start preparing among the 27 for a move to this new phase of talks.

Brief encounter

British Brexit Minister David Davis is expected in Brussels on Friday for the first negotiations since that mid-October summit with May. But the anticipated brief encounter with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is not expected to produce a breakthrough on how much Britain will pay the EU on leaving.

Diplomats and officials said the continued slow pace of the divorce talks was increasing the possibility that EU leaders would again refuse next month to open trade talks. They said some may already be considering that as a useful tactic against Britain, which is anxious to prevent businesses relocating investment.

“Some believe that the worse it gets for the British, the better for us … that maybe we could delay it all until for instance March, increasing the uncertainty and triggering the contingency plans in the corporate sector,” the first EU official said.

“That would be ruthless and risky, but people have different views on what is risky.”

An EU diplomat involved in negotiations said he expected envoys also to discuss how to handle a possible failure next month to open the next phase of talks if May refuses to meet EU demands.

“What do we do if they (the British) don’t move?” he said.

Some continental negotiators believe British anxiety about businesses starting to shift investments in the new year if there is no transition deal could be to Brussels’ advantage.

Officials said Britain’s full membership in the single market, even during a transition, is not a given. “There is no up-front agreement on that. It is part of a bigger package. For instance it is not feasible to expect they would be in the single market … but not pay into the EU budget,” one said.

There will be one or two more meetings of EU envoys before they expect to agree what in detail they might offer Britain in terms of a transition period, officials said. The results of these discussions will not be presented to the British, however, until after leaders have agreed to open a new phase of talks.


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Turkish Court Upholds 25-year Jail Term for Opposition Lawmaker

A Turkish court rejected on Tuesday an appeals court order to retry a lawmaker from the main opposition party, upholding his 25-year jail term, CNN Turk reported.

Enis Berberoglu became a symbol for more than 50,000 people detained in the wake of a failed coup in July 2016.

The chairman of his secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) held a 425 km (265 mile) protest march from the capital Ankara to Istanbul when Berberoglu was convicted and sentenced in June for military espionage.

The court had said Berberoglu gave an opposition newspaper a video purporting to show Turkey’s intelligence agency trucking weapons into Syria.

The penal court had been ordered to retry Berberoglu last month, but it refused the order saying the upper court’s decision to overturn was against procedure and law.

Berberoglu was the first CHP lawmaker to be jailed in a crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government that has raised concerns among Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups.

More than 150,000 people, including teachers, academics and lawyers, have also been suspended from their jobs.

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Former Trump Adviser Page Tells Panel About 2016 Russia Trip

A former foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign has acknowledged in testimony to Congress that he had contact with a high-level Russian official while on a trip to Russia last year, according to a transcript released Monday.

Carter Page, an unpaid adviser who left the campaign before Trump was elected, told the House intelligence committee last week that he “briefly said hello to” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich when he traveled to Russia for a speech. Under repeated questions about the contact – which he had at times denied in the past – Page said that he had spoken to Dvorkovich after his July 2016 speech at Moscow’s New Economic School.

“It was a very brief interaction. It was some nice pleasantries. I cannot recall the precise words I said, but it was sort of best wishes, and, you know, that’s about it,” Page said in response to several questions about the contact.

The testimony was part of the committee’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether it is linked to Trump’s campaign. Page’s trip raised questions just as the FBI began its counterintelligence investigation into the Russian meddling in the summer of 2016, and he has offered contradictory accounts about whom he met there – at one point telling The Associated Press that he hadn’t met with Dvorkovich. But his testimony on Thursday was under oath.

Page was interviewed in March for several hours as part of the FBI probe, before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over. Page wouldn’t answer questions about his contact with Mueller. 

The House panel released the transcript as part of its agreement with Page, who was subpoenaed by the committee in early October. Page said repeatedly that he didn’t want to testify behind closed doors. 

Page told the panel he had informed some members of the Trump campaign about the trip, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions. He said he mentioned in passing to Sessions, who is now attorney general, that he was preparing to visit Russia and Sessions “had no reaction whatsoever.”

The testimony could raise more questions about the extent of Sessions’ knowledge about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians. Sessions recused himself from overseeing an investigation into the Trump campaign in March after acknowledging two previously undisclosed conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign. Since then, Sessions has downplayed his own knowledge about communications between campaign aides and Russian officials and intermediaries.

Page has insisted – and continued to insist in the interview – that the trip was personal and not campaign related.

However, the committee produced an email during the interview in which Page wrote to campaign officials and asked them to let him know “if you have any reservations or thoughts on how you’d prefer me to focus these remarks,” apparently referring to the speech he was giving in Moscow.

He also suggested that Trump take his place at the speech – a suggestion that appeared to go nowhere.

In a statement prepared for the committee, Page insisted that he had no personal information that the Russian government or anyone affiliated with it played any role in the 2016 presidential campaign. He said he was not approached by anyone during the trip who led him to believe they were planning to interfere in the election.

Under questioning at the hearing, Page depicted himself as an unpaid member of a campaign foreign policy team that met infrequently and provided him with no direct access to Trump.

“I have never met him in my life,” Page said of Trump. “I’ve been in a lot of meetings with him, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but never actually met him face to face.”

Page said he had no direct relationship with the Russian government, though he conceded that he may have spoken with different Russian government officials over the years.

At another point in the interview, Page was asked about his relationship with George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser whose guilty pleas to lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts was unsealed last week.

Page said he had “very limited” interaction with Papadopoulos and suggested that the last time he had seen him was in June 2016 at a dinner he said was organized by Sessions, who at the time was a prominent Trump campaign aide and supporter.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, pressured Page on what he suggested were inconsistencies in his testimony and past statements.

He noted how Page told the committee that he had met only one Russian government official during his July 2016 trip to Russia, and yet had told campaign officials in email that he had received valuable insights from legislators and senior members of the Russian presidential administration.

“Are you being honest in your testimony?” Schiff asked. “Because it doesn’t seem possible for both to be true.”

Page said the insights he was referring to were based on materials he had read in the press, “similar to my listening to President Trump in the various speeches that I heard of his.”