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UNESCO Campaign Tackles Racism 

The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Thursday launched a campaign to fight prejudice. The move coincided with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Begun with the French city of Bordeaux, the UNESCO billboard campaign features a variety of faces — old and young, men and women, and of many ethnic backgrounds. The tagline, “us different?” aims to make us think about who we are, and our prejudices.

 

“You would walk by it and hopefully react. … [Is that] person on the screen different?” said Magnus Magnusson, partnerships and outreach director at UNESCO’s social and human science division.

Mindful of stereotypes

“Ultimately, it’s about our own awareness of our own stereotypes, and we need to work, each one of us, on those stereotypes that could illustrate or be reflections on racism,” he said.

The campaign rollout comes at a time when experts say brazen forms of racism are resurging — in sports, on social media and in politics.

The initiative follows last week’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which a self-proclaimed white nationalist opened fire on worshippers at two mosques. Fifty people were killed. The suspect has been charged with murder.  

 

Migration is one factor behind the increase in racist incidents, experts say, but so is the power of social media in spreading and enforcing stereotypes.

 

Activists are fighting back. A round-table hosted by UNESCO featured imaginative ways to counter prejudice, including through chess. 

 

Cameroonian artist Gaspard Njock fights it with his pen. He’s the author of comic books and graphic novels sold in bookstores across France. 

Versatile medium

 

Njock said comics can be a powerful tool to fight racism, because it’s a medium that reaches all types of people and can tackle important themes. 

 

One of Njock’s graphic novels, Un voyage sans retour, is about the dangerous migration of sub-Saharan migrants to Europe. Njock arrived in Europe several years ago, making his way to France after a few years in Italy. 

Njock said he never considered himself a victim of racism — not because he never encountered it, but because he developed ways to fight it.

Magnusson of UNESCO said education is key to wiping out racism. So is being more aware of how we think and feel.

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France Urges Iran to Free Human Rights Lawyer

France on Thursday called for Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to be released and warned Tehran that its adherence to a nuclear accord does not give it a blank cheque on human rights.

“We will do all we can to secure the release of Mrs. Sotoudeh,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the upper chamber Senate.

“She was condemned under astonishing conditions,” for “defending the rights of women, in particular those who contest the obligation to wear the Islamic veil,” he added.

Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, told AFP on Sunday that his wife had been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison over a case with seven charges, but she is to only serve the longest sentence, 12 years imposed on Sunday for “encouraging corruption and debauchery”.

She has also been convicted of espionage.

Sotoudeh has also been sentenced to a total of 148 lashes for appearing in court without the hijab Islamic head covering and for another offense.

According to Khandan, Sotoudeh has refrained from choosing a lawyer as attorneys on her previous cases have faced prosecution for representing her.

“We have been making considerable efforts in recent months to preserve the (Iranian) nuclear accord, despite America’s withdrawal,” said Le Drian.

“We are doing so because we respect our signature, but Iran must also respect its obligations in particular those international agreements relating to civil and political rights,” he added.

Last month the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran has been adhering to its deal with world powers on limiting its nuclear program, as diplomatic wrangling continues over the future of the accord.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was still complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with global powers under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear programin return for sanctions relief.

Last week, European nations rejected a call from US Vice President Mike Pence to follow the US lead in withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal.

Le Drian said Thursday: “Our wish to preserve the Vienna accord does not grant carte-blanche to Iran and certainly not in the matter of human rights.”

Before her arrest, Sotoudeh, 55, had taken on the cases of several women arrested for appearing in public without headscarves in protest at the mandatory dress code in force in Iran.

Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2012 for her work on high-profile cases, including those of convicts on death row for offenses committed as minors.

She spent three years in prison after representing dissidents arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Brexit Day Delayed as EU Seizes Control of Exit Date

In the past two years, British Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted repeatedly that Britain will exit the European Union on schedule on March 29 — she has said so 108 times from the dispatch box in the House of Commons.

But on Thursday, the embattled leader, whose days in office appear to be numbered, was forced to appeal to her fellow EU national leaders for a three-month postponement, throwing into deeper confusion a Brexit process that has pushed Britain into a constitutional crisis, dividing the country.

May’s face-to-face request at a summit in Brussels clearly strained the patience of the EU’s other 27 national leaders, who are close to a breaking point. They fear Britain’s tangled exit will never get resolved. During the summit, the Luxembourg prime minister told reporters: “We are not in a souk and we are not going to bargain for the next five years.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was especially reluctant about granting an extension, questioning why Britain should have more time to get its house in order, and skeptical whether it ever would.

“We are heading towards no deal,” he said as the leaders gathered.

His foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told the French National Assembly on the eve of a two-day EU summit in Brussels this week that France would oppose a lengthy Brexit postponement. He said Paris would only support a short extension, one giving the British parliament sufficient time to approve a contentious withdrawal agreement May and the EU agreed to in November — but one that British lawmakers have overwhelmingly rejected twice.

Without that approval, “the central scenario is a no-deal exit — we are ready for it,” the foreign minister said.

Charles Grant, director of the research group Center for European Reform, says Macron worries most about the possible “spoiling” impact Britain may have on European Parliament elections this May, if Britain participates as a result of any lengthy Brexit delay. He “fears the UK will ‘pollute’ EU politics if the Brits hang around for a prolonged period,” Grant tweeted.

After more than two years of haggling with Britain over a transition deal, and amid accusations of British cherry-picking, some of the bloc’s national governments weren’t that far behind the French in toying with the idea of saying enough is enough, EU officials told VOA.

Short reprieve possible

Led by Germany, prudence overcame exasperation, and French resistance, on Thursday.

No EU country wants to be blamed for Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal. Such a chaotic departure would undermine EU principles of fraternity and would not only deeply harm Britain economically but also several near European neighbors, including France and Ireland, EU leaders fear.

Initially, the EU 27 planned to agree to a shorter delay than May requested and one conditional on British lawmakers approving the transition deal, which is deeply unpopular with both hardline Brexiters in May’s ruling Conservative party and pro-EU lawmakers across the British political spectrum.

But they pulled back, fearing they might push Britain into crashing out without a deal, as much by accident as design. They also concluded, EU sources say, that May would fail a third time to get backing for her deal next week from the British parliament. They wanted to avoid having to hold an emergency Brexit summit next week to consider what to do again, enduring yet more cliff-edge drama.

Instead, after running hours past the time allocated to consider the British request, leaving the world’s media kicking their heels waiting for a decision, the EU 27 came up with what has been dubbed a “flextension” in a bid to seize more control of the process.

Britain now has a short reprieve until May 22, if the British parliament ratifies May’s deal next week. If it doesn’t, then Britain has until April 12 to announce it will take part in European elections and would then be accorded an extension until the end of 2019.

If it has not agreed to participate in the elections, then there can be no long extension. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said the EU decided on the two options in a “positive spirit.”

Britain’s next move

What Britain does now remains unclear and the drama will shift from Brussels back to London and a deadlocked British House of Commons. There are few signs that parliament will change its mind and approve the negotiated transition deal, one which Brexiters’ fear could lock Britain into a semi-permanent customs union with the bloc. Pro-EU lawmakers worry it doesn’t tie Britain closely enough to the EU.

Prime Minister May hasn’t helped the prospect of the deal being endorsed, say critics, who accuse her of brinkmanship, daring British lawmakers to reject her agreement and court the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

On Wednesday, she made a short, defiant statement from Downing Street, one that scorned British lawmakers and deflected blame for the crisis on parliament, in an apparent bid to turn voters’ anger on to MPs. “You are tired of the infighting; you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit,” she told the British public in the televised address.

The statement angered many lawmakers, who dubbed it toxic and complained it was inflammatory at such a fevered time as this to describe the impasse as a matter of parliament versus the public.

“If you are trying to persuade MPs, you don’t help yourself by lambasting them,” said Conservative lawmaker Mark Francois, a hardline Brexiter. He says if May brings back her deal to parliament, she “will get the same answer.”

Phillip Lee, a pro-EU Conservative, accused May of stoking unrest by casting lawmakers as “enemies of the people.” Some lawmakers said they feel in physical danger, after receiving death threats following May’s statement.

“It is out of order. Lawmakers do their best for constituents and it is fundamentally wrong to undermine parliament,” he warned.

Some EU diplomats warned a no-deal British exit is still a possibility. Some are putting hope in the British parliament seizing control of the Brexit process from May and crafting a softer Brexit, even to revoke Britain’s application to leave the EU. That hope has been prompted by more than two million people signing a petition this week for Brexit to be abandoned.

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Netherlands Shooting Suspect to Face Murder Charges With Terrorist Intent

Dutch prosecutors said Thursday they will charge the suspect in this week’s deadly tram shooting in the city of Utrecht with multiple murder charges with terrorist intent.

Prosecutors believe Turkish-born Gokmen Tanis acted alone Monday when he allegedly killed three people and seriously wounded three others.

Prosecutors and police said in a statement they are still investigating whether the 37-year-old suspect “acted out of a single terrorist motive or whether from personal problems in combination with radicalized ideas.”

The suspect was arrested after an eight-hour search that virtually closed the city. Police later arrested a fourth suspect and are trying to determine “whether this suspect played a supporting role in the shooting.”

Tanis is scheduled to attend a closed-door court hearing on Friday. Prosecutors also said Tanis will undergo a psychological examination.

 

 

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Netherlands Shooting Suspect to Face Murder Charges With Terrorist Intent

Dutch prosecutors said Thursday they will charge the suspect in this week’s deadly tram shooting in the city of Utrecht with multiple murder charges with terrorist intent.

Prosecutors believe Turkish-born Gokmen Tanis acted alone Monday when he allegedly killed three people and seriously wounded three others.

Prosecutors and police said in a statement they are still investigating whether the 37-year-old suspect “acted out of a single terrorist motive or whether from personal problems in combination with radicalized ideas.”

The suspect was arrested after an eight-hour search that virtually closed the city. Police later arrested a fourth suspect and are trying to determine “whether this suspect played a supporting role in the shooting.”

Tanis is scheduled to attend a closed-door court hearing on Friday. Prosecutors also said Tanis will undergo a psychological examination.

 

 

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As Brexit Clock Ticks, May Appeals to EU for Delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying Thursday to persuade European Union leaders in Brussels to approve a three-month extension, giving Britain more time to figure out how exactly it will leave the EU.

The other 27 EU members must approve any Brexit delay beyond the original March 29 deadline. A vote is not likely to take place until next week.

Before May traveled to make her case in person at Thursday’s EU meeting, she made her request in a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk.

But Tusk says such a short-term extension can only happen if Britain’s parliament votes in the next week to approve the divorce terms that British and EU negotiators reached after two years of talks.

British lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for that deal, rejecting it by large margins in two votes. The speaker of the House of Commons has also said a third vote should not take place on procedural grounds.

May said in an address Wednesday night that lawmakers now have the choice to either support her deal or have Britain go forward with Brexit without any terms in place for its separation from the European Union.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also traveled to Brussels for his own talks with EU officials in an attempt to find support for allowing parliament, and not May, to figure out an alternative path forward.

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As Brexit Clock Ticks, May Appeals to EU for Delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying Thursday to persuade European Union leaders in Brussels to approve a three-month extension, giving Britain more time to figure out how exactly it will leave the EU.

The other 27 EU members must approve any Brexit delay beyond the original March 29 deadline. A vote is not likely to take place until next week.

Before May traveled to make her case in person at Thursday’s EU meeting, she made her request in a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk.

But Tusk says such a short-term extension can only happen if Britain’s parliament votes in the next week to approve the divorce terms that British and EU negotiators reached after two years of talks.

British lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for that deal, rejecting it by large margins in two votes. The speaker of the House of Commons has also said a third vote should not take place on procedural grounds.

May said in an address Wednesday night that lawmakers now have the choice to either support her deal or have Britain go forward with Brexit without any terms in place for its separation from the European Union.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also traveled to Brussels for his own talks with EU officials in an attempt to find support for allowing parliament, and not May, to figure out an alternative path forward.

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Crimea Marks 5 Years of Russian Annexation as Western Sanctions Bite

Residents and officials in Crimea have been staging events this week to mark the fifth anniversary of Russia’s forceful annexation of the region from Ukraine.

The United States and its allies imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow following the invasion. Analysts say the economic impact is denting approval ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Thousands of heavily armed fighters, dubbed “little green men” for their anonymous uniforms, stormed Ukrainian military installations and government buildings in February 2014. The fighters were clearly backed by Russia, but Moscow denied involvement.

On March 16, 2014, the new de facto authorities staged a referendum in which they claimed more than 95 percent of voters chose to return Crimea to Russian control. Putin hailed the annexation.

“After a hard, long, tiring trip, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their home port, to their native shore, homeward, to Russia,” Putin said in a ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square five years ago to mark the annexation, just weeks after the country hosted athletes from around the world at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

 

WATCH: Crimea Marks Anniversary of Russian Annexation

Putin returned to Crimea this week and praised the progress made.

New power stations have been built. A new bridge links Crimea to the Russian mainland, its limited height restricts shipping into Ukrainian ports. A rail service is to begin this year.

Crimea residents appear supportive.

“Well, it’s all good. Giant construction sites everywhere, you can see that,” one resident told VOA this month.

​Political cost

In the aftermath of the Crimean invasion, Putin’s approval ratings soared. They are now falling fast.

The U.S., Europe and several allies imposed economic sanctions in Moscow. Russian political analyst Maria Lipman said the economic noose has tightened.

“The Crimea syndrome, or Crimea consensus, is wearing out quite visibly,” Lipman said. “The announcement of the pension reform, and the raise of the retirement age, was a trigger when people began to realize — not that they hadn’t realized before — but they really began to feel that things were not right.”

Ukraine is about to hold presidential elections. The leading candidates have pledged to continue Kyiv’s path toward European Union and NATO membership. 

So, could Putin attempt further military action? Unlikely, said Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies.

“Russian politics is much exhausted with Ukraine. I definitely exclude any kind of military intervention, the closure of the Azov Sea, or military provocations in Donbas,” he said.

The U.S. and the European Union said this week that Crimea will always be considered part of Ukraine.

Critics say the West’s failure to confront Russia more robustly in 2014 led to Moscow’s intervention in other conflicts, including in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and in Syria.

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Crimea Marks 5 Years of Russian Annexation as Western Sanctions Bite

Residents and officials in Crimea have been staging events this week to mark the fifth anniversary of Russia’s forceful annexation of the region from Ukraine.

The United States and its allies imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow following the invasion. Analysts say the economic impact is denting approval ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Thousands of heavily armed fighters, dubbed “little green men” for their anonymous uniforms, stormed Ukrainian military installations and government buildings in February 2014. The fighters were clearly backed by Russia, but Moscow denied involvement.

On March 16, 2014, the new de facto authorities staged a referendum in which they claimed more than 95 percent of voters chose to return Crimea to Russian control. Putin hailed the annexation.

“After a hard, long, tiring trip, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their home port, to their native shore, homeward, to Russia,” Putin said in a ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square five years ago to mark the annexation, just weeks after the country hosted athletes from around the world at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

 

WATCH: Crimea Marks Anniversary of Russian Annexation

Putin returned to Crimea this week and praised the progress made.

New power stations have been built. A new bridge links Crimea to the Russian mainland, its limited height restricts shipping into Ukrainian ports. A rail service is to begin this year.

Crimea residents appear supportive.

“Well, it’s all good. Giant construction sites everywhere, you can see that,” one resident told VOA this month.

​Political cost

In the aftermath of the Crimean invasion, Putin’s approval ratings soared. They are now falling fast.

The U.S., Europe and several allies imposed economic sanctions in Moscow. Russian political analyst Maria Lipman said the economic noose has tightened.

“The Crimea syndrome, or Crimea consensus, is wearing out quite visibly,” Lipman said. “The announcement of the pension reform, and the raise of the retirement age, was a trigger when people began to realize — not that they hadn’t realized before — but they really began to feel that things were not right.”

Ukraine is about to hold presidential elections. The leading candidates have pledged to continue Kyiv’s path toward European Union and NATO membership. 

So, could Putin attempt further military action? Unlikely, said Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies.

“Russian politics is much exhausted with Ukraine. I definitely exclude any kind of military intervention, the closure of the Azov Sea, or military provocations in Donbas,” he said.

The U.S. and the European Union said this week that Crimea will always be considered part of Ukraine.

Critics say the West’s failure to confront Russia more robustly in 2014 led to Moscow’s intervention in other conflicts, including in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and in Syria.

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Italian Authorities Investigate NGO

Italian authorities have seized Italian charity ship Mare Jonio and questioned the crew, which might have defied an Interior Ministry order that closes all ports to vessels carrying rescued migrants.

The Mare Jonio is docked and empty in the port of Lampedusa, confiscated by authorities after its crew was placed under investigation by Sicilian magistrates for allegedly favoring illegal immigration. The 49 migrants who were on board, including 12 minors, disembarked in Lampedusa late Tuesday. They were given food, water and fresh clothing two days after their rescue off the Libyan coast.

Authorities first questioned the owner and captain of the vessel Tuesday night and further questioning of the crew was taking place Wednesday to reconstruct the entire rescue operation in Libyan waters and the requests made for the migrants to disembark in a safe port. Owner Beppe Caccia said he had asked to see the formal written request banning the vessel from entering Italian waters, but none was made available.

 

Alessandra Sciurba, the spokesperson for NGO Mediterranea, which runs the vessel, said there was “no order to take the migrants to Libya, not by the Libyans or by the Italians.”

 

Italian authorities said the Mare Jonio had not been granted permission to enter the island’s port. The captain of the boat said he had decided to push forward, citing security reasons and rough seas. The NGO said the migrants had been saved from either drowning or from being returned to the “horror from which they were fleeing.”

The mayor of Lampedusa, Salvatore Martello, said that with the law of the sea, if a vessel is flying an Italian flag, that boat must be allowed into an Italian port.

 

The rescued migrants are in the Lampedusa reception center waiting to be told where they will be transferred next. The last arrival of migrants on the island took place three weeks ago. Arrivals have noticeably decreased since Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini started enforcing a closed port policy last year.