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Spanish Parliament Passes Key First Step of 2018 Budget

Spanish lawmakers on Tuesday approved a new government spending limit for 2018, a first step in drawing up a budget for next year and improving conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s chances of seeing out his full term in office.

Since returning to power last October at the helm of a minority government, Rajoy has had to cobble together majorities in a fragmented parliament on a case-by-case basis to pass legislation.

He has so far managed to push through some key measures despite opposition from several left-wing parties, including a much-delayed budget for 2017. Passing a budget for 2018 would give his government further stability.

Members of Spain’s lower house of parliament voted in favor of the new spending ceiling by just two votes, with 175 votes for, 173 votes against and one abstention.

The government raised the spending cap by 1.3 percent compared with 2017, to just under 120 billion euros ($137 billion), at a time when economic growth is motoring ahead for the fourth year running.

Spain’s output is now seen growing 3 percent in 2017, after 3.2 percent growth in 2016 and up from a previous projection of 2.7 percent, according to official forecasts.

Rajoy’s government got enough lawmakers on board to approve the spending cap after negotiations with regional parties, which had asked for less rigid deficit targets.

The Basque center-right Partido Nationalista Vasco (PNV) for instance backed the motion, though it said in a statement that this did not mean it would necessarily be in favor of the ensuing budget plan.

The budget for 2018 will be debated and negotiated over the summer, and will be voted on in parliament by the end of September.

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EU Trade Pact with Ukraine to Take Full Effect in September

A broad new trade treaty struck between the European Union and Ukraine will take full effect from September, the European Council said on Tuesday on the eve of an upbeat summit in Kyiv.

“This is the final step of the ratification process through which the EU and Ukraine commit to a close, long-term relationship in all main policy areas,” it said in a statement.

Many provisions of the deal were already operating on a provisional basis, it said, adding that the its conclusion would bring a “new impetus to the cooperation.”

​Ukraine leader confident

Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the 24-hour summit, starting with a dinner on Wednesday in Kyiv.

Poroshenko voiced confidence on Tuesday that the second-biggest ex-Soviet state would move closer to membership of the EU and the NATO defense alliance — although neither body sees that as remotely likely in the coming years.

“I am confident we will win,” Poroshenko said in a statement. “Ukraine will definitely be in the family of European nations, both in the European Union and in NATO.”

Upbeat gathering expected

A senior EU official said that the summit was expected to be upbeat in tone: “This is a very positive moment in our relationship,” he said, noting that a long-standing ambition for Ukrainians to have visa-free access to the EU had become a reality last month for those with modern, biometric passports.

However, Ukraine still has much to do to reform Soviet-era administration and infrastructure to bring it closer into line with its western neighbors and to curb corruption, he added.

The summit agenda covers Ukrainian reforms and the implementation of the trade and association pact, security in Ukraine — notably the peace process with Russia over the conflict in the east — and regional and foreign policy matters.

Tillerson visits Kyiv

The EU and Ukraine have been concerned that President Donald Trump could scale back U.S. support for Ukraine in the interests of improving ties with Russia. But EU officials and Poroshenko welcomed as a sign of support Trump’s appointment at the weekend of a special envoy for Ukraine as well as a visit to Kyiv on Sunday by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Poroshenko welcomed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday and said Kyiv would work on a membership plan, something Moscow said would not promote stability.

 

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The Obscure Sanctions Law That Made the Kremlin See Red

Donald Trump Jr.’s unusual campaign-season meeting with a Russian lawyer supposedly covered an obscure sanctions law that has infuriated the Kremlin.

The Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012, was a U.S. response to the dubious death of a different Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky. He died in prison after exposing a tax fraud scheme. The law has allowed the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russians deemed as human rights violators.

 The law also led Moscow to respond by banning Americans from adopting Russian children, devastating some would-be U.S. parents.

After changing his initial story, President Donald Trump’s eldest son now says he met attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya last year to hear damaging information she said she had on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. said it quickly became clear Veselnitskaya had nothing valuable to offer on Clinton and the discussion turned to the Magnitsky Act and adoption ban.

“The claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Trump Jr. said in a statement.

A look at the sanctions law Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya supposedly discussed:

What prompted the law?

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by Hermitage Capital, a London-based hedge fund. Magnitsky accused Russian officials of a $230 million tax fraud scheme involving tax rebates. He was charged by Russian officials with tax evasion and put in prison, where he died at 37.

An official Russian probe blamed a heart attack. But Russia’s presidential council on human rights concluded he’d been beaten and denied medical treatment. A prison doctor, the only official charged in the case, was acquitted.

Magnitsky’s death drew widespread criticism from rights activists, triggering efforts to punish Russian officials associated with abuses of human rights.

What does the law do?

The law initially allowed U.S. sanctions on Russian officials believed to be complicit in the Magnitsky case. It expanded in 2016 to include human rights abusers anywhere. Several dozen people are now subject to U.S. sanctions under the law.

Americans are prohibited from doing any business with these individuals. Any assets they may have in the United States are frozen.

How did Moscow respond?

In December 2012, shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning American citizens from adopting Russian children.

Russia justified its adoption ban by pointing to cases of mistreatment of Russian children in the U.S., including the death of a seven-year-old who authorities said was beaten and starved to death, and another whose adoptive family put their unruly child on a flight back to Moscow, raising accusations of abandonment.

Yet it was widely viewed as retaliation for the Magnitsky law. The ban abruptly halted plans for 50 children to join new families in the U.S. and led to worsening U.S.-Russian relations.

What’s the connection to Trump Jr.’s meeting?

Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who Trump Jr. met with, opposes the Magnistky sanctions. She has represented Denis Katsyv, the son of a top executive in state-owned Russian Railways. He was charged in the U.S. with money laundering after investigators suspected his company bought ritzy New York real estate using proceeds from the $230 million tax fraud scheme that Magnitsky exposed.

Trump Jr. said that after initially discussing Clinton, Veselnitskaya “changed subjects” to the adoption ban and the Magnitsky Act. He said he interrupted her to say that since his father wasn’t yet an elected official, the conversation should wait until “if and when he held public office.”

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Olympics: Macron Lobbies for Paris Bid

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “pride, humility and determination” and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke of his city’s proud Olympic past as the rivals to host the 2024 Games met International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Monday.

The IOC will hold a meeting on Tuesday where it is expected to ratify an executive board recommendation to award both the 2024 and the 2028 Games at the same time, ensuring both candidates host one Games.

However, the IOC would still have to decide who goes first, and the two candidates are lobbying intensely to try to get the 2024 Games they originally bid for.

Macron’s presence on Tuesday is an unusual move. Heads of state generally turn up only for the host city vote, which this year will take place in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 13.

Garcetti, whose city hosted the 1932 and 1984 Games, supported the IOC’s decision to award both editions at the same time.

“We welcome the decision to look at simultaneous awarding of two summer Games,” he said after meeting the IOC’s Bach at the Olympic museum.

“We are very excited even in that context to share our unique story with the IOC members, the soul of LA, the taste of the city. We have been a transformative partner every time we had the Games.”

Paris is also hoping to stage the Games for a third time, having previously hosted in 1900 and 1924, and Macron said he came with “a sense of pride, determination and humility.”

“I came here for two things: pride, for the candidature and being part of this win-win-win situation, and also to carry the values of Olympism the world over. I support them fully,” Macron said.

“We need multilateralism, the structures that provide agreement among nations … and tolerance, which the Olympic movement illustrates well.”

Paris has already failed in three attempts to land the Olympics, in 1992, 2008 and 2012.

“A unique team in France set up this project,” Macron said. He had already met with the IOC two days after being elected in May.

“The project was built by a team, the national Olympic committee, the city of Paris, and is marked by the complete unity behind this project.”

Bach, whose meeting with Macron lasted close to an hour and a half compared with 40 minutes for the mayor of Los Angeles, said a decision to give the green light on a double allocation would “create a win-win-win situation for LA, Paris and the entire Olympic movement.”

Paris is seen as the frontrunner in the race for the 2024 Games, with Los Angeles having hinted they would accept the Games for 2028.

Four other cities — Hamburg, Rome, Budapest and Boston — were in the running for the 2024 Games before dropping out over cost and size concerns, forcing the IOC to overhaul the bidding with the double awarding to make it more attractive to potential hosts of the Games.

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Greeks, Turks Blame Each Other for Collapse of Cyprus Talks

As expected, both sides are blaming the other for the collapse of the latest Cyprus peace talks which diplomats saw as the best chance yet to reunify the divided island.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Monday that Turkey’s insistence on keeping Turkish forces deployed in the northern part of the island caused the talks to break down. He said Cyprus must be truly independent and sovereign, free from “dependence on third countries.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it was the “negative attitude” of the Greek Cypriots, saying the Turkish north brought a “constructive approach” to the talks. He also warned companies planning to search for oil and gas in the Mediterranean off Cyprus that they risk “losing a friend like Turkey” if they go ahead with their plans.

Oil and gas exploration off Cyprus is one of the major issues holding up a peace deal. Turkey insists that any energy finds belong to both sides of the island.

The internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south says it has sovereignty over the waters and the right to exploit it.

Cyprus has been split between a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north since 1974. Turkish troops invaded in response to a coup in Nicosia aimed at unifying the island with Greece.

Only Turkey recognizes a separate leadership in the north while the Greek side enjoys the benefits of European Union membership and global recognition.

Turkish Cypriots insist the Turkish forces stay on the island for what they say would be their protection. The Greek side wants them gone, believing the soldiers to be unnecessary and a provocation.

 

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Coal-Fired Plants Top Polluters in Europe

Coal-fired power stations are responsible for the most pollution in Europe, with Britain among the top polluters, the European Union says.

 

The European Environment Agency said in a report late Sunday that half of the plants responsible for the largest releases of air and water pollution were in Britain, with a total of 14. Germany was second with seven, followed by France and Poland, each with five.

 

The agency reviewed emissions data from 35,000 industrial plants in 2015 — the latest available data — including power stations, petrochemical refineries and metal processing units from the 28 members of the European Union, and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Serbia.

 

It said that “good progress is being made by the EU toward its climate and energy policy objectives for 2020 and 2030.” However, it noted that coal remains the most used fuel in large combustion plants — power plants, refineries, large chemical plants and steelworks — despite a decreasing amount being used over recent years, and a threefold increase in biomass use between 2004 and 2015.

 

Coal is still responsible for the largest releases of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the environment, although some plants have significantly improved their environmental performance over recent years, releasing fewer emissions into the environment.

 

The worst in 2015 were the Belchatow power plant in Poland, which released the highest amounts of the three pollutants, while the Drax power station in Britain, Jaenschwalde in Germany, and Kozienice in Poland were listed as top polluting plants for each of the three pollutants.

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EU Parliament Condemns Brexit Proposals on Citizen Rights

The European Parliament’s group on Brexit negotiations has made a damning assessment of British proposals on EU citizens’ rights after the U.K. leaves the European Union, further indication of how tough the two-year negotiations are expected to become.

In a letter Monday to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and seen by The Associated Press, the group said “the U.K. does not respect the principles of reciprocity, symmetry and non-discrimination.” Furthermore, it said that under the U.K. proposals made on June 26, EU citizens in Britain would be looking at “nothing less than relegation to second-class status.”

Citizens’ rights in each other’s nations are considered the first issue that both sides must settle.

Even though Barnier is leading the negotiations, the European Parliament still has a veto right on any deal.

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Austria Bars Turkish Minister From Entering the Country for a Rally

Austria has barred the Turkish economy minister from entering the country to attend a rally marking the anniversary of the failed coup attempt in Turkey last year

A spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry confirmed in statement Monday the decision of Foreign Minster Sebastian Kurz, saying the event was “very big” and that the public appearance of Turkey’s Nihat Zeybekci could “danger public order and security in Austria”.

Austria has strongly criticized Turkey’s security crackdown that followed the failed coup, and has repeatedly called for suspending Turkey’s EU accession talks.

The Austrian decision followed a Netherlands government statement that Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes was not welcome in the country. Turkes had intended to participate in a Friday ceremony organized by Turkish community to commemorate the anniversary of the coup attempt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also was not allowed to speak to Turks in Germany last week, where he attended the G20 leaders’ summit in Hamburg.

More than 50,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, pending trial, and about 150,000 suspended or dismissed following the July 15 coup attempt, over allegations of connections with the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the coup.

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Massive Istanbul Crowd Protests Erdogan’s Crackdown on Rights

Tens of thousands of people massed in Istanbul Sunday to protest Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on critics of his government in the wake of last year’s failed military coup.

The demonstrators chanted “Rights, Law, Justice” in support of the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was completing a 450-kilometer walk from the capital Ankara after a lawmaker from his party was imprisoned in June.

It was the biggest protest in several years against Erdogan, whose government has arrested more than 50,000 people and dismissed at least 100,000 civil servants he has characterized as supporters of the aborted coup. Turkey claims the coup was led by a cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States for nearly two decades. Gulen denies any involvement.

The 68-year-old Kilicdaroglu’s 25-day march at first drew modest support, about 1,000 people who walked alongside him. But the crowds swelled in recent days as he neared Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu, the head of the secularist Republican People’s Party, said that his march “cast off a shirt of fear” of Erdogan’s rule. “If only there was no need for this march and there was democracy, media freedoms, if civic society groups could freely express their opinions.”

Erdogan criticized Kilicdaroglu when he embarked on the march, saying justice should be sought in parliament, not on the streets.

The Turkish opposition says that Erdogan’s government has been moving toward authoritarianism, while the Turkish leader says that the crackdown on rights is necessary to thwart security threats to the ruling government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump Says He Twice ‘Strongly Pressed’ Putin on US Election Meddling

U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday that he twice “strongly pressed” Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. election and it was now time to “move forward in working constructively” with Moscow.

In a string of Twitter comments after returning to Washington from the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, Trump noted that Putin vehemently denied any role in interfering in the election and that he and the Russian leader “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

Key Republican lawmakers, however, immediately ridiculed Trump’s idea of working with the Russians on a cybersecurity pact. Senator Lindsey Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it was “not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Kyiv that Russian interference in the November election remains an impediment to better relations between the two countries. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told Fox News that Trump “absolutely did not believe” Putin’s denial of the election meddling.

Trump said in one tweet that he had “already given my opinion” on the election interference. He apparently was referring to the assessment he offered last week at a news conference in Warsaw, where he said, “I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people and other countries. Could have been a lot of people [who] interfered.”

Trump is facing months of investigations of allegations that his campaign colluded with Russian officials to help him win the White House and that he possibly obstructed justice by firing James Comey, then the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while he was leading the agency’s Russia investigation.

Numerous congressional probes are underway, as is a criminal investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, another former FBI chief.

‘A great success’

Trump called the summit of the leaders of the world’s largest economies “a great success for the U.S.,” saying he had “explained that the U.S. must fix the many bad trade deals it has made” and that its deals would be reworked.

He made no mention of the European Union’s major trade deal with Japan announced last week, or that the other 19 countries at the summit voiced their opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 international accord reached in Paris to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

Trump claimed as a success his agreement with Putin on a negotiated cease-fire in parts of Syria that he said would save lives in Syria’s unending six-year civil war for control of the Middle Eastern country.

‘Fake news’

But in his tweets, the U.S. leader also returned to two of his favorite themes, attacking the mainstream U.S. news media and opposition Democrats.

He said “Fake News” had overstated the number of American intelligence agencies that had concluded that Russia meddled in the election to boost Trump’s chances of defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, saying it was 17 when it was actually four.

Trump, as he did overseas, questioned why his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, did “NOTHING when he had info” about the Russian election interference in August, three months before the election.

Weeks after the voting, Obama, in response to Moscow’s election interference, expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds that the U.S. said had been used for intelligence gathering.

 Trump said he and Putin did not discuss the sanctions and that “nothing will be done” about them until “problems” with Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria “are solved.”

Trump also claimed that the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency were rebuffed 13 times in seeking to examine computers at the Democratic National Committee that were hacked into by Russian interests.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of emails of Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, many of them showing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party’s presidential nomination.

Clinton has blamed the almost daily release of the emails in the weeks leading up to the election as one reason why she lost, even as national polls said she would win.