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Turkey Jails Protesting Workers on President’s Prestige Project

A Turkish court has detained 24 construction workers for protesting conditions at the building of Istanbul’s third airport, according to Turkish media.

International condemnation was swift. “This is an appalling assault on the right to protest and organize and on the dignity of workers in Turkey,” tweeted senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair Webb of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The 24 workers face charges of resisting police, violating protest laws and damage to public property. The detentions are in connection to protests involving thousands of workers over safety and poor conditions at the construction site of Istanbul’s new airport.

The airport is planned to be one of world’s largest, the centerpiece of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s scheme of mega-construction projects to create what he calls the “new Turkey.”

The labor unrest at the airport site started Sept. 14, triggered by the reported deaths of four workers traveling on a service bus from their dormitories to work.

“Four of our friends died,” said one protesting worker, speaking to local media anonymously. “The shuttle bus had an accident.”

He added, “5,000, 6,000, almost 7,000 workers left work because they didn’t get paid. We can’t tell them don’t go. Neither can we stay here like that.”

Within hours of the protest, police using tear gas and armored cars moved in, arresting many strikers. Early Sept. 15, police raided the worker’s dormitories, detaining as many as 500 people.

With more than 36,000 people building the airport, it’s one of Europe’s biggest construction sites, but it also has become a national focal point for the treatment of construction workers. The International Trade Union Confederation lists Turkey as one of the world’s worst places for worker safety.

Media report that since construction on the airport started three years ago, more than 400 workers have been killed. The transport ministry says the number is 27.

Trade union officials claim workers are under intense pressure to meet next month’s opening, which is timed to coincide with Turkey’s Republic Day on October 29.

“What we call as demands are simply to correct the working conditions that belong to the middle ages,” said Ozgur Karabulut, general manager of Dev IS Union. “Workers can’t sleep because of cockroaches in the dormitories, they can’t eat the food as there are worms inside.”

Karabulut blames the deepening financial crisis in Turkey as a factor for the worsening conditions. The Turkish lira has plummeted more than 40 percent this year, driving up import costs.

“Because the costs are growing for the subcontractors, to make profit [they] cut from everything, from helmets to safety shoes,” Karabulut said.

“This problem is not unique to the airport construction site,” he added. “Any of the state’s mega-projects all have the same conditions and problems, and because the workers are asking for the rights they are getting beaten, gassed and detained.”

With nearly all mainstream media under control of the president or his supporters, the protesting workers have been labeled as “provocateurs” and “terrorists.”

In Istanbul’s central Kadikoy district Sunday, union officials reached out to the public and fringe media.  Officials tried to read a statement outlining their demands and the conditions facing the workers.

Police quickly surrounded the officials and told them the Istanbul governor, Vasip Sahin, had banned the protest. Seconds later the officials were arrested, handcuffed and dragged away. More than two dozen people were detained.

Opposition parties are voicing support for the protesting workers.

Deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Sezgin Tanrikulu, says the crackdown is unprecedented.

“Nowhere in the world, just for demanding better and more humane working conditions, more than 500 workers are taken into custody, gassed, beaten in raids on dorms in the middle of the night. For demanding adequate food, payments to be made to a bank account. It shows the level of democracy and law concerning workers’ rights and workers,” Tanrikulu said.

The consortium building the airport has not commented. However, Governor Sahin promised action, saying, “The employer has begun work to eliminate the problems of the employees of the airport construction.”

But with less than six weeks left until the airport’s planned opening, union officials claim pressure is being stepped up on workers.

Paramilitary police are now reportedly supervising the workers who’ve returned to work, while new workers are being brought in from Erdogan’s traditional Black Sea voting stronghold.

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Canada Wants to See Flexibility in NAFTA Talks With US

Canada said on Wednesday that it would need to see movement from the United States if the two sides are to reach a deal on renewing NAFTA, which Washington insists must be finished by the end of the month.

Although the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and its allies are increasing pressure on Canada to make the concessions they say are needed for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he also wanted to see flexibility.

“We’re interested in what could be a good deal for Canada but we’re going to need to see a certain amount of movement in order to get there and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Shortly afterwards, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their fourth set of talks in four weeks with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues.

Trump has already wrapped up a side deal with Mexico and is threatening to exclude Canada if necessary. Canadian officials say they do not believe the U.S. Congress would agree to turn NAFTA into a bilateral treaty.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said it would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, for the administration to pull off a Mexico-only agreement.

“If Canada doesn’t come into the deal there is no deal,” Donohue told a media breakfast in Washington.

Donohue said he believed that if the administration wanted to end the current NAFTA, such a move would be subject to a vote in Congress, which would be difficult to get.

The Chamber, the most influential U.S. business lobby, wants NAFTA to be renegotiated as a tri-lateral agreement, citing how highly integrated the three member nations’ economies have become since the pact came into force in 1994.

Negotiators are arguing over cultural protections, dispute resolution, and a U.S. demand for more access to Canada’s protected dairy market. Sources say Ottawa has made clear it is prepared to make concessions, which would anger the influential dairy lobby.

“For American farmers the Canadian market is a drop in the bucket. For us it’s our livelihood,” Dairy Farmers of Canada vice president David Wiens told reporters in Ottawa. Concessions in past trade deals had already hurt Canadian farmers, he said.

“The dairy sector cannot be negatively impacted again by a new trade agreement,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

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Macron Guard Fired for Beating Protesters Defends Self at Inquiry

French President Emmanuel Macron’s former personal security officer, who was fired for beating protesters, defended himself before a senate inquiry Wednesday by saying he was neither a policeman nor a bodyguard.

Alexandre Benalla was taken into custody by police last July after Le Monde released video showing him posing as a policeman in riot gear and beating protesters during France’s May Day demonstrations.

The incident grew to become the most serious scandal Macron has faced during his short time in office after it was revealed Benalla had only been punished with a two week suspension at the time.

The president fired Benalla after the videos became public on July 19, deepening the furor and leading to a senate and a judicial investigation. Macron’s ministers have denounced the investigations as politically partisan.

The president’s popularity has been hovering around 30 percent recently, half of what it has been in the past, and French media has frequently compared the incident to Watergate.

Historically, French leaders have used shadowy unofficial police and intelligence operatives to carry out dubious acts. The incident has dredged up memories of this old sore point.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Benalla claimed that he had never been an unofficial bodyguard, but rather an aide in charge of liaising between Macron’s office and the GSPR, the security body officially in charge of protecting the president.

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Migrant Terror Trial Seen as Test of Fundamental Rights in Hungary

A Hungarian appeals court will make its final verdict Thursday in the case of a man convicted of terrorism for throwing stones at police and trying to enter the country illegally, at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015.

Amnesty International says his actions can in no way be interpreted as terrorism. The human rights group says the hearing in Budapest is the first big test for the country’s judicial system since the European Parliament voted last week to sanction Hungary over its record on fundamental rights.

The defendant, named as Ahmed H., was living in Cyprus at the time of the alleged offense. In the summer of 2015, he traveled to the Balkans to help his elderly parents and other family members as they fled the war in Syria. Like hundreds of thousands of other migrants and refugees, they were making their way from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, trying to reach Western Europe.

Their journey was halted at the Hungarian-Serbian border as authorities closed the crossing. Ahmed took part in protests that erupted at the border

“He threw a few stones and he urged the police to let the refugees and migrants who had amassed there cross through to Hungary,” said Eda Seyhan of Amnesty.

Ahmed was arrested by Hungarian police. In 2016, he was convicted on charges of terrorism and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

“The defendant himself shook the fence, and fiddled with the lock, and threw solid objects towards the policemen line on three occasions,” the judge, Andrea Nagy, read after the verdict.

Following an appeal, Ahmed was again convicted of terrorism in a retrial. His latest appeal is his final hope of overturning the conviction in the Hungarian judicial system.

Amnesty’s Seyhan says Ahmed’s case is symptomatic of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s vilification of migrants.

“The Orban government have tried to justify their refusal of asylum-seekers and their ill-treatment of refugees by arguing that refugees and terrorism are in some way associated,” Seyhan said. “Having found no evidence for this assertion, they’ve really used the Ahmed case to back up their claims.”

The European Parliament last week voted to enact so-called Article 7 sanctions against Hungary for flouting EU rules on fundamental rights. During a debate ahead of the vote, Orban claimed he was legitimately defending Europe’s external borders.

“Hungary is going to be condemned because the Hungarian people have decided that this country is not going to be a country of migrants,” Orban told EU lawmakers.

But Amnesty sees the upcoming verdict as a new chance for Hungary.

“What we’re hoping for on Thursday is that Hungary will see the trial of Ahmed as an opportunity to show to the international community and others that it is coming back on a path of the rule of law and of human rights,” Seyhan said.

That battle over Hungary’s future path played out Tuesday on the streets of Budapest as thousands of anti-government protesters demanded new elections.

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Kenya’s Finance Minister Cuts Spending, Money Transfer Taxes to Rise

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich has cut the government’s spending budget by 55.1 billion shillings ($546.90 million), or 1.8 percent, for the fiscal year from July this year, a Treasury document showed on Wednesday.

The government is facing a tough balancing act after a public outcry over a new 16 percent value added tax on all petroleum products forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to suggest to parliament to keep the VAT and cut if by half.

In the document detailing the new spending estimates, Rotich said the budget had to be adjusted because of the amendments to tax measures brought by lawmakers when they first debated it and passed it last month.

The proposed halving of the VAT rate on fuel has left the government with a funding shortfall, hence the cuts in spending.

Parliament will vote on a raft of proposals, including the 1.8 percent cut on spending, in a special sitting on Thursday.

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by 6 percent this year, recovering from a drought, slowdown in lending and election-related worries that cut growth in 2017, but investors and the IMF have expressed concerns over growing public debt.

While the next election is still four years away, the government’s economic policies are chafing with citizens angered by increasing costs of living. Fuel dealers protested when the VAT on fuel kicked in this month and citizen groups have gone to court to try to block new or higher taxes.

Separate documents sent by Kenyatta to parliament ahead of Thursday’s sitting underscored the debate in government over how to boost revenues without hurting the poor.

His government has to reduce a gaping fiscal deficit while boosting spending on priority areas such as healthcare and affordable housing.

In order to balance the government’s books after the reduction of the fuel tax, he is trying to reinstate several tax measures struck out by parliament, including a 2 percentage hike on excise duty for mobile phone money transfers to 12 percent.

Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator Safaricom said in June it was opposed to any tax rise on mobile phone-based transfers, arguing that it would mainly hurt the poor, most of whom do not have bank accounts and rely on services such as its M-Pesa platform.

The president also asked parliament to double the excise duty on the fees charged by banks, money transfer services, and other financial institutions to 20 percent.

Parliament in August threw out an earlier version of proposed fees on bank transfers, a so-called “Robin Hood” tax of 0.05 percent on transfers of more than 500,000 shillings.

The president has not yet signed the budget due to the dispute over the planned tax hikes. Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and its allies have a comfortable majority in parliament.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry this month said the government should widen the tax base. It also urged the state to cut expenditure, reduce wastage of public funds and deal with corruption, which some studies have found lose the government about a third of its annual budget.


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У Львові розпочався 25-й Форум видавців

У Львові 19 вересня розпочався 25-й ювілейний Форум видавців, який триватиме упродовж п’яти днів.

За інформацією організаторів, відбудуться близько 900 літературних, освітніх, мистецьких подій. У рамках форуму відбувається книжковий ярмарок, у якому беруть участь 260 видавництв, які привезли 250 тонн книжок, літературний фестиваль, бібліотечний форум, фестиваль дитячого читання, Ніч поезії.

Найкращу книгу Форуму обиратимуть з поміж понад 500 книжок. Цього року тема Форуму «Ринок свободи», повідомляє кореспондент Радіо Свобода.

«Читаючи, ми звільняємось, можемо ставати будь-ким. У час постправди, «фейкових» новин складається враження, що різні цінності, серед них свобода, є предметом торгівлі. Зрозуміло, що є люди, які хочуть купити чиюсь свободу. Але є люди, які готові заплатити велику ціну за власну свободу. Ми маємо про це пам’ятати», – каже президент Форуму видавців Олександра Коваль.

У рамках Форуму видавців щодня відбуваються акції на підтримку Олега Сенцова, який 129-й день голодує в ув’язненні в Росії.

Почесними гостями 25-го Форуму видавців є американський історик Енн Епплбом, професор зі США Марта Богачевська-Хом’як, поет Ігор Померанцев. Приїхали письменники і перекладачі з 25 країн світу, а також велика група українських літераторів.

Сьогодні Форум видавців відвідає президент України Петро Порошенко, який його відкриє у Львівській опері.

Форум видавців у Львові вперше проведений у 1994 році і став найбільшою книжковою подією в Україні.

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Влада Києва попередила про штрафи за спалювання сміття і листя

Влада Києва застерігає від спалювання сміття і листя і попереджає про штрафи. Як повідомляє столичне управління екології та природних ресурсів, розмір штрафу – від 340 до 1360 гривень.

Згідно з повідомленням, при згорянні однієї тонни рослинних залишків у повітря вивільняється близько дев’яти кілограмів мікрочастинок диму.

Разом із димом у повітря вивільняються пестициди і радіонукліди, накопичені рослинами протягом року. Нерідко разом із листям горить сміття, що спричиняє ще потужніше забруднення атмосферного повітря, наголошують в управлінні.

«Закликаємо киян і відповідні служби запобігати спалюванню листя не лише в парках і скверах, а і на прибудинкових територіях, адже у тліючому без доступу кисню листі виділяється бензопірен, що може викликати у людини ракові захворювання», – сказав керівник Управління екології і природних ресурсів Андрій Мальований.

Крім того, спалювання рослинних залишків становить суттєву загрозу природі: з листям згорають корисні комахи, руйнується ґрунтовий покрив, відбувається збіднення ґрунту, знищується насіння і коріння трав’янистих рослин, пошкоджуються нижні частини дерев і кущів і верхні частини їх коріння; у 2-4 рази зростає промерзання ґрунту.

Спалювання листя у Києві заборонене Правилами благоустрою міста.



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Critics Skewer Venezuelan President Over Feast as Country Starves

Videos of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro feasting on steaks at an upscale restaurant have sparked worldwide outrage on behalf of the poverty-stricken people of his country.

One video show celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae,” carving meat for the president and his wife, Cilia Flores, at the Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul, where each cut of meat can cost hundreds of dollars.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio slammed the chef who was filmed with the “dictator,” who was shown eating “a five-star gourmet meal, smoking fine cigars while the people of Venezuela are literally starving.”

“It’s an outrage, disgusting … this is a man starving human beings and [Salt Bae] is celebrating him as some sort of hero – I got pissed,” Rubio told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela. He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition,” Rubio tweeted Tuesday.

The senator also tweeted the address and phone number of the chef’s restaurant in Miami, which is home to scores of Venzeulan-Americans and Cuban-Americans who despise the socialist leader.

Opposition leader Julio Borges, who lives in exile in Colombia, tweeted: “While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicolas Maduro and Cilia Flores have a good time in one of the most expensive restaurants in the world, all with money stolen from the Venezuelan people.”

The once-wealthy oil-producing nation has been in an economic crisis for the past five years. The turmoil has left many Venezuelans struggling to find food and medicine and driven masses to flee to other South American countries.

According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.

A  Meganalisis poll published in the Miami Herald last month found more then 30 percent of Venezuelans say they only ate one meal a day, nearly the same number report eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week and a staggering 78 percent said they had trouble finding enough food.

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Mexico’s Next Anti-money Laundering Czar Vows Action After ‘Shameful’ Odebrecht

Mexico’s incoming financial intelligence chief said it was “shameful” how little had been done about bribes that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht executives said were paid to secure Mexican public works contracts, and vowed to reexamine the case once in office.

Santiago Nieto will head the finance ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which analyzes suspicious financial records, once the new leftist government takes office on Dec. 1. He said in an interview last week that the unit had been misused for political ends, without elaborating.

“It’s shameful that Mexico and Venezuela are the only countries in Latin America that haven’t sanctioned anyone,” he said of the Odebrecht case, which is at the heart of Brazil’s Lava Jato, or Car Wash, corruption investigation that has reverberated across the region in recent years.

“In the case of Odebrecht, and in any other case, the first thing we would have to do is review what there is in the Financial Intelligence Unit related to the case,” he said. Nieto does not yet have access to files and records kept by the unit.

In Brazil, Odebrecht executives admitted to paying bribes within Mexico. Prosecutors in Mexico have said they are probing business between the Brazilian conglomerate and state oil company Pemex.

Pemex has declined to comment on issues related to Odebrecht, citing the ongoing investigation. The office of Mexico’s attorney general, the finance ministry and the Financial Intelligence Unit all declined to comment for this story. Odebrecht acknowledged receipt of an emailed request for comment, but did not respond further.

Anger at widespread corruption scandals, including the alleged bribes from Odebrecht, a lucrative house deal involving the family of President Enrique Pena Nieto, and hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned from government coffers through fake contracts, helped leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador win a landslide presidential victory in July.

Lopez Obrador pledged in his manifesto to clamp down on financial crime, and tighten money laundering, banking and tax regulations. He has given few details of how he will achieve this, but promises to set an example of probity from the presidency.

Tasked with helping to prevent and fight money laundering and terrorism financing, the financial intelligence unit receives and analyzes information that it should then pass on to prosecutors to investigate and construct a case.

A former lead prosecutor for electoral crimes, Nieto was dismissed in 2017 on the grounds that he broke a code of conduct when he gave an interview about his investigation into Odebrecht bribery during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Nieto has admitted his mistake, but denies breaking rules or revealing sensitive information. He said his firing was illegal.

Last month, two incoming administration officials told Reuters that Odebrecht may be blocked from participating in public works projects under the new government.

Odebrecht responded that wrongdoing at the company should not be used to impose sanctions against it in Mexico.

Corrupt System?

Nieto said he would press for more information sharing between federal departments that investigate tax, electoral and organized crime, and investigate possible corruption within the system.

“I have the impression that there is a factor of internal corruption,” he said, without providing specifics.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international organization that sets global standards for fighting illicit finance, said earlier this year that in Mexico “financial intelligence does not often lead to investigations of money laundering, underlying crimes, and terrorist financing.”

Following the report, Mexico’s finance ministry and the attorney general’s office issued a joint statement recognizing shortcomings and promising to improve efforts.

However, the Mexican government seized just 871 million pesos ($46.3 million) and $14.7 million between September 2017 and June 2018, and began just one criminal proceeding, according to official statistics.

Nieto, who called the outcomes “terrible,” pointed to the financial intelligence unit and attorney general’s office as the two “bottlenecks” holding back cases.

“It is a matter of impunity, a complicit government, and a lack of political will to fight corruption,” Nieto said.

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When the Music’s Over: Cities Suffer as Venues Fall to Developers

When Pearl Jam led 50,000 people in a chant of “Save the Showbox” in a Seattle stadium last month, the rockers confronted a question facing many cities: When do the cultural costs of a property boom become too high?

The Showbox is an 1,100-person venue across the street from Pike Place Market, Seattle’s top tourist attraction. It opened in 1939 and has hosted acts from Duke Ellington to Prince, as well as the hometown grunge pioneers Pearl Jam.

The venue now risks becoming the latest casualty of the Pacific Northwest city’s real estate rush – and many in the community are saying enough is enough.

“Today one of our great cathedrals is at risk of being leveled,” said Ben Gibbard, lead singer of indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie, at a Seattle City Council hearing in August. “It’s not just a music venue, but a cornerstone of our cultural heritage. We cannot allow this vital piece of our rapidly changing city to be snuffed out.”

Historic venues are being crushed by real estate development in cities across Britain and the United States.

London has lost 35 percent of its independent music venues since 2007, according to the mayor’s office.

In 2014, The New York Observer documented eight significant music venues the city lost over the previous decade, beginning with punk icon venue CBGB and ending with the Roseland Ballroom, another pre-World War II concert hall.

Experts say that the trend affects more than just music fans, bands, and others in the industry.

“Music venues are an early canary in the coal mine,” said Shain Shapiro, head of Sound Diplomacy, a Britain-based consultancy firm on music in cities.

“It’s not just about developing our music industry and providing a great night out,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from London. “It improves the quality of life in increasingly denser and denser cities.”

Music or Housing

Interventions by city governments to save historic venues are rare, but the past few years have seen a few – usually in response to public pressure.

Fans of the Showbox were outraged in July when the Onni Group, a real estate developer headquartered in neighboring Vancouver, Canada, filed plans to build a 44-story building where the venue now sits.

A “Save the Showbox” online petition has garnered about 100,000 signatures. They include members of R.E.M., Jamie xx, The English Beat, and other musicians who have performed there.

Supporters packed the city hall hearing in August waving “Save the Showbox” signs.

Last month, the municipal government approved an extension of the Pike Place Market Historic District’s boundaries to incorporate the Showbox, which will be valid for 10 months.

The legislative move means additional scrutiny will apply to any proposed real estate development on the site, even though it is zoned to accommodate a 44-story building.

In response, the owners of the building housing the Showbox filed a $40 million lawsuit against the city of Seattle earlier this month.

The lawsuit noted that halting the project would mean losing $5 million in fees from the developer, which would go towards funding affordable housing.

Showbox supporters argue that the amount of money raised by the project would be paltry and could come from elsewhere.

“What we would be losing culturally is far more valuable than the amount of money that would go toward affordable housing,” Gibbard said in an interview.

City council member Lorena Gonzalez said she intends to submit a plan this month to permanently protect the building housing The Showbox.

Onni Group, the developer, did not reply to a request for comment.

Legal Protection

Authorities in Britain have acted to preserve some well-loved venues, as well as spurring the growth of new ones.

Under British law, developers must sign “Section 106 agreements” before gaining permission to proceed with projects.

Shapiro of Sound Diplomacy said that local governments have leveraged the law to push developers into incorporating live music spaces into their plans.

He pointed to Vicarage Field, a new shopping center in the London district of Barking that will host a music venue.

In Cardiff, Shapiro said, a public outcry last year saved a haven for Welsh-language music called Clwb Ifor Bach.

Developers planned plan to build flats in the live music district, but the City of Cardiff Council eventually purchased the land parcel and leased it to the venue.

“Clwb Ifor Bach is one of the best examples of a direct action that a council has taken,” Shapiro said.