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EU’s Mogherini Booed in Serbian Parliament Ahead of Balkan Summit

Nationalist Serbian lawmakers booed the European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini on Friday as she addressed their parliament during tour aimed at addressing concerns about rising tensions in the Balkans.

Mogherini’s trip to all six Western Balkans states, still scarred by wars fought in 1990s along political, ethnic and religious lines, is meant to lay the groundwork for an EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday and a summit on Thursday.

Several EU leaders have expressed alarm at a variety of problems there and some blame Russia for seeking to destabilize the region, EU officials say.

At Mogherini’s speech to the Serbian parliament, members of the Serbian Radical party chanted: “Serbia! Russia! We don’t need the [European] Union!”

Four deputies from the nationalist Dveri party held banners reading: “Serbia does not trust Brussels.”

Playing down the heckles during a speech that focused on the EU accession talks which Serbia hopes to complete by 2019, Mogherini later told reporters: “It is not nice to be rude to a lady!”

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s pro-EU coalition has a comfortable majority in parliament but the popularity of pro-Russian nationalists is on the rise. In 2016, the Radicals returned to the Serbian assembly after several years.

Next Week’s Summit

At their summit next week, EU leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment “to support stability and to deepen political and economic ties with and within the region,” according to an early draft of their joint statement.

That is despite weariness in EU states including France and the Netherlands where eurosceptic parties pose a challenge to the status quo in their own elections in coming weeks.

The EU has made Serbia’s accession conditional on normalizing its ties with Kosovo but tensions have been on the rise this year. Serbia’s ally Moscow refuses to recognize the 2008 independence of Kosovo, which has an association agreement with the EU.

Their neighbor Macedonia – which aspires to join both EU and NATO – has not been able to form a government since elections in December as the president has refused to give a mandate to a coalition that includes ethnic Albanians.

A genocide lawsuit that Bosnia lodged against Serbia at the International Court of Justice angered Bosnian Serbs as well as officials in neighboring Serbia.

In Montenegro, both pro-Western and anti-Western opposition parties are boycotting the parliament following a recent vote in which they say people were intimidated to back the government.

Russian Influence?

Russia opposes the accession of Balkan states into the EU has accused Europe and NATO of meddling in Macedonia’s political crisis.

The EU believes Moscow is encouraging Bosnia’s Serbs to seek independence and may have encouraged a move to unseat Montenegro’s leader as he seeks to join NATO.

A border dispute between ex-Yugoslav EU members Croatia and Slovenia, adds to the mix of instability, EU officials say.

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80% території Луганщини та Донеччини покриті українським мовленням – Стець

Вісімдесят відсотків території, підконтрольної українській владі, на Донбасі покриті сигналом українських теле- та радіоканалів. Про це в коментарі Радіо «Донбас.Реалії» заявив міністр інформаційної політики України Юрій Стець. Він також зазначив, що окрім підконтрольних територій частково покриті українським мовленням і непідконтрольні території. Зокрема, сигнал є в окупованих Горлівці та Донецьку.

«Як би не говорили, що це неправда, вже є відеофакти. Так, там чують і бачать українські телеканали і радіостанції», – зазначив Стець.

Міністр також наголосив, що глушіння сигналу сепаратистських ЗМІ з непідконтрольних Києву територій Донбасу так само, як і відновлення українського мовлення, є ключовим для міністерства.

«Порушу це питання на військовому кабінеті і так само на РНБО. Ми маємо, зрештою, не тільки робити те, що пов’язано з прямою роботою Міністерства інформаційної політики – відновлювати українське мовлення, а й активніше займатися глушінням сигналу телеканалів і радіостанцій сепаратистських угруповань «ЛНР» та «ДНР». Не дам більше можливості силовим структурам уникати цього питання», – сказав міністр.

Ватажок угруповання «ДНР» Олександр Захарченко 3 березня заявив, що мовлення сепаратистських теле- і радіоканалів розширене на низку регіонів України. За даними сайтів бойовиків, ідеться про мовлення на Дніпропетровську, Харківську та Херсонську області. 

Радіо «Донбас.Реалії» є проектом Української редакції Радіо Свобода, що подає новини і їх аналіз із обох боків лінії розмежування. Радіо «Донбас.Реалії» мовить у Маріуполі на частоті 88 FM, Авдіївці 95,7 FM, Бахмуті 87,9 FM, Волновасі 100,3 FM, Щасті 88 FM, Мар’їнці 95,3 FM, в Слов’янську та Краматорську 90,4 FM, Лисичанську, Сєвєродонецьку та Рубіжному 88,2 FM, а також в ефірі Громадського радіо з 19:00 до 20:00 та радіо «Пульс» з 06:10 до 07:00.

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Нацрада відмовила «Радио Вести» у продовженні ліцензії на мовлення в Києві

Підстава – судові попередження щодо антиукраїнської риторики, ретрансляції промов бойовиків, недотримання квот щодо української мови і використання мови ворожнечі в ефірі

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Ukraine’s Tax and Customs Chief Accused of Embezzling Millions

Ukrainian anti-corruption agencies plan to detain the head of the tax and customs service, Roman Nasirov, over the alleged embezzlement of around 2 billion hryvnias ($75 million), a senior prosecutor said Friday.

Television footage showed an unconscious-looking Nasirov being stretchered into an ambulance and taken to Kyiv’s Feofania hospital late Thursday. Reporters said he had suffered a heart attack. This could not be independently verified.

Prosecutor skeptical

Anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said investigators believe Nasirov helped exiled lawmaker Oleksandr Onishchenko deprive the state of 2 billion hryvnias in tax revenue linked to a gas deal.

“Detectives and a prosecutor went to Feofania yesterday,” Kholodnytsky said on television channel 112. “Nasirov was notified of the allegation by a detective. I will find out if he was conscious or not.” 

Nasirov has previously denied all allegations of graft against him. His office would not immediately comment on the matter.

Kholodnytsky was openly skeptical about Nasirov’s sudden hospitalization.

If 38-year-old Nasirov is found guilty, it would be the first successful prosecution of a senior official for graft since the 2014 uprising that ushered in a Western-backed leadership promising to tackle endemic corruption.

Stop-start reform efforts over the past three years have raised concerns that Ukraine’s political elite lacked the will to eradicate a deep-rooted system of cronyism and bribe-taking.

Investigation confirmed

Nasirov’s lawyer, Andriy Kuzmenko, confirmed that he was being investigated for embezzlement and said he could face up to six years in prison.

Opposition lawmakers and the finance ministry have previously called for Nasirov to be investigated for abuse of office.

In 2016, Nasirov clashed with an activist appointed to reform the graft-plagued customs of Odessa over her accusation that he had blocked her attempts to fire corrupt officials.

In an online wealth declaration tool aimed at boosting transparency, he disclosed last October that he and his wife held cash in euros and dollars worth $2.2 million and owned Swiss watches, diamond jewelery, fur coats and fine porcelain among other items. He told Reuters in an interview he had earned this money in the financial sector before taking office.

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Уряд створив комісію для розслідування трагедії на шахті «Степова» – Гройсман

Кабінет міністрів України створив комісію для розслідування трагедії на шахті «Степова» у Львівській області 2 березня, повідомив прем’єр-міністр України Володимир Гройсман на засіданні уряду.

«Потрібно розібратись детально і досконало що у нас є з безпекою, яка ситуація реально на всіх інших шахтах в Україні. Тому другим розпорядженням буде створена комісія, яка займеться питаннями безпеки на всіх шахтах України», – додав Гройсман.

Як додав віце-прем’єр-міністр, міністр регіонального розвитку, будівництва та житлово-комунального господарства Геннадій Зубко, упродовж місяця комісія має встановити причини обвалу на шахті і його винуватців.

2 березня о 12:46 на горизонті 550 метрів у 119-й лаві внаслідок вибуху сталося обрушення гірської породи. На шахті працювали 172 гірники, на аварійній ділянці – 34. Загинули восьмеро людей. За повідомленням ДСНС, з травмами та різними за тяжкістю опіками госпіталізовані 20 людей.За попередніми даними, причиною став вибух метану, іскра спричинила пожежу.

За фактом загибелі гірників прокуратура Львівської області порушила кримінальне провадження за статтею про «порушення правил безпеки під час виконання робіт з підвищеною небезпекою».

Сьогодні в Україні оголошено день жалоби за загиблими гірниками.

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Forecast: US Demand for Gasoline to Peak in 2018, for World in 2021

Demand for gasoline in the United States, which accounts for a tenth of global oil consumption, is expected to peak next year as engines become more efficient, WoodMackenzie analysts said.

Global demand for gasoline, which accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s oil consumption, is set to peak as early as 2021 even in the face of relentless growth in the vehicle fleet, according to the Edinburgh-based consultancy.

Hybrid, electric cars 

A rise in the number of hybrid and electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Tesla as well as tighter fuel standards in Europe and the United States will contribute to a historic shift in consumption.

The United States saw spectacular growth in gasoline demand following the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and as its economy recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, reaching a record of 9.326 million barrels per day (bpd) last year.

U.S. gasoline demand is expected to grow to a peak of around 9.45 million bpd in 2017 and remain largely unchanged in 2018 before slipping to 9.28 million bpd the following year, according to WoodMac.

“We expect gasoline engine efficiency to continue to improve through better deployment of batteries in hybrid vehicles,” WoodMac analyst Alan Gelder said.

Asia demand to increase

An expected recovery in oil prices in coming years is also expected to curtail demand growth, he added.

At its peak, global gasoline demand is expected to reach 25.89 million bpd in 2021, accounting for roughly a quarter of oil demand.

The decline in U.S. and European gasoline consumption will mask a steady expansion in demand in Asia, where most of the global increase in the vehicle fleet will take place.

While engine efficiencies increase, the global gasoline car fleet is expected to grow by more than 10 percent by 2025 to above 1 billion vehicles, according to WoodMac.

Vitol, the world’s top oil trader, last month said it expected global demand for gasoline and diesel to peak in 2027-2028.

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South Korean Stocks Fall on Fears of Chinese Tourism Ban

South Korean companies Friday bore the brunt of Chinese anger over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system outside Seoul, as shares tumbled after media reports of Beijing tour operators being ordered to stop selling trips to the country.

Cosmetics makers, retailers, automakers and airlines were among the biggest losers as South Korea’s main benchmark index fell 1.1 percent in afternoon trade, weighed down by fears that China may choke off a key source of tourist dollars.

South Korea is the world’s biggest duty free market.

Hyundai Motor finished down 4.4 percent after photos of a vandalized Hyundai car circulated on Chinese social media.

Reports of tourism sales ban

South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was checking the media reports on a Chinese ban to sell travel programs.

“If such reports are true, it would be an unfair action … and very regrettable,” the ministry said.

An official at South Korea’s culture ministry said it heard from some Korean tour operators that they were told by Chinese peers about the sales ban.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had not heard about the situation.

While Chinese state media have called for people to shun South Korean goods, an editorial in influential state-run tabloid Global Times struck a note of caution Friday, saying whoever vandalized the Hyundai car won’t win the support of mainstream public opinion.

“If it is proved to be related to (the missile issue), such illegal behavior is a smear on the public boycott campaign,” it said.

THAAD aimed at North Korea

Even so, South Korean political parties condemned the Chinese backlash.

“It’s despicable and arrogant. China is a G20 nation that should be leading the development of world order,” Liberty Korea Party leader Chung Woo-taik said.

Seoul and Washington say the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is designed to thwart attack from nuclear-armed North Korea, but Beijing says its far-reaching radar is targeted at China.

South Korean companies have reported difficulties in China since Seoul and Washington in July agreed to deploy the system in response to North Korean missile threats. South Korean artists have also said performances have been cancelled.

Japan backlash

But the escalating tension and Chinese media calls for retaliation have rattled investors, fearful of a repeat of previous Chinese backlashes against Japan in 2012 over territorial disputes and interpretations of history.

Along with South Korean tour operators, the auto sector may be particularly vulnerable as China had targeted Japanese carmakers in earlier disputes, analysts said.

“I’m concerned that China is harassing Korean carmakers, even at the risk of hurting its own companies,” said Ko Tae-bong, an auto analyst at Hi Investment & Securities in Seoul. Hyundai Motor is in a joint venture with a Chinese company to produce cars in China. A Hyundai spokesman declined to comment.

A spokesman for flag carrier Korean Air said it was worried about China’s reported plan to reduce tourists to South Korea. The number of Chinese tourists to South Korea has nearly quadrupled to 8 million over the past five years, accounting for nearly half of foreign visitor numbers, government data shows.

Chinese are by far the biggest spenders, propping up South Korea’s duty free market, which generates about $8 billion in annual sales.

“The reaction of the Chinese government against Korea’s THAAD deployment appears harsher than expected,” Citi said in a report.

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Americans Buying Cigars by the Thousands in Cuba

Puffing on a cigar at Cuba’s annual Habanos cigar festival, American aficionado Paul Segal said he would buy as many boxes of cigars as he could carry home in case U.S. President Donald Trump tightens regulations on visitors to the communist-run island again.

Segal, who writes a cigar blog called Segal and Cigars, said he took 25 boxes back on a trip last year, shortly after former U.S. President Barack in October removed the $100 limit on the value of rum and cigars American travelers could bring back. An inexpensive box of 25 cigars costs about $100.

Trump, who took office in January, has threatened to reverse the United States’ detente with its former Cold War foe. Segal and other American visitors to the island are not taking any chances and are stocking up.

“This may be the last trip on which I can bring back cigars,” said Segal, who had several different brands sticking out of the pockets of his guayabera shirt. “So far, I have only got about 10 boxes but I still have five days left before I head home.”

US biggest cigar market

The United States is the biggest market worldwide for cigars, but its trade embargo on Cuba prevented the Caribbean island from selling its Cohibas, Montecristos and other legendary brands there for more than half a century.

U.S. cigar aficionados have long had to make do with non-Cuban brands, such as those made in Honduras, Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.

Despite his drive to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, Democratic President Obama was unable to lift the trade embargo, which requires action by the Republican-controlled Congress.

He did, however, ease some trade and travel regulations since announcing the detente in December 2014. These proved to be a gamechanger for U.S. cigar lovers, Habanos festival participants said.

Obama a boon to cigar lovers

Nicholas Syris, who hosts the Atlanta radio show “Smooth Draws” about “the cigar lifestyle,” last year started leading cigar tours to Cuba because of the interest from listeners. Travel had become a lot easier partly because of the re-establishment of commercial flights.

Smoking with other American festivalgoers in the gardens of Havana’s iconic Hotel Nacional overlooking the Caribbean Sea, he said he brought up to 20 aficionados monthly and could not keep up with the demand.

Meanwhile, the fact travelers could now bring back as many Cuban cigars as they wanted was had an impact on the U.S. market, said Rene Castaneda, head of the North American operations of Swiss cigar manufacturer Villiger.

“We are seeing more Cuban cigars in the United States than ever and that hits sales of non-Cuban cigars,” he said.

Visitors buy thousands of cigars

Syris said some of his tour participants were buying thousands of cigars at a time. In many instances, Habanos stores did not even have enough supply for the demand.

“People reckon they had better buy now because they don’t know if it will be legal next year,” he said. “You just don’t know about tomorrow.”

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Russian Observers Parse US President’s Congressional Speech

President Donald Trump did not utter the word “Russia” In his address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week. Still, observers in Moscow zeroed in on parts of his speech, including this one: “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Wednesday that no one in the government felt put off that Trump did not mention Russia, saying it was “natural” that Trump was “busy with American affairs while our president Putin is busy with Russian affairs.”

Peskov added that U.S. and Russian interests overlap, including in such areas as anti-terrorism, and that Moscow is “full of patience” in its bid to work with Washington on such issues.

For his part, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, told VOA’s Russian service that he saw much that was new in Trump’s speech.

“The speech differed rather significantly from what we are used to hearing from Trump,” he said.

“He was much more cautious, significantly more streamlined in his wording,” he added. “I have the impression he is changing the style of his behavior; he is trying to please not just a certain group of voters, but the greatest possible number of listeners. He is saying things that are expected of him, about which some time ago he had doubts. I think he is starting to draw conclusions from his not very long experience in the presidency, during which his focus on confronting those who disagree with him and attempt to impose his point of view brought Trump significantly more problems than solutions.”

Like Peskov, Kosachev said he was not upset that Trump did not mention Russia. “I hope this is a sign that Trump’s Russia policy is still in the formative stage, that this stage will be qualified and, ultimately, productive. I would like to believe that the time of slogans that often contradict one another will pass and that a more long-term strategy, both in foreign policy generally and the Russian part of the policy in particular, will be formed.”

Kosachev said he thinks that on the basis of what the U.S. president said in his speech, it will be possible to build a new relationship with Moscow.

“I suspect that he will be prepared to build relations with external partners without excessive ideologization, not separating them into unquestioned allies and notorious enemies, but rather, in each case, weighing all the pros’ and cons’ from the point of view of how this will then affect the implementation of his program within the country, whether it will help to create new jobs, whether it will help to reduce the public debt, and so on,” he said. “… This is pragmatism, which, in my opinion, creates some hope that there will be something to negotiate with Trump.”

While Trump’s victory in last November’s U.S. presidential election was widely welcomed in Moscow, that enthusiasm has since dwindled almost to nothing.  Konstantin Kosachev tried to explain to VOA what he called this “contradiction.”

“This reaction to the outcome of the American election was more satisfaction with the fact that Mrs. Clinton did not win,” he said, referring to Trump’s opponent, Democrat and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“There was really very serious concern here that her victory would either change nothing or lead to further deterioration of Russian-American relations,” he said. “… The Trump victory at least created some space for hope. We are closely watching developments. We anticipate how they will develop without exaggerating the significance of a new president for Russian-American relations, but at the same time not losing hope that at least something could change for the better.”

Independent journalist Konstantin von Eggert t said he thinks Trump is committed to the priorities he declared during his campaign.

“It should be noted that he is remaining true to his election promises in regard to, for example, immigration, security, increasing military spending; on the foreign policy front, to competition or even confrontation with China and Iran and support for Israel,” von Eggert said. “But the specific method of implementing these pledges has not yet been fully determined. Still, something will be subject to change, given the harsh reaction which, for example, Donald Trump’s anti-immigration decree aroused in January.”

Eggert said the Kremlin might like some aspects of Trump’s foreign policy, saying in some ways, it “probably suits the current Russian leadership.”

“Obviously,” he added, “such things as human rights, let’s say, and various elements connected to political democracy in other countries are not very important to Trump. He openly says that he is not going to teach others how to live.”

Still, Eggert believes that, in general, what the new U.S. president has already laid out does not promise anything positive for Russia.

“His statements about support for NATO, his intention to be tough with Beijing and Tehran — these are all the things that Moscow either cannot be happy about, or which will present it with an unpleasant choice, especially in regard to relations involving the Moscow-Tehran-Washington and Moscow-Beijing-Washington triangles,” he said. ”

He said Trump, or “Trumpist Washington may ask Russia either to join in a more hardline stance toward Iran and China, or to offer to step aside. Neither choice is acceptable for Moscow.”

“By all accounts, relations with Russia are not a priority for Donald Trump, even if he finds a common language with Putin on Syria,” said Eggert. “If Moscow, to one degree or another, winds up in the way of Washington, in the way of Trump in the implementation of his policies, here the consequences may be extreme.

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China Supports WTO After Washington Criticizes Trade Organization

China’s government says it will support the World Trade Organization, arguing that an “open and unbiased” trading system benefits global economic growth and is in everyone’s interest.

Beijing’s comments come just a day after the Trump administration said it might not comply with WTO rulings it judged to violate American national sovereignty.

Wednesday, the administration sent its formal trade agenda to Congress and the document’s authors pledged a “more aggressive” stance on trade issues. President Donald Trump has accused China of unfair trade practices, such as manipulating its currency and stealing U.S. trade secrets. He has also said he wants to renegotiate a free trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Trump, a Republican, also took the United States out of the ratification process for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a major multilateral trade agreement, arguing the United States does better when it negotiates deals with individual nations rather than in a multinational framework.

Many congressional Democrats are critical of the WTO and U.S. trade deals, but a published report in POLITICO quotes some of them saying the Trump agenda gives too few specifics.