Monthly Archives : November 2019

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Albania’s Earthquake Search, Rescue Operation Ends

30
Nov,2019

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The search and rescue operation for earthquake survivors in Albania has ended, Prime Minister Edi Rama said Saturday.The small town of Thumane, experienced the highest death toll from Tuesday’s quake with 26 people killed, six of whom belonged to one family, and all but one under age 30. They were buried Friday.In the port city of Durres – 30 kilometers west of the capital, Tirana — the quake killed 24.  One person also died in Kurbin.In all, 51 people died, including seven children. Nine-hundred were injured.  More than 5,000 people are without shelter; and 1,200 buildings were destroyed in the 6.4-magnitude quake and the aftershocks that followed.  
 Relatives surround some of the coffins during the funeral of six members of the Cara family, killed during an earthquake that shook Albania, in Thumane, Albania, Nov. 29, 2019.Seismologist Rexhep Koci told VOA that while there is the likelihood for more aftershocks, but they would be weaker.Neighboring countries provide assistanceThe European Union sent crews to help with search and rescue immediately following the quake and now the Albanian government has asked for experts to help assess the damage.
 Volunteers distribute food at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 29, 2019.EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca said Friday that the European Union and its member states are standing with Albania and working nonstop to provide assistance “in this very difficult moment.”
 
“It is a week of deep sorrow and tragedy for Albania,” Soreca said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go once again to the Albanian people and especially to the families, friends and communities of those who have lost their lives.”More than 200 military troops from Albania, Kosovo, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, France, Turkey, Switzerland, Romania, North Macedonia, the EU and the United States, participated in the search and rescue operation.People spontaneously came from Kosovo, operating mobile kitchens, gathering donations and opening their homes. About 500 homeless Albanians are staying in a camp set up by Kosovo’s government in the city of Prizren. On Friday alone, individuals and businesses from Kosovo delivered 100 tons of much needed necessities.Remembering victimsTirana residents turned out in the city center to honor the victims, placing candles in a makeshift memorial near the statue of Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg.
Vigil for quake victims in Tirana, Nov 29 video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkVigil for quake victims in TiranaThe state of emergency declared Wednesday for Durres and Thumane was extended to the heavily damaged town of Lac. Prime Minister Rama said he made the decision after opposition leader Lulzim Basha suggested it. Rama appeared to put on hold the acrimony often on display between the two political rivals.“In this case, our concerns and ideas converge,” Rama said, inviting the opposition to participate in the Committee for Earthquake Relief.
 
For Rama, the tragedy hit close to home as his office confirmed that among the dead was his son Gregor’s fiance, Kristi Reci, whose entire family — both parents and her brother — died in Durres.A rescue dog is seen on a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 29, 2019.Physician Shkelqime Ladi said doctors are on hand to help with immediate needs.
 
“We are focusing more on the psychological aspect of the affected. Their psychological state is aggravated,” she told VOA in Lac.
 
The earthquake struck two days before Albania’s 107th independence day. There was no celebration, but a show of solidarity gave solemnity to the day.
 
Albanian President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Rama, who have been fighting bitterly over political matters, appeared together in Vlora Thursday.Independence Day coincided this year with the U.S. Thanksgiving Day, and many Albanian Americans rallied to collect donations, holding several fundraisers to help one of the poorest countries in Europe.
 
“I am so heartbroken for my people back home, for those who have lost lives and loved ones,” New York City Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, an Albanian American, told VOA.
 
Marko Kepi, of the Albanian American organization Albanian Roots, organized a fundraiser that raised close to $1 million in less than a day.
 
“This fundraiser is simply to help those who have lost their homes and to help those families who lost their loved ones, do whatever we can so they can have some sort of peace of mind, that they are not alone, they have support and they are not going to be left out in the street,” he said.Armand Mero reported from Tirana, Ilirian Agolli reported from Durres, Pellumb Sulo reported from Lac.  

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People Convicted of Terror Offenses Must Serve Full Prison Terms: UK PM

30
Nov,2019

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people convicted of terrorism offenses should not be allowed out of prison early after it was revealed the London Bridge attacker was released from jail last year before the end of his sentence.Wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, Usman Khan went on the rampage on Friday afternoon at a conference on criminal rehabilitation beside London Bridge.“I think that the practice of automatic, early release where you cut a sentence in half and let really serious, violent offenders out early simply isn’t working, and you’ve some very good evidence of how that isn’t working, I am afraid, with this case,” Johnson said on Saturday.

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Facebook Places Label on User’s Post Under Singapore ‘Fake News’ Law

30
Nov,2019

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Facebook said Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.The correction label was embedded at the bottom of the original post without any alterations to the text.Singapore requests noticeThe Singapore government said Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a Nov. 23 post that contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistleblower and election rigging.Singapore, which is expected to call a general elections within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused, and authorities said he is now under investigation. Reuters could not immediately reach Tan for comment.“As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore government to contain false information,” a spokesman for Facebook said in an emailed statement. “As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.”Some Singapore users however said that they could not see the correction notice. Facebook could not immediately explain why the notice was unavailable to some users.Blocked contentFacebook often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June, according to the company’s “transparency report.”Two years in the making and implemented only last month, Singapore’s law is the first to demand that Facebook publish corrections when directed to do so by the government.The Asia Internet Coalition, an association of internet and technology companies, called the law the “most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date,” while rights groups have said it could undermine internet freedoms, not just in Singapore, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.In the only other case under the law, which covers statements that are communicated in the country even if they originate elsewhere, opposition political figure Brad Bowyer swiftly complied with a correction request.The penalties range from prison terms of as much as 10 years or fines up to S$1 million ($733,192).

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Protests, Warnings, US Retreat Add Urgency to UN Climate Talks

30
Nov,2019

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Mass protests, a last-minute venue change and talk of climate tipping points are adding some unplanned drama to this year’s international talks on tackling global warming.Delegates from almost 200 countries had planned to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord, ironing out a few wrinkles left over from last year’s conference in Katowice, Poland, and setting the scene for a major review of their efforts in 2020.But then Brazil pulled its offer of hosting the talks and stand-in Chile, rattled by anti-government protests, canceled five weeks before the meeting. Next, President Donald Trump served formal notice that the United States was quitting the Paris accord, delivering a symbolic blow to one of his predecessor’s signature achievements.And scientists? Well, they didn’t have any good news either. Study after study published in recent months has underscored the rapid pace of global warming and the need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible.Against that backdrop, the Dec. 2-13 meeting in Madrid has gained fresh urgency.Spain’s Energy and Environment Minister Teresa Ribera poses before an interview with Reuters at the ministry headquarters in Madrid, Nov. 25, 2019.“We have to do more in less time,” said Spain’s environment minister Teresa Ribera, whose country stepped in on short notice to host the talks, saying it wanted to support “constructive multilateralism” in the wake of Chile’s announcement and the U.S. withdrawal.Organizers expect around 25,000 visitors, including heads of state, scientists, seasoned negotiators and activists to attend the two-week meeting.Carbon marketsThe main items on the agenda include finalizing rules on global carbon markets and agreeing how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.Proposals to create a worldwide market for emissions permits have been around for decades. The idea is that putting a price on carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — and gradually reducing the available permits will encourage countries and companies to cut their emissions, notably by shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources.The European Union and some other jurisdictions already operate limited emissions trading systems, but efforts to roll these out worldwide have been hampered by fears that the lack of robust and transparent rules could corrupt the market.“It would be great news to finalize this issue,” said Ribera. But she warned that the “solvency and integrity of the system” was a concern. “If we cannot complete it correctly, it’s better to lay the ground for later completion.” That view was echoed by Yamide Dagnet, a former EU climate negotiator now with the Washington-based environmental think tank World Resources Institute.Loss and damageThe question of compensating poor countries for environmental destruction, technically referred to as loss and damage, is also likely to be sensitive, Dagnet said. Attributing specific weather disasters such as hurricanes and floods, or slow but irreversible changes like sea level rise and desertification, to climate change remains a delicate issue given the potential sums involved.Concerns about the cost of climate change are growing on all fronts. Trump cited financial demands on the United States as one of the reasons for quitting the Paris accord; European countries have hesitated to raise fuel prices for fear of sparking yellow vests-style protests like those seen in France; meanwhile, businesses are beginning to consider the price not just of reducing emissions but also of failing to do so.Scientists say the time to act is now, if the world wants to meet the goal set in Paris of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C by the end of the century. By some measures average temperatures have already increased by one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, with the sharpest rise occurring in the last few decades.Tipping points“Global warming is going faster,” said Johan Rockstrom, co-director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Climate impacts are occurring earlier and we are approaching potentially irreversible thresholds earlier than we previously thought.”Rockstrom and several colleagues recently warned that the world is heading for several “tipping points” that could sharply accelerate the pace of climate change. They include deforestation in the Amazon and the decline of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.Ribera, whose formal title is interim minister for ecological transition, indicated that European Union leaders may try to send a strong signal during the meeting that the bloc is prepared to make sharper cuts to its emissions than previously pledged. A recent proposal to aim for “climate neutrality” by 2050 failed to win support from all of the EU’s 28 member states, including the host of last year’s talks, Poland.

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Twitter CEO Pledges to Live in Africa for Several Months in 2020

30
Nov,2019

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Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has wrapped up of a trip to Africa by pledging to reside on the continent next year for up to six months. Dorsey tweeted this week: “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020.”The CEO of the social media giant did not say what he planned to do on the African continent.Twitter, which is based in San Francisco, did not offer more details on Dorsey’s plans. On Dorsey’s recent trip, he visited entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Dorsey, 43, co-founded Twitter with several other entrepreneurs in 2006. He ran the company until he was ousted in 2008 but was brought back seven years later to again lead the platform.Dorsey also co-founded the payment processing app Square and is also CEO of that operation. The tech exec holds millions of stock shares in both companies, and Forbes estimates his net worth at $4.3 billion.Twitter, along with other social media companies, has faced criticism of its handling of misinformation and has come under scrutiny ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential election. Dorsey announced in October that Twitter would ban political advertisements on the platform. 

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France Summons Turkish Envoy Over Erdogan jab at Macron

30
Nov,2019

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The French government summoned the Turkish ambassador Friday to seek explanations after his president described French President Emmanuel Macron as “brain dead.”Ahead of a NATO summit next week that both men will attend, tensions have mounted around Turkey’s military operation in Syria, and its role within the trans-Atlantic defense alliance, which is also a member of the fight against so-called Islamic State.Macron, complaining of a U.S. leadership vacuum, recently lamented the “brain death” of NATO and says the allies need “a wake-up call.” And on Thursday, he reiterated criticism of Turkey’s operation in northeast Syria against Kurdish fighters who were crucial in the international fight against IS extremists.“I respect the security interests of our Turkish ally … but one can’t say that we are allies and demand solidarity, and on the other hand, present allies with a fait accompli by a military intervention which jeopardizes the action of the coalition against IS,” Macron said at a meeting with the NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg.The comments angered Turkey’s leadership and prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to shoot back Friday: “You should get checked whether you’re brain dead.”“Kicking Turkey out of NATO or not, how is that up to you? Do you have the authority to make such a decision?” Erdogan asked, characterizing Macron as “inexperienced.”Turkey also criticized Macron for agreeing to talks with a Syrian Kurd politician whom Ankara considers an extremist.The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa was summoned Friday to explain “unacceptable statements … that have no place in Turkish-French relations and cannot substitute for the necessary dialogue between the two countries.”An official in Macron’s office said that NATO allies are expecting “clear answers” from Turkey about its intentions in Syria.The Macron-Erdogan spat comes amid other problems within NATO that are expected to come to the fore at next week’s summit in London, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s complaints that other members don’t spend enough on defense and differences over the alliance’s post-Cold War mission.

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After Devastating Earthquake, Albania Begins to Bury Victims

30
Nov,2019

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Albanians began the week on a high note, as they prepared to celebrate the country’s Independence Day, and finished it in heartbreak, Friday burying loved ones who perished in the worst earthquake to hit the Balkan country in decades.Forty-nine people died, including seven children ages 2 to 8, and 900 were injured; 5,200 people are without shelter; and 1,200 buildings were destroyed in the 6.4-magnitude quake Tuesday. The panic has been palpable as people refuse to go home. They also have been rattled by several aftershocks, including one that registered at 5.0.Seismologist Rexhep Koçi told VOA that while there was the likelihood for more aftershocks, they would be increasingly weaker.The port city of Durrës, 33 kilometers west of the capital, Tirana, saw the highest death toll, with 25 people killed. Farther north, in the small town of Thumanë, the quake killed 23 people, six of whom belonged to one family, and all but one younger than 30. They were buried Friday. One person also died in the nearby small town of Kurbin.WATCH: A vigil for quake victims in Tirana
Vigil for quake victims in Tirana, Nov 29 video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkTirana residents turned out in the city center to honor the victims, placing candles in a makeshift memorial by the statue of Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg.The state of emergency declared Wednesday for Durrës and Thumanë was extended to the heavily damaged town of Laç. Prime Minister Edi Rama said he made the decision after opposition leader Lulzim Basha suggested it. Rama appeared to put on hold the acrimony often on display between the two political rivals.“In this case, our concerns and ideas converge,” Rama said, inviting the opposition to participate in the Committee for Earthquake Relief.For Rama, the tragedy hit close to home as his office confirmed that among the dead was his son Gregor’s fiancée, Kristi Reçi, who died along with her parents and brother in Durrës.Volunteers distribute food at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, Nov. 29, 2019.Helping handsAs search-and-rescue operations were closing, with one person unaccounted for in Durrës, providing aid to survivors has become the focus.WATCH: Drove Video of Aid Distribution in Durres, Albania
DRONE VIDEO – AID DISTRIBUTION DURRES, ALBANIA video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkPhysician Shkëlqime Ladi said doctors are on hand to help with immediate needs.“We are focusing more on the psychological aspect of the affected. Their psychological state is aggravated,” she told VOA in Laç.In Durrës, volunteers and residents are offering condolences and support.“We feel very bad for the families, people who have lost their lives. If needed, we can take people in. We have a house, it is not a problem at all,” Durrës resident Hysen Mnalla told VOA.Erald Peposhi is one of a group of students from Tirana who went to Durrës to help. They delivered 180 meals and 300 sandwiches.“We are here to help those who are left homeless. As you can see, there are people that need food, and we hope the situation improves soon,” he said Friday.A rescue dog is seen on a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, Nov. 29, 2019.For the second time since the earthquake, the European Union has activated its Civil Protection Mechanism to help Albania.Right after the earthquake, EU sent crews from Greece, Italy and Romania to help with search and rescue and now the government has asked for experts to help assess the damage.EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca said Friday that the European Union and its member states are standing with Albania and working nonstop to provide assistance “in this very difficult moment.”“It is a week of deep sorrow and tragedy for Albania,” Soreca said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go once again to the Albanian people and especially to the families, friends and communities of those who have lost their lives.”Neighboring Kosovo, Italy, Greece and Montenegro have sent in crews. The United States has also offered help.A woman carries her belongings from a damaged house in Thumane, western Albania, Nov. 29, 2019.‘Repaying the help I received in 1999’Her voice trembling and in tears, Emine Imeri, a volunteer from the Drenica region in Kosovo, told VOA in Thumanë the situation reminded her of 20 years ago when Albania welcomed thousands from Kosovo as they fled ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces in the Balkans conflict.“The entire Drenica, the entire Kosovo, has mobilized. We regret that we had to repay the favor in such circumstances. We would have preferred to repay what they did for us 20 years ago for a happy occasion,” she said.She also said she hoped the aid they brought would help.“People took their coat off their back to send it here,” she said.It was just one example of the outpouring of help from the new country, 90% of whose population are ethnic Albanians.People spontaneously came from Kosovo, operated mobile kitchens, gathered donations and opened their homes for those in Albania wanting to find shelter or to escape the aftershocks. On Friday alone, individuals and businesses from Kosovo delivered 100 tons of much needed necessities.Kosovo’s Security Force sent troops across the border to help, and outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj allocated 500,000 euros for earthquake relief. He visited Durrës on Friday, as did his likely successor, Albin Kurti.Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi visited Thumanë the day after the tragedy.Subdued independenceThe earthquake struck two days before Albania’s 107th anniversary of independence. There was no celebration, but a show of solidarity gave solemnity to the day.Albanian President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Rama, who have been fighting bitterly over political matters, appeared together in Vlora Thursday, where independence was declared.The Independence Day coincided this year with the U.S. Thanksgiving Day, and many Albanian Americans rallied to collect donations, holding several fundraisers to help one of the poorest countries in Europe.“I am so heartbroken for my people back home, for those who have lost lives and loved ones,” New York City Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, an Albanian American, told VOA.Marko Kepi, of the Albanian American organization Albanian Roots, organized a fundraiser that raised nearly $1 million in less than a day.“This fundraiser is simply to help those who have lost their homes and to help those families who lost their loved ones, do whatever we can so they can have some sort of peace of mind, that they are not alone, they have support and they are not going to be left out in the street,” he said.Armand Mero reported from Tirana, Ilirian Agolli reported from Durrës, Pëllumb Sulo reported from Laç.

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Dutch Police: 3 People Wounded in Hague Stabbing

30
Nov,2019

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Three people were wounded in a stabbing in The Hague’s main shopping district Friday night, and police were searching for at least one suspect, authorities said.Police spokeswoman Marije Kuiper told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that it was still too early to say where a terror motive was to blame for the attack. The area was busy at the time as shoppers looked for Black Friday holiday deals.Kuiper said it was unclear whether any of the injuries were life-threatening.The Hague police said in a statement that they were looking for a man, about 45 to 50 years old, in a grey jogging suit.The stabbing happened in the heart of The Hague shopping district where supermarket chains and luxury shops were all lit up with early Christmas decorations. Adding to the festive spirit was the lure of Black Friday, when retailers offer consumers special discounts at a time when many are seeking family presents.Police sealed off a wide perimeter behind which onlookers were kept at bay. There was no hint of panic among the public soon after the stabbing.The Netherlands had already been shocked by a similar stabbing in Amsterdam a year ago when two Americans were injured in a knife attack that prosecutors say had a “terrorist motive.”Earlier Friday in London, a man wearing a fake explosive vest stabbed several people, killing two, before he was tackled by members of the public and then fatally shot by officers on London Bridge, authorities said.
 

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Poland’s Leaders Want New Top Auditor to Go Amid Scandal

29
Nov,2019

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Poland’s government is calling for the resignation of the head of the audit office amid a swelling scandal over his contacts and dealings.Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday he has read a classified report on the dealings and financial status of Marian Banas and expects him to resign. The right-wing ruling party also said its powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, wants Banas to go.Banas insisted the allegations were “lies” and continues in his job. Under the constitution, he cannot be fired.Government critics say the stalemate exposes the chaos that the ruling Law and Justice party has brought to the state, with policies of ignoring the constitution and undermining judicial independence and the democratic system of checks and balances.Banas, a former finance minister and tax administration head, was nominated and praised as “crystal clean” by the ruling party and approved by parliament as head of the Supreme Audit Office in August.But recent media reports said a house that he owned in the southern city of Krakow was rented at the time to an apparent sex business; the reports he was required to make as a state official of his financial status were incomplete; and his former subordinates at the finance ministry claimed sales tax that was not due.The state Anti-Corruption Office on Friday notified prosecutors of irregularities in Banas’ financial reports, alleging he has failed to list all of his property and real estate.Banas denies allegationsBanas said he “categorically” denied the allegations and declared he was ready to give all needed explanations.Morawiecki said if Banas won’t resign, the government has a Plan B, which he did not disclose.Opposition parties warned they would not help Law and Justice, which won power in 2015, end the impasse it had built.They claimed the ruling party had failed to properly vet Banas for the sensitive job, while being quick to punish and discredit various judges who had criticized the party’s policies and defended judicial independence.
 

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Міжбанк: гривня йде на новий рекорд щодо долара

29
Nov,2019

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На українському міжбанківському валютному ринку короткочасне посилення долара знову змінилося послабленням американської валюти. Як повідомляє сайт Finance.ua, станом на 13:25 котирування становили 23 гривні 94–96 копійок.

Опівдні посилення гривні частково відбив Національний банк України у своєму довідковому значенні курсу 23 гривні 98 копійок, що на 6 копійок менше за офіційний курс на 29 листопада і є повторенням зафіксованого раніше цього тижня рекордного за 46 місяців значення.

«Торги по долару ближче до обіду на піку активності. Йдуть операції по лотах до 1 мільйона доларів при зростанні пропозиції валюти в останні 30 хвилин сесії, що поки не відбилося на котируваннях», – вказують фахівці сайту «Мінфін».

 

Надмірне посилення гривні щодо долара є не менш небезпечним, ніж стрімка девальвація національної валюти. Зокрема, посилення понад рівень, закріплений у розрахунках уряду, ставить під загрозу виконання дохідної частини державного бюджету. Саме через це НБУ, викуповуючи надлишок пропозиції долара, намагається не допустити більшого посилення гривні.

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Several Stabbed Near London Bridge; Man Detained

29
Nov,2019

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British police cleared the area around London Bridge in the center of the British capital on Friday following a stabbing and shooting incident that left several people wounded.Police said one man had been detained, and witnesses reported seeing a man shot by armed officers.The Metropolitan Police force said officers were called just before 2 p.m. Friday “to a stabbing at premises near to London Bridge.”They said a man was detained and “a number of people have been injured.” London Ambulance Service said it had crews on the scene.At this stage, the circumstances relating to the incident at #LondonBridge remain unclear. However, as a precaution, we are currently responding to this incident as though it is terror-related.One man has been shot by police. We will provide further information when possible.— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 29, 2019Witnesses reported seeing what appeared to be fighting on the bridge and hearing several gunshots. Sky News reported that police had shot the apparent attacker.Amanda Hunter said she was on a bus crossing the bridge when she heard shots.”(The bus) all of a sudden stopped and there was commotion and I looked out the window and I just saw these three police officers going over to a man,” she told the BBC.”It seemed like there was something in his hand, I’m not 100% sure, but then one of the police officers shot him.”BBC reporter John McManus was in the area and said he saw figures grappling on the bridge. He said: “I thought it was initially a fight,” but then shots rang out.London BridgeOne video posted on social media showed two men struggling on the bridge before police pulled a man in civilian clothes off a black-clad man on the ground.Other images showed police, guns drawn pointing at a figure on the ground in the distance.Scores of police descended on the area and ushered people away from the bridge, which links the city’s business district with the south bank of the River Thames.Cars and buses on the busy bride were at a standstill, with a white truck stopped diagonally across the lanes. Video footage showed police pointing guns at the truck before moving to check its container.British Transport Police said London Bridge station, one of the city’s busiest rail hubs, was closed and trains were not stopping there.City of London Police, the force responsible for the business district, urged people to stay away from the area.London Bridge was the scene of a June 2017 attack when Islamic State-inspired attackers ran down people on the bridge, killing two, before stabbing several people to death in nearby Borough Market.In March 2017, an attacker fatally struck four people with a car on nearby Westminster Bridge then fatally stabbed a police officer before security forces shot and killed him in a courtyard outside Parliament.

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NATO Seeks to Head Off Budget Row Saying Spending is Rising

29
Nov,2019

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that European allies and Canada are spending even more than previously thought on defense, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to demand once more that other leaders boost their military budgets.Trump meets with his NATO counterparts in London on Dec. 3-4. The previous two NATO summits were dominated by his allegations that other allies are not pulling their weight. While they do not owe the United States any money, Washington does spend more on defense than all its allies combined.In what appears to be a pre-emptive political strike, Stoltenberg said that European allies and Canada are now projected to increase spending on their national military budgets by around $130 billion between 2016 and 2020. Previously, the figure was forecast to be “more than $100 billion.””The trend is up. Year by year we are increasing, and year by year we are adding billions to our defense spending,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, where the 29-member trans-Atlantic military alliance has a new billion-dollar headquarters.NATO countries agreed in 2014 to halt the defense spending cuts they introduced after the Cold War and boost their budgets in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to unilaterally annex the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.The aim was for each ally to be spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024. Stoltenberg said that Bulgaria has now joined a list of nine member countries that respect that target.It’s the third day in a row that NATO has announced some new budget or defense measure likely to please Trump. On Wednesday, Stoltenberg unveiled a new contract for an upgrade of the alliance’s aging fleet of U.S.-made surveillance planes worth $1 billion.Then on Thursday, he said that Washington will in future pay less into NATO’s common budget for running its headquarters and other operations. That budget is worth about $2 billion. Germany and Washington will from next year each pay 16% — a 6% bonus for the U.S.Germany, often a target of Trump’s ire, is forecast to reach just 1.5% of GDP by 2024 but does intend to move to 2% by around 2031. Indeed, Berlin’s hike in contributions to its national defense budget accounts for around 20% of the $130 billion increase trumpeted by Stoltenberg.French President Emmanuel Macron has said he hopes NATO leaders can move beyond the seemingly endless spending debate next week and focus on important strategic interests, like who the alliance’s adversaries are, how to cope with an unpredictable member like Turkey and improve ties with Russia.

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Surge in New Voters Sparks Talk of UK Election ‘Youthquake’

29
Nov,2019

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In a British election dominated by Brexit, young voters who had no say in the country’s decision to leave the European Union could hold the key to victory. That is, if they can be bothered to vote.It has long been a truth in British politics that young people vote in lower numbers than older ones. In the last election in 2017, just more than half of under-35s voted, compared to more than 70% of those older than 60.But that may be changing. According to official figures, 3.85 million people registered to vote between the day the election was called on Oct. 29 and Tuesday’s registration deadline _ two-thirds of them under 35. The number of new registrations is almost a third higher than in 2017.Amy Heley of Vote for your Future, a group working to increase youth participation, says the figure is “really encouraging, and shows that politics has been so high profile recently that it is encouraging more young people to vote.”Moderator Julie Etchingham addresses Conservative leader Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, during a televised debate ahead of the general election in London, Nov. 19, 2019.New voters are unimpressedThat doesn’t mean, however, that young voters like what they see. Many appear unimpressed with the choice between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, the main opposition Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and a handful of smaller parties.“I think they’re all unlikeable,” said Callum Nelson, a 21-year-old law student attending a question session with local candidates at his London college. “I’m tempted to exercise my right to spoil my ballot.”About 46 million people are eligible to vote in the Dec. 12 election to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, including hundreds of thousands who were too young to take part in the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum. Britain’s voting age is 18, although Labour and other parties, including the centrist Liberal Democrats and environmentalist Greens, want it lowered to 16.The current election campaign is a product of that 2016 vote, in which Britons decided by 52%-48% to leave the European Union after more than four decades of membership.The European Union’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group coordinator, attend a Brexit meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 2, 2019.More than three years on, the country remains an EU member. Johnson pushed for the December election, which is taking place more than two years early, in hopes of winning a majority and breaking Britain’s political impasse over Brexit. He says that if the Conservatives win a majority, he will get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.Labour says it will negotiate a new Brexit deal, then give voters a choice between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc. It also has a radical domestic agenda, promising to nationalize key industries and utilities, hike the minimum wage and give free internet access to all.While most opinion polls give Johnson’s Conservatives a substantial lead overall, the surge in new young voters is good news for Labour, which is seeking to defy the odds and win a general election for the first time since 2005.Young voters are more likely than their older compatriots to oppose Brexit, which will end Britons’ right to work and live in 27 other European nations and will have a major — though as yet unknown — economic impact.Other issuesMatt Walsh, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Cardiff, said young voters also strongly back abolition of tuition fees and stronger action against climate change, both policies “at the center of the offer that the Labour Party is putting forward to young people.”Labour’s strategy “is to try and grab those missing voters, get them registered and get them to vote and support Labour policies,” he said.Labour is spending more than its main rival on social media ads, churning out a stream of memes and messages on Facebook and Instagram. It is also outspending the Conservatives on Snapchat, whose users tend to be younger than those on the other networks. Twitter has banned all political advertising.Labour also pushed to get young people to register to vote before the Nov. 26 deadline, spreading the message through tweets from celebrity supporters, including grime artist Stormzy. Corbyn posted a link to the government’s voter registration website 26 times on Twitter and 31 times on Facebook in the month before the deadline. Johnson, in contrast, didn’t post the link or the word “register” at all on Twitter, and just once on Facebook.While some analysts are forecasting an electoral “youthquake,” others are cautious. This is a rare winter election, and turnout could suffer if Dec. 12 is a wet, cold day. It’s also difficult to know how much the voters’ decision will be motivated by Brexit and how much by domestic issues.“At this point, I’m kind of sick of Brexit,” said Susie Chilver, a first-year politics student at the University of Bristol, in southwest England. “So, the things that are swaying it for me are things like social housing, and things like health care, more about social issues than foreign policy.”Konstantinos Matakos, senior lecturer in the department of political economy at King’s College London, said there is an assumption that young voters are “leaning more Labour.” But he says their geographical spread, and whether they show up on polling day, will ultimately determine their impact on the outcome.“It’s not a straightforward assumption to say that this surge in the registration rates will undoubtedly benefit Labour in terms of gaining electoral seats,” he said.Some young voters agree that Labour shouldn’t take their support for granted.“People think that students will definitely vote for Labour,” said Molly Jones, a 19-year-old student at London’s Westminster Kingsway College. “But a lot of them who I’ve spoken to, it’s not like that. They will vote for the Liberal Democrats, or the Greens, or even the Conservatives.“All the parties are just a mess at the moment, and all the leaders are terrible,” she said. “It makes it really hard to vote for someone — you just hold your nose and vote.”
 

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NATO at 70: Internal Tensions, External Threats as Leaders Set to Gather

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Nov,2019

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NATO leaders are preparing to gather in London for a two-day meeting Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the alliance, but growing tensions among members could overshadow the celebrations.The war in Syria and the ongoing Russian threat will serve as the backdrop to the summit. Fellow NATO members the United States and Turkey came close to confrontation in northern Syria last month, rattling the alliance.”The position of Turkey in the North Atlantic alliance is a difficult one,” said Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London in an interview with VOA this week.”Turkey’s decision to become involved in military operations in the Middle East against the wishes of most of its allies, including the United States, [and] Turkey’s decision to buy Russian military equipment … [are] riling with many countries in Europe.”NATO members say it’s better to have Turkey inside than outside the alliance.”NATO is about European security, it’s not about coordinating policies in the Middle East,” Eyal said.Where American troops once kept the peace, Russian forces now patrol northern Syria. The U.S. withdrawal has fueled concerns over America’s commitment to NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron recently called the alliance “brain dead” and urged Europe to create its own security architecture. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 28, 2019.The comments elicited a sharp rebuke from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg this week.”European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. We need both. And we have to also understand that, especially after Brexit, the EU cannot defend Europe,” Stoltenberg told reporters.Europe still sees Russia as the biggest threat following its 2014 forceful annexation of Crimea and ongoing campaigns of espionage, cyberwarfare and disinformation.European concerns over the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, on collective defense, are not borne out by facts on the ground, Eyal said.”The reality is the Pentagon’s spending in Europe is increasing, the number of U.S. troops is increasing.”The deployment of U.S. troops in Europe is seen differently in Moscow.”Some of the Eastern European nations are trying to get American boots on the ground despite the fact that Article 5 should cover their security, which suggests that they trust the United States more than they trust NATO,” Andrey Kortunov of the Russian Council on International Affairs in Moscow told VOA in a recent interview.U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded that European NATO members “share the burden.” Germany on Wednesday pledged to meet the NATO defense spending target of 2% of GDP, but only by the 2030s.”The U.S. president should be credited with actually banging the table hard enough for the United States to be heard,” Eya said, “This is, and it’s important sometimes to repeat the cliché, the most successful alliance in modern history.”NATO will hope that is cause for celebration as leaders gather for its 70th anniversary.

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Aftershocks Rattle Albania, Leaving Residents on Edge

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Nov,2019

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Residents remained on edge Thursday in the earthquake-stricken areas of Albania, as aftershocks continued to rattle the area.Thursday afternoon, another 5.0-magnitude quake was registered near the city of Thumane just hours after authorities called off search-and-rescue operations in the area after recovering the bodies of the last people who had been reported missing.The 6.4-magnitude temblor that struck Tuesday caused the most devastation in Thumane, where 23 people were killed, including seven from one family.“God let us keep two (members of the family) but took seven from us,” survivor Sul Cara told VOA. “Now we are focused on paying our respects to the dead, as honor and tradition demands of us. We will try our best to show strength as we send off seven loved ones to burial. This is a heavy tragedy to bear, but at the same time we have found strength in the outpouring of support, not just from this town but from the whole country.”Albanians sit at a makeshift camp in Durres, Nov. 28, 2019, after an earthquake shook Albania.The death toll rose to 47 as search operations continued in other locations, but rescuers are increasingly pessimistic survivors will be found.Residents in many neighborhoods remain in tents or have chosen to move in with relatives in other towns, as authorities warn that buildings remain unsafe.Dangerous aftershocksAlbanians should heed the warnings, Stanford University geophysics professor Ross Stein told VOA’s Albanian Service.Stein said that the days, even months after a major earthquake, aftershocks are a very serious threat.“The risk of another large shock today is much higher than it was a few days ago before the 6.4 struck. The likelihood of a large aftershock is much higher than the likelihood of the same shock had there not been a main shock at all,” he said.Stein, who has extensively studied seismic activity in the Balkans, said Tuesday’s earthquake was not a surprise from a geological point of view. He said Albania is “the most seismically active part of the Balkan region,” which has exhibited historically “larger and more frequent earthquakes even than Italy.”The seismic activity is the reason for Albania’s natural beauty, he said.“The reason why Albania is so beautiful is because it has this wonderful hill-valley topography and that is produced because the region is being compressed to the east and west. Think of a carpet and you’re a pushing a carpet across the floor and you’re producing folds,” Stein said.A rescue dog searches for survivors in a collapsed building in Durres, Nov. 28, 2019, after an earthquake shook Albania.Quake preparationBut despite the area’s history of earthquakes, scientists can’t predict where and when the next one will strike.The only possible thing people can do, he said, is have a good preparation strategy.He said there is a need to prioritize earthquake protections, “and the region around Tirana and along the coast of Albania have the highest hazard and indicate to us, in a broad sense, this is where we need to focus our attention.”Thursday marked Albania’s 107th independence anniversary. President Ilir Meta called on his countrymen to use the moment “to help heal the wounds caused by the earthquake.”

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Ban Black Friday? French Activists, LAwmakers Want to Try

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Nov,2019

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Dozens of French activists blocked an Amazon warehouse south of Paris in a Black Friday-inspired protest, amid increased opposition to the post-Thanksgiving sales phenomenon that has seen a group of French lawmakers push to ban it altogether.Protesters from climate group Amis de la terre (Friends of the Earth) spread hay and old refrigerators and microwaves on the driveway leading to the warehouse in Bretigny-sur-Orge on Thursday. They held signs in front of the gates reading “Amazon: For the climate, for jobs, stop expansion, stop over-production!”The activists were later dislodged by police.More demonstrations are expected as Black Friday looms into view. French climate groups are planning “Block Friday” demonstrations Friday.Their objections are garnering some support within France’s National Assembly. Some French lawmakers want to ban Black Friday, which has morphed into a global phenomenon even though it stems from a specifically U.S. holiday: Thanksgiving Thursday.A French legislative committee passed an amendment Monday that proposes prohibiting Black Friday since it causes “resource waste” and “overconsumption.”The amendment, which was put forward by France’s former environment minister, Delphine Batho, will be debated next month. France’s e-commerce union has condemned it.On Europe 1 radio Thursday, France’s ecological transition minister, Elisabeth Borne, criticized Black Friday for creating “traffic jams, pollution, and gas emissions.”She added that she would support Black Friday if it helped small French businesses, but said it mostly benefits large online retailers.

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