The Vatican on Thursday formally repudiated the colonial-era “doctrine of discovery”, used centuries ago to justify European conquests of Africa and the Americas, saying “it is not part of Catholic Church teaching.”

The Vatican acknowledged in a statement from its culture and human development departments that papal documents from the 15th century were used by colonial powers to give legitimacy to their actions, which included slavery.

The departments specifically mentioned the papal bulls Dum Diversas (Until Different) from 1452, Romanus Pontifex (The Roman Pontiff) from 1455, and Inter Caetera (Among Other Things) from 1493.

“Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith,” the departments said.

They said they “were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”

The Vatican departments admitted that the bulls, which gave political cover to Spanish and Portuguese conquests in Africa and the Americas, “did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples.”

“It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon,” they said.

The Roman Catholic Church has long faced accusations of being complicit with colonial abuses committed by Western invaders and their descendants claiming to be spreading the Christian faith.

Argentine-born Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, has made several outreach gestures towards indigenous people. Last year, he travelled to Canada’s Arctic region to apologize for the oppression of the Inuit people.

In 2007, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, published a book that condemned rich countries for having mercilessly “plundered and sacked” Africa and other poor regions, and for exporting to them the “cynicism of a world without God.”


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New developments:     

Spain to send six Leopard tanks to Ukraine in April 
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls April rotating U.N. Security Council presidency held by Russia “a bad joke.” Kuleba tweeted the world “can’t be a safe place with Russia at UNSC.”  
Russia’s Federal Security Service says Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges. 

Turkey’s parliament is set to vote Thursday on Finland’s bid to join NATO. 

Finland and neighboring Sweden each broke with decades of nonalignment with their applications to join the military alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. 

Since their accession bids were ratified at a NATO summit in July, NATO member states have gone through their own processes of giving final approval for Finland and Sweden. 

Hungary gave its approval to Finland on Monday, leaving only Turkey remaining in a process that must be unanimous among current NATO members. 

Both Finland and Sweden had their bids slowed as Turkey expressed concerns that the countries were too lenient toward groups that Turkey considers terror organizations.  Representatives from the three countries met earlier this month to resolve their outstanding issues, but Turkey has yet to indicate it will ultimately support Sweden’s bid. 

Sweden, and NATO leaders, have said Sweden has carried out a series of reforms to overcome Turkey’s concerns.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said he expected both Finland and Sweden will become NATO members. 

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 


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Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, the United States has earmarked about $113 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine – making it one of the largest ever assistance packages approved by the US government. Investigators assured lawmakers Wednesday the money is being strictly monitored to ensure it is being used as Congress intended. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson spoke with members of Congress about their concerns.
Camera: Saqib Ui Islam and Kateryna Lisunova


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Poland’s agriculture minister promised financial support from the government and the European Union and easier rules for constructing grain storage as he met Wednesday with farmers angered by falling grain prices.

Farmers in Poland blame the drop in prices on an inflow of huge amounts of Ukrainian grain that was supposed to go to Africa and the Middle East. Bulgarian farmers also staged a border protest Wednesday over the issue.

Poland and other countries in the region have offered to help transit Ukraine grain to third-country markets after Russia blocked traditional routes when it invaded Ukraine 13 months ago. The European Union, which borders Ukraine, has waived customs duties and import quotas to facilitate the transport — also through Romania and Bulgaria — to markets that had counted on the deliveries.

But farmers in transit countries say the promised out-channels are not working as planned. As a result, they argue, the grain stays, flooding their markets and bringing prices down — to their great loss — while fertilizer and energy costs are skyrocketing.

After a round of talks with farmer organizations, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said they agreed on more than $277 million in compensation to farmers and traders who suffered financial losses and subsidies for companies transporting the grain to ports, to be shipped out of Poland.

The ministry also agreed to waive permission requirements for building small-sized grain storage facilities. But the farmers are expecting more talks and more support.

In Bulgaria, hundreds of farmers on Wednesday began a three-day blockade of the main checkpoints on the border with Romania to protest tariff-free imports of Ukrainian grain. They say about 40% of their crop from last year remains unsold amid huge supply, and there is no storage room just a few months ahead of the coming harvest.

They displayed banners reading: “Stop the genocide of agriculture” and “We want to be competitive farmers.”

Last week, Brussels offered a total of $61 million in compensation to affected farmers, of which Bulgaria would receive about $18 million and Poland about $32.5 million euros — amounts that protesters and some governments say are insufficient.

Daniela Dimitrova, regional leader of Bulgaria’s grain producers’ union, said Ukrainian imports make Bulgarian farmers noncompetitive.

“We stand in solidarity with Europe and its support for Ukraine, but the European Commission should look at each individual member state and make farmers competitive,” she said.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said grain from Ukraine was “destabilizing our market” and steps should be taken to urgently export it while reducing imports from Ukraine. He said the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had regulations at its disposal to get the situation under control, as it was having negative effects also on other countries in the region.

“We do not agree for this grain to come to Poland’s and Romania’s markets in huge amounts and destabilize our markets,” Morawiecki told a news conference, while stressing that “transit is most welcome.”

At the start of the talks with farmers and grain exporters, Kowalczyk, the agriculture minister, blamed falling grain prices on a world-wide trend. He said that while more compensation funds could be expected from Brussels the main goal was to increase grain export and free space in silos ahead of this summer’s Polish harvest. He admitted that the original plan to transit grain through Poland did not go exactly as expected.


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King Charles III arrived in Berlin on Wednesday for his first foreign trip as Britain’s monarch, hoping to improve the U.K.’s relations with the European Union and show he can win hearts and minds abroad, just as his mother did for seven decades.

Charles and Camilla, the queen consort, landed at Berlin’s government airport in the early afternoon. The king and his wife paused at the top of their plane’s stairs to receive a 21-gun salute as two military jets performed a flyover.

The royal couple said in a joint statement, released on their official Twitter account, that it was a “great joy” to be able to develop the “longstanding friendship between our two nations.”

An hour later, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife, Elke Buedenbender, welcomed them with military honors at the German capital’s historic Brandenburg Gate.

Soldiers hoisted the British and German flags as the national anthems were played. Steinmeier and Charles then strolled past the cheering, flag-waving crowd, shaking hands and chatting briefly with people. Journalists and security personnel trailed the royal couple and their German hosts as they made their way back to their motorcade.

Charles, 74, who ascended the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September, is set to be crowned on May 6. As Britain’s head of state, the king meets weekly with the prime minister and retains his mother’s role as leader of the Commonwealth.

He had initially planned to visit France before heading to Germany, but the first leg of his trip was canceled due to massive protests over the French government’s efforts to raise the country’s retirement age by two years.

Billed as a multi-day tour of the EU’s two biggest countries, the trip was designed to underscore British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s efforts to rebuild relations with the bloc after six years of arguments over Brexit and highlight the countries’ shared history as they work together to combat Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Highlighting the diplomatic importance of the trip, Charles was accompanied by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, James Cleverley.

Charles, a former naval officer who is the first British monarch to earn a university degree, is expected to insert heft where his glamorous mother once wielded star power.

During an afternoon reception and again at a white tie evening banquet at Palace Bellevue, the German president’s official residence, Steinmeier remarked on the significance of Charles’s first visit taking him to Berlin, calling it “a wonderful personal gesture and at the same time an important sign for German-British relations.”

Steinmeier noted that Britain began the tortuous process of leaving the EU on March 29, 2017.

“For me personally, this was a sad day,” he said. “Today, exactly six years later, we open a new chapter.”

Steinmeier paid tribute to Charles’ mother Elizabeth, stressing how much she had done to foster German-British ties.

“Your family stands for continuity, for stability, particularly in times of change,” he said, noting that Charles, too, had visited Germany more than 40 times as a prince.

It was a subject picked up by Charles, who said the countries’ friendship was of great importance to his mother, who enjoyed immense popularity in Germany.

“The relationship between Germany and the United Kingdom matters greatly to me too,” he said. “I am more convinced than ever of its enduring value to us all.”

“It means so much to us that my wife and I could come to Germany for this very first overseas tour of my reign,” said Charles. “I can only assure you that throughout the time that is granted to me as king, I will do all I can to strengthen the connections between us.”

Switching from English to near-flawless German, Charles insisted: “Our ties will become even stronger, I’m convinced of that, if we work together for a sustainable future in prosperity and security.”

The banquet was attended by guests including former Chancellor Angela Merkel and scientist Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech that developed the first widely approved coronavirus vaccine.

On Thursday, the king is scheduled to give a speech to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. He will also meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz, talk to Ukrainian refugees and meet with British and Germany military personnel who are working together on joint projects. In the afternoon he will visit an organic farm outside of Berlin.

The royal couple plan to go to Hamburg on Friday, where they will visit the Kindertransport memorial for Jewish children who fled from Germany to Britain during the Third Reich, and attend a green energy event before returning to the U.K.

The king was urged to make the trip by Sunak, who during his first six months in office negotiated a settlement to the long-running dispute over post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland and reached a deal with France to combat smugglers ferrying migrants across the English Channel in small boats. Sunak hopes goodwill created by a royal visit can help pave the way for progress on other issues, including Britain’s return to an EU program that funds scientific research across Europe.


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An Azerbaijani student studying in Germany has disappeared after traveling to Iran to meet his girlfriend, according to his family.

Farid Safarli’s mother, who is currently in Iran searching for him, told VOA that Iranian law enforcement agencies have not given her any information about him.

“There was no information about Farid in the system of law enforcement agencies. Some agencies even refused to check the system,” Dilara Asgarova told VOA.

“They said that if Farid had committed a misdemeanor, there would have been information about him in the system. But information about felonies does not appear in the system. I asked what constitutes a felony? And they said espionage and other crimes. So, we have not been able to get any information about Farid so far.”

Asgarova said she has hired a lawyer in Iran to help her search.

According to the press service of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry was notified on March 9 that Farid Safarli, a citizen of Azerbaijan and a student at Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany, went to Iran on February 20 but his family has not heard from him since March 4.

Safarli’s mother said she knows her son’s phone was active on March 6 and 10.

“Farid’s phone was turned on at one point in time. His Telegram account showed that he was active. I called immediately, but no one picked up,” Asgarova told VOA.

Safarli met his girlfriend, who is an Iranian citizen, in Jena, Germany, where she was participating in a medical training program at a local university. She left for Iran after her training ended, his mother told VOA.

“After the training, she returned to Iran. Nevertheless, they maintained connection via phone calls. They decided to meet in Istanbul. Farid went to Istanbul, but she could not get her visa at the time. So, Farid went to Iran from Istanbul,” she said.

Asgarova, who earlier had traveled to Germany in her search for her son, said German police were able to get access to the information on Safarli’s laptop that she found in his apartment.

“They recovered phone numbers, photos, names, part of [the girlfriend’s] surname, workplace, just a lot of information about Farid’s girlfriend,” she said.

German police also confirmed with Pegasus Airlines that Safarli had not flown anywhere since arriving in Tehran last month.

“The police said that they received information from the airline company that Farid Safarli had not taken any flights out of Tehran. They sent a letter to the Iranian Embassy in Germany, inquiring about Farid. But the Iranian Embassy has not yet responded to the police.”

Asgarova, who then left for Iran, said she has received conflicting information from the staff of the hospital in Iran, where her son’s girlfriend was said to be working as an intern.

“First when I called them, they told me she had taken leave and had not gone to work for 20 days. Those 20 days coincide with the time my son went missing. But when I got to the hospital, the situation changed. They said she never worked there,” Asgarova told VOA.

The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, Aykhan Hajizada, told VOA that the ministry has sent a diplomatic note to the Iranian Embassy requesting information about the matter. But the embassy has not responded yet.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a note to the Iranian Embassy in our country in order to clarify the mentioned information and is currently waiting for a response from the other side,” he said.

Asgarova said she has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, asking them to take more measures to ensure that İran responds to their diplomatic note.

“Maybe they can use the mediation of other countries. They should apply to international organizations. What if Iran stays silent forever? Are we going to sit and wait for their answer forever?” she asked.

“As a mother, I am very worried about the fate of my son. I am extremely worried. Maybe my son is in prison here in Tehran, a hundred meters away from me. But I can’t get any information from him. No one is giving me any information.”

International human rights groups for years have cataloged the Iranian government’s systematic use of enforced disappearances against thousands of people, often women, ethnic and religious minorities and others seen as a threat by the state. Some are freed after years of detention but others have been executed following sham trials.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service, with Parvana Bayramova contributing.


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Belgian authorities have charged seven people over “possible terrorist attacks,” federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The announcement came the day after prosecutors said they had detained eight people following raids on suspicion of planning an Islamist attack in Belgium.

In their latest statement, the prosecutors said four people had been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense, attempted assassination and intending to spread a message to incite the commission of a terrorist offense.

The four — three Belgians and one Turk — were all linked to a case in the city of Antwerp, the prosecutors said. They would appear before a court there on April 3, the statement said.

A further three people — two Belgians and one Bulgarian — were charged in a case in Brussels.

Two of them have been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group.

The third person has been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense and spreading a message with the intention of inciting the commission of a terrorist offense, prosecutors said.

All three people charged in the Brussels case will appear before a court in the Belgian capital on April 3.

In their previous statement, prosecutors said police carried out raids late on Monday at five addresses in Brussels, Antwerp and in Eupen, a city near the German border, and detained five men, at least two of them suspected of planning an attack.

In a separate but linked investigation, police raided three other addresses in and near Brussels and detained three people, also on suspicion of planning an attack.

Belgium was the home to a number of the perpetrators of the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and Brussels was itself the target of twin bomb attacks at its airport and on its metro in March 2016, when 32 people were killed.

Brussels is home to European Union institutions and NATO.


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Pope Francis was hospitalized with a lung infection Wednesday after experiencing difficulty breathing in recent days and will remain in the hospital for several days of treatment, the Vatican said.

The 86-year-old pope doesn’t have COVID-19, spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement late Wednesday.

The hospitalization was the first since Francis spent 10 days at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital in July 2021 to have 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon removed.

It immediately raised questions about Francis’ overall health and his ability to celebrate the busy Holy Week events that begin this weekend with Palm Sunday.

Bruni said Francis had been suffering breathing troubles in recent days and went to the Gemelli hospital for tests.

“The tests showed a respiratory infection (COVID-19 infection excluded) that will require some days of medical therapy,” Bruni’s statement said.

Francis appeared in relatively good form during his regularly scheduled general audience earlier Wednesday, though he grimaced strongly while getting in and out of the “popemobile.”

Francis had part of one lung removed when he was a young man because of a a respiratory infection, and he often speaks in a whisper. But he got through the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic without at least any public word of ever testing positive.

Francis had been set to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, kicking off the Vatican’s Holy Week observances: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and finally Easter Sunday on April 9. He has canceled all audiences through Friday, but it wasn’t clear whether he could keep the Holy Week plans.

Francis has used a wheelchair for more than a year because of strained ligaments in his right knee and a small knee fracture. He has said the injury was healing, and he has been walking more with a cane of late.

Francis also has said he resisted having surgery for the knee problems because he didn’t respond well to general anesthesia during the 2021 intestinal surgery.

He said soon after the surgery that he had recovered fully and could eat normally. But in a January 24 interview with The Associated Press, Francis said his diverticulosis, or bulges in the intestinal wall, had returned.


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U.S. officials said Tuesday they will await the findings of three independent European investigations into the September blasts that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea. 

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters President Joe Biden is confident the probes will be as thorough as possible, and that they should provide a better sense of what happened. 

Kirby said last week the United States believes the blasts were an act of sabotage and that the U.S. was not involved in any way. 

A Russian resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for an international investigation into the blasts failed to win support, earning three votes in favor, short of the nine needed for approval. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the United States and its allies had done everything possible to thwart an investigation, while U.S. envoy Robert Wood said it is Russia that is not interested in an impartial investigation. 

Between September 26 and 29, 2022, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which run along the floor of the Baltic Sea, and which Russia uses to supply Europe with gas. 

VOA United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and VOA White House correspondent Paris Huang contributed to this report.  


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On board a Boeing 737 medevac plane, Poland, March 29, 2023 (AFP) –

You can see the pain held just in check in the faces of Ukraine’s war wounded as they are evacuated in a flying hospital.

“It’s the first time I’ve taken a plane,” says 22-year-old Mykola Fedirko, who was hit by a shell holding off Russian troops in a trench in the Donetsk region.

“I would have loved to be going to Denmark for a holiday and not to hospital because of my wound,” says the 22-year-old salesman-turned-soldier, whose lower leg is held in place by metal pins.

Fedirko is one of around 2,000 wounded who have been evacuated from Ukraine to hospitals across Europe since the war started more than a year ago.

Most have been injured in fighting, but some are critically ill civilians.

AFP is the first international media outlet allowed on one of the medical evacuation (medevac) flights carried out by Norway in collaboration with the European Union in a specially adapted Boeing 737.

“We established this scheme at the request of Ukraine… to alleviate the burden on the Ukrainian hospitals,” says Juan Escalante of the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.

The project is “unprecedented at the continental level” and was set up “in record time”, he adds.

Some 859 health facilities in Ukraine have been attacked since the Russian invasion, according to the World Health Organization.

Bombings of hospitals, maternity wards and medical storage units mean almost half a million people a month are deprived of medical care, the Norwegian authorities estimate.

Wounded and weapons cross

The flying hospital, a transformed passenger plane owned by Scandinavian carrier SAS, lands at Rzeszow airport in southeastern Poland, 70 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, to pick up the injured before flying them over two days to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Cologne and Oslo.

A hub for delivering arms to Ukraine, Rzeszow airport has dozens of anti-air missiles and several large cargo aircraft unloading pallets of ammunition just a few feet away from where the war wounded are loaded onto the medevac plane.

The crew of the medevac flight are civilians, but the medical staff are from the Norwegian military.

In an odd semblance of normality, a stewardess hands out pizzas, snacks and soft drinks.

Oleksiy Radzyvil, 28, who has injuries to both legs, devours his Margherita pizza and washes it down with a Coke.

With his wild mane and perpetual smile, Radyzvil sticks out in the grim surroundings.

He was even smiling in December when he regained consciousness after a Russian shell destroyed his vehicle, sending him several meters into the air in Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

“I smiled because I was alive,” he recalls.

Since then, he’s been treated in six hospitals in Ukraine.

“I hope that I will get better… that European doctors in the Netherlands will help.”

‘Fight against Putin’

In Europe, the patient transfers are seen as a way of helping the war effort.

They are “another way to fight against Putin”, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said as she visited a military hospital in Zaragoza last year.

The modified Boeing is equipped with 20 hospital beds, monitors, ventilators, blood transfusion equipment and countless vials of antibiotics.

It’s “like a small intensive care unit in the air”, says Hakon Asak, a lieutenant-colonel from the Norwegian military’s medical service.

“We’ve had no deaths onboard so far. Thank God for that,” he adds, a blue-and-yellow “Free Ukraine” bracelet looped around his wrist.

Most of the patients may look well, he says, “but they are still in severe condition, and we know that some who have been medevacked to different countries have not survived.”

Suffering children

In the cockpit of the plane is Arve Thomassen, a seasoned veteran.

In his previous career at the twilight of the Cold War, Thomassen was a fighter pilot intercepting Soviet planes in the Arctic.

Now aged 60, this larger-than-life Norwegian says he was happy to wrap up his career with a good cause.

“When you fly passengers down to the Mediterranean for sunbathing that’s normal business. I wouldn’t say boring but it’s very common,” he says.

But with these flights, “we take pride in doing this and we do it with a very humble attitude,” he adds.

They will never forget some of the people they’ve transported: the severe burn victims; the man so disfigured he looked like he’d come from the World War I trenches, or the three-year-old suffering from leukemia.

“It’s one thing to have wounded soldiers but children who suffer… that always makes a strong impression on people,” Thomassen tells AFP.

For some passengers, a nap provides a few minutes of respite from the pain.

But Vladyslav Shakhov can’t sleep.

The 24-year-old was hit by shrapnel in the back of the neck and now suffers from quadriparesis — muscle weakness in all four limbs.

“I’m not happy about leaving my country,” says entrepreneur-turned-armored car driver, who is heading to Germany.

“I hope they will get me back on my feet quickly so I can get back.”


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