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Archive for: November 2021 - DIGEST UKRAINE

Monthly Archives: November 2021

Остапа Стахіва підозрюють у діях, «спрямованих на насильницьку зміну чи повалення конституційного ладу або на захоплення державної влади»


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The migrant crisis on Poland’s border, which Western powers accuse Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of engineering, caught international attention in November. But asylum seekers on the Poland-Belarus border aren’t alone in being shunted back and forth across Europe’s land and sea borders, say rights organizations and other monitors.

Throughout the year, irregular migration to Europe has been increasing, with more than 160,000 migrants entering the European Union this year, mostly through the Balkans and Italy. That’s a 70% jump from 2020, when pandemic travel restrictions are thought to have impacted the mobility of would-be migrants, and a 45% increase over the previous pre-pandemic year.

And with irregular migration picking up again, rights campaigners say the EU and national governments are increasingly skirting or breaking international humanitarian laws in their determination to prevent war refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from entering or remaining on the continent.

They say European leaders appear determined to avoid a repeat of 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia arrived in Europe, roiling the continent’s politics and fueling the rise of anti-migrant political parties.

Reports have multiplied of refugees and migrants being forcibly pushed back over the EU’s external borders. So, too, have reports of refugees being prevented from filing asylum applications. Poland passed a law in August stipulating that migrants who cross the border are to be “taken back to the state border” and “ordered to leave the country immediately,” preventing them from making an asylum application.

Pushbacks breach both European human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention, which outline the rights of refugees as well as the legal obligations of the 146 signatory states to protect them.

Signatory states aren’t allowed to impose penalties on refugees who enter their countries illegally in search of asylum, nor are they allowed to expel refugees (without due process). Under the convention, refugees should not be forcibly returned, technically known as “refoul,” to the home countries they fled. Asylum seekers are meant to be provided with free access to courts, and signatory states are required to offer refugees administrative assistance.

The EU, its border agency, Frontex, and the bloc’s national governments, say they do observe international humanitarian law, but according to several recent investigations by rights organizations, the rules are now being flouted routinely and systematically.

“EU member states have adopted increasingly restrictive and punitive asylum rules and are focusing on reducing migration flows, with devastating consequences,” Amnesty International warned recently.

“We are witnessing tremendous human suffering caused by the EU-Turkey deal and by the EU-Libya cooperation, both of which are leaving men, women and children trapped and exposed to suffering and abuse,” the rights organization says in reference to deals struck with Turkey and Libya to block migrants heading to Europe and readmit them when they are ejected from Europe.

In the case of Libya, migrants are often returned to detention camps run by militias where Amnesty International and others have documented harrowing violations, including sexual violence against men, women and children. In a report published earlier this year, Amnesty noted, “Decade-long violations against refugees and migrants continued unabated in Libyan detention centers during the first six months of 2021 despite repeated promises to address them.”

Lighthouse Reports, a Dutch nonprofit journalism consortium, has documented dozens of instances in which Frontex surveillance aircraft were in the vicinity of migrant boats later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard. “There is a clear pattern discernible. Boats in distress are spotted, communications take place between European actors and the Libyan Coast Guard,” Lighthouse researchers said in a report this year.

Frontex has routinely denied the allegations but lawmakers in the European Parliament accused the agency, after a four-month investigation, of failing to “fulfill its human rights obligations.” In the Balkans, the Border Violence Monitoring Network and other NGOs say they have gathered testimony from hundreds of refugees who allege they have been beaten back into Bosnia-Herzegovina across the Croatian border by baton-wielding men whose uniforms bear no insignia.

Europe’s peripheral countries have also been erecting border fences and building walls with the prospects of more Afghan refugees appearing on their borders acting as a spur. Greece has completed a 40-kilometer wall along its land border with Turkey and installed an automated surveillance system to try to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Europe. Other countries are following suit and have been pushing the EU to help with funding.

Critics say the wall-building now contrasts with the criticism European leaders leveled four years ago against then-U.S. President Donald Trump over his plan to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico. “We have a history and a tradition that we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” admonished Federica Mogherini, then the EU’s foreign policy chief.

While migrant advocates complain of rights violations, calls are mounting in Europe for changes to be made to both the Geneva Convention and the bloc’s humanitarian laws. Critics of the convention say it was primarily drawn up to cope with population displacement in Europe in the wake of the Second World War. They say it fails to recognize the nature and scale of the much more complex migration patterns of the 21st century, which could see numbers swell because of climate change.

Last week in Budapest, Balázs Orbán, a deputy minister in the Hungarian government, said the current EU migration laws should be replaced. The current legal system is “catalyzing the influx of illegal migrants, and not helping to stop them on the borders,” he said. “This framework was created during the time of the Geneva Convention in 1951, when refugees from the Soviet Union needed to be accommodated for. Now, times have changed,” he added. 


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A German court Tuesday convicted a former Islamic State member of the 2015 murder of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl.

Taha al-Jumailly, an Iraqi national, was also sentenced to serve life in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was ordered to pay the victim’s mother, who survived captivity, $57,000.

It is the first genocide verdict against an Islamic State member.

“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”

German prosecutors said al-Jumailly bought the mother and child as slaves in Syria in 2015. He then took them to Fallujah in Iraq where he beat them and didn’t give them enough food.  

In 2015, al-Jumailly chained the girl to window bars in a room where the temperature reached 50 degrees Celsius. The girl died.

In 2019, al-Jumailly was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany, where authorities took the case using the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Al-Jumailly’s German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for her involvement in the case. She was a witness for the prosecution in al-Jumailly’s trial.

In 2014, IS rampaged through the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq. In many cases, it forced young women into sex slavery. Many in the Yazidi community, which numbers more than half-a-million, were displaced.

In 2016, a U.N. commission declared the IS treatment of the Yazidis inside Syria as a genocide.

“We can only hope that [this case] will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Islamic State group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 


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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia against taking any “escalatory actions” toward Ukraine, saying Tuesday that “any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

Speaking to reporters alongside Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics during a visit to Riga, Blinken said the United States is “very concerned” about Russian troop movements along the border with Ukraine.

Concerns about Russia’s military build-up are due to be discussed later Tuesday and Wednesday during a NATO ministerial meeting in Riga. Blinken said he would have a lot more to say on the topic after those consultations with NATO allies.

Ahead of the ministerial talks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said Monday.

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken said Tuesday the United States, in coordination with the EU, is preparing additional sanctions against Belarus for what he called “its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.”

“As long as the regime in Belarus refuses to respect its international commitments, undermines peace and security in Europe, continues to repress and abuse its own people who are simply seeking to live in freedom, we will continue to put pressure on the regime and we will not lessen our calls for accountability,” Blinken said.

Another main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 


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Last week’s 10% drop in the value of the Turkish currency plunged it to historic lows, threatening an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has dropped 45 percent this year, prompting concerns that economic turmoil could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.


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Thousands of migrants continue to wait in Belarus to enter the European Union through Poland, a crisis in the central European country that has sharply divided its society between those who want to assist migrants and those who refuse to open their borders. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Warsaw.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina


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Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld lower court rulings in the bitter custody battle surrounding a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy, saying he should be returned to his relatives there within two weeks. 

Eitan Biran has been the focus of a legal battle between his paternal relatives in Italy and his maternal family in Israel since surviving the May 23 cable car crash, which killed 14 people, including his parents and younger brother.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy. 

His maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, then spirited him away without the knowledge of the relatives in Italy, taking him across the border into Switzerland by car and then flying him to Israel on a private jet. Peleg has said he acted in the child’s best interest. 

The Peleg family said it would continue to fight “in every legal way” to return the child to Israel. It was not immediately clear what legal options were available following the Supreme Court ruling. 

Earlier this month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, who is accused of having driven the car on September 11 that spirited Eitan from his home near Pavia to Switzerland. Alon was arrested in Cyprus last week. 

Peleg was also named in the arrest warrant. 

The boy’s family in Italy said they were happy with the Supreme Court decision, calling it “just and awaited.”

“We can only be happy with the end of this case, which represents a victory for the law and justice,” they said in a statement. Eitan is expected to arrive December 12 in Italy, “where he is awaited with joy.” 

 


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Is the populist wave in Europe ebbing? 

Two populist luminaries, who rode to power on waves of anti-elitism anger, have been ousted this year: Bulgaria’s Boyko Borisov, a former bodyguard who was voted out of office in April, and the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babiš, a businessman who lost last month’s election and has been replaced by a university professor at the head of a coalition of parties. 

Next April, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who has had a decade of electoral success fighting the European Union over what he sees as its attempts to impose an internationalist world view on his country, faces a tough reelection battle against a now unified pro-EU opposition. 

Orban is being shunned by the Biden administration and Hungary is the only European Union country not to be invited to next week’s U.S.-hosted Summit for Democracy, an exclusion American officials hope Hungary’s opposition parties can use to their electoral benefit.

The political tide is seemingly running against the populists in Central Europe and elsewhere on the continent, according to pollsters. They say support for populist sentiments in Europe has fallen sharply since the pandemic emerged.

Polls

A survey published last week by British pollster YouGov found populist support has declined in 10 European countries over the past three years, suggesting populism’s electoral appeal may have peaked. The populist tenet that the “will of the people should be the highest principle in a country’s politics” no longer resonates as forcefully as it did three years ago, YouGov found. In Poland, for example, 65% now agree with that statement as compared to 81% three years ago.

YouGov also says far fewer respondents think their countries are divided between ordinary people and “corrupt elites” who exploit them. Three years ago, 61% in France subscribed to that view but now only 49% do, and in Italy there has also been a notable fall off, too, from 65% to 54%.

A monthly aggregation of polls pulled together by Germany-based Europe Elects also suggests there has been a decrease in support for populists, of the far right and far left, with the popularity of populist parties decreasing in 10 European countries and only increasing in three — the Netherlands, Portugal and Cyprus.

Hans-Georg Betz, an academic at the University of Zurich and the author of several books on right-wing populism, attributes part of the decline in populist support across Europe to fading public worries about immigration.  

“For the populist right, with COVID-19, the question of Islam’s place in Western societies faded into oblivion, and with it dwindled the populist right’s appeal and support,” he said in a commentary for the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right, a UK-based research group.  

“The most egregious example is the Danish People’s Party, DF. Until recently, the DF was a pivotal actor in Danish politics, which managed to impose its position on migrants on refugees on the mainstream parties. By now, it has virtually disappeared from the political landscape. Other parties have fared better, but more often than not are way below their pre-pandemic highs,” he added.

Germany’s Merkel

But counting out the continent’s nationalist populists may be premature, certainly outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel thinks so when it comes to Central Europe. In a recent media interview Merkel highlighted her worries about the serial spats between Brussels and the former communist countries of Central Europe over the rule of law, press freedom and immigration. 

She warned divisions may deepen and cautioned that the “feeling that there is little national room for maneuver creates disappointment.” And after attending her final meeting with other EU heads of state last month, she urged Brussels and Western European leaders to pursue compromise with the more populist-minded Central European countries which “joined a club already formed without having input into all of its rules and requirements.”

Some analysts fear that with Merkel’s departure from the political scene, the clashes between the EU and the populist, nationalist-minded leaders and parties of Central Europe could worsen. Merkel was a restraining voice, always seeking to defuse confrontations and keen to balance the interests of the EU as a bloc with the national interests of individual member states.

Her departure could allow squabbles between the EU and the more internationalist-minded members of the bloc on the one hand and the more nationalist governments of Hungary, Poland and Slovenia on the other to spin out of control, possibly to the electoral benefit of euro-skeptic populist leaders.

COVID-19 

Populists are also looking to the latter stages of the coronavirus pandemic to revive their political fortunes as public anger and fatigue builds over the prolonging of restrictions and with renewed constraints imposed by governments amid a fourth wave of infections. This month several countries, including the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, saw the staging of mass protests against new pandemic restrictions intended to stem a surge in transmission rates. The demonstrations were encouraged by populist parties,

Protests turned violent in Rotterdam, where police fired warning shots and used water cannons earlier this month to control demonstrators who pelted officers with rocks and burned cars.

“With the fourth wave sweeping across Europe, and no end in sight, societies appear to be rapidly approaching a breaking point, reflected in growing frustration and exasperation, occasionally erupting in furious, even violent protest,” says Swiss academic Hans-Georg Betz.

He says the populist right may have found with the pandemic restrictions “a wedge issue that allows them to regain lost political ground.”


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Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.

Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.

As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.

“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.

The missile has undergone several recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.

Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.

Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.

Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.

China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.

Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.

Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.


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France is inducting Josephine Baker — Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist — into its Pantheon, the first Black woman honored in the final resting place of France’s most revered luminaries.

On Tuesday, a coffin carrying soils from the U.S., France and Monaco — places where Baker made her mark — will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument overlooking the Left Bank of Paris. Her body will stay in Monaco, at the request of her family.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided on her entry into the Pantheon, responding to a petition. In addition to honoring an exceptional figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate U.S.-French connections.

“She embodies, before anything, women’s freedom,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told The Associated Press.

Baker was born in 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. At 19, having already divorced twice, had relationships with men and women, and started a performing career, she moved to France following a job opportunity.

“She arrives in France in 1925, she’s an emancipated woman, taking her life in her hands, in a country of which she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said. 

She met immediate success on the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless and wearing a famed banana belt. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.

“She was that kind of fantasy: not the Black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Theatre des Champs-Elysees spokesperson Ophélie Lachaux told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something ‘tribal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘African’-like.” 

Baker’s career took a more serious turn after that, as she learned to speak five languages and toured internationally. She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion, a Jewish man who later suffered from anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime.

In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war against Nazi Germany, Baker got in touch with the head of the French counterintelligence services. She started working as an informant, traveling, getting close to officials and sharing information hidden on her music sheets, according to French military archives.

Researcher and historian Géraud Létang said Baker lived “a double life between, on the one side, the music hall artist, and on the other side, another secret life, later becoming completely illegal, of intelligence agent.” 

After France’s defeat in June 1940, she refused to play for the Nazis who occupied Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the French Resistance, using her artistic performances as a cover for her spying activities.

That year, she notably brought into her troupe several spies working for the Allies, allowing them to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or of the Nazi occupant,” Letang said.

The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she gathered intelligence for Gen. Charles De Gaulle, including spying on the British and the Americans — who didn’t fully trust him and didn’t share all information.

She also raised funds, including from her personal money. It is estimated she brought the equivalent of 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to support the French Resistance. 

In 1944, Baker joined a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook notably mentions a 1944 incident off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped Baker out of the sea. After her plane had to make an emergency landing, they brought “the shipwrecked to the shores, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in the front,” the logbook writes. 

Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near combat zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and deportees freed from the camps. 

“Baker’s involvement in politics was individual and atypical,” said Benetta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego. 

After the war, Baker got involved in anti-racist politics. She fought against American segregation during a 1951 performance tour of the U.S., causing her to be targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist and banned from her homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she returned to be the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

Back in France, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” She purchased a castle and land in the southwestern French town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, where she tried to build a city embodying her values.

“My mother saw the success of the rainbow tribe, because when we caused trouble as kids, she would never know who had done it because we never ratted on each other, risking collective punishment,” one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker, told the AP. “I heard her say to some friends ‘I’m mad to never know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids stand united.’”

Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.

She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco.

While Baker is widely appreciated in France, some critics of Macron question why he chose an American-born figure as the first Black woman in the Pantheon, instead of someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France itself. 

The Pantheon, built at the end of the 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She joins two other Black figures in the mausoleum: Gaullist resister Felix Eboué and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.

“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Medec told the AP. “It is not only excellence in a field of competence, it is really the question of commitment, commitment to others.”


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Katrin Jakobsdottir, a popular and fervent feminist who has become a unifying force after years of political upheaval, on Sunday kicked off her second term as prime minister of Iceland.

The country’s three coalition parties agreed that the 45-year-old former journalist would remain premier, a post she has held since 2017, despite her Left-Green Movement’s weak showing in September’s legislative election.

That mere fact illustrates Jakobsdottir’s pivotal role in the unusually broad coalition, made up of her Left-Greens, the conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party.

The unlikely alliance has been hard for some in her party to accept.

“I know I’ve been criticized for it, but when I look back, I think this government has done a good job and I think it has really shown what is possible in politics,” she told AFP in a recent interview.

Jakobsdottir has won over Icelanders with her integrity, sincerity and consensual management style.

Almost 60% said they wanted her to stay on as prime minister, in a poll published in October, even though her party won only 12.6% of votes at the ballot box.

A former education minister, from 2009 to 2013, she has remained down-to-Earth and avoided scandal during her years in power, earning the people’s trust, according to analysts.

“Katrin Jakobsdottir is a very skilled politician (who) has more of a consensus style than confrontational style,” notes University of Iceland political science professor Olafur Hardarson.

This is only the second time since 2008 that a government made it to the end of its four-year mandate on the sprawling island of 370,000 people.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017.

However, holding onto power has come at a high price, with Jakobsdottir forced to make concessions on key issues like immigration and the environment during her first term.

She had to back down from a promise to create a national park in the center of the country, to protest a natural national treasure, after her two allies refused to support the legislation.

Born into a family of academics and lawmakers, Jakobsdottir is the second woman to head Iceland’s government.

Her concern for the environment was awakened in the 2000s by a controversial project to build a hydroelectric dam in eastern Iceland.

“I wouldn’t say I was the most radical activist in town, but, yes, I began my political participation through demonstrations,” she told U.S. magazine The Nation in 2018.

She joined the youth wing of the Left Green Movement in 2002, before becoming deputy leader a year later. She has been the head of the party since 2013.

The slender, athletic politician has been a member of parliament for 14 years.

A huge football fan, she has rooted for Liverpool FC since she was a child.

That makes for a sometimes-tense atmosphere in her Reykjavik apartment, where her husband and three sons are all Manchester United supporters.

“I clearly didn’t raise my children well enough,” she joked on a radio show earlier this year, blaming her husband who has spent more time with their children due to her hectic schedule.

In a country that champions gender equality, she has made women’s causes a priority. Among other things, she has extended parental leave.

Her friends are meanwhile quick to point out her funny side. 

“With her sense of humor and jokes she can put a room at ease,” says former party member Rosa Bjork Brynjolfsdottir, who studied with her at university.

With a degree in Icelandic and French studies and a Masters in Icelandic literature, Jakobsdottir is a fan of crime novels and fiction, finding time to read almost every day. 


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Virgil Abloh, fashion’s highest profile Black designer and the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died on Sunday of cancer, Vuitton’s owner LVMH said.

The French luxury goods giant said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years.

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.

Abloh, a U.S. national who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been men’s artistic director for Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, since March 2018.

His arrival at LVMH marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion, mixing sneakers and camouflage pants with tailored suits and evening gowns. His influences included graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.

The style was embraced by the group as it sought to breathe new life into some labels and attract younger customers.

In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.

LVMH also bought a 60% stake in Abloh’s Off-White label, which it folded into the spirits-to-jewelry conglomerate.

“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a message posted to his Instagram said. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”

Abloh drew on messages of inclusivity and gender-fluidity to expand the Louis Vuitton label’s popularity, weaving themes of racial identity into his fashion shows with poetry performances and art installations.

With an eye to reaching Asian consumers grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the designer sent his collections of colorful suits and utilitarian-flavored outerwear off to Shanghai last summer, when many labels canceled fashion shows.

“Virgil Abloh was the essence of modern creativity,” said an Instagram post by Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault’s sons and executive vice president for product and communications at U.S. jeweler Tiffany, which LVMH bought this year.


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Czech President Milos Zeman appointed the leader of a center-right alliance Petr Fiala as prime minister on Sunday in a ceremony he performed from a plexiglass cubicle after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fiala leads a bloc of five center and center-right opposition parties that won an election in October, ousting the incumbent premier Andrej Babis and his allies.

The new government will have to tackle a new wave of coronavirus infections that is threatening to overwhelm hospitals and an energy crisis, after the collapse of a large electricity provider. The coalition has also said it plans to rework the 2022 state budget to reduce a large deficit.

“The new government has a very complicated time ahead and many challenges… I want it to be a government of change for the future,” Fiala said at a news conference.

He expected his cabinet to be appointed in mid-December.

The new prime minister also called on people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and praised medical staff as cases are on the rise.

Opponents of vaccination and government’s anti-coronavirus measures such as a ban on Christmas markets gathered in their thousands in Prague later on Sunday for a protest rally.

Only 58.5% of Czechs are vaccinated against the coronavirus. This compares to a European Union average of 65.8%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Zeman performed the inauguration ceremony from a plexiglass cubicle after testing positive for coronavirus. Zeman, who arrived in a wheelchair escorted by a medic in full protective gear, contracted the virus after a six-week stay in hospital for an unrelated illness.


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Swiss voters on Sunday gave clear backing to legislation that introduced a system with special COVID-19 certificates under which only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative can attend public events and gatherings.

Final results showed 62% of voters supporting the legislation, which is already in force. The referendum offered a rare bellwether of public opinion on the issue of government policy to fight the spread of coronavirus in Europe, which is currently the global epicenter of the pandemic.

The vote on the country’s “COVID-19 law,” which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs (dollars) in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland — like many other nations in Europe — faces a steep rise in coronavirus cases.

The Swiss federal government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it didn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-COVID-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box — but that if Swiss voters gave a thumbs-up, the government may well ratchet up its anti-COVID efforts.

Of the country’s 26 cantons (states), only two — Schwyz and Appenzell Innerrhoden, both conservative rural regions in eastern Switzerland — voted against the legislation.

Josef Ender, a spokesman for one of the groups that opposed it, told SRF public radio “it was important that the Swiss population could form an opinion on the tightening of the COVID law.” He maintained that “even if there is a ‘yes'” to the legislation, it violates parts of the country’s constitution.

Turnout on Sunday was 65.7%, an unusually high figure in a country that holds referendums several times a year.

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” on infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbors Austria and Germany at about two-thirds of the population. Infection rates have soared in recent weeks.

The seven-day average case count in Switzerland shot up to more than 5,200 per day from mid-October to mid-November, a more than five-fold increase. Austria, meanwhile, has imposed a national lockdown to fight the rising infections.


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France hosts a meeting of European ministers on Sunday to discuss ways to stop migrants crossing the Channel in dinghies, but without Britain, which has been excluded following a row last week.

Ministers responsible for immigration from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium will meet in the northern French port of Calais on Sunday afternoon to discuss how to tackle people-smuggling gangs that provide boats to migrants seeking to cross the narrow waterway.

The talks were called following the shocking deaths of 27 people last Wednesday as they attempted to cross from France to England in a dinghy that began losing air while at sea in cold winter temperatures.

The aim of the meeting is “improving operational cooperation in the fight against people-smuggling because these are international networks which operate in different European countries,” an aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told AFP.

The main focus had been set to be talks between Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel after both countries vowed in the immediate aftermath of the mass drownings to cooperate more.

But within 48 hours of the accident, French President Emmanuel Macron had accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “not serious” in unusually personal criticism that pushed relations to fresh lows.

France was irked by Johnson’s initial reaction, which was seen as deflecting blame onto France, and then by his decision to write a letter to Macron which he published in full on his Twitter account before the French leader had received it.

Patel’s invitation to Sunday’s talks was promptly withdrawn over the breach of diplomatic protocol, with an aide to Darmanin calling Johnson’s letter “unacceptable.”

Britain’s departure from the European Union has caused years of ill-will between Paris and London, with relations seen as at their lowest point in at least two decades.

Cross-border crime

Without the participation of Britain — the destination country for the thousands of migrants massed in northern France — there are limits to what can be achieved at the meeting.

The invitation to France’s other northern neighbors reflects concern about how people-smuggling gangs are able to use Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as bases to organize their operations.

Representatives from the European Commission, as well as the EU’s border force Frontex and police agency Europol will also attend.

Many migrants are believed to travel to launch sites in northern France from Belgium, while inflatables and life jackets can be bought in other countries such as the Netherlands and Germany without raising suspicion.

One of the five men arrested in connection with the accident last Wednesday was driving a car with German registration, according to French officials.

Solutions?

While France and Britain agree on the need to tackle people-smugglers more effectively, they remain at odds over how to prevent people taking to the water.

In his public letter to Macron, Johnson again pressed for British police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts along the coast — something rejected in the past as infringing on French sovereignty.

More controversially, he also proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, which he claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs.”

“Those are exactly the kinds of things we need to do,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Sunday, while denying that Johnson had made a mistake by publishing his letter to Macron.

“Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We can’t just do it on our own. We do need the cooperation of the French,” he added.

The European Commission’s vice president on Saturday bluntly told Britain it needed to sort out its own problems after its decision to leave the EU following a 2016 referendum.

“I recall well the main slogan of the referendum campaign is ‘we take back control’,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters during a trip to Greece.

France, which received 80,000 asylum requests in 2020 compared with 27,000 in the UK, has suggested Britain should enable migrants to lodge their demands in northern France.

Activist groups have also called for safe routes for asylum seekers to arrive in Britain.

Investigations into last week’s accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, with migrants living along the coast telling AFP that the deceased were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.


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