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PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2017 10:49 pm 
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Maltese newspapers, citizens take up slain reporter's message
By STEPHEN CALLEJA
22 October 2017

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) -- Several thousand Maltese citizens rallied Sunday to honor an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb, but the prime minister and opposition leader who were chief targets of Daphne Caruana Galizia's reporting stayed away from the gathering.

Participants at the rally in Malta's capital, Valletta, placed flowers at the foot of a memorial to the 53-year-old reporter that sprang up opposite the law court building after her Oct. 16 slaying. Some wore T-shirts or carried placards emblazoned with words from Caruana Galizia's final blog post: "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate" in the European Union nation of some 400,000 people. Police removed a banner describing Malta as a "Mafia state."

Hundreds of participants later held a sit-in outside police headquarters, demanding the resignation of Malta's police commissioner. Some hurled tomatoes, cakes and coins against an enlarged photograph of the commissioner spread out on the street.

The homicide of a journalist who devoted her career to exposing wrong-doing in Malta and raised her three sons there united many of the nation's oft-squabbling politicians, at least for a day. Caruana Galizia had repeatedly criticized police and judicial officials.

Malta's two dominant political forces, the ruling Labor and opposition Nationalist parties, participated in the rally which was organized to press demands for justice in her slaying. But Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told his Labor party's radio station a few hours before the event's start time that he wouldn't attend because he knew the anti-corruption reporter's family didn't want him to be there. "I know where I should be and where I should not be. I am not a hypocrite and I recognize the signs," Muscat said, adding that he supported the rally's goals of call for justice and national unity.

Nationalist leader Adrian Delia also skipped the rally, saying he didn't want to "stir controversy." "Today is not about me, but about the rule of law and democracy," Delia told reporters.

Muscat and Delia, while fierce political rivals, have another thing in common: Both brought libel lawsuits against Caruana Galizia. Delia withdrew his pending libel cases last week after her killing.

Caruana Galizia's family has refused to endorse the government's offer of a 1 million euro ($1.18 million) reward and full protection to anyone with information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of her killer or killers. Instead, the family, which includes a son who is an investigative journalist himself, has demanded that Muscat resign. In their quest for a serious and efficient investigation, Caruana Galizia's husband and children also want Malta's top police office and attorney general replaced. "The killers decided to silence her, but they won't silence her spirit, they won't silence us," Christophe Deloire, a French journalist from the journalism advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders, said. "From us they will not have more than one minute of silence."

On Sunday morning, all seven national newspapers had their front pages black in Caruana Galizia's memory. Printed in bold letters against the black backgrounds were the words: "The pen conquers fear."

Just before her death, Caruana Galizia had posted on her closely followed blog, Running Commentary, that there were "crooks everywhere" in Malta. The island nation has a reputation as a tax haven in the European Union and has attracted companies and money from outside Europe. The journalist focused her reporting for years on investigating political corruption and scandals, and reported on Maltese mobsters and the island's drug trafficking. She also wrote about Maltese links to the so-called Panama Papers leaks about offshore financial havens.

After the rally ended, several hundred participants walked to police headquarters, and sat in the street outside shouting "Shame on you!" and "Resign! Malta President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca received a delegation from the Civil Society Network, a non-partisan organization of university professors, businessmen, opinion writers and authors in Malta. The car bombing was "an attack on all of us, every single one of us," Coleiro Preca told them. "We need to see how we are going to work together. We need to unite to have the reform that is needed."

Frances D'Emilio contributed from Rome.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:32 pm 
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Anne Frank diary to counter anti-Semitism in Italian soccer
By ANDREW DAMPF
24 October 2017

ROME (AP) -- Anne Frank's diary will be read aloud at all soccer matches in Italy this week, the Italian soccer federation announced Tuesday after shocking displays of anti-Semitism by fans of the Rome club Lazio.

Lazio supporters on Sunday littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank - the young diarist who died in the Holocaust - wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. The ultra right-wing fans of Lazio associate their Roma counterparts with being left-wing and Jewish, and had hoped to incite Roma fans, since the teams share the same stadium. Stadium cleaners found the anti-Semitic stickers on Monday and Italian police have opened a criminal inquiry into the case.

The Anne Frank diary passage reading will be combined with a minute of silence observed before Serie A, B and C matches in Italy this week, plus amateur and youth games over the weekend, to promote Holocaust remembrance, the soccer federation said. Racism has been widespread for years in many Italian and European stadiums - targeting both players and fans - and measures such as banning fans and forcing teams to play behind closed doors have not solved the problem.

Outrage over the stickers came from a wide variety of officials and rights groups across Europe, from both inside and outside the world of sports. "Anne Frank doesn't represent a people or an ethnic group. We are all Anne Frank when faced with the unthinkable," Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said. "What has happened is inconceivable." Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni called the stickers "unbelievable, unacceptable and not to be minimized." Antonio Tajani, the head of the European Parliament who is Italian, also denounced those responsible, saying in Brussels that anti-Semitism has no place in Europe, which must remain a place of religious tolerance. "Using the image of Anne Frank as an insult against others is a very grave matter," Tajani said.

The Italian soccer federation will also likely open an investigation, which could result in a complete stadium ban for Lazio - matches played behind closed doors without fans - or force the team to play on neutral ground. "There are no justifications. These incidents must be met with disapproval, without any ifs, ands or buts," Sports Minister Luca Lotti said. "I'm sure that the responsible authorities will shed light on what happened and that those responsible will quickly be identified and punished."

Lazio's ultra group expressed surprise at the widespread outrage. "There are other cases that we feel should lead the newscasts and fill newspaper pages," the group said in a statement on Facebook.

The chosen Anne Frank diary passage reads: "I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."

Lazio President Claudio Lotito sought Tuesday to disassociate the club from its hard-core "ultra" fans by visiting Rome's main synagogue. He said the club would intensify its efforts to combat racism and anti-Semitism and organize an annual trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp with some 200 young Lazio fans to "educate them not to forget."

Still, the club's relations with Rome's Jewish community remained strained. "We are outraged by what happened in the stadium a few days ago. But we are also outraged by what happens every week in the stadiums," Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome's Jewish community, told the Associated Press. "Stadiums cannot be places that are beyond the law and places where anti-Semitist, racist and homophobic people can find a place to show themselves," Dureghello said. "We need to sit down around a table and talk to the institutions, the soccer teams and the soccer federation, to enforce actions and establish a common line for the future."

The northern end of the stadium where Lazio's "ultra" fans usually sit was already closed Sunday for the match against Cagliari, due to racist chanting during a match against Sassuolo earlier this month. As a result, Lazio decided to open the southern end and let the ultras sit where Roma's hard-core fans usually sit for their home matches.

Lazio fans have a long history of racism and anti-Semitism. The latest partial stadium ban for the team stemmed from derogatory chants directed at Sassuolo players Claud Adjapong and Alfred Duncan. Adjapong was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and has represented Italy Under-19s. Duncan is from Ghana.

Lazio will also be without fans in the northern end when Udinese visits on Nov. 5 for racist chanting during the Rome derby in April. Also this season, Lazio beat Belgian team Zulte Waregem in a Europa League match behind closed doors due to punishment from UEFA for racist chants aimed at a Sparta Prague player two seasons ago.

In the past, a Lazio banner nearly 20 years ago aimed at Roma supporters read: "Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes." Another message honored the slain Serbian paramilitary leader, Arkan, who was notorious for alleged war crimes in the 1990s Balkans wars.

But racism and anti-Semitism have also been seen at other European soccer clubs, highlighting the ineffectiveness of campaigns by soccer bodies all the way up to UEFA and FIFA, the European and world organizations. Last season, Ghana's Sulley Muntari was initially banned for protesting against racism in Italy. Muntari said he was treated like a "criminal" after being shown two yellow cards when he walked off the field during a Serie A game in response to racial abuse while with Pescara.

Four years ago, six fans of Italian lower-division club Pro Patria were issued jail sentences for inciting racial hatred during a friendly against AC Milan. In the English Premier League, chants of "Yid" have often been hurled at Tottenham fans by rival supporters. Tottenham fans, many of whom come from the Jewish communities of north London, sometimes chant "Yiddo" themselves to deflect abuse.

Nicole Winfield and Gianfranco Stara contributed to this report.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:07 pm 
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NATO chief says allies concerned about Russian phone jamming
By LORNE COOK
26 October 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) -- NATO allies have raised concerns about what they call Russia's use of a kind of electronic warfare during military exercises last month that jammed some phone networks, alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

"At least two allies have reported about that," Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing talks in Brussels between ambassadors from NATO and Russia. He said it highlights the need for Russia to be more transparent with war games "to make sure there are no miscalculations, misunderstandings, because these kinds of activities can have serious effects."

Phone services in Latvia, Norway and Sweden's Oeland islands were reported to have been shut down for a few hours during the Sept. 14-20 Zapad exercises that Russia held with Belarus. The jamming is suspected to have been launched by a Russian communications ship from the Baltic Sea. "My phone shut down for about four or five hours. The suspicion is that it was a Russian ship in the Baltic Sea, with the technology capable of blocking cellular signals," Latvian lawmaker Ojars Kalnins said earlier this month. He said the jamming "focused on the Oeland islands in Sweden" but that "it did shut down all communications, including emergency phone service in Latvia. Our 911 service was shut down for several hours during this experimental attack."

Norway's intelligence chief, Morten Haga Lunde, said in Wednesday's edition of the Aftenposten newspaper that Russia had also used a kind of electronic attack that could have endangered civilian aircraft in the area. "There were exercises in GPS jamming - in electronic warfare," he said. "Mostly likely this was jamming that was intended to disrupt their own Russian forces' use of GPS - but jamming that had side effects for (airline) and intercontinental flights of which Russia should have seen the range."

Just after the Zapad exercises, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, said that Russia had been busy developing "powerful, sophisticated" means of electronic warfare while NATO allies were more focused on "counter-terrorism type operations." "A lot of this was on display, cyber and other electronic warfare capability," during Zapad, Hodges said. "They've continued to move on this."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2017 11:50 pm 
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Hundreds of thousands demonstrate demanding release of jailed separatists in Barcelona
11 November 2017

Hundreds of thousands of people backing Catalonia's bid to secede from Spain packed the streets in downtown Barcelona Saturday to demand the release of jailed separatist leaders.

The rally's grassroots organizers called for 10 prominent members of the secessionist movement in the northeastern Spanish region to be freed from prison.

Eight former members of Catalonia's dissolved Cabinet and two activists are in jail while Spanish authorities investigate their alleged roles in promoting an illegal declaration of independence last month in violation of Spain's Constitution. A separate court in Madrid granted bail on Thursday to another six Catalan lawmakers who are subject of another investigation into the secession push.

Barcelona's police said that 750,000 people attended the rally. Many of the protesters carried pro-independence "estelada" flags, with its white star and blue triangle superimposed over the traditional red-and-yellow Catalan colors. Many also held signs saying in Catalan "Freedom Political Prisoners" and wore yellow ribbons as a symbol of their demands. "They (Spanish authorities) are violating many rights of freedom against our people and we come here to say that we are against that and to demand the release of our prisoners who are in prison unjustly," said 30-year-old engineer Joan Carles Roses.

Family members of the jailed separatists read messages from their loved ones to the crowd at the conclusion of the march. Grassroots group National Catalan Assembly organized over 500 buses to bring people from towns and villages across Catalonia to its main city of Barcelona.

Also on Saturday, the pro-independence Republic Left party announced that its jailed leader Oriol Junqueras will be its top candidate for the upcoming regional elections on Dec. 21. The Catalan party is including other jailed leaders in its list for the regional parliament. Polls show that Republic Left is favored to win the upcoming ballot, although it won't secure an outright majority.

The Catalan conflict is the worst constitutional crisis to threaten Spain in nearly four decades. A day after Catalonia's Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on Oct. 27, Spain's government activated extraordinary powers given to it by the Senate to fire the region's government, dissolve its parliament and call local elections. While those separatist leaders now in jail obeyed a summons to appear in court in Madrid, deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers fled to Belgium, where they now await an extradition hearing to return them to Spain.

Puigdemont and his fellow separatists claim that a referendum on secession held on Oct. 1 gave them a mandate for independence, even though it had been prohibited by the nation's highest court, failed to meet international standards and was boycotted by anti-independence parties. Less than half of the electorate turned out to vote, and the referendum was also disrupted by brutal police raids. No foreign power has recognized Catalonia's claim to independence. The European Union has warned that an independent Catalonia would be cast out of the 28-nation bloc.

The most recent regional elections and opinion polls show that Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are roughly split over remaining a part of Spain or going their own way. Most pro-independence supporters feel that the Catalan language and culture would have a better chance of flourishing in a separate state and that their economic prospects would be improved.

The business sector has so far not been convinced, with over 2,000 companies transferring their headquarters out of the northeastern region in recent weeks for fears of being pushed out of the common EU market. The Spanish Constitution says the nation is "indivisible" and that questions of national sovereignty should be addressed by the national Parliament in Madrid.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:39 pm 
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Kiev's disputes with Western neighbours threaten EU support
by Ania TSOUKANOVA
29 November 2017

KIEV (AFP) - Three years after the outbreak of an unprecedented crisis with Moscow and a war with pro-Kremlin rebels, Ukraine is experiencing a deep diplomatic chill with its Western neighbours that risks dampening EU support for Kiev.

Tensions flared in September when Ukraine adopted a controversial education law that seeks to oblige schools to teach in the Ukrainian language. The move rattled not only Moscow but nearly all of Kiev's neighbours to the west who saw the legislation as a threat to their national minorities in the ex-Soviet country. In addition to ethnic Russians, Ukraine has sizeable communities of Romanians, Hungarians, Poles and other groups with roots in neighbouring countries.

Romanian president Klaus Iohannis in September cancelled a visit to Ukraine in protest against the law, while nationalist Hungary went as far as threatening to block Kiev's rapprochement with the European Union.

Kiev and Warsaw have also been involved in a dispute over historical memory after the Polish parliament reopened a dispute over the World War II massacre of tens of thousands of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists, officially recognising it as a genocide last year. The Polish rightwing government has accused Kiev of insufficiently condemning the massacres.

Warsaw also created a blacklist for what Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski called "people with an anti-Polish stance" under which two Kiev officials were banned from travelling to the country earlier this month. In response, Ukraine summoned Poland's ambassador.

Ties have also soured with the fellow ex-Soviet nation of Belarus and Kremlin-friendly Serbia. Last week, Belarus accused a Minsk-based Ukrainian journalist of spying for Kiev and declared a senior Ukrainian diplomat a persona non grata. Ukraine expelled a Belarusian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move. On top of that, Serbia this month recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultations after Kiev expressed concern over Serbian nationals fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country in a conflict that has killed over 10,000 people since 2014.

Ukrainian experts chalked up the disputes to a change of tone in Kiev, which is searching for a new post-Soviet identity and trying to impose its vision of the country's domestic politics on the outside world. "Ukraine is trying to understand what it is and what its national politics should look like," said Daria Gaidai, an analyst at the Kiev-based New Europe Centre. "This naturally provokes tensions as Ukraine was until now an amorphous state."

Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has struggled to find its own political path, caught in a tug of war between Russia and Europe over its future direction. A popular uprising in Kiev in 2014 led to a collapse of a Kremlin-backed regime and brought pro-Western forces to power. A month later, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and war erupted in the east of the country between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatist rebels. These events have galvanised Ukrainians and led to a surge of patriotism and nationalism.

The conflict with Moscow gave rise to "an increased desire to fight for national identity and the right to self-determination", said Oleksander Sushko of Ukraine's International Renaissance Foundation.

Some say Moscow has had a hand in the worsening relations between Ukraine and its neighbours. Writing on his personal Twitter account, President of the European Council Donald Tusk accused the government in his native Poland of carrying out a "Kremlin plan" by aggravating relations with Kiev. The single tweet provoked fury among the Polish ruling party, for whom Tusk is a political enemy.

Senior Ukrainian diplomats, speaking to AFP, sounded a similar note. "If they are not directly involved, the Russians are playing on these tensions," said one official.

The tensions could not have come at a worse time for Kiev which has already been weakened by the conflict in the east of the Ukraine. Brussels is unlikely to side with Kiev's European opponents but decisions that require EU unanimity - such as voting to extend sanctions against Russia - may now become more difficult.

Sushko said the chill between Ukraine and its Western neighbours, some of which are seeing a revival of nationalism, could last for a long time. "This is not some kind of one-off scandal," he said. "It is a historical phase that has replaced the post-Cold War era when attempts were made to erase differences between neighbours. Now things have turned the other way."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2018 8:15 am 
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Europe casts a wary eye on China's Silk Road plans
by Jacques KLOPP
7 January 2018

PARIS (AFP) - Depending on who you ask in Europe, China's colossal East-West infrastructure programme is either an opportunity or a threat -- and when French President Emmanuel Macron visits next week, Beijing will be watching to see how keen he is to jump on board.

Since China launched the New Silk Road plan in 2013, the hugely ambitious initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea has elicited both enormous interest and considerable anxiety. "It's the most important issue in international relations for the years to come, and will be the most important point during Emmanuel Macron's visit," said Barthelemy Courmont, a China expert at French think-tank Iris.

The $1 trillion project is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices, and a wealth of other goods in both directions. Known in China as "One Belt One Road", the plans would see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Beijing would develop roads, ports and rail lines through 65 countries representing an estimate 60 percent of the world's population and a third of its economic output.

Macron, who heads to China for a three-day state visit on Sunday, will notably be accompanied by some 50 company chiefs keen to do business with the Asian powerhouse. So far France has been cautious on the Silk Road plan, but Courmont said Chinese leaders were "waiting for a clear position" from Macron at a time when they view the young leader as an "engine" for growth in Europe. "If Macron takes a decision on how to tackle the Chinese initiative, all of Europe will follow," Courmont predicted.

But, as Courmont acknowledges, Europe is divided on what to make of China's ambitions. The continent could potentially benefit handsomely from increased trade over the coming decades, but in some corners there is suspicion that it masks an attempted Beijing influence grab. "They are notably asking themselves about the geopolitical consequences of this project in the long-term," Alice Ekman, who covers China at the French Institute of International Relations, said of France and Germany.

In Central and Eastern Europe the programme has been met with altogether more enthusiasm, given the huge infrastructure investment that China could bring to the poorer end of the continent. "Some consider the awakening of China and Asia as a threat," Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a summit in Budapest in November which gathered China with 16 Central and Eastern European countries. "For us, it's a huge opportunity," he said, with Beijing using the summit to announce three billion euros of investment in projects including a Belgrade-Budapest railway line.

Bogdan Goralczyk, director of the Centre for Europe at the University of Warsaw, noted there were divisions even within eastern Europe, with Poland hesitant due to its right-wing government's "strong anti-communist stance". Others to the west have made little effort to hide their concern. Former Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen fretted in a column for Germany's Zeit newspaper that "Europe will wake up only when it's too late, and when swathes of central and eastern Europe's infrastructure are dependent on China."

The former NATO chief noted that Greece -- a major recipient of Chinese largesse -- had in June blocked an EU declaration condemning Chinese rights abuses. It came just months after Athens' Piraeus port, one of the biggest in the world, passed under Chinese control.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is favourable to Chinese investment, but has reservations. "If we do not develop a strategy in the face of China, it will succeed in dividing Europe," Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in August.

France is meanwhile seeking to "rebalance" relations with China during Macron's trip, according to his office -- eyeing a trade deficit of 30 billion euros, its biggest with any partner. "Our Chinese partners would prefer a win-win situation. Why not? On the condition that it's not the same party that wins twice," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday. "It is not France's intention to block China," he said. "But we should establish a partnership based on reciprocity when it comes to the opening of markets."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2018 8:30 am 
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Ukraine language reform fuels identity fears among ethnic Hungarians
by Olga SHYLENKO
7 January 2018

BEREGOVE (UKRAINE) (AFP) - The central street in a small town in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine is buzzing with life.

Crowds pack the pavements and commerce is in full swing, with vendors hawking everything from apples to old plates to knitted socks. Nearly everyone here speaks Hungarian.

Welcome to Beregove -- or Beregszasz, as it is also known by its Hungarian name -- with a population of 24,000. Located in Transcarpathia and within walking distance to the Hungarian border, this quaint town, famous for its scenic vistas, hot springs and vineyards, is the centre of Ukraine's Hungarian culture.

Numbering around 100,000, ethnic Hungarians constitute the largest minority group in Transcarpathia, a western Ukrainian region behind the Carpathian Mountains that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over the past few months the region has been at the heart of tensions between Ukraine and Hungary following the adoption by Kiev of a controversial law that seeks to oblige schools to teach in the Ukrainian language.

Representatives of the country's ethnic minorities fear the ambiguously-worded law will upset the region's delicate social balance and limit their rights. "The Kiev establishment started doing stupid things," Fedir Shandor, a sociologist and university lecturer in Uzhgorod, the regional centre of Transcarpathia, told AFP.

The adoption of the law in September rattled nearly all of Kiev's neighbours to the west that see the legislation as a threat to their national minorities in the ex-Soviet country. Hungary went as far as threatening to block Kiev's rapprochement with the European Union. The Venice Commission, an independent panel of constitutional law experts who advise the Council of Europe, has recommended that Ukraine amend the disputed law, making it "more balanced and more clearly worded". In addition to ethnic Hungarians, Ukraine has sizeable communities of Russians, Romanians, Poles and other groups with roots in neighbouring countries.

The language law states that starting from September 2020, pupils will be taught exclusively in Ukrainian from the fifth grade, when children are aged 10 to 11, although they can still learn their native languages as a separate subject. Kiev says the move will help minorities better integrate into society and will give them new opportunities including access to higher education. But critics of the law are not convinced.

Oleksandr Shpenyk, head of the Ukrainian-Hungarian Educational Institute at Uzhgorod National University, fears the new legislation could lead to the closure of all Hungarian schools in the region. "Here in Uzhgorod you can use any language you want now, but if they continue this way," he said, referring to the Ukrainian authorities, "this will end badly". Shpenyk's institute prepares teachers for Hungarian schools so his students were also "under threat", he said. "Even after Transcarpathia became part of the Soviet Union, even under Stalin in 1949, Hungarian schools were open," he added.

There are more than 280 schools in the region. Of them, over 70 schools, teaching more than 16,000 pupils, are Hungarian. During last year's countrywide Ukrainian language tests -- whose results are key for admission to universities -- pupils from Transcarpathia were the worst performers. In some villages every pupil failed the test.

While admitting that Ukrainian language proficiency is indispensable, many ethnic Hungarians are afraid that Kiev will force them to learn the state language without consulting them or taking into account their way of life. "We want to be sure that the transition will be done properly, with our interests taken into account," Stella Kesler, director of a Hungarian school in Uzhgorod, told AFP. Most of her pupils opt to continue family businesses instead of going to universities. Those who want to pursue higher education have to study with tutors on their own.

Many in the region are grateful to Hungary for having stepped in to help Ukraine's minorities when ethnic schools in Transcarpathia were struggling to survive, abandoned to the mercy of fate by Kiev after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. "They had to repair schools, repair classrooms, pay for energy to stay open in winter, buy new textbooks," said sociologist Shandor, who has Magyar ancestors. "And it so happened that Hungary began sending its textbooks," he added, noting that now roughly half of all textbooks in the region's Hungarian schools come from the EU member.

For Ukrainians, the need to promote their language has become particularly acute after Russia annexed Crimea and a separatist insurgency erupted in the Russian-speaking east, in a conflict that has claimed over 10,000 lives since 2014. Many Ukrainians view Transcarpathia as another potential hotspot and any calls by Hungary's ultranationalists in support of the region's autonomy are met with disdain in Kiev. In November, Ukraine's far-right activists marched through the streets of Beregove and tore down a Hungarian flag from the city hall, accusing Budapest of "supporting separatism".

Uzhgorod philologist Mykhailo Markovych warns Kiev should improve the lives of its ethnic minorities and provide them with better education and healthcare opportunities. "Everything where Ukraine falls short will, of course, be exploited by its neighbours," he said.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:54 am 
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Venezuelan professor's worn out shoes bring wave of solidarity
24 July 2018

CARACAS (AFP) - Jose Ibarra is 41, has a masters degree, is studying for a PhD and works as a university professor, but thanks to Venezuela's economic crisis, he cannot even afford to have his shoes repaired.

Ibarra has become something of a social media hit after a tweet he posted in late June went viral. His tweet was a photo of a pair of black shoes with broken soles, accompanied by the message: "I'm not ashamed to say this: I go to the UCV with these shoes. My salary as a university professor is not enough to pay for new soles." The post has been re-tweeted almost 10,000 times, liked 5,400 times, and provoked nearly 1,000 comments plus a whole lot of goodwill.

Ibarra works at the Venezuelan Central University (UCV), the most important in the South American country, and earns 5.9 million bolivars ($1.70 on the black market) a month. In a country gripped by hyperinflation -- the International Monetary Fund projects will hit a mind-blowing one million percent by the end of this year -- that's barely enough to buy a kilo of meat but nowhere near sufficient to pay the 20 million bolivars necessary to get his shoes repaired.

Ibarra's story is a sorry reflection of the catastrophic effects Venezuela's collapsed economy has had on its people. Since he posted his tweet, Ibarra has received donations of shoes, clothes, money and hundreds of messages of support that led him to launch his "Shoes of Dignity" campaign to help other colleagues. "The tweet was an explosion of frustration. As hardly anyone was following me, I thought no one would see it," Ibarra told AFP. "But already I've received 12 pairs of shoes -- of which I've given away nine -- clothes and money. I created the movement because I kept receiving donations."

Messages and offers of help have come from far afield: Argentina, Colombia and even Spain. "We have a shoe shop in Colombia, we repair and make them. How can we send them?" said one Twitter message Ibarra received.

He has kept two pairs of used shoes and one new pair of trainers. He also gained 2,900 followers, more than 10 times the number he had before the tweet. Ibarra plans to give away some of the money he received to "the professors who need it the most so they can buy food," some of whom have "lost weight because they don't eat well." Some public university lecturers have intermittently gone on strike over the last three weeks, demanding improved wages.

Venezuela's economic crisis has had wide-reaching consequences on the country, which is dependent on its vast oil reserves, exports of which provide 96 percent of its hard currency revenue. Food and medicine shortages have hit the population hard but so, too, has a breakdown in public transport. Privately owned bus companies cannot afford to run their vehicles because passenger fares cannot cover maintenance costs such as replacing tires. A shortage of buses led President Nicolas Maduro's government to put on free transport in pick-up trucks known locally as "kennels", but that's been widely criticized due to safety concerns. It all means that people like Ibarra have been forced to walk where once they would have taken public transport, with his soles obviously bearing the added workload. "It's impossible to buy shoes. The money I have doesn't allow me to buy personal effects, not even food," said Ibarra. Lluvia Habibi, in charge of the store in which Ibarra tried to get his shoes repaired, told AFP that prices were high because raw material providers kept pushing up theirs.

Ibarra insists he's lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) during the crisis and has had to rely on help from family and friends. After his infamous tweet, a friend in Mexico sent him money so he could "eat an ice-cream or pizza." Other members of his family have also lost weight and don't have the money to buy new clothes. It means an old sewing machine in his home gets used regularly to take in baggy clothing.

A study by leading universities, UCV included, found that poverty levels had risen to 87 percent of the population in 2017, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the country's crisis in recent years. Despite his travails, Ibarra won't be joining them, though. "Venezuela can be saved," he insisted.

Source: AFP

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