Friday, 13 April 2018: Trump continues to mull Syria options, Novichok used in spy poisoning, chemical weapons watchdog confirms, EU report calls for sanctions procedure against Hungary


Trump continues to mull Syria options: US President Donald Trump continued to weigh his options Thursday for responding to a chemical gas attack in Syria as his aides warned a miscalculated response could spark a dramatic escalation between the United States, Russia and Iran. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis took pains on Thursday to walk back Trump’s threats of an imminent strike on Syria. France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he has proof that the Syrian government attacked the town of Douma with chemical weapons last weekend. He said he would decide in due course whether to respond with air strikes. Trump spoke with Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, the two main partners expected to join military action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not participate in an attack on Syria. Merkel said a full spectrum of measures should be considered. A fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is on its way to Syria and will begin working there by Saturday.,,,,

Novichok used in spy poisoning, chemical weapons watchdog confirms: The international chemical weapons watchdog has backed the UK’s findings on the identity of the chemical used to poison the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. The findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be a major relief to the UK, which has said Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, was used in the attack. The UK has called for a UN security council meeting to discuss the findings. Boris Johnson said in a statement that there could be no doubt what was used and there remained no alternative explanation about who was responsible. The UK government’s position is that it is the Russian state targeted the Skripals with a nerve agent, which military experts at Porton Down identified as Novichok.

EU Parliament report calls for sanctions procedure against Hungary: A draft European Parliament report on Thursday called on the assembly to trigger proceedings against Hungary that could ultimately lead to EU sanctions for failing to uphold the bloc’s core values. The report’s publication comes just after Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured a third consecutive term with a landslide election win on Sunday. The text, drafted by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, outlines concerns about the independence of the judiciary, corruption, freedom of expression, the rights of Roma and Jewish minorities and refugees, and other issues. Sargentini’s investigation will inform a European Parliament decision on whether to launch the so-called Article 7 process against Hungary, which could ultimately lead to Budapest losing its right to vote on EU decisions.

Zuckerberg asked to explain himself in EU Parliament: The European Parliament has invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before three of the assembly’s committees. The move follows a call on Wednesday by EU Justice Chief Vera Jourova for the social network giant’s founder to explain in person how the Facebook data of as many as 2.7 million Europeans could have ended up in the hands of British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Political leaders in the parliament declined Facebook’s offer to send Joel D. Kaplan, the company’s vice-president of global public policy, to speak instead of Zuckerberg at next week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Zuckerberg on Wednesday concluded two days of questioning by US Senate and House lawmakers, kick-starting a new era of government scrutiny of Facebook.,

Denmark laments Brussels over plans to plug Brexit budget hole: Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Locke Rasmussen has voiced his and his country’s displeasure at being made to increase EU budget contributions as a result of Brexit. The Danish leader said his country supported a lower budget rather than member states being made to pay more to plug the estimated 12 billion euro gap left by Britain in the EU’s coffers. While presenting a tough stance with the EU over Brexit, Rasmussen also warned British Prime Minister Theresa May about the UK’s future relationship with Brussels during their meeting on Tuesday.

EU seeks to protect farmers from unfair trade practices: The EU Commission is seeking to protect farmers by imposing fines on retailers and supermarket chains using unfair trade practices. EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan said Thursday the plan was about giving voice to the voiceless as small-scale farmers across the EU have struggled to eke out a living when faced with the negotiating power of major food conglomerates. In recent years milk farmers and others have complained about having to sell below production costs, threatening their livelihood. The EU Commission said farmers are also faced with late payments, last-minute cancellations and unilateral contract changes.

EU deposit protection: Brussels insists on fast agreement
Deal with Libya: Hell for refugees, a partner for the EU
EU Youth Orchestra: Council secures Orchestra’s future


I don’t see that we will make substantial progress by the end of June.
Ralph Brinkhaus, deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the Bundestag lower house of the German parliament, has rejected a push by France to agree on a European-wide deposit guarantee scheme by the end of June, as a first step to strengthening the financial resilience of the euro zone.


Polish, Israeli presidents march together at Auschwitz: The presidents of Poland and Israel marched together at the Auschwitz concentration camp on Thursday, putting aside their differences over a new law that makes it a crime to suggest there was any Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Israel’s Reuven Rivlin joined some 15,000 people – mostly young Jews from around the world and some camp survivors – in a 3-km walk to the site of the gas chambers. Duda sought to soothe frayed nerves after Poland ignited international outrage over the legislation this year. The law makes it illegal to suggest Poles and their nation were complicit in the Holocaust, and it has drawn condemnation from the US and Israel. Future ties between the two nations should be based on Polish-Jewish history, as Poland was a cradle of Jewish culture but also remains the “biggest Jewish cemetery in the world,” Rivlin said.,

ECJ upholds young refugees’ right to family reunification: Refugees who turn 18 during their asylum procedure must still be granted the right to family reunification as though they were minors, according to a European Court of Justice decision published Thursday. The European court found that if a refugee under 18 requests the right to family reunification within three months of receiving asylum status, the refugee must be considered a minor for the purposes of their application to bring family members to the host country. The number of foreigners in Germany grew by around 5.8 percent in 2017, according to figures released by the Federal Office of Statistics on Thursday. That’s an increase of about 585,000, or 5.8 percent, compared to the previous year. The German government on Thursday said it would continue border controls at its border with Austria for six more months to ensure Germany’s security and deal with ongoing migrant flows.,,

Spain refuses to free Catalan leader candidate Sanchez: Spain’s Supreme Court refused on Thursday to release from jail Jordi Sanchez, the Catalan government’s candidate to become leader of the region, preventing him from being named to the office on Friday. The ruling thwarts the Catalan parliament’s second attempt to elect Sanchez, a pro-independence politician awaiting trial on charges of rebellion. Lawmakers first selected Sanchez in March, but that bid was dropped because he had been jailed for helping to orchestrate pro-independence protests. That meant he could not attend the meeting of parliament that would have elected him president, and legally he could not be named unless he was present. The court decision on Thursday will keep him from becoming president for the same reason.

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Spain to sign deal to sell warships to Saudi Arabia: Spain is due to sign a framework deal to sell Saudi Arabia warships worth around 1.8 billion euros, a Spanish Defence Ministry source said. Under the agreement, Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia will sell five small warships, Spain’s army will train Saudi military personnel and contractors will build a naval construction centre in the kingdom, the source said. The deal will be signed in Madrid, where Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on a state visit, the source added. An industry official confirmed the details of the agreement, though Navantia declined to comment.

France: Defiant Macron to push through reforms despite strikes
Ukraine: Poroshenko initiates withdrawal from CIS
Greece and Turkey: Greek fighter jet crashes after encounter with Turkish aircraft

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Belgian army under fire for plans to cater to homesick recruits: Belgium’s defence ministry is facing criticism for plans to allow recruits to sleep at home rather than in barracks during training to keep them from getting homesick, „Het Nieuwsblad“ reported Thursday. The ministry is struggling with recruiting and retaining soldiers, and has lost nearly 4,000 recruits over the past decade, the Flemish-language newspaper reported. One in six reportedly complained of missing out on home life and hobbies. The ministry has said it is making efforts to ease the transition for recruits to the 28,000-strong army to tackle the issue.



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