US, Britain Urge Russia to Bring Those Behind Nemtsov Slaying to Justice

The United States and Britain urged Russia on Friday to bring to justice all those responsible for the slaying of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

A Russian court on Thursday convicted five men of murdering Nemtsov, but allies of the politician have said the investigation was a cover-up and that the people who had ordered his killing remained at large.

“We call once more on the Russian government to ensure that all involved in the killing of Boris Nemtsov, including anyone involved in organizing or ordering the crime, are brought to justice,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement, calling Nemtsov a “champion of democracy and human rights.”

Britain said it wanted Russia to further investigate Nemtsov’s death.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office supports Boris Nemtsov’s family in their call for a fuller investigation into who ordered his murder,” a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Ministry said. “Responsibility for his murder goes further than those already convicted, and we call on the Russian government to bring the perpetrators to account.”

Litvinenko slaying

Russia and Britain have repeatedly clashed publicly over Syria, Ukraine and the 2006 London slaying of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Trump had frequently called during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign for warmer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite criticism from lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

Allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year and colluded with Trump’s campaign have overshadowed the businessman’s unexpected victory and dogged his first five months in office.

Russia and the United States are also at odds over Ukraine, NATO expansion and the civil war in Syria, where Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump and Putin are due to meet next week in Hamburg at the summit of leaders from the Group of 20 major world economies.

Brazil’s 16-year-old Baseball Wonder Turning MLB Heads

A prospect with a 94 mph fastball gets a lot of attention, no matter where he is pitching — even when that prospect is a diminutive 16-year-old from a country with little baseball tradition.

Eric Pardinho’s blazing fastball has brought scouts to this city 50 miles west of Sao Paulo in soccer mad Brazil. The 5-foot, 8-inch tall right-hander could get a lot more attention July 2, when Major League Baseball teams can begin signing international players. Pardinho is No. 5 on MLB.com’s list of 30 world prospects to watch.  

 

Pretty impressive for a kid who was introduced to baseball almost by accident.

“I am only here because at 6 years of age I was playing paddleball on the beach and my uncle thought my control could be good for baseball back in Bastos,” he said.

Also throws change, slider

Bastos is a small town outside of Sao Paulo with a sizeable Japanese population. The Japanese began bringing their love of baseball and sushi to Brazil in the early 1900s.

Pardinho, whose mother’s parents are Japanese, started gaining attention last year when he struck out 12 in a win over the powerhouse Dominican Republic at the under-16 Pan Am Games. In September he got two outs against Pakistan — both strikeouts — in a qualifier for the World Baseball Classic, a 10-0 win played in New York City.

The young Brazilian’s changeup and slider have also earned praise from local coaches, who already see at him as a potential national star for baseball’s return to the Olympics in 2020 at Tokyo. At the moment Brazil has only one player in MLB, the Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes.

Since January, more and more visitors have come to watch Pardinho workout at a new MLB-sponsored training center in Ibiuna, another city influenced by baseball-loving Japanese immigrants.

Eager to sign

Pardinho is eager to sign with a team and move to the United States.

“There is a lot that I will only learn when I go,” said Pardinho.

 

The pitcher said his height should not be an issue, though his family members still hope that he will grow more in the next year.

“Some time ago there was an issue with shorter players, but now there are teams that don’t care. It matters more that I have a safe fastball and two more good options, including a curveball that I control well,” he said.

‘He destroys them all’

Other MLB hopefuls agree: facing Pardinho is a huge challenge.

“Pardinho’s curveball is amazing, he is more than fast. His height doesn’t matter because his arm can do wonders,” said third baseman Victor Coutinho, also 16.  

 

Also a pitcher, Heitor Tokar practices with Pardinho every day and believes in his friend’s future in the sport.

“Pardinho doesn’t feel any difference when he throws against players taller than him, he destroys them all,” Tokar said.

Even Pardinho’s coach, Mitsuyoshi Sato, knows the teen is headed for bigger challenges, and protects his arm. Sato pitches the soon-to-be pro no more than two innings at weekend tournaments.  

Room for improvement

 

Pardinho’s father Evandro makes the hour-plus drive from Bastos to check on his son, and Sato makes sure Pardinho is a priority for Yakult training center medics. Pardinho has the support of an orthopedist, a physiotherapist and a fitness trainer. He also has a technical trainer.

“He still has to improve physically and mentally. I don’t want him to do too many fastballs now because I worry about a possible injury,” said Sato. “No arm is prepared to pitch that fast, much less the arm of a kid.”  

 

Sato believes Pardinho has room for improvement in the control of his changeup so he can spare his arm and shoulder.

Pardinho thinks if he has success, he could change baseball in Brazil.

“If I do well, maybe more and more Brazilians, not only those of Japanese heritage, will think of playing on a diamond, too.”

 

Chilean Scientists Produce Biodiesel From Microalgae

Biodiesel made from microalgae could power buses and trucks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent, Chilean scientists said, possibly curbing pollution in contaminated cities like Santiago.

Experts from the department of Chemical Engineering and Bioprocesses at Chile’s Catholic University said they had grown enough algae to fragment it and extract the oil which, after removing moisture and debris, can be converted into biofuel.

“What is new about our process is the intent to produce this fuel from microalgae, which are microorganisms,” researcher Carlos Saez told Reuters.

Most of the world’s biodiesel, which reduces dependence on petroleum, is derived from soybean oil. It can also be made from animal fat, canola or palm oil.

Saez said a main challenge going forward would be to produce a sufficient volume of microalgae. A wide variety of fresh and salt water algaes are found in Chile, a South American nation with a long Pacific coast.

The scientists are trying to improve algae growing technology to ramp up production at a low cost using limited energy, Saez said.

French Far-right Leader Charged with Alleged EU Funds Misuse

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was charged Friday with allegedly misusing European Parliament funds to pay two parliamentary aides who also work at her National Front headquarters. Her lawyer said she denies the charges and will fight to get the investigation suspended.

 

Investigators suspect some National Front lawmakers used legislative aides for the party’s political activities while they were on the European Parliament payroll. Le Pen is president of the far-right National Front party.

 

 The prosecutor’s office said Le Pen was summoned and handed preliminary charges of breach of trust and complicity in breach of trust concerning two parliamentary aides when she served at the European Parliament.

Misuse of EU funds

 

 Le Pen is suspected of using parliamentary funds to pay Catherine Griset from 2009 to 2016 and bodyguard Thierry Legier from 2014 to 2016 for allegedly working as aides in Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament, even though they also have roles in her far-right National Front party.  Griset was charged in February for allegedly receiving money through a breach of trust.

 

 Le Pen is also charged with complicity in breach of trust in connection with her role as president of the National Front from 2014-2016. That charge could not immediately be clarified.

Le Pen denies the charges.

 

“It makes no sense,” National Front vice president Florian Philippot, Le Pen’s top lieutenant, said on the BFM-TV station. “She is obviously 24 hours out of 24 both the president of the National Front and a European deputy.”

Le Pen plans to file an urgent demand Monday at the Appeals Court asking that the preliminary charges be annulled due to “the violation of the principle of separation of powers,” her lawyer, Rodolphe Bosselut, said in a statement. She will also seek a suspension of the investigation.

His reference to “separation of powers” may relate to a contention that the French justice system should not interfere in the affairs of political parties. Bosselut could not immediately be reached for comment.

Faces prison time, fine

 

The preliminary charges are thrown out if investigators fail to come up with convincing evidence. The case goes to trial if they do. A conviction for breach of trust charge carries a potential penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of 375,000 euros ($428,000).

 

Le Pen had twice refused summonses from authorities while campaigning, first for the French presidential election which she lost May 7 to Emmanuel Macron, then for a lawmaker’s seat in the French National Assembly which she won on June 18. Due to that win, Le Pen gave up her seat in the European Parliament.

 

Other European parliamentarians, including Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen and her companion Louis Aliot, have also been investigated for allegedly misusing parliamentary aides’ wages. Aliot last week refused to respond to a summons by investigators, French media reported.

Cloud of suspicion

Some leading politicians are now living under a cloud of suspicion as to whether they misused funds meant to pay aides’ salaries.

 

The one-time front-runner in France’s presidential race this year, conservative Francois Fillon, was charged over allegations that he paid his wife, who served as his parliamentary aide, and two children for work they did not perform. Fillon suffered a big loss in the first round of the presidential vote.

Macron himself is determined to avoid any possible connection to the lax or corrupt political practices of the past. Three of his ministers bowed out of their jobs shortly after being appointed — the justice, defense and European affairs ministers — over concerns they could be caught in the investigations into the political use of salaries to parliamentary aides.

 

Families of Missing in Kosovo Want to Know Fate of Loved Ones

Families in Kosovo are appealing to national authorities and the international community to learn the fate of their loved ones who went missing during the Kosovo war, fought from March 1998 to June 1999.

At the end of 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported more than 6,000 people from Kosovo were unaccounted for. That number has gradually been reduced to 1,650. At a conference Thursday and Friday in Geneva, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo sought to clarify the fate of these people.  

Families of the missing include members of the Albanian and Serbian communities in Kosovo. They issued a joint appeal to authorities in the Serbian capital, Belgrade; the Kosovar capital, Pristina; and the international community, urging the appointment of a high representative to end their suffering by recovering the remains of their loved ones.

Bajram Qerkinaj, a representative of the families, told VOA the process had stagnated and must be revived and speeded up.

“We have reached the point when we would be happy to find even a single piece of the bodies of our loved ones,” he said. “This is what family happiness could be for us now — so that they at least could know where they could send a flower, or that they now can grieve for their members.”

Among other things, the conference called for greater cooperation between the Serbian and Kosovar authorities to speed up the identification of the missing.  

It said the search for missing persons must be intensified, as must the identification of human remains that have been exhumed. It also said families of missing persons should receive adequate and effective reparation.

UN Chief Urges Rival Cypriot Leaders to Heed Voices for Peace

The leader of the United Nations has joined the reconvened Cyprus negotiations to encourage the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to grasp the opportunity for peace and end a stalemate that has kept their island divided for more than four decades.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres got off the plane from New York early Friday morning and immediately set to work at the negotiating table.

As cheer leader in chief, Guterres says he is encouraged by the determination and commitment of the participants to find a solution to this thorny problem.  He says the conference offers an historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement to the conflict that has divided Cyprus for far too long.

“The road back to Switzerland has not been easy.  But, the path to lasting peace never is,” Guterres said. “To get to this point, the leaders have overcome significant challenges and are making unprecedented progress. I salute their determination and common vision, which has led them here.”

Alpine village hosts talks

Conference participants include the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, representatives of the three guarantor powers — Greece, Turkey, and Britain, and senior European Union officials.  The talks are taking place in the Alpine village of Crans-Montana, chosen for its seclusion and beauty.  

Guterres says he firmly believes that through determination and political will, it will be possible to clear the final hurdles. He says the participants have declared their readiness to find a solution.

“They have also demonstrated an awareness of this historic opportunity and the responsibility they share for a successful outcome.” Guterres said.  “And, I call on the leaders and the other participants in the conference to heed the call for peace of thousands of Cypriots at rallies on the island this week. The voices in support of a solution are indeed getting louder.”

Turkish troops a sticking point

Guterres notes some sensitive and difficult issues remain to be resolved. Chief among them are guarantees of safety for each of the divided communities.

The major sticking point is the 35,000 Turkish troops stationed in north Cyprus.  The Greek community views them as a danger and wants them to leave.  On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots see the troops as a guarantee of their safety.

Guterres says compromises will have to be worked out.  But, he adds the security of one community cannot come at the expense of the other.

Watchdog: Sarin Nerve Gas Used in Deadly Syrian Attack

An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed Friday that sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly April 4 attack on a Syrian town, the latest confirmation of chemical weapons use in Syria’s civil war.

 

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province left more than 90 people dead, including women and children, and sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.

 

“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”

The investigation did not apportion blame. Its findings will be used by a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team to assess who was responsible.

 

The U.S. State Department said in a statement issued Thursday night after the report was circulated to OPCW member states that “The facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”

 

President Donald Trump cited images of the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun attack when he launched a punitive strike days later, firing cruise missiles on a Syrian government-controlled air base from where U.S. officials said the Syrian military had launched the chemical attack.

 

It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.

 

Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons. His staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said earlier this month that he believed the attack was “a provocation” staged “by people who wanted to blame him (Assad) for that.”

 

Both the U.S. and the OPCW were at pains to defend the probe’s methodology. Investigators did not visit the scene of the attack, deeming it too dangerous, but analyzed samples from victims and survivors as well as interviewing witnesses.

 

The Syrian government joined the OPCW in 2013 after it was blamed for a deadly poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb. As it joined, Assad’s government declared about 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals, which were subsequently destroyed in an unprecedented international operation.

 

However, the organization has unanswered questions about the completeness of Syria’s initial declaration, meaning that it has never conclusively been able to confirm that the country has no more chemical weapons.

German Parliament Legalizes Same-sex Marriage

German lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage in their last session before the September election.

Lawmakers voted 393 for legalizing “marriage for everybody,” and 226 against with four abstentions. 

 

The measure brought to a vote in Friday’s session was fast-tracked after Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” freeing members of her conservative coalition, which has been against same-sex marriage, to individually vote for the measure.

Merkel said she voted against same-sex marriage because she believes the country’s law sees it as between a man and a woman, but that the opposite view must be respected. 

She said “for me marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman” but she continues to see the interpretation as a “decision of conscience.” 

 

The measure, which is expected to see legal challenges, also opens the door for gay couples to adopt, which Merkel says she supports.

 

Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but same-sex marriages remained illegal.

 

All of Merkel’s potential coalition partners after the Sept. 4 election, including the center-left Social Democrats of her challenger, Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalized. 

EU Pledges Support, Italy Threatens to Close Ports in Surge of Migrants

The European Union has pledged to support Italy as it continues to admit thousands of migrants who are crossing the Mediterranean every day from North Africa. 

So far this year nearly 80,000 people have made the journey, and more than 2,000 have died

Poor health

Most of the tens of thousands of people plucked from the Mediterranean this week have been taken to ports on the Italian coast. They are severely dehydrated, usually malnourished and suffering from infections and skin diseases. But there are other troubling signs.

Marcella Kraay of Doctors Without Borders spoke to VOA via Skype from the group’s rescue ship, Aquarius, as it disembarked more than a thousand migrants at the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro.

“We also see the results of people actually being physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, tortured,” Kraay said.

Help from EU

Italy’s representative to the European Union has warned the situation is “unsustainable,” and threatened to stop vessels of other countries from bringing migrants to its ports. 

Kraay sympathizes with Italy’s position.

“We have not in any way formally been informed of this by the Italian government. But my first impression of this is that the main thing here is that it is actually a cry for help coming from the Italian government. And it would be actually good for other EU member states to take a bit more responsibility.”

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos offered Italy his support.

“Italy is under huge pressure and we are not going to leave this country alone.”

Italy legally bound

But Italy is obliged to take in the migrants, says refugee law expert Professor Geoff Gilbert of the University of Essex, also via Skype.

“The law of the sea, international refugee law, and international human rights law are all coming into play together. While I have a lot of sympathy for the Italian situation, I do not believe Italy can send back boats, even boats that are seaworthy, into the Mediterranean.”

Gilbert says Rome is likely trying to force the implementation of the 2015 EU agreement to share refugees across the bloc, which has so far made little progress.

This week more than 400 migrants in Italy clashed with police at the French border, demanding to be allowed through.

EU Pledges Support as Italy Threatens to Close Ports Following Migrant Surge

The European Union has pledged to support Italy as it continues to admit thousands of migrants crossing every day from North Africa across the Mediterranean. Italy has threatened to shut its ports to foreign-registered boats carrying migrants. So far this year nearly 80,000 people have made the journey, and more than 2,000 have died. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.