Deputy PM: Luxembourg’s Space Mining Mission Begins Tuesday

When Luxembourg’s new law governing space mining comes into force on Tuesday, the country will already be working to make the science-fiction-sounding mission a reality, the deputy prime minister said.

The legislation will make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to offer a legal framework to ensure that private operators can be confident about their rights over resources they extract in space.

The law is based on the premise that space resources are capable of being owned by individuals and private companies and establishes the procedures for authorizing and supervising space exploration missions.

“When I launched the initiative a year ago, people thought I was mad,” Etienne Schneider told Reuters.

“But for us, we see it as a business that has return on investment in the short-term, the medium-term, and the long-term,” said Schneider, who is also Luxembourg’s economy minister.

Luxembourg in June 2016 set aside 200 million euros ($229 million) to fund initiatives aimed at bringing back rare minerals from space.

While that goal is at least 15 years off, new technologies are already creating markets that space mining could supply, said Schneider.

He said firms could soon make carrying materials to refuel or repair satellites economically feasible or supply raw materials to the 3-D printers now being tested on the International Space Station.

Lifting each kilogram of mass from Earth to orbit costs between 10,000 and 15,000 euros ($11,000 to $18,000), according to Schneider, but firms could cut these costs by recycling the debris of old satellites and rocket parts floating in space.

The small European country, best known for its fund management and private banking sector, will on Tuesday begin the work of making such deals, with the security of a legal framework in place, said Schneider.

Luxembourg has already managed to attract significant interest from pioneers in the field such as U.S. operators Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, and aims to attract research and development projects to set up there.

A similar package of laws was introduced in the United States in 2015 but only applies to companies majority owned by Americans, while Luxembourg’s laws will only require the company to have an office in the country.

“I am already in discussions with fund owners for more than 1 billion euros which they want to dedicate to space exploration over here in Luxembourg,” Schneider said. “In 10 years, I’m quite sure that the official language in space will be Luxembourgish.”

Peruvian Ex-president Asks Appeals Court to Free Him from Jail

Peru’s former left-leaning president Ollanta Humala and his wife asked an appeals court on Monday to free them from jail where they have been ordered to spend up to 18 months before a trial over allegations they took illegal funds from Brazilian builder Odebrecht.

Humala and former first lady Nadine Heredia denied having any intent to evade or interfere with a money laundering probe and said a lower court’s ruling to jail them before trial violated due process.

Humala and Heredia turned themselves in to authorities after the lower court’s July 13 decision, which marked the second time that a former Peruvian president has been ordered jailed since Odebrecht admitted last year that it bribed local officials over three presidencies.

Ex-President Alejandro Toledo, believed to be in the United States, has refused to turn himself in.

“We ask this courtroom for a just decision because we stayed in our country and we plan to face this process in our country,” Humala told the appeals court from jail via videoconference.

Prosecutor Rafael Vela said Humala should not be given special treatment for being a former president.

Unlike Toledo, Humala is not accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for lucrative contracts. Instead, prosecutors allege that Humala and Heredia took $3 million in campaign funds from Odebrecht that the company had obtained illicitly and that the couple used for personal enrichment.

The couple denies taking any money from Odebrecht, said defense attorney Wilfredo Pedraza, who added that if they had it would be an electoral infraction but not a criminal defense.

The three-member appeals panel is expected to decide whether to overturn the lower court’s ruling this week.

Freeing Humala and Heredia would mark a rare reversal in Peru’s judicial system that has preventively detained at least five people so far in connection with Odebrecht.

So-called preventive prison before trial is somewhat common in Peru and has been criticized by some as overused or unfair.

In Brazil, pre-trial detention has been used to secure confessions from dozens of suspects in the Car Wash graft scandal involving Odebrecht.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who once championed Humala, has been sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for graft but is free on appeal.

Toledo denies wrongdoing and is not sought for arrest in the United States because authorities there have asked Peru for more evidence.

US Sanctions Maduro After ‘Illegitimate’ Vote

The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, over what it called his “illegitimate” election of an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

All of Maduro’s assets in the United States are frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing any business with him.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the sanctions Monday in Washington, calling Maduro a “dictator” who ignores the will of the Venezuelan people.

“By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela, who seek to reform their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”

Maduro showed his apparent indifference to the sanctions late Monday, calling them a sign of President Donald Trump’s “desperation and hate.”

“I will not obey imperial orders. I do not obey any foreign governments. I’m a free president,” Maduro declared. “Why the hell should we care what Trump says? We care about what the sovereign people of Venezuela say,” he shouted Monday to a crowd of supporters in Caracas.

The sanctions against Maduro follow those imposed last week on a number of current and former senior Venezuelan officials.

Mnuchin would not comment on future sanctions, including a ban on Venezuelan oil exports. He said the U.S. will monitor the situation, but that “our objective is not to do anything to hurt the people of Venezuela.”

Peru has called for a meeting of Latin America foreign ministers in Lima next week to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

The European Union also says it will not recognize the assembly, along with Canada, Spain, and nearly every Latin American country.

Maduro is defying the global condemnation, especially from what he regards as Venezuela’s arch enemy, the United States.

Maduro presses ahead

The Maduro government appeared determined to go through with forming the 545-member constituent assembly, even before it releases final results of the election.

The government said more than 8 million people cast ballots; the opposition, which boycotted the vote, said the turnout was much lower. Reporters on the ground in Caracas said dozens of polling places were almost deserted Sunday.

If 8 million people voted, that would be less than half of all registered voters. Pre-election polls showed more than 70 percent of all Venezuelans opposed the assembly.

Details on what is likely to be included in a new constitution are unclear. Maduro has said it is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its severe economic and social crisis and stop the seemingly endless violence.

The opposition said the measure would bring on a socialist dictatorship. It contended the vote was rigged, in order to pack the assembly with Maduro supporters who could dissolve the opposition-controlled national assembly and fire officials who disagree with the government. Maduro’s opponents are demanding early presidential elections.

Violent protests

Sunday’s election was the bloodiest day in four months of anti-government protests, with at least 10 people killed in clashes around the country. More than 120 have died since early April.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on Monday accused the Venezuelan government of “deliberately and repeatedly” using violence to repress the opposition.

The drop in global energy prices, together with political corruption, have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy. Gasoline, medicine, and such basic staples as cooking oil, flour and sugar are scarce, and many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Colombia and Brazil to buy food.

Maduro has blamed the country’s woes on what he calls U.S. imperialism and its supporters inside Venezuela. He has warned against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely lead to civil war.

Chemical Industry and US Call for Global Culture of Chemical Security

Securing petrochemical plants and keeping chemicals out of the hands of terrorists were the topics of discussion at a recent Chemical Sector Security Summit in Houston, Texas. Security experts say the countries that are producing chemicals are shifting and that is one of many reasons developed and developing nations need to share best security practices. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Houston, a petrochemical hub in the United States.

Peru Calls Latin America Meeting After Venezuela’s ‘Illegitimate’ Vote

Peru’s government is organizing a meeting of Latin American foreign ministers on what it calls Venezuela’s “illegitimate” vote Sunday approving a new government body charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

 

The meeting, planned for August 8 in Lima, represents some of the international concern expressed Monday about the approval of a National Constituent Assembly. Its 545 members all support socialist President Nicolas Maduro and theoretically could supplant the opposition-led legislature, the National Assembly.

 

On Monday, the European Union joined Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Spain and at least seven other countries in saying they would not recognize the Constituent Assembly.

 

That kind of assembly, “elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, cannot be part of the solution” to Venezuela’s crisis, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday in Brussels. She said he vote “has increased division and will further de-legitimize Venezuela’s democratically elected institutions.”

 

The EU’s foreign policy leader, Federica Mogherini, is overseeing a “joint response” from the 28-member bloc, Andreeva said.

 

Sunday’s election marked the bloodiest day in four months of anti-government protests, with at least 10 people killed in clashes around the country More than 110 have died since protests began in early April.

Maduro proclaimed the election Sunday was a resounding success. “The people have delivered the constitutional assembly,” he said.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said more than 8 million people, representing more than 41 percent of eligible voters, went to the polls Sunday to cast their ballots.

The opposition in the South American country said the unpopular measure would result in a socialist dictatorship and had called on Venezuelans to boycott the vote. Dozens of polling places in Caracas, the capital, were empty.

Details on what is likely to be included in a new constitution are unclear. Maduro has said it is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its severe economic and social crisis and stop the seemingly endless violence.

Critics assert that only Maduro supporters were candidates, including first lady Cilia Flores, and the first vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello.

The opposition contends the 545-member constituent assembly would dissolve the opposition-controlled congress and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship. Maduro opponents are demanding early presidential elections.

The drop in global energy prices together with political corruption have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy.

Gasoline, medicine, and such basic staples as cooking oil, flour, and sugar are scarce. Many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Colombia and Brazil to buy food.

Maduro has blamed the country’s woes on what he calls U.S. imperialism and its supporters inside Venezuela. He has warned against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely lead to civil war.

US Canada Border Crossing Poses Daunting Challenge for Both Countries

President Donald Trump’s plans to build a security wall along the U.S.-Mexican border are well known, but many argue the northern U.S. border with Canada also presents a challenging security problem for both countries. There is human and drug trafficking across the border in both directions and border patrol agents have limited resources to stop it. VOA’s Jeff Swicord has more in this report from the Canadian-U.S. border.

Mexico Rescues 147 Central American Migrants Headed for US

Mexican authorities said on Sunday they rescued 147 Central Americans abandoned in the wilderness of Veracruz state after suspected human smugglers forced them out of the cramped tractor trailer they were traveling in on their way to the United States.

The migrants, 74 from Honduras, 59 from Guatemala, 13 from El Salvador and one from Nicaragua were in the back of the poorly ventilated vehicle as they traveled to the border state of Tamaulipas, where they would eventually be smuggled into the United States, Mexico’s national immigration institute said.

Among those rescued were 48 minors, including 14 traveling without an adult companion.

They were abandoned near a highway in the city of Ozuluama, Veracruz.

Earlier this month, 10 people died and 29 were hospitalized after more than 100 illegal immigrants were packed into a stifling tractor trailer for a 150-mile (240-km) drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to San Antonio, where survivors spilled out into a Walmart parking lot in the Texas city.

“According to the testimony of migrants, the alleged traffickers, who used the Veracruz-Tampico route, in order to reach the United States, abandoned the migrants in the wilderness, where they were forced to hide in the bushes” without food or water, the immigration institute said.

Personnel from the immigration institute gave medical attention, food and water to the rescued Central Americans and contacted their respective embassies.

Plagued by gang violence and poverty, the trio of Central American nations, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, together send the bulk of migrants entering the United States illegally.

Turf wars between gangs have sparked a surge in violence in Mexico in the past 18 months, also raising the incentive for some young Mexicans to risk the crossing.

Maduro Sees ‘Success’ in Venezuela’s Violence-Marred Election

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is proclaiming Sunday’s election for a assembly to rewrite the constitution a “success” despite violence that left at least nine dead.

The opposition boycotted the vote, saying the unpopular measure would result in a socialist dictatorship.

Maduro brushed off protesters’ concerns: “It’s been and it is a successful day with large participation. Let those who have eyes see. The oligarchy doesn’t have eyes or ears for the people. They’ve always been invisible. … We care about the people’s truth.”

But death, protests, and violence overshadowed the voting. At least nine deaths have been reported since Friday, bringing the death toll over the last four months of protests to more than 120.

They include 39-year-old lawyer Jose Felix Pineda, a candidate for the constitutional assembly, who was shot in his home Saturday night.

On Sunday, four motorcycle policemen were hurt when someone threw explosives at a convoy in Caracas.

Protesters both for and against the assembly battled each other across Venezuela, with the opposition blocking roads and police reacting with tear gas and rubber bullets.

President Nicolas Maduro said anyone defying a ban on protests during the historic vote risks up to 10 years in prison.

Dozens of polling places deserted

The opposition said the vote was rigged and called for an election boycott. Reporters on the ground in Caracas said dozens of polling places were nearly deserted.

Maduro cast the first ballot Sunday, calling it “the first vote for peace, the first vote for the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela.”

The president urged the international community to accept the election.

“We’ve stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence. Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms toward our country,” he said.

The United States will not.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted Sunday that “Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegitimate government. The Venezuelan people and democracy will prevail.”

Details on what is likely to be included in a new constitution are unclear. Maduro has said it is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its severe economic and social crisis and stop the seemingly endless violence.

Critics assert that only Maduro supporters are candidates, including first lady Cilia Flores, and the first vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello.

Prelude to dictatorship?

Polls show more than 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly.

The opposition contends the assembly would dissolve the opposition-controlled congress and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship. Maduro opponents are demanding early presidential elections.

The Trump administration has already enforced economic sanctions on a number of high-ranking members of Maduro’s administration. A number of top U.S. lawmakers have expressed their support for the citizens of Venezuela.

The United Nations has also said it is deeply concerned about the situation in Venezuela.

The drop in global energy prices together with political corruption have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy.

Gasoline, medicine, and such basic staples as cooking oil, flour, and sugar are scarce. Many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Colombia and Brazil to buy food.

Maduro has blamed the country’s woes on what he calls U.S. imperialism and its supporters inside Venezuela. He has warned against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely lead to civil war.

VOA’s Álvaro Algarra, Carolina Mayor contributed to this report.

Pence to Baltic Allies: ‘We Stand With You’

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Estonia for talks on military support with the three Baltic members of NATO, to assure them the United States supports its allies who are concerned about Russian expansionism.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all have asked for tangible demonstrations of U.S. military support. Concerns about Russian expansionism have increased sharply in the Baltic region with Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Pence was upbeat on his arrival in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, on Sunday: “President (Donald) Trump sent me to Eastern Europe with a very simple message, and that is that America first doesn’t mean America alone.”

Pence will meet with all three Baltic presidents on Monday, then travel on to Georgia, where troops from the U.S. and other NATO partners began military exercises Sunday, and later to Montenegro, NATO’s newest member.

“Our message to the Baltic States, my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro will be the same,” Pence said in Tallinn. “To our allies here in Eastern Europe: We are with you, we stand with you on behalf of freedom and it’s a great honor for me to be here.”

The NATO military exercise that began Sunday at Georgia’s Vaziani military base, Tbilisi, marks the first time that U.S. and German heavy military machinery was deployed in the former Soviet republic, which borders Russia.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili attended the opening ceremony at the exercise, dubbed Noble Partner 2017. A total of 2,800 soldiers from five NATO members — the U.S., Britain, Germany, Turkey and Slovenia — joined troops from NATO partner countries Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia.

Pence said the U.S. is making it very clear “that Russia’s destabilizing activities, its support for rogue regimes, its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable.”

 

Thousands Rally in Istanbul Against Israel’s Al-Aqsa Mosque Measures

Thousands of people rallied in Turkey’s largest city on Sunday against security measures Israel has imposed at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, shortly after Israel removed other measures that led to two weeks of violent Palestinian protests.

The rally in Istanbul, called “The Big Jerusalem Meeting” and organized by Turkey’s Saadet Party, drew some five thousand people to the Yenikapi parade ground on the southern edge of Istanbul.

Protesters were brought in by buses and ferries from across the city, waved Turkish and Palestinian flags, and held up posters in front of a giant stage where the chairman of the Saadet party and representatives from NGOs addressed the crowd.

“The Al-Aqsa mosque is our honor,” read a poster.

“You should know that not only Gaza, but Tel Aviv also has their eyes on this parade ground. Netanyahu does as well, and he is scared”, said Saadet Party Chairman Temel Karamollaoglu, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Turkey has opposed the security measures installed at the entry points of the mosque compound, with President Tayyip Erdogan warning Israel that it would suffer most from the dispute.

Erdogan accused Israel of inflicting damage on Jerusalem’s “Islamic character”, in comments that Israel’s foreign ministry called “absurd”.

The dispute over security at the mosque compound – where Israel installed metal detectors at entry points after two police guards were shot dead this month – has touched off the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

On Friday however, the main prayer session at the Al-Aqsa mosque ended relatively calmly after Israel removed the tougher security measures, though it barred entrance to men under age 50.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the holy compound, in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in a move that has never been recognized internationally.

Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, sits in the heart of the Old City. It is also the holiest place in Judaism – the venue of two ancient temples, the last destroyed by the Romans. Jews pray under heavy security at the Western Wall at the foot of the elevated plaza.