Outgoing UN Human Rights Chief Warns UN Could Collapse

The outgoing United Nations’ human rights chief says the power held by the five permanent members of the Security Council could cause the U.N. to “collapse.”

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein spoke to reporters Monday in Geneva as he prepares to step down from office at the end of the month.

He said the five Council members with veto power — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are “running too much of the business” and have created a “logjam.”

“When they cooperate, things can move. When they don’t, everything becomes stuck and the organization in general becomes so marginal,” Zeid said, referring to vetoed resolutions on Syria and Israeli polices toward the Palestinians.

Zeid also alluded to rising nationalism across the globe, warning that humanity may be forgetting the lessons of World War II.

“My sense is the further away we get from those historical and dreadful experiences, the more we tend to play fast and loose with the institutions created to prevent repetition,” he said.

Zeid, a Jordanian, declined to seek another four-year term as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is replacing him. 

Islamic Militants Launch Attacks in Chechnya, 5 Killed

Islamic militants launched a series of attacks Monday in Russia’s southern province of Chechnya, leaving five young militants dead and several police officers wounded, officials said.

The violence indicated the Islamist insurgency remains active in the mostly Muslim province despite authorities’ claims that it has been eradicated. It follows an attack on a Russian Orthodox church in May that left four attackers, two policemen and a churchgoer dead.

Chechnya’s regional leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, sought to downplay the attacks, saying they were quickly fended off by police. He insisted the young attackers were brainwashed by Islamic militants and don’t have any public support in Chechnya.

Dzhambulat Umarov, the information minister in the regional government, told the Tass news agency the attackers were between 11 and 16 years old. He said the Islamic State has increasingly focused on teenagers in its efforts to recruit supporters in the region.

The regional police said in a statement that two knife-wielding attackers broke into a police station in the southern town of Shali and stabbed two officers. Police shot and killed them.

In another clash in Shali, two attackers tried to blow up a truck loaded with gas canisters in a suicide attack, but the vehicle failed to explode, Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov said on Kommersant FM radio. He said the two were shot dead by police.

Russian news agencies also reported an attack in the village of Mesker-Yurt, outside Shali, in which an attacker blew himself up near a police checkpoint. Police were unhurt and Kadyrov said the suicide bomber survived and was hospitalized.

And in yet another attack in the regional capital of Grozny, an attacker driving a car hit two traffic police officers, injuring them, officials said. Police later shot and killed the driver.

The Kremlin has relied on the strongman Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars in the 1990s, and has provided generous subsidies to help rebuild the region.

International human rights groups, however, have accused Kadyrov of rampant rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings by his feared security forces.

Radical Islamic militants, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, have conducted sporadic raids in Chechnya, defying Kadyrov’s assurances that the region is stable.

Europe Sees Sharp Rise in Measles: 41,000 Cases, 37 Deaths

The World Health Organization says the number of measles cases in Europe jumped sharply during the first six months of 2018 and at least 37 people have died.

The U.N. agency’s European office said Monday more than 41,000 measles cases were reported in the region during the first half of the year — more than in all 12-month periods so far this decade.

The previous highest annual total was 23,927 cases in 2017. A year earlier, only 5,273 cases were reported.

The agency said half — some 23,000 cases — this year occurred in Ukraine, where an insurgency backed by Russia has been fighting the government for four years in the east in a conflict that has killed over 10,000 people.

France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia and Serbia also had more than 1,000 measles infections each so far this year.

Measles, among the world’s most contagious diseases, is a virus that’s spread in the air through coughing or sneezing. It can be prevented with a vaccine that’s been in use since the 1960s, but health officials say vaccination rates of at least 95 percent are needed to prevent epidemics.

Vaccine skepticism remains high in many parts of Europe after past immunization problems.

Measles typically begins with a high fever and also causes a rash on the face and neck. While most people who get it recover, measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children, according to the WHO.

Italy has introduced a new law requiring parents to vaccinate their children against measles and nine other childhood diseases. Romania also passed a similar bill, including hefty fines for parents who didn’t vaccinate their children.

The U.N. agency on Monday called for better surveillance of the disease and increased immunization rates to prevent measles from becoming endemic.

Poland Bans Ukraine Activist From Europe, Raising Questions

Poland has used its powers as a European Union member to ban a human rights Ukrainian activist from all 26 countries in Europe’s Schengen area, saying she poses a security threat following allegations that she works for Russian interests.

Some government critics, however, have questioned whether the government is misusing the system to intimidate its opponents.

The activist, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, and her Polish husband Bartosz Kramek told The Associated Press they consider the move punishment for their open opposition to Poland’s conservative, nationalist government.

Kozlovska, who runs an organization with offices in Warsaw, Brussels and Kiev, the Open Dialog Foundation, said her group’s work has largely focused on promoting democracy in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Moldova. One effort, she said, involved lobbying the EU to place sanctions on people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But after the conservative nationalist Law and Justice party won power in Poland in 2015 and began reshaping the country’s judiciary, the pair also started to accuse that government of violating the rule of law. Kozlovska said they began to face political pressure and that some ruling-party members and online trolls accused her of ties to Russia.

“There is a smear campaign against us,” she said. “If I am a Russian agent why would I put people around Putin on a sanctions list? It’s nonsense that I am some kind of agent.”

On Monday, the Internal Security Agency, said its counterintelligence department had “serious doubts” about the financing of her foundation and that the ban resulted from the agency denying an application by her for a long-term residency permit.

Kozlovska was stopped Aug. 13 at the Brussels Zaventem airport after arriving from Kiev, held overnight and put on an early flight back to Kiev the next morning. Belgian authorities acted after Poland entered her in the Schengen Information System, a database aimed at ensuring security in Europe’s passport-free Schengen Area.

The move effectively forces Kozlovska, 33, and Kramek, 32, to either live apart or for him to leave Poland. They spoke to the AP from Kiev, where he joined her last week, though he said he plans to be in Warsaw for a street demonstration Thursday in her support.

They said they believe the Polish-requested ban is related to an open manifesto that Kramek published last year calling for civil disobedience against the government. In his appeal, he wrote: “Mere protests and appeals are not enough; extraordinary and resolute actions based on the idea of civil disobedience must be taken immediately. Nobody wants Maidan or bloodshed in Poland, but the escalating tension makes us take almost any unimaginable scenario into account — and be prepared for it.”

Kramek said that was a reference to his support for the Euromaidan, a wave of pro-Western demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine that began in 2013.

“I didn’t call for any violence,” Kramek said. “I was trying to explain that the Maidan was a peaceful revolution and that nobody was violent until the government tried to suppress the protesters using extreme violence.”

Artur Lompart, director of the Foreign Ministry’s press office, told the AP in a written statement that names are put on the Schengen system “for reasons of defense, national security or public order.”

“The claims made by Mr. Kramek and his spouse that the refusal of entry into Schengen area for Ms. Kozlovska was a result of their anti-government activities are hugely exaggerated,” he said.

“Mr. Kramek openly publishes anti-government texts and he often actively participates in anti-government manifestations or protests. Poland is a democratic country where there is a full freedom of opinion and expression of political views.”

Some political activists and members of the Ukrainian community expressed doubts to the AP about the legitimacy of Kozlovska and her foundation. Some nonetheless criticize the government for a lack of transparency and say they fear the move could be an effort to discredit the opposition to the government after three years of frequent street protests.

Michal Szczerba, an opposition lawmaker, said Poland’s authorities “are behaving like Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey.”

Earlier this year, three members of the European Parliament from the Polish ruling party failed in their bid to have Kozlovska denied access to the EU legislature.

One of them, Kosma Zlotowski, said in his request that Kozlovska was granted a Russian passport after the annexation of Crimea.

“Moreover, the Foundation and its sponsors are suspected of having connections with Russia, including with entities connected with the Russian Navy. … Such connections should raise certain concern,” Zlotowski continued.

The couple denied those allegations.

Poland has absorbed nearly 2 million Ukrainians in recent years. Tom Junes, a historian with the Human and Social Studies Foundation Sofia who researches protest movements and disinformation in Eastern Europe, believes that context is essential to understanding Kozvlovska’s case.

The deportation makes the point that anybody who becomes engaged in activism against the current government in Poland could be banned not only from Poland but also from the EU, Junes said.

Olena Babakova, a Ukrainian freelance journalist based in Warsaw, agreed. “This is a warning for all foreigners who think that Poland is their home and that they can take an active part in public life,” she said.

Report: Experts Knew Genoa Bridge Had Weakened 20 Percent

Engineering experts determined in February that corrosion of the metal cables supporting the Genoa highway bridge had reduced the bridge’s strength by 20 percent — a finding that came months before it collapsed last week, an Italian news magazine reported Monday.

Despite the findings, Espresso wrote that “neither the ministry, nor the highway company, ever considered it necessary to limit traffic, divert heavy trucks, reduce the roadway from two to one lanes or reduce the speed” of vehicles on the key artery for the northern port city.

A large section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed August 14 during a heavy downpour, killing 43 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 600 people living in apartment buildings beneath another section of the bridge.

Overnight, workers heard creaking noises coming from the part of the bridge that was still standing, so firefighters suspended an operation allowing evacuated residents to retrieve their belongings from apartments under the bridge.

The governor of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, said checks were under way to determine what risks may be present. Work continued to clear the tons of bridge debris that cascaded onto a dry riverbed below.

“The area under the bridge is off-limits, except for extreme necessities, because the firefighters decided to further verify following the noises we had today,” Toti told The Associated Press. He said a ministerial commission would decide what apartment and other buildings would eventually be demolished for a new bridge to be built.

Prosecutors investigating the bridge’s collapse have said, among other things, they are looking at possible faulty maintenance or design flaws.

Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi said Monday they are also looking for any possible weakness in oversight. He said he could not say yet whether the presence of a moveable maintenance platform weighing several tons on the bridge’s underside contributed to the collapse.

He repeated that the investigation will take time but said “certainly it will be done in a reasonable time frame.”

In its report, Espresso cited the minutes of a meeting of the Genoa public works superintendent, which included Roberto Ferrazza, an architect named to head a government commission looking into the disaster, and Antonio Brencich, an engineer who has been outspoken about the bridge’s flaws.

 Espresso reporter Fabrizio Gatti told SKY TG24 that a 20 percent reduction in strength would not be significant in a modern bridge, but on a structure with the known defects of the Morandi Bridge it should have merited swifter, more decisive action.

“Everyone was well aware of the situation on that bridge,” Gatti said.

But after that report, former Transport Minister Graziano Delrio told a news conference Monday that “no one ever signalled the necessity of limiting traffic” on the bridge.

Still, bidding on a 20-million-euro ($22.8-million) contract to reinforce two of the major supports for the bridge, including one that collapsed, was scheduled to close next month.

The Italian government, meanwhile, appeared divided on how to proceed in relation to Autostrade per l’Italia, the company that operated the section of highway that collapsed.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli was quoted by the Milan daily Corriere della Sera as saying that he supported the nationalization of Italy’s toll highways like the including the bridge.

“Think of all the revenues that would return to the government through tolls, to use not to donate to shareholders’ dividends but to reinforce the quality of service and security on our roadways,” Toninelli was quoted as saying.

But Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who is also Italy’s interior minister, told reporters he remains in favour of public-private cooperation in infrastructure.

Premier Giuseppe Conte says procedures have begun to revoke Autostrade per l’Italia’s concession to operate some 3,000 kilometers (nearly 1,900 miles) of Italian highways, about half of the total highways operated by private companies.

Italy’s main union confederation estimates it would cost Italy between 15 billion and 18 billion euros to revoke the highway rights.

The company that owns Autostrade, Atlantia, closed down 4.6 percent at 18.43 euros Monday, after a late opening due to volatility. It shed 22 percent last Thursday, the first trading day after the government announced its intentions, before returning to positive territory Friday.

Greeks See Little Cause for Joy as 8-Year Bailout Era Ends

There’ll be no dancing in the moonlit streets of Athens.

For all the official pronouncements that Greece’s eight-year crisis will be over as its third and last bailout program ends Monday, few Greeks see cause for celebration.

 

Undeniably, the economy is once again growing modestly, state finances are improving, exports are up and unemployment is down from a ghastly 28 percent high.

 

But one in five Greeks are still unemployed, with few receiving state benefits, and underpaid drudgery is the norm in new jobs. The average income has dropped by more than a third, and taxes have rocketed. Clinical depression is rife, suicides are up, and hundreds of thousands of skilled workers have flitted abroad.

 

After the end of the bailout Monday, Greece will get no new loans and will not be asked for new reforms. But the government has agreed to a timetable of savings so strict as to plague a future generation and a half: For every year over the next four decades, governments must make more than they spend while ensuring that the economy — that shrank by a quarter since 2009 — also expands at a smart rate.

 

“Personally, I can see no hope for me in the coming years,” says Paraskevi Kolliabi, 62, who lives on a widow’s pension and helps out in her son’s central Athens silver workshop. “Everything looks black to me.”

 

Pensioners face pre-agreed new income cuts next year, while a further expansion of the tax base is due in 2020. But tax collection remains scrappy in a country where compliance was never strong, and the taxman’s increasingly extravagant demands, coupled with often slapdash policing, only strengthened the sense of injustice.

 

“My pension has been cut about thirty percent since the start of the crisis,” Kolliabi said. “I have never in my life gone through such [financial] hardship as during the past two years. There were entire days when not a single customer would enter” the shop in the Monastiraki district.

 

Greece’s once cheerfully spendthrift middle class, whose rapid growth before the state finances imploded drove a consumption-fuelled economy, has been squeezed hard by intense taxation, mortgages from the bygone days of easy credit, and job losses.

 

“What I see is that the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer,” Kolliabi said. “We used to cater to the middle class, and the middle class is dead, they can’t make ends meet.”

 

Following one of the latest rounds of cutbacks, her son, Panagiotis, now sees more than 60 percent of his income gobbled up by taxes, pension and social security contributions. That kills any ambition for growing the business.

 

“The prospects for after Aug. 20 are not good,” he said. “There’s no way I will be able to make an investment… to expand my business.”

 

In the northern city of Thessaloniki, Christos Marmarinos, 55, had to close his clothes manufacturing unit after 25 years in business due to lack of customers. Instead, he plunged what funds he had into something altogether different, a cafeteria and grocery store.

 

“We found this way out, and employ ten people,” he said. But Greece needs more than cafeterias if the economy is to pick up again and modernize, he says. “We need real investments in manufacturing.”

 

Part of the sufferings of Greece’s private sector are due to disastrous government attempts in the panicky first months of the crisis to shield from cutbacks the bloated public sector, which has traditionally been the political fiefdom and key source of votes for any ruling party.

 

But while considerably smaller and poorer than before the crisis, the public sector remains largely ineffective and disgruntled, providing ever shoddier services.

 

The one area of the economy that’s undoubtedly flourishing is tourism, contributing some 20 percent of GDP, with officials projecting a record-high 32 million arrivals this year. Greeks, however, are finding it increasingly expensive to go on holiday in their own country, while a boom in short-term rentals in residential districts of Athens has driven rents beyond the reach of many locals.

 

Even the governing coalition, which swept to power in 2015 promising to instantly end austerity and cancel Greece’s debt — only to reverse course and sign a new tough bailout program — is low-key about the end of the bailout era.

 

“We’re not planning any parties,” said Costas Zahariadis, an official in the dominant leftwing Syriza party. “We don’t believe we should start celebrating as if a large section of Greek society didn’t have serious financial problems. But of course we won’t be shedding tears over Greece leaving the bailout era.”

 

Financial analyst Manos Chatzidakis, who is head of research at Beta Securities, says much has been done over the past eight years, although the tax and judiciary systems need further work. He said that if future governments stick to agreed reforms and fiscal policy then gradually returning confidence will allow Greece to sell its bonds at affordable rates — even if investors initially demand high returns — and attract investment.

 

The ability to tap bond markets is vital, because after the bailout program, Greece will have to finance itself, albeit initially assisted by a substantial cash buffer.

 

“I think it’s all a question of commitment to the bailout program, to the privatizations, to everything that has been agreed” with Greece’s creditors, he said. “I’m definitely more optimistic than in the past. Things had reached a point [in 2015] where they couldn’t get worse.”

 

Hatzidakis stressed that many of the bailout reforms were “unprecedented” for Greece, which took a long time to understand and implement them.

 

“So we should not be strict and expect everything to happen fast,” he said. “It took time to reach this point and a lot of effort, which I think is starting to bear fruit.”

 

Iran Oil Minister: France’s Oil Giant Total Pulls Out of Iran

Iran’s oil minister says France’s oil giant Total SA has pulled out of Iran after cancelling its $5 billion, 20-year agreement to develop the country’s massive South Pars offshore natural gas field over renewed U.S. sanctions.

The parliament’s website ICANA.ir quoted Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh as saying on Monday that since Total first announced its decision a while ago, Iran has been in the process of “looking for an alternative” to Total. He didn’t elaborate.

 

There was no immediate comment from TotaI.

 

Earlier this month, Iran said China’s state-owned petroleum corporation took a majority 80 percent share of the project. CNPC originally had some 30 percent of shares in the project.

 

The renewed U.S. sanctions took effect in August, after America’s pullout from the nuclear deal in May.

 

 

Pope: ‘No Effort Must Be Spared’ to Ensure End to Clergy Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis said Monday every effort must be made to ensure the culture of the Catholic Church prevents future clerical sexual abuse of children and to make sure that if such abuses do take place, they cannot be covered up.

The pope’s comments came in a letter to the world’s Catholics in response to the latest revelations of abuses by clergy members.

Last week, a U.S. grand jury report said more than 300 predator priests had abused more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the span of 70 years.

“Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims,” Francis said in his letter.

He said with “shame and repentance” the Catholic Church acknowledges it did not act in a timely manner and realize the amount of damage the abusers have done to so many people.

Francis said “no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.”

The church has long faced cases of sexual abuse by the clergy in many countries. In the past month alone, the pope accepted the resignation of an Australian archbishop convicted in May for covering up child abuse, as well as the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has also been accused of sexual abuse.

Francis noted in his letter ongoing efforts to address the problem and ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults while holding responsible those who commit abuses.

“We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future,” he wrote.

He said without the participation of all Catholics, the efforts to “uproot the culture of abuse” will fail.

“It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetuated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for the most vulnerable,” Pope Francis said.

Shots Fired at Gate of US Embassy in Turkey, No One Hurt

Shots were fired at a security booth outside the U.S. Embassy in Turkey’s capital early Monday, but U.S. officials said no one was hurt.

Private Ihlas news agency said four to five rounds were fired from a moving white car and targeted the booth outside Gate 6 at the embassy in Ankara. Police were searching for the car.

 

U.S. Embassy spokesman David Gainer thanked police for their “rapid response”‘ and said no injuries had been reported.

 

The U.S. mission is closed this week as Turkey celebrates the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

 

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over the case of an imprisoned American pastor, leading the U.S. to impose sanctions, and increased tariffs sent the Turkish lira tumbling last week.

 

Evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson — currently under house arrest after more than 1 1/2 years in prison — is facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted of espionage and terror-related charges.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for his immediate release and threatened more sanctions. The continued detention of a Turkish-American NASA scientist and three local consular staff members adds to the tensions.

 

Last week, the U.S. president signed a defense spending bill that includes delaying the delivery of F-35 fighter jets pending a Pentagon report. U.S. senators have been working to block their delivery in response to Brunson’s arrest and Turkey’s pledge to buy Russian S-400 missile systems.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a boycott on U.S.-made electronic products, with some citizens heeding his call and filming themselves breaking their iPhones. Turkey has also increased imports tariffs on some products.

 

 

Euro Fund: Greece Has Officially Exited Bailout Program

“For the first time since early 2010, Greece can stand on its own feet,” the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue fund said as Athens exited its final, three-year international bailout program on Monday.

The ESM allocated about $71 billion over the past three years, after an agreement was reached in August 2015 to help the country cope with fallout from an ongoing debt crisis.

“Today we can safely conclude the ESM program with no more follow-up rescue programs,” Mario Centeno, the chairman of the ESM’s board of governors, said in a statement. “This was possible thanks to the extraordinary effort of the Greek people, the good cooperation with the current Greek government and the support of European partners through loans and debt relief.”

In 2010, Greece was declared at risk of default after struggling with massive debt, loss of investment and huge unemployment. Overall, nearly $300 billion in emergency loans were provided in three consecutive bailout packages from a European Union bailout fund and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In exchange, Athens was required to put in place severe austerity-based measures and reforms.

The completion of the loan program is a major accomplishment for Greece, but the country still faces an uphill battle to regain its economic stability.

 

The office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the final bailout loan last week as the “last act in the drama. Now a new page of progress, justice and growth can be turned.”

“Greece has managed to stand on her feet again,” his office said.

 

Economic growth in Greece is slowly growing again, tourism is up nearly 17 percent in Athens this year, and once-record levels of joblessness are finally receding.

 

However, the country still faces massive challenges, including weak banks, the highest debt load in the European Union at 180 percent of GDP, and the loss of about a half-million mostly younger Greeks to Europe’s wealthier neighbors. Greece will also need to continue to repay its international loans until 2060.

The country’s three international bailouts took Europe to the brink of crisis.

 

The financial troubles exposed dangers in the European Union’s common currency and threatened to break the bloc apart. The large debt that remains in Greece and an even larger debt in Italy continue to be a financial danger to the EU.

The bailouts also led to regular and sometimes violent demonstrations in Athens by citizens angry at the government’s budget measures required by international lenders in return for the bailouts.

 

While Greece has begun to make economic progress, economics say the bulk of the austerity measures will likely need to remain in place for many years for the country to tackle its massive debt.

Some international economists have called for part of Greece’s loans to be written off in order for Greece to keep its ballooning debt payments in check. However, any kind of loan forgiveness would be a tough sell in Germany where the initially bailouts were unpopular.

The austerity measures included massive tax hikes as high as 70 percent of earned income and pension cuts that pushed nearly half of Greece’s elderly population below the poverty line.

Pensioner Yorgos Vagelakos, 81, told Reuters that five years ago he would go to his local market with 20 euros in his pocket, while today, he has just 2 euros. He says for him, the bailout will never end.

“It’s very often that just like today, I struggle, because I see all the produce on display at the market and I want to buy things, but when I don’t have even a cent in my pocket, I get really sad,” Vagelakos said.