Harry, Meghan Become Husband, Wife in British Royal Ceremony

The big day finally arrived for Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as the couple married Saturday in the town of Windsor, outside London.

Prince Charles, Prince Harry’s father, walked the bride down the aisle.

The American former actress confirmed earlier that her father would not attend the ceremony, owing to ill health, after days of speculation over whether he would make the journey across the Atlantic.

Throngs of people descended on the historic town as well-wishers tried to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Thousands of police officers mounted one of the biggest security operations in recent years, paid for by the public — a bill resented by some opposed to the monarchy.

Supporters argued the wedding was likely to attract big spending by visitors and those watching in bars and big screens across the country.

The ceremony began at midday in the stunning 14th century Saint George’s Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry was baptized in 1984.

In Photos: The Royal Wedding

Some 600 guests were invited, mainly those who have a direct relationship with the couple.

In addition, more than 2,500 members of the public were invited onto the castle grounds — the prime spot to watch the guests come and go.

“To me, that was surprising, and it was very touching. Because for as much as they don’t like the media intrusion, the royals, they’ve invited media in, they’ve invited the public in, and they’re wanting to share their special day,” said Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills of the British Monarchist Society and Foundation.

Four members of the Mumbai city-based charity the Myna Mahila Foundation were invited. The non-governmental organization provides sanitary products in the slums of the Indian capital and was visited by Meghan Markle last year. It’s one of seven charities that the couple have asked guests to make donations to instead of providing wedding gifts. The charity’s founder, Myne Mahila, says the invitation came as a huge shock.

“We are representing not just ‘Myna,’ but also the women across the urban slums in the city and India as well. I think there is a lot on the plate and a lot of pressure,” she said.

More than 100,000 people were expected to line the streets of Windsor. Many arrived early to bag the best spots for a look. Donna Werner is a self-confessed royal “superfan” who flew over from her home in the U.S. state of Connecticut and camped out for four nights on a Windsor sidewalk.

In Photos: Crowds, Stars Gather for Royal Wedding

“Every little girl has read fairy tales from her childhood on by her mother and she always dreams of becoming a princess and living in a castle. And I mean, this is it. This is a real-life fairy tale,” she said.

In a break with U.S. tradition, Meghan Markle did not have a maid of honor. All of the six bridesmaids and four page boys were children of friends of the couple. Harry’s nephew, Prince George, was a pageboy, and niece, Princess Charlotte, a bridesmaid.  

In the kitchens of Windsor Castle, 30 chefs prepared a banquet for the reception guests.

“The couple … tasted everything, they’ve been involved in every detail,” says royal head chef Mark Flanagan.

That could mean some stateside surprises among the British fare.

“Are we going to see hot dogs and these sorts of American things? I’m sure there will be a nod to the American culture where food is concerned,” said Mace-Archer-Mills.

As well as the home crowds, millions were expected to watch on television around the globe, with the promise of British pomp mixed with plenty of Hollywood glamour.

Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

UN to Spain: Don’t Send Chinese, Taiwanese Home

Human rights experts from the United Nations called on Spain Friday to halt extraditions of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals to China because of concerns they would be exposed to the risk of torture, ill treatment or the death penalty.

They cited the December 2016 arrest of 269 suspects, including 219 Taiwanese, over their alleged involvement in telecom scams to defraud Chinese citizens in a police swoop dubbed Operation Wall.

Two Taiwanese individuals were reported to have been extradited to China on Thursday and the U.N. experts said they feared others would also be deported soon.

“We are dismayed by the decision by the Spanish courts to extradite these individuals. The ruling clearly contravenes Spain’s international commitment to refrain from expelling, returning or extraditing people to any state where there are well-founded reasons to believe that they might be in danger of being subjected to torture,” the experts said.

The experts also said some of those detained may be victims of human trafficking after they stated they had been brought to Spain under the promise they would work as tourist guides.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry thanked Spain for “handling Taiwan matters on the basis of the ‘One China’ principle.”

“We are also very happy that the two countries of China and Spain have achieved increasingly fruitful results in cracking down on crime and in joint law enforcement as political trust continuously deepens and pragmatic cooperation advances in a variety of areas,” the ministry said at a briefing on Saturday.

The Spanish government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Progress in Struggle to Save Animals From Extinction

Conservationists around the world are making great strides in rescuing animal species from the brink of extinction. Despite the recent death of the last male white rhinoceros, there is hope that science can bring the species back. In Europe, scientists are raising bison almost a century after they vanished from the wild, and California’s population of sea otters has rebounded from only 50 specimens in the 1930s. VOA’s George Putic has more.

US Embassy Move to Jerusalem Aggravates US-Turkish Tensions

Turkey is furious over the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and it has recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Israel. Tensions between Ankara and Washington were already simmering over the fate of an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey and the sentencing of a Turkish banker in the United States. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from the State Department.

Not Every Briton Caught Up in Royal Wedding

With the round-the-clock British media coverage of the royal family in the days leading up to the big day for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it would be hard not to conclude that this year’s wedding of weddings is a source of delight for every Briton.

But not everyone in Britain remains as excited as the thousands already crowding into Windsor to claim a spot that will allow them to grab a glimpse of the wedding couple and the pomp and circumstance. Social media was littered with all kinds of memes deriding the wedding ceremony.

 

Oscar-winning British actress Emma Thompson chimed in, telling a TV interviewer: “There’s not a single thought about it in my head to share with you.”

And some viewers are expressing frustration with the incessant focus on the wedding — on the preparations, who’s coming and not, what the couple will wear and what they will eat. The BBC Breakfast show incurred the wrath of some for its all-consuming focus on the royal wedding and its constant and breathless updates.

On Twitter some viewers grumbled: “Non-stop coverage of the #RoyalWedding on @BBCBreakfast this morning. Thankfully, there’s no other news happening at all,” one wrote. Another remarked: “REPORT SOME ACTUAL BL***Y NEWS #bbcbreakfast #RoyalWedding.”

The activist anti-monarchy group Republic, which wants the monarchy abolished and replaced with an elected head of state, demanded on its website Friday that the BBC and other British channels stop celebrating the royal wedding and report in a balanced way.

“The monarchy is a contentious issue. It provides us with a head of state and lies at the heart of our constitution. This issue must be treated by broadcasters as politics, not entertainment,” said Graham Smith of Republic. “The BBC has willfully ignored a string of stories that might put a different complexion on the wedding story. They continue to celebrate and promote the monarchy, not simply report on it.”

Republic said BBC News had largely ignored stories about the removal of homeless people from streets in Windsor and “widespread criticism” of how much money the British taxpayer will have to pay for the wedding. It pointed to a poll conducted by YouGov this week that suggested nearly a third of the British public would like to see the monarchy abolished.

The poll showed the Scottish as the least likely to like the queen or care about the future of the monarchy, with key findings showing that north of the border with England fewer than half of Scots approve of the queen and most believe that Britain’s lawmakers should swear allegiance to the country and not the monarch. Three-quarters of Scots told the pollsters they were not interested in Saturday’s wedding. 

Royal critics have highlighted the bad news for the monarchy in the poll. But overall the royal family and the institution of the nonarchy remains popular, with 68 percent of the British public believing the institution is good for the country.

The poll coincided with an important landmark for the queen, who is now the longest-serving monarch in British history, overtaking Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years, seven months and two days.

Despite the mounting criticism during the week of the public costs of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day, the royal family tried to disarm possible criticism early by announcing that they would meet the costs of the wedding itself. But because they also receive money from taxpayers, it was unclear how much of their private money would defray the costs.

And British taxpayers will still have to foot a huge bill to cover the security and municipal costs. Thames Valley police will be providing most of the security in Windsor. The last royal wedding in 2011 between Prince William and Kate Middleton cost nearly $8.7 million, according to Britain’s Press Association.

Some commentators said the costs should be lower this time because the wedding is being held outside London, reducing logistical challenges. British minsters declined to comment on spending related to the royal wedding, saying no information would be released before the event.

But Britain’s Independent newspaper reported Friday that the cost of the big event would be much higher than previously thought. Wedding planning service Bridebook said the wedding itself would most likely cost $43 million. And some security analysts estimated the security bill at $40 million — a big jump from the 2011 royal wedding because of heightened threat levels in Britain following a string of terror attacks over the past 18 months.

British ministers say any public money used for the wedding is money well spent, arguing the event will encourage more tourists — especially Americans — to visit Britain. But no evidence was supplied by the government to show that that was the case in 2011.

“These royal weddings epitomize the British monarchy’s fondness for reverse Robin Hood economics, whereby wealth is redistributed from ordinary people, via their taxes, to a fabulously rich family that on such occasions appears not very modern, at all; in fact, it all feels rather feudal,” said Patrick Basham, the founding director of the Democracy Institute, a Washington- and London-based libertarian think tank.

He told VOA: “A royal family savvier about the optics would have refused, for example, taxpayers footing the vast security bill. Instead, wedding sponsorship would have been procured from the British fashion, music and tourism industries, which would serve to get taxpayers off the hook — a huge PR win — and provide significant global branding opportunities for leading domestic companies and entrepreneurs.”

France, Allies Call for Emergency Session of UN Chemical Weapons Watchdog

Thirty-three countries called on Friday for an emergency plenary session of the world’s chemical watchdog to propose a new way to attribute blame for attacks with banned munitions, after efforts to impose a new system at the United Nations broke down.

The countries met in Paris as part of the “Impunity Partnership,” which France launched in January, with the objective of preserving evidence of chemical weapons attacks, establishing who is responsible and imposing sanctions.

France wants those nations to support the creation of a new mechanism at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to enable it to assign blame for attacks carried out with banned munitions, French diplomats said.

“We regret that no measure has so far been adopted by key international bodies to hold to account the perpetrators involved in chemical attacks,” said a final communique from 33 nations from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Use of poison gas denied

The move comes in the wake of a suspected poison gas attack by Syrian government forces east of Damascus in April. Syria and its ally Russia denied that any attack had taken place and that they were holding up inspections or had tampered with evidence at the site.

Urging Russia to reconsider its opposition to establishing a new attribution mechanism, the 33 countries called for a special meeting of all 192 parties to the 1997 global Chemical Weapons Convention in June.

“We call on all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to support the holding of this meeting and to work together to strengthen the ability of the OPCW to promote the implementation of the Convention, including exploring options for attributing responsibility for chemical weapons attacks,” the statement said.

The new mechanism designed by France will be proposed at the special session, a diplomatic source said. It was not clear if the initiative, which is likely to be opposed by Russia and Iran, would gain the two-thirds of votes needed to pass.

Banned two decades ago

France has discussed the idea in the last few months with its closest allies — Britain, the United States and Germany.

Creating a global mechanism for accountability is seen as important due to a rising number of incidents with nerve agents since they were banned two decades ago under an international treaty.

Recent use includes the assassination with VX of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 and the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former Russian double agent, and his daughter with a Novichok nerve agent in March in England. They both survived.

Currently, the OPCW in The Hague only determines whether chemical attacks have taken place, not who carried them out.

The Chemical Weapons Convention has been violated repeatedly in Syria by the use of sarin, chlorine and sulphur mustard gas.

28 votes needed

The job of assigning blame for the attacks had fallen since 2015 to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation, until Russia vetoed its renewal in November.

Decisions at the OPCW are usually put to a vote in the 41-seat executive council, where 28 votes are needed to pass.

Recent initiatives at the OPCW to condemn Syria for using chemical weapons have not garnered enough support.

The alternative is to go to the full 192-seat conference of states, which can intervene to ensure compliance with the convention.

 

Putin: New Nuclear Weapons to Enter Duty in Next Few Years

President Vladimir Putin says the Russian military will start receiving new nuclear weapons in the coming years.

Speaking at a meeting Friday in Sochi, Putin said delivery of the new Avangard hypersonic vehicle will begin next year while the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile will enter duty in 2020.

The Avangard and the Sarmat were among an array of new nuclear weapons Putin presented in March, saying that they can’t be intercepted. They also included a nuclear-powered global range cruise missile and an underwater drone designed to strike coastal facilities with a heavy nuclear weapon.

Putin said two other new systems unveiled in March —  the Kinzhal hypersonic missile and the laser weapon called Peresvet —  have already been put on duty with the units of Russia’s Southern Military District.

Turkey Urges Muslim Nations to Stand with Palestinians

Turkey has called on Muslim nations to stand with Palestinians and to work to stop countries joining the United States in relocating their Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The call came at the end of a week that has seen Turkey take a leading role internationally to condemn Israeli actions in Gaza after Israeli forces killed dozens of people in Gaza. A diplomatic spat ensued with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trading barbs on Twitter and both countries expelling senior diplomats.

As part of its condemnation of events in Gaza earlier this week, the Turkish government organized a massive “Curse Oppression, Support Jerusalem” rally and an extraordinary summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, as a show of solidarity Friday.

Speaking to tens of thousands waving Palestinian and Turkish flags, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah criticized the U.S., describing its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there Monday a “big mistake.”

Erdogan told the rally the responsibility to defend Jerusalem lay with them as crowds chanted “Chief, take us to Jerusalem.” He said the U.S. can no longer play the role of a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it is “siding with creating problems rather than solving them.”

He also lambasted those elements of the Islamic world that failed in what he termed “the Jerusalem exam,” saying “all we Muslims do is condemn” and not unite. Erdogan argued Muslim countries were “severe, intolerant and unconscientious” to each other and “toothless and cowardly” to unspecified enemies.

Erdogan is expected to address leaders of Muslim nations later Friday at the OIC and demand action.

At the morning session of the OIC summit, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “we must prevent other countries from following the U.S. example” and that “precautions” are taken within the grouping after some nations voted against, abstained or did not show up at a United Nations vote in December. Some 128 countries overwhelmingly supported the U.N. motion against Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Despite that, Cavusoglu said “the U.S. administration did not give up on ignoring the basic principles of international law or the will of the international community.”

High-level officials from more than 50 member states, including Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, are attending the summit.

Putin Seeks Common Cause With Merkel Over Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that he would stand up to any attempts by U.S. President Donald Trump to block a Russian-German gas pipeline project.

Berlin and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea four years ago, but they share a common interest in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will allow Russia to export more natural gas to northern Europe.

A U.S. government official this week said Washington had concerns about the project, and that companies involved in Russian pipeline projects faced a higher risk of being hit with U.S. sanctions.

“Donald is not just the U.S. president, he’s also a good, tough entrepreneur,” Putin said at a news conference, alongside Merkel, after the two leaders had talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“He’s promoting the interests of his business, to ensure the sales of liquefied natural gas on the European market,” Putin said, departing from his usual approach of being scrupulously respectful when speaking about Trump. “But it depends on us, how we build our relations with our partners, it will depend on our partners in Europe. We believe it [the pipeline] is beneficial for us, we will fight for it.”

As well as the differences over Nord Stream 2, European capitals are at odds with Washington over Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal. Moscow shares Europe’s position on the deal.

Some commentators have said that a shared opposition to Trump’s stances on Iran and other issues could lead to a rapprochement between Europe and Russia, repairing a relationship badly damaged by the Ukraine conflict.

Merkel, who earlier in the day received a bouquet of pink and white roses from Putin as she arrived at his residence in Sochi, also hinted at tensions between Berlin and the Trump administration.

Asked about differences with the United States over the Iran deal and other issues, Merkel told reporters: “We have a strong transatlantic friendship, which during its history has had to withstand many questions of different opinions, and I think that might be the case now as well.”

While the Russian leader is frequently critical of U.S. policy, he has been meticulous about not attaching blame to Trump personally. Kremlin officials have said in the past the two men have a personal rapport that Putin wishes to preserve.

Pipeline politics

European states involved in Nord Stream 2 say it is a purely commercial project but the Trump administration say it is helping the Kremlin pursue its political agenda.

The pipeline may result in less Russian gas being transported via Ukraine, depriving Kiev’s struggling pro-Western government of transit fees that are a vital source of revenue.

In a nod to the U.S. concerns, Merkel said Russian gas should still be pumped through Ukraine. “We see Nord Stream 2 as an economic project but it also has implications and that’s why we are working on what guarantees Ukraine could be given,” she said.

Putin said he was willing to negotiate with Kiev about continued transit of Russian gas.

Despite the common ground on Nordstream and the Iran deal, long-standing tensions in the Berlin-Moscow relationship surfaced at the news briefing.

Merkel said she was worried about a new property law implemented by the government of Syria, which is backed by Moscow. Rights activists say the law allows the Syrian government to deprive people who have been displaced by the fighting of their homes.

“That is bad news for people who want one day to return to Syria. We will discuss that intensively and ask Russia to use their influence to persuade Assad not to do that. We must prevent facts being created on the ground,” Merkel said.

Putin a day earlier had received Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at his residence in Sochi for talks.

At the briefing with Merkel, the Russian president chided European leaders over Syria, saying if they want Syrian refugees living in their countries to return home, Europe had to commit to reconstruction in Syria.

Diplomats say that is a bone of contention, because European governments believe Russia should pay the lion’s share of the multi-billion-dollar reconstruction cost since it is the main military force and powerbroker in Syria.

Kosovo Jails Eight for Plotting to Attack Israeli Soccer Team in 2016

A court in Kosovo jailed eight men Friday for plotting to attack the Israeli national soccer team in Albania in a World Cup qualifying match in 2016.

The court in the capital handed the defendants, who are all from Kosovo, jail terms ranging from 18 months to 10 years, totaling more than 35 years.

A ninth defendant was ordered to pay a fine of 2,500 euros.

The prosecution said the group had planned to attack the Israeli team with explosives and automatic rifles.

The plan was thwarted when Kosovo police got wind of the plot and tipped off Albanian authorities who moved the game from a stadium in Shkoder, near the border with Kosovo, to a town closer to the Albanian capital, Tirana.

The prosecution said some of the defendants received orders to carry out an attack from Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a prominent Islamic State member from Kosovo and the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq.”

Muhaxheri was killed in Syria, police and family members say.

“One of the defendants here said he is persecuted only because he belongs to the religion of Islam but we know that this religion and no other religion does not preach, incite or calls to commit such crimes for which they are accused,” judge Hamdi Ibrahimi said, delivering the verdict.

Kosovo, with a majority ethnic Albanian Muslim population, has had no militant attacks on its home turf, but at least 200 people have been detained or investigated over offenses related to Islamic State.

In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law introducing jail sentences of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of fighting in wars abroad.