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.

 

Nicaraguan Protesters Refuse to Back Sown as Ortega Talks Continue

Nicaraguan officials began a second day of talks with students and business leaders on Friday to try to resolve weeks of tension with increasingly unpopular President Daniel Ortega that has sparked nationwide clashes.

At least 49 people have been killed, mostly students, in demonstrations that began late last month over discontent with a new law that raised worker and employer social security contributions while cutting benefits.

The protests mark the most sustained crisis of Ortega’s 11-years in power. The former leftist guerrilla leader has delivered steady growth in the poor Central American nation, despite criticism he has turned it into a family dictatorship.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said on Friday it was too early to deliver conclusions from a five-day investigation into allegations of murder and disappearances. But it would continue meeting with officials and citizens, including mothers of those allegedly murdered in the protests.

“We reiterate our condemnation of the dead, disappeared, aggressions and arbitrary detentions of protesters, activists and journalists,” said Antonia Urrejola, the group’s Nicaraguan delegate.

Dozens of flag-waving demonstrators chanted “Murderer!” outside a Catholic seminary on Friday, the second day of an unprecedented forum for students, business leaders and others to air grievances with government representatives.

Ortega appeared not to be present at Friday’s talks. He was, however, there on Wednesday, when university students publicly berated him and called for his resignation.

“In one month you have ruined the country,” a university student, identified by local media as Lesther Aleman, told Ortega at the time, before breaking down in tears.

Despite Ortega’s absence on Friday, protesters showed no signs of giving up.

“We support the mothers of the fallen,” said Carla Patricia Gomez, 46, wearing a Nicaraguan flag as a headband. “They even killed a 6-year-old child,” she added, speaking among a crowd of protesters brandishing photos of youths they said died in the clashes.

Nicaraguan Protesters Refuse to Back Down as Ortega Talks Continue

Nicaraguan officials began a second day of talks with students and business leaders on Friday to try to resolve weeks of tension with increasingly unpopular President Daniel Ortega that has sparked nationwide clashes.

At least 49 people have been killed, mostly students, in demonstrations that began late last month over discontent with a new law that raised worker and employer social security contributions while cutting benefits.

The protests mark the most sustained crisis of Ortega’s 11-years in power. The former leftist guerrilla leader has delivered steady growth in the poor Central American nation, despite criticism he has turned it into a family dictatorship.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said on Friday it was too early to deliver conclusions from a five-day investigation into allegations of murder and disappearances. But it would continue meeting with officials and citizens, including mothers of those allegedly murdered in the protests.

“We reiterate our condemnation of the dead, disappeared, aggressions and arbitrary detentions of protesters, activists and journalists,” said Antonia Urrejola, the group’s Nicaraguan delegate.

Dozens of flag-waving demonstrators chanted “Murderer!” outside a Catholic seminary on Friday, the second day of an unprecedented forum for students, business leaders and others to air grievances with government representatives.

Ortega appeared not to be present at Friday’s talks. He was, however, there on Wednesday, when university students publicly berated him and called for his resignation.

“In one month you have ruined the country,” a university student, identified by local media as Lesther Aleman, told Ortega at the time, before breaking down in tears.

Despite Ortega’s absence on Friday, protesters showed no signs of giving up.

“We support the mothers of the fallen,” said Carla Patricia Gomez, 46, wearing a Nicaraguan flag as a headband. “They even killed a 6-year-old child,” she added, speaking among a crowd of protesters brandishing photos of youths they said died in the clashes.

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.

Airliner Crashes on Takeoff From Havana

A Cuban airliner with 113 people on board plummeted into a yuca field just after takeoff from Havana’s international airport on Friday. There was no immediate word on casualties, though residents told The Associated Press they saw at least some survivors being taken away in ambulances.

A military officer who declined to provide his name to reporters said that there appeared to have been three survivors in critical condition from the Cubana flight, but other officials declined to confirm that figure.

Firefighters rushed to extinguish flames engulfing the Boeing 737, which was meant to be on a short jaunt to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin when it went down just after lift off from Jose Marti International Airport.

The plane lay in a field of yuca-root plants and appeared heavily damaged and burnt. Firefighters were trying to extinguish its smoldering remains. Government officials including President Miguel Diaz-Canel rushed to the site, along with a large number of emergency medical workers.

Relatives of passengers were heading to the scene, among them a man who said that his wife and niece had been on board. He declined to provide his full name before he was taken to an airline terminal where relatives were being asked to gather. Reports said that 104 passengers and nine crew members were on board.

The plane was rented by Cubana, which has taken many of its aging planes out of service in recent months due to mechanical problems. Cuba’s First Vice-President, Salvador Valdes Mesa, met Thursday with Cubana officials to discuss improvements in its heavily criticized service. The airline is notorious among Cubans for its frequent delays and cancellations, which Cubana blames on a lack of parts and airplanes due to the U.S. trade embargo on the island.

The crash Friday was Cuba’s third major accident since 2010.

Last year, a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board. In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people, including 28 foreigners, in what was Cuba’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.

The last Cubana accident appears to have been on Sept. 4, 1989, when a chartered Cubana plane flying from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.

Cubana’s director general, Capt. Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that Cubana’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April 2018. It said that 64 percent of flights had taken off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.

“Among the difficulties created by the U.S. trade embargo is our inability to acquire latest-generation aircraft with technology capable of guaranteeing the stability of aerial operations,” Hernandez said. “Another factor is obtaining parts for Cubana’s aircraft.”

Airliner Crash Kills 100-Plus in Havana

A 39-year-old airliner with 110 people aboard crashed and burned in a cassava field just after taking off from the Havana airport Friday, leaving three survivors in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades, officials said. 

The Boeing 737 went down just after noon a short distance from the end of the runway at Jose Marti International Airport while on a short-hop flight to the eastern city of Holguin. Firefighters rushed to extinguish the flames that engulfed the field of debris left where Cubana Flight 972 hit the ground.

“There is a high number of people who appear to have died,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said from the scene. “Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified.”

Relatives of those aboard were ushered into a private area at the terminal to await word on their loved ones.

“My daughter is 24, my God, she’s only 24!” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on the plane.

Four crash survivors were taken to a Havana hospital, and three remained alive as of midafternoon, hospital director Martinez Blanco told Cuban state TV.

State media reports stopped short of openly declaring the rest on board were dead, but there was no word of other survivors by Friday evening.

State TV said the jet veered sharply to the right after takeoff, and Diaz-Canel said a special commission had been formed to investigate the cause of the crash.

“The only thing we heard, when we were checking in, an explosion, the lights went out in the airport and we looked out and saw black smoke rising and they told us a plane had crashed,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told The Associated Press at the airport.

Skies were overcast and rainy at the airport at the time of the incident, with winds reportedly around 4 mph (6 kph).

Authorities said there were 104 passengers and six crew members on the flight operated by the Cuban state airline. Mexican authorities said the Boeing 737-201 was built in 1979 and rented by Cubana from Aerolineas Damojh, a small charter company that also goes by the name Global Air.

A statement from the country’s Transportation Department identified the pilot and co-pilot as Captain Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and First Officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. It said the flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon. Global Air said maintenance worker Marco Antonio Lopez Perez was also aboard.

In November 2010 a Global Air flight originating in Mexico City made an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta because its front landing gear did not deploy. The fire was quickly extinguished, and none of the 104 people aboard were injured. That plane was a 737 first put into service in 1975.

In Mexico City, two women who said they were relatives of Global Air crew members appeared at the company’s offices. They declined to identify themselves or their relatives and said they were still awaiting information from Global Air.

Cubana has had a generally good safety record but is notorious for delays and cancellations and has taken many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months, prompting it to hire charter aircraft from other companies.

Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa had met with Cubana officials on Thursday to discuss improvements to its service. The airline blames its spotty record on a lack of parts and airplanes because of the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-run country.

It was Cuba’s third major aviation accident since 2010.

Last year a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight soldiers. In 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in what was the country’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.

The last deadly accident involving a Cubana-operated plane was in 1989, when a charter flight from Havana to Milan, Italy, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board and at least two dozen on the ground.

Cubana’s director general, Captain Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that the airline’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April.

He said 64 percent of flights took off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.

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.