American’s Brother Says Russia Delays Consular Prison Visit

The brother of an American being held in Moscow for alleged spying says a prison visit by U.S. Embassy staff has been postponed.

David Whelan expressed disappointment that Russian authorities didn’t allow the visit scheduled for Thursday, but said he hoped it could be rescheduled soon and British diplomats also would be given access to his twin brother, Paul.

Paul Whelan lives in Michigan and holds citizenships from the U.S., Britain, Ireland and Canada. Russia promised to permit consular visits while he is imprisoned.

David Whelan says a Wednesday visit by Irish officials “was very helpful and gave us an opportunity to receive specific guidance from Paul.”

He says the visits “will help ensure his continued health and well-being while the family continues to work with government officials to try to bring Paul home.”

British PM May Survives Confidence Vote But Faces Immediate Brexit Crisis

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May scraped through a vote of no confidence Wednesday that would have brought down her government. But she is faced with an immediate crisis over her country’s exit from the European Union. The deal she struck with Brussels was defeated by a record margin this week, and it’s far from clear how Britain will avoid leaving the EU with no deal in just over 70 days with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Analysis: US, Britain Mired In Political Crises With No End in Sight

The United States and Britain are mired in political crises with no end in sight. U.S. freshmen representatives urged the Senate on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the longest ever U.S. government shutdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a second no-confidence vote in just over a month, after her Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke looks into the government gridlocks plaguing two allied nations across the Atlantic.

ICC Orders Ex-Ivory Coast President to Remain in Custody

The International Criminal Court has ordered former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his top aide to remain in custody, even after judges acquitted them of crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors immediately appealed Tuesday’s verdict and argued the pair may refuse to return to The Hague for trial if the not-guilty verdict is overturned.

The three-judge panel called the prosecution’s case “exceptionally weak.”

Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude had been on trial for alleged crimes against humanity stemming from the violence in Ivory Coast after the 2010 election.

Gbagbo lost to his bitter rival, current President Alassane Outtara, but refused to concede. The standoff led to violence that killed 3,000 people and sent thousands more fleeing the country for their lives.

Opponents and prosecutors blame Gbagbo and Ble Goude for the deadly unrest. But the three-judge panel ruled Tuesday there was not enough evidence of responsibility to convict the pair.

Gbagbo’s daughter told reporters her father plans to return to Ivory Coast when he is released.

But if he goes back, he faces 20 years in prison on charges of misusing funds from a West African central bank.

An Ivorian court convicted him in absentia last year, but the government has not said whether it will enforce the sentence.

Mayor’s Killing in Poland Sparks Anger Against Hate Speech

Poles on Wednesday heatedly condemned the power of hate speech to trigger real-life violence after the slaying of a popular liberal mayor, with many calling for stronger actions against those who threaten others.

Not only did the killer, an ex-convict, take the life of the 53-year-old Gdansk mayor, Pawel Adamowicz, but he stabbed him during a popular fundraising concert by the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, which raises money for life-saving medical equipment. 

Both the mayor and the organization are prominent symbols of openness and tolerance, leaving many Poles to interpret the attack as a double blow to those values.

Assailant recently released from prison

Investigators are checking to see if the assailant, who was recently released from prison, has psychiatric problems. He stabbed Adamowicz three times in the heart and abdomen and told the crowd Sunday evening that it was revenge against Civic Platform, the now-opposition party that was in power when he was imprisoned for bank robberies. 

The brutal killing took place as Poland is more bitterly divided than at any time since it threw off communism 30 years ago, with massive amounts of hate speech and even death threats against prominent figures.

“Stop hate speech,” the major daily Rzeczpospolita wrote Wednesday in a front-page appeal, citing a “brutalization of public debate” and “a wave of hatred that spills both from traditional media and the internet.” 

“I have no doubt that this wave emboldened the murderer of Pawel Adamowicz to act,” wrote editor Boguslaw Chrabota. “Even today, with the entire country in mourning … internet trolls are congratulating the murderer, making him into a national hero, demanding a repeat of such acts.”

Other mayors threatened

​Other city mayors who, like Adamowicz, have also received death threats appealed Wednesday to justice officials to more effectively prosecute such activity.

Adamowicz was a longtime member of the Civic Platform party but left it in 2015. He died on Monday, leaving behind a wife and two daughters, aged 8 and 15. 

“Hatred killed Pawel. A hatred that was insane, a hatred that was well-organized,” Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the Civic Platform, said Wednesday during a session of parliament that began with a moment of silence and prayers for Adamowicz.

Poland’s ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was not present at the session, a gesture that critics denounced as a sign of disrespect. Kaczynski’s spokeswoman said his absence was just a “coincidence.” 

The charity that Adamowicz supported is Poland’s largest nonprofit organization and has become a model of civic engagement and humanitarianism in its 27 years. Founder Jerzy Owsiak is also a prominent liberal voice who has sparred verbally with members of the country’s right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice.

Broadcaster suspended

Just last week, state television, TVP, which is government controlled, ran an animation that depicted Owsiak in a defamatory manner. The broadcaster apologized after an outcry, while the head of the news program has been indefinitely suspended.

In the wake of Adamowicz’s death, Owsiak resigned from his position, citing police inaction despite threats against him.

Wednesday evening, a crowd gathered outside TVP’s main editorial office in Warsaw in protest following a Monday evening report on Adamowicz’s death that seemed to put all blame for all the aggression in the country solely on Civic Platform officials. Meanwhile, pressure mounted on the ruling party to fire the head of TVP. In its main evening news report, TVP said its staff was also being targeted by hate speech and threats.

Adamowicz was also an object of hate for far-right extremists for his support for migrants and gay rights. In 2017, after he voiced support for bringing wounded Syrian children for medical treatment in Gdansk, the far-right group All-Polish Youth issued a symbolic “political death notice” for him and several other liberal leaders.

Prosecutors had dropped that investigation. On Wednesday, Adam Bodnar, an independent state official for human rights, said he was sending a request to the prosecutor general to reopen a list of frozen hate crime cases.

Since Adamowicz’s killing, police in Poland have arrested several suspects threatening to kill public figures, including Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who is now president of the European Council.

Family joins mourners

On Wednesday evening in Gdansk, Adamowicz’s wife, Magdalena Adamowicz, and elder daughter, Antonina, joined thousands of mourners who formed a large heart with candles. They thanked the people of the city for their support. The widow also urged people to be good to each other, saying her husband loved everyone.

“I love you, daddy, very much and forever,” his tearful daughter said in the family’s first public appearance since the killing. “I love you, Pawel,” his wife said while embracing her daughter.

Gdansk officials said Adamowicz’s funeral Mass would take place at noon Saturday and that he would be buried in St. Mary’s Basilica, a Gothic brick church where other prominent city figures were laid to rest.

Among those signing a condolence book was ex-president Lech Walesa, a democracy leader who founded the anti-communist Solidarity movement in Gdansk shipyard in 1980 and later won the Nobel Peace prize.

“Farewell, my friend, in this vale,” the 75-year-old Walesa wrote. “We will meet soon in a better place.”

 

                  

Ex-Marine Held in Russia on Spying Charge Gets Prison Visit 

The brother of a former U.S. Marine with multiple citizenships says Irish government representatives have visited Paul Whelan at the Russian prison where he is being held on an espionage charge.

David Whelan said in a Wednesday statement that according to diplomatic staff members from Ireland, conditions were good in the Moscow prison where his brother was detained. The statement said U.S. officials were expected to visit Thursday; the U.S. ambassador saw him on Jan. 2.  

Whelan was detained Dec. 28 and charged with spying, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years upon conviction. Russian officials have not released details of the allegations against him.

Whelan, who was living in Michigan and working as global security director for a U.S. company, also holds British and Canadian citizenships.

UK Businesses Brace for No-Deal Brexit

Brexit has British business owners on edge — and that is great news for Lovespace, a storage and warehousing company outside London.

Lovespace, which collects boxes from customers, stores them and then returns the goods when needed, says revenue from businesses doubled over the past year and inquiries quadrupled as enterprises large and small began stockpiling inventory because of concerns they will be cut off from suppliers if Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trading relations.

“People are working out how to store stuff — how to get things to their own customers as the year progresses,” CEO Steve Folwell said as workers moved boxes around the company’s 20,000 square-foot (1,860 square-meter) warehouse in Dunstable, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of London. “There’s uncertainty because of Brexit and there’s a lack of trust in the political process at the moment.”

The risk of a no-deal Brexit is increasing amid widespread opposition to the divorce agreement Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU. While May says her deal is the only way to ensure that trade continues to flow smoothly after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, U.K. lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected the agreement late Tuesday because opponents fear it will leave the country tied to the EU for years to come.

Without an agreement on future relations, 40 years of free trade between Britain and the EU would be replaced by tariffs, border inspections and other non-tariff barriers, with potentially devastating impacts on the British economy. The government’s own contingency plans raise the specter of lengthy border delays that could cause shortages of food and medicine, and the Bank of England predicts gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 8 percent this year.

“Businesses would face new costs and tariffs,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industries, which represents 190,000 businesses. “Our ports would be disrupted, separating firms from the parts they need to supply their customers.”

Among those taking precautions is Richard Ellison, the founder of Wanderlust Wine, who imports wines from small producers off the beaten track. Worried that supplies to his customers could be interrupted, he’s stocked up in advance to brace for disruption at the border and the potential for an increase in paperwork.

“Everything will have to be checked at the border,” he said, explaining his precautions. “We bought quite a lot in advance — an extra pallet or two to tide us over.”

Companies ranging from supermarket giant Tesco, which imports food from continental suppliers, to carmakers like Ford, who rely on European parts to feed British production lines, have been lobbying politicians for clarity about future trading relations ever since U.K. voters backed leaving the EU in a June 2016 referendum. Now they are taking action to ensure they can continue to operate in the event no deal is reached.

A survey of U.K. manufacturers found that stockpiles of both finished goods and raw materials rose at near-record rates in December as businesses prepared for a possible disruption in supplies, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply.

More than 60 percent of U.K. manufacturers are preparing to stockpile goods and 29 percent have already begun to do so, according to a November survey of 242 companies by EEF, the manufacturers’ organization. Some are even erecting new buildings to increase storage capacity.

“They are looking for places to store stuff,” said Francesco Arcangeli, the EEF’s economist. “They are looking for space. They are creating new space. That never happened before.”

Charlie Pool, CEO of Stowga, which loosely describes itself as the Airbnb of British warehousing, said customers looking for storage space searched the company’s site 10,000 times in December, up from an average of 3,000 a month. Businesses are sometimes even paying deposits to secure their bookings, which isn’t standard practice, Pool said, comparing it to paying for a hotel before arrival.

“The data we have is proving that stockpiling for Brexit is definitely a thing,” he said. “It’s happening now.”

That is driving up the cost of storage space. The average price to store a pallet of goods jumped to 2.10 pounds ($2.71) a week last month from 1.85 pounds in September. Pool said he wouldn’t be surprised if exceeded 3 pounds should a no-deal Brexit become a reality. That would still be relatively cheap compared with the cost of not getting products to the end consumers, he said.

The dangers of Brexit to business are evident even for storage companies like Lovespace. Despite the boom in revenue, a potential investor pulled back last year because of the uncertainty caused by Britain’s exit from the EU.

The investor said “it seems awfully complex to me,” Folwell said. “People are looking at the U.K. as a bit of a basket case at the moment.”

 

Pregnant Meghan Laughs Off ‘Fat Lady’ Comment on Charity Visit

 A stranger’s comment on one’s growing stomach may not always be welcome but a pregnant Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, took it all in her stride on Wednesday when a pensioner called her “a fat lady.”

Prince Harry’s wife, who told well-wishers this week she is six months pregnant, laughed off the remark, meant as a compliment about her growing baby bump.

On a visit to animal welfare charity Mayhew, of which she is patron, Meghan was being introduced to pensioners who have benefited from the organization’s animal therapy program when an elderly woman named Peggy took a more casual approach to speaking to a member of the royal family.

“Lovely lady, you are, may the good Lord always bless you,” Peggy told the duchess. “And you’re a fat lady,” she added, smiling and looking at Meghan’s tummy.

“I’ll take it,” Meghan replied, laughing along with others.

Meghan said last week she would become patron of Mayhew and three organizations dedicated to causes close to her. On her first visit to the charity as patron, she met beneficiaries, staff and several dogs, some of which she held in her arms.

The 37-year-old also planned to attend the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” show on Wednesday evening, an event aimed at raising awareness and funds for Harry’s Sentebale charity.

EU Alarmed, Frustrated After Brexit Vote

European Union leaders are greeting the British parliament’s defeat of a hard-reached Brexit plan with a mix of frustration and alarm, even as Europe begins preparing for chances Britain will leave the bloc in just over two months without a withdrawal agreement.

If British lawmakers’ resounding “no” to the Brexit deal negotiated between Brussels and the British government comes as no surprise, European politicians — like their British counterparts — are now faced with a major question: what’s next?

“We know what the UK parliament doesn’t want,” the European Parliament’s chief Brexit representative, Guy Verhofstadt, told reporters. “Now it’s time to find out what they want.”

“What we don’t want,” he added, “is that this mess in British politics is now transferred and imported in European politics.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May is now expected back in the Belgian capital for more Brexit talks. But she may not get very far. After nearly 18 months of negotiations, EU leaders are unlikely to make any major new concessions.

“We’ll see,” French President Emmanuel Macron told local officials. “Maybe we can improve one or two points, but I doubt it.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says there’s still time for more talks, but she also warned it was time to prepare for a “disorderly” or no-deal Brexit.

Larissa Brunner, a junior policy analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels, said a no deal now certainly is seen as “a strong possibility.”

That’s the message sounding in the private sector as well. French employers’ union MEDEF says companies must prepare for the worst-case scenario. France’s wine and spirits industry is braced for a major loss in business with Britain.

“I think a hard, no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic both for the EU and the UK. And I think it’s pretty much impossible to prepare perfectly for it in the time that is left.”

Only the stock markets seem unfazed — for now.

Another big unknown is the fate of Britain’s EU lawmakers. European Parliament elections are in May, and it’s possible the fate of Brexit may still be up in the air.

Pope to Attend All Sessions of High-Stakes Abuse Summit

Pope Francis has confirmed he will attend all sessions of his high-stakes sex abuse prevention summit next month that will include plenary meetings, witness testimony and a penitential Mass.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the organizers of the Feb. 21-24 meeting met last week in Rome and briefed the pope on their preparations.

 

Francis tasked the former Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, to moderate the plenary sessions of the meeting.

 

Francis announced in September that he was inviting presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world to attend the summit amid a crisis in his papacy over his own botched handling of abuse cases and a new explosion of the scandal in the U.S., Chile and beyond.

 

The meeting organizers have urged bishops to meet with victims before they come.