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Posts tagged ‘Europe Section’

Ukraine deports opposition leader Saakashvili to Poland

February 12, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili was deported from Ukraine to Poland on Monday after being detained by armed, masked men at a restaurant in Kiev and rushed to the airport, Ukrainian officials and his supporters said.

Ukraine’s border guard agency had to use force to counter Saakashvili’s supporters at the Kiev airport, Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the agency, said on Facebook. He confirmed the deportation of the former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian opposition leader, citing rulings by Ukrainian courts that said Saakashvili was staying in the country illegally.

Saakashvili called the move “a kidnapping.” Saakashvili was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship while he was abroad last year, but he forced his way back into the country from Poland in September. Since then, he has led repeated protests against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the official corruption that still plagues the country.

Poland’s border guards said on the agency’s website that Saakashvili was admitted to Polish territory Monday at the request of Ukrainian immigration authorities. He was permitted into Poland as the spouse of a European Union citizen, the Polish guards said. Saakashvili’s wife is Dutch, and both the Netherlands and Poland are EU nations.

Upon his arrival in Poland, Saakashvili said his deportation showed Poroshenko’s weakness. He denounced the Ukrainian president as a “sneaky speculator who wants to destroy Ukraine” in a Facebook statement.

Saakashvili, Georgia’s president from 2004-13, came to Ukraine after his presidency ended as an ally of Poroshenko, who appointed him governor of the southern Odessa region. He resigned from that post in 2016 and harshly criticized Poroshenko for failing to stem corruption.

“I was very nicely met by Polish side, and Ukrainian side was absolutely outrageous, total lawlessness — it was a kidnapping, illegal one. But Poles are very good and I am very grateful,” Saakashvili told Polish Radio RMF FM as he left Warsaw Airport.

Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

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Marchers protest racism in Italy after Africans are shot

February 10, 2018

ROME (AP) — Marchers protested racism Saturday in several Italian cities and warned against a revival of neo-fascist sentiment amid the campaign for Italy’s March 4 national election. In Macerata, a city in central Italy where a week ago a far-right gunman with neo-Nazi sympathies wounded six African migrants in a drive-by shooting, there were fears the march could trigger violence. Schools, shops and mass transit were shut down protectively for fear of clashes, but the march by several thousand people was peaceful.

Anti-fascist, anti-racism marchers also turned out in Milan, Turin, Rome and Palermo, Sicily, among other cities. In Piacenza, a small city in northern Italy, some anti-fascism demonstrators hurled cobblestones at police and clashed with officers as they protested the opening of a local headquarters for a far-right political group, Sky TG24 TV and the ANSA news agency reported.

Italy’s election campaign has been marked by rising tensions over the country’s migrant population, which in the last few years has swelled by several hundred thousand people, many of them Africans. Most of them were rescued at sea from human traffickers’ boats in the Mediterranean.

Surveys indicate that many Italians blame immigrants for violent crime. Leaders of a center-right campaign alliance, including former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini, have pledged to quickly deport huge numbers of the migrants if they win power.

Salvini hammered away Saturday at the migrants-bring-violent-crime motif. ANSA quoted him as telling a campaign rally in northern Italy that he couldn’t wait for a March 4 election victory “to start expelling all the illegals one by one, to defend, above all, the women, the girls” who allegedly fear sexual assault by migrants.

In Macerata, the suspected gunman, Luca Traini, was arrested for the Feb. 3 shootings that targeted African migrants. The 28-year-old Italian was a former unsuccessful candidate for Salvini’s party. He has told authorities he had been angered by the death of an 18-year-old Italian woman whose dismembered body was found in two suitcases.

Macerata prosecutors said Saturday that preliminary autopsy results indicated the woman, who had walked away from a drug rehabilitation center, had been likely murdered and not died from a drug overdose. They said four Nigerians, including a local drug dealer, are under investigation in her death.

Among Macerata’s marchers on Saturday was Cecile Kyenge, a former Italian integration minister and a native of Africa. She said marching was a way to protest “the hate that is dividing our country.” __

Annalisa Camilli contributed from Macerata, Italy, to this report.

Igloos warm hearts in old ski town where migrants fill hotel

February 10, 2018

SAN SIMONE DI VALLEVE, Italy (AP) — San Simone, a tiny village in the Italian Alps, once had a thriving ski trade. But financial issues kept the lifts closed this winter. The local hotel now houses about 80 African asylum-seekers who were assigned to live there when they arrived in Italy.

But restaurant owner Davide Midali saw promise in both his village and its new residents. To lure tourists back, he set out to build igloos that could be rented overnight, like ones he had seen in Sweden. That’s how a handful of immigrants unaccustomed to the cold picked up the art of igloo-making.

“When some of them saw me creating these blocks of snow, they voluntarily decided to give a hand to reach a common goal,” Midali said. Working with a small crew of volunteers, Midali built six igloos, each taking four or five days to complete. Omar Kanteh, a Gambian citizen who has been in Italy for nine months, is among the newcomers who embraced the construction project, as well as its friendly foreman.

“God made snow, but this time, man made igloos,” Kanteh said. “It was very strange to me, so I am very excited. This is a new talent in my life.” The igloos, which were set up as a mini-village, sleep 18 altogether and have been fully booked on weekends since mid-January. Curious people stop by to snap photographs or for a peek inside the snow domes. Schools in Milan and Bergamo have brought children up for fieldtrips.

For 100 euros ($123) per person, a couple can dine at Midali’s restaurant, sleep in an igloo and eat an organic breakfast before embarking on a guided snowshoe excursion in the Valle Brembana mountains.

Midali thinks the project has allowed him and the migrants to understand each other a little better, maybe even to serve as an example for others in San Simone. In that way, the connection forged with tools and snow is a small counterpoint to the pre-election campaigning in Italy that has featured right-wing parties pledging to expel thousands of migrants.

“You learn to know these young men, where they are from and their background, and they also learn about our background and life here,” Midali said. Praising Midali’s courage and open-mindedness, Kanteh said he would like to settle in San Simone if his application for Italian asylum is approved.

“He loves me for who I am, and I also love him for who he is,” he said. “It’s not about me being from Africa and him from Europe. We are all from one race.” Cristian Palazzi, president of the local tourism board, said the igloo undertaking project was “a small step to give life to a small community.”

“I cannot guarantee whether this is enough, but for sure this has been a great idea because without it, today San Simone would be dead.”

Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy contributed to this story.

New gold rush: Energy demands soar in Iceland for bitcoins

February 11, 2018

KEFLAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland is expected to use more energy mining bitcoins and other virtual currencies this year than it uses to power its homes. With massive amounts of electricity needed to run the computers that create the precious bitcoins, large virtual currency mining companies have established a base in Iceland, a chilly North Atlantic island blessed with an abundance of renewable energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

The relatively sudden growth of the new industry has prompted Smari McCarthy, a lawmaker for Iceland’s Pirate Party, to suggest taxing the profits of bitcoin mines. The initiative is likely to be well received by Icelanders, who are skeptical of speculative financial ventures after suffering a catastrophic banking crash in 2008.

“Under normal circumstances, companies that are creating value in Iceland pay a certain amount of tax to the government,” McCarthy told The Associated Press. “These companies are not doing that and we might want to ask ourselves whether they should.”

The energy demand has developed because of the soaring cost of producing virtual currencies. Computers are used to make complex calculations that verify a running ledger of all the transactions in virtual currencies around the world. In return, the miners claim a fraction of a coin not yet in circulation. In the case of bitcoin, a total of 21 million can be mined, leaving about 4.2 million left to create. As more bitcoin enter circulation, computers need to get more powerful to keep up with the calculations — and that means more energy.

The serene coastal town of Keflavik on Iceland’s desolate southern peninsula has over the past months boomed as an international hub for mining bitcoins and other virtual currencies. Local fishermen, chatting over steaming cups of coffee at the harbor gas station, are puzzled by the phenomenon, which has spawned oversize construction sites on the outskirts of town.

Among the main attractions of setting up bitcoin mines here, at the edge of the Arctic Circle, is the natural cooling for the computer servers and the competitive prices for Iceland’s abundance of renewable energy.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a business development manager at the energy company Hitaveita Sudurnesja, said he expected Iceland’s virtual currency mining to double its energy consumption to about 100 megawatts this year. That is more than households use on the island nation of 340,000, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

“Four months ago, I could not have predicted this trend — but then bitcoin skyrocketed and we got a lot more emails,” he said at the Svartsengi geothermal energy plant, which powers the southwestern peninsula where the mining takes place.

“Just today, I came from a meeting with a mining company seeking to buy 18 megawatts,” he said. At the largest of three bitcoin “farms” currently operating within Keflavik — called “Mjolnir” after the hammer of Thor, the Norse god of thunder — high metal fences surround 50 meter-long (164 foot) warehouse buildings stacked with computer rigs.

The data centers here are specially designed to utilize the constant wind on the bare peninsula. Walls are only partial on each side, allowing a draft of cold air to cool down the equipment. “What we are doing here is like gold mining,” said Helmut Rauth, who manages operations for Genesis Mining, a major bitcoin mining company. “We are mining on a large scale and getting the gold out to the people.”

Genesis Mining, founded in Germany, moved to Iceland in 2014 when the price of bitcoin fluctuated from $350 to $1000. Today, one bitcoin is valued at about $8,000, according to tracking site Coindesk, after peaking at almost $19,500 in December.

The currency took a hit in January when China announced it would move to wipe out its bitcoin mining industry, following concerns of excessive electricity consumption. Rauth said bitcoin should not be singled out as environmentally taxing. Computing power always demands energy, he argues.

“How much energy is needed for credit card transactions and internet research? Cryptocurrencies have the same global impact,” he said. In the capital, Reykjavik, some are more skeptical about bitcoin.

The last time Iceland was an international hub for finance, the venture ended with a giant bank crash, making the country one of the symbols of the 2008 global financial crisis. The political turmoil following the crash swept the upstart Pirate Party into Iceland’s parliament, where it currently holds 10 percent of seats.

Pirate Party legislator McCarthy has questioned the value of bitcoin mining for Icelandic society, saying residents should consider regulating and taxing the emerging industry. “We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,” he said. “That can’t be good.”

Germany’s Schulz abandons plan to become foreign minister

February 09, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, on Friday abandoned his plan to become the country’s foreign minister, hoping to prevent his party from rejecting a coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The Social Democrats are putting the agreement secured Wednesday to a ballot of their more than 460,000 members. Many of them are skeptical about extending the four-year “grand coalition” of Germany’s biggest parties after a disastrous election result in September.

The Social Democrats are widely viewed to have secured a good deal in the coalition negotiations — capturing the powerful finance ministry, along with the foreign and labor ministries and three others that it already held.

But Schulz’s own plans were becoming a major distraction. The former European Parliament president said Wednesday that he planned to become Germany’s next foreign minister — a risky move given that, after the election, he had explicitly ruled out entering Merkel’s next Cabinet. He also said Andrea Nahles, the party’s parliamentary leader, would take over as the Social Democrats’ chairwoman.

In a statement Friday, Schulz said members’ approval of Germany’s new coalition government was endangered by the discussion about his future so “I will not enter the government and fervently hope that this ends the personnel debates inside the Social Democratic Party.”

“We are all in politics for the good of the people of our country,” Schulz added. “That also means that my personal ambitions must come behind the interests of the party.” The foreign ministry is currently held by Sigmar Gabriel, who handed the Social Democrats’ leadership to Schulz a year ago and has become one of Germany’s most popular politicians.

Schulz’s decision came after Gabriel complained to the Funke newspaper group about “disrespectful” behavior in the party. Gabriel said Germans appear to think he has been successful “and it’s clear I regret that the new Social Democrat leadership didn’t care about this public appreciation of my work.”

There was no immediate word on who might become foreign minister instead of Schulz, who also didn’t detail any plans for his own future. Schulz was Merkel’s defeated challenger in September. After leading his party to its worst post-World War II election result, he vowed to take the Social Democrats into opposition. He reversed course, however, after Merkel’s coalition talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

The head of the Social Democrats’ youth wing, who is campaigning against the new coalition, said party members should give up fighting about who does what job and concentrate on debating whether the party enters the government.

Asked if he was relieved, Kevin Kuehnert replied: “I will be relieved when the ballot is done in three weeks and we have achieved a rejection of the ‘grand coalition.'”

Danish prince visits ailing father after leaving Olympics

February 10, 2018

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik has returned from the Winter Olympics in South Korea to visit his ailing father at a Copenhagen hospital. The royal household said Saturday that Frederik, the heir to Denmark’s throne, was joined by his mother, Queen Margrethe, and his wife during the visit late Friday.

The queen’s French-born husband, 83-year-old Prince Henrik, was hospitalized with a lung infection on Jan. 28. Last year, the palace announced Henrik was suffering from dementia. The palace said Friday that Frederik, an International Olympic Committee member, left the Winter Games in Pyeongchang because his father’s condition had “seriously worsened.”

Serbia museum benefits from renewed interest in Nikola Tesla

January 30, 2018

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Along dimmed corridors in an elegant villa in central Belgrade, visitors are treated to a flashy presentation of Nikola Tesla’s technology — as well as a huge array of the visionary scientist’s clothes, hundreds of instruments, and even his ashes.

The Serbian museum, dedicated to everything to do with the 19th-century inventor and electricity pioneer, remained in relative obscurity for decades under the communist-run former Yugoslavia. But thanks to a global revival of interest in the scientist, the collection is now drawing big crowds from home and abroad.

Museum staff say some 130,000 people visited last year, compared to about 30,000 a year in the past — when its audience included generations of local school children but hardly anyone from abroad. Now the small museum is ranked among the top must-see destination for tourists.

Tesla is best known for developing the alternating current that helped safely distribute electricity at great distances, including from the hydro-electric plant at the Niagara Falls in mid-1890s. He experimented with X-ray and radio technology, working in rivalry with Thomas Edison.

Although he’s known to many science lovers, his following and name-recognition among the general public has rocketed in recent years thanks to Paypal billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car. In the U.S., Tesla admirers have raised money through crowdfunding to purchase his laboratory In Shoreham, N.Y.

An ethnic Serb born in 1856 in the Austrian Empire in present-day Croatia, Tesla spent most of his life abroad, working in Budapest and Paris before emigrating to the U.S. in 1884. The Tesla Museum in Belgrade holds a vast array of the scientist’s personal items, from his sleepwear, shaving kit, tailor-made suit and cane to tens of thousands of documents and his awards. Even pieces of furniture from the New Yorker Hotel room 3327, where Tesla spent the last ten years of his life — his bed, fridge, metal lockers and a cupboard — are included.

“He was a man who took great care of his belongings and saved a large number of documents, so thanks to that we can now reconstruct his life and his work,” curator Milica Kesler said. “He was fully aware of the importance of what he was doing.”

Packed in some sixty trunks and containers, Tesla’s entire property first arrived in the former Yugoslavia on a ship from New York in 1951, eight years after his death. Authorities set up the museum in 1952, which later struggled with scarce funds and low attendance.

Nowadays, thrilled visitors are given fluorescent light sticks that light up wirelessly with the discharge from the Tesla coil, a four-meter-tall transformer circuit that generates electricity. In a separate room, in a somewhat macabre setting of dimmed lights and dark drapes, are Tesla’s ashes in a golden ball urn.

There are now so many visitors that the museum has extended its working hours and introduced more guided tours. Museum worker Pavle Petrovic says “the holiday season is the busiest, of course, but numbers stay high throughout the year.”

Although Tesla visited Belgrade just once for 31 hours, Serbia celebrates him as the pride of the nation. Belgrade’s airport and a new city boulevard are named after Tesla, his image is on souvenirs, and the Serbian Orthodox Church wants Tesla’s ashes placed in the country’s main religious temple, triggering protests by the liberal scientific community.

Typical of the Balkan divide, neighboring Croatia also claims Tesla as its own, turning his house in the home village of Smiljan into a memorial center. The rival former Yugoslav republics have marked important dates in Tesla’s life separately amid strained relations stemming from the 1990s’ bloody breakup of the joint ex-federation.

Away from the crowds, Tesla’s archive of more than 160,000 documents, scientific plans, manuscripts and letters is stored carefully in the museum’s basement. Curator Kesler said Tesla made the experts’ job easy by keeping a neat chronology of the documents.

“Sometimes I have a feeling he left us some kind of a path, a guideline to follow,” she said with a smile.

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