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Posts tagged ‘Europe Section’

UK government faces no-confidence vote after Brexit defeat

January 16, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a no-confidence vote Wednesday, a day after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal by an historic margin. May is battling to save her job after staking her political reputation on a last-ditch effort to win support for the divorce agreement she negotiated with the European Union. Though defeat was widely expected, the scale of the rout — 432-202 — was devastating for May’s leadership.

Immediately after the vote, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence motion, saying it will give Parliament a chance to give its verdict “on the sheer incompetence of this government.” Still, most analysts predict May will survive because her Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, which supports it, are expected to vote against the motion.

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China, German promise closer financial cooperation

January 18, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — China and Germany promised Friday to open their markets wider to each other’s banks and insurers, giving Beijing a burst of positive trade news amid conflicts with Washington and Europe.

The two sides affirmed support for a global trading system that other governments worry is threatened by President Donald Trump’s “America first” policies. That followed a regular annual meeting between German’s finance minister and China’s economy czar.

The initiatives reflect Beijing’s determination to press ahead with changes aimed at making its state-dominated economy more productive and to reduce reliance on the U.S. market by building commercial ties with other countries.

China has tried without success to recruit Germany as an ally in its tariff war with Trump. Berlin expresses support for free trade but Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed her government is not taking sides.

Delegations led by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and China’s economy czar, Vice Premier Liu He, signed agreements to cooperate more closely on financial regulation. They included no details or commercial commitments, but Liu said Beijing welcomes “more qualified German banks to participate in the opening and innovation of China’s financial market.”

The two governments support their institutions doing “cross-border business in banking, securities, insurance and other fields,” the vice premier said. Beijing has promised repeatedly to carry out long-delayed commitments made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 to open its banking, insurance and securities markets. The government promised in 2017 to allow full foreign ownership of banks and insurers for the first time but business groups say they need to see details of regulations to know whether those opportunities are worth pursuing.

Chinese regulators have suspended issuing licenses to American companies in finance due to the tariff hikes imposed Trump in the fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions. Beijing also faces pressure over technology from the European Union. The 28-nation trade bloc filed a challenge in the WTO in June to Chinese rules it says hamper foreign companies in protecting and profiting from their own technology.

Friday’s talks were “also about advancing multilateral cooperation,” Scholz said before the event began. He cited Chinese-German cooperation in the Group of 20 major economies and on Africa, taxation and other issues.

“We want to make further progress,” he said.

Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

January 17, 2019

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Vladimir Putin received a hero’s welcome in ally Serbia on Thursday as the Russian president attempted to maintain political and economic influence in the Balkans, which is increasingly looking Westward.

Putin’s presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia as he arrived for the one-day visit. Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership. It has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.

Putin has recently stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, praised the relationship between the two countries. Putin handed a top Russian honor to Vucic, who gave a puppy of a Serb dog breed to the Russian president.

Vucic thanked Russia for its support for Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, and added that “however small,” Serbia has been a “reliable partner” to Russia.

Several bilateral agreements were signed, including on the supply of Russian gas and weapons to Serbia. On the gas, Putin said Russian companies are ready to invest about $1.4 billion into a stretch of a pipeline that would go from Turkey via EU-member Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary, “but in the end, everything will depend on other countries, including the European Union.”

Putin’s visit come as thousands have been holding weekly demonstrations against Vucic because of what they see as his autocratic rule. Tens of thousands of Vucic’s right-wing party supporters were bused into the capital on Thursday to gather in front of the St. Sava Orthodox church, which the two presidents visited. They were chanting slogans including “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the European Union!”

Vucic’s critics say the gathering was staged to suggest that the Serbian leader has many more supporters than opponents, who have been marching the same route since December to demand free elections and media.

Several liberal Serbian rights groups issued a statement on Thursday protesting “glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.” It said that Putin’s visit “indicates that the Serbian rulers are ready to sacrifice human rights and better living standards of citizens because of their servile attitude toward Putin’s regime.”

Russia’s interest in Serbia relates to its strategic position between East and West. Of Serbia’s eight neighbors, five are NATO members and two more are seeking membership; and four are in the EU and two more are working toward accession. Serbia remains Moscow’s only ally in the region.

Unlike NATO, Putin formally does not oppose Serbia’s EU path and analysts believe that this is because he wants a staunch ally — or perhaps a Trojan horse — within the 28-nation bloc. Putin’s popularity in Serbia is mostly because the Kremlin is supporting Serbia in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. In contrast, most Western countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood.

AP writer Jovana Gec contributed.

Death toll in Czech mine explosion increases to 13

December 21, 2018

PRAGUE (AP) — The death toll in a methane explosion at a black coal mine in northeastern Czech Republic has increased to 13, a mining company said Friday. OKD mining company spokesman Ivo Celechovsky said that 12 of the dead were Polish nationals while one was Czech, correcting information given earlier that said there were 11 Poles and two Czechs.

A further 10 miners were injured in the explosion Thursday afternoon at the CSM mine near the town of Karvina. Polish President Andrzej Duda declared Sunday a day of national mourning for the victims of the tragedy. Flags in Poland will be lowered to half-staff on public buildings and large sporting and entertainment events will be canceled.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis have offered their condolences to the families of the victims. The two leaders visited the mine on Friday. “To our knowledge … there is a fire underground, very high temperature, very high risk of subsequent explosions,” Morawiecki said.

The Polish leader visited two injured miners at the University Hospital in the nearby city of Ostrava. One of them was in critical condition with burns over 50 percent of his body, hospital spokeswoman Nada Chattova said.

Another miner was release after being treated in Karvina. “I wish to express words of deepest sympathy to all the close victims of the mining disaster in Karvina,” Morawiecki said. “This is a huge tragedy for all Poles and Czechs. On this difficult day, we strongly show our solidarity and sense of national community.”

The explosion occurred about 800 meters (2,600 feet) underground. OKD executive director Boleslav Kowalczyk said efforts to recover the bodies were continuing on Friday despite a fire in the mine. Authorities have been investigating the accident.

Bohuslav Machek, spokesman for the Czech mining authority said the level of methane in the mine was at least 4.5 times the allowed level at the time of the explosion. Easily ignitable methane is naturally present at black coal mines, posing a threat for miners.

A previous version of this story was corrected to show that the mine is called CSM, not CSA.

Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.

Venice to charge day-trippers for access to city center

December 31, 2018

MILAN (AP) — A measure in Italy’s 2019 budget law will allow the local government in Venice to charge day-trippers for access to the city’s historic center as a way to help defray the considerable costs of maintaining a popular tourist destination built on water, the mayor said.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said late Sunday on Twitter that the new visitors’ tax would “allow us to manage the city better and to keep it clean” and “allow Venetians to live with more decorum.” The City Council will be responsible for setting the charge and determining the collection method. The mayor’s office said it would vary from 2.50 euros to 10 euros per person, with exemptions for students, people traveling briefly to Venice for work or business and regional residents.

Overnight visitors will not be assessed the new levy. They are currently charged a small “stay” tax per night that varies according to such criteria as season, location and the ages of guests. Official estimate that as many as 30 million people visit Venice each year, with about one-fifth spending at least one night in the historic center of the city, which excludes islands in the lagoon and a mainland.

Brugnaro said the substantial cost of cleaning and maintaining security has so far been paid “only by Venetians.” Many natives have been forced to the mainland due to the high cost of living, and the huge influx of tourist also from cruise ships has contributed to wear and tear on the delicate architecture, which also endures frequent flooding caused by high winds.

City officials emphasized that the cost of maintaining public buildings in Venice’s historic center is one-third higher than on the mainland due to materials having to be brought in by boat and sometimes taken on hand-carts through the city’s narrow mazes of streets. Cleaning also must be done by hand.

The extra funds also will cover security costs, including the deployment of 150 local police officers every Sunday and the 350 officers on duty for holidays like New Year’s Eve and Carnival, and to erect walkways during periods of flooding.

The mayor of Florence, another Italian art city struggling with over-tourism, called for a law that would allow all major Italian tourist destinations to assess visitor fees. “Florence and the other touristic cities are not less-deserving,” Italian news agency ANSA quoted Mayor Dario Nardella as saying. “This is a norm that discourages hit-and-run tourism, which creates problems and inconveniences in the city without being counterbalanced by positive effects.”

Florence now can collect a maximum of 5 euros a night from overnight guests, according to the mayor. Nardella said he was also disappointed that the authorization Venice received does not address the use of private residences as tourist lodgings, which he said “is threatening the residential nature of the historic centers of all the Italian art cities.”

Quake from Mount Etna volcano jolts Sicily; 10 injured

December 26, 2018

ROME (AP) — A quake triggered by Mount Etna’s ongoing eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, slightly injuring 10 people and prompting frightened Italian villagers to flee their homes. Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19 a.m., was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna’s volcanic eruption this week.

The quake struck north of Catania, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediterranean island, but no injuries or damages were reported there. Italy’s national seismology institute said it registered a magnitude of 4.8 and occurred at a relatively shallow depth, 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) under the mountain’s surface.

The temblor damaged some rural homes, including structures that had been abandoned years ago, toppled a Madonna statue in a church in the town of Santa Venerina and opened up cracks on a highway, which was closed for inspection, Rai state radio said.

One 80-year-old man was safely extracted from the rubble of his home, the Italian news agency ANSA said. A woman told state radio that a heavy armoire in her home had toppled over, trapping her sister, who was then safely pulled out by her father. In another house, a ceiling collapsed.

“Etna remains a dangerous volcano, and this country of ours is unfortunately fragile,” government undersecretary Vito Crimi said, adding there were no fatalities and 10 slight injuries. The quake was also felt in the upscale Sicilian resort town of Taormina.

The Civil Protection agency said temporary shelters were being set up for people whose houses were damaged or who were too alarmed to return to their homes. In recent days, Etna’s latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash. A new fracture has opened near Etna’s southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.

Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July.

Sicilian airport reopens amid Mount Etna’s latest eruption

December 25, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italy’s Catania airport resumed full operations a day after an ash cloud from Mount Etna’s latest eruption forced it to shut down, while fiery red lava could be seen shooting from the volcano in eastern Sicily on Tuesday.

Ashes coated streets and sidewalks in the mountain towns of Zafferana Etnea and Santa Venerina. No evacuations of residents, many of whom work on farms or in tourism, were ordered. At least 300 tremors rattled the slopes of the volcanic mountain during a three-hour span early Monday, including a magnitude 4.3 seismic shake, Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said.

Tremors continued Tuesday, but they were less powerful. A new, 2-kilometer (1.25 mile) fissure opened up Monday on a stretch of uninhabited slope near Mount Etna’s southeast crater. On Monday, hikers were brought down from the volcano’s higher elevations for their safety.

Etna has been particularly active since July. Another volcano, Stromboli, on an inhabited Italian island of the same name and part of an archipelago north of Sicily, has shown increased activity of late, Italy’s national Civil Protection agency said Monday.

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