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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Frozen Scandinavia’

Japan leader Abe vows Arctic, Russia cooperation in Finland

July 10, 2017

HELSINKI (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday pledged to increase cooperation with Finland in Arctic issues and on furthering Russian relations, after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Abe noted that Finland is currently chairing the Arctic Council and said his country would increase its role in the agency by “positively contributing more than in the past to (its) activities.” “We will be enhancing our cooperation in the area of the environment regarding the Arctic regions,” Abe said in prepared statements by the two leaders.

Niinisto said that the two countries signed several agreements, including on developing environmental cooperation. Abe congratulated Finland on this year’s 100th anniversary of independence from Russia, with which it shares a 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) border, noting that Russia is “an important neighbor for both of our nations.”

“We reaffirmed our close collaboration in our relationship with Russia,” he said. Neither leader gave any details of the content of their talks. Before arriving in Finland, Abe met with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Stockholm, where the two leaders demanded that North Korea halt missile tests, and pledged increased cooperation in the U.N. Security Council. They also agreed to combat terrorism together.

Norway to Brazil: Curb deforestation or we stop the money

June 23, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway’s prime minister warned Brazil’s president on Friday to curb deforestation in the Amazon or Norway will reduce its financial contribution to the project this year. The announcement comes as the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut down at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, according to official Brazilian figures.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway’s more than $1 billion contribution to the so-called Amazon fund is “based on results,” Norway’s NTB news agency said. Since 2001, Norway has donated billions to encourage the conservation of forests.

“If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017,” Solberg said after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Oslo. Temer praised Norway’s contribution to the fund but declined to take questions from media after he and Solberg had made their statements.

“This contribution has enabled us to make a more effective impact to avoiding deforestation,” Temer said, according to NTB. Temer said Monday he had vetoed legislation to reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. However, the apparent victory for environmental groups most likely will be short-lived, as Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho is working on similar legislation.

The legislation passed by Brazil’s Congress last month would have converted around 1.4 million acres (566,000 hectares) of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use. However, last week, Filho announced plans to create a new expedited bill that would convert 1.1 million acres of protected land to other uses.

Last year, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian government’s satellite monitoring. That was the highest rate since 2008. Before his meeting with Solberg, Temer was met by protesters holding posters reading “Stop rainforest destruction” and “Respect indigenous peoples’ rights” as he arrived at the prime minister’s office in Oslo.

Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador

May 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named new cardinals for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden. “Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth,” Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The five churchmen chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali, where he has been involved in peace efforts amid Islamist extremism; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, who became a Catholic at the age of 20; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop who works as a parish pastor in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the five to cardinal’s rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new “princes of the church,” as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has made a point of visiting his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as of working to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

Arborelius, who is 67, converted to Catholicism when he was 20. In 1998, when he was consecrated as a bishop in Stockholm’s Catholic cathedral, Arborelius became Sweden’s first Catholic bishop, of Swedish origin, since the times of the Reformation,

In Mali, a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. Zerbo’s clerical resume reveals him to be a churchman working for reconciliation in society, a virtue repeatedly stressed by Francis. The Vatican noted that Zerbo, 73, who was named an auxiliary bishop of Bamako in 1998 and 10 years later was made that city’s archbishop, has played a role in peace negotiations.

Extremists attacked a hotel in Bamako in 2015, killing 19 people. Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping chief for Mali called the security situation there alarming, warning that extremist groups operating under the al-Qaida banner were carrying out more sophisticated attacks and Islamic State militants were slowly making inroads.

There has been slow progress in implementing a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups in the north. In Laos, the tiny Catholic community has often struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule. Mangkhanekhoun, 73, was ordained a priest in 1972 and has served as a bishop since 2001. The Vatican paid tribute to his work in visiting faithful in mountain villages. Since early this year, he has served as apostolic administrator in Vientiane.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

The resume of Chavez, 74, also includes credentials valued by the pope, who has made serving the poor a key focus of the Catholic church’s mission. Chavez heads the Latin American division of Caritas, the Catholic charity. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop in 1982 for San Salvador, where he now will be based as a cardinal after serving as a parish pastor in the city.

Chavez worked closely with the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who during El Salvador’s civil war was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980. Pope Francis has denounced Catholic clerics who “defamed” Romero after the slaying, a campaign that delayed Romero’s eventual beatification.

Francis’ pick for the Spain cardinal’s post, Omella, 71, worked as a missionary in Zaire earlier in his career and serves on the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of Bishops office. Since December 2015, he has been archbishop of Barcelona.

In announcing his selections, Francis expressed hope that the new cardinals with their work and “their advice will sustain me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, universal pastor of the church.” In other remarks to the faithful in the square, Francis referred to the situation of another Catholic minority — Chinese whose loyalty to the pope has put them at odds with authorities of the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China, and sometimes brought persecution.

He prayed that Catholics in China would be able to bring their “personal contribution for the communion among believers and harmony in the entire society.” Francis is eager to see improved Vatican-China relations. Both sides have for decades been at odds over Chinese authorities’ insistence that they have the right to appoint bishops, a prerogative the Vatican says only belongs to the pope.

He urged Catholics in China to “stay open to meeting and dialogue, always.”

Sweden drops case but WikiLeaks’ Assange is not in the clear

May 19, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, almost seven years after it began and five years after the WikiLeaks founder sought refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson declared Friday that “this is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants.” But the picture is more complicated than that.

HAS ASSANGE BEEN EXONERATED?

No. The investigation began after two women accused Assange of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Stockholm — allegations he denies. Sweden asked Britain to extradite Assange for questioning, and in June 2012 he sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid arrest.

After that, the investigation stalled. Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out in 2015, leaving only the rape allegation. Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions announced Friday that she was dropping the rape case because there is no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden “in the foreseeable future” and it is “no longer proportionate” to maintain the European arrest warrant.

She told a news conference in Stockholm that the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020. Ny said the case was not being dropped because Assange has been found innocent.

“We don’t make any statement of guilty or not,” she said.

IS ASSANGE FREE TO LEAVE THE ECUADOREAN EMBASSY?

Sweden has revoked a European Arrest Warrant for Assange, so British police are no longer seeking him for extradition. But there is also a warrant issued by a British court after he skipped bail in June 2012.

London’s Metropolitan Police force says that it “is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” The maximum sentence for that offense is a year in prison.

Assange said Friday that “my legal staff have contacted the U.K. authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”

Ecuador, which has granted Assange asylum, says it will step up diplomatic efforts to gain him safe passage to the Latin American country.

ARE THERE OTHER CHARGES AGAINST ASSANGE?

That’s unclear. Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified American documents, which has infuriated U.S. officials. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that Assange’s arrest is a priority.

Both U.S. and British officials have declined to comment on whether there is a warrant for Assange’s arrest.

Assange told reporters Friday he would be happy to discuss his case with the U.S. Department of Justice.

DOES SWEDEN’S ACTION MAKE ASSANGE SAFER?

Some legal experts say it makes his position less secure. Until Friday, Britain was bound to honor Sweden’s extradition request before any warrant from the United States. That is no longer the case.

Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: “Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any U.S. extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden.”

Assange could fight any U.S. extradition request in the British courts, a process that could take years.

WHITHER WIKILEAKS?

WikiLeaks’ release of classified material has continued unabated during Assange’s five years in the Ecuadorean embassy. On Friday, the group released what it said were new details of CIA cyberespionage tools.

Former Finnish President Mauno Koivisto dies at 93

May 13, 2017

HELSINKI (AP) — Mauno Koivisto, Finland’s last president during the Cold War who led the Nordic nation out of the shadow of its huge eastern neighbor, the Soviet Union, and into the European Union, died Friday at the age of 93.

The Finnish president’s office said that Koivisto died in the evening in a Helsinki hospital. It gave no cause of death or other details. His wife, Tellervo Koivisto, said earlier this year that he suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease and could no longer be cared for at home.

Koivisto served two six-year terms between 1982 and 1994, enjoying great popularity among ordinary Finns. His down-to-earth manner and dry humor, often laced with sarcasm and philosophical pondering, won him the heart of the nation but also brought political opponents.

For most Finns, his presidency marked the end of the long reign of predecessor Urho Kekkonen, who had ruled Finland with an iron grip for 25 years until his resignation in 1981. Koivisto was seen as ushering in a new, freer era, changing the face of the country by reducing the powers of the head of state and strengthening the role of Parliament.

Above all, he was recognized for his foreign policy skills with a fine balancing act of maintaining the small country’s good relations with the West — particularly with the United States — and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War years.

His second term in 1988-1994 was crucial in cementing the Nordic nation’s neutral status until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — a great concern for Finland that shares a 1,340-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia.

A fluent Russian-speaker, Koivisto developed a particular bond with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but also stayed in close contact with U.S. President George H.W. Bush with whom he regularly exchanged views on developments in the crumbling and rapidly changing Soviet Union. In 1990, he hosted Bush and Gorbachev at a U.S.-Soviet Summit in Helsinki.

Earlier, he reportedly also had a good rapport with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who stopped over in Helsinki in 1988 for talks with Koivisto en route to Moscow. Ahead of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1991, Koivisto started to steer Finland out of international isolation. He unilaterally declared two treaties as null and void — the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on the Finnish military, and the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact on mutual assistance, which hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures.

In 1992, Koivisto initiated the country’s application to join the European Community — the precursor of the European Union — and eventually led Finland to join the EU in 1995 after overwhelming support for membership in a referendum.

Born into a religious family in 1923, Koivisto was a rare breed among Finnish heads of state as he possessed first-hand war experience. At the age of 16, he served as a volunteer on the home front in the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets.

He also fought in the Continuation War in 1941-44, when Finnish troops battled the Russians beside Nazi Germany. After the war, Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party, completed his education, graduating with a philosophy degree and gained a Ph.D. in sociology in 1956.

Koivisto emerged a key figure among the Social Democrats in the late 1960s and helped raise the party’s popularity in Finland, which had been dominated by the former president Kekkonen’s agrarian Center Party in the post-World War II era.

Before becoming head of state, Koivisto held several ministerial posts, including of prime minister, and had served as the governor of the Bank of Finland. The tall and lanky Koivisto — a particular favorite figure among Finnish political cartoonists — was passionate about volleyball, playing into his elderly years with a group of industrialists and politicians.

Koivisto is survived by his wife, whom he married in 1952, and their daughter, Assi. Funeral arrangements were to be announced later.

Wolves return to Denmark for first time in 200 years

Stockholm (AFP)

May 4, 2017

At least five wolves, including one female, have returned to Denmark for the first time in two centuries, a zoologist who has obtained DNA evidence said on Thursday.

The predators came from Germany to settle in western Denmark’s agricultural region, the least densely populated in the Scandinavian country.

Peter Sunde, scientist at the University of Aarhus, told AFP the wolves must have walked more than 500 kilometers (310 miles).

“We think these are young wolves rejected by their families who are looking for new hunting grounds,” the researcher added.

Scientists have established a genetic profile from the faeces of five wolves — four males and one female — but there could be more.

Sunde said researchers had suspected since 2012 that wolves had entered Denmark. “Now we have evidence (including) that there’s one female,” signalling the possibility of giving birth this spring, he said.

Proof was also established through the wolves’ fingerprints and video surveillance showed their location, which scientists refuse to reveal out of fear that it will attract hunters.

“We’re following that. The wolf is an animal we’re not allowed to hunt so we must protect it,” Henrik Hagen Olesen, spokesman at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, told AFP.

Exterminated by hunters, wolves had been completely extinct in Denmark since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In other Nordic countries with a higher wolf population, culling the species, protected by the Bern Convention, is under a fierce debate between inhabitants, farmers, hunters, the government, the European Union and wildlife activists.

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Wolves_return_to_Denmark_for_first_time_in_200_years_999.html.

Swedish cows in a great moooo-d as summer pastures open

April 29, 2017

DROTTNINGHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Despite a cold wind and chilling temperatures, spring has come to Sweden. At least, spring for the milk cows. In an annual event that warms hearts across the country, “koslapp” (KOOH-slep) — the cow release — has become a popular family outing for urban residents. That’s when the farmers of Sweden free their cows from the barns and stables where they have spent the long, dark, cold winter.

Dozens of dairy cows were frolicking and jumping Saturday on the outskirts of Stockholm, the capital. “I live in the city and it’s really nice to come out to the countryside,” said 37-year-old Linda Lundberg from Stockholm who attended the event with her friends. “It’s fun to celebrate spring together with the cows.”

In recent years, milk farms across Sweden have seen a growing number of people attending what used to be simply a big day for Sweden’s agricultural community. Last year, alone, dairy cooperative Arla Foods saw around 165,000 people flock to their farms across the Scandinavian country to watch the cows, frisky with excitement, race out into the sun and the lush summer pastures.

“We make a lot of people happy, both families and children,” explained Elin Rydstrom, 37, who has spent the past week preparing to welcome about 1,000 people at her small organic farm in Drottningholm. She’s noticed a real shift in people’s attitude toward farmers.

“When I was little, people would tease me at school and say ‘You smell like cows,'” she recalled. Now her children’s classmates come to the farm “and everyone thinks it’s really nice.” Media-savvy farmers are now turning to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to change the perception of their profession and to encourage people to reflect on where their food comes from.

“Snapchat allows me to bring the farm to the city,” explained 28-year-old dairy farmer Anna Pettersson. She posts farm-life photos on social media and answers questions from users, including about animal welfare, food production and the length of her working hours.

Pettersson told The Associated Press that she hoped social media will encourage people to better understand what they consume and the need to pay for quality produce. A mere 30 minutes after their release, the cows were settling into their new environment while groups of people elsewhere on the farm were searching for the best picnic spot.

“It’s something special to have a farm and to be able to do this,” Rydstrom said. “To show the importance of quality food and being out in nature.”

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