Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Land of the Frozen Scandinavia’

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.”

Purged from Turkish army, NATO officers get asylum in Norway

April 08, 2017

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway and Turkey — NATO’s northern and southern frontiers in Europe — have been pillars of the Western military alliance for more than 60 years. But the diplomatic temperature between the two has fallen steadily since Turkey recalled dozens of military officers as suspects in an aborted coup — and Norway became the first nation to grant some of them asylum.

The government in Oslo agreed last month to protect four Turkish officers who had been assigned to NATO and, like colleagues in Germany and Brussels, fear they could be imprisoned as terrorists if they go back to their country. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for an explanation while the officers remain in Stavanger, a city on Norway’s west coast that lies 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) from Ankara.

“We see that this is a difficult decision for Norway because of the alliance, and it can cause big problems for NATO, so we appreciate that they have put human rights over political decisions,” one of the officers given asylum said. “Norway still says you are innocent until proven guilty … in Turkey, you have to prove your innocence.”

The men trying to forge new lives in Stavanger are among a cadre of commissioned Turkish officers who were working at NATO facilities around Europe during Turkey’s July 15 thwarted coup. The Turkish government suspects of playing a role in the failed coup, and the men have asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families in Turkey.

“Some of my colleagues in other NATO headquarters did return to Turkey. They were detained at the airport in front of their families, their children. It would be very difficult to go back to Turkey now,” one senior officer said. “We have small kids, and we have to save their lives.”

The former officers bristle at being branded “traitors.” Each man was on leave when the plot unfolded and claims he has a firm alibi. With their bank accounts frozen, their successful military careers suddenly cut short and hopes for fair trials in Turkey shattered, they say they had no choice but to seek asylum in Norway, where they filed for protection between August 13 and October 19.

One of the men was fired by telephone. Another received a call ordering him to leave Norway within three days. Two watched in horror as their names appeared on “blacklists” of soldiers commanded back to Turkey.

“When I saw the list and my name in the list, I tried to understand the reason … but there was nothing about this on the paper. There were just one or two or three sentences calling us back,” one said. “It was a terrible period. I knew I would lose my rights, my past, my family, everything.”

The men say they have seen social media videos of other Turkish officers being tortured in jail and have desperately tried to reach military friends back home. They say some have disappeared, while others were forced into giving confessions.

“After the coup, 160 generals and 7,000 military officers have been arrested,” one of the officers said bitterly. “If these persons were involved in this coup, the result must have been different.” The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges that the coup was carried out by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies orchestrating a takeover. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt.

Even Gulenists who did not take part in the coup attempt are considered a serious security threat now and are being purged from Turkey’s military. The four former officers in Norway deny being Gulen supporters and think the government is using the coup as an excuse to crush its critics.

“We are hearing that people’s wives are accused of being plotters and traitors. If one of your relatives has money in a certain bank, or you were using certain social media on the day of the coup, you are accused of being involved,” one said.

Turkey responded angrily to Norway granting the officers asylum, protesting that a NATO ally offered the men “support to abuse the country’s political, social and economic opportunities” instead of ensuring their return to Turkey.

The men’s lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, thinks the four cases were fast-tracked through the sometimes clogged Norwegian asylum system. One of the former officers said his asylum petition was approved without his needing to provide documents proving he was in danger.

“Norway can see what is going on,” he said. As political refugees, they face the possibility of never returning to Turkey and uncertain futures in NATO’s northern outpost. Dressed in the casual cold-weather wear of Norwegian civilians during an early spring evening on the Stavanger fjord, the four officers joked that they’ve already embraced a Nordic lifestyle.

And even though the winter nights seem long in Norway, they know that their situations could have been much darker. “It’s impossible for me to disconnect from Turkey,” one of the officers said. “All of my friends — most of the friends are now in jail. And their families suffer because of this. And there is just one voice in Turkey, so no one hears their screams.”

David Keyton contributed to this report in Stavanger.

Bodies of American, Swedish UN experts found in Congo

March 29, 2017

BENI, Congo (AP) — The bodies of an American and a Swedish investigator with the United Nations and their Congolese interpreter were found in Central Kasai province, authorities said Tuesday, more than two weeks after they disappeared while looking into recent violence there.

“After tests … it is possible to identify the bodies as the two U.N. experts and their interpreter as being found near the Moyo river,” Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said. Investigations will continue to seek other missing Congolese colleagues, he said.

Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaida Catalan of Sweden, along with interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers, went missing March 12 while looking into large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.

Congo’s police inspector general, Charles Bisengimana, said the bodies were found Monday between the cities of Tshimbulu and Kananga, the provincial capital. The confirmation came a day after Sharp’s father, John Sharp of Hesston, Kansas, wrote on his Facebook page that the bodies of two Caucasians had been found in shallow graves in the search area, saying there was a high probability the dead were his son and his son’s colleague.

“All other words fail me,” he wrote. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world body would conduct an inquiry into what happened to the two experts. He said the cause of their deaths hadn’t yet been determined.

“Michael and Zaida lost their lives seeking to understand the causes of conflict and insecurity in the DRC (Congo) in order to help bring peace to the country and its people,” Guterres said in a statement, sending his condolences to their families.

Sharp and Catalan’s disappearance is the first time U.N. experts have been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch has said, and it is the first recorded disappearance of international workers in the Kasai provinces.

Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai provinces in central Congo represents a new expansion of tensions. The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after government troops killed the militia’s leader in August. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the U.N.

When asked earlier Tuesday whether the investigators’ disappearance could be a turning point in the U.N. sending experts to the region, Guterres’ deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said: “We hope that we could continue to send experts to do their necessary monitoring activities wherever they need to go. Of course, that needs to be undertaken with full respect and understanding of the security condition on the ground.”

Associated Press writer Al-Hadji Maliro reported this story in Beni and AP writer Saleh Mwanamilongo reported from New York. AP writers Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Tag Cloud