Daily: 21/02/2018

Protests in Greece Swell Against Property Auctions

Greece’s powerful Communist Party has vowed to step up protests against online auctions of homes with defaulted mortgages, putting more pressure on the government which has promised bailout creditors it will speed up the auction process.

More than 2,000 protesters from the party’s labor union took part in a rally in central Athens against the auctions which restarted Wednesday, following months of delays.

Until now, protests against the auctions at courthouses and the offices of notary publics have been led by smaller left-wing groups.

European Union institutions participating in Greece’s bailout are pressing Athens to ensure that auctions proceed.

This week, due to the postponed auctions, creditors delayed paying out a rescue loan installment to the government worth 5.7 billion euros ($7.1 billion).

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Trump Demands Probe of Obama Response to Russia Election Meddling

President Donald Trump on Wednesday again questioned why, if Russia was interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, former President Barack Obama and his administration did little to thwart it and why they are not now being investigated.

Trump virtually demanded his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, undertake an investigation of Obama and officials in that administration.

It has been a recurring theme for Trump in recent days: casting aspersions on several months-long investigations of his campaign’s links to Russian interests during the run-up to the November 2016 election and afterward, and attempting to divert attention to the Obama administration that was in office ahead of the vote and for weeks after it.

Trump’s admonishment of Sessions also showed the president’s continuing upset that the attorney general removed himself from oversight of the Russia probe because of his own 2016 contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, eventually leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to head the ongoing criminal investigation.

Trump’s comments came in the aftermath of Mueller filing charges last week against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities for allegedly conducting an “information warfare” campaign against the U.S. with fake stories and commentary about divisive U.S. issues in an effort to help Trump defeat Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

Trump has only reluctantly supported the finding of the U.S. intelligence community, and now Mueller, that Russia carried out a campaign to help him win the White House. He has not condemned Moscow for its 2016 election interference and, according to his intelligence chiefs’ congressional testimony last week, has not directed them to take any action to thwart Russian interference in the U.S. congressional elections set for November.

Trump has so far declined to impose sanctions on Russia for its election interference that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress and sought to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A month ahead of the 2016 election, the U.S. intelligence community voiced concern about the Russian interference. At that point, Obama wanted to issue a bipartisan statement about the Russian meddling, but was rebuffed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After the election, in the last weeks of his presidency, Obama issued sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities for election meddling. Obama also expelled 35 Russian government officials and ordered two waterfront compounds closed that the U.S. said the Russians were using for intelligence-gathering operations.

Trump praised Putin when the Russian leader subsequently ordered the dismissal of 755 workers at U.S. outposts in Russia, many of them Russians. Trump said it would help the U.S. save money with a diminished payroll in Russia.

Earlier this week, Trump said Obama failed to act against Russian meddling because he thought Clinton would win.

In another tweet, Trump said, “I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!” He praised his favorite television show, Fox and Friends for laying out a timeline he said showed “all of the failures of the Obama Administration” in combating Russian military involvement in Syria and its takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

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Україна випередила Росію за індексом сприйняття корупції – Transparency International

Міжнародна антикорупційна організація Transparency International оприлюднила 21 лютого звіт щодо рівня сприйняття корупції в різних країнах світу. Україна в рейтингу посіла 130-те місце – поміж 180 країн з оцінкою в 30 балів (0 балів – найгірший можливий показник, 100 – найкращий), таким чином піднявшись в порівнянні з минулим роком на один рядок у рейтингу.

Також Україна за індексом сприйняття корупції випередила Росію, яка на 135-му місці з 29-ма балами. Водночас поряд з Україною в рейтингу опинилися Гамбія, Іран, М’янма та Сьєрра-Леоне.

Перше місце у рейтингу з оцінкою 89 балів посіла Нова Зеландія, за нею серед найменш корумпованих країн опинилися Данія, Фінляндія, Норвегія, Швейцарів, Сінгапур, Швеція, Канада, Люксембург, Нідерланди, Велика Британія та Німеччина. Сполучені Штати зайняли 16-е місце, в порівнянні з 18-м в індексі 2016 року.

Найнижчий рейтинг – у Сомалі – держава посіла 180-е місце із оцінкою в дев’ять балів. Її «сусідами» в рейтингу є Південний Судан, Сирія, Афганістан, Ємен, Судан та Лівія. 

У своєму звіті Transparency International вказує, що більшість країн не надто ефективні у боротьбі з таким явищем, як корупція.

«Попри спроби боротьби з корупцією в усьому світі, більшість країн занадто повільно просуваються в своїх зусиллях», – йдеться в заяві 21 лютого. У повідомленні вказується, що за останні шість років «багато країн, як і раніше, практично не домоглися прогресу».

У Transparency International також зауважують, що аналіз результатів індексу корупції показує, що «країни з найнижчим захистом ЗМІ і неурядових організацій також мають гірші показники щодо корупції».

Якщо оцінювати за регіональними показниками, то хороші показники щодо сприйняття корупції – у Західній Європі, найгірші – у країнах Африки на південь від Сахари, Східної Європи та Центральної Азії.

У 2016 році Україна посідала 131-е місце у рейтингу і набрала 29 балів.

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Florida School Shooting Survivors Are Not ‘Crisis Actors’

Two students who survived the Florida school shooting and spoke publicly about it are not “crisis actors,” despite the claims of several conspiracy-oriented sites and an aide to a Florida lawmaker.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, are among those targeted by conspiracy theories about the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people.

Similar hoaxes were spread online following other mass shootings, including the 2012 assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In Florida, an aide to a state representative on Tuesday emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter a screenshot of them being interviewed on CNN and said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Times that the legislative aide’s comments were “outrageous and disrespectful.”

“These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They’ve been there. I can verify that,” Runcie told the newspaper.

The aide, Benjamin Kelly, sent a second email to Times reporter Alex Leary with a link to a conspiracy video saying, “There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?)” In the clip, a news reporter interviewed Hogg while on vacation in 2017 in Redondo Beach as a witness to a friend’s confrontation with a lifeguard. On Wednesday, YouTube had replaced one link to a video about Hogg as an actor with a notice saying it violated the site’s policy on harassment and bullying, but other videos remained.

Kelly tweeted later Tuesday that his comments were a mistake. The speaker of the Florida House, who oversees all House employees, subsequently fired him.

Runcie called such attacks “part of what’s wrong with the narrative in this country. If someone just has a different type of opinion, it seems that we want to somehow demonize them or color them as being somehow illegitimate instead of listening. . We’ll never get beyond that if, as soon as you show up, you’re demonized.”

Hogg also responded to the erroneous claims, telling CNN, “I am not a crisis actor. I’m somebody that had to witness this and live through this and I continue to have to do that.”

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Німеччина закликала Росію та Іран змусити Асада «припинити різанину» в Східній Гуті

Німеччина закликала Росію та Іран здійснити тиск на сирійський уряд, щоб «припинити різанину» в передмісті Дамаска, утримуваному повстанцями.

«Потрібно запитати, де Росія, де Іран, які обіцяли в Астані гарантувати припинення вогню також у Східній Гуті?», – заявив 21 лютого прес-секретар канцлера Німеччини Ангели Меркель Штеффан Зайбер.

Він додав, що «без підтримки цих двох союзників Башара Асада «режим не був би там, де він є  сьогодні».

На Заході, в ООН, в гуманітарних місіях зростає обурення з приводу «руйнівних» нападів і тактики «облоги й голоду», які використовуються сирійськими і російськими бойовими літаками й вертольотами проти повстанського анклаву поблизу сирійської столиці.

Росія та Іран надавали уряду президента Башара аль-Асада суттєву підтримку впродовж усього періоду 7-річної війни в Сирії, яка почалася з розгону антиурядових протестів. Москва допомогла переламати конфлікт на користь Асада, почавши кампанію повітряних ударів у 2015 році й активізувавши свою військову присутність на території Сирії. Міністр закордонних справ Росії Сергій Лавров, коментуючи ситуацію в передмісті Дамаска, заявив, що це напад «на терористів», а не на цивільних осіб.

Раніше Генеральний секретар ООН Антоніу Ґутерріш висловив стурбованість через загострення конфлікту в Східній Гуті, контрольованій сирійськими повстанцями.

Міжнародний комітет Червоного Хреста закликав до стриманості й надання доступу до поранених у Дамаску та його околицях.

«Сирійська обсерваторія з прав людини» заявила: щонайменше 250 цивільних громадян, у тому числі 58 дітей, були вбиті в Східній Гуті з 18 лютого, щонайменше 1200« були поранені.

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Amid a Flood of Plastic, Big Companies See Opportunity

Once a month, accountant Michael Byrne pulls on his rubber boots and makes his way to a spot on the banks of the River Thames.

He carefully marks out a one-square meter (11-square foot) patch and, with gloved hands, catalogues each bit of plastic he finds, meticulously reporting the data to the environmental group Thames21. On Aug. 20, for example, he and other volunteers found an average of 31 food wrappers, the sticks from 29 cotton swabs, 12 bottle tops and about 100 pieces of small chewed up plastic in each patch.

“We are the data gatherers” who provide evidence of the plastic that’s clogging the world’s rivers and oceans, he said. “We are building up a picture all along the river of what is washing up.”

Public awareness of the problem of plastic waste is swelling after alarming forecasts that there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. Plus the shocking images are rolling in: Britain’s Sky News’ campaign against ocean plastic featuring whales bloated by plastic bags; National Geographic’s chilling picture of a seahorse curled around a pink cotton swab, and filmmaker David Attenborough’s documentary “Blue Planet II” footage of sea turtles shrouded in plastic.


And where consumers’ attention goes, so does that of companies.

In the last few months, Amcor, Ecover, Evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Walmart and Werner & Mertz – which together use more than 6 million metric tons of plastic packaging per year – have committed to using only reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an innovation think-tank.

Adidas, meanwhile, is making a line of clothing from recycled plastic bottles and promoting the products with an online video underscoring the health threat to humans of ingesting plastic particles found in fish. Negozio Leggero, a high-end food store in Italy and Switzerland, features 1,500 package-free products. British supermarket chain Iceland is planning to remove all plastic packaging from its own-brand products by 2023.

“Some of the companies that might have been seen as the worst offenders are the ones moving forward,” said Abigail Entwistle of Fauna & Flora International, a 115-year-old conservation organization. “They have the most to lose.”

These are the companies, after all, that have profited from a business model that wraps everything from spring water to cleaning products in plastic packaging that is used once and thrown away.

Global plastic production increased to 380 million metric tons (418 million tons) in 2015 from 2 million metric tons in 1950, according to research by Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

About 60 percent of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced throughout history has ended up as waste, with more than three-fourths of that going into landfills or the natural environment, Geyer estimates. In 2010 alone, between 4 million and 12 million metric tons of plastic entered the marine environment.

The material kills and maims wildlife and makes its way into the food chain.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlighted the issue last year in a report that said the weight of plastic in the oceans would equal that of fish by 2050 if current trends continue. Only 14 percent of plastic packaging is currently collected for recycling, according to the foundation, which works with companies like Google, Nike and Danone. Action is needed on multiple fronts, it says.

“It’s not about one innovation, one regulation, one action. We need all of them at the same time.” Rob Opsomer, who leads the foundation’s New Plastics Economy project. “We need to have more and bolder ambitions.”

 Market research group Mintel says we may eventually see “social stigmatization” of plastic cups and cling film, with firms developing soluble packaging and more retailers shunning products encased in plastic.

 “There is money to be made, but more importantly there’s money to be lost,” said Ben Punchard, global packaging analyst at Mintel. “It is being used as a virtue signal. It’s showing you are doing the right thing.”

 Governments and other institutions have also begun to focus on the issue.

 The EU has set a target to recycle 65 percent of urban waste by 2035. Britain last year outlawed the use of plastic microbeads, and the government says it will consider taxes on single-use plastic as part of an effort to eliminate all “avoidable plastic waste” within 25 years. The Church of England suggested its members reduce their plastic use for Lent.

 Geyer says initiatives are nice, but recycling and reuse campaigns have done little to stem the tide of plastic pollution over the past 30 years. He believes society needs to contain its rising demand for plastic as companies and governments pursue ever-increasing growth. Oceans are simply “collateral damage” in the consumer economy, he said.

 “That’s how we build our lives, that’s how we consume, that’s how the economy is set up now,” he said. “On the one hand, everyone says this is terrible, we have to stop it. On the other hand, everyone gets terribly upset if the economy doesn’t grow by 3 percent. Honestly, I think we can’t have our cake and eat it, and that’s what we’re trying to do here, I think.”

 That’s not stopping people like Byrne from trying to spread the word.

 The accountant has 60 sets of rubber boots to loan to anyone who joins him on the banks of the Thames. He gives everyone a safety briefing, and there’s a promise of an afternoon at the pub after the cold and often grueling work of trash counting and pickup.

 “We have a problem with plastic,” he said. “Everyone knows that, but let me say it again – we have a problem with plastic. We have to do something.

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Порошенко заявив про добре скоординовані дії Росії у гібридній війні проти України

Президент України Петро Порошенко назвав Росію країною-агресором, «добре скоординовані» дії якої у гібридній війні проти України були помітні ще із початку анексії Криму. Про це він сказав 21 лютого під час допиту у режимі відеоконференції в ході засідання у справі про «державну зраду» екс-президента Віктора Януковича.

«Анексія Криму була частиною гібридної війни Росії проти України», – сказав Порошенко, зазначивши, що наприкінці лютого 2014 року він прибув до Криму і став свідком присутності російських військових на півострові.

«Я особисто бачив військовослужбовців у зеленій формі. Це були військовослужбовці збройних сил Росії, як зі складу Чорноморського флоту, так і з регулярних сил, які були перекинуті в ці дні, починаючи з 20 лютого», – сказав Порошенко.

Він додав, що в операції із захоплення території України були задіяні десятки тисяч російських військовослужбовців, які перебували в Севастополі, і десятки тисяч російських військовослужбовців, що прибули безпосередньо з Росії.

«З точки зору міжнародного права країна-агресор Російська Федерація не мала жодних підстав діяти у спосіб, який вона продемонструвала починаючи з 20 лютого 2014 року. Я думаю, що буде можливість поставити це питання тим, хто ухвалив рішення щодо початку агресії проти України з боку Російської Федерації», – сказав Петро Порошенко.

Коментуючи передачу повноважень президента Олександру Турчинову в лютому 2014 року, Порошенко сказав, що «перед обличчям агресії» чекати не було можливості через відсутність на місці тодішнього президента Віктора Януковича.

Якраз після того, як сторона захисту кілька разів намагалася запитати Порошенко про легітимність повноважень Януковича, які були передані Турчинову, а також, коли адвокат спитав, чому під час нещодавньої відпустки Порошенка на Мальдівах ніхто не вирішив його самоусунути, суддя зупинив допит свідка. Суддя заявив, що захист умисно ставить питання, які не стосуються кримінального провадження.

Засідання Оболонського райсуду Києва перенесли на 22 лютого. Захисник Януковича заявив, що проситиме суд про повторний допит Порошенка.

Оболонський районний суд наприкінці червня 2017 року розпочав заочний розгляд справи за звинуваченням у державній зраді екс-президента України Віктора Януковича. Події на Майдані розслідуються в окремому провадженні.

Екс-президент України Віктор Янукович, який втік до Росії після розстрілів на Майдані, всі звинувачення заперечує.

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S. Korea official: GM 0ffers $2.8B Investment in S.Korea Over 10 Years

General Motors has proposed $2.8 billion of fresh investment into its South Korean operations over the 10 years as part of its plan to restructure the embattled unit, a South Korean senior government official said on Wednesday.

The offer comes as the Detroit carmaker and the South Korean government discuss restructuring options at loss-making GM Korea, one of GM’s largest offshore operations.

The official with direct knowledge of the matter said GM had also asked South Korea to inject funds into GM Korea in which the country’s state bank also holds a stake. However, the official added that a close look into GM’s proposal was necessary to determine whether the investment plan was sufficient to rescue the unit, which directly employs some 16,000 workers.

“We need to have a closer look through the audit,” the official said.

South Korea’s trade minister said the government has also asked for an audit into GM’s “opaque” management in the country.

“By opaque we mean the high rate of profits to raw material costs, interest payments regarding loans and unfair financial support made to GM’s headquarters,” said Minister Paik Un-gyu told lawmakers in parliament.

Last week, the U.S. automaker announced it would shut down a factory in Gunsan, southwest of Seoul, and said it was mulling the fate of its three remaining plants in South Korea.

A South Korean lawmaker said earlier that GM had put forward a proposal including the investment plan and a debt to equity swap of the Korea unit’s borrowings to the parent company.

In return, GM requested South Korea to take part in financing the investment and raising capital, according to a statement by Jung You-sub, the lawmaker from Bupyeong where GM runs its biggest factory in South Korea.

Jung’s office was not immediately available for comment.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported GM had offered to convert debt of around $2.2 billion owed by its ailing South Korean operation into equity in exchange for financial support and tax benefits from Seoul, four sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.


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Родичі «в’язнів Кремля» прийшли до адміністрації Порошенка із вимогою зустрічі з ним

Родичі українців, ув’язнених у Росії й анексованому нею Криму, 21 лютого прийшли до будівлі Адміністрації президента України і вимагають зустрічі з Петром Порошенком для отримання інформації щодо перспектив звільнення своїх рідних, повідомляє кореспондент Радіо Свобода.

У рамках акції перед Адміністрацією президента буде облаштовано «Місце для президента», де його чекатимуть рідні та близькі «в’язнів Кремля».

До учасників акції вийшла представник України в гуманітарній підгрупі Тристоронньої контактної групи, перший віце-спікер Верховної Ради Ірина Геращенко. Вона заявила, що 22 лютого відбудеться зустріч за участю представників родичів політв’язнів, омбудсмена й інших зацікавлених осіб.

За її словами, питання звільнення політв’язнів постійно порушують на зустрічах у Мінську.

21 лютого в ранковому ефірі Радіо Свобода голова громадської організації «Об’єднання родичів політв’язнів Кремля» Ігор Котелянець повідомив, що організація представляє інтереси 66 громадян України.

«Це українці, офіційно визнані правозахисними українськими організаціями та деякими міжнародними організаціями такими, що незаконно утримуються за політичними мотивами владою Росії на території Криму або на території Росії. Власне, ми всі за них боремось», – розказав Котелянець в ефірі «Ранкової Свободи».

За словами активіста, Росія використовує політв’язнів в цілях зовнішньої та внутрішньої антиукраїнської пропаганди. Водночас він стверджує, що політв’язні не є темою переговорів в рамках Мінського формату. У зв’язку з цим Котелянець згадав Ірину Геращенко, яка є представницею України в гуманітарній підгрупі в Мінську та займається звільненням полонених з ОРДЛО. «Все, що нам потрібно – така сама Ірина Геращенко, яка б захищала інтереси українських політв’язнів, які утримуються на території Росії та на території Криму, якщо дуже простою мовою. Наразі вони не обговорюються», – каже він.

Зараз же, за словами громадського діяча, жодне відомство чи особа не спеціалізуються на звільненні політичних в’язнів з Росії чи підконтрольного їй наразі півострова.

«Немає тієї людини, яка б цим займалась. Нема ніякого переговорника, нема ніякого уповноваженого, який якось скоординував би міністерства й відомства України в рамках стратегії по звільненню. Та й стратегії звільнення самої також нема», – додав Котелянець.


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Oxfam Investigates New Claims Of Sexual Misconduct

British aid agency Oxfam says it is investigating dozens of new allegations of sexual misconduct. It follows revelations last week that some Oxfam staff in Haiti paid sex workers in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the scandal looks set to mark a watershed moment for the aid sector.

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S. Korea’s Cryptocurrency Industry Welcomes Regulator’s Dramatic Change of Heart

South Korea’s cryptocurrency industry is anticipating much better times as the market regulator changes tack from its tough stance on the virtual coin trade, promising instead to help promote blockchain technology.

The regulator said Tuesday that it hopes to see South Korea — which has become a hub for cryptocurrency trade — normalize the virtual coin business in a self-regulatory environment.

“The whole world is now framing the outline [for cryptocurrency] and therefore [the government] should rather work more on normalization than increasing regulation,” Choe Heung-sik, chief of South Korea’s Finance Supervisory Service (FSS), told reporters.

FSS has been leading the government’s regulation of cryptocurrency trading as part of a task force.

Cryptocurrency operators have drawn a new optimism from Choe’s comments, seeing them clearly indicating the government’s cooperation in their plans for self-regulation.

“Though the government and the industry have not yet reached a full agreement, the fact that the regulator himself made clear the government’s stance on cooperation is a positive sign for the markets,” said Kim Haw-joon of the Korea Blockchain Association.

Wednesday’s news is a stark reversal of the justice minister’s warnings in January that the government was considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, throwing the market into turmoil.

Instead, South Korea banned the use of anonymous bank accounts for virtual coin trading as of January 30 to stop cryptocurrencies being used in money laundering and other crimes.

Bitcoin, the world’s most heavily traded cryptocurrency, is now changing hands at a three-week high of $11,086 on the Luxembourg-based Biststamp exchange after falling as low as $5,920.72 in early February.

South Korean electronics giant Samsung has already started production of cryptocurrency mining technologies, local media reported in January.

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S. Korea Signs Free Trade Deals With 5 Central America Countries

South Korea said on Wednesday it is signing free trade agreements with five Central American nations aimed at boosting market access for the Korean auto sector and electronics makers.

Trade minister Kim Hyun-chong will meet representatives from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama in Seoul on Wednesday to sign five separate bilateral pacts which will eliminate duties on about 95 percent of traded goods and services, Korea’s trade ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The agreements are subject to parliamentary approval in each country, and is likely to take effect at different times depending on the ratification process.

The five trade pacts open South Korea to key Central American countries after its deals with the U.S., the European Union and China helped boost exports.

“The South Korea-Central America free trade deals will enable the countries to build a more comprehensive, strategic partnerships going forward,” Kim said.

The ministry expects the five deals to accelerate South Korea’s economic growth by an overall 0.02 percent in the next 10 years, by boosting exports of cars, steel, cosmetics products, and auto components.

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Illicit Financial Flows Outpace Development in Africa, OECD Says

Through medication and narcotics smuggling, ivory and people trafficking, oil theft and piracy, Africa is, by conservative estimates, losing about $50 billion a year in illicit financial flows — more, in fact, than it receives in official development assistance. 

A report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers a bigger look at the illegal economy behind the losses and how African and richer nations can fight it.

The OECD report zooms in on West Africa, and one sector in particular stands out. Catherine Anderson, who heads governance issues as the OECD, said 80 percent of illicit financial flows from West Africa are generated from the theft of natural resouces, principally oil.

But West African countries aren’t the only ones losing out from illicit flows, Anderson said. So are developed nations. Migrant trafficking, a hot-button issue in Europe, is a case in point.

“One of our case studies is on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is benefiting from the kidnap-for-ransom activities,” she said. “They are interdicting the trade and passage of goods across the Sahel, levying protection fees and revenues from the population. These have significant implications, not just for West African populations but for OECD countries, for Europe, in terms of insecurity and instability.”

She said illegal resource flows need to be tackled holistically — not only by the countries of origin, but also by those where the finances are transiting, and those where they finally end up, including developed countries. Doing so can be particularly tricky in West Africa, where a huge informal economy blurs the boundary of what is legal and what isn’t.

Ambassador Según Apata of Nigeria is a member of a U.N. high-level panel looking into illicit financial flows from Africa. He said some African governments are beginning to tackle the problem, but they don’t always have the capacity to do so.

“We have not made giant strides yet,” Apata said. “We are still at the elementary, at the mundane level of implementation.”

Apata said that if the $50 billion in losses from illegal activities were channeled into development in West Africa, it could help check the illegal migration that European countries worry about.

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Fearing Tourist Drought, Cape Town Charts a New Relationship with Water

When Markus Rohner flew into Cape Town’s airport this month, he found an unexpected line at the men’s washroom.

With the city facing an unprecedented water shortage, airport authorities had turned off all the sink taps but one, leaving visitors to wait in line to wash their hands, under the watchful eye of a bathroom attendant.

“In Johannesburg, there were a lot of jokes about the situation. People were saying to each other: ‘Let’s go to Cape Town for a dirty weekend,'” said Rohner, who visited both cities recently for his job as a sales and marketing director for a Swiss machinery manufacturer.

Cape Town, which is battling to keep its taps flowing as reservoirs run close to dry following a three-year drought, declared a national disaster this month. Without rain, Cape Town could run out of water by July 9, city authorities predict.

For visitors thinking of flying into one of the world’s tourism hotspots, threats of a water “Day Zero” raise a range of questions: Will a visit waste scarce water local people need? Will I be able to flush my hotel toilet and have a shower? Should I come at all?

Sisa Ntshona, who heads the tourism marketing arm of South Africa’s government, has the answer you’d expect: Tourists — who support an estimated 300,000 jobs in South Africa’s Western Cape province — should come but they should be prepared to help out and “Save like a local,” as the slogan goes.

In a city where residents now are expected to use no more than 50 liters of water a day — enough to drink, have a 90-second shower, flush the toilet at least once and wash a few clothes or dishes — tourists “don’t have special privileges,” he said.

That means no baths, swimming pools now sporting salt water instead of fresh, sheets and towels changed less regularly, and signs urging visitors to flush toilets as infrequently as possible.

At one Cape Town hotel, visitors who insist on a bath — which takes 80 liters of water — now have to conspicuously carry a large rubber duck placed in their bathtub to reception to exchange it for a bath plug.

With climate change expected to bring worsening water shortages to cities around the world — from Sao Paulo to Los Angeles to Jakarta — such changes are going to be needed in many places in years to come, said Ntshona, the CEO of South African Tourism.

“How do we recalibrate the norm for global tourism?” he asked, on a visit to London to reassure potential visitors. “Tourists are aware of recycling, carbon emissions. But now it’s water.”

“This is the new norm,” he said. “Even if it rains tomorrow, we can never go back to the old way of consuming water.”

Tourist cash

For Cape Town, keeping tourists flowing through the city is an urgent priority.

Foreign tourists represent only about 1 percent of the people in the city even at peak times, but tourism — foreign and South African — contributes $3.4 billion to the province’s economy each year, said Ravi Nadasen, deputy chair of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

Any tourism drop-off in Cape Town also hits the rest of the country, Ntshona said. With many visitors booking itineraries that start in Cape Town and move east, he said, a loss of visitors to Table Mountain also means fewer people at the country’s game parks, vineyards and beaches.

“If South Africa falls off the tourism radar screen globally, to get it back on will take so much attention and focus,” he said.

Bookings for the first quarter of the year have so far not fallen, Ntshona and Nadasen say, though they have been fielding inquiries from worried potential visitors.

“We’ll get a better sense by the end of March, when we look at forward bookings for the next six months,” Ntshona said.

Tourism officials are well aware of the potential threat, however. In 2014, an Ebola crisis in West Africa — a six-hour plane flight away — led to a 23 percent drop in visitors to Ebola-free South Africa as tourists shunned African destinations, Ntshona said.

To try to prevent a repeat of that disaster, government and business leaders are rushing to shore up water supplies — and confidence.

Organizers of dozens of big conferences held in Cape Town each year are making plans to ship in water from other less thirsty parts of the country, Ntshona said.

Hotels have installed low-flow showerheads, turned off fountains and replaced cloth napkins with paper ones.

A Cape Town subsidiary of leading hotel chain Tsogo Sun is this week taking delivery of a pioneering desalination plant, to suck seawater from Cape Town’s harbor and churn out enough fresh water for the chain’s 1,400 Cape Town hotel rooms.

Cape Town itself is also making plans to bring in desalination plants — though not quickly enough to deal with the impending “Day Zero,” now pushed back to July after a successful campaign to cut the city’s water consumption by half.

Political obstacles

Experts have warned of water risks in Cape Town for years, but political infighting has gotten in the way of action, Ntshona admits.

Cape Town is run by an opposition party to the ruling African National Congress — and even the ANC saw its embattled leader, President Jacob Zuma, pushed out of office last week.

“Part of the lesson we’re learning as a country is that when you have a crisis, stop bickering and focus on the issues,” Ntshona said.

Another lesson, he said, is that water shortages — predicted to become longer and deeper across southern Africa as climate change strengthens droughts — cannot be seen as a passing problem.

Winter rains are expected in Cape Town starting in May or June. If they arrive, the current crisis will ease, officials predict.

But, regardless, “we need to recalibrate our relationship with water as a country,” Ntshona said.

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Off-grid Power Pioneers Pour Into West Africa

Standing by a towering equatorial forest, Jean-Noel Kouame’s new breeze-block house may be beyond the reach of Ivory Coast’s power grid, but it’s perfectly located for solar power entrepreneurs.

Buoyed by success in East Africa, off-grid solar power startups are pouring into West Africa, offering pay-as-you-go kits in a race to claim tens of millions of customers who lack reliable access to electricity.

At least 11 companies, including leading East African players such as Greenlight Planet, d.light, Off-Grid Electric (OGE), M-KOPE Solar, Fenix International and BBOXX, have moved into the region, most within the last two years.

With a potential market worth billions of dollars, major European energy companies such as French utilities EDF and Engie are taking notice too.

“It’s important to be there now, because the race has already started,” said Marianne Laigneau, senior executive vice president of EDF’s international division.

The main challenge facing smaller companies now is how to raise enough capital to supply the expensive solar kits in return for small upfront payments from customers.

Mobilizing funding for firms providing home solar systems is also part of the U.S. government’s Power Africa initiative.

Major power generation projects have been slow to get off the ground so Power Africa has partnered with startups such as OGE, M-KOPE and d.light, among others, to accelerate off-grid access.

In Abidjan, Kouame doesn’t know when, or if, the national grid will reach the outer edge of the urban sprawl, but thanks to his new solar panel kit he has indoor lighting, an electric fan and a television.

But it’s the light bulb hanging outside his front door that he values the most.

“At night we were scared to go outside,” the 31-year-old taxi driver says as his pregnant wife watches a dubbed Brazilian soap opera. “Where there is light there is safety.”

Some 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to a power grid, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Lighting and phone charging alone costs them about $27 billion a year and some estimates put their total annual energy costs at more than $60 billion.

While governments in much of the developing world are extending access to national networks, Africa is lagging, with less than 40 percent of African households connected, IEA figures show.

But what has long been decried as a major obstacle to Africa’s development is viewed as an opportunity by entrepreneurs such as Nir Marom, co-founder of Lumos Global, the Dutch startup that built and sold Kouame his kit.

“I read an article about people paying 50 cents a day for kerosene and candles, and that just didn’t make sense,” said Marom. “I said I can give them four kilowatt hours for the price of kerosene. And that started everything.”

Off-grid expansion

Lumos Global’s kits, which cost about $600, include a solar panel linked to a battery that supports power sockets, a mobile phone adapter and LED light bulbs.

Kouame, who paid 30,000 CFA francs ($57) upfront for his kit, is now leasing-to-own. A digital counter on the yellow battery pack tells him when he needs to top up his account using his mobile phone.

If he doesn’t pay, the kit, which also houses a global positioning system, shuts down. But in five years, he’ll own it outright and his solar power will be free.

“Five years is nothing,” he says, already weighing the option of another system to run a large freezer sitting empty and unplugged in the corner of his living room. “So my wife can do a little business.”

Pay-as-you-go solar home systems (SHS) like Kouame’s have been the main driver of off-grid power expansion in Africa.

In 2010, when most purchases were limited to simple lighting systems, customers spent $30 to $80 on average over a product’s lifetime, according to GOGLA, an independent off-grid industry association.

Now it’s $370 to $1,120.

Global revenues from the pay-as-you-go SHS sector were $150 million to $200 million in 2016, GOGLA estimates. That should jump to $6 billion to $7 billion in 2022.

Most of the main players in West Africa cut their teeth in East Africa, drawn by the widespread use of mobile money transfers, a key element of the pay-as-you-go off-grid model.

Success there drove annual sector-wide growth of about 140 percent from 2013 to 2016. But as the East African market becomes more crowded and mobile money services spread across the continent, many are now heading west.

“I remember doing a market sizing very early on and from a number of metrics West Africa was a better market,” said Xavier Helgesen, CEO of Tanzania-based Off-Grid Electric (OGE), one of the sector leaders.

About half of the overall African off-grid population are in West and Central Africa, according to the IEA. Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, is  alone home to roughly 90 million people with no grid access.

Lumos is an outlier to the extent it picked West Africa as its first market. It launched in Nigeria in 2016 and by the end of 2017 had sold 73,000 kits and was averaging 16 percent month-on-month revenue growth. Late last year, it expanded into Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy.

Still, despite the rapid growth to date, off-grid solar startups say more must be done to improve the capacity of solar home systems and to bring down their cost so the sector can reach its full potential.

“I don’t believe off-grid electrification is a stop-gap,” said Jamie Evans, director of partnerships with d.light.

“I believe it’s here to stay. If the price of batteries starts dropping precipitously, then it will almost certainly change the face of the industry,” he said.

Capital  intensive

The need to provide consumer financing for the relatively expensive kits means expansion requires significant capital.

But banks, lacking expertise in the new sector, often shy away from lending to off-grid companies, said Rolake Akinkugbe, head of energy at Nigeria’s FBNQuest Merchant Bank.

“There’s also a size issue. Most of the off-grid solutions, particularly those that deal with pay-as-you-go, from a funding perspective, are not within the threshold for banks,” she said.

That means startups have largely relied on venture capital, impact investors looking to generate social benefits as well as a profit, and development finance institutions. But the model has its drawbacks.

“Right now off-grid companies are having to constantly fundraise,” said Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Uganda-based Fenix International.

In what was considered a milestone in the African off-grid sector, Engie bought Fenix in October.

With access to Engie’s capital, Handler says Fenix aims to become a pan-African off-grid leader, serving millions in the near term and tens of millions further down the road.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment are needed to have the impact we want to have,” she said.

Facing stagnating customer growth in their home markets, European energy companies such as Engie are increasingly looking abroad. Africa’s underserved, growing population is seen by many as the future.

The number of Africans without grid access actually increased by nearly 14 percent between 2000 and 2016 to 588 million people. By 2030, the IEA estimates that some 80 percent of the global off-grid population will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Raphael Tilot, Engie Africa’s head of customer solutions, likens off-grid solar to the rise of the mobile phone, which leap-frogged landline networks on the continent.

“Today, no one is thinking about putting telecom wires to individual houses in these places. You can look at energy in the same way today,” he said. “Mini-grids or solar home systems are a far better solution.”

In addition to Engie, French giants Total and EDF also hold stakes in off-grid startups, or are partnering with them. Italian utility Enel and Germany’s E.ON are investing in solar mini-grid companies.

Evidence of the market growth is on exhibit on Kouame’s hillside in Abidjan, where several rooftops, including his neighbor’s, are now crowned with solar panels.

“He asked me how it worked,” Kouame smiles. “Then he went and bought one of his own.”

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Trump Orders Justice Department to Ban Bump Stocks

The U.S. administration is looking to tighten some regulations involving guns, with President Donald Trump formally recommending the banning of devices that turn firearms into more lethal weapons.

The White House is also saying age restrictions are on the table for the most popular semi-automatic rifle in the country. The administration indicated it is open to universal background checks for gun owners.


“Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,”  Trump said Tuesday, adding that such regulations will be finalized “very soon.”

The president made the announcement from the White House during the Public Safety Medal of Valor Awards ceremony honoring law enforcement officers.

The ban would include bump stocks — attachments that allow semi-automatic guns to be fired faster — which were used in the shooting in Las Vegas Last October in which 58 people were killed and 851 wounded.

Text of the memo also includes criticism of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

“Although the Obama Administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock type devices were lawful to purchase and possess, I sought further clarification of the law restricting fully automatic machine guns,” Trump said in the document.

“Although I desire swift and decisive action, I remain committed to the rule of law and to the procedures the law prescribes,” the memo added. “Doing this the right way will ensure that the resulting regulation is workable and effective and leaves no loopholes for criminals to exploit.”

Tomorrow, the White House is hosting a “listening session” that is to include students, parents and teachers who have been victimized by mass shootings in America, Also participating in the session will be students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student last Wednesday killed 17 people, which Trump on Tuesday termed “an evil massacre.” 

The president, making his first extensive remarks since the Florida killings, declared “school safety is a top priority for my administration,” adding he will meet with state governors next week to discuss the topic.

“We’re working very hard to make sense of these events,” Trump said to law enforcement members and other first responders during the White House ceremony. “We’re going to come up with solutions. It’s been many, many years, and there have been no solutions.”

The Trump administration and lawmakers are facing a backlash — including from some of the student survivors of the latest school mass shooting — that they are too focused on the mental health of gunmen rather than the weapons they carry.

It has been noted by gun control advocates that many teenagers in America can legally purchase an AR-15 type assault weapon before they’re eligible to vote or drink alcohol. Twenty-eight of the 50 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded at the first press daily briefing in a week, when asked if Trump believed there should be an age limit for the purchase of assault rifles like the one used in the Florida school shooting.

“The president has expressed his support for the efforts to improve the federal background check system, and in the coming days, we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools,” added Sanders.

Millions of gun owners, who support the National Rifle Association and other organizations that fight against restrictions on such weapons, believe that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees unfettered access to guns.

In the 2016 elections, the NRA gave $54 million in political donations, much of that during the presidential race.

It is not unusual for some members of Congress to have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — from the NRA. While some Democrats are also recipients of the association’s money, the top benefactors currently are from Trump’s Republican Party.

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Polish Minister Backs Idea to Create ‘Polocaust’ Museum

Polish Deputy Culture Minister Jaroslaw Sellin on Tuesday backed a call for building a “Polokaust” museum to commemorate Poles killed by the Nazis during World War II.

This month Poland sparked international criticism, including from Israel and the United States, when it approved a law that imposes jail terms for suggesting the country was complicit in the Holocaust.

Some three million Jews who lived in pre-war Poland were murdered by the Nazis during their occupation of the country.

They accounted for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Poland’s nationalist ruling party says the new law is needed to ensure that Poles are also recognized as victims, not perpetrators, of Nazi aggression. It notes that the Nazis also viewed Slavs as racially inferior and that many Poles were killed or forced into slave labor during the German occupation.

“I think the story of how the fate of Poles during World War II looked like … deserves to be told and shown in this way [in a museum] …,” Sellin was quoted by state media as saying.

“It is enough to read official German documents from these times or Hitler’s book to know that after the Jews, whom he wanted to completely erase from Europe …, the next [target] was generally Slavic people, especially Poles.”

Sellin was responding to a suggestion made by Marek Kochan, a writer and academic, in Polish daily Rzeczpospolita for what he called a “Polokaust” museum. It was unclear from Sellin’s comments whether the museum would be built.

Disturbing revelations

Many Poles believe their nation behaved honorably for the most part during the Holocaust. But research published since 1989 has sparked a painful debate about responsibility and reconciliation.

A 2000-2004 inquiry by Poland’s state Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) found that on July 10, 1941, Nazi occupiers and local inhabitants colluded in a massacre of at least 340 Jews at Jedwabne. Some victims were burned alive after being locked inside a barn.

The revelation disturbed the Poles’ belief that, with a few exceptions, they conducted themselves honorably during a vicious war in which a fifth of the nation perished. Some Poles still refuse to acknowledge the IPN’s findings.

Anti-Semitism was common in Poland in the run-up to World War II. After the war, a pogrom in the town of Kielce and a bout of anti-Semitism in 1968 sponsored by the communist authorities forced many survivors who had stayed in Poland to flee.

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У США стурбовані насильством у сирійській Східній Гуті

Сполучені Штати «глибоко стурбовані» сплеском атак проурядових сирійських сил та їх союзників на повстанський анклав у передмісті Дамаска, йдеться у заяві Держдепартаменту США.

«Припинення насильства в регіоні Східна Гута має розпочатися вже зараз», – заявила 20 лютого прес-секретар Держдепартаменту Гедер Науерт.

Вона назвала дії сил, підтримуваних режим президента Сирії Башара аль-Асада, «тактикою облоги та голоду».

Базована в Лондоні організація «Сирійська обсерваторія з прав людини» заявляє, що за останні два дні через авіаудари і ракетні обстріли в регіоні загинуло щонайменше 250 людей.

Сирійські ЗМІ повідомили, що через обстріли в східних районах Дамаска загинуло щонайменше 6 людей.

Регіональний координатор ООН з сирійської кризи Панош Мумцис заявив, що за останні два дні в Східній Гуті постраждали шість лікарень, щонайменше три з них не працюють, а дві функціонують лише частково.

ООН заявляє, що гуманітарна ситуація в регіоні «вийшла з-під контролю» і закликає до припинення вогню, аби допомогти нужденним і евакуювати сотні тяжко хворих та поранених.

За даними ООН, в районі Східної Гути, що перебуває в облозі урядових сил, живе близько 400 тисяч людей.

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Russia, Pakistan Form Anti-Terror Military Cooperation Commission

Russia and Pakistan plan to establish a commission on military cooperation to counter the Islamic State threat in the region, accusing the United States of downplaying the terrorist group’s dangerous “proliferation” in Afghanistan.

“We have confirmed Russia’s readiness to continue boosting Pakistan’s counterterrorism capacity, which is in the entire region’s interests,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday in Moscow.

Speaking to reporters along with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Asif, the Russian official said fighting terrorism is one of the priority areas of cooperation between the two countries. He said joint military exercises between Russian and Pakistani special forces, which began in 2016, will continue this year.

Lavrov raised Moscow’s “very serious suspicions” about efforts the NATO-led coalition is undertaking in Afghanistan to curb the threat.

According to Russian and Pakistani data, he said, thousands of IS terrorists are present in northern and eastern Afghan border regions and they continue to grow in number. This is increasing the risk of the “terrorists’ penetration” into Central Asia and Russia.

Russian claims

“But we are alarmed because unfortunately, U.S. military and NATO coalition in Afghanistan try to silence or deny these facts to give an impression that it [IS] is not a serious threat,” noted Lavrov.

Russia and neighboring Iran are increasingly accusing the United States of being behind the rise of the Afghan branch of IS. They allege IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq are also finding refuge in the war-shattered country.

Lavrov said Moscow is also waiting for “clarifications” from the U.S.-led coalition about “flights of unmarked helicopters” to Afghan areas that are either controlled by insurgents or host militant bases.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Asif shared Lavrov’s concerns about what he said is “unchecked proliferation of Daesh” in Afghanistan. 

“But there is absolutely no acknowledgment, real acknowledgement, by Kabul and Washington of such a large presence of Daesh or the proliferation of Daesh in Afghanistan. … They are a threat to Central Asia, Pakistan, China and ultimately to Russian Federation. … So, this is something, which is very alarming,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The number of IS terrorists, Asif said, has surpassed even some Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan because of the arrival of militants from the Middle East.

Washington vehemently rejects as “rumors” charges that it is supporting IS activities in Afghanistan, and maintains that sustained military operations in partnership with Afghan forces against the terrorist group have significantly degraded and reduced the terrorists in the country.

U.S. officials, in turn, denounce Moscow’s overt ties with the Taliban, saying it gives legitimacy to the insurgency and undermines years of efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Afghan peace pledge

Lavrov and Asif also pledged to work closely to promote a peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, alleging the U.S.-led military mission has failed to secure the country. They said illegal opium poppy production, which is directly feeding insecurity, has also increased “manyfold.”

“There are monumental failures in Afghanistan and there is an effort to scapegoat Pakistan … for these failures. We have rejected these baseless allegations. We cannot fight others’ wars on our soil,” said Asif.

He was referring to the Trump administration’s accusations the Taliban and its allies are waging insurgency in Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan and with covert support of its military. U.S. and Afghan officials have been demanding that Islamabad take “decisive” action against the militants.

Pakistani officials deny any links to insurgents and say security forces have uprooted all terrorist bases.  They, in turn, allege militants who have fled counterterrorism operations have found refuge on the Afghan side of the long, porous border between the two countries and plot terrorist attacks against Pakistan.

Washington has suspended military aid to Pakistan and relations continue to deteriorate as U.S. officials maintain there is no evidence the country is taking action against insurgents on its soil, including those linked to the dreaded Haqqani network.

Pakistan’s closeness with Russia and the cementing of traditionally strong ties with neighboring China stem from the growing U.S. pressure, say analysts.

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Росія: суд у Москві заарештував директора фонду Навального на 10 діб

Суд в Москві заарештував на 10 діб директора пов’язаного з російським опозиційним політиком Олексієм Навальним «Фонду боротьби з корупцією» Романа Рубанова.

Симоновський райсуд у російській столиці визнав Рубанова винним в організації несанкціонованого мітингу минулого місяця. Сам Рубанов після винесення рішення суду заявив, що «все почув, але нічого не зрозумів».

Ввечері 19 лютого з’явилася інформація про те, що Романа Рубанова затримали в московському аеропорту Шереметьєво за підозрою в організації акції на підтримку «страйку виборців» 28 січня. Того дня прихильники Навального по всій країні організували демонстрації, протестуючи проти відмови ЦВК зареєструвати опозиціонера кандидатом в президенти Росії. Активісти також вийшли на вулиці на заклик Навального бойкотувати голосування 18 березня.

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