Monthly: July 2018

Turkish Court Rejects Appeal on US Pastor’s House Arrest

A Turkish court has rejected an appeal for U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson to be released from house arrest while being tried on terrorism charges.

Brunson’s detention has become a pressing issue for the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened sanctions as part of a pressure campaign to free the pastor.

Brunson is next expected in court Oct. 12 as he battles charges of terrorism and espionage. He has been jailed for the past 21 months after indictment on charges of helping a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Brunson is also charged with supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The 50-year-old pastor, who denies the charges, could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

The detention of Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., both NATO allies.

Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release. The U.S. president has tweeted that Brunson’s detention is “a total disgrace” and added, “He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”

Brunson is among tens of thousands of people Erdogan detained on similar charges during the state of emergency he declared following the failed coup.

The state of emergency ended on July 18, but the Turkish legislature passed a new “anti-terror” law last week that gives authorities more power to detain suspects and restore public order.

 

 

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Turkey Warms Up to Europe as Its US Ties Fester

With U.S.-Turkish ties deeply strained, Ankara’s relationship with Europe is warming. Berlin reportedly has invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a state visit. At the same time, Erdogan is organizing a summit between France, Germany, and Russia to discuss Syria.

This month, the Netherlands restored full diplomatic relations with Turkey after a bitter spat between the countries’ leaders.

For more than a year, relations between Turkey and Europe have been in the deep freeze. Erdogan frequently engaged in rhetoric aimed at infuriating European leaders, often accusing them of behaving like Nazis. Turkey’s detention of European nationals, particularly German citizens, often without charge, strained relations with Berlin to the breaking point.

Led by Germany, Europe had taken an increasingly assertive stance toward Turkey, with threats of financial and economic sanctions.

“The reason why bickering between Turkey and the EU stopped — the EU has finally reached conclusions about how to deal with Turkey, and Erdogan realized he couldn’t push the EU around,” said political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.

Erdogan’s re-election in June is offering a chance of a reset with Europe.

“There will be low-tension policies on both sides,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. “In the next five years, they [Europe] have to deal with Tayyip Erdogan, and Erdogan has to deal with them.”

“Turkish economic policies and strategies require more cooperation than confrontation in the long run,” he added. “I consider this a new period with many lessons learned, with a more pragmatic and realistic foreign policy and economic policy orientation in the coming years.”

Prize of rebuilding Syria

Turkey and the European Union have found common ground in opposing the U.S. withdrawal from the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish companies, like their European counterparts, are facing American sanctions for trading with Iran.

However, analysts suggests any hope by Ankara for a united stance against Washington is misplaced.

“The way EU countries approach Iran sanctions is different. We already know big brands from Europe have left Iran,” said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen.

Economic factors remain a vital driving force behind Turkey’s rapprochement with Europe. Erdogan is committed to continuing a series of major mega-construction projects, which include one of the world’s largest airports and a major canal running through Istanbul.

“The big Turkish projects, if he [Erdogan] is to realize them — he has to cooperate with international financial institutions and international money lenders,” Bagci said. “War has destroyed Iraq and Syria. Now is the time for reconstruction, and Europe’s support is needed for this.”

With Turkey bordering Syria and Iraq, analysts suggest Erdogan sees the reconstruction of its neighbors as offering an opportunity to revitalize the Turkish economy and, in particular, its ailing construction industry.

Erdogan’s planned summit later this year with France, Germany, and Russia reportedly is expected to focus on the task of rebuilding Syria.

Human rights concerns

Europe’s ongoing concerns over Turkey’s human rights record, though, could complicate rapprochement efforts. Under the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria as a membership candidate, Turkey is compelled to observe fundamental human rights.

“How are we [Ankara] going to appease Europe, which insists on strict compliance with the Copenhagen criteria?” asked Yesilada. “You cannot simply lock people up for social media postings that you don’t like.”

Brussels repeatedly has criticized Ankara on human rights, particularly its lack of freedom of expression. In a move this month interpreted as a gesture to Europe, Erdogan ended two years of emergency rule, introduced after the 2016 failed coup.

Critics dismissed the move, pointing out that new legislation passing through parliament includes many of the most severe elements of the emergency rule.

“If Erdogan places more emphasis on better relations with the EU, that may lead to a more tolerant attitude toward dissidents and the opposition,” Yesilada said. “But there are conflicting messages. The opposition fears a greater crackdown. I think a continuation of the crackdown is not feasible, given the economic situation and Turkey’s tenuous position between West and East.”

Strained US ties

Turkey’s current strains with Washington also are giving further impetus to Ankara’s courting of Europe.

“We will hear more pro-European verbalism from the Turkish foreign desk officers,” predicted Council of Europe member Ertugral Kurkcu of the Turkish HDP opposition. “We can see small steps on the migrant issues, the Cyprus issue.”

Migration remains a crucial card for dealing with the EU. Turkey is successfully controlling the flow of migrants into Europe as part of a two-year-old deal with Brussels. Turkish cooperation in monitoring returning European jihadis from Syria is seen as vital by Europe’s security forces.

Analysts are not predicting that rapprochement with Europe will offer any hope for revitalizing Turkey’s EU membership bid. But they say the relationship between the two is likely to be built on transactional initiatives.

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Президент Словаччини назвав байкерів «Нічні вовки» причетними до анексії Криму

Президент Словацької Республіки Андрей Кіска у своєму виступі 31 липня наголосив, що російське об’єднання байкерів «Нічні вовки» поруч зі спеціальними підрозділами російської армії взяло участь у військових операціях в Криму».

«Нічні вовки» є інструментом режиму, який займається відторгненням територій сусідньої країни – анексії частини України, що суперечить міжнародному праву», – наголосив словацький президент, звернувши при цьому увагу на те, що Словаччина не визнала і не визнає анексію Криму.

На думку президента Словаччини, «діяльність байкерської банди є очевидним ризиком для безпеки країни. Заснування так званого «європейського представництва» «Нічних вовків» у Словаччині водночас є насмішкою над офіційною позицією Словацької республіки щодо анексії Криму і російської політики».

Андрей Кіска закликав уряд країни сформувати необхідні умови для «дієвого втручання проти діяльності сумнівних об’єднань», які ширяться в країні.

«Гадаю, що чекати, коли об’єднання, яке служить чужій країні, розпочне на терені Словацької республіки порушувати закон, є убогою стратегією безпеки», – наголосив у своєму виступі президент Словаччини Андрей Кіска.

Читайте також: Російські «Нічні вовки» і «Словацькі новобранці»: як російські байкери отаборилися в Словаччині

Наприкінці червня словацькі ЗМІ повідомили, що прокремлівські байкери «Нічні вовки» створили в Словаччині «табір» у військовому стилі – у селі Долна Крупа (Dolná Krupá) поблизу міста Трнава, що на заході країни. Громадські активісти країни з цього приводу висловлювали занепокоєння.

 

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ЗМІ заявляють про загибель в ЦАР трьох російських журналістів

Російське видання «Известия» спростовує повідомлення ЗМІ про загибель в Центральноафриканській республіці трьох співробітників видання. 

У повідомленні прес-служби зазначається, що жоден співробітник «Известий» останнім часом на території ЦАР не перебував.

«Всі працівники редакції працюють в стандартному режимі, ніякої інформації про будь-які надзвичайні події з нашими журналістами у нас немає», – йдеться в повідомленні.

Як повідомила агенція AFP, у ЦАР виявили тіла трьох убитих росіян. За даними російського видання ТАСС, яке посилається на дані посольства Росії в ЦАР, у двох з трьох загиблих були виявлені при собі прес-карти «Известий».

Читайте також: Найманці «ПВК Вагнера» – тепер в Африці. Що вони там роблять?

Російська служба ВВС повідомила, що вбиті журналіст Орхан Джемаль, Олександр Расторгуєв і Кирило Радченко. За даними телеканалу «Дождь», в ЦАР журналісти знімали документальний проект про роботу «ПВК Вагнера».

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Trial of Former Trump Campaign Chair Begins in Virginia

A jury of six men and six women was impaneled on Tuesday afternoon for the closely watched financial crimes trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Manafort, 69, is on trial for tax and bank fraud charges related to his political consulting and lobbying work for politicians in Ukraine.   

 

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial of Manafort, who briefly headed President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, is the only to arise so far from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the vote.

The jurors – 10 whites and two Asian-Americans — who will decide Manafort’s guilt or innocence were selected from a pool of several dozen candidates. Four alternate jurors were also selected.

 

Prosecutors and defense lawyers objected to nearly two dozen other candidates in the juror pool for unknown reasons.

 

Federal District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III summarized the indictment for the jury, imploring them to consider the case “solely based on the evidence presented here and the court’s instructions of the law.”

 

With the jury impaneled, the trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday afternoon with 30-minute opening statements by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

On the surface, the criminal charges against Manafort — tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts and fraudulently obtaining bank loans — are unrelated to the core of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 U.S. national election.

The charges stem from Manafort’s decade-long lobbying and political consulting work for Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych.

On the surface, the criminal charges against Manafort — tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts and fraudulently obtaining bank loans — are unrelated to the core of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 U.S. national election.

The charges stem from Manafort’s decade-long lobbying and political consulting work for Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych.

While working for Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions between 2006 and 2015, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, allegedly earned tens of millions of dollars in fees while hiding the income from the Internal Revenue Service.

To avoid paying hefty taxes, prosecutors say, they set up secret shell companies and offshore accounts to funnel their Ukrainian proceeds disguised as “loans” to U.S. accounts to buy multimillion dollar properties and luxury goods.

After Yanukovych was deposed in 2014 and their Ukrainian income dwindled, Manafort and Gates allegedly came up with another scheme to obtain money: the two used their real estate properties in the United States as collateral to fraudulently secure more than $20 million in bank loans by “falsely inflating” their income.

In all, prosecutors say, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts Manafort and Gates set up.

Manafort has been in jail since June, when the judge presiding over the Washington case revoked his bail for allegedly tampering with potential witnesses.

The special counsel has enlisted as many as 35 witnesses to testify against Manafort. They include accountants, financial advisers, tax preparers and real estate agents.

But prosecutors’ star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump’s campaign as deputy chairman.

Gates was named as a co-defendant in the initial indictment handed down against Manafort last October. But when the special counsel hit the two men with a second indictment in February, Gates pleaded guilty to two lesser counts in exchange for cooperation.

Manafort has remained defiant, vowing to fight the charges.

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Trump: ‘Collusion Is Not a Crime’

U.S. President Donald Trump declared Tuesday “collusion is not a crime,” as he continued his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into links between between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

Trump echoed comments by one of his lawyers, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, about collusion not specifically being an offense in the U.S. legal code.  Trump added that it “doesn’t matter,” because his campaign had not colluded with Russia.

Even without collusion being a criminal offense, U.S. legal analysts say Mueller is likely investigating a possible conspiracy, a criminal offense, to connect with a foreign government to influence the election and probing numerous ties Trump campaign aides had with Russian interests.  Trump has reluctantly acknowledged Russian interference in the election, but has called the investigation “a big hoax” to explain his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s comments on collusion came on the first day of the trial of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, accused by Mueller of hiding millions of dollars in offshore accounts that he had been paid for representing deposed Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych in the years before his short tenure leading Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Testimony at the expected three-week trial in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, could only peripherally touch on the Trump campaign.  But its outcome is being watched closely since it is the first case brought by Mueller’s legal team that has gone to trial.  If convicted, the 69-year-old Manafort, accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison, a theoretical sentence of 305 years.

Mueller, 14 months into his probe, has secured guilty pleas from a handful of Trump aides for lying to investigators about their links to Russia and indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials for allegedly hacking into the computers of Democratic officials supporting Clinton and releasing their emails through WikiLeaks.

Giuliani told CNN on Monday that it remains unlikely that Trump will agree to answer questions from Mueller about Russian interference in the election and whether the president obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.

“The odds are against it, but I wouldn’t be shocked, because he wants to do it,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani said, however, that if Trump does sit for an interview he would only agree to answer questions about whether his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win, not questions, except in a very limited way, about obstruction.

Trump fired James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in May 2017 as he was leading the agency’s Russia investigation before Mueller was named to take over the Russia probe.

 

 

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«Посадіть його»: активісти зібралися під судом у справі Манафорта у США

Кількадесят активістів зібралися під федеральним судом в американському штаті Вірджинія, де 31 липня розпочинається процес у справі Пола Манафорта. Вони підтримують розслідування імовірного втручання Росії в американські вибори, яке здійснюють слідчі під керівництвом спецпрокурора Роберта Мюллера, та закликають засудити колишнього радника Дональда Трампа.

Манафорт є першим із колишніх помічників чинного президента США, який постане перед судом. Федеральні слідчі, які розслідують втручання у вибори в 2016 році, висунули Манафорту звинувачення в банківському і податковому шахрайстві.

Ідеться, зокрема, про роботу Манафорта як політичного консультанта та лобіста на користь колишнього українського президента Віктора Януковича. Законодавство США не забороняє таку роботу, але вона має бути офіційно задекларована, а з отриманих грошей мають сплачуватися податки.

Читайте також: Спецпрокурор США: Манафорт заробив понад 60 мільйонів доларів як консультант в Україні

Як очікується, сторона обвинувачення вкаже на ту обставину, що витрати Манафорта на купівлю нерухомості і предмети розкоші не відповідали сумам, оголошеним у його податкових деклараціях. Манафорт, на думку слідства, ввів в оману кредиторів, запозичуючи десятки мільйонів доларів.

Процес, який розпочинається у Вірджинії, буде першим зі щонайменше двох. Другий має розпочатися у вересні в столичному окрузі Колумбія, головна увага цього процесу буде прикута до політичних питань. У червні 2016 року Манафорт був присутній на зустрічі функціонерів з оточення Трампа з громадянами Росії, які нібито мали у своєму розпорядженні компрометуючі матеріали щодо кандидата в президенти США від Демократичної партії Хілларі Клінтон.

Спеціальний прокурор Роберт Мюллер та його команда вже 14 місяців проводять розслідування ймовірного втручання Кремля у вибори в США.

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Transparency International закликає поліцію розслідувати напад на чиновницю у Херсоні

«Застерігаємо херсонську поліцію від спокуси спустити справу на гальмах»

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Tehran: Trump Wrong to Expect Saudis to Cover Loss of Iran Oil Supply

Iran said on Tuesday U.S. President Donald Trump was mistaken to expect Saudi Arabia and other oil producers to compensate for supply losses caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran, after OPEC production rose only modestly in July.

The comments, from Iran’s OPEC governor, came a day after a Reuters survey showed OPEC production rose by 70,000 barrels per day in July. Saudi production increased but was offset by a decline in Iranian supply due to the restart of U.S. sanctions, the survey found.

“It seems President Trump has been taken hostage by Saudi Arabia and a few producers when they claimed they can replace 2.5 million barrels per day of Iranian exports, encouraging him to take action against Iran,” Hossein Kazempour Ardebili told Reuters. “Now they and Russia sell more oil and more expensively. Not even from their incremental production but their stocks.”

He said oil prices, which Trump has been pressuring the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to bring down by raising output, will rise unless the United States grants waivers to buyers of Iranian crude.

“They are also calling for the use of the U.S. SPR [Strategic Petroleum Reserve]. This will also mean higher prices. U.S. waivers to our clients if they come is due to the failure of bluffers [Saudi and the other producers] and, if not given, will again push the prices higher,” he said.

“So they hanged him [Trump] on the wall. Now they want to have a mega OPEC, congratulations to President Trump, Russia and Saudi Arabia.”

OPEC governors represent their respective country on the organization’s board of governors and are typically the second most senior person in a country’s OPEC delegation after the oil minister.

“The longer-term solution, Mr President, is to support and facilitate capacity building in all countries, proportionate to their reserves of oil and gas. And we will remain the biggest opportunity,” Kazempour said.

 

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50 Years on, McDonald’s and Fast-Food Evolve Around Big Mac

McDonald’s is fighting to hold onto customers as the Big Mac turns 50, but it isn’t changing the makings of its most famous burger.

The company is celebrating the 1968 national launch of the double-decker sandwich whose ingredients of “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun” were seared into American memories by a TV jingle. But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of U.S. stores. McDonald’s said Thursday that customers are visiting less often. Other trendy burger options are reaching into the heartland.

The “Golden Arches” still have a massive global reach, and the McDonald’s brand of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries remains recognizable around the world. But on its critical home turf, the company is toiling to stay relevant. Kale now appears in salads, fresh has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders, and some stores now offer ordering kiosks, food delivery and barista-style cafes.

The milestone for the Big Mac shows how much McDonald’s and the rest of fast-food have evolved around it.

“Clearly, we’ve gotten a little more sophisticated in our menu development,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a phone interview.

As with many of its popular and long-lasting menu items, the idea for the Big Mac came from a franchisee.

In 1967, Michael James “Jim” Delligatti lobbied the company to let him test the burger at his Pittsburgh restaurants. Later, he acknowledged the Big Mac’s similarity to a popular sandwich sold by the Big Boy chain.

“This wasn’t like discovering the light bulb. The bulb was already there. All I did was screw it in the socket,” Delligatti said, according to “Behind the Arches.”

McDonald’s agreed to let Delligatti sell the sandwich at a single location, on the condition that he use the company’s standard bun. It didn’t work. Delligatti tried a bigger sesame seed bun, and the burger soon lifted sales by more than 12 percent.

After similar results at more stores, the Big Mac was added to the national menu in 1968. Other ideas from franchisees that hit the big time include the Filet-O-Fish, Egg McMuffin, Apple Pie (once deep-fried but now baked), and the Shamrock Shake.

“The company has benefited from the ingenuity of its small business men,” wrote Ray Kroc, who transformed the McDonald’s into a global franchise, in his book, “Grinding It Out.”

Franchisees still play an important role, driving the recent switch to fresh from frozen for the beef in Quarter Pounders, Easterbrook says. They also participate in menu development, which in the U.S. has included a series of cooking tweaks intended to improve taste.

Messing with a signature menu item can be taboo, but keeping the Big Mac unchanged comes with its own risks. Newer chains such as Shake Shack and Five Guys offer burgers that can make the Big Mac seem outdated. Even White Castle is modernizing, recently adding plant-based “Impossible Burger” sliders at some locations.

A McDonald’s franchisee fretted in 2016 that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac. The Big Mac had “gotten less relevant,” the franchisee wrote in a memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.

McDonald’s then ran promotions designed to introduce the Big Mac to more people. Those kind of periodic campaigns should help keep the Big Mac relevant for years to come, says Mike Delligatti, the son of the Big Mac inventor, who died in 2016.

“What iconic sandwich do you know that can beat the Big Mac as far as longevity?” said Delligatti, himself a McDonald’s franchisee.

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