Daily Archives: 12/02/2019

FT: США і ЄС близькі до погодження нових санкцій проти Росії

США і Євросоюз близькі до погодження нових санкцій проти Росії, які будуть запроваджені через захоплення українських кораблів у Керченській протоці, пише британська газета Financial Times з посиланням на дипломатичні джерела.

За інформацією видання, обмеження можуть бути запроваджені в найближчі два місяці. Вони будуть торкатися компаній і фізичних осіб, пов’язаних з нападом на українські кораблі і захопленням їхніх екіпажів.

18 лютого голови дипломатичних відомств країн Євросоюзу повинні будуть обговорити питання про запровадження нових санкцій.

За даними джерел британського телеканалу Sky News, Брюссель і Вашингтон планують скоординувати свої дії для того, щоб посилити тиск на режим російського президента Володимира Путіна.

Після повідомлень про можливі санкції щодо Росії на торгах Московської фондової біржі різко подешевшав рубль. Протягом 10 хвилин російська валюта втратила 46 копійок до долара і 66 копійок до євро.

25 листопада біля берегів анексованого Росією Криму російські прикордонники захопили три українських військових кораблі й 24 моряків. Українських військових звинувачують в незаконному перетині кордону Росії. самі моряки оголосили себе військовополоненими.

Київ вважає те, що сталося актом агресії, і моряків називає військовополоненими.

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Адвокат обговорив із моряком Гриценком дії на суді в Москві

Адвокат утримуваного в московському СІЗО «Лефортово» українського військового моряка Дениса Гриценка Микола Полозов повідомив, що обговорив зі своїм підзахисним дії на засіданні суду з розгляду апеляції на арешт, яке відбудеться 13 лютого. Також ішлося про участь у слідчих діях, запланованих на 14 лютого, вказав Полозов у Facebook.

За словами захисника, скарг на стан здоров’я Гриценко не має.

«Денис розповів, що отримав передачі від волонтерів та від рідних. Щоправда посилка від рідних була вся пересипана цукровим піском. Можливо, з чиєїсь іншої посилки просипалося, і комусь не дістався цукор. Також Гриценко розповів, що йому нарешті почали передавати листи від рідних, чому він був дуже радий. Крім цього, прийшли ще близько 30 листів від знайомих і незнайомих людей з України, Греції, Латвії, Канади та Росії. Всі ці листи дають Денису заряд сил і морально його підтримують», – повідомив адвокат.

Московський міський суд Росії 12 лютого відхилив апеляції адвокатів на арешт захоплених росіянами у Керченській протоці українських моряків Євгена Семідоцького, Андрія Оприска, Романа Мокряка і Сергія Цибізова. Про це повідомив на сторінці у Facebook адвокат Микола Полозов. «Кінцеве рішення суду стало таким же, як і щодо попередньої четвірки – постанови Лефортовського райсуду Москви залишені без змін, а військовополонені залишаються в СІЗО до кінця квітня», – повідомив адвокат.

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Uganda Calls on Mobile Money to Cultivate New Debt Investors

Ugandans will be able to buy government securities through a mobile money platform in a move by the east African country to become less dependent on commercial banks and institutional investors for its funding.

The government said in a statement on Tuesday that the measure, which was approved at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, would boost savings and investment among ordinary Ugandans as well as driving economic growth.

Ugandans with mobile money accounts, many of whom had limited access to banks, will now be able to directly buy government debt. The move follows a similar move by Kenya in 2017 and will also open the market up to Uganda’s Diaspora.

Mobile money allows subscribers to transfer money and make payments for services and products via their mobile phones and has developed rapidly in Africa, where it is now widely used.

Of Uganda’s population of 41 million, about 23.6 million are mobile phone subscribers.

MTN Uganda, a unit of South Africa’s MTN Group is likely to be the main beneficiary of the change among telecoms operators as it has the largest mobile money customer base, followed by Airtel, a unit of India’s Bharti Airtel.

Uganda has traditionally auctioned its debt — mainly Treasury bills and bonds — via bids submitted through commercial banks who act as primary dealers and the government expects the mobile money plan to cut its cost of borrowing.

“Widening the scope of investors reduces the dependence on a few players such as commercial banks, offshore players and institutional investors which tend to bid highly in the auctions given that Government has limited choice,” it said.

Critics are concerned about Uganda’s appetite for credit, which has seen its public debt reach 41.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) as of June.

They fear that escalating borrowing could spark a crisis like those in the 1990s and early 2000s before debt forgiveness by the World Bank on Uganda’s loans.

The Bank of Uganda, the country’s central bank, said last year that its debt stock including credit agreed but not yet disbursed had reached 50 percent of GDP.

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Immigration Officers Union Opposes Trump’s Pick to Lead Key Agency

A union representing U.S. immigration and customs agents urged the Senate on Tuesday to block confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the immigration enforcement agency, citing past racially tinged and controversial comments.

The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which represents more than 7,000 agents, endorsed Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But it opposes the Republican president’s nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

A letter from union President Chris Crane to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, seen by Reuters, said the nominee “lacks the judgment and professionalism to effectively lead a federal agency.”

An ICE representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Senate committee is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on whether to approve Vitiello’s nomination and send it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Vitiello, a former top Customs and Border Protection official, was named as ICE’s acting director in the summer, shortly after Trump ended a contentious policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.

Vitiello could face some opposition from Democrats, particularly after he refused during his confirmation hearing on Nov. 15 to rule out reinstating the child separation policy.

“We will get less people bringing their children. So it is an option,” he said at the time.

Tuesday’s letter marked the first time the union has openly opposed the nomination of any presidential appointee. The union broke with its parent organization, the American Federation of Government Employees, when it endorsed Trump in 2016.

In the letter, Crane cited numerous concerns that ranged from allegations of whistleblower retaliation and lying to lawmakers during Vitiello’s confirmation process, to offensive tweets that Vitiello made while serving at Customs and Border Protection.

In one social media post, Vitiello suggested the Democratic Party should be renamed as “NeoKlanist” a reference to the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group, and in another Vitiello compared then-candidate Trump to the troublemaking Dennis the Menace newspaper comic character. At the time he did this, Crane wrote, Vitiello’s Twitter account showed him wearing a Border Patrol uniform.

Crane wrote that such comments violate official codes of conduct at the Department of Homeland Security and could jeopardize criminal cases that go to trial because they could be used by the defense to impeach ICE’s credibility.

“This type of conduct would result in a rank and file ICE employee being disciplined, if not possibly removed from employment,” Crane wrote.

“We are not aware that Mr. Vitiello was ever disciplined for his actions and instead of being demoted or fired, if confirmed as ICE Director, he will be promoted to the highest position in one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies,” the union president wrote.

Although an ICE official could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday, the department denied many of Crane’s allegations when he first leveled them in November ahead of Vitiello’s confirmation hearing. The nominee told lawmakers during the hearing that his tweet about the Democratic Party was a mistake.

“I was trying to make a joke,” Vitiello said at the time, adding that he thought he was sending it as a private direct message on Twitter rather than publicly on the social media platform, and that he deeply regretted it.

Whether the union’s opposition to Vitiello could move the needle enough to block him will largely turn on how Republicans respond. Republicans hold 53 Senate seats, and only a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber is needed to approve a nomination.

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US House Panel postpones Sanctions Hearing, Cites Scheduling Changes

The U.S. House Financial Services committee has postponed a hearing planned for Tuesday on the use of U.S. sanctions against countries such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and Venezuela, the panel said, citing scheduling issues.

Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters said in a statement late on Monday the hearing would be held at a future date. The delay was “due to scheduling changes in the House of Representatives,” the panel said in an earlier notice on Sunday.

All House votes and several hearings were postponed on Tuesday because of the funeral of longtime Democratic congressman John Dingell. Representatives for the Democratic-controlled panel early on Tuesday pointed to Sunday’s statement but had no other comment.

Russian markets have been closely watching Congress’s moves on any further potential sanctions or changes. The Russian ruble, which was also buoyed by higher oil prices, climbed on Tuesday following a separate posting to the House website regarding the delay.

The Financial Services’ planned panel, entitled, “The Use of Sanctions and Economic Statecraft in Addressing U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy Challenges,” was set to examine the efficiency of major U.S. sanctions programs.

In particular, lawmakers aimed to review the Republican Trump administration’s actions toward Moscow, including the U.S. Department of Treasury’s recent ones regarding several Russian companies owned and controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

U.S. sanctions were ordered against aluminum giant Rusal and parent company En+ last year, given Deripaska’s influence over the firms, before the billionaire agreed in late 2018 to reduce his stake.

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IRS Watchdog: Shutdown Caused ‘Shocking’ Drop in Phone Help

Disruptions from last month’s partial government shutdown caused a “shocking” deterioration in the IRS’ telephone help for taxpayers in the first week of the filing season, the agency’s watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

In the week of Jan. 28, the official start of the tax season, Internal Revenue Service staffers answered only 48 percent of calls seeking help in filing returns, with an average wait time of 17 minutes, the report from the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate said. That compares with 86 percent of calls answered, and an average wait of 4 minutes, at the same time last year.

 

In addition, 93 percent of taxpayers who phoned during the last week in January to arrange installment tax payments were unable to speak with an assistant.

 

The difference between the two years “for levels of service and wait times for phone lines … is shocking,” the advocate, Nina Olson, wrote in her annual report to Congress. “These numbers translate into real harm to real taxpayers. The IRS will be facing tough decisions in light of the shutdown’s impact.”

 

The report flagged other problems at an agency that was already straining, even before the shutdown, from the burden of a complex new tax law, inadequate funding and antiquated computer systems. The IRS’ workforce faced a huge backlog — including 5 million pieces of mail to process — when it returned to full strength Jan. 28 after the 35-day partial shutdown, which had furloughed most of its employees.

 

During the shutdown, the Trump administration made money available to pay hundreds of billions in refunds and ordered nearly 60 percent of the IRS workforce back to work without pay to handle tax returns and questions. Yet fewer than half the recalled employees had returned to their jobs by the time the shutdown had ended, according to congressional and government aides.

 

The disruption raised the possibility of delayed processing of returns and refunds — an annual check that about three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically count on. Lower-income households, especially, depend on refunds as their biggest cash infusion of the year.

 

The IRS has said that when taxpayers file electronically and use direct deposit to their bank accounts, roughly nine out of 10 refunds will continue to be issued this year in fewer than 21 days.

 

Still, anger is being vented on social media from people who have already filed their taxes and received smaller-than-expected refunds. President Donald Trump had pledged that under his tax-cut law, families would receive an average $4,000 tax cut. Most taxpayers did receive a tax cut. But because of how some workers had adjusted the amount of money withheld from their paychecks, to account for the complex tax changes, their refund has ended up smaller than they had anticipated.

 

The average refund paid in the first week of the filing season, which ended Feb. 1, was $1,865 — down 8.4 percent from $2,035 in the same week last year — according to the IRS. In her report, Olson did not address how the tax law or the shutdown might have affected refunds. But during the early part of the shutdown, no IRS employees were authorized to answer the phone lines, issue refunds, establish installment agreements with taxpayers or review pending agency actions.

 

Olson’s report found that the IRS’ systems for detecting fraud in tax returns are hobbled by high rates of false positives and long processing times. That “continues to plague the IRS and harm legitimate taxpayers,” it says.

 

The report also found that:

 

  • Taxpayers have difficulty navigating the IRS, reaching the right personnel to resolve their issues and holding IRS employees accountable.

 

  • The use of the IRS’ Free File, an electronic tax filing program in partnership with 12 private software providers, has steadily declined in recent years. The agency isn’t adequately overseeing and testing the program to understand why taxpayers aren’t using it and how it could be improved.

 

  • The IRS lacks a coordinated approach to overseeing professional tax preparers.

 

  • The agency’s expanding use of private debt collectors continues to burden taxpayers who are likely suffering economic hardship.

 

 

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У Мадриді почався суд у справі 12 каталонських сепаратистських лідерів

У Мадриді почався суд у справі 12 каталонських сепаратистських лідерів через невизнаний Мадридом референдум про незалежність Каталонії від Іспанії 2017 року.

Справу розглядає Верховний суд Іспанії.

Підсудним, серед яких колишні міністри, екс-спікер парламенту Каталонії та лідери організацій, що виступали за незалежність регіону, висунули звинувачення, зокрема в заколоті, закликах до заколоту і нецільовому використанні державних коштів.

Всі підсудні обвинувачення відкидають.

Напередодні суду 10 лютого десятки тисяч людей вийшли на вулиці Мадрида, щоб продемонструвати свою підтримку єдності країни.

Референдум, на якому більшість тих, хто взяв участь, висловилися за незалежність, відбувся в Каталонії 1 жовтня 2017 року. Пізніше парламент у Барселоні проголосував за проголошення незалежності автономного регіону.

Читайте також: Чому Каталонія, яка бореться за незалежність, лякає Євросоюз?

Проте на референдумі була низька явка, і Конституційний суд Іспанії визнав його незаконним.

Центральна влада в Мадриді запровадила своє правління в регіоні, а кілька каталонських лідерів залишили країну або були затримані.

У червні цього року у Каталонії склав присягу новий регіональний уряд на чолі з Кімом Торрою, соратником колишнього каталонського лідера Карлеса Пучдемона, при якому в регіоні відбувся невизнаний Мадридом референдум про незалежність.

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У НАТО готуються до «світу з більшою кількістю російських ракет»

Росія ще має останню можливість зберегти ракетну угоду, але НАТО вже готується до світу без цієї угоди, заявив керівник Північноатлантичного союзу Єнс Столтенберґ, розповідаючи про плани зустрічі міністрів оборони країн Північноатлантичного союзу в Брюсселі 13-14 лютого.

«У Росії є остання можливість зробити відповідальний крок для повернення до виконання своїх зобов’язань і збереження Договору про ліквідацію ракет середньої й малої дальності. Водночас міністри оборони на нараді обговорюватимуть кроки, які слід зробити для адаптації до світу з більшою кількістю російських ракет й підтримки ефективної стратегії стримування й оборони», – заявив генсекретар НАТО.

Читайте також: НАТО, Росія і майже «мертвий» ракетний договір. Нова гонка озброєнь?

Столтенберґ додав, що не вдаватиметься у подробиці цих «кроків», однак наголосив, що всі дії НАТО будуть виключно «скоординованими, врівноваженими й націленими на оборону».

«Ми не маємо наміру розміщувати нових наземних ядерних ракет в Європі», – заявив керівник НАТО, пояснюючи, що рішення США вийти з ракетного договору було спровоковане порушеннями Росії, яка розробляє і розміщує на континенті заборонені ракетні системи.

«Угода, якої притримується тільки одна сторона, не може нам гарантувати безпеки», – наголосив Столтенберґ.

США 1 лютого остаточно оголосили про свій вихід із важливого договору про ракетні обмеження з Росією, заявляючи про його порушення Москвою. Росія заперечує обвинувачення.

2 лютого про те, що Росія припиняє участь у Договорі про ліквідацію ракет середнього та меншого радіусу дії, повідомив президент Росії Володимир Путін.

Договір РСМД, укладений 1987 року, заборонив США і тодішньому СРСР, наступником якого стала Росія, мати, виробляти і ставити на бойове чергування цілий клас ракет досяжністю від 500 до 5 тисяч кілометрів. США вперше звинуватили Росію в його порушенні ще 2014 року.

 

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Toys R US Plans Second Act Under New Name

Toys R Us fans in the U.S. should see the iconic brand re-emerge in some form by this holiday season.

 

Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us executive and now CEO of the new company called Tru Kids Brands, told The Associated Press he and his team are still working on the details, but they’re exploring various options including freestanding stores and shops within existing stores. He says that e-commerce will play a key role.

 

Toys R Us, buckling under competition from Amazon and several billions of dollars of debt, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in September 2017 and then liquidated its businesses last year in the U.S. as well as several other regions including the United Kingdom.

 

In October, a group of investors won an auction for Toys R Us assets, believing they would do better by potentially reviving the toy chain, rather than selling it off for parts. Starting Jan. 20, Barry and several other former Toys R Us executives founded Tru Kids and are now managing the Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey brands. Toys R Us generated $3 billion in global retail sales in 2018. Tru Kids estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of Toys R Us market share is still up for grabs despite many retailers like Walmart and Target expanding their toy aisles.

 

“These brands are beloved by customers,” said Barry. He noted that the company will focus on experiences in the physical stores, which could be about 10,000 square feet. The original Toys R Us stores were roughly about 40,000 square feet.

 

Barry said he and his team have been reaching out to toy makers and have received strong support. But he acknowledged that many had been burned by the Toys R Us liquidation.

 

Tru Kids, based in Parsippany, New Jersey, about a 20 minute drive from Wayne, New Jersey, where Toys R Us was based, will work with licensing partners to open 70 stores this year in Asia, India and Europe. Outside the U.S., Toys R Us continues to operate about 800 stores.

 

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Activists Denounce Iran’s Islamic Revolution Anniversary in 4 European Capitals

Dozens of Iranian opposition activists have rallied in four European capitals since Sunday to protest the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and to demand the ouster of the nation’s Islamist rulers.

Video clips verified by VOA Persian showed the Iranian opposition activists holding protests in Athens and Stockholm on Monday, and in Berlin and London on Sunday. Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the rise to power of Shi’ite Islamist rulers who ousted Iran’s former monarchy.

Stockholm protest, Feb. 11, 2019

In a video sent to VOA Persian by an Iranian resident of Sweden’s capital, activists gathered in a Stockholm square chanted slogans calling for the “death” of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Athens protest, Feb. 11, 2019

Another clip sent to VOA Persian by an Iranian asylum-seeker in Athens showed protesters in front of the Greek capital’s Iranian embassy, chanting, “Iran, Yes. Mullahs, No. They are terrorists, they must go.”

Berlin protest, Feb. 10, 2019

 

Images shared on social media showed Iranian opposition activists also rallying near the Brandenburg Gate in Germany’s capital, Berlin. At one point, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell greeted participants in the rally, which took place adjacent to the U.S. embassy.

London protest, Feb. 10, 2019

In another video clip shared on social media, Iranian activists gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in the British capital, London, chanting for the “death” of Iran’s Islamist system and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

No major anti-government protests were reported Monday in Iran, where the nation’s Islamist rulers mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in Tehran and other cities to join rallies in support of the Islamic Revolution.

Iran saw frequent nationwide protests last year by smaller groups of citizens expressing anger toward local and national officials and business leaders whom they accused of mismanagement, corruption and oppression.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

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