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Ford Motor Company’s plan to create batteries for the rapidly expanding electric vehicle (EV) market could encounter congressional speed bumps because of the carmaker’s plan to use technology created by a Chinese company with ties to the communist government.
Ford executive chairman William Clay Ford Jr. announced in February that the company would spend $3.5 billion to build a new battery plant in Michigan and employ U.S. workers to promote U.S. “independence” in the EV market.
“Right now, many [U.S.] automakers import most of their batteries from abroad,” Ford said at that time. “This is a slow process that makes us vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.”
He added that the U.S.-produced batteries would “charge faster” and be “more affordable” and “incredibly durable.”
But the news did not sit well with some lawmakers, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who opposed President Joe Biden’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which included tax credits to encourage domestic EV production.
Earlier this month, Rubio introduced legislation blocking tax credits for producing EV batteries using Chinese technology and called on the Biden administration to review Ford’s partnership with the company, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL).
“Nine billion to help people buy tax credits,” Rubio said. “By the way, with a Chinese battery in it. … I imagine we’ll spend a bunch more money to buy solar panels which are also made in China.”
In a Skype interview last week with VOA, China expert Jonathan Ward said “the White House has already called for a supply chain review that would cover essentially next generation batteries, critical minerals and rare earths, pharma and other biotechs.”
“We’re in the midst of this competition for supply chain security and industrial capacity where relying on our primary geopolitical adversary is really untenable in the long run,” he said.
Ward has authored two books outlining China’s economic, military and political goals. He said decades of outsourcing technology and manufacturing has left the United States with little choice but to work with Chinese companies like CATL to advance domestic EV development.
“Essentially 60% of the battery market is made up of Chinese corporations,” he said. “CATL, the battery maker in question here, is already 34% of global market share. The other companies are Japanese and South Korean, but they are smaller than the aggregate Chinese battery makers. So, we have this contest that we are going to have to deal with.”
Sarah Bauerle Danzman, an associate professor in international studies at Indiana University Bloomington, said since the U.S. currently “doesn’t have the capability” to produce EV batteries, “what is the theory of change that helps us get to that capacity?”
“Then the question becomes, are we becoming overly reliant or staying reliant on technology that ultimately the Chinese government controls rather than the U.S.?” she said.
From 2019 to 2020, Danzman was a policy adviser and case analyst with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) at the State Department’s Office of Investment Affairs. She led the unit that reviews foreign investment transactions for possible national security concerns.
Rubio wants CFIUS to review Ford and CATL’s licensing agreement.
“Rubio is really focused on this idea that we don’t want to be dependent on Chinese technology,” she explained to VOA last week via a Skype interview. “The U.S. government coming in and changing those structures is a big imposition on the private sector, so there really does need to be a strong argument for why it needs to do so.”
“I think a lot of companies are going to find themselves in situations like this where Chinese partnerships [are] coming back to haunt us here,” said Ward. “I think our companies that have been entangled in the China market all have to reassess what they are doing.”
In its response to Rubio’s proposed legislation, Ford said its own subsidiary will build and operate the new battery plant in Michigan, and that “no other entity will get U.S. tax dollars for this project.”
During February’s announcement, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the proposed BlueOval Battery Park Michigan meets goals outlined by the Biden administration.
“We’re growing production of batteries here at home, reflecting the central purpose of the Inflation Reduction Act — that’s why it was passed, for this project,” Farley said.
Ford’s plans for the new Michigan facility come as the auto manufacturer reported more than $2 billion in operating losses in EV-related business in 2022.
Black-clad groups set fire to garbage cans and threw projectiles at police in Paris, who charged at them and threw tear gas in confrontations on the fringes of a march against President Emmanuel Macron and his deeply unpopular pension bill.
Clashes also erupted on Tuesday at similar rallies in other cities including Rennes, Bordeaux and Toulouse, with a bank branch and cars set ablaze in Nantes.
However, while public frustration has evolved into broader anti-Macron sentiment, there was less violence than last week and rallies were otherwise largely peaceful.
Earlier in the day, the government rejected unions’ demand to suspend and rethink the pension bill, which raises retirement age by two years to 64, infuriating labor leaders who said the government must find a way out of the crisis.
The government said it was more than willing to talk to unions, but on other topics, and repeated it would stand firm on pensions. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has offered to meet unions on Monday and Tuesday next week.
Millions of people have been demonstrating and joining strike action since mid-January to show their opposition to the bill. Unions said the next nationwide day of protests would be on April 6.
The protests have intensified since the government used special powers to push the bill through parliament without a vote.
One protester in Paris captured the mood, brandishing a banner that read: “France is angry.”
“The bill has acted as a catalyst for anger over Macron’s policies,” said Fanny Charier, 31, who works for the Pole Emploi office for job seekers.
Macron, who promised pension reform in both of his presidential campaigns, says change is needed to keep the country’s finances in balance. Unions and opposition parties say there are other ways to do that.
“We have proposed a way out … and it’s intolerable that we are being stonewalled again,” the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters at the Paris rally.
In the previous big day of protests on Thursday, “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished bus stops and ransacked a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, with similar acts in other cities.
That was some of the worst street violence in years in France, reminiscent of protests of the yellow-vest movement during Macron’s first term.
On Tuesday, rallies were more peaceful, despite some clashes.
In the western city of Nantes, the boarded-up front of a BNP Paribas bank branch was set on fire. A car was set on fire in the margins of the rally, while some shot fireworks at police.
Also in western France, protesters blocked the Rennes ring road and set an abandoned car on fire. In Paris and in Marseille, protesters blocked train tracks for a while.
Rolling strikes in the transport, aviation and energy sectors continued to disrupt travel.
However, in a move bringing some relief for Parisians and tourists alike, city garbage collectors said they were suspending a weeks-long strike that has left the roads around famous landmarks strewn with piles of trash.
There were also fewer teachers on strike than on previous days. Union leaders said high inflation made it harder for workers to sacrifice a day’s pay on the picket line.
The Interior Ministry said 740,000 people had protested across the country on Tuesday, well below the record 1.09 million seen at the March 23 rally. The numbers in Paris were also below last week’s record but higher or equal to earlier demonstrations since January.
Nonetheless, about 17% of all fuel stations in France were missing at least one product as of Monday night, France’s petroleum association UFIP said, citing energy ministry data.
Charles de Courson, from the opposition Liot party, said French authorities should learn from the situation in Israel, where the government just hit pause on a controversial justice overhaul.
The global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should act as a blueprint for addressing mass human rights violations, according to Amnesty International in its annual report released Tuesday. However, the organization accuses the West of ignoring other human rights violations.
Amnesty International says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 unleashed “military destruction on a people and country at peace.”
“Within months, civilian infrastructure had been destroyed, thousands killed and many more injured,” the report says. “Russia’s action accelerated a global energy crisis and helped weaken food production and distribution systems, leading to a global food crisis that continues to affect poorer nations and racialized people disproportionately.”
A strong global response began within days of the invasion, according to Philip Luther, a research and advocacy director for Amnesty International, in an interview with VOA this week.
“We saw the U.N. General Assembly vote to condemn Russia’s invasion. That was good. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into war crimes and Western countries opened up their borders to Ukrainian refugees. For us, these measures were really a blueprint you could say for how to address mass human rights violations,” Luther noted.
Russia denies committing atrocities or targeting civilians in Ukraine, despite widespread evidence documented by United Nations investigators and other human rights groups.
Amnesty International was widely criticized last year when it accused Ukrainian forces of endangering civilians by stationing its military in residential areas. Amnesty’s director in Ukraine quit her post, accusing the organization of parroting Kremlin propaganda, while Ukraine’s president said the group had tried to “shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.”
Amnesty said Tuesday it would continue to highlight human rights abuses by all sides.
“It is extremely clear to all of us that the violations committed by the Russian forces are far more important and lethal than anything else that the Ukrainian militaries may do. That being said, our mandate, our mission is to protect civilians. And for that reason, we will continue to expose violations committed by the Ukrainian military forces,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard told a press conference Tuesday in Paris.
Amnesty says the strong international response to Moscow’s invasion exposes the double standards of many countries, which condemned Russia but fail to act on other human rights crises.
“Solidarity is owed to the Ukrainian people, but it is also owed to the people of Palestine, to the people of Eritrea, to the people of Myanmar. And that did not happen in 2022,” Callamard told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
European nations have taken in about 8 million Ukrainian refugees since the invasion. Amnesty says policies toward other nationalities seeking asylum have hardened.
“They didn’t exhibit the same or show the same treatment to those fleeing war and aggression in other places — war in Syria or in Afghanistan, or violence in Haiti when it came to the U.S.,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther told VOA.
2022 saw the outbreak of new wars, while existing conflicts became deadlier, according to the Amnesty report.
It highlights the war in Ethiopia, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people according to some estimates. “Much of this carnage was hidden from view, meted out in a largely invisible campaign of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans in western Tigray,” the report says.
Amnesty says 2022 was the deadliest year in a decade for Palestinians in the West Bank, with at least 151 people, including dozens of children, killed by Israeli forces. Israel claims it is targeting terrorists and says 23 of its citizens were killed in terror attacks last year.
Amnesty also highlights Myanmar’s continuing oppression of the Karen and Karenni minorities, with hundreds killed and at least 150,000 displaced.
“The people of Haiti, Mali, Venezuela, Yemen, and many other places too, were plagued by armed conflicts or systemic violence and associated human rights violations,” the report adds.
In Iran, anti-government protests erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Amnesty says security forces fired live ammunition to crush the demonstrations, killing hundreds of men, women and children and injuring thousands more.
Amnesty accuses China of using coercion to silence international criticism of its human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded in August that China had committed “serious human rights violations” against Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities, accusations Beijing denies.
“The U.N. Human Rights Council failed to order follow-up action because essentially China was allowed to use its strong-arm tactics to prevent further scrutiny or accountability,” said Amnesty’s Luther.
The report says human rights protections have advanced in some countries, in areas such as women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty. “The Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone all fully abolished the death penalty last year,” Luther said.
2023 is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — adopted by the United Nations in the wake of World War II. In its report, Amnesty says this year must be a turning point for upholding human rights.
“We’ve witnessed iconic acts of defiance, including Afghan women taking to the streets to protest Taliban rule and Iranian women posting videos of themselves cutting their hair in protest against the country’s abusive and forced veiling laws,” the report says.
“We can take some comfort in knowing that in the face of such repression, thousands of people still came together to write letters, sign petitions, and take to the streets. It should be a reminder to those in power that our rights to demand change, and to come together freely and collectively, cannot be taken away,” it states.
Romania and Poland are in talks with the European Commission over export tracing mechanisms for Ukrainian grains to ensure local farmers are not hurt by a flood of cheap imports, the Polish and Romanian prime ministers said on Tuesday.
Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, has seen its Black Sea ports blocked since Russia invaded more than a year ago and has been forced to find alternative shipping routes through European Union states Poland and Romania.
But logistical bottlenecks mean that large quantities of Ukrainian grains, which are cheaper than those produced in the European Union, have ended up in central European states, hurting prices and sales of local farmers.
Romanian and Polish Prime Ministers Nicolae Ciuca and Mateusz Morawiecki told a business conference in Bucharest their governments were working on solutions with the EU.
“Together we are engaged in a process to discuss with the European Commission about what the mechanisms should be to enforce the traceability of Ukrainian exports and final destinations,” Ciuca said.
Morawiecki said they “are fighting together for this grain to leave our countries, for the European Union to effectively help us in the implementation of trade policy, which is in the best strategic interest of Ukraine and Central Europe, but also in the best economic interest of Poland and Romania.”
Earlier this month, Romanian Agriculture Minister Petre Daea said the European Commission has estimated farmers from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia have lost $451.15 million overall from the inflows of cheaper Ukrainian grains on their markets.
Daea also said the Commission aimed to hand out compensation worth 56.3 million euros to Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian farmers, with a final decision expected on March 30.
Portuguese police shot and injured a man suspected of stabbing two women to death Tuesday at an Ismaili Muslim center in Lisbon, authorities said.
The women were Portuguese staff members at the center, Ismaili community leader Narzim Ahmad told Portuguese TV channel S.I.C.
Police were called to the center late Tuesday morning where they encountered a suspect “armed with a large knife,” a police statement said.
Police ordered him to surrender but he advanced toward them and was “neutralized,” the statement said. The suspect was taken to a Lisbon hospital where he was in police custody.
Several other people were wounded, according to the statement, but it provided no further details.
Prime Minister António Costa said police shot the suspect and told reporters the attack was “a criminal act.”
“Everything points to this being an isolated incident,” Costa said, without elaborating.
There was no immediate word on the identity of those killed.
Armed police from a special operations unit could be seen forming a perimeter outside the building.
Costa said police were investigating the attack and it was too soon to speculate about a motive.
The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, generally known as the Ismailis, belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The Ismaili Muslims are a culturally diverse community living in more than 25 countries around the world.
Portugal hasn’t recorded any significant terror attacks in recent decades, and religious violence is virtually unheard of.
The government of Botswana said Monday it will buy a 24% stake in Belgian diamond company HB Antwerp. The deal comes amid uncertainty over Botswana’s long-standing sales agreement with industry giant De Beers.
Officially opening HB Antwerp’s cutting and polishing plant in Gaborone, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said Botswana must gain more from its diamond resources, for the “simple reason that the returns that come with having control to sell our diamonds with value addition, are much, much, higher than the returns on the sales of rough diamond stones.”
To that end, Masisi said that, “It is time for Botswana to participate not only in the process of extracting diamonds and selling them as rough stones without having processed them into value-added commodities across the diamond trade value chain.”
Last month, Masisi indicated his unhappiness with a 54-year-old sales deal with De Beers, in which Botswana is allocated 25% of rough diamonds mined under a joint venture. That deal is due to expire June 30.
Masisi said Monday that as part of Botswana’s bond with HB Antwerp, his government will make a significant investment in the three-year-old company. According to Masisi, both parties “have agreed to a strategic partnership whereby the government of Botswana will invest in HB by acquiring a 24% equity stake in HB Antwerp.”
“In addition,” Masisi said, “The government of Botswana, through its rough diamond trading company, Okavango Diamond Company (ODC), will supply rough diamonds to HB Botswana, which is HB Antwerp’s local subsidiary, for a period of five years, with all the value addition to take place in Botswana.”
No dollar figure for the total revenue expected to be generated from the 24% stake was given.
HB Antwerp co-founding director Rafael Papismedov, who was also at the ceremony, said the polishing and cutting factory opened in Gaborone is the world’s most advanced diamond facility.
According to Papsimedov, HB Antwerp will ensure Botswana gets a fair value for its precious stones, which are the main pillar for the southern African country’s economy.
“We are not here to nibble around the edges; we are all in,” Papsimedov emphasized. “Our success has come and will continue to come from our fearless willingness to challenge every aspect of the way things have been done to date and to recognize value where others overlooked it.”
Botswana’s Minister of Minerals and Energy Lefoko Moagi said that HB Antwerp will help the country extract more revenue from its stones through value addition.
“Today we break ground on many frontiers, as we seek to expand and grow meaningful participation in the entire diamond value chain,” said Moagi. “This investment is a step in the right direction, to ensure we increase our stake. In addition, we are breaking ground in our participation in the downstream, which currently, has not much footprint in the country.”
Botswana is the world’s second largest diamond producer by value, behind Russia.
The country enjoyed a surge in gem sales last year as buyers shunned stones mined in Russia due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s navy fired supersonic anti-ship missiles at a mock target in the Sea of Japan, the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday.
“In the waters of the Sea of Japan, missile ships of the Pacific Fleet fired Moskit cruise missiles at a mock enemy sea target,” it said in a statement on its Telegram account.
“The target, located at a distance of about 100 kilometers, was successfully hit by a direct hit from two Moskit cruise missiles.”
The P-270 Moskit missile, which has the NATO reporting name or SS-N-22 Sunburn, is a medium-range supersonic cruise missile of Soviet origin, capable of destroying a ship within a range of up to 120 kilometers.
Japan’s foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tokyo will stay vigilant against Moscow’s military operations, while adding that no damage had been reported after the missile launches.
“As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, Russian forces are also becoming more active in the Far East, including Japan’s vicinities,” Hayashi told a regular press conference.
The firing of the missiles comes a week after two Russian strategic bomber planes, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours in what Moscow said was a “planned flight.”
Asked about Russia’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Hayashi said Japan condemned the move and demanded Russia and Belarus to stop “such an action that would further increase tensions.”
William Shatner, Monica Lewinsky and other prolific Twitter commentators — some household names, others little-known journalists — could soon be losing the blue check marks that helped verify their identity on the social media platform.
They could get the marks back by paying up to $11 a month. But some longtime users, including 92-year-old Star Trek legend Shatner, have balked at buying the premium service championed by Twitter’s billionaire owner and chief executive Elon Musk.
After months of delay, Musk is gleefully promising that Saturday is the deadline for celebrities, journalists and others who’d been verified for free to pony up or lose their legacy status.
“It will be glorious,” he tweeted Monday, in response to a Twitter user who noted that Saturday is also April Fools’ Day.
After buying Twitter for $44 billion in October, Musk has been trying to boost the struggling platform’s revenue by pushing more people to pay for a premium subscription. But his move also reflects his assertion that the blue verification marks have become an undeserved or “corrupt” status symbol for elite personalities and news reporters.
Along with verifying celebrities, one of Twitter’s main reasons to mark profiles with a free blue check mark starting about 14 years ago was to verify politicians, activists and people who suddenly find themselves in the news, as well as little-known journalists at small publications around the globe, as an extra tool to curb misinformation coming from accounts that are impersonating people.
Lewinsky tweeted a screenshot Sunday of all the people impersonating her, including at least one who appears to have paid for a blue check mark. She asked, “what universe is this fair to people who can suffer consequences for being impersonated? a lie travels half way around the world before truth even gets out the door.”
Shatner, known for his irreverent humor, also tagged Musk with a complaint about the promised changes.
“I’ve been here for 15 years giving my (clock emoji) & witty thoughts all for bupkis,” he wrote. “Now you’re telling me that I have to pay for something you gave me for free?”
Musk responded that there shouldn’t be a different standard for celebrities. “It’s more about treating everyone equally,” Musk tweeted.
For now, those who still have the blue check but apparently haven’t paid the premium fee — a group that includes Beyoncé, Stephen King, Barack and Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, Tucker Carlson, Drake and Musk himself — have messages appended to their profile saying it is a “legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable.”
But while “the attention is reasonably on celebrities because of our culture,” the bigger concern for open government advocate Alex Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, is that impersonators could more easily spread rumors and conspiracies that could move markets or harm democracies around the world.
“The reason verification exists on this platform was not simply to designate people as notable or authorities, but to prevent impersonation,” Howard said.
One of Musk’s first product moves after taking over Twitter was to launch a service granting blue checks to anyone willing to pay $8 a month. But it was quickly inundated by imposter accounts, including those impersonating Nintendo, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Musk’s businesses Tesla and SpaceX, so Twitter had to temporarily suspend the service days after its launch.
The relaunched service costs $8 a month for web users and $11 a month for iPhone and iPad users. Subscribers are supposed to see fewer ads, be able to post longer videos and have their tweets featured more prominently.
Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle is set to close its Turkey office Tuesday after Ankara declined to extend its operating license, a move condemned by media rights groups.
The case shows the pressure that Ankara is putting on foreign media to make it harder for them to work in the country, some analysts say.
Authorities had already blocked access to the Turkish-language websites of DW and VOA last year when the broadcasters refused to comply with license requirements that they said amounted to censorship.
In the case of DW, the broadcaster says the Ministry of Industry and Technology informed it on March 7 that they would not extend the operating license of DW Turkish because it had failed to “choose its field of activity correctly.” There was no explanation of what this meant, the broadcaster said.
The broadcaster’s director was cited in reports as saying they had not been informed of errors in the application and that DW had not changed the way it operates in Turkey since the last time the paperwork was renewed.
DW has said it is considering legal steps over the decision, which will affect how the broadcaster can hire staff, with employees being cut off from retirement and other benefits.
Local reports say more than 10 journalists will now work on a freelance basis so that DW Turkish can keep reporting on events inside the country.
Media watchdogs have noted the timing of the decision comes just weeks before presidential and parliamentary elections.
Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator for the Vienna-based International Press Institute, said the exit of DW represented the latest attempt by the government to muzzle foreign media.
“We expect that the crackdown [on foreign media] will only intensify before elections in May,” she told VOA.
“This stems from this government’s attempts to try to push out the foreign media. They can control the local media. The foreign media were being protected by their own [organizations],” Akyavas said.
VOA emailed the Turkish government’s directorate of communications for comment but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Erkan Arikan, director of Turkish services for DW, was not available to speak with VOA before publication. Other journalists working for the broadcaster declined VOA’s interview requests.
DW and other foreign broadcasters have come under pressure from Turkish authorities for over a year.
In February 2022, Turkey’s media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), ordered DW, VOA and Euronews to obtain broadcast licenses.
DW and VOA refused, citing concerns that the new licensing regulation gave RTÜK broad powers over online content.
Because of their refusal to comply, RTÜK in late June blocked access to the Turkish editions of DW and VOA.
At the time, Peter Limbourg, DW general director, said his agency refused to apply for a Turkish license because it would harm independent broadcasting.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content RTÜK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster,” he said in a statement published by DW in July last year.
Media commentators see the actions as an effort by Turkey to control domestic and foreign media outlets.
Turkey has a poor media freedom record, with Reporters Without Borders ranking it 149 out of 180 countries where 1 denotes the best environment for journalism.
In its country analysis, the media watchdog said that with around 90% of the country’s media now under government control, the public has come to rely on foreign media such as DW for insight into politics and the economy.
Özgür Ögret, the Turkey representative for New York’s Committee to Protect Journalists, said that move against DW meant Turkish people were prevented from seeing independent reporting of their own country.
“Denying DW’s license serves only to disrupt the broadcaster’s activities and deny Turkish citizens critical, independent reporting as elections approach,” he said in a statement.
An investigation by the news agency Reuters published last year said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had bent the country’s media to his will.
“The Turkish mainstream media, once a livelier clash of ideas, has become a tight chain of command of government-approved headlines, front pages, and topics of TV debate,” the report said.
The report, based on interviews with people in the media, government and regulatory bodies, said the media industry in Turkey “has fallen in line with other formerly independent institutions that Erdogan has bent to his will.”
Reuters cited the head of Turkey’s communications directorate as saying that while he “occasionally briefs editors and reporters,” he had never done so in a way that could be “viewed as infringing on the editorial independence of news organizations or violating the freedom of the press.”
Directives and regulations on foreign media are tactics used by several authoritarian countries to try to control or retaliate against foreign media.
China has been accused of delaying or refusing to renew journalist visas to retaliate against critical reporting.
Spanish daily newspaper ABC had its website blocked in China, along with other foreign media organizations, after it published a critical report of the Chinese government, claiming its reporters had been victims of state intimidation in March 2022.
In Cuba last year, reporters at the Spanish state news agency EFE waited for months for accreditation from Havana, which nearly resulted in EFE withdrawing from the country.
Some information for this article came from Reuters.
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who led a delegation of the Belarusian opposition to Washington, spoke to VOA’s Russian Service on Saturday about the democratic movement in her country and the war in Ukraine.
Tsikhanouskaya fled Belarus after facing President Alexander Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential elections that drew mass protests over allegations of electoral fraud. Lukashenko, who won a new term, has long denied the fraud allegations. Earlier this month, a court in Belarus sentenced Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison after a trial in absentia on charges including conspiring to overthrow the government, the latest move in a monthslong effort by the Belarusian government to suppress dissent.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: Just over a year ago, the world was expressing support and solidarity with Belarussians who fought for their freedom. Now many people call Belarus a co-aggressor. How much does it complicate the lives of ordinary people and your life as a national leader?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: It took us a while after the beginning of the war [in Ukraine] to explain to the world that the Belarusian people and the Belarusian regime are two different things; that the Belarusian regime became an accomplice in this war, and all those who are responsible have to bear responsibility for this. The Belarusian people oppose this war, they are on the side of Ukraine, and it’s necessary to put as much political and economic pressure as possible on the regime.
Our nation, our people — despite the huge level of repression inside the country — try to support the Ukrainians as much as we can. We saw acts of sabotage of our partisans on railways, blowing up a Russian surveillance airplane, acts of disobedience, putting Ukrainian flags in Belarus. It all cost a lot. People are being detained every day in Belarus for their anti-regime and anti-war position. But participation of the regime in this war doesn’t make our nation a participant.
It is also very important to distinguish Belarusian people from Russians, because 86% of Belarusians are against the participation of Belarus in the war, and you will never see these “Z” or “V” signs [pro-Russia symbols] on our streets. We consider Ukrainians a close nation and we are facing actually the same enemy: the imperialistic ambitions of Russia. And we have to fight together.
VOA: You called [President Alexander] Lukashenko a puppet of Putin. How does it affect the future policies of Belarus? Is the very independence of the country at stake?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: We are fighting for freedom, sovereignty and independence of Belarus. Belarusian people have made their choice back in 2020. We are against the regime, and now after the beginning of the war, this geopolitical choice of Belarusians became evident. Belarusians feel themselves as part of the European family of countries.
Now Russia is connected with war and poverty; the West [with] peace and security. People want our beloved Belarus to be a prosperous, safe country, a good ally and partner for our neighbors. This is what we are fighting for. Belarusians don’t see their future with the imperialistic Russia. I think all the deals that are made between Lukashenko and Putin for these two years shouldn’t be recognized as legitimate and should be overlooked. So, there is no future of any democratic and free country with such Russia.
VOA: What is the possibility of Belarus entering full-scale war with Ukraine in the future?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: So, here again we must distinguish between the regime and Belarus as it is. The Belarusian regime has already become a full accomplice in this war. Lukashenko and his cronies have provided our territorial infrastructure to Russia, from which the Russian army can attack Ukraine. And they have to be made accountable for this. A special tribunal has to be opened against Lukashenko and all those who have been participating. Lukashenko has to be recognized as a sponsor of terrorism.
But Belarusian people, the Belarusian army are against this war. And if at the beginning of the war there were more chances for the Belarusian army to participate in the war because of the huge tension in the region, it has now become evident that Belarusian soldiers don’t want to fight with Ukrainians. They don’t want to kill or to be killed for Lukashenko and Putin.
So, I see this scenario of participation of the Belarusian army as minimal. But again, the Belarusian land can be used at any moment for launching missiles or attacking Ukraine again. It is Lukashenko who must bear responsibility for this.
The Scottish National Party elected Humza Yousaf as its new leader Monday. This comes after what analysts describe as a bruising five-week campaign that exposed deep cracks in Scotland’s pro-independence movement.
The 37-year-old Yousaf, who is currently Scotland’s health minister, will be Scotland’s first Muslim and first person of color to serve as First Minister. He will succeed Nicola Sturgeon, who unexpectedly stepped down from her position last month after eight years.
Yousaf is widely seen as a ‘continuity of Sturgeon,’ as they share similar social liberal views. Yousaf said his main goals are to concentrate on tackling the cost-of-living crisis, end divisions in the ruling SNP party, and make a renewed push for independence.
Yousaf narrowly beat two other Scottish lawmakers, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and member of Parliament Ash Regan with 52% of the vote. All three candidates share the mission of independence but differ in their economic and social visions for Scotland.
“The people of Scotland need independence now, more than ever before and we will be the generation that delivers independence,” Yousaf said in a speech in Edinburgh after the results were announced.
Both Forbes and Regan opposed a controversial bill championed by Sturgeon to make it easier for people in Scotland to legally change their gender, while Yousaf supported it. The bill is hailed as a landmark piece of legislation by transgender rights activists but has faced opposition from some SNP members who said it did not consider the need to protect single-sex spaces for women, such as domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers.
Scottish voters backed remaining in the United Kingdom with 55% of the vote in a 2014 referendum. The SNP wants a new vote, but the central government in London has refused to authorize one, and the U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can’t hold one without London’s consent.
The SNP is the largest of the country’s political parties with 72,000 members. The unity of the party has been its greatest strength but recently that has weakened due to disagreements over how to achieve independence and the best way to introduce social reforms such as transgender rights. Other prominent parties include the Scottish Conservative Party, the Scottish Labour Party, and the Scottish Greens.
Some information from this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.your ad here
A security guard was killed in a gun attack on Albania’s largest broadcaster early Monday, with the country’s prime minister calling the assault on the media outlet “worrying”.
The 60-year-old guard was in a booth outside the Top Channel headquarters in Tirana when he was hit by a burst of gunfire from a passing SUV.
The police gave no possible motive for the attack, saying “the investigation is ongoing”. But they said the attackers used a Kalashnikov rifle.
The SUV was found hours later on the side of the road approximately 40 kilometers away from the scene of the attack, where it had been set on fire.
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama offered condolences to the victim’s family and the staff at Top Channel, and called for “everyone’s solidarity at this very worrying moment”.
The U.S. embassy in Tirana condemned the shooting.
“We urge law enforcement to carry out a comprehensive investigation that will bring perpetrators to justice,” the embassy said.
Albania was once infamous for illegal arms trafficking. More than a million Kalashnikov rifles were stolen from military depots during an uprising in the 1990s.
However, mass shootings and violent attacks on journalists are rare in the poor Balkan nation.
Advertisements promise cash bonuses and enticing benefits. Recruiters are making cold calls to eligible men. Enlistment offices are working with universities and social service agencies to lure students and the unemployed.
A new campaign is underway this spring across Russia, seeking recruits to replenish its troops for the war in Ukraine.
As fighting grinds on in Ukrainian battlegrounds like Bakhmut and both sides prepare for counteroffensives that could cost even more lives, the Kremlin’s war machine badly needs new recruits.
A mobilization in September of 300,000 reservists — billed as a “partial” call-up — sent panic throughout the country, since most men under 65 are formally part of the reserve. Tens of thousands fled Russia rather than report to recruiting stations.
The Kremlin denies that another call-up is planned for what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, now more than a year old.
But amid widespread uncertainty of whether such a move will eventually happen, the government is enticing men to volunteer, either at makeshift recruiting centers popping up in various regions, or with phone calls from enlistment officials. That way, it can “avoid declaring a formal second mobilization wave” after the first one proved so unpopular, according to a recent report by the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War.
One Muscovite told The Associated Press that his employer, a state-funded organization, gathered up the military registration cards of all male employees of fighting age and said it would get them deferments. But he said the move still sent a wave of fear through him.
“It makes you nervous and scared — no one wants to all of a sudden end up in a war with a rifle in their hands,” said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal. “The special operation is somewhat dragging on, so any surprises from the Russian authorities can be expected.”
It’s been more than a week since he handed in his card, he said, and exemptions usually get resolved in a day or two, heightening his anxiety.
Russian media report that men across the country are receiving summonses from enlistment offices. In most of those cases, men were simply asked to update their records; in others, they were ordered to take part in military training.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that serving summonses to update records in enlistment offices is “usual practice” and a “continued undertaking.”
Other unconfirmed media reports say authorities have told regional governments to recruit a certain number of volunteers. Some officials announced setting up recruitment centers with the goal of getting men to sign contracts that enable them to be sent into combat as professional soldiers.
Ads have appeared on government websites and on the social media accounts of state institutions and organizations, including libraries and high schools.
One of them, posted by a municipal administration in the western Yaroslavl region, promised a one-time bonus of about $3,800 to sign up, and if sent to Ukraine, a monthly salary of up to $2,500, plus about $100 a day for “involvement in active offensive operations,” and $650 “for each kilometer of advancement within assault teams.”
The ad said the soldier would also get tax and loan repayment breaks, preferential university admission status for his children, generous compensation for his family if he is wounded or killed in action, and the status of a war veteran, which carries even more perks.
In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, officials asked universities, colleges and vocational schools to advertise for recruits on their websites, said Sergei Chernyshov, founder of a private vocational school there.
Chernyshov posted the ad on his social media account “so that everyone knows what our city hall is up to,” but he told the AP that he doesn’t plan to put it on the school website. “It’s weird” to target vocational school students, he said.
Other efforts include enlistment officials meeting with college students and unemployed men, or phoning men to volunteer.
A Muscovite who spoke on condition of anonymity for his own safety said that he received such a call and was surprised at how polite it was: “After my ‘No,’ there were no threats or (attempts to) convince me -– (just) ‘Thanks, goodbye.'”
There have only been isolated cases of enlistment officials really pressuring men to sign up, said Grigory Sverdlin, founder of a group called Go by the Forest that helps men avoid mobilization.
The group gets up to 100 messages a day from men seeking advice on dealing with summonses or enlistment officials, he said, compared with dozens per day in recent months. In most cases, the officials wanted to update their records with addresses and phone numbers, and they might try to recruit men during that process.
But Sverdlin said some cases stand out.
In the Vologda region, about 400 kilometers north of Moscow, the group received messages saying that almost everyone going to the enlistment office after receiving a summons “is forced to sign a paper barring them from leaving the region,” he said.
Lawyer Alexei Tabalov, who runs the Conscript’s School legal aid group, believes there’s nothing unusual in authorities handing out summonses now. Some of the notices are traditionally served before Russia’s spring conscription draft, scheduled to begin April 1 for those eligible for mandatory service.
All Russian men from age 18 to 27 must serve one year in the military, but a large share avoid the draft for health reasons or get student deferments. The share of men who avoid the draft is particularly big in Moscow and other major cities, and many simply evade enlistment officials bearing conscription summonses.
Tabalov said that men have reported going to enlistment offices to update their records but have officials there who “beat around the bush and promote the idea of signing the contract, talk about how one should love their motherland and defend it.”
He doubted anything could make volunteering attractive after 13 months of a war that has killed and wounded tens of thousands.
“People already understand what it means to sign a contract,” he said. “Those who got burned once are unlikely to fall into the same trap.”
Tabalov said that his group continues to get messages from soldiers who want to terminate their contracts, but that isn’t legally possible until President Vladimir Putin ends the partial mobilization, which began in September, with a new decree.
“Getting out of the war automatically means criminal prosecution,” Tabalov said, adding there has been a flurry of criminal cases since December, with prosecutions of soldiers who desert or go AWOL.
The news outlet Mediazona counted 247 verdicts in 536 criminal cases on these and similar charges, adding that over a third of those convicted got suspended sentences, which allows authorities to send them back to the front line.
The current recruitment campaign is similar to one enacted last summer, before the September call-up, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst with the Institute for the Study of War.
Back then, authorities also used financial incentives, and various volunteer battalions were formed, but the effort clearly wasn’t successful, because Putin eventually turned to the partial mobilization.
Whether this one will succeed or not is not clear.
“They’ve already recruited a significant portion of people that were financially incentivized last summer. And they struggled to do so last year,” Stepanenko said.
The current recruitment effort shows the military’s awareness of manpower needs in Ukraine.
“What the mobilization campaign of 300,000 servicemen told us is that it’s not enough to form a sufficient strike group for Russia to push forward with its offensive operations,” she said.
Germany’s public transportation workers are striking Monday as unions demand higher wages for their members.
The schedules of trains, buses and planes are being disrupted by the 24-hour work stoppage.
The strike is intended to pressure employers as a new round of negotiations begins this week.
German news outlet Deutsche-Welle reports that Frank Werneke, head of Verdi, one of the unions involved in the strike, said, “What employees right up into the middle-income groups find to be a burden, above all, are the enormous price increases for electricity, gas, and groceries.”
Some German airports began canceling flights Sunday in anticipation of Monday’s strike.
Some parts of Twitter’s source code — the fundamental computer code on which the social network runs — were leaked online, the social media company said in a legal filing on Sunday that was first reported by The New York Times.
According to the legal document, filed with the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, Twitter had asked GitHub, an internet hosting service for software development, to take down the code where it was posted. The platform complied and said the content had been disabled, according to the filing. Twitter also asked the court to identify the alleged infringer or infringers who posted Twitter’s source code on systems operated by GitHub without Twitter’s authorization.
Twitter, based in San Francisco, noted in the filing that the postings infringe copyrights held by Twitter.
The leak creates more challenges for billionaire Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last October for $44 billion and took the company private. Since then, it has been engulfed in chaos, with massive layoffs and advertisers fleeing.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is probing Musk’s mass layoffs at Twitter and trying to obtain his internal communications as part of ongoing oversight into the social media company’s privacy and cybersecurity practices, according to documents described in a congressional report.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday lawmakers will move forward with legislation to address national security worries about TikTok, alleging China’s government had access to the short video app’s user data.
In the United States, there are growing calls to ban TikTok, owned by China-based company ByteDance, or to pass bipartisan legislation to give President Joe Biden’s administration legal authority to seek a ban. Devices owned by the U.S. government were recently banned from having the app installed.
“The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party,” McCarthy said on Twitter.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before a U.S. House Committee for about five hour on Thursday and lawmakers from both parties grilled him about national security and other concerns involving the app, which has 150 million American users.
In Thursday’s hearing, the TikTok CEO was asked if of the app, has spied on Americans at Beijing’s request. Chew answered, “No.”
Republican Representative Neal Dunn then referenced the company’s disclosure in December that some China-based employees at ByteDance improperly accessed TikTok user data of two journalists and were no longer employed by the company. He repeated his question about whether ByteDance was spying.
“I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it,” Chew said. He went on to describe the reports as involving an “internal investigation” before being cut off.
McCarthy, a Republican, said in a tweet on Sunday, “It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true — China has access to TikTok user data.”
The company says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts under the name “Project Texas” which currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and is contracted with Oracle Corp ORCL.N to store TikTok’s U.S. user data.
Rather than appease lawmakers’ concerns, Chew’s appearance before Congress on Thursday “actually increased the likelihood that Congress will take some action,” Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told ABC News on Sunday.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump lost a series of court rulings in 2020 when he sought to ban TikTok and another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, a unit of Tencent 0700.HK.
Officials told “fire tourists” to keep away from blazes raging in eastern Spain on Sunday, saying onlookers were putting themselves at risk and disrupting efforts to quell the flames.
More than 500 firefighters backed by 20 planes and helicopters were battling the fire four days after it broke out near the village of Villanueva de Viver in Valencia region, emergency services said.
Police had spotted 14 cyclists near the scene trying to get a closer look, Gabriela Bravo, the regional head of interior affairs in the Valencia region, told reporters.
“We ask once again and above all tourists not to engage in fire tourism, not to approach the perimeter area,” she said.
Spain’s first major wildfire of the year has destroyed more than 4,000 hectares of forest and forced 1,700 villagers to leave their homes in the Valencia and Aragon regions, officials said.
One firefighter slightly injured his hand as he battled the blaze, emergency services said.
Around 200 residents from the Teruel area of Aragon were allowed to return home on Sunday, authorities said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was due to visit the area on Monday, his office said.
Residents said the fire could have a devastating impact on the local economy which depended on tourism.
“The people here live from cycling, hiking, and the few bars,” said Jorge Grausell, 72.
“You see this and it is a disaster for anyone who likes nature.”
An unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe has raised fears there could be a repeat of last year’s devastating wildfires.
Last year, about 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe, more than double the annual average for the past 16 years, based on European Commission statistics.
In Spain, 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares of land last year, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.
Hundreds of volunteers descended on the beaches of the North Sea coast this weekend to collect sea shells as a measure of the sea’s biological diversity.
While there is a serious scientific purpose to the exercise, it is also a fun day out on the coast for Belgian, French and Dutch families with kids.
On Saturday, Natascha Perales and her children marked a wide spiral pattern on the sand in Middelkerke, in Flanders, and filled their plastic buckets with shells.
The harvests were taken to a sorting center run by volunteers, to be counted and divided up by species.
“We found mussels, oysters, cockles, at least six different species,” 40-year-old Perales told AFP. “It’s a great activity, despite the weather.”
Braving stiff gusts of wind, the dozen participants kept the Middelkerke collection point busy.
Laurence Virolee, 41, came with her three children.
“We learned a lot of things,” she said. “Last year we took part in a clean-up day on the beach. It’s important for the kids to see the evolution in biodiversity and make them aware of the climate.”
The collections took place along 400 kilometers of coastline and around 800 people took part in three countries, with France joining the sixth annual event for the first time.
In total, around 38,000 shells were brought in, roughly as many as in last year’s event.
“Shells are a good indicator of the state of biodiversity in the North Sea, ” explained Jan Seys, who organizes the survey for the Flanders Marine Institute.
“Last year, 15% of the shells found belonged to exotic species,” he said, amid fears that foreign shellfish species might become an invasive danger to native organisms. “We have seen, for example the Atlantic Jackknife Clam appearing on our coasts.”
The volunteers were also on the lookout for shells with holes in them, trying to measure the spread of predatory sea snails preying on shellfish.
Near the beach, retired biologist Joris Hooze, 75, taught volunteers how to examine mollusks under his microscope and distinguish their differences.
“We’ve seen organisms that normally live in warm waters turning up more and more,” he said. “It’s a sign of climate change.”
The European Union wants to clean up the seas around its coasts and restore the natural ecosystem by 2030. To do that, it has assigned 800 million euros ($861,600,000) in funding to the task.
“If we’re going to hit that target, we’ll need the general public,” said Seys. As well as its scientific value, the shell hunt served to raise awareness, he added.
Berlin votes on Sunday on making the city climate neutral by 2030, in a binding referendum that will force the new conservative local government to invest heavily in renewable energy, building efficiency and public transportation.
Climate campaigners gathered over 260,000 signatures in support of the referendum, which will make Berlin one of few major European cities with a legally binding goal to become carbon neutral in seven years.
The European Union last year started a scheme to help 100 cities inside and outside of the bloc become climate neutral by 2030, but the scheme and the financial support it offers are not legally binding.
The referendum’s results would show whether Germans, or at least Berliners, want Germany’s climate policy, which now aims to make Europe’s biggest economy carbon-neutral by 2045, to be more ambitious.
Climate activists who initiated the vote say the government’s target is too far in the future to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“At the moment, climate policy is simply not sufficient to ensure a future worth living in our city,” Jessamine Davis, a spokesperson for Climate New Start Berlin, told Reuters.
Unlike Berlin’s previous referendums, including one calling for expropriation of large landlords or on keeping the former Tempelhof airport free from development, Sunday’s climate referendum will be legally binding for the government in Berlin.
“The new version will automatically apply if Berlin population votes if favor,” Davis said.
The initiative, if approved, will only oblige the local government to achieve climate-neutrality in seven years, but the group says various scientific studies offer a wide range of specific measures to reach that goal.
They include a mandate to install solar panels on all suitable roofs in the city to generate around 25% of the city’s electricity, in addition to expanding wind power turbines in the neighboring Brandenburg state to supply the capital.
Installing a large heat pump on the Spree river and renovating buildings across the city to replace oil and gas heaters with efficient heat pumps are also among the measures that will be needed if Berliners back the new 2030 goal.
Germany’s capital would also have to expand electric vehicles usage and add bike lanes while making public transport more attractive, the group suggested on its website.
The referendum comes as Germany’s conservative CDU party is negotiating a possible coalition with the Social Democrats in the city after its clear victory in a repeat election, driving the environmentalist Greens into opposition.
Stefan Taschner, a Greens Berlin lawmaker, said a positive referendum result would force the new ruling coalition in the city-state to conduct a more active climate policy.
According to the initiative organizers, around 455,000 Berliners have requested to cast their votes via mail so far. In addition to a majority of positive votes, the initiative needs at least 608,000 “Yes” votes to make the results binding.
Danny Freymark, a CDU Berlin lawmaker, said the initiative had a high chance of winning approval, but he would vote against it, saying a new binding target would deprive the new government of any leeway and would lead to disappointment.
“Because even if we do everything we can, we wouldn’t make it in 2030,” Freymark told Reuters.
As a city of four million, with few renewable energy sources nearby or geothermal heating, Berlin lacks what is necessary to make that target more achievable, said Bernd Hirschl from Berlin’s Institute for Ecological Economy Research.
Still, the referendum is a way to revive the debate over climate policy and the changes people must accept to reach climate neutrality regardless of the deadlines, Hirschl told Reuters.
“Because it’s not about 2030. It’s about the question of whether we want to send a signal to politicians or not,” he added.
A controversy over John Paul II’s legacy looks set to spur some undecided voters in Polish elections due by November, political analysts say, as allegations that the late pope concealed child abuse deepen rifts in the predominantly Catholic country.
Claims in a new book and TV documentary that the late pope, born Karol Wojtyla, knowingly hid clerical pedophilia scandals as archbishop of Krakow have led some Poles to demand that his legacy be reassessed.
This has provoked a furious response from religious conservatives, with politicians from the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) defending John Paul II in the face of what they say is a left-wing plot to discredit the nation’s biggest moral authority.
“Defending the pope’s stance, even against documents and facts, may be crucial for those that in normal circumstances would not have voted, but in this case they might go to defend John Paul II’s legacy,” Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University, told Reuters.
Support for PiS has risen by 3 points to 31%, a March 14-16 Kantar opinion poll for private broadcaster TVN24 showed, while liberal opposition party Civic Platform (PO) has fallen 3 points to 26%.
While political analysts say it is too early to attribute this to the papal controversy, a PiS’ vocal stance backed by a resolution passed in the lower house of parliament on March 9 to defend his name has pushed the issue onto the election agenda.
“I’m not a ruling party supporter, but others that were not backing it till now may change their minds because our pope is being insulted,” pensioner Elzbieta Molag, 67, told Reuters in Krakow.
The opposition PO abstained from voting on the resolution. Its leader, Donald Tusk, said on March 19 that pedophilia in church cannot be excused but should not be a reason to question the pope’s role in Polish political history.
The Polish Catholic church urged Poles to respect the late pope’s memory, saying that a review of its archives did not confirm the accusations against the church hierarchy, adding that some files could be opened in future. The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment about the allegations in the book, called “Maxima Culpa.”
“Opening the files that contain sensitive personal data requires care and consent from a local bishop, and possibly also the Vatican. It won’t be a quick process,” priest Lukasz Michalczewski, spokesman for the archbishop of Krakow, told Reuters.
The account of Slawomir Mastek, a 56-old photographer from the late pope’s hometown Wadowice, opens the book by a Dutch investigative journalist published on March 8. Mastek said he was molested by two priests when he was a 13-year-old altar boy.
While one of the priests acknowledged his guilt, when Mastek confronted the church about the other case in 2011, he says local priests banned him from filming religious ceremonies and he lost up to 80% of his business.
Michalczewski said he was not familiar with Mastek’s case, adding that the church has apologized to those that feel hurt by its actions and is ready to apologize again.
Mastek’s studio on John Paul II central square Wadowice remains open but he now makes his living renovating houses. With elections due in autumn, he worries the politicization of the issue will delay justice for other victims.
“If politicians want to help they should speak to the church so that it finally starts dialogue and opens its archives,” Mastek told Reuters.
In the 1980s, the Catholic Church was a voice of freedom in Poland, inspiring people to stand up against communist rule.
However, it is slowly losing ground partly due to clerical sex abuse scandals, and accusations of cover-ups that have rocked the Church in recent years not only in Poland but in many countries, and involved John Paul II’s successors. As many as 70% of Poles support abortion rights, up 17 points since 2019, and children’s attendance at religion classes has been falling since 2010, polls show.
Filip Kaczynski, a PiS lawmaker from Wadowice, said he has not seen the documentary but is convinced it aims to smear the late pope.
“Given that it was aired by a TV station that is openly supporting the opposition it’s not an accident, it’s an attack on the church that may be part of a political infighting,” he said.
In Wadowice, the Museum of the Family Home of John Paul II has no plans to include the controversy, Deputy Director Katarzyna Coufal-Lenczowska said.
“You can’t redefine the most important values and that’s what this exhibit is about,” she told Reuters.
However, despite around three dozen people in Wadowice refusing to comment on camera, some residents voiced criticism of the town’s relationship with the church.
“In Wadowice everybody knows each other and PiS rule here, so if somebody works in a school or a public institution and talks loudly about their views they could face consequences,” a 46-year-old woman working as a freelance tutor told Reuters on condition of anonymity.