Category Archives: featured

Venice Floating Nativity

Brussels 06.12.2021 Venice has been attracting people for hundreds of years, and with a natural setting as its lagoon, where even a floating nativity scene has become an open-air artwork.

The floating nativity scene brings the magic of Christmas in the lagoon of Venice with baby Jesus emerging from the waters, surrounded by a floating Joseph and Mary under the sunset near the island of Burano.

Due to the changes of sunlight throughout the day and with the water enhancing the colours of the silhouettes, the scene offers an atmosphere of serenity throughout the day.

The artwork, created by Francesco Orazio, a greengrocer with an artistic talents, was completed on Saturday, December 4, in an open stretch of water, out of the way of vessels.

The painted plywood Nativity figures were fixed by wooden stakes and then anchored on the bottom of the lagoon. And, for a couple of hours a day, the feet of the statues are exactly level with the water.

Omicron: France restricts travel

Brussels 02.12.2021 France has announced new rules for all travellers – vaccinated or not – arriving in France from non-EU countries in the face of the new variant of Covid-19 named Omicron.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal, speaking after the weekly meeting of the government’s Defence Council on Wednesday, on December 1, announced the implementation of new rules aimed at controlling the spread of the newly-detected Omicron variant.

A government Decree published on Thursday, December 2, provides more detail.

The new rules come into force at 00.01 AM on Saturday, December 4th, and the testing requirements apply to everyone aged 12 or older – including those who have French citizenship or permanent residency in France.

All travellers – vaccinated or not – will require a negative Covid test in order to enter France from any country outside the EU or Schengen zone. This would include travellers from the UK, the USA and Canada.

The test must have been taken within 48 hours of departure. The decree states that only tests “that are able to detect protein N of Sars-Cov2” can be used – this covers all PCR tests but not all antigen tests. Home tests have never been accepted for travel purposes.

Europarl: Belarus sanctions in view

Strasbourg 26.10.2021 Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya spoke to MEPs about the continuing crackdown on dissenting voices in Belarus and called on the EU to take firm action against the regime.

“The Belarusian regime has shown itself willing to seize individuals from international flights, misuse international agencies to punish dissent, to weaponise migrants in a way deliberately designed to undermine the stability and security of Europe,” said Tsikhanouskaya during her speech in the Parliament on 24 November.

The Belarusian opposition leader called on the EU to help address the ongoing crisis with migrants on the EU-Belarus borders: “Both Belarussians and migrants are now hostages of the regime and these two problems cannot be solved separately.”

She said the EU should coordinate sanctions against the regime with the US and the UK to make the sanctions “effective and not only symbolic”.

Ahead of Tsikhanouskaya’s speech, Parliament President David Sassoli condemned the actions of the Belarusian regime and called on other institutions to defend the respect of fundamental rights in the country.

“Belarus continues to violate the rights of its citizens, to silence civil society’s voice, to use repression as a daily weapon,” said Sassoli. “The regime didn’t hesitate to use men, women and children who needed protection, putting their lives in danger without any respect for fundamental human rights, just to destabilise the EU.”

Tsikhanouskaya’s address comes amid a continuing geopolitical crisis on the EU-Belarus border. The Belarusian regime has been funnelling migrants primarily from the Middle East to the country’s border with the EU, and in particular Poland. In response, the EU agreed to expand the bloc’s existing sanctions on Belarus to target, among others, airlines and officials involved in bringing migrants to the border areas.

Maltese MEP Metsola ascends President’s seat

Strasbourg 24.11.2021 The European Parliament’s largest group the EPP on Wednesday, Nov.24, nominated Maltese MEP Robert Metsola as their candidate to lead the House.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) chose Metsola during a Wednesday night vote, putting her in a prime position to potentially replace incumbent President – Italian Socialist David Sassoli, when his term expires in January.

Metsola received 112 votes in the first round of the group’s internal election, while her competitors received much less: Dutch MEP Ester de Lange got 44 votes while 18 voted for Austrian MEP Othmar Karas, according to the EPP officials.

“I’m truly honored to have been given a strong mandate by the EPP group to be our family’s candidate for president of the European Parliament,” Metsola told reporters at a press conference alongside EPP leader Manfred Weber.

If elected, Metsola would be the first Maltese official to win one of the EU’s top jobs. But her victory on Wednesday only begins a campaign that promises to be heated.

Metsola is said to have the backing of political groups beyond the EPP, but she may still have to compete for the leadership post against Sassoli and a few other candidates from the Greens and European Conservatives and Reformists.

EU diplomacy focus on Belarus

Brussels 15.11.2021 “First, we are going to have the Foreign Affairs Council. After [this] we are going to have the meeting with the Ministers of the Eastern Partnership. And after this, we will have the Jumbo meeting with Foreign and Defense Ministers to start talking about the Strategic Compass” said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell at doorstep of the meeting of the ministers in Brussels.(Image: Europa building, archive)

“On the Foreign Affairs Ministers Council: we are going to review the whole set of problems starting certainly with the situation in Belarus. Yesterday, I had phone calls with my Polish [Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Rau], Lithuanian [Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis] and Belarusian Minister [Vladimir Makei] also with the Secretary General of the United Nations [António Guterres] in order to prepare the meeting. We had the opportunity to share with the Secretary General of the United Nations how things are going on the ground. I talked to the Belarussian Minister to tell him that the situation was totally unacceptable that humanitarian help has to be provided. And that we have to think about how we can solve the problem starting by stopping the [migration] flow. Stopping the flights. This is almost done.

“During these days we have been talking with countries of origin and transit. My colleague [Vice-President Margaritis] Schinas is in Bagdad. And I think that from my point of view, the inflow of things are becoming under control. But we have to provide humanitarian assistance to these people and to prevent any kind of hybrid attack against the European Union border. This is something that will take an important part of our meeting.

“But there are many other issues. The situation in the Western Balkans, in particular in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where there are tendencies which are undermining the unity of the country and hampering its development, and its way towards the European Union. The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina also. And in general, the situation in the Balkans, which is not especially good.

“The Sahel will also be part of our work today. Last night, there was another attack in Burkina Faso. 20 more people dead, killed. Our security starts in the Sahel and we had to engage more with the region.

“We will talk also about the situation in Varosha, in Cyprus, in Syria; but mainly in Sudan and Ethiopia. We have to try to avoid [an] implosion of the country. The situation in Ethiopia is becoming worse by every moment and we will try to avoid the implosion of the country”.

EU-Belarus: new wave of sanctions

Brussels 14.11.2021 As the European Union faces a new migration crisis, organised by Belarus which encourages the entry of migrants into EU countries, the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell (pictured) said the bloc is ready for a new wave of sanctions.

The EU diplomat deplores the situation and announces a new wave of sanctions to come against a number of Belarusian personalities. However Borrell also talks about Poland and its affront to the rule of law.

“We push the migrants: they leave 12 countries and Belarus pushes them against the border. We can end up in a humanitarian drama: it is an attack on the dignity of migrants that we bring to a dead end. (…) Yes, we are going to vote for a fifth round of sanctions, relating to those who organise these trips. (…) Lukashenko has imprisoned 35,000 people. If he could cut off the gas, he would, but the the Russians are not going to let him do it because the gas is sold by them.”

Poland wants to build an anti-migrant wall with the help of European funds, while Brussels wants to cut off funding for its breaches of the rule of law. For Josep Borrell, “there are more walls in Europe today than at the time of the Berlin Wall. However, it is not with walls that we are going to stop the migration problems”.

Regarding the “strategic compass” to guide Europeans in their diplomacy, the EU diplomat believes that “Europe is in a very dangerous environment and must have complementary instruments to NATO in order to be able to intervene in an environment that concerns it.”

Assange marriage at Belmarsh prison

Brussels 12.11.2021 Julian Assange has been granted permission to marry his long term partner Stella Moris in Belmarsh prison, the BBC has been told. The Wikileaks founder and Moris have two young children together. Their love story flourished in Ecuador Embassy. The prison service said Assange’s application was “considered in the usual way by the prison governor”.

“Good news: UK government has backed down 24h before the deadline.
“Julian and I now have permission to marry in Belmarsh prison.
“I am relieved but still angry that legal action was necessary to put a stop to the illegal interference with our basic right to marry”, Assange bride Stellar Morris wrote on her Twitter blog.

Assange, 50, continues to fight extradition to the U.S. on espionage charges. He is wanted on allegations of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, following Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The publications include the release in April 2010 of footage showing US soldiers shooting and killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.

The Australian has been in Belmarsh Prison since 2019, when he was carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by police and arrested formally for breaching his bail conditions.

Czech government resigns

Brussels 11.11.2011 The government of the Czech Republic led by the ANO party founder Andrej Babis stepped down Thursday,November 11, the CNN Prima News network reports.

According to the country’s constitution, Czech President Milos Zeman now has to order the Babis cabinet to continue performing its duties until he appoints a new government.

The ANO party suffered a defeat in the October 8-9 election to the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Czech Parliament), losing to two liberal coalitions. It is now up to the five parties and movements within these coalitions to form a new government, a task entrusted to the leader of the soft Eurosceptic Civic Democratic Party, Petr Fiala, a political scientist. Fiala is currently the sole candidate for the post of prime minister.

EU: Belarus visa suspension

Brussels 09.11.2021 “The Council today adopted a decision partially suspending the application of the EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement. This decision is a response to the ongoing hybrid attack launched by the Belarusian regime.

“The suspension covers the provisions that waive requirements for documentary evidence, regulate the issuing of multiple entry visas and reduce visa application fees as they apply to officials of the Belarus regime. This decision will not affect ordinary citizens of Belarus, who will continue to enjoy the same benefits under the visa facilitation agreement as they do currently.

“The decision will now be published in the Official Journal and will enter into force on the second day following publication. Under the visa facilitation agreement the decision on suspension is to be notified to the other party no later than 48 hours before its entry into force.

The EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement entered into force on 1 July 2020, in parallel with the EU-Belarus readmission agreement. The purpose of the agreement is to facilitate the issuance of short stay visas and thereby contribute to enhancing people-to-people contacts and sharing values and democratic principles.

Following the political upheaval in Belarus and the restrictive measures adopted by the EU, in June 2021 Belarus began to organise flights and internal travel to facilitate the transit of migrants towards the EU, first to Lithuania and then to Latvia and Poland. Belarus also announced on 28 June 2021 that it would suspend the readmission agreement with the EU.

Hundreds of migrants are camped in frigid weather behind a razor-wire fence on the Poland-Belarus border. Poland has massed thousands of troops to keep them out, and prevented journalists, aid organizations and EU officials from traveling to the area.

Ukraine: Russia denies troops buildup

Brussels 06.11.2021 CIA director William Burns visited Moscow to inform relevant authorities that the U.S. was monitoring closely the alleged buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. As CNN channel reported on Friday, November 5, citing its sources, the intelligence chief was supposed to determine what was provoking Russia’s actions. (Image: Moscow city).

According to CNN, during meetings in Moscow, the CIA’s director tried to warn Russia against any plans for an offensive, stressing that the U.S. is constantly monitoring all the movements of Russian troops.

During the official two-day visit this week, the U.S. top executive also expressed concern “that Russia is close to using its gas exports as leverage, with Ukraine and other European nations forecast to suffer energy crises heading into winter.” After meetings in Moscow, where the U.S. official held talks with Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin, “Burns called [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky on Wednesday to convey the administration’s concerns over Russia’s behavior and reassure him that the U.S. is closely tracking the Russian activity, according to a person with direct knowledge of the call,” CNN reported.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented at articles published in U.S. media outlets that claim Russia was allegedly amassing troops at the Ukrainian border, branding them to be part of a fake news campaign. The diplomat said that at least three U.S. media outlets – Politico, the Washington Post and Foreign Policy published “as if on cue in a real panic attack” materials that Russia was allegedly moving its troops to the Ukrainian border. “This wasn’t one fake news item, this is an entire fresh fake news campaign in American media outlets,” the diplomat said at a briefing on Wednesday, November 3.

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