Thursday, June 29, 2017

Migrant Pressures Grow; Italy Presses EU Nations To Do More

Migrants wait to disembark from the Spanish ship 'Rio Segura' in the harbor of Salerno, Italy, Thursday, June 29, 2017. Over 1200 migrants, including children, were rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The European Union's foreign minister says the bloc supports Italy's stance that it can no longer handle the flood of migrants alone, and she insists other EU countries share the burden. (Ciro Fusco/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — Italy's leader pressed his European Union allies Thursday to take in more migrants, saying the relentless arrival of tens of thousands of rescued migrants on Italian shores is putting his country under enormous strain. He spoke after 10,000 migrants were pulled to safety from the Mediterranean in the last few days alone.

With an election due in less than a year, political pressure is building on Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni's center-left government to push for relief from fellow EU nations. Flanked by EU national leaders and EU officials at a news conference in Berlin, Gentiloni said the growing number of arrivals "puts our welcome capability to a tough test."

Italy has already taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last few years. Some estimates say 220,000 migrants could land in Italy by the end of 2017. "It's a country under pressure, and we ask the help of our European allies," Gentiloni said, when asked about a reported new Italian strategy of blocking Italy's ports to non-Italian NGO ships that pluck to safety migrants from distressed dinghies and other unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast.

While acknowledging that European nations take part in patrols to deter smuggling in the central Mediterranean, Gentiloni said the job of caring for the migrants "remains in one country only" — Italy.

In addition to those who arrive, over 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the U.N. On Sunday, Italy's anti-migrant Northern League Party teamed up with the center-right opposition forces led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and triumphed in several mayoral races. The Democrats, Italy's main government party, took an embarrassing drubbing in the vote.

Many Italian towns say they just can't handle hosting hundreds of migrants any more. Right-wing parties remind citizens that Italians themselves are suffering from high unemployment and a practically flat economy.

In one port alone Thursday, in Reggio Calabria, 1,066 migrants disembarked from the Save the Children rescue ship Vos Hestia. Among them were 241 unaccompanied minors. From 2015 to 2016, the number of unaccompanied minors doubled to more than 25,000, according to the Interior Ministry.

This ship's rescued migrants came from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Somalia and several sub-Saharan nations of Africa and included a four-day-old boy. Six migrants had chicken pox and some 250 showed signs of scabies, so officials set up pressurized showers.

There's also concern that if Italy, a stalwart supporter of the EU, sours on Brussels because it feels abandoned on the migrant issue, the EU's very survival itself could be compromised. "Either the Union can shake itself up, or the fear is that it can collapse definitively," said Francesco Laforgia, a lawmaker in a leftist party that split recently from the Democrats.

The idea that Gentiloni's government is mulling blocking Italy's ports to European NGO ships, which increasingly rescue migrants before EU Frontex military fleets or Italian coast guard vessels arrive, is a dramatic recognition that public patience is wearing thin.

"The situation is no long sustainable," Nicola Latorre, head of the Senate's defense commission, told the Il Messaggero daily. "Obviously saving human lives remains a priority. But it's unthinkable that Italy does it all by itself."

Earlier Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini backed Italy's stance and insisted that other EU countries share the burden of caring for migrants. But previous plans hatched in Brussels to make other EU countries take in a fixed number of migrants from Italy and Greece have failed.

Several central and eastern European EU members — including large countries like Hungary and Poland — have flat out refused to take in a quota of the asylum-seekers, many of whom are economic migrants and not refugees from war or persecution.

Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

FIFA Publishes Garcia Report On 2018-2022 World Cup Bidding

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, left, gets the World Cup trophy by FIFA President Joseph Blatter, right, after the announcement of Qatar hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup in Zurich, Switzerland. The report into suspected corruption in the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests, involving 11 nations and won by Russia and Qatar, has been the mystery ever since American investigator Michael Garcia delivered it more than 2-1/2 years ago.

SOCHI, RUSSIA (AP, JUNE 27, 2017) — After years of intrigue about allegedly corrupt World Cup bidding, FIFA published an investigation report Tuesday that showed how voters exploited the murky system yet allowed Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

FIFA published investigator Michael Garcia's 430-page dossier less than 24 hours after Germany's biggest-selling daily Bild began reporting extracts from a leaked copy it received. The full report verified the broad conclusions of a summary of Garcia's work published by FIFA in November 2014.

A Russia bid backed by Vladimir Putin gave limited cooperation to Garcia's team which found no evidence of undue influence. Putin met six of 22 FIFA voters before the December 2010 elections. Qatar's ultimate victory over the United States tested FIFA's bid rules to the limit. The bid team used a full range of lavishly funded state and sports agencies, plus advisers who raised Garcia's suspicions.

Garcia's report was once a holy grail for FIFA critics who hoped it would be explosive and force a re-run of the World Cup hosting votes. Many believed Russian and Qatari bids must have behaved badly to persuade a FIFA executive committee lineup in 2010 that has since been widely discredited.

"Bid teams operated in an environment where a number of (voters) did not hesitate to exploit a system that in certain respects did not bind them to the same rules applicable to bid teams," Garcia wrote, noting that some FIFA officials "sought to obtain personal favors or benefits."

Some of those same FIFA officials have since been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in a widespread racketeering case that is ongoing. Garcia's team did not have the evidence-gathering powers of a criminal probe and it was clear they would be hampered even before starting a globe-trotting 2013-14 investigation.

His full report detailed how: FIFA voters refused to be interviewed; bid teams such as Russia and Spain were evasive; potential key witnesses could not be tracked down. Garcia's work also has been overtaken since he delivered it to FIFA's then ethics judge in September 2014.

A 42-page summary written by German judge Hans Joachim Eckert was published two months later and disputed by Garcia. Their public falling out prompted FIFA to pass the dossier and supporting evidence to Switzerland's attorney general for review.

The true significance of Garcia might only be seen once Swiss authorities have completed their work. It started with suspected money laundering linked to the World Cup bids and extended to other areas of FIFA business.

Around 25 investigations have been launched, the Swiss federal prosecution office said this month, using more than 170 suspect bank transactions as evidence. Swiss investigators have shared evidence in recent years with the FBI and U.S. prosecutors who have indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 football and marketing officials.

Russia has repeatedly denied wrongdoing since 2010, though the report confirmed that leased computers used by Russia's bid campaign were later destroyed. Staffers' email accounts were also never retrieved from Google for Garcia's deputy who oversaw the Russia section of a nine-candidate investigation. Russia had previously banned Garcia from the country over his prosecution of a Russian arms dealer in the U.S.

Qatari organizers of the 2022 tournament have also consistently denied wrongdoing. They declined to comment Tuesday. Both World Cup host nations could claim victory though neither can be sure exactly in which direction prosecutors in Brooklyn and Bern will head next.

FIFA forced publication of the Garcia Report on a rest day at the Confederations Cup — the rehearsal tournament in Russia to test its readiness for the 2018 World Cup. "For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published," world football's governing body said in a statement.

Garcia's team found "no evidence" Russia's bid team or Vladimir Putin, then prime minister and now president, unduly influenced FIFA voters. In helping the United States' bid, then-President Barack Obama hosted a total of three FIFA voters at the White House in two separate visits. Former President Bill Clinton was lobbying voters in Zurich until hours before they gave Qatar a 14-8 win,

"Leaders of most, if not all, 2018 and 2022 bid nations spoke directly with FIFA Executive Committee members," Garcia noted. The then-Emir of Qatar was closely tied to his gas-rich nation's bid before he lifted the World Cup trophy in Zurich on voting day.

"There was one specific incident concerning 'government involvement' with the Qatar bid that did raise concerns," Garcia wrote of the Emir hosting South America's FIFA voters who flew by private jet to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

All three voters have since been identified in a U.S. justice department indictment for taking bribes from broadcast deals.

Lawyers Prepare To Defend Travelers To US At Airports

Map locates the countries included in Trump's travel ban; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;

NEW YORK (AP, JUNE 27, 2017) — When the Trump administration's travel ban takes partial effect this week, immigrant-rights lawyers plan to head to the nation's major airports to make sure eligible foreigners are able to get into the country.

But attorneys say few people are likely to be affected, and they don't expect a repeat of the mass confusion that resulted earlier this year when President Donald Trump rolled out his original ban on travel from a group of mostly Muslim countries.

"Our hope is unlike the chaos that previously occurred, there will be a much smoother and much less traumatic result," said Caitlin Bellis, an attorney at Public Counsel in Los Angeles. The Department of Homeland Security hasn't offered any guidance on how this week's Supreme Court ruling on the ban will be interpreted, so attorneys are preparing for anything and will monitor airports from Los Angeles to New York in case they are needed to assist foreigners held for questioning or denied entry by customs and border agents.

Advocates have a hotline and email addresses where relatives can seek help if family members get stuck. There's also an app that routes information about troubled travelers to lawyers monitoring the airports.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said it will hold a full hearing on the ban in October, but until then, the Trump administration can bar travelers from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia if they lack a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship" with someone or some institution in the U.S.

Immigration lawyers said they believe that visas already issued to travelers from the six countries will probably still be considered valid for entry into the U.S. But for those who are seeking a visa from here on in, there are many unknowns.

Exactly what constitutes a "bona fide relationship" could become a matter of dispute, though the justices suggested that a close family member such as a spouse or a mother-in-law, a job in the U.S., a speaking invitation or enrollment at a university could qualify. Others, such as would-be tourists or some scholars, could find themselves shut out.

The partial ban is expected to take effect Thursday. When Trump's earlier, broader ban was announced in January, travelers found themselves detained for hours and in some cases sent back, prompting large demonstrations outside airports and a flurry of lawsuits.

Trina Realmuto, litigation director for the National Lawyers Guild's national immigration project, said the government's guidance on how it plans to implement the order is key. Homeland Security said the order will be carried out "professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice."

Nicky Smith, executive director of the International Rescue Committee's Seattle office, said she worries about refugee children traveling to the U.S. for medical care. "If kids can't get into the country, some of the cases that we've had over the past few months, if they had been delayed by a week, they wouldn't have made it," she said.

At Dulles Airport outside Washington, lawyers are planning to be there to assist travelers as necessary and also show customs and border agents they are watching, said Sirine Shebaya, a board member with the Dulles Justice Coalition.

She said it's too early to know whether lawyers will be needed there long term. "One of the best ways to know that is just to be there," she said.

Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California. Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York and Matthew Barakat in McLean, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Mali Bishop Pledges To Make Cardinal's Ceremony Amid Scandal

TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2017 

Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Mali poses for a portrait in Bamako, Mali. After Pope Francis last month announced that Zerbo would become a cardinal, news reports surfaced that he and two other Mali bishops had Swiss bank accounts totaling 12 million euros ($13.5 million). Citing poor health Zerbo on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, canceled an interview with The Associated Press in Rome, but assured the Vatican he'll show up in St.Peter's Basilica for the ceremony next Wednesday, June 28.

ROME (AP) — An ailing Mali archbishop facing allegations of financial impropriety assured the Vatican on Tuesday he plans to show up at St. Peter's Basilica to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo "has confirmed his presence" at the Wednesday ceremony where Zerbo and four other churchmen will be elevated to cardinal's rank.

European media have speculated that Francis might not make Zerbo cardinal following reports that he and two other Mali bishops had opened Swiss bank accounts totaling 12 million euros ($13.5 million.)

Citing poor health, Zerbo canceled an interview with The Associated Press in Rome Tuesday. Zerbo, 73, arrived in Rome on Saturday from Paris, where he had undergone medical checks following intestinal surgery some time ago in Mali, according to aides.

Another Mali bishop who reportedly was one of the alleged bank account-holders, Jean-Gabriel Diarra, declined to explain the money's origins. In an interview at the same missionaries' residence in Rome near the Vatican where Zerbo was being hosted, Diarra declared: "We have nothing to hide."

"People say that we have hidden the money of the faithful in Switzerland," said Diarra, who heads the San diocese in Mali, one of Africa's most impoverished nations. "We can give an explanation for this, but for the moment we cannot talk about it to the press before explaining it to those who are entitled," he said.

The Vatican has not commented publicly on the reports in French daily Le Monde and other lay and religious publications that Zerbo, Diarra and another Mali prelate opened the Swiss accounts starting in 2002.

The reports were published in late May, shortly after the pope announced that Zerbo would become a cardinal. "It's true that it's a scandal, but when we give the explanations you will indeed see if yes, we, the Church of Mali, stole the money or not, put the money of the poor in a bank or not, and why it was done with this money," Diarra said.

"Someone will tell you all that -- is it (the money) for me? Is it for Zerbo? Someone will say all that, but they will tell it to the authorities, not you, the press here,' the bishop said. Diarra, who said he has known Zerbo since they were seminarians together, said the money came from Catholic faithful. He declined to reveal for what purposes the money might have been designated or used.

The scandal risks eclipsing some of Archbishop Zerbo's accomplishments that surely caught the eye of Pope Francis. Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority in Mali while Christians, most of them Catholics, are a tiny minority.

In a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Zerbo distinguished himself as a churchman working for social reconciliation — one of the pontiff's priorities. As Bamako's archbishop since 1998, he has played a role in peace negotiations.

Vatican officials, without commenting on the propriety of the Swiss accounts allegedly held by the Mali bishops, noted that it is common for the Catholic church institutions in unstable African nations to keep their funds in European banks. While many have accounts with the Vatican's own bank, they are not required to do so, the officials stressed.

Mali's president has lent his support to Zerbo. Analysts in Mali say there has been little political will to pursue a possible criminal investigation. The law concerning foreign transfers of money is also murky. While permissible by foreign companies operating in Mali, it is unclear how that would apply to church funds.

In Mali, there were mixed sentiments about the scandal swirling about the man who was chosen to be the country's first cardinal. "I met Zerbo a few years ago in Mopti," said Philippe Omore, a Catholic who is president of the Christian community in the northern town of Gao.

"He seemed loyal and sincere, but anything is possible in life. Ever since we heard this news, we pray every day to have all the truth about this story," Omore told the AP in Mali. Echoing Pope Francis' insistence that the church must clean up its own moral house first before preaching morality to others, Omore added, "If we really follow Christ, we must stop the financial scandals."

AP writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed to this report.

Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at

The Latest: Ukraine Security Expert Fears For 'Whole World'

A.P. Moller-Maersk containers on a ship in the Panama Canal. Hackers Tuesday June 27, 2017 caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard. Russia’s Rosneft energy company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, which said every branch of its business was affected. (Thomas Borberg/Polfoto via AP,file)

NEW YORK (AP, JUNE 27, 2017) — The Latest on a widespread cyberattack that is affecting companies and government systems (all times local): 3 p.m. The head of a top Ukranian cybersecurity firm says it's too early to say if his country was singled out as the prime target but that its institutions, long a target of Russian hackers, may have been compromised through attrition.

Victor Zhora, CEO of Infosafe IT in Kiev, says he believes the ransomware, which attacks Microsoft operating systems from Windows XP to Windows 10, was previously seeded and time-activated. "It seems the virus is spreading all over Europe and I'm afraid it can harm the whole world," he said. Zhora's firm did triage on a well-coordinated attack blamed on pro-Russian hackers that tried to thwart the country's May 2014 election.

Zhora said the current ransomware, which propagates across networks, demands $300 in Bitcoin. He says it's too early for official confirmation of the targets in Ukraine but local media are reporting ATMs and some gasoline distribution to filling stations have been affected.

Cyberattacks blamed on pro-Russia hackers have twice taken down sizeable portions of Ukraine's power grid.

2:30 p.m.

Security experts say Tuesday's cyberattack shares something in common with last month's WannaCry attack: Both spread by using digital break-in tools purportedly created by the U.S. National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.

Security vendors Bitdefender Labs and Kaspersky Labs say the NSA exploit, known as EternalBlue, is allowing the malware to spread inside an organization's network. Other than that, the latest malware is different from WannaCry.

Organizations should be protected if they had installed a fix that Microsoft issued in March.

But Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer at the security firm Veracode, says that's only the case if 100 percent of computers were patched. He says that if one computer gets infected, the new malware has a backup mechanism to spread to patched computers within the network as well.

Wysopal says the attack seems to be hitting large industrial companies that "typically have a hard time patching all of their machines because so many systems simply cannot have down time."

Organizations hit include the Russian oil company Rosneft and the Danish oil and shipping company AP Moller-Maersk.

2:15 p.m.

A hospital and health care system based in western Pennsylvania says it is dealing with a widespread cyberattack.

A spokeswoman for Heritage Valley Health System says the attack Tuesday is affecting the organization's entire health system and employees are working to ensure safe patient care continues.

Heritage Valley is a $480 million network that provides care for residents of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, in Pennsylvania; parts of eastern Ohio; and the panhandle of West Virginia.

It wasn't immediately clear if the cyberattack was related to the outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software that appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe Tuesday.

Also affected is New Jersey-based Merck, the second-largest drugmaker in the United States with extensive operations in the Philadelphia area.

Merck confirmed its computer network was "compromised" as part of the global attack.

(Previously datelined KIEV, Ukraine)

7:10 p.m.

The second-largest drugmaker in the United States is confirming it's been affected by a cyberattack.

In a message sent using its verified Twitter account, Merck confirmed Tuesday that its computer network was "compromised" as part of a global attack.

Officials said the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company was investigating the incident but provided no further details.

Merck has global locations including in Ukraine, where a new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software causing mass disruption across Europe appeared to be hitting especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down."

Dutch-based transport company TNT Express, which was taken over last year by FedEx, also said Tuesday that it is suffering computer disruptions. Spokesman Cyrille Gibot says that "like many other companies and institutions around the world, we are experiencing interference with some of our systems within the TNT network. We are assessing the situation and are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible and we regret any inconvenience to our customers." He declined further comment.

5:45 p.m.

Ukraine's prime minister says that a cyberattack affecting his country is "unprecedented," but "vital systems haven't been affected."

A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman also said on Facebook that "our IT experts are doing their job and protecting critical infrastructure ... The attack will be repelled and the perpetrators will be tracked down."

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down." Russia's Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

4:35 p.m.

Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported major disruption to the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia's Rosneft energy company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, which said every branch of its business was affected.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government's headquarters has been shut down.

There's very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made

Hackers Have Caused Widespread Disruption Across Europe, Hitting Ukraine Especially Bad

A flag files over the headquarters of shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk in Copenhagen, Denmark. Hackers Tuesday June 27, 2017 caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard. Russia’s Rosneft energy company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, which said every branch of its business was affected. (Jens Dresling/AP via Ritzau, File)

KIEV, UKRAINE (AP, JUNE 27, 2017) — The Latest on a widespread cyber attack that is affecting companies and government systems (all times local): 7:10 p.m. The second-largest drugmaker in the United States is confirming it's been affected by a cyber attack.

In a message sent using its verified Twitter account, Merck confirmed Tuesday that its computer network was "compromised" as part of a global attack. Officials said the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company was investigating the incident but provided no further details.

Merck has global locations including in Ukraine, where a new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software causing mass disruption across Europe appeared to be hitting especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down."

Dutch-based transport company TNT Express, which was taken over last year by FedEx, also said Tuesday that it is suffering computer disruptions. Spokesman Cyrille Gibot says that "like many other companies and institutions around the world, we are experiencing interference with some of our systems within the TNT network. We are assessing the situation and are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible and we regret any inconvenience to our customers." He declined further comment.

5:45 p.m.

Ukraine's prime minister says that a cyberattack affecting his country is "unprecedented," but "vital systems haven't been affected."

A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman also said on Facebook that "our IT experts are doing their job and protecting critical infrastructure ... The attack will be repelled and the perpetrators will be tracked down."

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, "the whole network is down." Russia's Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

4:35 p.m.

Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported major disruption to the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia's Rosneft energy company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, which said every branch of its business was affected.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government's headquarters has been shut down.

There's very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made.

Monday, June 26, 2017

World Food Prize Goes To African Development Bank President

JUNE 26, 2017

This undated photo provided by The World Food Prize Foundation shows Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank. (AP)

DES MOINES, IOWA (AP) - The son of a Nigerian farm laborer who rose out of poverty to earn graduate degrees in agricultural economics and spent his career improving the availability of seed, fertilizer and financing for African farmers is the winner of this year's World Food Prize announced Monday.

Akinwumi Adesina, president of African Development Bank, says the future of global food security relies on making farming in Africa a profitable business and developing local food processing that adds value to agricultural products to help move farmers out of poverty.

"I believe that what Africa does with agriculture and how it does it is not only important for Africa but it's important for how we're going to feed the world by 2050 because 65 percent of all the uncultivated arable land left in the world is in Africa," he said. "To help Africa get it right in agriculture is also going to be a key part of securing food for the world."

World Food Prize President Kenneth Quinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, said those goals are one reason the organization's board chose Adesina this year for the $250,000 prize.

An official announcement for the World Food Prize was expected to come in a ceremony Monday at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue hosting the event. Adesina will receive the prize in a ceremony Oct. 19 at the Iowa Capitol.

The World Food Prize was created by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986 to recognize scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food. The foundation that awards the prize is based in Des Moines, Iowa.

The award recognizes several of Adesina's accomplishments including:

-Negotiating a partnership between commercial banks and development organizations to provide loans to tens of thousands of farmers and agribusinesses in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique.

- Creating programs to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production and to help cassava become a major cash crop while serving as Nigeria's minister of agriculture from 2011 to 2015.

-Helping to end more than 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer and seed sectors in Nigeria by launching an electronic wallet system that directly provides farmers with vouchers redeemable for inputs using mobile phones. The resulting increased farm yields have led to the improvement of food security for 40 million people in rural farm households.

Adesina said it's vitally important to show young people in rural regions of Africa that farming can be profitable and can improve their lives as a way to stem terrorist recruitment efforts. He said high unemployment among young people, high or extreme poverty, and climate and environmental degradation all contribute to conditions in which terrorists thrive. He said these factors make up "the disaster triangle."

"Anywhere you find those you find terrorists operating. It never fails," he said.

Adesina grew up in poverty in a rural area of Nigeria and said his father and grandfather walked fields as laborers. After his father was chosen for a government job, Adesina was able to go to college. He earned agriculture economics degrees - both a master's and a doctorate - from Purdue University.

As a student, he said he saw that classmates were able to attend school when agriculture afforded them the opportunity, but they dropped out when it didn't. He said from that experience he learned making agriculture profitable so families can provide their children with an education was a key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

He said he often thinks of the hundreds of millions of young, rural African people whose opportunities are limited because of what is happening with agriculture.

"So in a way for me this is not a job," Adesina said. "This is a mission. And I believe that in getting agriculture to be a business - turning our rural areas from zones of economic misery to zones of economic opportunity - therein lies the future of Africa's youth, especially those rural youths."


Follow David Pitt on Twitter at

Nigeria’s Problems Started With Awo’s Introduction Of Tribal Politics — Unongo

JUNE 26, 2017

Elder statesman and nationalist, Dr. Paul Unongo, is one of the few surviving politicians who played key roles in all democratic dispensations and in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. In this interview, he speaks on the state of the nation, pin-pointing where we started losing our way and the path forward. Excerpts: 

What is your take on the state of the nation? 

I think Nigeria as an evolving society has done pretty well. We came as an amalgamation of different kinds of people into one state as many other countries have done including the US. In our case, our relatively revered father, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was the father of this nation and who believed very strongly in a form of government that is called Union Government because he believes that Africans could evolve, like Germany evolved under (Otto Von) Bismarck with all her numerous problems, and about 300 states, was able to bring them under the umbrella of one German nation. Dr. Azikiwe thought that he could replicate that.

His younger brother, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, came on the scene with a correct diagnosis, but people did not believe him. They called him a tribalist. They were wrong. Chief Awolowo said having watched the African systems and the European systems, later on, the form of togetherness which would give the component tribes legal, constitutional ability to express their uniqueness within a larger nation-state would be preferable, and he said that form of government, federalism, was good for Nigeria. But some of us ‘small small’ people formed our own organization to tell Britain that ‘you have divided Nigeria into three.’ Awolowo has spoken; Zik has spoken, and of course, Sir Ahmadu Bello has spoken. He said his people were not very ready for independence and that the process had to be gradual, pledging, however, to remain in Nigeria but that he would not hold the rest of the country back since they wanted independence as at 1956 while the North would be ready by 1959. There was a lot of wisdom in what they said. So, we the firebrand, the young people, we made our choices. People like me would pick the path of Nnamdi Azikiwe because we felt he was the Bismark of our time who was ready to unite everybody. So the three principal participants rejected co-federalism, rejected unionism and adopted Awolowo’s federalism, and we became the Federal Republic of Nigeria later on. Within that context, you can choose to evaluate Nigeria and ignore whatever is happening in this country now. I think Nigeria is in the process of evolving as a nation-state stressing residual powers in the regions.

 On where the problem started

 The problem is that after Azikiwe scored a fantastic victory in the Western House as a member of the House and his party was to form the government, the man who brought federalism as a form of governance reverted to the game we are playing in Nigeria today, which is tribalism,quite different from federalism. I just want people not to be too angry with themselves. Awolowo felt, as the strongman of the Yoruba, Azikiwe should not have won the election in his place, and he could not countenance an Igbo man coming to be the premier or the first minister or prime minister of a predominantly Yoruba place. Night came, and when day broke, Zik discovered his majority had collapsed. The Yoruba abandoned him and went to a strange person they did not know ideologically, that is Awolowo, on the basis of tribe. So, Zik was forced to rethink as an intelligent person, to relocate. He went back to his own part of the country to become the first Premier of Eastern Region. Some of us sprang up too, in going with Awolowo’s federalism, that the notion that there are only three tribes or sections in the country was so fundamentally defective that we called on the metropolitan power, Britain, to correct this before they would leave. So, we in the Middle Belt of Nigeria came together and decided that we would call ourselves ‘people in the middle’ and that we were not Hausa, we were not Fulani. At that time, we told Britain, Nigeria had over 250 tribes but that we could not dissect Nigeria into 250 nations. We told them that what has happened in Western Nigeria where an Igbo man was rejected…nobody questioned the fact as at then that Zik was the leader of Nigeria and then suddenly, having won victory, which would have been a great thing for Nigeria, in a predominantly Yoruba region, because the Yoruba were extremely sophisticated and they were the most developed part of Nigeria, and they voted on the basis of ideological orientation. Zik’s party produced a Zik premiership in Western Nigeria and in the night, Awolowo went round to convince the Yoruba that, ‘you are a tribe. Your tribe is called Yoruba. Zik’s tribe is called Igbo. Do not allow this to happen. Whether you like me or not, it is better to have a Yoruba man to rule over Yorubaland’. Unfortunately, I feel, this was the starting point of our problems. So, he succeeded, and Zik was forced to go to his own place to become a little tribal leader, which was never what he wanted. That man called Zik was responsible for the revolution in Ghana, and he started his revolutionary activities in America. Zik was very keen on having a United States of Africa. He wanted nations within each state, that could create supra-powerful goals around which political actions could be taken. So, we begged Britain to create a fourth region just to balance, because, within this fourth region that we perceived, we were not talking about religion because this region would have cut across the whole of the central part of Nigeria. It would have included the Nupe that were predominantly even Moslems; it would have included the Ebira, the Igala; it would have included some of the Yoruba, Benue-Plateau, etc., but we gave ourselves a title, Middle Belt, and we made very convincing arguments. I was the secretary to the leader of the UMBC, late Joseph Tarka, who people did not know, was only two and a half years older than me and I was very educated because I just came out from what you now call secondary school. So, I wrote our presentation for the London Constitutional Conference, and I knew we were committed to a fantastic nationalism.

 Nigeria hasn’t gone beyond its past leaders
 How far have we moved beyond our leaders in terms of development?

 Zero! We have not moved anywhere, and I am so sad. Today, the pursuit of other things rather than nationalism and patriotism have taken over. Whatever you say about our old leaders, they were patriotic. They saw a bigger picture of the nation that together we could do more in the economy, and that together we could command more respect in the international community. When people say the problem of Nigeria is that old men have not given an opportunity to the youth to rule, well, at the time of Awolowo, all the people that ruled were young people, and they did well. Gowon was only 29. Murtala was young. All the generals that ruled Nigeria were young. Why didn’t they become our Bismarck? Why didn’t they even become this young man in Ghana, Rawlings? That is why I have no sympathy for people who do not bend down and analyse the problem correctly. People believe if my tribesman is the president of Nigeria, then I am president. The Yoruba man who thought like that, where has Obasanjo taken him? In this regard, I still haven’t found out why education hasn’t helped us, but I think that regarding what Nigeria ought to have been, 60 years after independence, it is an insult on some of us that we are still talking about Nigeria’s potentials. We haven’t managed the influx of foreign herdsmen well In terms of numbers, Nigeria has grown because at the time of independence, Nigeria was about 29 million or there abouts, today anybody that tells you we are less than 200 million is not realistic. And when you add the porosity of our borders… I have never seen a country where people enter so easily, where some people can just run from Chad with 200,000 herds of cattle, not being Nigerians, they destroy the system, and nothing happens. And the reason nothing happens is that someone would say they are Fulani. Okay, are they Nigerians? No. So, why didn’t the armed forces do their job? They would say, oh, we have the ECOWAS Protocol on freedom of movement. So, you have freedom of movement of cows? Look at the problems they are causing in Nigeria now. Nigerians are likely to go and fight themselves now because of the hundreds of thousands of cows that come from Chad. Nobody charges anything at the point of entry, and these people don’t know how we have been living in this country together. They go and spoil people’s farms, and they come with weapons to kill people. You can see the security challenges that these people are causing and then people come out and say they are not Nigerians and these are big people that have Ph.Ds. Don’t we have a government? How did they manage to get into this country? And then others would start speculating that they came into the country to help the Fulani take over this country. Then the governor of Ekiti appears to have all the answers. Then you say they have constitutional rights, but you said they are not Nigerians. Do they have constitutional rights in Nigeria to free movement? What about the Fulani of those days that used to live side by side with our peasant farmers and if a mistake was made, there were settlements. These people that are coming now are contesting for land. We were reluctant to tame Boko Haram until they started taking chunks of Nigeria’s territory.

 Awolowo died a long time ago. Why are we still stuck with tribalism? Don’t you think the 1966 Coup was also responsible for our problems?

 No. It was only an addition. It was a second factor. The first factor was stopping the victory of Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the Western House. He won and was stopped only because he was an Igbo man, and there was no other thing. We must read history correctly. Then, the military coup, what destroyed it, even if the boy’s (Kaduna Nzeogu) thinking was correct, the aftermath of the coup revealed exactly what I am talking about now. There was selective killing of only the political and military leadership from the north and few Yoruba Because majority of the Tiv people are soldiers and participated, the arrangement of Chukwuma Nzeogu was that they should kill the Igbo political leadership, and the young man, Ifeajuna and the rest of them who were sent to carry out this, became more tribalistic and more concerned and in league with their political leadership that were in the federal government, and they spared the Igbo leadership. That was what spoilt the coup. 

Tiv short-changed in the APC Administration 

Till today, I believe in the north; the concept I have been championing, to stabilize Nigeria’s politics. I am a Tiv man, and by the tradition of most Africans, your lineage is patrilineal. I believe the Tiv people have had a raw deal in all governments in Nigeria, including the Fulani government, as you people call it, that I helped to bring. The Tiv people form the majority of people in Taraba State, in Benue, in Nasarawa and they had a sitting PDP government, the boy we loved, and when we decided to change government for Buhari, we did not think about his tribe. This is our brother; we felt the north had been short-changed. We didn’t care about PDP. Jonathan was PDP, and we said we were going to remove him. ‘Our boy is the governor in the PDP. Our house is PDP. We are going to destroy all that’, and we did. And the only section in Benue that rejected this concept was Idoma. When we came to political patronage, the most important plum job was that of minister. When they came to appoint ministers in this government that we voted massively, and the Idoma didn’t vote, Mr. President and the government of APC went and picked a minority tribe, which is good, that didn’t vote and also proved to him that they didn’t vote for him when there was a court case, and a rerun election was ordered, and they still went ahead to vote in the PDP. They didn’t make a Tiv man a minister. They wanted to agitate, and I said no, you cannot be so tribalistic. I said we could talk to this man (Buhari) privately. So, I went and talked to him. I said in reality we live with in Nigeria, this type of thing will evoke negative reactions. The people voted out their own PDP government. They also voted out Jonathan who they had voted massively for in the first term. And when sharing patronage, they were not given ministerial slot, why? 

So, was that why the President had to divide the nation into 97 percent and 5 percent rather than trying to unify the whole nation?

 Well, we gave him 100 percent. Buhari was only talking like a politician. I know what he did in reality. If I were the president of Nigeria, the whole of the South-East did not vote for me except the people of Imo where their son retained the governorship, and the people voted for him. Just because of that person, I will balance the equation and give credence to those votes as a politician. Buhari is a statesman. You may not have been seeing him in that light because people already have a biased opinion of him. As far as they were concerned, he is a Fulani man, and Fulani people want to dominate the country. Buhari didn’t come to dominate anywhere. The man had an agenda. He said he wanted to root out corruption. My diagnosis of Nigeria’s problem is this rampant corruption with impunity. 

Has Buhari succeeded in doing that?

That is not a fair question. Has anybody in Nigeria as a whole done so much to attack corruption in the last two years as Buhari has done? He has succeeded relatively. 

But he said he would focus on three things – Corruption, security, and unemployment…

 Okay, I am saying he has super-succeeded.

 In two years?

 He did not say in two years. Buhari has been in power for only two years.

 Yes? And I want you to assess his performance in two years.

 Buhari has completely decapitated the most potent, the most threatening security challenge in Nigeria. That challenge took Nigerian territory, and the government of Nigeria could not do anything about it for six solid years. Buhari in the so-called two years has decimated them. He reduced them to mere guerilla fighters. They no longer have territories. Nobody has ever done that. Nigerians must learn to say the truth and give rewards. He has achieved.

London's Fire Symptomatic Of Larger Safety Issues Globally

Workers remove cladding from Whitebeam Court, in Pendleton, Manchester, Monday June 26, 2017. The list of high-rise apartment towers in Britain that have failed fire safety tests grew to 60, officials said Sunday, revealing the mounting challenge the government faces in the aftermath of London's Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP, JUNE 26, 2017) — The deaths of 79 people in a London apartment tower have triggered emergency inspections, evacuations and soul searching among British officials who failed to prevent the tragedy. But fire-safety experts say governments and builders around the world should take notice, because the fire at Grenfell Tower is just the latest in a string of deadly blazes that demonstrate how building regulations have failed to keep up with changing materials and cuts in inspections and oversight mean problems aren't spotted until it is too late.

The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, made headlines in December, when 36 people were killed in a warehouse that had been illegally converted into living spaces and a music venue. In September, 33 people died in a fire at a packaging plant in Bangladesh.

"They are a collective example of how, either intentionally or accidentally, the fire prevention and protection system has been broken," said Jim Pauley, president of the National Fire Protection Association, which develops fire codes used in the U.S. and around the world. "A system that the public believes exists and counts on for their safety — through complacency, bad policy and placing the economics of construction over safety — has let them down."

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire shows that the faults that led to the disaster are not isolated. The government is scrambling to test panels similar to those used at Grenfell Tower, and has found at least 60 buildings covered in similarly flammable material. Thousands of people have been evacuated from four high-rises in north London after inspectors found fire-safety problems, including faulty fire doors. The city of Birmingham has decided to install sprinklers in all its public housing towers — four years after coroners investigating deadly fires suggested this be done throughout the country.

John Bonney, a former chief officer for the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, regrets that it took a disaster to trigger action. Seven years ago, Bonney vowed to improve conditions after two of his firefighters died in a blaze in a high-rise apartment building in Southampton.

"I call it tombstone legislation — it appears after significant losses of life," Bonney said. The residents of Grenfell Tower didn't realize the danger they faced when they went to bed June 13. A fire that started in a refrigerator just after midnight quickly spread throughout the 24-story tower. As firefighters arrived, flames were shooting up the outside of the building, trapping residents inside.

"How is that even possible?!" one incredulous firefighter asked in a cell-phone video captured as his engine approached the tower. While the investigation is still underway, fire experts believe part of the answer may be the aluminum composite material recently attached to the outside of the building.

The material, essentially two thin sheets of aluminum around a layer of insulation, has been used for decades, but its popularity has grown in recent years because it offers a relatively inexpensive way to save energy and beautify buildings.

Experts have warned about risks posed by the panels for years because some varieties use highly flammable plastic foam insulation, which can rapidly spread fires once it ignites, as previously seen in Australia, China and Dubai. Even panels rated fire-resistant can be dangerous if they aren't properly installed.

Bonney argues that rules aren't strict enough and that efforts to tighten fire-safety rules have been stymied by the government's drive to reduce the burden of regulation on business. "The U.K. has prided itself with having a good fire protection record, so why has that happened?" said Bonney. "One of the reasons is the technology that is now being used in building materials and building fabrics has outstripped the codes and standards in practice."

And the rules that do exist can't be effective if they aren't enforced. Government statistics show that the number of fire-safety inspections in England dropped by 25 percent from 2011 to 2016. Some 367 people died in fires across the U.K. last year, up 12 percent from two years earlier but still down from the 407 recorded in 2011.

That came as Conservative-led governments reduced funding for fire departments by 30 percent, cutting 10,000 firefighting jobs across the country, according to the Fire Brigades Union. The party has overseen seven years of austerity as it seeks to reduce Britain's debts following the global financial crisis.

Residents of Grenfell Tower complained about fire-safety concerns for at least four years prior to the disaster. The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations International issued a broad warning after the Grenfell Tower fire that says those who design and build structures should embrace fire protection as a fundamental consideration in their work, even in the absence of strong governmental oversight. The group includes fire-safety officials from 28 countries, including China, India and South Africa, as well as the U.S. and most European nations.

But relying on voluntary commitment to reduce fire risks may not be enough, particularly when all sides involved in a project, from private contractors to local authorities, are trying to limit costs.

For example, among the issues facing Britain is whether to require older high-rise apartment buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers. Grenfell Tower, completed in 1974, didn't have sprinklers. Four years ago, the coroner investigating the fire that killed Bonney's firefighters recommended that local housing agencies install sprinklers in all buildings over 30 meters (98 feet) in height. A few months later, another coroner echoed that suggestion, but the government didn't mandate such action.

The Cheshire Fire Authority commissioned a study showing that retrofitting buildings with sprinklers would save lives and be relatively cheap, costing 800-1,700 pounds per apartment. "In the absence of legislation, persuasion alone has proven an ineffective route to securing sprinkler adoption, and despite campaigning by fire and rescue services nationally, change to legislation continues to be ruled out by decision makers who see this as an added burden on business," the agency said in a 2013 report.

Angela Eagle, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, laid the blame for fire-safety lapses at the feet of Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party. "As the leader of a party which is responsible for seven years of austerity . and the leader of a party that has spent its time talking about regulation as a bad thing, is she now going to apologize to the country for the state of local government when the richest borough in London couldn't cope with this emergency?" Eagle asked after May updated lawmakers on the disaster.

The squeeze on resources isn't just happening in Britain. Inflation adjusted spending on local fire protection in the United States fell 4.7 percent from 2010 to 2014 as the population rose 3 percent, according to the NFPA. The number of professional firefighters is down 2.5 percent from its peak in 2013.

And around the globe, high-rise buildings are popping up in developing countries that have historically had far fewer fire-safety regulations and fewer firefighting resources. Donald Bliss, vice president of field operations for the NFPA, who warned last year that exterior cladding was likely to result in a deadly fire, underscored that materials like those blamed for the Grenfell disaster aren't the only issue.

"When it comes to high-rise buildings the fact that you may be putting large numbers of people at risk means the high rise must have sophisticated fire protection systems and building components in place," said Bliss. "If you don't do that, there will be consequences.

"It means people will die."

Trump Eager For Big Meeting With Putin; Some Advisers Wary

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month.

WASHINGTON (AP, JUNE 26, 2017) — President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time — and interact only with great caution. But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He's calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.

Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal "pull-aside" on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold "strategic stability talks," which typically don't involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions.

The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump's eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.

Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that "the protocol side of it is secondary." The two leaders will be attending the same event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so "in any case there will be a chance to meet." Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering out the details of the meeting has been made yet.

There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict.

There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as "wholly appropriate."

In addition, many observers warn that Putin is not to be trusted. Oleg Kalugin, a former general with Russia's main security agency, known as the KGB, said Putin, a shrewd and experienced politician, has "other priorities" than discussing the accusations that Russia hacked the U.S. election with Trump, such as easing sanctions, raising oil prices, as well as next year's presidential elections in Russia.

"Putin knows how to redirect a conversation in his favor," Kalugin said. Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian affairs professor at the New School, said Trump is in an "impossible position." "He can't be too nice to Putin because it's going to be interpreted in a way that suggests he has a special relationship with Russia," she said. "He can't be too mean because Putin has long arms and KGB thinking. So Trump needs to have a good relationship with him but he also needs to fulfill his campaign promises of establishing better relations with Russia."

The White House said no final decision has been made about whether a meeting will take place. It did not respond to questions about the opposing views within the administration. Bilateral meetings are common during summits like the G20, where many world leaders and their advisers are gathered in one place. The meetings are typically highly choreographed affairs, with everything from the way the two leaders shake hands to the looks that they exchange and the actual words spoken offering glimpses into the state of affairs.

The last U.S.-Russia bilateral meeting was a 2015 encounter between Putin and President Barack Obama that began with an awkward handshake and ended with progress on the brutal civil war in Syria. That 2015 meeting, the first in two years, involved a 90-minute sit-down at U.N. headquarters. Putin and U.S. officials later said the two leaders had made progress on issues related to Syria, which had strained their already tense relationship. For the Obama administration, cautious engagement was the name of the game, with the U.S. working tirelessly to find middle ground with Moscow on Syria, Ukraine and other issues.

The disconnect between Trump and his advisers in the State Department and National Security Council over Russia runs deeper than the debate over a G20 bilateral. A former administration official who spoke anonymously to discuss classified information said that frustration is growing among foreign policy advisers over the failure of the White House to embrace a more cautious and critical approach to Russia. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind last year's hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.

Trump has to directly "say to Putin, 'We're not happy about you interfering in our election,'" said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. "If you don't say that, you are going to get hammered by the press and Congress and you can guarantee Congress will pass sanctions legislation against Russia."

"They also need to keep their expectations very, very modest," added Pifer. "If they aim for a homerun in Hamburg, my guess is they'll strike out."

Friday, June 23, 2017

EU Leaders Boost Support For Libya To Halt Migrant Exodus

Men sit on the deck of the Golfo Azzurro rescue vessel after being rescued by members of the Spanish ONG Open Arms on the mediterranean sea, at 20 miles north of Zuwarah, Libya, on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

BRUSSELS (AP, JUNE 23, 2017) — European Union leaders pledged Friday to boost their support for conflict-ravaged Libya as the number of people fleeing Africa on crowded, unsafe boats for better lives in Europe continues to rise.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the central Mediterranean Sea route to Italy for unauthorized migrants "remains critical in terms of irregular arrivals." "While it is true that we are taking many of the right steps, the only result that really matters to us is to put a definitive end to this tragic situation," Tusk said on the second day of two-day EU summit in Brussels,.

To help prevent people from setting out for Europe in unseaworthy boats, the leaders committed to step up their backing of the Libyan coast guard by providing more training and equipment. The United Nation's migration agency estimates that around 70,000 people have arrived in Italy from Libya so far this year, compared with around 56,000 during the same period last year. Almost 1,900 have died trying to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing in 2017.

"Loss of life and continuing migratory flows of primarily economic migrants on the Central Mediterranean route is a structural challenge and remains an issue of urgent and serious concern," the leaders said in their final summit statement.

"The EU and its member states will have to restore control to avoid a worsening humanitarian crisis." But human rights group Amnesty International says Libya's coast guard is returning the people it plucks from the sea to a country where they face detention and possibly torture or rape.

EU leaders "are increasing the capacity of the Libyan coast guard while turning a blind eye to the inherent, grave, risks of such cooperation," Iverna McGowan, head of Amnesty's European office, said.

Libya is also appealing for help to secure its porous southern border, which is some 4,000 kilometers (2,500) miles long. The leader of Libya's unity government, Fayez Sarraj, has been in Brussels lobbying the Europeans and the NATO military alliance for help and money.

"As the number of migrants rises, the economic and social fabric of southern Libya is placed under very significant strain," he told reporters on Wednesday. EU leaders, meanwhile, want to replicate with Libya a migration-deterrence deal it has with Turkey. Despite legal and human rights concerns about the EU-Turkey agreement, it has reduced drastically the number of people crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece.

French President Emmanuel Macron said "the crisis that we are living is not a passing crisis. It's a long-term challenge which will find its response only in the solutions in Africa," notably in "stabilizing the Libyan borders."

But Amnesty's McGowan warned that "EU leaders need to urgently stop externalizing border control and asylum processing to foreign governments - including some with appalling human rights records."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Russia Cancels Diplomatic Meeting In Wake Of US Sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, walks past an honour guard before a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Michel Temer at the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP, JUNE 22, 2017) — The Kremlin voiced displeasure Wednesday about new United States sanctions against Russia and called off much-anticipated talks with a senior U.S administration official in response. The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it had imposed sanctions on 38 Russian individuals and firms over Russian activities in Ukraine. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the penalties were designed to "maintain pressure on Russia to work toward a diplomatic solution."

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Wednesday that the U.S. move wasn't constructive and warned of possible retaliation. Later in the day, Russia's deputy foreign minister said he had cancelled talks that were scheduled for Friday with the U.S. undersecretary of state.

"The situation is not conducive to holding a round of this dialogue", the Russian Foreign Ministry quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying. Ryabkov also criticized the U.S. for "not having offered and not offering anything specific" to discuss at the upcoming talks.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States regretted Russia's decision to "turn away" from a chance to discuss obstacles in the U.S.-Russia relationship, but added that the U.S. remains open to negotiations with Russia.

Nauert also said the sanctions that were expanded on Tuesday "didn't come out of nowhere" and would remain in place until Russia honors the peace deal for eastern Ukraine and stops occupying Crimea. Russia-U.S. relations have remained tense even as the White House considers scheduling President Donald Trump's meeting with Putin on the sidelines of next month's Group of 20 meeting.

Peskov on Wednesday reaffirmed the possibility of such a meeting, but said that no preparations had been made yet.

South African Court Rules In Secret Ballot Case Against Zuma

South African President Jacob Zuma attends a May Day rally in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where he was jeered by labor unionists. The Constitutional Court ruled Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Johannesburg, that a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Zuma could be by secret ballot, saying it is up to the speaker of parliament to decide.

JOHANNESBURG (AP, JUNE 22, 2017) — South Africa's highest court says it is up to the speaker of parliament to decide whether a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma can be done by secret ballot. Opposition parties had wanted a secret ballot in the belief that disgruntled lawmakers in the ruling party could turn against Zuma if their votes are not publicly disclosed and they have less fear of reprisals from their own party.

However, the Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete, a ruling African National Congress member and Zuma ally, can decide on a secret vote. The court says the constitution is "silent" on the matter.

Zuma has faced calls for his resignation even from within the ruling party because of scandals involving alleged corruption and mismanagement.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Trump, New Saudi Crown Prince Vow To Ease Tension With Qatar

SPA, Saudi King Salman, right, and Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wave as they leave the hall after talks with the British prime minister, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman has put his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, next in line to take over the oil-rich kingdom with a royal decree Wednesday. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP, JUNE 21, 2017) — President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia's new crown prince Wednesday as the U.S. stepped up efforts to mediate a crisis between Qatar and America's closest regional allies. The president called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Saudi Arabia's King Salman appointed his 31-year-old son as crown prince. The elevation places Mohammed bin Salman as first-in-line to the throne and removed the country's counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the line of succession.

The White House said in a statement that the two leaders expressed their shared commitment to "cutting off all support for terrorists and extremists, as well as how to resolve the ongoing dispute with Qatar."

Several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, recently cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of funding extremism. Trump injected the U.S. into the volatile crisis among America's Mideast allies, siding with Saudi Arabia and other countries against Qatar.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have prepared a list of demands to submit to Qatar in an effort to defuse ongoing tensions.

"We hope the list of demands will soon be presented to Qatar and will be reasonable and actionable," Tillerson said in a statement. "We support the Kuwaiti mediation effort and look forward to this matter moving toward a resolution."

The dispute threatens to disrupt efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and counter Iran. Earlier this month, Trump appeared to endorse the accusation that the small, gas-rich emirate funds terrorist groups, a serious allegation against a strategic U.S. partner that hosts a base with some 10,000 American troops.

He tweeted that he'd told the kings, presidents and prime ministers he met in Saudi Arabia that funding "Radical Ideology" can't be tolerated, and "Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!" Trump also sought to cast the anti-Qatar action led by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates as the result of his trip last month to Riyadh, where he pressed leaders from dozens of Arab and Muslim governments, including Qatar's emir, to combat extremism.

Trump and Salman also discussed efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, was in Israel Wednesday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in his attempt to revive long-dormant peace talks.

Trump has been working to thaw the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which had setbacks under the Obama administration over its nuclear deal with Iran, something Trump has staunchly condemned. The kingdom was the first stop on Trump's maiden overseas trip as president, making him the first U.S. president to make a Muslim country the destination of his first official trip.

Mohammed bin Salman and Trump have already established a working rapport, the two men meeting in Washington earlier this year, and then again during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia last month.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Report Blames South Sudan Military For Civilian Deaths

Elizabeth Adwok, left, an ethnic Shilluk who arrived with her seven children in April after having been forcefully displaced from her home three times since South Sudan's conflict began, cooks sorghum in her small hut in the village of Aburoc, South Sudan where she lives with other displaced people. A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee.

ABUROC, SOUTH SUDAN (AP, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 2017) — Albin Koolekheh watched his 4-year-old son die in his arms. He and his family were among tens of thousands of people who escaped a wave of fighting in South Sudan's civil war, only to find themselves living in a filthy camp near the border with Sudan.

A new report by Amnesty International says South Sudanese forces burned, shelled and ransacked homes between January and May, killing civilians and forcing thousands like Koolekheh from the Shilluk ethnic minority to flee.

"Even considering South Sudan's history of ethnic hostility," the mass displacement was shocking, the report says. As South Sudan faces its fourth year of civil war, the fighting shows no signs of ending. Both government and opposition forces have been accused of war crimes including mass rape and targeted killings, while the United Nations warns of ethnic violence. While the focus has been on ethnic tensions between the Dinka of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer of rebel leader Riek Machar, the new report highlights the threat to others caught in the crossfire.

When government troops attacked his hometown of Wau Shilluk in January, Koolekheh grabbed his wife and three children and left. After a day of walking through the bush, his youngest son fell sick. With no food or water, the boy died on the side of the road.

"Bullets, guns, screaming, it was everywhere," the weary 32-year-old father told The Associated Press this week. "This violence is known to the world. But what is everyone doing about it?" Now Koolekheh crouches on the dirt floor in the back room of a small shop, scrubbing metal bowls with a rag, his eyes fixed on the floor.

He and his family are sheltering in Aburoc, an ad hoc displaced person's camp. At the peak of the fighting, 25,000 people were living in this bleak shantytown. Now roughly 10,000 remain, the rest gone to Sudan or nearby villages.

Makeshift houses with plastic roofs are scattered across muddy fields. Food is scarce and disease is rife. A cholera outbreak threatened the population in May. Yet many have no choice but to call this town home. This is their third or fourth attempt at finding refuge in less than six months after being uprooted over and over by violence.

Satellite imagery collected by Amnesty International shows the destruction of homes and other civilian buildings, including a temple, in the central areas of Wau Shilluk. The group's report says government troops often deliberately killed civilians, shooting them in the back when they tried to flee.

"These accounts are unfounded," said a South Sudan military spokesman, Col. Santo Domic Chol. He said it isn't within the military's mandate to kill civilians and chase them from their homes. Yet stories abound of families fleeing for their lives.

When government forces attacked the nearby opposition-held town of Kodok three months ago, Victoria Adhong said she fled and will never go back. Although Aburoc is currently peaceful, Adhong, the acting governor of Fashoda state, said it's hard to feel safe when the "enemy's next door."

Another of the displaced, Elizabeth Adwok, said she fled Kodok with her seven children amid gunfire. They arrived in Aburoc in April and have struggled to find food, with little in the market and prices high.

"We're not here because we like it," Adwok said. "But we have nothing." The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few organizations with a presence in Aburoc, warned that with the onset of the rainy season things will only get worse.

"Access to food, water and health care is extremely limited," said Matthieu Desselas, head of the office in Kodok. But for the thousands of civilians already so far from their homes, this town is their last hope.

"It's the only place left for me in South Sudan," Koolekheh said. "I'll stay here until there's peace."

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Latest: 6 Central Europe Nations Sow Unity On Migration

A woman from Nigeria receives a pair of shoes from Italian aid workers, as she leaves the Golfo Azzurro rescue vessel upon their arrival at the port of Pozzallo, south of Sicily, Italy, with hundreds of migrants aboard, rescued by members of Proactive Open Arms NGO, on Saturday, June 17, 2017. A Spanish aid organization rescued more than 600 migrants who were attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in packed boats from Libya.

WARSAW, POLAND (AP, JUNE 19, 2017) — The Latest on Europe migration issues (all times local): 4 p.m. Defense officials of six Central European countries and the Balkans have pledged close cooperation in tackling migration with all possible means including use of armed forces.

The countries — Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia — have created a grouping called the Central European Defense Cooperation and want to be a role model for the entire European Union.

Among the group's goals is that all migrants who want to apply for asylum in EU countries have to do it in centers outside the bloc. Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said after a meeting in Prague on Monday that his country has been preparing a detailed action plan of cooperation for the six whose military forces will train in a joint drill in next few months.

1 p.m.

Poland's prime minister says that heavily-criticized remarks she made last week at Auschwitz weren't about refugees as many people assumed.

Beata Szydlo told the wPolityce website Monday that the comments "in no way referred to the issue of migration" and that "this was not even the context."

Szydlo said last week during a memorial observance at Auschwitz that "in today's restless times, Auschwitz is a great lesson showing that everything must be done to protect the safety and life of one's citizens."

The comments were widely understood as a defense of her conservative government's refusal to accept refugees as part of a European Union resettlement plan.

That position prompted the European Commission to launc

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pope: Learning From Refugees' Hopes And Pain Dissolves Fear

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he prepares to recite the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 18, 2017.

VATICAN CITY (AP, JUNE 18, 2017) — Pope Francis is calling for the faithful to not only welcome refugees, but to personally learn from their stories as a way to curb fears and "distorted" ideologies about them. Francis made the appeal Sunday as he marked the U.N.'s World Day of Refugees, which will be celebrated on Tuesday.

Speaking from his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, Francis prayed for all those who have lost their lives fleeing war and persecution. He said their stories of pain and hope are actually an opportunity for reciprocal understanding.

He said: "In reality, personal meetings with refugees can dissolve fears and distorted ideologies and become paths for growth in humanity." Francis' four-year papacy has been marked by his profound solidarity with refugees and demand that countries build bridges of welcome, not walls.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Merkel: Pope Wants Her To Fight To Save Paris Climate Deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by her husband Joachim Sauer, left, are welcomed by Vatican Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, upon their arrival at the San Damaso courtyard ahead of their private audience with Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Saturday, June 17, 2017.

VATICAN CITY (AP, JUNE 17, 2017) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Pope Francis encouraged her to work to preserve the historic Paris climate accord despite the U.S. withdrawal from it and shared her goal to "bring down walls" between countries, not build them.

Merkel and Francis met for about 40 minutes Saturday in the Apostolic Palace, focusing on the Group of 20 summit that Germany is hosting in Hamburg on July 7-8. The Vatican said the talks centered on the need for the international community to combat poverty, hunger, terrorism and climate change.

Merkel told reporters she briefed the pope on Germany's G-20 agenda, which she said "assumes that we are a world in which we want to work together multilaterally, a world in which we don't want to build walls but bring down walls."

Francis has consistently called on nations to build bridges not walls — including in reference to the border wall that the Trump administration wants to build along the U.S. border with Mexico. Merkel said Francis encouraged her to fight for international agreements, including the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to curb heat-trapping emissions.

"We know that, regrettably, the United States is leaving this accord," Merkel said. As he did when President Donald Trump visited last month, Francis gave Merkel a copy of his environmental encyclical, "Praise Be," which casts fighting climate change and caring for the environment as an urgent moral obligation.

Francis issued the encyclical ahead of the Paris climate deal in hopes of urging a global consensus on the need to change "perverse" development models that he said had enriched the wealthy at the expense of the poor and turned God's creation into an "immense pile of filth."

Francis appeared in unusually good cheer Saturday during the meeting, smiling broadly and laughing during both the formal portrait and the casual banter with Merkel. In contrast, Francis often looks glum during many formal state visits, including when Trump and his family visited.

The audience began with Francis expressing his condolences over the death of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In his formal note, Francis called Kohl a "great statesman and convinced European" who worked tirelessly for the unity of his homeland and the European continent.

Francis said he was praying that the Lord gives Kohl "the gift of eternal joy and life in heaven."

Putin: New Sanctions Will 'Complicate' Russia-US Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 16, 2017. The meeting was focused on the Russian military's claim that it had killed the Islamic State group's leader in an airstrike in Syria. (Alexei Druzhinin/Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP, JUNE 17, 2017) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that new U.S. sanctions on Russia will damage ties between the two countries. Putin said Saturday that "it will of course complicate the Russian-American relationship," according to an interview reported Saturday by the TASS news agency. The Russian leader said it was too early to speak about a possible response.

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election. The bill, which passed 98-2, targets Russian individuals accused of corruption and key sectors of the Russian economy.

Putin said that Russia would be forced to make changes because of the sanctions, but they wouldn't lead to a "collapse." The penalties have been criticized by Austria and Germany for promoting U.S. economic interests.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New French revolution? Novices Set To Take Over Parliament

A woman walks past electoral posters displaying posters of the parliamentary elections in Paris, France. French President Emmanuel Macron's 14-month-old party is set to win a huge majority in parliamentary elections Sunday, meeting one of his most emblematic campaign promises: bringing new faces into politics. A village schoolteacher, a farmer, a math genius, a female bullfighter.

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron's 14-month-old party appears set to win a huge majority in parliamentary elections Sunday, meeting one of his most emblematic campaign promises: to bring new faces into politics.

While some worry that the new National Assembly will be full of people whose only common ideology is loyalty to the pro-business, pro-European president, many voters seem excited about Macron's promise to renew France's political landscape.

"We cannot do worse" than past legislators, farmer and candidate Jean-Baptiste Moreau told The Associated Press, "and I even think we're going to do better." "For 30 years there were full of very experienced people, and we cannot say it's a great success," said Moreau, a 40-year-old from the Creuse region in central France who has a good chance to win his race Sunday as a member of Macron's movement, The Republic on the Move!

On Sunday, 513 candidates will compete under the party banner for the 577 seats in the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, in the second round of the two-part legislative elections. Two others were already elected outright in the first round.

Half are women, many candidates are young, and they are often unknown to most of the voters in their districts. Observers stressed that Macron's success, and the low turnout rate of less than 50 percent last Sunday, show the disaffection of French voters from traditional politics.

Mireille Robert, 55, heads a primary school in a village in the Aude region, in southwestern France. She decided to get into politics under Macron's banner and was chosen among 19,000 people who applied to seek a legislative seat.

She expressed surprise at her first position in the first round, 10 points ahead of Socialist rival in a district that had voted for the left for decades. "It all went so fast," she said in a phone interview this week, just after getting pupils into school. "I live day by day."

French voters "want to see people that look like them at National Assembly," she said. Robert is not worried about her lack of political experience if she's elected Sunday. "Unlike old politicians, our daily life is complicated ... Everyday, we must adapt, we are facing concerns, problems, and we make it work, we overcome them. So there's no reason why we couldn't do the job," she said.

Robert compared the situation to 1789 French Revolution when the people's representatives came to Paris. She feels as if living "something very strong, probably historic, and we're going to take part in it."

Farmer Moreau said his decision to run for parliament has already changed his life. He travelled 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles) in a month to campaign, didn't see much of his family, and now plans to hire a manager to take care of his farm if he's elected.

Another supporter of Macron, Laetitia Avia, a 31-year-old lawyer, won almost 40 percent of the votes in her Paris district last Sunday, eliminating from the race a well-known Socialist contender who used to be vice president of the National Assembly.

She said the government should be aware that new lawmakers won't just follow ministers' voting instructions; they intend to debate the laws. "Yes we have character, yes we have ideas, yes we're going to challenge the government. That's also the role of the lawmakers to monitor government action," she said on France Info radio.

Macron's movement was comfortably leading after last Sunday's first round, with more than 32 percent of the vote. Pollsters estimate The Republic on the Move! could end up with as many as 450 seats. Candidates from the conservative party, The Republicans, are expected to form the largest opposition group, with about 70 to 110 seats. Others parties will share the rest.

The Socialists, who dominated the outgoing Assembly, could win as few as 20 seats, probably just slightly more than the far-left. The far-right National Front should get a few seats — up from only two under previous term — including one for its leader, Marine Le Pen, competing in Henin-Beaumont in northern France.

Macron plans to use his expected majority to start passing a string of laws as soon as the new parliamentary session opens on June 27. The government will present a bill to make some extraordinary security measures permanent beyond the end of the state of emergency that has been in place since 2015 attacks in Paris.

Another bill aims at introducing more ethics into politics after years of corruption scandals. The most sensitive measure is a pro-free-market labor reform that would notably ease hiring and firing has already prompted criticism from unions. The government wants to push it through a special procedure at parliament that goes faster and doesn't allow lawmakers to amend the text, with the aim of implementing it by the end of the year.

All bills have to pass through both houses of parliament, with the National Assembly having the final word over the Senate, currently led by a conservative majority.