Row over Putin’s attendance at Austria minister’s wedding

Austria's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl addresses the media before a two-day cabinet meeting in Seggau, Austria, in this January 5, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 August 2018
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Row over Putin’s attendance at Austria minister’s wedding

  • The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine
  • Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening

VIENNA: The expected attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin at Saturday’s wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl sparked a row Friday over whether the visit was appropriate.
“How is Austria’s presidency of the EU meant to live up to the government’s own claims of building bridges (between the EU and Russia) and being an honest broker, when Austria’s foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?” asked MP Andreas Schieder of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe).
SPOe MEP Evelyn Regner said the invite sent a “shameful” image of Austria to its EU partners, branding it “a provocation of European proportions.”
The Greens called for Kneissl’s resignation, pointing out that “Vladimir Putin is the EU’s most aggressive enemy in matters of foreign policy.”
Kneissl, 53, who was nominated for the post by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), will marry businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in a ceremony in a wine-growing village near the southeastern city of Graz.
Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening.
Putin’s attendance was originally described as a “private event” by Kneissl’s office but has since been upgraded to a “working visit.”
Several hundred police officers will take part in the security operation around the wedding.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) and FPOe Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache are also expected at the ceremony.
In 2016, the FPOe signed a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party.
The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The foreign ministry has insisted that Putin’s visit “will not change anything in terms of Austria’s foreign policy positions.”
The invitation has even provoked some criticism from within Kurz’s own OeVP party, with one of its MEPs Othmar Karas saying: “I can’t grasp the logic and the purpose of making such a personal occasion political and open to misuse in this way.”
Russia has been accused of seeking to weaken and divide the EU, notably by maintaining links with populist parties in several European countries.
Kurz’s OeVP and the FPOe have been in coalition together since December after an election campaign in which both parties ran on anti-immigration platforms.


South African court says marijuana use in private is legal

Members of the African Democratic Change political party sing outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on September 18, 2018, as South Africa's top court is ruling over a law banning cannabis use. (AFP)
Updated 17 min 18 sec ago
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South African court says marijuana use in private is legal

  • The court also ordered parliament to draft new laws within 24 months to reflect the order
  • Previous court hearings on the emotive issue have drawn protests by those opposed to legalising cannabis, as well as by those in favour of decriminalisation

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s top court says adults can use marijuana in private.
The Constitutional Court on Tuesday upheld a provincial court’s ruling in a case involving Gareth Prince, who advocates the decriminalization of the drug.
Prince says cannabis should be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco. Government authorities have said cannabis is harmful and should be illegal.
The top court says an adult can cultivate cannabis in “a private place” as long as it is for personal consumption in private. It says the right to privacy “extends beyond the boundaries of a home.”
The court says it would be up to a police officer to decide if the amount of marijuana in someone’s possession is for personal consumption or dealing.