Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
This photograph taken on May 29, 2024 shows a police van in front of the European Parliament building, where searches are conducted as part of a Belgian probe into suspected Russian interference and corruption in Brussels. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
  • Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels
  • Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation

BRUSSELS: Police searched the offices and residence of an employee of the European Parliament on Wednesday as part of an investigation into whether EU lawmakers were bribed to promote Russian propaganda to undermine support for Ukraine, prosecutors said.
Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels. His parliamentary offices in the EU capital city and Strasbourg, where the EU Parliament’s headquarters are located in France, were also checked.
Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation.
Europe-wide polls to elect a new EU parliament are set for June 6-9.
An investigation was announced last month by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who said his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.
“The searches are part of a case of interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organization and relates to indications of Russian interference, whereby Members of the European Parliament were approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda via the Voice of Europe news website,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they believe the employee played “a significant role in this.”
Several news outlets identified the suspect as Guillaume Pradoura, a staffer for EU lawmaker Marcel de Graaff of the far-right Dutch party Forum for Democracy. A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that the reports were accurate. The official was not allowed to speak publicly because the probe is ongoing.
De Graaff said on the social media platform X that he and Pradoura were not contacted by authorities.
“For me, all this comes as a complete surprise,” he said. “By the way, I have no involvement in any so-called Russian disinformation operation whatsoever. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as an MEP.”
Pradoura previously worked for Maximilian Krah, the top candidate of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany in next month’s European election, who was recently banned from campaigning by his party.
Krah had already been under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels searched his offices at the European Parliament in connection with one of his assistants who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China.
Krah said in a message posted on X that none of his offices had been searched on Wednesday.
“The ex-employee in question has long been working for another MP,” he said.
The EU this month banned Voice of Europe and three other Russian media from broadcasting in the 27-nation bloc. The EU said they were all under control of the Kremlin and were targeting “European political parties, especially during election periods.” Since the war started in February 2022, the EU had already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik, among several other outlets.
De Croo said last month that the probe showed that members of the European Parliament were approached and offered money to promote Russian propaganda.
“According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear. The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution,” he said.
“The goal is very clear: A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks,” he added.
EU nations have poured billions of euros into Ukraine, along with significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition. They’ve also slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, banks, companies and the energy sector since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.


Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
Updated 36 sec ago
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Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
  • The US has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used his Eid Al-Adha message to Muslims to advocate a US-backed ceasefire deal in Gaza, saying Sunday it was the best way to help civilians suffering the “horrors of war between Hamas and Israel.”
“Too many innocent people have been killed, including thousands of children. Families have fled their homes and seen their communities destroyed. Their pain is immense,” Biden said in a statement.
“I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war,” he added.
The United States has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.
Eid Al-Adha, which marks the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, saw a rare day of relative calm in Gaza after Israel announced a “tactical pause” in fighting near Rafah to facilitate aid deliveries.
The president highlighted American efforts to “advocate for the rights of other Muslim communities” facing persecution, including the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in China.
He said “we’re also working to bring a peaceful resolution to the horrific conflict in Sudan,” which has been gripped by fighting between the country’s army and a rival paramilitary group since April 2023.
On the domestic front, Biden’s message Sunday also promised a crackdown on Islamophobia in a direct appeal to American Muslims, a key voting demographic in the Democrat’s reelection bid against Republican rival Donald Trump.
“My Administration is creating a national strategy to counter Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination, which affect not only Muslims, but also Arab, Sikh, and South Asian Americans,” Biden said.
 


Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
Updated 17 June 2024
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Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
  • The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel

STOCKHOLM: The role of atomic weapons has become more prominent and nuclear states are modernizing arsenals as geopolitical relations deteriorate, researchers said Monday, urging world leaders to “step back and reflect.”
Diplomatic efforts to control nuclear arms also suffered major setbacks amid strained international relations over the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its annual yearbook.
“We have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since the Cold War,” Wilfred Wan, director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, said in a statement.
The research institute noted that in February 2023 Russia announced it was suspending participation in the 2010 New START treaty — “the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty limiting Russian and US strategic nuclear forces.”
SIPRI also noted that Russia carried out tactical nuclear weapon drills close to the Ukrainian border in May.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped his nuclear rhetoric since the Ukraine conflict began, warning in his address to the nation in February there was a “real” risk of nuclear war.
In addition, an informal agreement between the United States and Iran reached in June 2023 was upended after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, SIPRI said.

According to SIPRI, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states also “continued to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2023.”
The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
In January, of the estimated 12,121 nuclear warheads around the world about 9,585 were in stockpiles for potential use, according to SIPRI.
Around 2,100 were kept in a state of “high operational alert” on ballistic missiles.
Nearly all of these warheads belong to Russia and the United States — which together possess almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons — but China was for the first time believed to have some warheads on high operational alert.
“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI director Dan Smith said.
He added that this trend would likely continue and “probably accelerate” in the coming years, describing it as “extremely concerning.”
Researchers also stressed the “continuing deterioration of global security over the past year,” as the impact from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza could be seen in “almost every aspect” of issues relating to armaments and international security.
“We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history,” Smith said, urging the world’s great powers to “step back and reflect. Preferably together.”
 

 


Indian suspect in plot to kill Sikh separatist extradited to US

Indian suspect in plot to kill Sikh separatist extradited to US
Updated 18 min 4 sec ago
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Indian suspect in plot to kill Sikh separatist extradited to US

Indian suspect in plot to kill Sikh separatist extradited to US
  • Pannun told Reuters on Sunday that while the extradition was a welcome step, “Nikhil Gupta is just a foot soldier.” He alleged that those who hired Gupta were senior members of the Indian government who act on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

WASHINGTON: An Indian man suspected by the US of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil has been extradited to the United States from the Czech Republic, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website and a source familiar with the matter.
Nikhil Gupta has been accused by US federal prosecutors of plotting with an Indian government official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US resident who advocated for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
Gupta traveled to Prague from India last June and was arrested by Czech authorities. Last month, a Czech court rejected his petition to avoid being sent to the US, clearing the way for the Czech justice minister to extradite him.
An inmate search by name on the Bureau of Prisons website showed on Sunday that Gupta, 52, is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, a federal administrative detention facility. A source familiar with the matter, who did not want to be identified, separately confirmed Gupta’s extradition and his detention in Brooklyn.
A US Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. Gupta’s US-based lawyer, attorney Jeffrey Chabrowe, had no immediate comment. There was also no immediate comment from Czech authorities.
The discovery of assassination plots against Sikh separatists in the US and Canada has tested relations with India, seen by Western nations as a counter to China’s rising global influence. India’s government denies involvement in the plots.
Canada said in September its intelligence agencies were pursuing allegations linking India’s government to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023 in Canada.
In November, US authorities said an Indian government official had directed the plot in the attempted murder of Pannun, who is a US and Canadian citizen. Gupta is accused of involvement in that plot.
Pannun told Reuters on Sunday that while the extradition was a welcome step, “Nikhil Gupta is just a foot soldier.” He alleged that those who hired Gupta were senior members of the Indian government who act on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s government has dissociated itself from the plot against Pannun, saying it was against government policy. It has said it would formally investigate security concerns raised by Washington.
New Delhi has long complained about Sikh separatist groups outside India, viewing them as security threats. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, or the demand for an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.
Last month, Washington said it was satisfied so far with India’s moves to ensure accountability in the alleged plots, but added that many steps still needed to be taken. 

 


Austrian minister defies coalition ally to back EU nature restoration law

Austrian minister defies coalition ally to back EU nature restoration law
Updated 17 June 2024
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Austrian minister defies coalition ally to back EU nature restoration law

Austrian minister defies coalition ally to back EU nature restoration law
  • Gewessler’s announcement angered Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservative People’s Party (OVP), which opposes the law

VIENNA: Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler of the Greens, defied her conservative coalition partners on Sunday by pledging to cast Austria’s vote in favor of adopting a European nature restoration law, potentially tipping the balance in Brussels.
European Union countries’ environment ministers will discuss the bloc’s flagship policy to restore damaged nature at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday and potentially hold a final vote on whether to enact it.
The law would be among the EU’s biggest environmental policies, requiring member states to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030.
“The time for decisiveness has come. I will vote in favor of the EU Nature Restoration Law on Monday,” she told a news conference called at short notice.
EU countries had planned to approve the policy in March but called off the vote after Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support, wiping out the slim majority in favor.
Austria’s change of position would give the policy enough support to become law if no other countries switch.
Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Finland and Poland have previously said they will not support the policy but without Austria they would be one country short of being able to block it.
“This law is on a knife-edge. A majority at the European level is in no way certain,” Gewessler said, adding that some countries were hesitating to support it.
Gewessler’s announcement angered Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservative People’s Party (OVP), which opposes the law. It controls the Agriculture Ministry and says that since that ministry is partly responsible for this issue, Gewessler needs its backing.
The OVP minister for EU and constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, said that if Gewessler voted in favor without the Agriculture Ministry’s approval it would be unconstitutional.
“That must and will have legal consequences,” Edtstadler said on X.


Senegalese eye elegance for Eid at half the price

Senegalese eye elegance for Eid at half the price
Updated 17 June 2024
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Senegalese eye elegance for Eid at half the price

Senegalese eye elegance for Eid at half the price
  • People used to be ashamed to wear second-hand clothes for fear of being mocked or denigrated

DAKAR: In a second-hand shop in the suburbs of Senegal’s capital, Seynabou Sarr was inundated with orders days before West Africa’s largest Muslim festival.
Sarr, 30, constantly answers calls while showing customers second-hand boubous — a traditional robe worn by both men and women at religious or ceremonial occasions.
Tabaski — marked by most Senegalese on Monday — is celebrated with great pomp but can put families under pressure over the need to spend on food and new clothes.
Wearing the same outfit two years running is frowned upon.
“People used to be ashamed to wear second-hand clothes for fear of being mocked or denigrated,” Sarr, also known as Nabou, said.
“But increasingly, many are becoming aware of their benefits.”
For Tabaski — the West African name for Eid — customers want boubous made from luxury fabrics adorned with pearls and embroidery — but not with a luxury price tag.
When new, some boubous can cost up to 250,000 CFA francs ($405), a small fortune in a country with a median monthly salary of 54,000 ($88).
But at the boutique, finding one for as little as 90,000 CFA francs or less is possible.
Nabou launched her business online in 2018 before opening the shop in 2022. She now has more than 80,000 followers on TikTok.
Abdou Fall has opted for a second-hand tunic — an elegant three-piece with beautiful embroidery around the neck this year.
He bought it for 60,000 CFA francs, but it would have cost 130,000.
“It was not in my plans to buy a boubou this year as I already had a lot to do with other expenses,” he said.
“But the price was so affordable that I thought I would not deprive myself.”
Another customer, Matar Sarr, says that with a little money, “you can look as good as everyone else.”
“Who can tell that it is not new? Nobody,” Sarr said.
In Senegal, second-hand success is often less due to environmental concerns and more to financial motives.
Khady Djiba is looking for a wedding dress for her sister.
She examines the quality of the fabrics, runs her hand over the seams, lingers over the beading, and finally chooses a tunic with a long train adorned with glittering pearls.
New, the dress would be out of reach, but for 75,000 CFA francs, Djiba can buy it from Nabou.
It has a few flaws, but with a couple of alterations and dry cleaning, it will be as good as new.
“It’s a good deal,” she said, smiling.