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Belfast Riots: Fears of Return to Sectarian Violence as Brexit Stokes Divisions

After six consecutive nights of rioting in Belfast, fears are growing of a return to violence in Northern Ireland, nearly 23 years after the Good Friday Agreement brought an end to three decades of sectarian killings and bomb attacks. Pro-British unionist supporters are angry at elements of the agreement that Britain signed to leave the European Union (EU), which went into effect in January, and which they believe jeopardize Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. Tensions have boiled over.  A bus was hijacked and set on fire Wednesday in Belfast as crowds of youths hurled stones and gasoline bombs at police. Dozens of officers were injured, and several people were arrested. A photojournalist from the Belfast Telegraph newspaper was assaulted while covering the protests. A Nationalist youth prepares to throw a projectile at a police line blocking a road near the Peace Wall in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 8, 2021.Much of the violence occurred on Shankill Road in west Belfast, a long-standing frontier between the mostly Protestant unionist and mostly Catholic, pro-Irish nationalist communities. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an end to the rioting. “I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist. The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality,” Johnson tweeted on Wednesday. Political leaders of the power-sharing government at Stormont in Belfast, which was created as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, condemned the violence. Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said, “Just as it was wrong in the past and was never justified, so it is wrong now.” Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A man holds a sign, as pro-British unionists demonstrate near Parliament buildings, amid nightly outbreaks of street violence in the region that have left dozens of police officers injured, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 8, 2021.”This has led to some sense of unease, in particular among unionist and loyalist communities, who feel that their place in the union (United Kingdom) is under threat. For many people, of course, borders in Northern Ireland are not just about customs and technicalities. They’re also symbolically very significant,” she told VOA. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016 by a majority of 56% to 44%, but Britain as a whole voted to leave by a narrow majority. There were widespread predictions that Britain’s exit would undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Parts of Northern Ireland remain deeply split along sectarian lines. Many Catholic nationalists want unification with Ireland, while Protestant unionists want to remain part of the United Kingdom. “Brexit is a huge transformation. So essentially, the peace process in Northern Ireland relied on a careful balance between Britain and Ireland, Northern Ireland being both British and Irish and within the EU. That was possible not just in economic and legal terms, obviously following the same rules, et cetera, but also in political and symbolic terms like the British-Irish relationship and partnership in the EU, (which) was very important. And that’s been very much disrupted by Brexit,” Hayward said. “The peace process … needs constant negotiation and care, and also compromise. And I think there is a bit of a concern that maybe both the U.K. and the EU felt that they compromised quite a lot on the protocol. And both of them did, no doubt about that. But they also possibly need to come into implementing the protocol with that continued frame of mind,” Hayward told VOA. Nationalist youths gesture towards a police line blocking a road near the Peace Wall in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 8, 2021.There have been long-standing difficulties between the parties that share power in Northern Ireland’s government, and analysts say recent political disputes have exacerbated the situation. The pro-British Democratic Unionist Party has strongly criticized a decision by police not to prosecute Sinn Fein members for attending a large funeral for a senior republican last year that broke COVID-19 regulations. Sinn Fein blame the Democratic Unionist Party for stoking tensions through their opposition to the new Brexit trading arrangements and their call for Northern Ireland’s police chief to resign for allowing the funeral to go ahead. While the police have been the main target of loyalist violence, there have been sporadic clashes across sectarian lines. “It’s all too easy to see how things can get worse. I think that that’s the biggest concern at the moment,” Hayward said.   U.S. President Joe Biden, who has Irish roots, has voiced concern over the impact of Brexit on peace in Northern Ireland.  “My view and the view of my predecessor, of the Obama-Biden administration on the Good Friday Agreements, we strongly support them. (We) think it’s critically important to be maintained, and the political economic stability of Northern Ireland is very much in the interest of all our peoples, and people-to-people ties,” Biden told Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin through video link March 17. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the president was monitoring the situation closely.  “We continue to encourage both the European Union and the U.K. government to prioritize pragmatic solutions to safeguard and advance the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland,” Psaki told reporters. Political leaders in Dublin and Brussels have also called for dialogue. Given that the “Irish border question” dominated Brexit negotiations for several years, analysts say it’s clear there are no easy answers. 
 

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США можуть відправити в Чорне море кораблі на знак підтримки України

Розміщення додаткових кораблів буде для Росії особливим сигналом, який покаже, що США уважно стежать за тим, що відбувається на сході України, заявив представник Міністерства оборони США

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Коронавірус: Степанов прогнозує зростання числа хворих до 25-30 тисяч на добу протягом 10 днів

Водночас міністр повідомив, що в західних регіонах ситуація із захворюваністю поліпшується. Зокрема, за його словами, з «червоної» зони будуть виводити Івано-Франківську область

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Biden Moves to Curb US Gun Violence

U.S. President Joe Biden, declaring gun violence “a blemish on our character as a nation,” on Thursday ordered tighter regulation of some weapons and pressed Congress to renew the country’s long-expired ban on assault weapons.”Gun violence in this country is an epidemic,” Biden told a the White House audience of lawmakers and citizens touched by gun violence. “And it’s an international embarrassment.”He said that as the number of mass shootings mounts, lawmakers in Congress have “offered plenty of thoughts and prayers … but they have passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers; time for some action.”King Soopers employees are led away from an active shooter at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, March 22, 2021. Police say 10 people were killed in the shooting, including a police officer.Biden offered his proposals after several high-profile mass killings, including gun attacks that in a week’s time killed eight people at spas in the Atlanta, Georgia, area in the southern United States and 10 more at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, in the western part of the country.Biden said that in the time between the two incidents, which drew nationwide television coverage, another 850 less publicized shootings killed 250 people and injured 500.“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake!” Biden said. “It has to stop.”Biden directed the Justice Department to issue a proposed rule to “stop the proliferation” of what law enforcement officials call “ghost guns” — handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, making it difficult for police to track their owners when the weapons are used to commit crimes.Some of the guns can be fabricated in a half-hour using kits and parts purchased online.Another of Biden’s proposed rules would target stabilizing braces for pistols, which give shooters more accuracy and help to manage recoil as they position them on their shoulders before firing. Police say such a weapon, effectively a short-barreled rifle, was used in the Colorado mass killing.Under Biden’s proposal, the White House said, the weapons would be covered by regulations in the National Firearms Act, which would require registration.U.S. President Joe Biden listens as Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks about executive actions on gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, April 8, 2021.Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaking after Biden, said the Justice Department is planning to issue a model of what are known as “red flag” laws that give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict someone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others from accessing guns. The model is intended to give individual states a starting point for enacting their own laws.The new efforts include an annual report on firearms trafficking, and a set of community violence interventions.Democratic Party lawmakers have long called for tighter gun regulations while Republicans have voiced their ardent support for Second Amendment gun ownership rights.Biden said his plans do not impinge on the rights of Americans under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to own a gun.He said, however, “There is much more Congress can do.”Lawmakers have repeatedly talked about gun violence but failed to agree on measures to curb it. The U.S. banned the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004, but the law was not renewed when it expired.“It saved lives,” Biden said of the assault weapons ban. “Nobody needs a weapon that fires 100 rounds.”FILE – In this September 25, 2019, file photo, David Chipman, Giffords Law Center senior policy adviser, speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Biden said he is planning to nominate David Chipman, a former federal firearms agent and adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to lead the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.Chipman was a 25-year agent at the agency where he took part in the investigations of bombings at New York’s World Trade Center and a federal building in Oklahoma City in the 1990s.Chipman is likely to be sharply questioned about his gun control views at his Senate confirmation hearing.House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., responds during his weekly news conference at the Capitol in Washington, March 18, 2021.House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said Biden’s moves would “trample over” the constitutional right to bear arms.“He is soft on crime but infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens. I won’t stand for it. And neither will House Republicans. Follow the Constitution!” McCarthy tweeted.The National Rifle Association, a major gun rights group, has said it will fight Biden’s executive actions.John Feinblatt, president of the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, praised Biden’s actions, particularly on ghost guns, saying that will “undoubtedly save countless lives.”“We are glad to hear the administration’s commitment that today’s actions are just the beginning and look forward to continuing to work closely with them to end gun violence in this country,” Feinblatt said in a statement. 

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Збірна України з футзалу виграла матч у кваліфікації чемпіонату Європи

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US ‘Monitoring’ as Iran Sends Fuel Tankers to Venezuela in Defiance of Sanctions

As Iran sent three gasoline shipments to fuel-starved Venezuela in recent months in defiance of U.S. sanctions, the Biden administration apparently did nothing to stop the tankers, signaling a reticence to enforce the sanctions and a savviness by the anti-U.S. allies in evading them.Two National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC)-owned vessels, the Faxon and the Fortune, delivered several hundred thousand barrels of Iranian gasoline to the Venezuelan city of Puerto La Cruz at the end of January and beginning of February. The third NITC tanker, the Forest, delivered another 270,000 barrels of gasoline to the city of Puerto Cabello on February 20.BREAKING: A shipment of around 44 million liters of gasoline has secretly arrived at El Palito, Venezuela from Iran aboard handysize tanker FOREST. This is according to our 6 week long tracking investigation. FOREST is the 3rd tanker we were expecting after FORTUNE & FAXON. #OOTT
— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) February 20, 2021The deliveries were confirmed by a variety of nongovernmental sources, including TankerTrackers.com, an online service that tracks global energy shipments using satellite imagery and maritime data and London-based energy markets news service Argus Media, which said it obtained shipping data and documents related to the Iranian tankers.Further confirmation came from the Reuters news agency, which cited several unnamed people with knowledge of the Iranian shipments.Iran began sending irregular gasoline shipments to Venezuela, its longtime anti-U.S. ally, last May to help Caracas manage domestic fuel shortages stemming from dilapidated refineries and government mismanagement in the major oil-producing nation. In exchange for the deliveries, Caracas has provided Tehran with gold, surplus Venezuelan jet fuel and other commodities, according to U.S. and Venezuelan officials and reports by Argus Media and Reuters citing shipping documents and knowledgeable sources, respectively.FILE – The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif, left, bumps elbows with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza at the Casa Amarilla palace in Caracas, Nov. 5, 2020.The administration of former president Donald Trump, which had sanctioned both Iran and Venezuela, responded to Iran’s May and June gasoline shipments by seizing in August four tankers that U.S. officials said also were carrying Iranian gasoline to Venezuela, albeit under non-Iranian flags. But reports citing tanker-tracking services later showed that Iran managed to send three more gasoline shipments to Venezuela using NITC tankers in late September and early October, apparently without U.S. interference.The U.S. Justice Department on August 14, 2020, confirmed it had seized the fuel cargo aboard four tankers — including the Bering, pictured here in an undated photo — sent by Iran to crisis-wracked Venezuela.Asked by VOA Persian for its response to the three Iranian gasoline shipments to Venezuela in late January and early February, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on March 24, “We are aware of reports of a Venezuelan-Iranian petroleum exchange and continue to monitor the situation.”The spokesperson made no reference to any U.S. sanctions enforcement action in relation to the illicit shipments and made no direct response to a question about whether the Biden administration will follow Trump’s example by seizing future similar shipments.The State Department spokesperson also referred questions about sanctions to the Treasury Department, which did not respond to a VOA Persian email requesting comment on the issue.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 11 MB480p | 16 MB540p | 19 MB720p | 35 MB1080p | 71 MBOriginal | 251 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioIn an earlier March 8 phone briefing with reporters, a senior Biden administration official responded to a VOA question by acknowledging that Venezuelan authorities have adapted to unilateral U.S. sanctions on their energy sector by “sustain(ing) themselves through illicit flows.”The official expressed skepticism about the wisdom of maintaining those unilateral sanctions on Venezuela and said they are being reviewed to ensure that they punish President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which the U.S. considers to be illegitimate, and not the Venezuelan people. There is “no rush” to lift the sanctions while the review is under way, the official added. The Biden administration also has expressed a willingness to ease unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran as part of a diplomatic process to revive a 2015 deal in which Tehran promised world powers to curtail nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for global sanctions relief.Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, and started toughening U.S. sanctions to pressure Tehran to end objectionable behaviors. Iran retaliated a year later by starting an ongoing series of violations of the agreement’s nuclear activity limits. The Biden administration has said it will keep Trump’s sanctions in place until Tehran agrees to coordinate with Washington on a joint return to compliance with the nuclear agreement.In addition to signaling a willingness to ease unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, the Biden administration has signaled a reluctance to aggressively enforce those sanctions in the case of the Iran-Venezuela fuel transfers.Bogota-based analyst James Bosman, whose company, Hxagon, provides political risk analysis on emerging markets, recently told VOA Persian that the Biden administration has shown that it wants to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and Venezuela. He noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned last May that if the U.S. interferes with Iranian tankers bringing gasoline to Venezuela, U.S. tankers will have a “reciprocal problem.”FILE – Iranian oil tanker Fortune is anchored at the dock of the El Palito refinery near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, May 25, 2020.“Blocking tankers from reaching Venezuelan shores — that really escalates tensions beyond basic sanctions enforcement,” Bosman said. “You don’t want enforcement to be this high stakes game that could lead you to military action.”Iran’s success in shipping gasoline to Venezuela also can be attributed to its decades of experience in evading U.S. sanctions, said Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a recent VOA Persian interview. Besides Iran having its tankers switch off their transponders for much of their journeys to and from Venezuela, it has developed new ways to disguise the shipments, he said.”One of the recent techniques has been to disguise vessels as ships that are not owned by the Iranian fleet and do not have the Iranian flag. Part of the reason that further seizures of Iranian tankers have not happened since August is that it has taken some time for the U.S. government to figure out these techniques,” Ottolenghi said.The FDD analyst says one factor driving Iran and Venezuela to develop the new techniques for evading U.S. sanctions is the financial gain reaped by those involved in the illicit fuel shipments.“The industry of sanctions evasion that facilitates these costly and circuitous deals makes a lot of money for the regime figures in Tehran and in Caracas who pull the strings, and it incentivizes them to continue creating ever more ingenious ways to break free of the sanctions,” Ottolenghi said.This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Cristina Caicedo Smit and Rafael Salido of VOA’s Latin America Division contributed to this report. 

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COVID-19 Prompts Rethink of European Populist Tactics  

Euro-skeptic populist leaders are adjusting political tactics — instead of calling for their countries to follow Britain and quit the European Union, they’re focusing now on changing the bloc from within. “I think after the COVID crisis, the EU needs to reinvent itself and find a new soul,” Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s Lega party and a former Italian deputy prime minister, told the New Europe newspaper.  The interview came just days after Salvini met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Poland’s prime minister, Mateus Morawiecki, in Budapest to discuss shaping an alliance of their nationalist parties at the European level, the nucleus for a broader reformist movement that will play up the sovereign rights of member states and block, they hope, deeper European integration. They hope the grouping will attract other nationalist, conservative and reformist-minded parties to form what would be the second largest political alliance in the European Parliament — “a true alternative,” says Salvini, to the parties favoring deeper political integration of the EU’s 27 member states.  Last week in Budapest, the trio of nationalist populist leaders said they had agreed to launch “an alternative vision to that of a bureaucratic EU that has drifted from the citizens.” “We are going to launch a new platform, an organization, a process which will give those citizens who believe in a traditional Europe the representation that they deserve,” Orban said at a joint press conference in the Hungarian capital. He said the trio shares the same beliefs, “Atlanticism, freedom, family, Christianity and sovereignty.” Morawiecki said Europe needed to return to its Christian roots.  Right timing?All three believe their timing is right — the lack of solidarity among member states during the pandemic and the EU’s mishandling of vaccine procurement and rollouts have left Europeans fed up with Brussels. A recent pan-Europe poll, undertaken for the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based NGO, in partnership with a group of European parliamentary groups, found that only 36 percent of respondents felt that the EU had played an efficient role in combating the coronavirus. FILE – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference on the Commission’s response to COVID-19, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 17, 2021.EU officials had hoped the bloc would come out of the pandemic with its strengths displayed, which in turn would help garner greater public backing for deeper political integration. But it hasn’t turned out that way and Europe is lagging behind on vaccinations as a third wave of the pandemic roils the continent. There have also been sharp disagreements over how vaccines are shared among member states. FILE – Health workers prepare doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in Naples, Italy, Jan. 8, 2021.Some analysts suggest that squabbles over economic recovery funds and vaccine procurement missteps risks undermining the appetite for further political integration. “With its disastrous vaccine procurement policy, the EU committed the ultimate mistake: it has given people a rational reason to oppose European integration,” argued Wolfgang Münchau, director of Eurointelligence, a specialist analysis service. And Europe’s cohort of populist nationalist leaders appears eager to seize on the EU’s stumbles, but with more moderated aims. Why seek to quit like Britain, they are asking themselves, when there are greater opportunities to reshape the EU into a bloc that doesn’t try to standardize European politics along liberal lines and isn’t forever seeking to restrict the sovereignty of nation states?   
Brexit impactTheir shift in thinking is also an acknowledgement that Brexit — Britain’s departure from the EU — has been anything but easy and has advertised the political and economic perils of quitting the bloc, say analysts. They also say it is a reflection that European publics are themselves divided about the EU — wanting more EU involvement when it suits their purposes but reluctant about acknowledging a role for Brussels when it doesn’t. Most of Europe’s key populist nationalist leaders are in the process of shifting their tactics and adopting reformist positions while shelving talk of quitting the EU. That doesn’t mean that their criticism of the EU is any less scorching.  FILE – Children walk past election campaign posters for French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in Osses, southwestern France, May 5, 2017.France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is now only four percent behind French President Emmanuel Macron in the opinion polls, has launched a series of attacks on the EU. Last week, she said the EU’s “catastrophic” COVID vaccination efforts would likely be a decisive factor for voters in the French presidential election, which is 12 months away.  “The European Union has failed totally,” Le Pen said last week. “They still tell us that as 27 countries we are stronger, but that is false — the solution must come at the national level, for this issue as in many others,” she said. “This health crisis has in reality revealed all the flaws of the dogma defended by Emmanuel Macron: I’m thinking of his dogma of ultra-liberalism,” Le Pen said. “Lots of French people will have understood that we have a choice, and that there is a new economic model to imagine,” in particular with stricter national oversight of industrial strategy and sovereignty, she added. Likewise, Salvini wants a more corralled EU, one that gives member states greater room for maneuver and burdened with fewer EU rules and regulations. The EU should “let Italian entrepreneurs, farmers, fishermen and researchers work without ridiculous regulations,” he said this week.    

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Abandoned Ship Secured After Drifting Off Norway

Norwegian coast guard and Dutch salvage officials said Thursday they have secured a Dutch cargo ship that has been drifting off the coast of Norway for three days and are towing it.  
 
The Norwegian coast guard Monday used a helicopter to rescue the 12-member crew from the Eemslift Hendrika, which had lost power and was in danger of capsizing in heavy seas in the Norwegian Sea. Since then, the ship had been powerless.  
 
In a statement on its website, the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) said as of Wednesday, it believed the ship was in little danger of approaching land and had planned to wait until Thursday to attempt to secure it.   
 
But the NCA said sea conditions changed later Wednesday, increasing the danger the ship could be forced inland and ground itself, raising the risk of a fuel spill. Officials launched an operation, employing two tugboats and using a helicopter to place members of a Dutch salvage crew and a coast guard rescuer on the ship.  
 
Despite heavy seas, the NCA said it was able to connect the ship to the tugs at the bow and stern by early Thursday and were expecting to bring the boat into the western Norwegian port of Alesund later in the day. Officials in the port told Norwegian public radio they had left a slip open for the ship all week, expecting it would eventually be brought in.  
 
The Dutch-licensed vessel transports small yachts and sailboats. One of the ships broke loose from the ship Wednesday but was later retrieved by the coast guard.