TPM World News

BRUSSELS (AP) — After eight years of toil by the Greek people, the European Union says that Greece’s budget is no longer breaking the bloc’s rules.

Wednesday’s recommendation from the EU Commission to end the so-called excessive deficit procedure on Greece comes after a sharp improvement in the country’s finances following years of spending cuts and tax increases and a recession that saw a quarter of the economy wiped out and unemployment and poverty levels swell.

“This is a very symbolic moment for Greece,” said Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s top economy official. “Greece is now ready to exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure, turn the page on austerity and open a new chapter of growth, investment and employment.”

Greece has been under the spotlight since 2009 when its budget crisis first emerged in the wake of a statistics scandal that showed the country’s public finances were in far worse shape than thought. Greece’s budget deficit was suddenly revised upward to around 15 percent of annual GDP, way above an EU limit of 3 percent.

As confidence in Greece fell, the country found itself unable to borrow money in bond markets. By May 2010, it required an international bailout to avoid going bankrupt and it’s been reliant on rescue funds ever since. In return for the money, successive governments enacted wave after wave of austerity measures as well as economic reforms to get the books back into shape.

In many ways, they now are. In 2016, for example, Greece posted a surplus of 0.7 percent.

If the Commission’s recommendation is cleared by member states, then only three EU countries would remain in breach of the rules — France, Spain and Britain. In 2011, when the global economy was starting to recover from the post-financial crisis recession, 24 of the EU’s then-27 members were in breach of the rules, which are more strictly applied to countries that use the euro currency.

Greece is hoping to exit its bailout era next year and is planning to start tapping bond markets, possibly in the next few months. The recent release of 7.7 billion euros ($8.9 billion) of bailout funds means the country has enough money to pay its upcoming debts.

Being outside of the EU’s corrective procedures doesn’t mean Greece can go back to its profligate ways. As part of the recent deal to get the latest batch of bailout funds, the Greek government promised to run a primary surplus — that is, not counting the cost of servicing debt — for decades to come.

The country also remains mired in debt worth 175 percent of GDP, regardless of any relief offered by its European creditors. Greece cannot afford to see debt ratchet higher, potentially frightening off international investors again.

Read More →

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator said Wednesday that Britain must meet tough conditions in divorce talks — and doesn’t have long to do it — before the two sides can start looking at a future relationship.

Showing frustration with what Europeans consider British grandstanding and impatience with a dearth of clear proposals, the EU’s Michel Barnier said Britain needs to make “sufficient progress” on all the initial issues — citizens’ rights, the bill that Britain must pay to the EU and the Irish border — before talks can move to a future trade deal.

Barnier said the three areas “are indivisible and intertwined,” making clear that progress in two of the three would be insufficient to advance to the next stage.

And he insisted that Britain recognize it faces a bill of many tens of billions of euros to meet previous commitments it made as an EU member. Otherwise, he says, there’s no point in discussing anything else.

“It’s not an exit bill. It’s not a punishment. It’s not revenge — at no time has it been those things. It’s simply a settling of accounts,” he said.

Barnier dismissed British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comment that the EU can “go whistle” if it will insist on Britain paying any excessive bill.

“I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking,” Barnier said, with the March 2019 deadline for Britain to leave the bloc drawing ever closer.

Estimates of the amount Britain that must pay to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments such as farming subsidies to humanitarian aid have ranged upward to 100 billion euros ($114 billion).

He said questioning such issues as financial obligations cuts to the heart of any future relationship.

“How do you build a relationship which is going to last with a country where you don’t have trust?” Barnier asked. Trust, he said “means settling accounts.”

Barnier said he “could not imagine that a very great country like the U.K.” would not also “be a responsible country and respect its commitments.”

After Barnier briefed the EU Commission on the negotiations, he spoke to reporters, and exuded some impatience with the British government for letting valuable time in the two-year negotiating slot go to waste.

After triggering the two-year divorce negotiations in March, British Prime Minister Theresa May decided to call an early election to strengthen her hand — only to lose her Conservative majority and add to the political chaos in a country deeply divided over Brexit.

“We are ready. My team is ready,” said Barnier, adding he was even “ready to work through the 14th of July” — France’s Bastille Day holiday.

The first issue being addressed by the two sides — citizens’ rights for people living in each other’s nations — is already posing serious problems. The European Parliament has dismissed the proposals made by May, calling them insufficient and burdensome.

The European Parliament’s input is important since it could veto any deal.

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — A vast iceberg with twice the volume of Lake Erie has broken off from a key floating ice shelf in Antarctica, scientists said Wednesday.

The iceberg broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf, scientists at the University of Swansea in Britain said. The iceberg is described as weighing 1 trillion tons (1.12 trillion U.S. tons).

The process, known as calving, occurred in the last few days, when a 5,800-square-kilometer (2,240-square-mile) section broke away.

“We have been anticipating this event for months, and have been surprised how long it took for the rift to break through the final few kilometers of ice,” said Adrian Luckman of Swansea University. “We will continue to monitor both the impact of this calving event on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, and the fate of this huge iceberg.”

It was a natural event that wasn’t caused by man-made climate change, said Swansea glaciologist Martin O’Leary.

Nonetheless, “this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position,” he said in a statement.

Scientists said the latest iceberg break won’t affect sea levels in the short term.

NASA and European Space Agency satellites have been monitoring the shelf — offering dramatic pictures of the break that heightened interest beyond the scientific community. The final break was first revealed in a thermal infrared image from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument.

Scientists from the U.K.-based Antarctic project, MIDAS, have been monitoring the rift in Larsen C for years, following earlier research on the collapse of the Larsen A shelf in 1995 and the breakup of the Larsen B shelf in 2002.

The project, which is investigating the effects of a warming climate through a combination of fieldwork, satellite observation and computer simulation, describes the iceberg as one of the largest ever recorded.

They researchers suggest the iceberg is likely to break into fragments and say that while some of the ice may stay nearby for decades, parts of it may drift north into warmer waters. But researchers say much more study needs to be done to determine the cause.

“At this point it would be premature to say that this was caused by global warming,” said Anna Hogg of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds.

Read More →

BAGHDAD (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group says the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul is a “historic opportunity” that should be seized upon to uproot extremist groups in the region.

In a televised speech Tuesday night, Hassan Nasrallah likened the Islamic State group to a “cancerous” growth that may return at any time, saying it must not be allowed to regroup.

Eradicating this “criminal group” by its roots should remain a priority even after the liberation of Mosul, Nasrallah said.

He congratulated the government and people of Iraq and described the liberation as a “great victory and achievement.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “total victory” in Mosul on Monday, after a nearly nine-month-long battle with IS fighters.

Read More →

BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday said it shouldn’t be held responsible alone for solving the North Korean nuclear standoff, and accused other countries of shirking their responsibilities in the effort to reduce tensions.

The complaints, made in unusually strident language, follow a phone conversation between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month in which the Chinese leader warned of “some negative factors” that were harming China-U.S. relations, indicating relations between the two countries had hit a rough patch after some initial optimism.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday that China was upholding its obligations under United Nations resolutions on North Korea, while other countries were fanning the crisis while damaging China’s interests by their actions.

“China is not to be blamed for the current escalation of tension, nor does China hold the key to resolve the issue,” Geng said at a daily news briefing.

“If China is striving to put out the fire, while the others are fueling the flame … how can China’s efforts achieve expected outcomes? How can the tension be eased? How can the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue be resolved?” Geng said.

Saying some unidentified parties were circulating the “China responsibility theory,” Geng said they were operating with “ulterior motivations” and sought to shrug off their own responsibilities.

“Absolving oneself of responsibility is not OK. Tearing down bridges after crossing the river is not OK. Stabbing in the back is even less OK,” Geng said.

China is North Korea’s only major diplomatic ally and economic partner, and the U.S. and others have called on Beijing to use whatever leverage it has to pressure North Korea into curbing nuclear tests and missile launches that violate U.N. sanctions.

However, China says perceptions of its influence with North Korea are exaggerated. It also refuses to take measures that might destabilize North Korea’s hard-line communist regime and lead to violence, massive flows of refugees into China, and the possibility of a united Korea allied with the United States.

Beijing complained after one of its banks was recently cut off from the U.S. financial system for allegedly helping North Korea launder money, saying other countries’ laws shouldn’t extend to Chinese entities.

It also bitterly opposes South Korea’s deployment of a sophisticated U.S. missile defense system that Beijing says jeopardizes Chinese security because of an ability to monitor missile launches and other military activities within northeastern China.

Read More →

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Sporadic clashes erupted in Mosul on Tuesday, a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” over the Islamic State group, with several airstrikes hitting the Old City neighborhood that was the scene of the fierce battle’s final days.

Plumes of smoke rose into the air as IS mortar shells landed near Iraqi positions and heavy gunfire could be heard on the western edge of the Old City.

At times heavy, the clashes underscored the dangers still posed by the militants after Iraqi forces announced they retook full control of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, three years after it was seized by extremists bent on building a global caliphate.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International warned in a report released Tuesday that the conflict in Mosul has created a “civilian catastrophe,” with the extremists carrying out forced displacement, summary killings and using civilians as human shields.

The report also detailed violations by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition.

“The scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operation to retake Mosul must immediately be publicly acknowledged at the highest levels of government in Iraq and states that are part of the U.S.-led coalition,” said Lynn Maalouf, the research director for Mideast at Amnesty.

The report, which covers the first five months of this year, noted how IS fighters moved civilians with them around the city, preventing them from escaping, creating battle spaces with dense civilian populations while “Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition failed to adapt their tactics.”

The Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition “continued to use imprecise, explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated urban environments,” Amnesty stated, adding that some violations may constitute war crimes.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to Mosul for the second day in a row to declare “total victory,” flanked by his senior military leadership at a small base on the edge of the Old City. But he also alluded to the brutality of the conflict, saying the triumph had been achieved “by the blood of our martyrs.”

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief urged Iraq’s government to ensure that human rights will be respected in post-IS Mosul.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Mosul’s fall as the “turning point” in the conflict against IS, but warned the group continues to subject people to “daily horrors” in its remaining strongholds of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, and Hawijah, north of Baghdad.

“Horrific though the crimes of ISIL are, there is no place for vengeance,” said Zeid, who is a Jordanian prince, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

He cited allegations of threats of collective punishment and forced evictions in Mosul by Iraqi security forces and their allies. He also cited three years of rights violations during IS’ control of Mosul, including abuses like sexual slavery of women and girls that “have left deep scars on Iraqi society.”

In Baghdad, Shiite politician Karim al-Nouri warned that defeating IS in Mosul doesn’t mean that “terrorism” is finished and urged the government to review its policies for dealing with Sunni areas of the country to “avoid previous mistakes that led to the emergence” of IS.

The government needs to work on “removing fears of marginalization and terrorism affiliation in Sunni areas,” said al-Nouri, a senior member of Badr Organization. He said he believes the Iraqi security forces should stay in Mosul until it is fully secure, before handing over to local forces.

Lawmaker Intisar al-Jabouri from Nineveh province, where Mosul is the capital, said that uprooting IS’ “extremism ideology” was key for a peaceful future in Mosul, which reeled under the extremists’ harsh rule for three years.

She urged Baghdad to invest in “good relations” between the residents and the security forces and take all “necessary measures to prevent terrorism groups from returning to Mosul.”

While Mosul fell to the Islamic State group in a matter of days in 2014, the campaign to retake the city, which began last October, has lasted nearly nine months.

For more than two years before the operation started, Iraqi forces backed by coalition airstrikes slowly clawed back territory from IS elsewhere in Iraq, and tens of thousands of Iraqi troops went through a massive coalition training program.

The IS defeat in Mosul dealt a huge blow to the group’s so-called Islamic “caliphate” — territory that the militants seized, spanning large swaths of both Iraq and Syria — but also killed thousands, left entire neighborhoods in ruins and displaced nearly 900,000 from their homes.

Thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed in the fight for the city, according to the provincial council of Nineveh, where Mosul is the capital — a toll that does not include those still believed buried under collapsed buildings.

Iraq’s military does not release official casualty numbers for soldiers killed in combat.

A statement late Monday from IS claimed its fighters were still attacking Iraqi soldiers in the al-Maydan area of Mosul’s Old City, purportedly killing and wounding many and seizing weapons and ammunition.

“The soldiers of the caliphate in Mosul continue to accomplish epics until they achieve either victory or martyrdom,” it said.

Also Monday, the United Nations said that of the more than 897,000 people displaced from Mosul, thousands will probably not be able to return because of “extensive damage caused during the conflict.”

“Make no mistake, this victory alone does not eliminate ISIS, and there’s still a tough fight ahead,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said in a recorded video from Baghdad following al-Abadi’s statement. ISIS is another acronym for IS, also referred to as Daesh, an Arabic name.

“The coalition will continue to support our Iraqi partners until ISIS is defeated in Iraq,” Townsend added, calling on Iraqis to unite and prevent a return of the conditions that allowed the extremists’ rise more than three years ago.

Read More →

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory Monday evening over the Islamic State in Mosul after nearly nine months of grueling combat to drive the militants out of Iraq’s second-largest city.

“We announce the total victory for Iraq and all Iraqis,” al-Abadi said, speaking from a small base in western Mosul on the edge of the Old City, where the last pockets of resistance had been holding out.

“This great feast day crowned the victories of the fighters and the Iraqis for the past three years,” he said.

Hours earlier, airstrikes pounded the last IS-held territory on the western edge of the Tigris River. In recent days, Iraqi troops, closely backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, confined the remaining few hundred extremists in an area measuring less than a square kilometer (less than a mile).

Shortly after al-Abadi’s speech, the coalition congratulated him on the victory against “a brutal and evil enemy,” according to a statement.

“While there are still areas of the Old City of Mosul that must be back-cleared of explosive devices and possible ISIS fighters in hiding, the ISF have Mosul now firmly under their control,” the statement added.

Al-Abadi was in Mosul on Sunday, congratulating Iraqi soldiers on recent gains but stopping short of declaring an outright victory.

The battle for Mosul was Iraq’s longest and most punishing conventional fight against IS in the more than three-year war against the extremists.

Launched in October, the massive operation comprised more than 70,000 Iraqi troops drawn from the country’s army, special forces, police, tribal fighters and mostly Shiite paramilitary forces.

Over the course of the campaign, Iraq’s special forces units who largely led the assault have faced casualty rates of 40 percent, according to a report in May from the office of the U.S. secretary of defense.

Additionally, thousands of civilians were estimated to have been killed, according to Nineveh’s provincial council. That did not include those still believed buried under collapsed buildings.

The fight also displaced more than 897,000 people, and the United Nations said there was no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq despite the conclusion of the fight.

The U.N. said thousands of Mosul residents will likely remain displaced from the city after the fight is concluded because of “extensive damage caused during the conflict.”

The battle also has decimated Mosul’s infrastructure in its western half, where fighting was fiercest. Iraq’s civil defense rescue teams — a branch of the Interior Ministry — said about 65 percent of the buildings in the Old City, many dating back centuries, were severely damaged or destroyed. In western neighborhoods like Zanjili, destruction was estimated to be 70 percent of all houses, buildings and infrastructure.

Mosul fell to IS militants within a matter of days in June 2014, starting a political and security crisis not seen in the country since the 2003 toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The territorial gains by the extremists led to the ouster of Iraq’s top leaders, dramatically shifted the balance of power among its security forces, empowered Iranian-backed fighters who are now sanctioned by the central government, and brought U.S. ground troops back onto Iraqi soil for the first time since 2011.

The road to retake Mosul has taken the government, its security forces and the coalition more than three years of training troops to replace the tens of thousands of Iraqi forces who dissolved in the face of the 2014 IS advance.

Read More →

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Parliament on Monday set itself on a collision course with Britain, making a damning assessment of British proposals on EU citizens’ rights after the U.K. leaves the European Union.

The legislature indicated it would be using its power of veto on the negotiations if Britain did not become more lenient on the rights of EU citizens living in the country, a further indication of how tough the two-year negotiations are expected to become.

In a letter Monday to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the group said EU citizens in Britain would be looking at “nothing less than relegation to second-class status,” adding that the U.K. proposals made on June 26 do not “respect the principles of reciprocity, symmetry and non-discrimination.”

Citizens’ rights in each other’s nations are considered the first issue that both sides must settle.

“It is clear we will not approve any deal which diminishes the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. or U.K. citizens in the EU,” Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chief Brexit official, told the AP.

Even though Barnier is leading the negotiations for the EU as a whole, the European Parliament still has a veto right on any deal. So Verhofstadt’s words carry power and should boost the standing of Barnier when he meets with his British counterpart David Davis next week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had first floated her ideas on protecting the rights of each other’s citizens at an EU summit in late June. The U.K. proposal offers EU nationals who have lived in Britain for at least five years — as of an unspecified cut-off date — “settled status,” with the right to live, work and access benefits. The estimated 3 million EU nationals in Britain would all have to apply individually for permission to stay, and it’s unclear what the plan would mean for those who have been in the U.K. for a shorter time.

The other EU leaders were halfhearted at best about what May called a “generous” offer on protecting the rights of EU citizens.

After carefully studying the details, the EU Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group was much more definitive and said too much of Britain’s optimistic talk was just a smoke screen. It indicated it wouldn’t be good enough for the legislature.

“The rights of EU citizens in the U.K. will be reduced to a level lower than third country nationals in the EU,” the letter to Barnier said.

“The aspirational language used in relation to rights as important as the right to health or the recognition of diploma and professional qualifications does not provide the much-needed guarantees.”

“Above all,” the four-page letter brimming with scathing comments added, EU citizens in Britain would have “no life-long protection.”

The EU parliament wants citizens from both sides to receive “fair treatment” and their rights “given full priority in the negotiations.”

Alongside citizens’ rights, the Brexit negotiators will first have to address the substantial bill that Britain will have to pay to quit the EU and the problems surrounding the border in Ireland.

The withdrawal process of Britain from the EU should be completed by March 2019, meaning negotiators only have up to the fall of 2018 to agree, not only on the disentanglement of the country but also on setting up a new relationship.

The EU has said once there is “sufficient” progress on such withdrawal issues as the rights of citizens, it could start talks simultaneously on a new relationship and a trade deal.

The difficulties already surrounding the first issue indicate that it could become a tough job.

Read More →

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.’s envoy for Syria on Monday opened a new round of indirect talks, the seventh so far, between Syrian government representatives and opposition leaders to try to wind down the battered country’s civil war.

The start of the talks in Geneva coincided with the first full day of a cease-fire for southern Syria that was brokered last week by the United States, Russia and Jordan.

Opposition activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh said it was quiet in the city of Daraa, near the Jordanian border. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported light shelling and bombardment in the city overnight.

The agreed-on cease-fire covers three war-torn provinces in southern Syria. It’s the first tangible outcome following months of strategy and diplomacy between the new Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow.

The Geneva talks are expected to last through the week. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura declined to comment on his expectations but was due to hold a news conference later in the day.

De Mistura will be shuttling between the two sides, which have so far only faced each other in ceremonial meetings that have been short on substance. The U.N. envoy was first to meet with representatives from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government on Monday, before a meeting later with opposition representatives.

The U.N.-led diplomatic efforts seek partly to ensure humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria and plan for the day after the war is over.

The Syrian opposition is determined to achieve a political transition in Damascus, while Assad’s government insists the talks should prioritize “the war on terror.” Deputy Special Envoy Ramzy Ramzy said in Damascus on Saturday the talks would address both matters in parallel.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces retook the al-Hail gas field in central Syria from Islamic State militants, the army reported. The government and its Iranian backers have been advancing through the country’s Homs province to secure vital resources they lost early in the war. Their declared aim is to relieve Syrian soldiers who have been under IS siege in the city of Deir El-Zour, a regional hub for resource commerce.

Oil and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Ghanem said Syria was producing 10 million cubic meters (13.08 million cubic yards) of gas a day — roughly half of its pre-war output of 21 million cubic meters a day.

In northern Syria, at least one person was killed and several others wounded in a barrage of rocket fire and shelling on areas under the control of a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia. The People’s Protection Units blamed the attack on Turkey. Ankara says the militia is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish insurgent group operating inside its own borders. At least three civilians were killed in shelling on Kurdish villages last week.

Five people were killed in shelling on the nearby city of Aleppo, Syrian state media reported. The government blamed it on rebels encamped outside the city.

Separately, the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee group said on social media it detained 123 IS fighters in northwest Idlib province, a rebel-held corner of the country where the group is largely in control. The Observatory also reported the detentions on Sunday.

Assad’s government has refused to entertain talk of the president’s departure. He inherited power from his father, the late Hafez Assad, in 2000 and has held on despite the devastating civil war. Half of the country’s population has been displaced, and some 400,000 people have been killed in the violence since 2011.

Read More →

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s justice minister called Monday for better exchange of information on violent extremists in the European Union following the riots that accompanied the Group of 20 summit.

Hamburg saw three nights of violence amid anti-globalization protests as leaders of the world’s biggest economic powers met. Police arrested 186 and temporarily detained a further 225 people.

“The brutal riot tourists stop at no borders,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said. “A high proportion of the violent extremists traveled to the G-20 from other European countries.”

He added that “we experienced a new quality of violence, which we should react to with more cooperation in combating extremists.”

Germany temporarily reintroduced border controls with its European neighbors weeks before the summit.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said “several hundred” known extremists were turned back. Other people were searched but in some cases there was no legal reason to deny them entry, such as traveling with weapons like slingshots.

“We are talking about a year and half to two years of preparation in the left-wing extremist scene,” de Maiziere said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the material with which police officers were wounded came to Germany long before border controls were introduced.”

“The events surrounding the G-20 summit must be a turning point in our view of the left-wing scene’s readiness to use violence,” he added. There must be “no tolerated retreats” in German cities for violent far-left extremists, he said.

De Maiziere is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party. Maas belongs to the center-left Social Democrats, its current partners in a national governing coalition of traditional rivals.

Hamburg’s city government, which oversaw the police operation, is led by the Social Democrats. The local branch of Merkel’s party has called for Mayor Olaf Scholz’s resignation, but Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier — also a conservative — rejected that call. Germany holds a national election Sept. 24.

Read More →

LiveWire