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rpannier's Journal
rpannier's Journal
February 29, 2020

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

1. No Debate, No Competition, No Surprises -- It's A Tajik Election

With no real competition on offer, no surprises are expected when Tajikistan holds elections on March 1 for the lower house of parliament that are projected to be dominated by President Emomali Rahmon's People's Democratic Party (PDPT).

Some other pro-government parties are expected to get a handful of seats in the 63-strong Majlisi Namoyandagon, as the authorities -- who tightly control the election process -- are keen to avoid having a single-party legislature.

Along with the ruling PDPT, six other smaller parties are taking part in the elections. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is the only opposition group in the mix.

The vote marks Tajikistan's first parliamentary elections since the Supreme Court outlawed the most influential opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), as a terrorist organization in 2015.


2. Three Years After Unexplained Medical Emergency, Russian Activist Sues FBI For Toxicology Results

Three years ago, in February 2017, Vladimir Kara-Murza was rushed to a Moscow hospital, where he suffered massive organ failure, forcing doctors to place the Russian democracy activist on a ventilator, put him in a coma, and purify his blood. The symptoms were almost identical to what had happened to him two years earlier.

Days after the second incident, Kara-Murza’s wife took some of the blood drawn by the Moscow doctors and flew to the United States. Upon arrival, she was met by FBI agents who took the samples for testing. After U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida) and Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi), took a specific interest in the case, FBI officials assured another senator, the late John McCain (Republican-Arizona), that some sort of result would be forthcoming.

But the FBI then reversed itself, according to congressional officials, and declined to release any results: not to Kara-Murza, and not to Congress.

In a lawsuit being filed February 25 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Kara-Murza is suing the FBI to obtain records and results of the tests, charging that the U.S. Justice Department -- of which the FBI is a part -- was improperly withholding them.


3. Italy's crumbling motorways: how the Genoa bridge collapse exposed a national scandal

The state of Italian motorways is a national scandal. There are about twenty badly-damaged motorway bridges in Italy currently under investigation. There are also 200 illegal tunnels, which don't comply with European standards and 1,000 viaducts where ownership is unclear and which haven't been monitored for years. Riddled with viaducts and tunnels, Liguria, in the north of Italy, is the focus of this crisis.

The collapse of the Morandi viaduct in August 2018, which killed 43 people, was the point at which a long series of incidents became linked. Before the collapse of the Morandi viaduct, there had been a series of worrying incidents.

- In 2016, a flyover close to Milan collapsed under the weight of a truck, one person died.

- In 2017 a bridge collapsed near Ancona killing two people.

- In 2019, a motorway bridge fell on the A6 following a landslide.

- In December 2019, the ceiling of a tunnel collapsed on the A26 not far from Genoa. Luckily, there were no victims.


4. Boris Nemtsov: Prague set to rile Moscow by naming square after slain opposition leader

City councillors in Prague are expected to controversially rename a public square in the Czech capital after slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

The move is likely to inflame tensions with Moscow as the square is located near the Russian embassy in Prague.

Nemtsov, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in central Moscow five years ago this month.

The move to rename the square is also another indication of concerns amongst some of the Czech Republic's political class that the country's foreign policy is too closely aligned with authoritarian governments, like those in Russia and China.


5. 'Great Anger': Far-Right And Populist Parties Aim For Upset In Slovak Elections

Slovaks go to the polls on February 29 to elect a new parliament, with opinion polls suggesting a strong showing for both the far-right and a populist former businessman. The election comes amid the trial of five people charged with organizing or carrying out the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, a case which has shaken Slovakia with revelations of ties between state structures and organized crime.

Video at link

February 28, 2020

All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all elementary, junior high and high schools nationwide to close from Monday through the students’ spring break, which typically ends in early April.

“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period,” Abe told a meeting of key Cabinet ministers on the coronavirus outbreak crisis.


Abe’s surprise announcement came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus patients kept surging, exceeding 200 across Japan as of Thursday evening, excluding the more than 700 infected patients related to the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship.


The Kanagawa government decided to exclude parents and guardians from attending graduation and entrance ceremonies at junior and senior high schools run by the prefecture as a precautionary measure.


We live in Kanagawa and our kids are out of school until the start of the new school year in April
They will still attend their school clubs but the schedules (which will be sent via e-mail once the school decides) will be far l;ess rigorous in terms of time
Almost no one I know, including wife and me disagree with closing the schools and most people I know have said the same thing
There will be graduation ceremonies, so the students will receive their graduation goodies from the school. So that's good

February 28, 2020

Cults and Conservatives Spread Coronavirus in South Korea


South Korea initially seemed to have the COVID-19 epidemic under control, armed with efficient bureaucracy and state-of-the-art technology. However, since Feb. 18, the number of coronavirus cases in South Korea has exploded to more than 1,700 as of Thursday. The battle plan against the epidemic was derailed by the oldest of problems: religion and politics.


South Korea has been preparing for a potential new strain of coronavirus since as early as November 2019. Without knowing what virus would hit the country next, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) devised an ingenious method of testing for any type of coronavirus and eliminating known strains of coronavirus such as SARS or MERS to isolate the new variant of coronavirus.

For the first four weeks of the outbreak, South Korea marshaled high-tech resources to respond aggressively while promoting transparency. The government tracked the movements of travelers arriving from China, for example by tracking the use of credit cards, checking CCTV footage, or mandating they download an app to report their health status every day. For those infected, the government published an extremely detailed list of their whereabouts, down to which seat they sat in at a movie theater.


Shincheonji’s bad theology makes for worse public health. Shincheonji teaches illness is a sin, encouraging its followers to suffer through diseases to attend services in which they sit closely together, breathing in spittle as they repeatedly amen in unison. If they were off on their own, that might be one thing—but according to Shin Hyeon-uk, a pastor who formerly belonged to the cult, Shincheonji believes in “deceptive proselytizing,” approaching potential converts without disclosing their denomination. Shincheonji convinces its members to cover their tracks, providing a prearranged set of answers to give when anyone asks if they belong to the cult. Often, even family members are in the dark about whether someone is a Shincheonji follower. The net effect is that Shincheonji followers infect each other easily, then go onto infect the community at large.

February 21, 2020

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

1. Germany's far-right AfD party apologises over 'racist' colouring books

Far-right populists Alternative for Germany (AfD) has apologised after a regional faction released "racist colouring books" that appeared to show armed people under a Turkish flag.


In a statement, the AfD has apologised and said the commissioned books had "unfortunately been published prematurely".


Colouring drawings appeared to show armed characters wearing traditional Turkish headdresses and carrying Turkish flags.

Another showed women of colour, wearing bones in their hair, an apparent reference to historical colonial imagery.


2. Siberian Mayor Orders Subordinates To Take Public Transport Amid Service Complaints

The mayor of a Siberian city has ordered his subordinates to take public transportation to work amid complaints about the quality of the service.

Vadim Shuvalov, who runs Surgut, one of Russia's wealthiest cities, asked residents on February 12 via his social media page which transportation lines city officials should inspect.

Citizens responded that buses and vans were dirty, smelly, and uncomfortable.

As a result, Shuvalev decided that his deputies and "simple bureaucrats" will take public transport to work in order to keep on eye on problems with its service, TASS reported.


3.Hitler's Pope or wartime saint? Historians hope to shed light on Pius XII as archives set to open

He was coined as "Hitler's Pope" by some but considered a saint by others.

For decades, World War II-era Pope Pius XII has been the focus of intense controversy for his record during the Holocaust.

On March 2, the Vatican will open Pius XII's archives. The initiative has drawn overwhelming interest from historians and researchers, with more than 150 already registered to access the apostolic library.

Cardinal Jose Tolentino Calaca de Mendonca, the Vatican's chief librarian, said Thursday that all researchers "regardless of nationality, faith and ideology" were welcome to request access.


4. Potential EU Budget Cut Threatens Kaliningrad Transit

A program funded by the European Union allowing citizens from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave to cross Lithuania by rail or road to reach the rest of Russia is in jeopardy as EU leaders meet in Brussels on February 20-21 to negotiate the bloc's next multiannual budget.

The program, called the Kaliningrad Transit Scheme, allows Russian citizens to smoothly transit to and from Kaliningrad from other parts of Russia via Lithuania.

It started in mid-2003, a year before the Baltic state and former Soviet republic became an EU member.

The program, in which Vilnius issues special road and rail transit documents to Russians, has so far run without any major hitches and allowed an average of 400,000 Russians to annually travel to and from the Russian Baltic Sea exclave.


5. Break-up Bosnia to solve its political crisis, says one of country's leaders

One of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders has renewed calls for the country’s dissolution, pledging to block decision-making in the country’s government.

Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is one of the three officials that make up the head of state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said after a meeting with Bosnian Serb leaders the political crisis in the country “will disappear only when Bosnia disappears"


The Dayton Peace Agreement divided the country into two entities, the Serb republic, and the Muslim-Croat federation. All state-level decisions have to be agreed by all three ethnic groups, with decisions blocked if one votes against.

Tensions have been rising this month after the Constitutional Court ruled unclaimed agricultural land is the property of the Bosnian state rather than the Serb republic’s.

February 21, 2020

Tokyo Olympics: dance by Japan's indigenous people dropped from opening ceremony

Japan’s commitment to the rights of its indigenous people has been questioned after organisers of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics dropped a performance by members of the Ainu ethnic minority from the Games’ opening ceremony.

Members of the Ainu community, originally from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, had been expecting to showcase their culture to the world in a dance at the Olympic stadium, but learned recently that the plans had been scrapped.

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee said the performance had been dropped from the ceremony due to “logistical constraints”.


“However, Tokyo 2020 is still deliberating other ways to include the Ainu community. We are not able to provide further details of the content of the opening and closing ceremonies.”


February 15, 2020

Werner Klemperer and John Banner sing Silent night Robert Clary sings a French Carol

Couple of things about the three men
1. All three were Jewish
2. Banner and Clary spent time in a concentration camp
3. It was uncertain which one, Banner or Klemperer, would be Klink and which one would be Schultz
February 12, 2020

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

1. Denmark marks 100 years of reunification - but what reunified and what can we learn?

This year is being remembered as the centenary of redrawing borders in one part of Northern Europe, with Monday marking 100 years since the people in the region of Schleswig voted either to remain with Germany or to join Denmark.

It is a year of happiness for the Danes - who eventually saw the reunification of South Jutland (North Schleswig) - and are marking the occasion with an event this week in Aabenraa.


The region was then split into two zones - North Schleswig and Central Schleswig respectively - to have two referendums on whether to become Danish or to remain German.

The first ballot, held in Zone 1 on February 10, 1920, saw a majority of voters choose Denmark, while the second ballot a month later in Zone 2 saw a majority side with Germany.


2. Russia's 'Heinous' Sentencing Of Seven Activists Sparks Social Media Outrage

A Russian regional court’s "heinous" sentencing of seven activists to long prison terms has ignited outrage on social media, with some critics drawing parallels to the show trials of the Stalinist era.

The case -- known as "Set" (Network) -- is the latest in a series of Russian court decisions over the past year against citizens sharing anti-government views that have provoked a sharp response from segments of society.

A district court in Penza -- an industrial town of about half-a-million people some 625 kilometers southeast of Moscow -- sentenced the seven men on February 10 to prison terms of between six and 18 years, lengths normally given to violent criminals.


Authorities say they belong to a group called Set, but the men all claim such a group does not exist and that, although they share antifascist views, they mainly play outdoor war games together.


3. Ukrainian Police Major, Ex-Convict Wanted In Arson Of RFE/RL’s Reporter’s Car

Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office in Lviv suspects an underworld criminal and a police major of collusion in the arson of a vehicle belonging to RFE/RL correspondent Halyna Tereshchuk.

Iryna Didenko, the lead prosecutor of the Lviv region, signed the charge sheets for the two suspects on February 11.

Accused of ordering the torching of the journalist’s car is a 48-year-old former convict, who is known in the criminal world for black-market schemes and stealing fuel at the Lviv railway.

Allegedly colluding with him was a 43-year-old National Police major in the Lviv region, who sought the arsonist and paid him for the crime, according to Didenko


4. Northern Ireland police arrest four men in connection with McKee murder investigation

Police arrested four men on Tuesday in connection with the murder of journalist Lyra McKee who was shot during rioting in Northern Ireland last year.

"The arrests have been made under the Terrorism Act after the New IRA claimed responsibility for murdering Lyra," police said in a statement.

The four suspects were arrested in Londonderry also known as Derry and are aged 20, 27, 29 and 52


5. German digital bank N26 pulls out of UK, blaming Brexit

The German digital bank N26 is has blamed Brexit for its decision to pull out of the UK and close more than 200,000 customer accounts.

The lender has given customers less than two months to move their money, with all UK accounts to be closed by 15 April. It has also stopped offering new accounts to UK residents.

The move comes less than 18 months after the Berlin-based firm launched in the UK. It had about a dozen employees in the UK, with the rest of the business run remotely from the German capital.

February 11, 2020

High court rules Aboriginal Australians are not 'aliens' under the constitution and cannot be deport

High court rules Aboriginal Australians are not 'aliens' under the constitution and cannot be deported

The high court has decided that Aboriginal Australians are not aliens for the purpose of the constitution, a major defeat for the deportation powers of Peter Dutton’s home affairs department and a significant development in the rights of Indigenous Australians.

In a four-to-three split decision on Tuesday the high court ruled that Aboriginal people with sufficient connection to traditional societies cannot be aliens, giving them a special status in Australian constitutional law likely to have ramifications far beyond existing native title law.

The majority of the high court ruled that Brendan Thoms was not an alien and the commonwealth therefore did not have power to order his deportation. The court was not able to decide if the second plaintiff, Daniel Love, was an Aboriginal Australian, requiring a further hearing to establish the facts.


Justices Virginia Bell, Geoffrey Nettle, Michelle Gordon and James Edelman ruled that the tripartite test – established by the landmark Mabo native title cases – can be used to establish biological descent and recognition of indigeneity by a traditional group that puts Indigenous Australians beyond the reach of the aliens power in the constitution.


on edit
The argument before the Court was whether they had Aboriginal status as they were born outside Australia: New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. They both had one Aboriginal parent. The Court ruled in the first case that it qualified the man as Aboriginal. I am uncertain about the nuances of the second case and why it has been delayed

February 8, 2020

5 Stories from Europe You May Have Missed

1. Russian sisters reunite 78 years after wartime separation

Two Russian sisters have been reunited 78 years after being separated during the second world war, thanks to a television show and a police search.

In footage of their meeting late last month provided by the interior ministry, Yulia and Rozalina Kharitonova, now 92 and 94, hugged and kissed as their family members watched in tears.


As teenagers, the sisters lived with their parents in Stalingrad, the city now known as Volgograd that was the site of one of the bloodiest battles the war. They were separated in 1942 during the civilian evacuation to escape Nazi encirclement.

Yulia, who was born in 1928, was evacuated with her mother to the city of Penza, about 310 miles (500km) to the north. And Rozalina was evacuated with her factory colleagues to the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, about 870 miles to the north-east in the Urals.


2.Bulgaria Changes Legislation To Join Euro 'Waiting Room'

Bulgaria's parliament has adopted amendments to the country's central-bank law in order to ease its accession to the "waiting room" of the eurozone.

Bulgaria has operated an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-led currency-board arrangement since 1999 that pegs its national currency, the lev, to the euro at a fixed rate of 1.95583.

An EU member since 2007, Bulgaria would seek to join the ERM2 Exchange Rate Mechanism -- known as the "waiting room" to the eurozone -- at this rate as soon as April, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov announced.

ERM2 rules require that after admission, Bulgaria's central bank allow currency fluctuations of up to 15 percent above or below the central rate.


3.Hungarian Foreign Minister Visits Kyiv In Effort To Mend Relations

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says his country would like improve relations with Ukraine amid a dispute over a controversial language law.

The remarks came on February 7 during a visit to Kyiv by Szijjarto, his first trip to Hungary’s eastern neighbor since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected last year.

"The Hungarian government is interested in renewing good neighborly relations with Ukraine," Szijjarto said during a news conference with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Kyiv in 2017 passed a law that emphasizes the instruction of Ukrainian in publicly funded schools and curtails the teaching of Russian and other minority languages, such as Romanian and Hungarian.


4. Romania braces for early elections as Ludovic Orban loses confidence vote

Romania faces the prospect of early elections after Ludovic Orban’s minority centrist government lost a no-confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.

The motion brought by the left-wing opposition Social Democrats (PSD) against Orban’s Liberal Party (PNL) – in protest at electoral reform – was backed by 261 lawmakers, well above the 233 needed to cause the government’s downfall.

Opposition parties are strongly against government moves to alter electoral laws ahead of elections for local mayors in the spring.

The PSD and the ethnic Hungarian UDMR fear they will be penalised by plans to introduce two rounds of voting instead of one – as this would give centre-right candidates the chance to form alliances against the left.


5. EU states clash over use of toxic mercury in light bulbs

A row over lamps is emerging as a first major test of the EU’s commitment to its much-vaunted European Green Deal and the bloc’s target of carbon neutrality by the middle of the century.

A debate over the continued use of mercury in fluorescent lighting has split the 27 member states with Germany’s industrial interests being pitted against the environmental concerns of Sweden, according to leaked correspondence.

The European commission is being asked by Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to continue to allow manufacturers to use mercury in light bulbs despite the potential damage to the environment and human health.


Sweden, Finland and Bulgaria, among others, say the successful argument nine years ago that there was not a readily available alternative to mercury in the manufacture of fluorescent lamps is defunct. Mercury-free LED light bulbs were said to produce significantly poorer levels of lighting, but it is now claimed that the technology has sufficiently moved on.

February 8, 2020

When Americans Fought A War In Russia (with pics)

These U.S. troops (below) were among some 13,000 Americans sent to Russia's Far North and Eastern Siberia in 1918 to fight both against -- and alongside -- Russians in one of history's strangest conflicts.

After the revolutionist leader Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917 with the promise of "Peace, Land, and Bread," the country formally withdrew from World War I. Once Russian guns fell silent, Germany and its allies were able to redeploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers from their Eastern Front and hurl them at the exhausted Allied forces in France and Belgium.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George expressed fear that the onslaught could mean "disaster" for the Allies. Britain and France began plotting to "reconstitute the fighting front in the East," possibly by linking up with a contingent of battle-hardened Czechoslovak soldiers stranded inside revolutionary Russia, and overturning Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution by force.


Wilson's stated aim for the U.S. troops was to guard supplies and assist the stranded Czechoslovak forces, who were increasingly in danger as the civil war raged across the country following the Russian revolution. Wilson apparently opposed further military intervention, believing U.S. entanglement in the conflict would only "add to the present sad confusion in Russia rather than cure it."

U.S. troops (left) parade in front of allied Russian White Army fighters.

A U.S. soldier pauses for a photograph while loading supplies onto a ship bound for Russia in 1918.

U.S. soldiers land in Russia's Arkhangelsk in September 1918. Their ship was painted in "dazzle camouflage" designed to make it hard for enemy submarine crews to estimate the ship's direction and speed.

A Bolshevik shot dead after attempting a late-night raid on a U.S. outpost in Russia's Far North.

A U.S. soldier looks across to the Bolshevik-held village of Shenkursk in the distance. The Americans' position was captured by the Bolsheviks two weeks after this photo was taken.

Many more pictures and the full story at

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