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Poland won’t bow to EU ‘blackmail’ but seek to solve rows, says PM

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October 21, 2021

By Marine Strauss, Jan Strupczewski and Bart H. Meijer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Poland will not bow to European Union “blackmail” but will seek to solve ongoing disputes, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, as he arrived on Thursday to defend his nation before a meeting of fellow leaders in an escalating ideological battle.

Long-running tensions between Poland’s ruling nationalists and the bloc’s liberal majority have risen sharply since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Oct. 7 that elements of EU law were incompatible with the country’s charter.

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In challenging a central tenet of EU integration the case risks precipitating a new fundamental crisis for the bloc – still grappling with the after-effects of Brexit – as well as Poland losing generous European handouts.

“Some European institutions assume the right to decide on matters that have not been assigned to them,” Morawiecki said at the start of two days of talks among the bloc’s 27 national leaders in Brussels.

“We will not act under the pressure of blackmail, we are ready for dialogue, we do not agree to the ever-expanding competences (of EU institutions), but we will of course talk about how to resolve the current disputes in dialogue.”

His wealthier Western counterparts are particularly keen to prevent their governments’ cash contributions to the EU benefiting socially conservative politicians who they see as undercutting human rights fixed in European laws.

“We in Ireland are very concerned,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin said. “The primacy of EU law… is critical for the protection of citizens all across Europe.”

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HIGH STAKES

French President Emmanuel Macron told Morawiecki to work with the executive Commission to find a solution to the dispute compatible with European principles.

Dutch premier Mark Rutte singled out Poland’s judicial overhaul that put courts under more government control.

“We have to be tough,” Rutte said. “The independence of the Polish judiciary is the key issue we have to discuss. It is very difficult to see how a big new fund of money could be made available to Poland when this is not settled.”

Morawiecki’s Law and Justice (PiS) party has raised the stakes in years of increasingly bitter feuds with the EU over a range of democratic principles from the freedom of courts and media to the rights of women, migrants and LGBT people.

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The Commission has for now barred Warsaw from tapping into 57 billion euros ($66 billion) of emergency funds to help its economy emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The top EU court may also slap more fines on Poland, the largest ex-communist EU country of 38 million people. That is the same court, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), that Morawiecki has accused of mounting a power grab.

‘POLEXIT’ DISMISSED

For the bloc, the latest twist in feuds with the eurosceptic PiS also comes at a sensitive time.

The EU – without Britain – last year achieved a major leap towards closer integration in agreeing joint borrowing to raise 750 billion euros for post-pandemic economic recovery, overcoming stiff resistance from states such as the Netherlands.

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Morawiecki has dismissed the idea of leaving the EU in a “Polexit”. Support for membership remains very high in Poland, which has benefited enormously from funding coming from the bloc it joined in 2004.

But Warsaw – backed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – wants to return powers to national capitals and has lashed out at what it says are excessive powers of the Commission.

“Poland is one of the best European countries. There is no need for any sanctions, it’s ridiculous,” Orban said.

While many have grown increasingly frustrated at failed attempts to convince Warsaw to change tack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against isolating Poland.

“We have to find ways of coming back together,” she said, adding that having multiple legal cases against Poland brought to the ECJ was not a solution.

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Her sway, however, is weakened as the veteran of more than 100 summits during her 16 years in power visits Brussels for what may be her last gathering of EU leaders before she hands over to a new German chancellor.($1 = 0.8584 euros)

(Reporting by Marine Strauss, Bart Meijer, John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska, Philip Blenkinsop, Jan Strupczewski, Michel Rose, Andreas Rinke, Sabine Siebold; writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Pullin, Alex Richardson and Andrew Heavens)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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