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UK decries France’s seizure of fishing boat as post-Brexit row deepens

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October 28, 2021

By Juliette Jabkhiro

LE HAVRE, France (Reuters) -Britain denounced France’s seizure of a British boat in French waters and warned Paris against further retaliation on Thursday, in a rapidly deteriorating row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

French Seas Minister Annick Girardin said the Cornelis Gert Jan, a scallop dredger, was escorted to the northern port of Le Havre overnight after its crew failed to prove it was allowed to fish in French territorial waters. A second British vessel was given a verbal warning.

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The action signalled France’s determination not to back down in the row, a day after listing potential sanctions https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/brexit-france-readying-sanctions-if-uk-withholds-fishing-licences-2021-10-27 against Britain if there is no progress in talks.

They include extra customs checks on British goods from Nov. 2 and what was widely seen in London as a threat to cut electricity exports to Britain if talks fail.

“It’s not war, but it is a fight,” Girardin told RTL radio.

British fishing grounds are among the richest in the North East Atlantic zone, where most of the European Union’s catch is hauled in.

France’s actions appear intended as a warning shot to put pressure on Britain to compromise at talks with the EU.

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The British government said the French reaction was “disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner”.

Environment minister George Eustice challenged France’s statement that the boat had no licence, and told parliament the steps threatened by France appeared to be incompatible with a post-Brexit free-trade agreement and wider international law.

“…if carried through, (they) will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response,” he said.

France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licences to operate in British waters that France says is warranted, though Britain says it is issuing licences to vessels that meet its criteria.

“So now we need to speak the language of strength since that seems to be the only thing this British government understands,” European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told CNews television channel.

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Girardin made clear France could not cut off electricity supplies to Britain as a retaliatory measure but said it could raise tariffs. Britain was importing about 6% of its electricity supply from France on Thursday, data showed.

VESSEL IMPOUNDED

Additional customs checks on goods travelling between Britain and the rest of Europe could disrupt trade flows before Christmas.

The EU’s executive body said it would continue talks with Britain and France in the coming days.

The Cornelis Gert Jan’s skipper is under preliminary investigation for dredging 2,160 kg (4,762 lb) of scallops and could face a 75,000-euro ($87,500 fine). Its owners said the vessel had a fishing licence and had been fishing legally.

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“We are a pawn of bigger forces here. This is to do with licences and the beef that the French have with the licences of French vessels,” Andrew Brown, a director of Macduff Shellfish, told Reuters.

Barrie Deas, head of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said France appeared determined to escalate the licence row before a presidential election, with President Emmanuel Macron expected to seek a new term in April.

In a sign Britain might offer more licences, Bruno Margolle, head of the Boulogne fishermen’s collective, said 15 of the 37 licence requests from his region previously shown as rejected had passed to ‘under consideration’ since the boat was held.

Senior British, French and EU officials have signalled they do not want the dispute to escalate, but Macron and Johnson are under pressure from vocal fishing lobbies and will want to show they are defending voters’ interests.

The industry makes only a small contribution to the French and British economies but is a lifeline for some coastal communities.

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In Le Havre, scallop fishermen said they were fed up with British vessels enjoying what they called unfair access to shellfish in French waters.

“There has to be an end to this fraud,” Pascal Coquet, president of the National Scallop Fishermen’s Committee, said.

($1 = 0.8566 euros)

(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro in Le Havre; Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough, Michaela Cabrera and Layli Foroudi in Paris; Hilip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Andrew MacAskill and Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Richard Lough and Timothy Heritage; Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)

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Blinken downbeat about nuclear talks as Iran floats proposals

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December 2, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk

VIENNA/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The United States said on Thursday it had little cause for optimism about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and would know in a day or so if Iran would negotiate in good faith as Tehran put forward fresh proposals.

“I think, in the very near future, the next day or so, we’ll be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm.

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“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully,” he added.

Iran has provided European powers who are shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials with drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said on Thursday, as world powers and Tehran try to reinstate the pact.

The announcement came on the fourth day of indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. economic sanctions.

The talks resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus prompted by Iran’s election of an anti-Western hardliner as president.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said Iran has started producing enriched uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, further eroding the nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.

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“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen,” Blinken told reporters in Stockholm in a possible reference to that development.

It was unclear whether Blinken had been briefed on the latest proposals by the Iranians when he made his comments.

“We have delivered two proposed drafts to them … Of course they need to check the texts that we have provided to them. If they are ready to continue the talks, we are in Vienna to continue the talks,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters in the Austrian capital.

A European diplomat in Vienna confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Under the pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment programme, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy, in exchange for relief from the economic sanctions.

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But in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.

“We want all sanctions to be lifted at once,” Bagheri told reporters. He said an Iranian proposal regarding how to verify the removal of sanctions – Tehran’s overriding priority in the talks – would be handed over to the European parties later.

A senior European diplomat estimated on Tuesday that 70-80% of a draft deal on salvaging the 2015 accord was completed when Iran and world powers last met in June, though it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Humeyra Pamuk in Stockholm; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed;Editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

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Jailed former paralympic athlete Pistorius moved closer to victim’s family

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December 2, 2021

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Former South Africa paralympic superstar, Oscar Pistorius, jailed in 2016 for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, has been moved closer to her family ahead of reconciliation talks that could help pave the way for his early release from prison.

Pistorius, known as “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, went from public hero to convicted murderer in a trial that drew worldwide interest. He becomes eligible for parole after serving half of his 13-year sentence.

Pistorius is set to speak to Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, in a process known as victim-offender dialogue – an integral part of South Africa’s restorative justice programme in its prison system that brings parties affected by a particular crime together in a bid to achieve closure.

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“They are participating in the process because they have committed themselves to being part of the victim-offender dialogue. They feel they have to do this for Reeva,” Tania Koen, lawyer for the Steenkamps, said of the family.

Pistorius’ lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘SENSITIVE PROCESS’

Gold medalist Pistorius, once the darling of the Paralympic movement for pushing for greater recognition and acceptance of disabled athletes, shot dead Steenkamp, a model and law student, in his bathroom in 2013.

Pistorius said he had believed she was an intruder but was jailed in 2016, initially for a six-year term. After an appeal by prosecutors who said this was too lenient the term was increased to 13 years.

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He has now been moved from a prison near Johannesburg to one on South Africa’s east coast, near where Steenkamp’s parents live.

Neither their lawyer Koen nor Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesman for the department of correctional services, could provide Reuters with a timeline for the discussions.

“It is very sensitive process, highly emotional… and we do not force people to participate in it,” Nxumalo said.

“But we are saying at least it does lay a foundation where people can, if possible, forgive each other, find one another and then try to move forward in harmony,” he said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Siyabonga Sishi; editing by Gareth Jones)

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Omicron may soon cause over half of COVID infections in Europe -EU

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December 2, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 infections in Europe within a few months.

The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus strains.

“Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

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There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.

Europe has so far recorded a few dozens of infections with the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last month.

The European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) include the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Earlier on Thursday, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said that Omicron could take Delta’s place already by the end of January.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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