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Poland faces months of migration pressure from Belarus, minister says

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November 17, 2021

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The crisis on Poland’s border with Belarus will last months, the Polish defence minister said on Wednesday, as several thousand migrants remained stranded on the EU’s eastern frontier in what the bloc calls a deliberate blackmail campaign by Minsk.

Nine Polish service members were injured on Tuesday and Poland used water cannons against small groups of migrants throwing stones across the barbed wire border fence.

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Belarusian state news agency BELTA said on Tuesday evening border guards had started moving some migrants to a reception centre away from the frontier. Belarusian and Polish border guards said on Wednesday around 2,000 migrants remained at the fence.

European countries accuse Minsk of flying in thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, and pushing them to cross the border illegally, as a tactic to punish Europe for sanctions imposed over a Belarusian crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Belarus calls the accusation it created the crisis absurd, but says the EU must lift sanctions if it wants to resolve it.

“We have to be prepared that this situation on the Belarusian border won’t settle swiftly, we have to be prepared for months; I hope not years,” Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told a morning interview with Polish public radio.

Thousands of migrants have been camped out in the woods as winter approaches, suffering from frost and exhaustion, and barred either from entering Poland or returning into Belarus. At least eight have died since the crisis started this summer.

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The EU has called on Russia to push Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko to resolve the crisis. Moscow denies any direct role though it has offered to act as an intermediary. It has staged military exercises jointly with Belarus near the border, while calling on the West to resolve differences directly with Minsk.

Europe has shunned Lukashenko since an election last year which his opponents say was stolen, but Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone to him on Monday to demand relief for migrants stuck at the border.

EU IN A BIND

The EU has so far largely supported Poland’s nationalist government in taking a hard line at the border, for fear that allowing migrants to cross would cause many more to try to enter and travel on to wealthier countries.

Preventing uncontrolled immigration has been a central political issue for the bloc since 2015, when more than a million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa, straining security and welfare systems. Hostility to lax borders was blamed for a surge in nationalist political movements across the bloc, and even Britain’s vote to quit.

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The EU has since tightened external borders and given money to host migrants in countries such as Turkey, and stop them along migration routes in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere.

Rights groups decry the EU’s restrictive tactics as aggravating human suffering. They say those at the Polish border are entitled to humane treatment and to have any asylum claims heard.

Police in Germany – a top destination for immigrants once they reach the EU – said on Nov. 15 they had registered 9,549 illegal entries from Belarus via Poland this year. They reported only 26 such cases between January and July, rising to 474 arrivals in August, 1,903 in September and 5,285 in October.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Mark Trevelyan; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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