Belgium Starts Trial Into Brussels Bombings

Belgium begins proceedings Monday in its largest ever trial to determine whether 10 men played a part in the Islamist suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured over 300. More than six years after the attacks, presiding judge Laurence Massart will confirm on Monday the identity of all parties to the case, including the defendants and lawyers representing around 1,000 people affected by the attacks claimed by Islamic State. She will then address the jury, selected from a pool of 1,000 Belgians last week in a process lasting 14 hours. The Brussels bombings’ trial has clear links to the French trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks. Six of the Brussels accused were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 years and life in France …

France Beats Poland to Reach World Cup Quarter-Finals 

France beat Poland 3-1 in a record-smashing World Cup last-16 clash on Sunday that saw Olivier Giroud become France’s outright all-time top scorer and Kylian Mbappe score a magnificent double. France was relentless on the attack as it pushed for an opening goal but could not unlock a sturdy Poland until just before the break when Mbappe played a pin-point ball through to Giroud, who hammered it past a diving Wojciech Szczesny to claim his 52nd goal for Les Bleus. Holders France continued to press after the break, with Giroud almost netting a second when he flicked Jules Kounde’s cross just past the near post. But Mbappe did not miss in the 74th minute, unleashing a missile from just inside the penalty area that shot into the top corner. Mbappe …

EU Chief Says Bloc Must Act Over US Climate Plan ‘Distortions’

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday the bloc must act to address “distortions” created by Washington’s $430-billion plan to spur climate-friendly technologies in the United States. The European Union must “take action to rebalance the playing field where the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act] or other measures create distortions,” von der Leyen said in a speech at the College of Europe in the Belgian city of Bruges. EU countries have poured criticism on Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, seeing it as anti-competitive and a threat to European jobs, especially in the energy and auto sectors. The act, designed to accelerate the U.S. transition to a low-carbon economy, contains around $370 billion in subsidies for green energy as well as tax cuts for U.S.-made electric cars and batteries. Von der …

Russian Public Support Dropping for War on Ukraine – British Defense Ministry 

The British Defense Ministry says a recent poll shows Russian public support for the war on Ukraine is dropping. In its Sunday morning intelligence update the ministry said an independent Russian media outlet has claimed access to data collected by Russia’s Federal Protective Service that indicates 55% of Russians favor peace talks with Ukraine, while only 25% say they support continuing the war. In April 2022 some 80% of Russians were reported as supporting the invasion of Ukraine.   The ministry says that, “With Russia unlikely to achieve major battlefield successes in the next several months, maintaining even tacit approval of the war amongst the population is likely to be increasingly difficult for the Kremlin.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said capping the price of Russian seaborne oil at $60 a …

UK Arrests Wealthy Russian as Police Target Putin Enablers

British authorities have arrested a wealthy Russian businessman on suspicion of money laundering, amid efforts to disrupt potential criminal activity by oligarchs and others linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The National Crime Agency said more than 50 officers from a specialized unit raided the suspect’s multimillion-pound home in London on Thursday, seizing several digital devices and a “significant” amount of cash. The man was not named. “The NCA’s Combatting Kleptocracy Cell, only established this year, is having significant success investigating potential criminal activity by oligarchs, the professional service providers that support and enable them and those linked to the Russian regime,” agency director general Graeme Biggar said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to use all the powers and tactics available to us to disrupt this threat.” The …

Fighting Slows, Ukrainian Will to Resist Does Not, US Intelligence Chief Says

U.S. intelligence expects the reduced tempo in fighting in Ukraine to continue in the next several months and sees no evidence of a reduced Ukrainian will to resist, despite attacks on its power grid and other critical winter infrastructure, the director of national intelligence said Saturday. “We’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict … and we expect that’s likely to be what we see in the coming months,” Avril Haines told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California. She said both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries would be looking to try to refit and resupply to prepare for a counteroffensive in after the winter, but there was a question as to what that would look like, and added: “We actually have a fair amount …

Burkina Faso Government Suspends France’s RFI Radio Broadcasts

Burkina Faso’s military government has suspended the broadcast of France’s RFI radio in the Sahel West African state over what it said were false reports and giving voice to Islamist militants, a statement from the government said Saturday. The statement said RFI on Saturday broadcast a message from a leader of a militant group in which he threatened the population. “RFI strongly deplores this decision and protests against the totally unfounded accusations calling into question its professionalism,” State-owned Radio France Internationale, usually referred to as RFI, said in a statement. It added that the decision to suspend its broadcasting was made without prior notice and without the implementation of the procedures put in place by Burkina Faso’s communications regulator. RFI Afrique radio, which has one of the largest footprints across …

Russia Rejects G7 Oil Price Cap

Russia is rejecting a price cap of $60 a barrel on Russian oil imposed by the Group of Seven and its allies, TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Saturday. “We will not accept this ceiling.” Russia threatened to turn off the oil spigot on the coalition of Western countries that endorsed the cap. Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to set the price for Russian oil at $60-per-barrel. The limit will take effect Monday. The Russian Embassy in Washington said Saturday it will continue to find buyers for its oil, despite what is called “dangerous” attempts by the West to introduce a price cap on its oil exports. “Steps like these will inevitably result in increasing uncertainty and imposing higher …

Estonia to Buy US Rocket Artillery System in $200M Deal 

NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced U.S. rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defense officials said Saturday. The deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million and includes equipment such as ammunition and rockets, as well as training. The package includes HIMARS rockets with ranges of 70-300 kilometers (43-186 miles), the Estonian Center for Defense Investment said in a statement. Lockheed Martin Corp. is expected to make the first deliveries in 2024. Estonian officials didn’t disclose the number of rocket launchers, but local media outlets said the purchase consists of six HIMARS. “The HIMARS multiple rocket launchers are a new important step in the development of Estonia’s …

White House Says Biden Not Intending to Talk to Putin

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden has “no intentions” at present of holding negotiations with President Vladimir Putin about ending the war in Ukraine, a day after Biden appeared to make a conditional offer to talk to his Russian counterpart. “We’re just not at a point now where talks seem to be a fruitful avenue to approach right now,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Friday. At a news conference Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden said, “I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet.” Biden’s comments appeared to be a cautious diplomatic overture from the White House. When asked about …

US Designates Iran, China as Countries of Concern Over Religious Freedom

The United States on Friday designated China, Iran and Russia, among others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. In a statement, Blinken said those designated as countries of particular concern, which also include North Korea and Myanmar, engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam were placed on the watch list. Several groups, including the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organization that is active in Syria, Africa and Ukraine, also were designated as entities of particular concern. The Wagner Group was designated over its activities in the Central African Republic, Blinken said. “Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals …

VOA Interview December 2: John Kirby

VOA White House correspondent Paris Huang spoke with John Kirby, National Security Council (NSC) Coordinator for Strategic Communications, on Friday about protests in China, the Chinese military, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Russian war in Ukraine. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. VOA: We’ll start with the protests happening in China right now, that the world is watching. So, the scale of the protests in China right now is something that we haven’t seen since the Tiananmen Square happened in 1989. The Chinese top security body, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, (is) already calling resolutely (for a) crackdown. We’re also seeing some local cities already using tear gas on the protesters, arresting people as well. So will the (U.S. President Joe) Biden administration make it clear …

Prince William, Like His Father, Prioritizes the Environment

Britain’s Prince William capped a three-day visit to Boston by meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday, ahead of announcing his Earthshot Prize environmental award winners at a gala event. The Prince of Wales shook hands with Biden and spoke quietly in the winter cold near the water outside of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum. He also met Caroline Kennedy, the late president’s daughter, and told her that the stories of the Earthshot Prize winners were an inspiration. William once again paid homage to President Kennedy, “the man who inspired our mission,” and said the “game-changing” solutions were being offered to protect the planet. Kennedy’s legacy loomed large during the visit by William and his wife, Kate. William named his environmental award the Earthshot Prize, drawing …

European Security Organization Faces Existential Crisis at Meeting

A security organization born in the Cold War to maintain peace in Europe ended a high-level meeting Friday without a final resolution, underlining the existential crisis it is facing amid Russia’s war against Ukraine. The war launched by one member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe against another has created hurdles for the 57-nation group. It makes decisions based on the consensus of all members, which rendered it impossible for the vast majority that condemn the war to get through a final resolution opposing Russia’s aggression. Running through the two-day meeting of foreign ministers and other representatives, the OSCE’s first such high-level meeting since the Feb. 24 invasion, was the question of how it can continue to function without consensus from Russia and its ally Belarus, which …

US, Russia Trade Jabs Over Ukraine

 Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is ready for negotiations with the West — provided the West recognizes Russia’s “new territories” taken from Ukraine. The statement from the Kremlin came after what appeared to be a cautious diplomatic overture from the White House. At a news conference Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Joe Biden said, “I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet.” The Kremlin shot back that Putin is “open to negotiations,” but the West must accept his proclamation that the southern region of Kherson and three other partly occupied regions of Ukraine now belong to Russia. Russia’s invasion has been condemned as illegal …

UN Weekly Roundup: November 26 – December 2, 2022 

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. UN launches record humanitarian appeal for 2023 The United Nations launched a $51.5 billion appeal Thursday for humanitarian needs in 2023. Needs are the highest they have ever been, with 339 million people in 69 countries requiring some form of humanitarian assistance. That’s 65 million more people than at the start of this year. The U.N. and its partner agencies hope to reach 230 million of those most in need in 2023. U.N. Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said that 2022’s extreme events are spilling into next year, including deadly climate events such as droughts and floods, and the impact of the war in Ukraine. …

Detained American in Russia Makes Contact With Family

The brother of American Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018 after being convicted on espionage charges in 2020, says the former U.S. Marine telephoned his parents from Russia early Friday, the first contact in more than a week. In a statement emailed to media outlets, David Whelan said that his brother said he was transferred to a prison hospital last week for a previously undisclosed treatment. During the call, Paul Whelan said he had been returned to his original prison facility. Friday’s call was the first the family had heard from him since November 23. “The call at least acts as a ‘proof of life’ even if nothing else has been explained: When Paul went there, why, why the calls stopped, why the US Embassy had …

First Ladies Biden, Macron Bond Over Love of Language and Education 

First lady Jill Biden, who has broken with precedent by continuing to teach at a community college since moving into the White House, confided to a group of seventh graders this week that she was not always sure she would be able to handle both jobs. Biden, who holds a doctoral degree, made the admission Thursday during a museum visit with her French counterpart Brigitte Macron, who was in Washington with President Emmanuel Macron for a state visit. “Teaching is my passion, I teach English and I love it,” Biden said in response to a question from one of the school children at the Planet Word Museum, which is dedicated to language. “I said to my husband: ‘I don’t want to give up teaching.’ And he said: ‘Oh I don’t …