Greek Monastery Seeks Return of Stolen Religious Objects from Bulgaria

Leading clerics and monks in Greece are urging the state to take legal action against Bulgaria in a bid to win back hundreds of rare religious relics, including Byzantine manuscripts, that Greece alleges were stolen by Bulgarian guerrillas during World War I.The move comes after the U.S.-based Museum of the Bible, which holds some of the world’s most revered collections of religious manuscripts, agreed last week to return a rare 10th century gospel book to the Monastery of Theotokos Eikosiphinisa in northern Greece.“This return marks a glorious achievement,” said Bishop Pavlos of the northeastern Greek city of Drama, who oversees the monastery. “[But] more manuscripts and relics are out there, around the globe, and they need to be repatriated.”“We plan to get tougher in our fight, potentially taking legal action …

France Faces Public Resistance to COVID Vaccine

As French authorities prepare to roll out their COVID immunization strategy this week, they face skepticism in a country where surveys show many people do not trust the vaccine.France was among the nations of Europe taking the heaviest hit from the COVID-19 outbreak as more than 50, 000 people died of the virus.Like the rest of the world, hopes are high that vaccines will defeat the virus and enable people to go back to a normal life. The French immunization campaign is scheduled to start by the end of December with the elderly, people living in nursing homes and medical personnel slated to receive the first doses.In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron said a scientific committee would supervise the immunization campaign and a citizen group would …

In France, Public Resistance to COVID Vaccine

As French authorities prepare to roll out their COVID immunization strategy this week, they face skepticism in a country where surveys show many people do not trust the vaccine.France was among the nations of Europe taking the heaviest hit from the COVID-19 outbreak as more than 50, 000 people died of the virus.Like the rest of the world, hopes are high that vaccines will defeat the virus and enable people to go back to a normal life. The French immunization campaign is scheduled to start by the end of December with the elderly, people living in nursing homes and medical personnel slated to receive the first doses.In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron said a scientific committee would supervise the immunization campaign and a citizen group would …

French Police Charged in Beating, Racial Abuse of Black Man

Four French police officers have been charged in connection to the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, a judicial source said Monday, days after the incident in Paris that intensified controversy over a proposed security law. The beating of music producer Michel Zecler — exposed in video footage published last week — has become a focus of anger against the police, who critics accuse of institutionalized racism and targeting black and Arab people. Tens of thousands protested Saturday against a security bill, which would restrict the right to publish images of on-duty police. Police said 81 people were arrested at the protests, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying the violence was unacceptable. An investigating magistrate ruled early Monday morning to charge the officers with “willful violence by a person holding public authority” and forgery, a judicial source told AFP. Two remain behind bars, while the other two …

UK Inquiry Looks into Role of Air Pollution in Death of Girl

A public inquiry opens Monday in London to determine the role played by air pollution in the death of a girl living near a busy London street, a case that could set a precedent. Then 9 years old, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died February 15, 2013, of a serious asthma attack after nearly three years of repeated attacks and more than 30 hospitalizations related to the disease.  An initial investigation, in 2014, determined that she died of acute respiratory failure caused by severe asthma. But those findings were overturned in 2019 and a new investigation was ordered because of new evidence regarding air pollution risks, highlighted in a report in 2018.  This second investigation, which begins Monday and will last two weeks, will examine the levels of pollution to which Ella had been exposed and determine whether they caused her death. If the coroner, charged with identifying …

Dozens Reported Detained in Anti-Lukashenko Marches in Belarus 

Authorities in Belarus have detained dozens of protesters amid ongoing demonstrations aimed at ousting strongman Alexander Lukashenko from the presidency.    At least 130 people were reported detained in Minsk and Barauliany, according to the Vyasna human rights group. Other detentions were reported across the country. This is the second week in which the Belarus demonstrations have been held under the rubric March of Neighbors. The opposition has adopted the strategy as a way of decentralizing the protests and making it more difficult for police to round up activists. RFE/RL’s Belarus Service reported that law enforcement used tear gas and stun grenades against some demonstrators. Mobile Internet services were not available in Minsk and the central metro stations were closed.    It was unclear how many people participated in the demonstrations.    Belarus has seen nearly continuous …

Court Orders France to Rethink 30-Person Limit on Worship 

France’s highest administrative court on Sunday ordered a rethink of a 30-person attendance limit for religious services put in place by the government to slow down the spread of coronavirus.The measure took effect this weekend as France relaxes some virus restrictions, but it faced opposition by places of worship and the faithful for being arbitrary and unreasonable. Even before the ruling, several bishops had announced they would not enforce the restrictions and some churches were expected defy it.The Council of State has ordered that Prime Minister Jean Castex modify the measure within three days.French churches, mosques and synagogues started opening their doors again to worshippers this weekend — but only a few of them, as France cautiously starts reopening after its latest virus lockdown.Many people expressed irritation outside several Paris …

Opposition Calls on Hungary’s Orban to Sack Museum Head for Likening Soros to Hitler 

A leading Hungarian opposition party joined calls on Sunday for Prime Minister Viktor Orban to sack the head of a state-funded museum for making extreme anti-Semitic comments likening U.S. financier George Soros to Adolf Hitler.Nationalist Orban has long vilified Soros, a Hungarian Jew who emigrated after World War II, as part of a general campaign against immigration. Orban accuses Brussels of trying to force Hungary to accept migrants under the influence of Soros. In an op-ed published on Saturday, Szilard Demeter, who heads the Petofi Literary Museum and serves as a government cultural commissioner, called Soros “the liberal Fuhrer” and wrote that Europe was Soros’ “gas chamber” with “poisonous gas” flowing from the capsule of multicultural open society. Demeter issued a statement on Sunday that he would withdraw the article, saying …

Pandemic Calls off Christmas Markets in Europe

The European plazas where people would usually gather at crowded stalls to partake in hot mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and other delicacies are just empty squares.Christmas markets, a cherished tradition in Germany and neighboring countries, have joined the long list of annual traditions that were canceled or diminished this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. November saw many European countries impose partial or tougher lockdowns as new virus cases soared. The restrictions are either being retained or only partially loosened as Advent begins Sunday.Nuremberg’s sprawling, bustling Christkindlesmarkt, one of Germany’s best known holiday markets and traditionally a big tourist draw, was called off a month ago. Markets across the country — including in Frankfurt, Dortmund and many in Berlin — have suffered the same fate, with authorities canceling the events or …

Britain, France in Pact to Stop Illegal Migrant Crossings

Britain and France on Saturday signed an agreement aimed at ending illegal migration across the English Channel.Starting Dec. 1, patrols on French beaches will be doubled, and technology, including drones and radar, will be used detect the would-be migrant crossings, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said.Patel said the agreement would help the two countries “make channel crossings completely unviable.”She said in the past 10 years Britain had given France nearly $200 million to tackle immigration.More than 6,000 people tried to cross the Channel from Jan. 1 through August of this year.French authorities have said that in September they had intercepted more than 1,300 people attempting to reach Britain.Seven people have died so far this year trying to cross to Britain, and four died last year. …

UK, EU Resume Face-to-face Trade Talks With Time Running Out

Teams from Britain and the European Union resumed face-to-face talks on a post-Brexit trade deal Saturday, with both sides sounding gloomy about striking an agreement in the little time that remains.EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier returned to London to meet his U.K. counterpart, David Frost. Talks have been held virtually for the past week as Barnier completed a spell of self-isolation after a member of his team tested positive for the coronavirus.COVID-19 is just one complication in negotiations that remain snagged over key issues including fishing rights and fair-competition rules. Barnier said Friday that the remote talks had made little progress and the “same significant divergences persist.”The U.K. left the EU early this year but remained part of the bloc’s economic embrace during an 11-month transition as the two sides …

French Protesters, Police Clash Over New Security Legislation

Violent clashes erupted Saturday in Paris as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest new security legislation, with tensions intensified by the police beating and racial abuse of a Black man that shocked France.Several fires were started in Paris, sending acrid smoke into the air, as protesters vented their anger against the security law that would restrict the publication of police officers’ faces.About 46,000 people marched in Paris and 133,000 in total nationwide in about 70 cities, including in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes, the Interior Ministry said. Protest organizers said about 500,000 joined nationwide, including 200,000 in the capital.President Emmanuel Macron said late Friday that the images of the beating of Black music producer Michel Zecler by police officers in Paris last weekend “shame us.” The incident …

Catholics in France Oppose Prayer Service Restrictions Imposed on Places of Worship

As French authorities ease some measures taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics in the country are challenging the size limit still imposed by the government on prayer services.The coronavirus pandemic places a heavy burden on France, where more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19. Places of worship were still open during the lockdown, but regular prayer services were banned due to health concerns.Believers in France were relieved this week when French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that prayer services could resume Saturday in places of worship.During a press conference, Castex explained it would be progressive in places of worship, as they have become clusters during the pandemic, in France and all over the world. Only 30 people at a time will be allowed at prayer services inside places …

Cluster Munitions Ban is Saving Lives and Livelihoods

A report by the Cluster Munition Coalition finds significant progress has been made in stigmatizing and eliminating these weapons since the global treaty banning cluster munitions came into force 10 years ago. Activists note that over the past decade, 1.5 million cluster bombs containing more than 178 million bomblets have been destroyed.  This represents 99% of all stocks declared by the 110 state parties to the treaty.The director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, Stephen Goose, says no state party to the convention has used or produced cluster munitions for the past 10 years.  However, during this period, he says the Cluster Munition Monitor has documented the sporadic use of these weapons by eight countries that have not signed the treaty.  He says Syria has used cluster munitions without stop since 2012.“We have …

Hundreds of ‘Zombie Mink’ Resurfacing from Mass Graves

Denmark’s government said on Friday it wants to dig up mink that were culled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after hundreds resurfaced from mass graves.Denmark ordered all farmed mink to be culled early this month after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.The decision led to 17 million animals being destroyed and to the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen, after it was determined that the order was illegal.Dead mink were tipped into trenches at a military area in western Denmark and covered with 2 meters of soil. But hundreds have begun resurfacing, pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas …

US Sanctions Chinese, Russian Firms Over Iran Dealings

The U.S. announced economic sanctions Friday on Chinese and Russian companies that Washington said had supported the development of Iran’s missile program.The four firms, accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program,” will be subject to restrictions on U.S. government aid and on their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.The sanctions, imposed Wednesday, were against two China-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia-based Nilco Group and Joint Stock Company Elecon.”We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC (China) and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran,” Pompeo added.President Donald Trump withdrew …

Macron Calls Images of Police Beating Black Man Shameful for France 

President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that images showing Paris police beating up a Black music producer were shameful for France and that government would have to find a way to restore public confidence in the force.Prosecutors are investigating the violent arrest of Michel Zecler, who said he was also racially abused by the officers, after CCTV footage of the incident was released. The police watchdog is also investigating.Four police officers were being held for questioning as part of the investigation, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.The beating inside the entrance of a building was captured on closed circuit television and mobile phone footage, which has circulated widely online and has made headlines around Europe.”The images we have all seen of the aggression against Michel Zecler are unacceptable. They are shameful for …

In Santa’s Mailbag, a Peek into Children’s Pandemic Worries

Jim, from Taiwan, slipped a face mask inside the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked “I (heart) u.” Alina, 5, asked in her Santa letter written with an adult’s help that he please use the front door when he drops in, because the back door is reserved for Grandma and Grandpa to minimize their risk of contamination.  And spilling out her heavy little heart to “Dear Father Christmas,” 10-year-old Lola wrote that she is wishing “that my aunt never has cancer again and that this virus no longer exists.”  “My mother is a care-giver and sometimes I am scared for her,” Lola explained, signing off her handwritten letter with, “Take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”  The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping …

Navalny Urges EU to Target Putin’s Oligarch Backers

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny urged the EU on Friday to put targeted economic sanctions on the oligarchs surrounding President Vladimir Putin.”There is no sense in sanctioning colonels or generals or some people who are definitely not travelling a lot,” Navalny told MEPs by videolink.Addressing the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after a poisoning allegedly ordered by the Kremlin, argued for a new strategy.He said the Russian officials and military officers who are traditionally targeted “definitely do not have a lot of estate or bank accounts in Europe”.Instead, he argued, Brussels should go after what he said was Putin’s true inner circle of wealthy moguls with yachts and investments in the EU.Western government have concluded that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok, a military-grade poison …