Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.

Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.

US Charges WikiLeaks Founder With Violating Espionage Act

U.S. prosecutors Thursday announced new criminal charges under the Espionage Act against jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over his alleged role in what they termed “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in U.S. history.

The charges are not related to WikiLeaks’ alleged role in disseminating stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

An 18-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Assange of working with former Army specialist Chelsea Manning to obtain and publish on WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive U.S. government reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Guantanamo Bay prison.

The documents, many of them classified as secret, contained the names of journalists, dissidents and other human sources that provided information to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to U.S. diplomats around the world.

Warned in 2010

Assange, prosecutors allege, knew that disseminating the names endangered the human sources and that he continued to do so even after a warning by the State Department in late 2010.

Assange was charged last year with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in connection with working with Manning. The indictment was unsealed in April after Assange was expelled from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’d taken refuge in 2012, and arrested by British police.

He remains in jail on charges of violating his bail conditions and faces possible extradition to the U.S. and Sweden.

The new charges against Assange include conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information as well as obtaining and disclosing national defense information. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Each new count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Assange has long maintained that he’s being targeted for his work as a journalist.

“This is madness,” WikiLeaks tweeted after the charges were announced. “It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment.”

Press and government transparency advocates have come to Assange’s defense, arguing that prosecuting Assange could endanger others who publish classified information.

But U.S. law enforcement officials were quick to emphasize that they don’t see Assange’s work as journalism.

“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters. “It has not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist.”

​‘Complicity in illegal acts’

U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger stressed that Assange is only charged for his “complicity in illegal acts” and for “publishing a narrow set of classified documents” that contained names of confidential human sources.

“Assange is not charged simply because he is a publisher,” Terwilliger told reporters.

Assange, a 47-year-old Australian computer programmer and activist, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as “an intelligence agency of the people.”

To obtain secret documents to publish, he “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

Manning, an intelligence specialist based in Iraq, responded to Assange’s call by stealing and providing to him databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan war reports, 400,000 reports about the Iraq war, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables, according to the indictment.

Manning served seven years in a military prison for her role in the WikiLeaks disclosures before then-President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence shortly before he left office in January 2017.

She spent 62 days in federal jail earlier this year on civil contempt charges after she refused to answer questions to the federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Last week, a federal judge ordered her back to jail.

The charges against Assange predate by several years allegations that the anti-secrecy website published tens of thousands of Democratic documents stolen by Russian agents during the 2016 election.

US Charges WikiLeaks Founder With Violating Espionage Act

U.S. prosecutors Thursday announced new criminal charges under the Espionage Act against jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over his alleged role in what they termed “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in U.S. history.

The charges are not related to WikiLeaks’ alleged role in disseminating stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

An 18-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Assange of working with former Army specialist Chelsea Manning to obtain and publish on WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive U.S. government reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Guantanamo Bay prison.

The documents, many of them classified as secret, contained the names of journalists, dissidents and other human sources that provided information to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to U.S. diplomats around the world.

Warned in 2010

Assange, prosecutors allege, knew that disseminating the names endangered the human sources and that he continued to do so even after a warning by the State Department in late 2010.

Assange was charged last year with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in connection with working with Manning. The indictment was unsealed in April after Assange was expelled from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’d taken refuge in 2012, and arrested by British police.

He remains in jail on charges of violating his bail conditions and faces possible extradition to the U.S. and Sweden.

The new charges against Assange include conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information as well as obtaining and disclosing national defense information. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Each new count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Assange has long maintained that he’s being targeted for his work as a journalist.

“This is madness,” WikiLeaks tweeted after the charges were announced. “It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment.”

Press and government transparency advocates have come to Assange’s defense, arguing that prosecuting Assange could endanger others who publish classified information.

But U.S. law enforcement officials were quick to emphasize that they don’t see Assange’s work as journalism.

“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters. “It has not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist.”

​‘Complicity in illegal acts’

U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger stressed that Assange is only charged for his “complicity in illegal acts” and for “publishing a narrow set of classified documents” that contained names of confidential human sources.

“Assange is not charged simply because he is a publisher,” Terwilliger told reporters.

Assange, a 47-year-old Australian computer programmer and activist, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as “an intelligence agency of the people.”

To obtain secret documents to publish, he “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

Manning, an intelligence specialist based in Iraq, responded to Assange’s call by stealing and providing to him databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan war reports, 400,000 reports about the Iraq war, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables, according to the indictment.

Manning served seven years in a military prison for her role in the WikiLeaks disclosures before then-President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence shortly before he left office in January 2017.

She spent 62 days in federal jail earlier this year on civil contempt charges after she refused to answer questions to the federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Last week, a federal judge ordered her back to jail.

The charges against Assange predate by several years allegations that the anti-secrecy website published tens of thousands of Democratic documents stolen by Russian agents during the 2016 election.

Iran Tells German Envoy Its Patience Is Over, Fars Reports

Iran told a German envoy seeking to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal that its patience was over and urged the treaty’s remaining signatories to fulfill their commitments after the United States pulled out, the Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Jens Ploetner, a political director in the German Foreign Ministry, met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. A German diplomatic source told Reuters that talks with other Iranian officials were also planned.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Araghchi had relayed Iran’s impatience during the talks.

Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from

the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to U.S. measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed

to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

“At the center of the political director’s visit is the preservation of the Vienna nuclear accord (JCPOA),” the German diplomatic source told Reuters. “After Iran’s announcement to partly suspend its commitments under the JCPOA, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to persuade Iran to continue to fully comply with the JCPOA.”

U.S., Iran tensions

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States since Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the Defense Department was considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Despite such pressure, Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that there would be no negotiations with Washington.

He said officials from several countries had visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States,” but that Tehran’s message to them was firm. 

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said. 

‘Clash of wills’

Fars earlier quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying the U.S.-Iranian standoff was a “clash of wills” and any enemy “adventurism” would meet a

crushing response.

The German diplomatic source added: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation around the Vienna nuclear accord is extremely serious. There is a real risk of escalation. … In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

Iran Tells German Envoy Its Patience Is Over, Fars Reports

Iran told a German envoy seeking to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal that its patience was over and urged the treaty’s remaining signatories to fulfill their commitments after the United States pulled out, the Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Jens Ploetner, a political director in the German Foreign Ministry, met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. A German diplomatic source told Reuters that talks with other Iranian officials were also planned.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Araghchi had relayed Iran’s impatience during the talks.

Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from

the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to U.S. measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed

to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

“At the center of the political director’s visit is the preservation of the Vienna nuclear accord (JCPOA),” the German diplomatic source told Reuters. “After Iran’s announcement to partly suspend its commitments under the JCPOA, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to persuade Iran to continue to fully comply with the JCPOA.”

U.S., Iran tensions

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States since Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the Defense Department was considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Despite such pressure, Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that there would be no negotiations with Washington.

He said officials from several countries had visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States,” but that Tehran’s message to them was firm. 

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said. 

‘Clash of wills’

Fars earlier quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying the U.S.-Iranian standoff was a “clash of wills” and any enemy “adventurism” would meet a

crushing response.

The German diplomatic source added: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation around the Vienna nuclear accord is extremely serious. There is a real risk of escalation. … In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

Turkish Official: Turkey Stopped Purchasing Iranian Oil as of May

Turkey stopped purchasing Iranian oil as of May as U.S. waivers granted last November to eight buyers expired, and will continue to abide by Washington’s demand that it halt all imports of crude oil from the Islamic Republic, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday.

“We are not getting any oil from Iran now,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We were one of the eight countries getting an exception from those sanctions, and now we are ready to abide by them,” he said.

Reuters on Monday reported that no tankers loaded in Iran have arrived at Turkish ports so far in this month, according to Refinitiv tracking data. Analysts said it was replacing Iranian oil with supplies from Iraq, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington this month ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil, ending a six-month reprieve for Turkey and seven other big importers including China and India.

Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) or lower, tanker data showed and industry sources said last week. The bulk of the crude was heading for Asia but it was unclear who was buying and whether the oil was heading to end-users or storage.

Turkey’s largest oil refiner Tupras had pressed Washington for an extension of the import waiver before the May 1 expiration, according to a person familiar with the talks, adding that when it was not granted, the company made clear it would halt all imports from Iran.

But the senior Turkish official added that Ankara did not agree with U.S. sanctions policy on Iran.

“We don’t believe in sanctions, but as a strategic ally we respect the U.S. decision …” We don’t believe isolation of Iran will be helpful,” he said.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

Turkish Official: Turkey Stopped Purchasing Iranian Oil as of May

Turkey stopped purchasing Iranian oil as of May as U.S. waivers granted last November to eight buyers expired, and will continue to abide by Washington’s demand that it halt all imports of crude oil from the Islamic Republic, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday.

“We are not getting any oil from Iran now,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We were one of the eight countries getting an exception from those sanctions, and now we are ready to abide by them,” he said.

Reuters on Monday reported that no tankers loaded in Iran have arrived at Turkish ports so far in this month, according to Refinitiv tracking data. Analysts said it was replacing Iranian oil with supplies from Iraq, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington this month ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil, ending a six-month reprieve for Turkey and seven other big importers including China and India.

Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in May to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) or lower, tanker data showed and industry sources said last week. The bulk of the crude was heading for Asia but it was unclear who was buying and whether the oil was heading to end-users or storage.

Turkey’s largest oil refiner Tupras had pressed Washington for an extension of the import waiver before the May 1 expiration, according to a person familiar with the talks, adding that when it was not granted, the company made clear it would halt all imports from Iran.

But the senior Turkish official added that Ankara did not agree with U.S. sanctions policy on Iran.

“We don’t believe in sanctions, but as a strategic ally we respect the U.S. decision …” We don’t believe isolation of Iran will be helpful,” he said.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

UNHCR: People Fleeing Venezuela Need Protection, Must Not Be Deported

The U.N. refugee agency says the majority of Venezuelans fleeing worsening conditions in their country are in need of international protection and must not be forcibly returned home.

Citizens are leaving Venezuela as political, economic, human rights and humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The U.N. refugee agency reports some 3.7 million people have fled the country. Most have gone to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Caribbean countries.

The agency says by the end of last year, some 460,000 Venezuelans had formally sought asylum.

But given the dire conditions back home, UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said it is clear the majority of the millions of those who have left need international refugee protection.

“This is because of the threats to their lives, security or freedom resulting from circumstances that are seriously disturbing public order in Venezuela,” she said. “UNHCR also calls on states to ensure that Venezuelans, regardless of their legal status, are not deported or otherwise forcibly returned to Venezuela.”

Throssell said so far Venezuelans are not being deported, but warned that might change as more people flee and the refugee load becomes more burdensome.

She said there was a period not long ago when official border crossings into Latin American countries were closed. She notes Brazil’s border with Venezuela was reopened only last week.

“What we have seen is people crossing over regular crossing points, but also, importantly, some people are opting to take irregular routes that are dangerous, putting themselves at risk,” she told VOA. “One of the reasons why we are saying this now is that given the progressive deterioration of the circumstances in Venezuela, we are seeing that Venezuelans who are increasingly vulnerable are leaving the country.”

Throssell said countries hosting the ever-growing number of Venezuelans need international support. She said they are under incredible strain and do not have the financial means to care for the asylum-seekers.

She is appealing to donors to be more generous in their contributions, noting that the U.N.’s $146 million appeal for Venezuela is only 28 percent funded.

UNHCR: People Fleeing Venezuela Need Protection, Must Not Be Deported

The U.N. refugee agency says the majority of Venezuelans fleeing worsening conditions in their country are in need of international protection and must not be forcibly returned home.

Citizens are leaving Venezuela as political, economic, human rights and humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The U.N. refugee agency reports some 3.7 million people have fled the country. Most have gone to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Caribbean countries.

The agency says by the end of last year, some 460,000 Venezuelans had formally sought asylum.

But given the dire conditions back home, UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said it is clear the majority of the millions of those who have left need international refugee protection.

“This is because of the threats to their lives, security or freedom resulting from circumstances that are seriously disturbing public order in Venezuela,” she said. “UNHCR also calls on states to ensure that Venezuelans, regardless of their legal status, are not deported or otherwise forcibly returned to Venezuela.”

Throssell said so far Venezuelans are not being deported, but warned that might change as more people flee and the refugee load becomes more burdensome.

She said there was a period not long ago when official border crossings into Latin American countries were closed. She notes Brazil’s border with Venezuela was reopened only last week.

“What we have seen is people crossing over regular crossing points, but also, importantly, some people are opting to take irregular routes that are dangerous, putting themselves at risk,” she told VOA. “One of the reasons why we are saying this now is that given the progressive deterioration of the circumstances in Venezuela, we are seeing that Venezuelans who are increasingly vulnerable are leaving the country.”

Throssell said countries hosting the ever-growing number of Venezuelans need international support. She said they are under incredible strain and do not have the financial means to care for the asylum-seekers.

She is appealing to donors to be more generous in their contributions, noting that the U.N.’s $146 million appeal for Venezuela is only 28 percent funded.