Infamous Italian Mafia Boss Matteo Denaro Dies in Prison Hospital

Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after evading arrest for decades, died of colon cancer in a prison hospital, Italian prosecutors said Monday.

Denaro, 61, was captured in Palermo on January 16, following decades on the run as Italy’s most wanted fugitive. His colon cancer diagnosis and need for treatment was what led Italian officials to his location and arrest.

Denaro has been cited as the mastermind behind some of the Italian mafia’s most brutal crimes, including two bombings in 1992 that killed Italy’s top anti-Mafia prosecutors.

Prosecutors in Palermo are requesting an autopsy, despite it being known that Denaro had been dealing with illness at his time of death. According to doctors, Denaro had been in a coma since Friday and died on Monday morning at around 2 a.m. local time.

Denaro was a mafia boss in Cosa Nostra, which primarily operates on the Italian island of Sicily, where he had spent the last 30 years. Italian investigators had hoped that Denaro would comply upon capture and reveal secrets about Cosa Nostra, though the mafia boss made it clear that he had no intention of talking, and took vital mafia information with him to the grave.

Denaro’s arrest came after years of mafia leaders and lower-level members being arrested in a crackdown on the Sicilian based crime group, sparked by the 1992 bombings. His capture led Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Maurizio De Lucia, to say “We have captured the last of the massacre masterminds.”

Denaro’s burial is expected to take place later this week in Sicily, according to Italian media.

EU Member States Weaken Proposal Setting New Emission Standards for Cars and Vans

European Union member countries have watered down a proposal by the bloc’s executive arm aimed at lowering vehicle emissions.

The European Commission had proposed last year updated pollution standards for new combustion engine vehicles that are expected to remain on European roads well after the 27-nation bloc bans their sale in 2035, with the aim of lowering emissions from tailpipes, brakes and tires.

The Commission hoped that new guidelines would help lower nitrogen oxide emissions from cars and vans by 35% compared to existing exhaust emission regulations for pollutants other than carbon dioxide, and by 56% from buses and trucks.

But several member states and automakers pushed for a weaker legislation and agreed Monday on a diluted compromise put forward by the rotating presidency of the EU currently held by Spain.

Member states instead decided to keep existing emissions limits and test conditions for cars and vans, and to lower them only for buses and heavy commercial vehicles. They also agreed to reduce brake particle emissions limits and tire abrasion rate emissions.

The standards are separate from but intended to complement the EU’s climate change rules for CO2.

“The Spanish presidency has been sensitive to the different demands and requests of the member states and we believe that, with this proposal, we achieved broad support, a balance in the investment costs of the manufacturing brands and we improve the environmental benefits derived from the regulation,” said Héctor Gómez Hernández, the acting Spanish minister for industry, trade and tourism.

The position adopted by member countries will be negotiated with the European Parliament once lawmakers have also defined their stance.

EU lawmakers and member states last year reached a deal to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars and vans by 2035. The deal was part of the bloc’s “Fit for 55” package, which the European Commission set up to achieve the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% over this decade.

Under the deal, carmakers will be required to reduce the emissions of new cars sold by 55% in 2030, compared to 2021, before reaching a 100% cut five years later.

The Commission thought that introducing new pollution norms for the last generation of combustion engines was crucial because vehicles that enter the market before the 2035 deadline will remain in service for years.

According to the EU, emissions from transportation are responsible for some 70,000 premature deaths each year in the bloc.

Some London Police Put Down Guns After Colleague Charged with Murder

Some members of London’s police force are refusing to carry firearms after a colleague was charged with murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man.

Such a charge against a police officer is extremely rare in England.

The Telegraph newspaper reports that more than 300 officers, about 10% of the armed police, have refused to carry their weapons following their colleague’s charge.

The officers’ move has prompted Scotland Yard to ask the Ministry of Defense for help with counter-terrorism policing. The MoD would provide London with soldiers who would do specific tasks, but not routine police work.

Only about one in ten police officers in London carries a weapon, after undergoing intensive training.

Chris Kaba, 23, was the unarmed Black man who was killed in an encounter with police last year.  The Associated Press reports Kaba was shot by single bullet as he sat in his car.

The officer accused of killing Kaba has not been publicly named. His trial is expected to begin next year.

Kosovo Observes Day of Mourning After Monastery Siege

Kosovo was observing a day of mourning Monday, following the death of a Kosovar Albanian police officer killed by Serbian gunmen, who then barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery north of the capital, Pristina.  

It was not immediately clear who supports the approximately 30 gunmen who were dressed in combat uniforms when they used an armored vehicle to storm the monastery in Banjska and engage in a standoff Sunday with Kosovo police. 

Most of the gunmen were able to escape the monastery Sunday evening, but at least three of them were killed and two arrested.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti each blamed the other for the clash.  

The U.S. ambassador in Pristina condemned what he called the “orchestrated, violent attacks” on the Kosovo police. In a statement, Jeffrey Hovenier said, “The perpetrators must and will be held accountable and brought to justice.”  

Separately, Caroline Ziadeh, the head of UNMIK, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, called for the perpetrators “to be held accountable.” Ziadeh made her comments on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

Serbia and Kosovo, its former province, have clashed for decades. A 1998–1999 war between them left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians.  

Meanwhile, in Russia, a Kremlin spokesman said it was monitoring what he called the tense and potentially dangerous situation in Kosovo. 

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move. Russia has stood by Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosovo.

EU Businesses ‘Questioning Their Position’ in China: Trade Commissioner

European businesses in China are increasingly questioning their positions in the face of tough new security laws and a politicization of trade, an EU commissioner warned in Beijing on Monday.

“European companies are concerned with China’s direction of travel,” Valdis Dombrovskis said in a speech at the capital’s Tsinghua University.

“Many are questioning their position in this country.”

He pointed to a new foreign relations law and a recent update to China’s anti-espionage laws as being of “great concern to our business community.”

“Their ambiguity allows too much room for interpretation,” he warned.

“This means European companies struggle to understand their compliance obligations: a factor that significantly decreases business confidence and deters new investments in China,” Dombrovskis said.

The EU trade commissioner is on a multi-day visit to the world’s second-biggest economy, where he is set to meet senior economic officials and press the bloc’s case that it is not seeking an economic decoupling from China.

His trip follows a report by the Chamber of Commerce of the European Union last week that showed business confidence was at one of its lowest levels in decades.

“For decades, European companies thrived in China,” the Chamber’s president Jens Eskelund said.

But, after three “turbulent” years, he said, “many have re-evaluated their basic assumptions about the Chinese market”.

And it comes in the face of mounting trade tensions between the EU and China, following Brussels’ decision to launch a probe into Beijing’s electric car subsidies.

The investigation could see the EU try to protect European carmakers by imposing punitive tariffs on vehicles it believes are unfairly sold at a lower price.

The day after that announcement, the Chinese commerce ministry hit back at the EU’s “naked protectionism” and said the measures “will have a negative impact on China-EU economic and trade relations”.

Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Dombrovskis insisted China remained an attractive investment opportunity for European businesses.

“The EU and China both benefited immensely from being open to the world,” he said. “Trading and cooperating across borders helped to shape our economic and geopolitical strength.”

But, he said, growing challenges for business risked turning “what many saw as a ‘win-win’ relationship in past decades could become a ‘lose-lose’ dynamic in the coming years”.

Ukraine war

China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine also poses a “reputational risk”, he said.

Beijing’s position “is affecting the country’s image, not only with European consumers, but also businesses”, he said.

China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, while offering Moscow a vital diplomatic and financial lifeline as its international isolation deepens.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is due to visit China next month.

“China always advocates for each country being free to choose its own development path,” Dombrovskis said.

“So, it’s very difficult for us to understand China’s stance on Russia’s war against Ukraine, as it breaches China’s own fundamental principles.”

Turkey’s Erdogan to Meet Azeri’s Aliyev as Thousands Flee Karabakh

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is to meet his ally Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Monday, as thousands of ethnic Armenians began an exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan defeated the breakaway region’s fighters last week.

Erdogan will pay a one-day visit to Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan exclave – a strip of Azeri territory nestled between Armenia, Iran and Turkey – to discuss with Aliyev the situation in the Karabakh region, the Turkish president’s office said.

The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control, were forced into a ceasefire last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

On Sunday, the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership told Reuters the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing and started fleeing the area.

Russia’s RIA news agency cited early on Monday an Armenian government statement saying that more than 1,500 people had crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabkah as of midnight.

Those with fuel had started to drive down the Lachin corridor toward the border with Armenia, according to a Reuters reporter in the Karabakh capital known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan.

Reuters pictures showed dozens of cars driving out of the capital toward the corridor’s mountainous curves.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the enclave in 30 years — with Azerbaijan gaining back swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week conflict in 2020.

Erdogan, who backed the Azeris with weaponry in the 2020 conflict, said last week he supported the aims of Azerbaijan’s latest military operation but played no part in it.

Armenia says more than 200 people were killed and 400 wounded in last week’s Azeri operation, a hostility condemned by the United States and other Western allies of Armenia.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said it had confiscated more military equipment from Armenian separatists, including rockets, artillery shells, mines and ammunition.

The Karabakh Armenians are not accepting Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated.

Armenia called for an immediate deployment of a U.N. mission to monitor human rights and security in the region.

“99.9% prefer to leave our historic lands,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, president of the self-styled Republic of Artsakh, told Reuters.

Macron: France Pulling Ambassador, Troops From Niger After Coup

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, France is imminently to withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by the French military contingent in the next months, in the wake of the coup in the west African country that ousted the pro-Paris president.

Macron’s announcement appeared to end two months of French defiance over the coup, which had seen Paris keep its ambassador in place in Niamey despite him being ordered by the coup leaders to go.

“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron told French television in an interview, without giving details over how this would be organized.  

Niger’s military rulers have banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace, according to the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) website. It was not clear if this would affect the ambassador being flown out.

Macron added that military cooperation was “over,” and French troops would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year.”

“In the weeks and months to come, we will consult with the putschists, because we want this to be done peacefully,” he added.

France keeps about 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadis deployment in the Sahel region. Macron said the post-coup authorities “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism.”  

Niger’s military leaders told French ambassador Sylvain Itte he had to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.  

But a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognize the military regime as legitimate.

Earlier this month, Macron said the ambassador and his staff were “literally being held hostage” in the mission eating military rations with no food deliveries taking place.  

Macron in the interview reaffirmed France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.

“He was targeted by this coup d’état because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he argued.

The coup against Bazoum was the third such putsch in the region in as many years, following similar actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 that also forced the pullouts of French troops.

But the Niger coup is particularly bruising for Macron after he sought to make a special ally of Niamey, and a hub for France’s presence in the region following the Mali coup. The U.S. also has over 1,000 troops in the country.

Macron regularly speaks by phone to Bazoum who remains under house arrest in the presidential residence.

The French president has repeatedly spoken of making a historic change to France’s post-colonial imprint in Africa, but analysts say Paris is losing influence across the continent especially in the face of a growing Chinese, Turkish and Russian presence.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to restore Bazoum but so far, its threats, which were strongly supported by France, have not transferred into action.

“We are not here to be hostages of the putschists,” said Macron. “The putschists are the allies of disorder,” he added.

Macron said that jihadi attacks were causing “dozens of deaths every day in Mali” after its coup and that now such assaults had resumed in Niger.  

“I am very worried about this region,” he said.

“France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries, and we draw all the consequences.”

Ukrainian Train Is Lifeline Connecting Kyiv With the Front Line

Among the hundreds of trains crisscrossing Ukraine’s elaborate railway network every day, the Kyiv-Kramatorsk train stands apart, shrouded in solemn silence as passengers anticipate their destination.

Every day, around seven in the morning, passengers of this route leave the relative safety of the capital and head east to front-line areas where battles between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops rage and Russian strikes are frequent with imprecise missiles that slam into residential areas.

The passengers are a mix of men and women that offer up a slice of Ukrainian society these days. They include soldiers returning to the front after a brief leave, women making the trip to reunite for a few days with husbands and boyfriends serving on the battlefields, and residents returning to check on homes in the Donetsk region.

They are all lost in thought and rarely converse with each other.

Nineteen-year-old Marta Banakh anxiously awaits the train’s next brief stop at one of its nine intermediate stations on the way to Kramatorsk. She disembarks at the station for a quick cigarette break, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other. Her family doesn’t know she has made this journey from western Ukraine, crossing the entire country to meet her boyfriend, who has been serving in the infantry since the onset of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He rarely gets a break, and Banakh has decided to surprise him with a visit.

“I worry that every day could be his last, and we may never see each other again,” she said wearing her hair down, crowned with a pearl-studded headband.

It’s the only high-speed daily train that drives to Kramatorsk. The city is about 30 kilometers (less than 20 miles) from the front line, which makes it susceptible to Russian strikes. And just a few kilometers away from the city, battles near the Russian-held city of Bakhmut rage for the second year.

The war has become an integral part of the lives of millions of Ukrainians, and the country’s vast railway system has remained operational despite the war. Night trains that rattle across the country still welcome customers with hot tea and clean sheets in the sleeping compartments. The trains also carry cargo, aid and gear.

The popularity of the Kyiv-Kramatorsk route highlights the reality of war.

Around 126,000 passengers used this route during the summer months this year, according to national railway operator Ukrzaliznytsia. It holds the fourth position for passenger volume among all intercity high-speed trains and maintains one of the highest occupancy rates — 94% — among all Ukrainian trains.

The connection was suspended for six months early in the war. The halt in April last year followed a Russian missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station while passengers were waiting for evacuation. The strike killed 53 people and wounded 135 others in one of the deadliest Russian attacks.

Alla Makieieva, 49, used to regularly travel on this route even before the war. Returning from a business trip to the capital and back to Dobropillia, a town not far from Kramatorsk, she reflects on the changes between then and now.

“People have changed, now they seem more somber,” she says. “We’ve already learned to live with these missiles. We’ve become friends,” she joked. “In Kyiv, the atmosphere is completely different; people smile more often.”

Kyiv is regularly attacked by Russian missiles and drones. But unlike Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, the capital has powerful air defense protection, which gives residents an illusion of safety.

As the morning light gradually gives way to the midday sun, it fills the spacious train carriages in warm radiance. The train shelves are mostly filled with military backpacks and small bags. Occasionally, a waiter breaks the silence in the aisle, offering coffee, tea, and snacks. Along the way, one can order dishes like bolognese pasta or a cappuccino.

The high-speed train ride from Kyiv to Kramatorsk costs approximately $14. In nearly seven hours, passengers cover a distance of around 700 kilometers (400 miles).

Twenty-six-year-old Oleksandr Kyrylenko sits in the train’s lobby with a coffee in hand, gazing thoughtfully out of the window as the landscapes change rapidly.

It’s his first time heading to the front line, and he admits he didn’t expect to travel to the epicenter of the grinding war with such comfort.

He had been working as a warehouse manager in Poland when Russia invaded Ukraine. “I helped as much as I could,” he said. “Then I decided I needed to go myself.”

“There is no fear. I simply want it to end sooner,” he says of the war, dressed in military attire.

His parents were not thrilled about this idea, but this summer the young man returned to Ukraine and immediately went to the military enlistment office.

“It even feels lighter on my conscience,” he said, adding that this decision came naturally to him. “Human resources are running out. Something needs to be done about it.”

The train arrives at its destination on time, and the platform quickly fills with people.

Some, wearing military-colored backpacks slung over their shoulders, stride forward swiftly, while others linger on the platform in long-awaited embraces.

Twenty-year-old Sofiia Sidorchuk embraces her boyfriend, who has been serving since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The 20-year-old soldier refrains from disclosing his name for security reasons.

He holds Sidorchuk tightly, as if trying to make up for all the lost time during their longest separation in seven years of the relationship. “We missed each other,”  

Sidorchuk explains her decision to come from the northwestern Rivne region to Kramatorsk.

“It’s love,” added her partner, wearing military fatigues.

His commander granted him a few days alone with his beloved to recharge. In five days, he will embark on a new assault mission.

Armenian PM Says Armenians May Flee Karabakh and Blames Russia

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Sunday the likelihood was rising that ethnic Armenians would flee the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and blamed Russia for failing to ensure Armenian security.

If 120,000 people go down the Lachin corridor to Armenia, the small South Caucasian country could face both a humanitarian and political crisis.

“If proper conditions are not created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in their homes and there are no effective protection mechanisms against ethnic cleansing, the likelihood is rising that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see exile from their homeland as the only way to save their lives and identity,” Pashinyan said in address to the nation.

“Responsibility for such a development of events will fall entirely on Azerbaijan, which adopted a policy of ethnic cleansing, and on the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said, according to a government transcript.

He added that the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership was “not enough to ensure the external security of Armenia.”

Last week, Azerbaijan scored a victory over ethnic Armenians who have controlled the Karabakh region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. An adviser to the leader of the Karabakh Armenians told Reuters earlier on Sunday that the population would leave because they feel unsafe under Azerbaijani rule.

Russia had acted as guarantor for a peace deal that ended a 44-day war in Karabakh three years ago, and many Armenians blame Moscow for failing to protect the region.

Russian officials say Pashinyan is to blame for his own mishandling of the crisis, and have repeatedly said that Armenia, which borders Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, has few other friends in the region.

“The government will accept our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh with full care,” Pashinyan said.

Pashinyan has warned that some unidentified forces were seeking to stoke a coup against him and has accused Russian media of engaging in an information war against him.

“Some of our partners are increasingly making efforts to expose our security vulnerabilities, putting at risk not only our external, but also internal security and stability, while violating all norms of etiquette and correctness in diplomatic and interstate relations, including obligations assumed under treaties,” Pashinyan said in his Sunday address.

“In this context, it is necessary to transform, complement and enrich the external and internal security instruments of the Republic of Armenia,” he said. 

Holocaust Revisionist Is Top Mayor Candidate in One German City 

A populist far-right politician is the front-runner in a mayoral race Sunday in the German city of Nordhausen, best known as the location of the Nazi concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora.

Joerg Prophet of the Alternative for Germany party, won 42.1% of the vote in the first round of the election earlier this month. His opponent, independent incumbent candidate Kai Buchmann, had just 23.7%.

The prospect of a far-right mayor holding a revisionist version of Germany’s Holocaust past has not gone unnoticed by Holocaust survivors and people who work in Germany to combat discrimination.

Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, told AFP that an AfD mayor would not be welcome at commemorative events.

Agence France-Presse reports that Prophet posted in a blog in 2020 that the Allied forces liberated Mittelbau-Dora because they were interested only in the site’s rocket and missile technology.

“Everything I hear,” Wagner said, “suggests that Prophet will be elected not despite such historical revisionist positions, but precisely because of such positions.”

The AfD party’s popularity has been growing, especially as thousands of migrants have sought asylum in Germany recently. Migration is AfD’s signature issue.

AfD’s growing popularity has presented a dilemma for other political parties that must decide whether or how to cooperate with the controversial party.

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

6 Young Portuguese Activists Head to Court in Climate Fight

Sofia Oliveira was 12 years old when catastrophic wildfires in central Portugal killed more than 100 people in 2017. She “felt it was now or never to raise our voices” as her country appeared to be in the grip of deadly human-caused climate change.

Now a university student, Sofia and five other Portuguese young adults and children between 11 and 24 years of age are due on Wednesday at the European Court of Human Rights, where they are accusing 32 European governments of violating their human rights for what they say is a failure to adequately address climate change. It’s the first climate change case filed with the court and could compel action to significantly slash emissions and build cleaner infrastructure.

Victory for them in Strasbourg would be a powerful instance of young people taking a legal route to force their governments to adopt a radical recalibration of their climate measures.

The court’s rulings are legally binding on member countries, and failure to comply makes authorities liable for hefty fines decided by the court.

The courts are increasingly seen by activists as a way of sidestepping politics and holding governments to account. Last month, in a case brought by young environmental activists, a judge in the U.S. state of Montana ruled that state agencies were violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment by allowing fossil fuel development.

When the Portuguese group decided in 2017 they would pursue legal action, Sofia wore braces on her teeth, stood taller than her younger brother André and was starting seventh grade at school. The braces are long gone and André, who is now 15, is taller than her by a few centimeters.

The past six years, André noted in an interview with The Associated Press, represent almost half of his life.

What has kept them going through the piles of legal documents gathered by the nonprofit group supporting them and through lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic is what they call the pressing evidence all around them that the climate crisis is getting worse.

The Praia do Norte beach at Costa da Caparica near where Sofia and André live, just south of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, was about 1 kilometer long when his father was his age, André says. Now, amid coastal erosion, it measures less than 300 meters. Evidence like that led him to attend climate demonstrations even before he became a teen.

The other four members of the Portuguese group — Catarina, Cláudia, Martim and Mariana — are siblings and cousins who live in the region of Leiria in central Portugal where summer wildfires are common.

Scientists say the climate of the Sahara is jumping across the Mediterranean Sea to southern European countries like Portugal, where average temperatures are climbing and rainfall is declining. Portugal’s hottest year on record was 1997, followed by 2017. The four driest years on record in the country of 10.3 million people have all occurred since 2003.

It’s a similar story across Europe, and the legal arguments of the six Portuguese are backed by science. The Earth sweltered through its hottest Northern Hemisphere summer ever measured, with a record warm August capping a season of brutal and deadly temperatures, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The world is far off its pledge to curb global warming, scientists say, by cutting emissions in line with the requirements of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Estimates say global average temperatures could rise by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times by 2100 at current trajectories of warming and emissions reductions plans.

Among the specific impacts listed by the young Portuguese are being unable to sleep, concentrate, play outside or exercise during heat waves. One of their schools was closed temporarily when the air became unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Some of the children have health conditions such as asthma that makes them more vulnerable to heat and air pollution.

They are being assisted by the Global Legal Action Network, an international nonprofit organization that challenges human rights violations. A crowdfunding campaign has drawn support from around the world, with messages of support coming from as far away as Japan, India and Brazil.

Gerry Liston, a GLAN legal officer, says the 32 governments have “trivialized” the case. “The governments have resisted every aspect of our case … all our arguments,” he said.

André describes the governments as “condescending.” Sofia adds: “They don’t see climate as a priority.”

Portugal’s government, for example, agrees the state of the environment and human rights are connected but insists the government’s “actions seek to meet its international obligations in this area” and cannot be faulted.

At the same time, some governments in Europe are backsliding on commitments already made.

Poland last month filed legal challenges aimed at annulling three of the European Union’s main climate change policies. Last week, the British government announced it is delaying by five years a ban on new gas and diesel cars that had been due to take effect in 2030. The Swedish government’s state budget proposal last week, meanwhile, cut taxes on gas and diesel and reduced funding for climate and environmental measures.

Amid those developments, the courts are seen by activists as a recourse.

The London School of Economics says that globally, the cumulative number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015 to more than 2,000. Around one-fourth were launched between 2020 and 2022, it says.

The Portuguese activists, who are not seeking any financial compensation, will likely have to wait some more. The verdict in their case could take up to 18 months, though they see the court’s decision in 2020 to fast-track the proceedings as an encouraging sign.

A precedent is also giving the activists heart. The Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch organization that promotes sustainability and innovation, brought against the Dutch Government the first case in the world in which citizens argued that their government has a legal obligation to prevent dangerous climate change.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court found in Urgenda’s favor, ruling that the emissions reduction target set by the government was unlawfully low. It ordered authorities to further reduce emissions.

The government consequently decided to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030 and adopted billion-euro packages to reduce energy use and develop renewable energy, among other measures.

Dennis van Berkel, Urgenda’s legal counsel, accused governments of choosing climate change targets that are “politically convenient” instead of listening to climate scientists. Judges can compel them to justify that what they are doing on climate issues is enough, he said.

“Currently there is no such scrutiny at any level,” he told the AP. “That is something incredibly important that the courts can contribute.”

As World’s Problems Grow More Challenging, United Nations Head Gets Bleaker

At the annual meeting of world leaders last year, the U.N. chief sounded a global alarm about the survival of humanity and the planet. This year, the alarm rang louder and more ominously, and the message was even more pressing: Wake up and take action — right now.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ assessment, delivered in his no-nonsense style, aimed to shock. We are becoming “unhinged,” he said. We are inching closer to “a great fracture.” Conflicts, coups and chaos are surging. The climate crisis is growing. Divides are deepening between military and economic powers, the richer North and poorer South, East and West. “A new Rubicon” has been crossed in artificial intelligence.

Guterres has spoken often on all these issues. But this year, which he called “a time of chaotic transition,” his address to leaders was tougher and even more urgent. And looking at his previous state-of-the-world speeches, it seems clear he has been headed in this direction for quite some time.

In his first address to world leaders in 2017 after taking the helm of the 193-member United Nations, Guterres cited “nuclear peril” as the leading global threat. Two years later, he was warning of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules “and their own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.” He urged vigorous action “to avert the great fracture.”

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The global response Guterres called for never happened; richer countries got vaccines and poorer ones were left waiting. At last year’s leaders’ gathering, his message was almost as dire as this week’s: “Our world is in peril and paralyzed,” Guterres said. “We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”

This year, his message to the presidents and prime ministers, monarchs and ministers gathered in the vast General Assembly hall was unambiguous and stark.

“We seem incapable,” Guterres said, “of coming together to respond.”

The world’s future, and the UN’s

At the heart of Guterres’ many speeches this week is the very future of the United Nations, an institution formed immediately after World War II to bring nations together and save future generations from war. But in a 21st-century world that is far more interconnected and also more bitterly divided, can it remain relevant?

For Guterres, the answer is clear: It must.

The Cold War featured two superpowers — the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. When it ended, there was a brief period of U.S.-dominated unipolarity after the breakup of the Soviet Union and its dissolution into a dominant Russia and smaller former republics. Now it is moving to a more chaotic “multipolar world” — and creating, Guterres says, new opportunities for different countries to lead.

But Guterres’ key argument is rooted in history. He says it teaches that a world with many power centers and small groups of nations can’t solve the challenges that affect all countries. That’s why strong global institutions are needed, he told leaders on Thursday, and “the United Nations is the only forum where this can happen.”

The big question, upon which Guterres is now laser-focused, is whether an institution born in 1945 — a time when the tools to address chaos and fragmentation were more rudimentary — can be retooled and updated to tackle today’s challenges.

“I have no illusions,” he said. “Reforms are a question of power. I know there are many competing interests and agendas. But the alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation. It’s reform or rupture.”

That is the conundrum sitting in the U.N. chief’s lap: Can 193 nations with competing agendas undertake major reforms?

To meet the challenge, Guterres has called on world leaders to attend a “Summit of the Future” at next September’s U.N. global gathering, and in the coming, year to negotiate a “Pact for the Future.” At a meeting Thursday to prepare, he told ministers that the pact “represents your pledge to use all the tools at your disposal at the global level to solve problems – before those problems overwhelm us.”

The secretary-general said he knows reaching agreement will be difficult. “But,” he said, “it is possible.”

A sense that things are ‘fundamentally broken’

Time, Guterres says, is against the United Nations and countries that support the return of united global action. Perhaps that is why his words grow more dire each year.

He points to new conflicts like Ukraine, more intense geopolitical tensions, signs of “climate breakdown,” a cost-of-living crisis and the debt distress and default that is bedeviling more countries than ever.

“We cannot inch towards agreement while the world races towards a precipice,” Guterres said. “We must bring a new urgency to our efforts, and a shared sense of common purpose.”

That’s easier said than done, as this week’s high-level meetings — and the priorities and problems they raise — make clear.

Can all the U.N.’s far-flung nations unite behind a common purpose? Whether that happens in the next 12 months remains to be seen. Certainly there is support. Consider Bahamas Foreign Minister Frederick Audley Mitchell, addressing the global gathering Friday night. “Now, more than ever, we need the United Nations,” he said.

Richard Gowan, the U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, said Guterres’ state-of-the-world speech spoke “truth to power” and was an especially blunt and bleak assessment.

“He really seems to think that the multilateral system is fundamentally broken,” Gowan said. The secretary-general seems frustrated after years of difficult dealings with the divided U.N. Security Council, Gowan said, alluding to the United States and its Western allies increasingly clashing with Russia and China.

“Sometimes it feels like Guterres no longer believes in the institution he leads,” Gowan said.

For Guterres, then, the Summit of the Future presents an opportunity but also a possible demarcation point — between a brighter future and a more desolate one, between a chance at progress and the prospect of a closing door. To Gowan, it will be “a last chance for U.N. members to get their act together and rethink how the multilateral system could work.”

And that could present a potentially insurmountable peak for the world’s most senior diplomat to scale. Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations and a former U.N. deputy secretary-general, pronounced Guterres’ keynote speech to world leaders “a brave and frank admission that the U.N. is broken — no longer fit for purpose.”

“The problem is that precisely because of that, nobody may hear him,” Malloch-Brown said. “He may be speaking to an empty room.”

Illegal Migration to Greece Surges, Sparking Measures to Shield Borders

Thousands of migrants have made their way illegally into Greece from Turkey, using rickety rafts to cross the Aegean, the narrow waterway between the two countries.

United Nations data in September shows sea arrivals have already more than doubled the roughly 12,000 migrants who were caught trying to illegally enter Greece last year. Illegal entries along the land border and the massive Evros River that snakes along the rugged frontiers of the two countries in the northeast also count record increases of more than 65 percent in the last two months alone, police said.

“Much of this has to do with favorable weather conditions, and the receding levels of the Evros River that makes crossings easier,” said Dimitris Petrovic, Deputy Regional Governor of Evros, Greece.

Many of the migrants are spotted and rounded up by soldiers and border police, but police officials such as Alexandros Sfeliniotis said human traffickers have become increasingly ruthless.

“They have even begun recruiting minors, paying them tiny sums of money to lead caravans of migrants through illegal crossings,” he said. “They know that minors can get off the hook easier than adult smugglers.”

Illegal migration has always been a thorn in relations between Greece and Turkey. In the past, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis went as far as accusing Turkey and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan of instrumentalizing migration — pushing migrants to Europe in a bid to win more concessions and aid from the European Union.

But as tensions between the two NATO members have eased in recent months, a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly showed strong willingness by the long-standing rivals to work together to stem illegal migration.

“We have to join forces and work together if we are going to crack down on smugglers,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

For Greece, this has meant an increased deployment of forces along the Evros River, as well as beefed up patrols across the Aegean Sea. Greek and Turkish coast guards that once refused to cooperate are now in contact again, and migration ministers on both sides are talking.

The endgame, senior government officials tell VOA, is to revise a key deal that the EU stitched together with Turkey in 2016, allowing for the return of the tens of thousands of illegal migrants to Turkey in exchange for more financial aid and visa-free entry of its Turkish travelers to Europe.

With relations between Greece and Turkey frequently see-sawing, the outcome remains uncertain.

Both sides have ordered teams of senior officials to hash out a deal that could be signed by early December, when Mitsotakis and Erdogan meet for a summit in Greece.

Ukraine War Pushes NATO to Bolster Drone-Tackling Expertise

A small drone flits over opened earth, and an explosion appears on the video feed.

The drone has just dropped a grenade into a trench in Ukraine. The images were being projected on a giant screen in the Netherlands, in front of NATO military officers and defense company executives.

These drones being used against Ukrainian forces are “small, fast” and finding a way to defend against them is “complex,” says Willem Koedam, a former Dutch air force officer turned expert for NATO’s C-UAS unit, which looks at anti-drone defenses.

The solution may be complex, but it’s not impossible.

Representatives from 57 companies visited a military base in the Dutch town of Vredepeel to present their systems to the NATO brass.

The systems they offer are designed to counter threats ranging from off-the-shelf drones available to the public to the Iranian Shahed drones used by Russia’s forces.

Using nets

“The best way to kill a Shahed is a jet” — meaning a jet-propelled drone — said Ludwig Fruhauf, head of DDTS, a German firm specializing in anti-drone defenses.

A jet-powered drone flying at 500 kph would be able to intercept a propellor-driven Shahed-136 travelling at 180 kph, he explained. And jet devices are cheaper than the rocket-type defenses usually employed.

But threats persist from much smaller drones, which can be deadly or destructive for critical infrastructure such as power stations, said Matt Roper of the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency, the alliance’s tech and cyber hub.

In some cases, the best method is not to blow a drone out of the sky, which could cause collateral damage, but to catch or redirect it.

Argus Interception, another German company, has developed a sort of “fishing net” to be used against enemy devices.

The target first has to be detected by radar, camera or by monitoring frequencies used to guide it.

Once located, an interceptor drone is launched that fires the net over the hostile drone, allowing it to be captured. It is especially useful in protecting airports, Argus Interception boss Christian Schoening said.

For Romanian Air Force Captain Ionut-Vlad Cozmuta, however, that method may not be best against drones deployed by the Russian military close to Romanian airspace. Debris from some of them has been found in Romanian territory in recent weeks.

Romania, a NATO member, is keen to find ways to protect itself against possible drone attacks, and Cozmuta was carefully following the drone-defense exercises at the Vredepeel base.

He said signal “jamming” would be a solution, sending the device off-course rather than capturing it.

Big benefits

More aggressive than jamming is technology to seize control of an enemy drone and guide it to a new target or another destination.

But for that, NATO needs to establish a common standard allowing different anti-drone defense systems to speak to each other. That looks to now be in place with the adoption of a British system called Sapient.

Its use will bring “big benefits” to the alliance, a senior NATO officer in the NCI Agency, General Hans Folmer, told reporters.

No Ukrainian officer was present for the anti-drone exercises.

But NATO has “ongoing discussions” with the besieged country on these issues, said Claudio Palestini, a NATO science expert.

And the Ukrainians themselves “innovate on the ground all the time,” he said.