French Court Rules to Extradite Alleged Rwanda Genocide Financier to UN Court

A top French appeals court has refused to block the extradition of the alleged financier of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide to a United Nations tribunal. The decision by France’s Court of Cassation is a blow to Felicien Kabuga, 84, who was arrested at his Paris-area apartment in May after a quarter-century on the run.  Kabuga’s lawyers had appealed an earlier ruling that he should stand trial at a U.N. court based in Arusha, Tanzania. They said his health was poor and raised fears the U.N. court would be biased against him.  FILE – Felicien Kabuga, a fugitive wanted over the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who was arrested in a Paris suburb on May 16, 2020, is seen in this handout photo released by the Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux.But the Court of Cassation said it saw no legal or medical obstacle to Kabuga’s transfer to Arusha.   Etienne Nsanzimana, president of Rwandan genocide survivors’ support group Ibuka France, hailed the ruling. Now, he said, it was time international justice played its role and ended the years of impunity Kabuga had enjoyed.  Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, Kabuga is accused of bankrolling militia groups responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He reportedly founded and was heavily involved in Radio Television Mille Collines, whose incendiary broadcasts fanned ethnic hatred.  More than two decades ago, Kabuga was indicted by the U.N. Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, or ICTR, on seven counts, including genocide. He denies all the charges as “lies.” Kabuga is to be tried at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which took over from the ICTR after it closed in 2013. Rwanda said it wanted to have him tried in its own courts.  

For Belarus Protesters, Battle is for Long Haul

The inauguration of Belarus President Alexandr Lukashenko following elections widely viewed as rigged has ushered in a new scenario in Belarusian politics.  The pressure against the authoritarian president has not diminished as the opposition pledges to continue its protests while many countries refuse recognizing Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.  In this report narrated by Jonathan Spier, Ricardo Marquina has details from Minsk.PRODUCER:  Rod James

7 Parties Agree on Belgian Government Led by Liberal De Croo

Almost 500 days after Belgian parliamentary elections, seven parties from both sides of the linguistic aisle agreed early Wednesday on forming a fully functioning majority government under new Prime Minister Alexander De Croo that will center on dealing with the pandemic and its devastating economic impact.
A final negotiating session that lasted almost 24 hours found agreement on a common budget that could unite the seven parties, consisting of Liberals, Socialists and Greens, divided into separate linguistic entities, and the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats.
“It is the starting point for a new way of doing politics, with more pragmaticism, cooperation and, especially, more respect,” De Croo said.
Led by De Croo and francophone Socialist Paul Magnette during the last days of negotiations, the parties found money to fund new initiatives like a higher minimum pension and improved public services, while hoping to contain the budgetary hemorrhaging caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The last thing was the question who would become prime minister, and since the government falls just shy of a parliamentary majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders, it was an obvious choice to pick De Croo.
“We did head or tails, and it fell for Alexander and it is an excellent choice,” Magnette said tongue-in-cheek.
Despite his age, the 44-year-old De Croo is already a veteran in Belgian politics and was vice premier in the outgoing government. He held the offices of pensions, development aid and finance over the past decade. He would be the first Dutch-speaking prime minister in nine years.
European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian prime minister himself, congratulated De Croo and said that “COVID-19 hit us badly, but I count on you and your government to guide us past this challenge.”
Since the May 26, 2019, elections, Belgium has been led by a caretaker government, and, for the past half year, by a minority coalition with widespread support from the opposition to deal with the pandemic, the last one led by francophone Liberal Wilmes.
The government formation has been so difficult. Beyond the linguistic strife between 6.6 million Flemings and 5 million Francophones that is a given in Belgian politics, the 2019 elections saw major advances by the far right in northern Dutch-speaking Flanders, and by the far left in southern francophone Wallonia.
It made compromise politics, an essential element of Belgian politics, even harder. De Croo acknowledged that “a lot of people are extremely skeptical.”
But he insisted the coronavirus crisis made the traditional fissures outdated. “Together we can do a lot more than alone.” The overwhelming challenge will be to deal with the pandemic, which has hit Belgium especially hard. On Wednesday, the tally for Belgium exceeded 10,000 deaths for the first time.
“A great many people face a tough time — insecurity, school closures, temporary job losses. And so many families have lost loved ones,” he said.
Because the plenary room in the Belgian parliament is too small to ensure social distancing between the 150 members of the House, the legislature will move to the vast rooms of the nearby European Parliament later this week for approval of the government and a first debate on its program.

Britain, Canada Sanction Belarus’ Lukashenko, Top Officials

Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other top officials for allegedly rigging the country’s presidential election and committing acts of violence against protesters.The sanctions are the first imposed by major Western powers against Belarusian government officials and subject them to an immediate travel ban and asset freeze.Lukashenko’s post-election crackdown has resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people who participated in mass demonstrations that erupted after he claimed victory in an election that opponents allege was stolen. Lukashenko has denied the election was fixed.British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks at a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Sept. 16, 2020, in Washington.“Today the U.K. and Canada have sent a clear message by imposing sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s violent and fraudulent regime,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.“We don’t accept the results of the election,” the statement added. “We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.”In an interview with Reuters, Raab also mentioned Lukashenko ally Vladimir Putin, although the sanctions did not target the Russian president.Canadian Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne said, “Canada will not stand by silently as the government of Belarus continues to commit systematic human rights violations and shows no indication of being genuinely committed to finding a negotiated solution with opposition groups.”In addition to Lukashenko and his son, Viktor, who is his chief-of-staff, Britain’s sanctions target the interior minister and two deputy interior ministers. Canada has sanctioned Lukashenko and 10 others.Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 29, 2020.Earlier Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged European support for the people of Belarus after he met with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.The talks took place in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where Tsikhanouskaya fled after the August presidential election in Belarus sparked a political crisis.Many in Belarus reject the official results of the election that gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office, and thousands have protested in the weeks following the vote.The European Union said last week it does not recognize Lukashenko as president, and Macron has said he must step down.

Assange May End Up at Colorado Supermax jail, UK Court Told

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would have to be “almost dying” to get out of arguably the most notorious prison in the United States if convicted of espionage charges and sent there, a court at London’s Old Bailey heard Tuesday.
Assange, who is fighting an extradition request from the U.S., would likely be sent to the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, if convicted, according to Maureen Baird, a former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret American military documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Assange’s defense team says he is entitled to First Amendment protections for the publication of leaked documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also said he is suffering from wide-ranging mental health issues, including suicidal tendencies, that could be exacerbated if he ends up in inhospitable prison conditions in the U.S.
Baird said Assange would likely face the most onerous prison conditions that the U.S. can impose, conditions that she has seen lead to an array of mental health issues, including anxiety and paranoia.
“From my experience, of close to three decades of working in federal prisons, I would agree that long term isolation can have serious negative effects on an inmate’s mental health,” she said.
She said Assange would likely be held under special administrative measures, or SAMs, if extradited to the U.S., both in pre-trial detention and after any conviction, because of national security concerns within the U.S. government.
Under these measures, which are at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General and have been used on convicted terrorists, inmates spend almost the whole day confined in their cells with no contact with other prisoners and little contact with the outside world. She said there was little, if no, flexibility for wardens to ease the restrictions.
“There is no grey area, it’s all black and white,” she said.
Given that likely SAMs requirement, Baird said the “only place” for him to go would be ADX Florence in Colorado “unless there was a severe change in his medical status.”
Citing the example of convicted terrorist, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, Baird said Assange would have to be “almost dying” to be sent to another facility.
Mustafa, who is also known as Abu Hamza and used to be a cleric at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, was extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. in 2012. He has had his two arms amputated and is blind in one eye. SAMs were imposed on him soon after extradition and he has for the past five years been housed in a special secure unit of ADX known as H-Unit.
Lindsay Lewis, a New York attorney who has represented Mustafa, told the court in written testimony that Assange would “in all likelihood wind up in this unit as well” if held under SAMs and sent to ADX.
“There is no reason to conclude that SAMs imposed on Mr. Assange would be any less arbitrary, oppressive, or difficult to challenge, should the U.S. government determine, in its apparently unbridled discretion, that they are appropriate,” she said.
The facility is also home to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, 1993 World Trade Center mastermind Ramzi Yousef and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man ever convicted in a U.S. court for a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The court has heard how one former warden at the prison, Robert Hood, has described the Supermax prison as a “fate worse than death” that was “not built for humanity.”
It is thought that, if extradited, Assange would be first moved to the pre-trial facilities at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the U.S. government have claimed that Assange’s mental state is not as bad as his lawyers say and that he wouldn’t be subjected to improper conditions.
Clair Dobbin, a lawyer acting on behalf of the U.S. government, said SAMS were only “speculative” and reviewed regularly. She also said they have been removed from some inmates at the Colorado prison.
Assange’s extradition hearing, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is due to end this week.

Pompeo Urges Greece, Turkey to Resume Talks Over Territorial Spat

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on NATO allies Greece and Turkey Tuesday to resume talks as soon as possible to settle an increasingly contentious maritime territorial dispute in the Mediterranean Sea.
The two countries, which are at odds over multiple issues, have agreed to exploratory negotiations regarding an area in the eastern Mediterranean where their warships faced off last month.
Turkey sent a research vessel that was accompanied by warships to search for possible oil and gas drilling in an area that Greece claims territorial and economic rights. Greece responded by sending warships to the area and putting its military on alert, fueling fears of conflict.
Turkey has since recalled the ship, saying the move would clear the way for more talks before a two-day European Union summit that begins on Oct. 1. EU members will address the territorial disagreement and also discuss possible sanctions against Turkey that have been demanded by Cyprus, Greece and France.
“We hope that these talks can continue in a serious way,” Pompeo said, following a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the island of Crete. “[We] encourage them to resume discussion of these issues as soon as possible.”FILE – A handout photo released by the Turkish Defense Ministry Aug. 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis (C) as it is escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea, off Antalya, Aug. 10, 2020.Eastern Mediterranean countries hoping to find oil and gas have been rushing to claim jurisdiction over maritime areas, reviving decades-old conflicts in the search process.
Greece and Egypt have agreed to a deal defining maritime boundaries between them, to the consternation of Turkey, which contends the pact encroaches on its territory. A similar agreement between Turkey and the Libyan government has, in turn, angered Turkey.
Pompeo embarked on a two-day trip to Greece after the regional escalation of tensions over energy resources. He said the U.S. supports Greece’s efforts to diversify access to routes to energy sources and energy supplies. Pompeo added that Russia is a destabilizing influence in the area.
His visit to Greece is part of a five-day regional tour that will also take him to Croatia, Italy and the Vatican. 

Macron Meets With Belarus Opposition Leader Tsikhanouskaya

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday pledged European support for the people of Belarus after he met with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The talks took place in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where Tsikhanouskaya fled after an August presidential election in Belarus sparked a political crisis. Many in Belarus reject the official results of the election that gave another term to longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, and in the weeks following the vote thousands have protested. The European Union said last week it does not recognize Lukashenko as president, and Macron has said he must step down. 

Greece Steps Up Refugee Transfers from Congested Lesbos

Greek authorities on Monday began transferring hundreds of refugees from the island of Lesbos to reduce chronic overcrowding that caused hardship and fanned tensions with locals. Over 700 people were to sail to the Greek mainland aboard a ferry later Monday, organizers said, three weeks after a sprawling camp on the island burned down. Another group will leave on Thursday, state agency ANA said. Some 2,500 refugees and asylum-seekers are to be relocated overall, following coronavirus tests, according to the migration ministry. Over 12,000 asylum-seekers were left homeless on Sept. 8 after a fire ravaged the Lesbos camp of Moria, Europe’s largest. Six Afghan youths are on trial for arson in connection to the fire. They deny the charges. The Moria camp was notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation and ethnic gang violence. The fire broke out shortly after more than 30 people there tested positive for the coronavirus. Also Monday, Greek police said they had identified 33 aid workers who allegedly facilitated illegal migration to Lesbos. A Greek police source later said the “preliminary” investigation was still under way. A police statement said the suspects, who worked for four nongovernmental organizations, were part of “an organized network” created to “systematically” facilitate illegal migration to the island. Two other foreign nationals, identified by state TV ERT as an Afghan and an Iranian, were also part of the alleged operation, the police said. No information was given on the aid groups in question, the identities of the suspects or whether any were in custody. The police said the alleged operation was active from at least June, “providing substantial assistance to organized migrant-smuggling networks” in an estimated 32 cases by helping direct migrant boats to shore safely. Meanwhile, Germany has offered to take 1,500 asylum-seekers from Greece, including former Moria residents. For its part, France has offered to take in 500 minors from the camp. Authorities and local residents on Lesbos had long campaigned for the immediate removal of most of the asylum-seekers. After the camp burned down, a makeshift tent facility was hurriedly erected to house some 9,500 people. But the temporary camp, on a hill overlooking the sea, is ill-equipped to handle winter conditions. The government is now in talks to build a smaller permanent camp on the island. 

Poland Rejects Letter From Diplomats Urging Tolerance for LGBT People

Polish leaders on Monday rejected suggestions that LGBT people in Poland are facing any kind of discrimination or depravation of rights, following the publication of an open letter from 50 ambassadors and international representatives expressing their support for “challenges faced” by the LGBT communities in the nation. The ambassadors’ appeal, coordinated by Belgium’s embassy in Poland and published Sunday, comes as an increasingly visible LGBT community in Poland has faced a backlash from the right-wing government, many local communities and the Catholic Church. “Human rights are universal, and everyone, including LGBTI persons, are entitled to their full enjoyment,” the letter said, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. FILE – Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 17, 2020.At a news conference Monday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he agreed that every person deserves respect but that he completely disagreed with the ambassadors’ claim that LGBT people were being deprived of that. Morawiecki said no one needs to teach Poland tolerance, “because we are a nation that has learned such tolerance for centuries, and we have given many testimonies to the history of such tolerance.”  Poland’s ruling party leaders, including the president, have cast the movement for civil rights for LGBT people as a threat to traditional families. President Andrzej Duda won a second term this year after calling LGBT rights an “ideology” more dangerous than communism. FILE – Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks to a crowd during an event in Gdansk-Westerplatte, Sept. 1, 2020.Meanwhile, dozens of towns in conservative parts of eastern and southern Poland have passed mostly symbolic resolutions declaring themselves to be “LGBT-free zones,” free of LGBT ideology. From her Twitter account Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher tweeted, “Human Rights are not an ideology — they are universal, 50 Ambassadors and Representatives agree.”  The ambassadors’ letter paid tribute to the work of the LGBT community in Poland as it seeks to raise awareness about the challenges it faces. The letter was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, many European countries, including Germany, Ukraine and Britain, and other nations such as Japan and Australia. The letter was also signed by representatives in Poland of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Community of Democracies, which is based in Warsaw. 

Turkey Vows Support for Azerbaijan in Escalating Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Turkey says it will back Azerbaijan with all means necessary as fighting entered a second day Monday between Azeri and Armenian forces over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, in a sign the conflict could be widening.  Monday saw Azeri and Armenian forces exchange heavy artillery fire, with each accusing the other of starting the hostilities Sunday. Observers called the latest fighting over Nargono Karabakh, an enclave inside Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians, the worst since the 1990s. Witness reports put the number of dead, including civilians, at more than 20 and at least 100 wounded.  People watch TV in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, in this picture released Sept. 28, 2020. (Foreign Ministry of Armenia/Handout via Reuters)Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to voice support  for Azerbaijan, labeling Armenia “the biggest threat to peace in the region.” The Turkish leader called on “the entire world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty.” The Armenian foreign ministry on Monday said Turkish military “experts” were “fighting side by side with Azerbaijan.” Turkish government officials declined to comment on the accusations.  “Turkey troops will not be on the front line, Azeri forces don’t need them,” said Turkish analyst Ilhan Uzgel. But Uzgel says Ankara remains Baku’s key military ally. “Turkey is already supporting Azerbaijan militarily,” he said, “through technical assistance through arms sales, providing critical military support, especially in terms of armed drones and technical expertise. The line for Turkey’s involvement, is Russia’s involvement; actually, that is a red line for Turkey. Turkey doesn’t want a direct confrontation with Moscow.” An image from a video made available on the website of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry on Sept. 28, 2020, allegedly shows Azeri troops conducting a combat operation during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.Moscow is a vital supporter of Yerevan, and maintains a military base in Armenia.  The Russian foreign ministry on Monday called for Armenia and Azerbaijan to exercise restraint.  “Armenian-Russian relations are firm and solid,” said Dr. Zaur Gasimov, a Russian affairs expert at Germany’s Bonn University. “Now, having faced with casualties on the front line, Yerevan would search for more support from Moscow.” Ahead of Sunday’s outbreak of fighting, Baku had accused Moscow of emboldening Yerevan with significant arms shipments since July.  “500 tonnes of military cargo has been delivered to Armenia. Let us be clear, from Russia,” said Hikmat Hajiyev, head of Azerbaijan department of foreign affairs, in a briefing to foreign journalists in Turkey earlier this month.  Hajiyev highlighted the significance of Turkey’s military assistance. “We have seen firm and strong support of Turkey to Azerbaijan. Annually, we have 10 joint military exercises covering land troops, anti-terror special forces operations, and air force exercises.” In what observers interpreted as a message to Armenia, Turkish fighter jets carried out an exercise in Azerbaijan shortly after Armenian and Azeri forces clashed in July. Energy interests July’s fighting in Azerbaijan’s Tovuz region was close to crucial energy pipelines that serve Turkey, causing alarm in Ankara. “This is a very core security issue for Turkey for energy security,” said a senior Turkish energy ministry official speaking to journalists on the condition of anonymity. The official said Turkey “will take any relevant measures” to continue receiving energy deliveries from Azerbaijan.  Ankara has long supported Baku in its efforts to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, and Erdogan on Monday asserted that if Armenia immediately leaves the territory that he said it is occupying, the region will return to peace and harmony. A view of a house said to have been damaged in recent shelling during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, Sept. 28, 2020. (Handout Photo from Armenian Foreign Ministry)Restoring Azeri control over Nagorno-Karabakh has the strong support of Turkish nationalists, a critical political base for Erdogan.”Two nations, one people” is a popular mantra used by Baku and Ankara to describe the countries’ relationship. Armenian separatists seized Nargono Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a bloody 1990s war that killed an estimated 30,000 people.  Turkey appears poised to deepen its cooperation with Azerbaijan, analysts say. “But it’s quite a risky area. The Caucasus, it’s one of Russia’s near abroad, the Caucuses is part of Russian area of influence. They may not tolerate Turkish Azerbaijani military action against Armenia that results in heavy Armenian losses. If Turkey and Azerbaijan are planning to have a huge success through military means, that could put Turkish Russian relations at serious risk.” In recent years, Ankara and Moscow have deepened their relationship, cooperating in Syria and building trade ties that even extend to the purchase of sophisticated Russian military hardware.  

Russia Joins US in Urging Cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh 

Russia joined the U.S. and other nations urging restraint from Azerbaijan and Armenia as fierce weekend fighting between the two rival neighbors over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region threatened to spiral into a wider conflict in the South Caucasus region. “We call on all sides in the conflict to show maximum restraint, to reject military methods and refuse any steps that might provoke an undesired escalation of the situation that is de facto already a military conflict,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in remarks to journalists in Moscow on Monday.   Peskov added that President Vladimir Putin had discussed the crisis with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over the weekend but would do the same with the Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev “if necessary.” In this photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, greets Sahiba Gafarova Chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 23, 2020.Underscoring Russia’s delicate global balancing act,  Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed the need for a cease-fire in phone calls with counterparts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as Turkey — which backs Baku and has been Moscow’s on-again off-again partner amid its military campaign in Syria. The U.S. Department of State also issued a press release saying the U.S. was “alarmed” by “large scale military action,” that had led to “significant casualties.”  “We extend our condolences to the families of those killed and injured,” said the A still image from a video released by the Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, Sept. 28, shows members of Azeri armed forces firing artillery during clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.Much of that animosity has focused on Nagorno-Karabakh — an ethnically Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan’s borders that was the site of a war in the early 1990s that killed 30,000 and displaced over one million people.   Further contributing to distrust are religious tensions. Armenia is majority Christian while Azerbaijan is primarily Muslim.  The U.S., Russia, and France are co-chairs of a working group that has sought to defuse the conflict under the auspices of the Houses, that locals said were damaged during a recent shelling by Azeri forces, are seen in the town of Martuni in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, Sept. 28, 2020. (Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via Reuters)Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said it had killed over 500 Armenian soldiers and destroyed 26 armored vehicles, weapons stores, and unmanned drones.   Armenia’s Defense Ministry countered it had been the Azeris who lost 200 soldiers, 30 armored vehicles, and 30 drones — while saying that 200 of its soldiers had been wounded amid fighting. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gives a speech at the parliament in Yerevan on Sept. 27, 2020. (Photo by handout / Press service of Armenia’s government / AFP)Armenia’s parliament also condemned what it called a “full-scale military attack” by Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, the separatist government in Nagorno-Karabakh said 28 of its soldiers had died but key ground installations had been retaken by its forces.  It also claimed Azeri forces had launched a tank assault against the northeast portion of the enclave.  An image grab taken from a video made available on the official website of the Armenian Defense Ministry, Sept. 27, 2020, allegedly shows destroying of Azeri tanks during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan.Further muddying the picture, Armenia’s President Armen Sarkisyan accused Turkey — a traditional Azeri ally with its own history of conflict with Armenia  — of sending fighters and military jets to join in the battle.  Azeri officials rejected the charges. “Rumors of militants from Syria allegedly being redeployed to Azerbaijan is another provocation by the Armenian side and complete nonsense,” said an aide to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in comments carried by RIA-Novosti.  Wider conflict Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded on Monday that Armenia “leave Azeri territory in Norgorno-Karabakh” and criticized the decade-long OSCE peace talks for failing to resolve the status of the enclave.  Armenia’s ambassador to Russia, Vardan Toganyan, said Yerevan was prepared to ask Russia for additional weapons should Turkey enter the conflict directly.   The ambassador noted it was too early to say whether the request would be necessary.  Russia is historically an ally of Armenia but has sought to maintain good relations with Azerbaijan. While the Kremlin maintains military bases in Armenia, it sells both countries weapons and armaments.   With both sides accusing the other of shelling, the International Committee of the Red Cross — which maintains a presence in both countries and Nagorno-Karabakh — issued a statement calling on all sides to take measures to protect civilian life and infrastructure. “We reiterate our commitment to assist and support those affected by this escalation as well as to act as a neutral intermediary”, said the group’s regional director Martin Schüepp.  Political observers in Moscow argued only the major powers could bring an end to the most serious escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan in years. This is ”no longer violations of cease-fire or border incidents,” wrote Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center in a post to Twitter.  “War is resuming. Time for Russia, France and U.S., individually and jointly, to stop it.” #NagornoKarabakh: no longer violations of ceasefire or border incidents. War is resuming. Time for Russia, France and US, individually and jointly, to stop it.
— Dmitri Trenin (@DmitriTrenin) September 27, 2020  

500 Arrested During Weekend Protests in Belarus

Police in Belarus arrested 500 protesters over the weekend, as demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko continued.Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, claimed his sixth reelection in the Aug. 9 election. But many in the country view the outcome as illegitimate. He claimed 80% of the vote.The country’s Interior Ministry said 150 people were arrested Saturday and another 350 on Sunday during protests across 22 cities, according to The Associated Press.Dozens Arrested as Protests Against Lukashenko Continue in Belarus The protests in Minsk, Homel, and other cities came after Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was inaugurated on September 23 in a secretive ceremony Around 100,000 protesters took to the streets in the capital, Minsk.A human rights group said the crackdowns on protesters over the weekend were not as violent as previous clampdowns, during which police used tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. Several protesters were reportedly killed.”Repressions get stuck when more than 100,000 people take to the streets,” said Ales Bialiatski, head of the Viasna Human Rights Center, according to AP. “The authorities’ scare tactics don’t work anymore.” Authorities recently began an investigation into members of the Coordination Council, which was created by the opposition and supports a peaceful transition of power. Alleged charges against members of the group include undermining of national security.Several have been arrested or forced to leave the country, according to reports.On Monday, Svetlana Alexievich, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, left for Germany. Another council member, Maxim Znak, was jailed earlier this month and has been on a hunger strike since Sept. 18.Both the United States and the European Union have said the election was not free nor fair, and many European countries have refused to recognize Lukashenko after his surprise inauguration earlier this week.

Sri Lanka Returns Hazardous Waste to Britain

Sri Lanka says it is shipping 21 containers of waste back to Britain.  Officials said hazardous waste materials, including hospital waste, were found in some of the containers, in violation of international laws and European Union regulations.  Officials said the containers were supposed to be holding used mattresses, rugs and carpets for possible recycling. An AFP reports says the containers arrived in Sri Lanka between September 2017 and March 2018. The containers left Sri Lanka bound for Britain Saturday, officials said.  Several Asian countries have said they are tired of being the garbage dump for wealthy nations and have refused docking privileges to ships transporting waste. 

Switzerland Voters Reject Limiting Immigration from EU   

Voters in Switzerland rejected a proposed limit on immigration from European Union countries in a national referendum Sunday. The freedom-of-movement proposal put forth by the populist Swiss People’s Party was defeated, with only 38% of voters approving the measure. The intent of the People’s Party was to prioritize access to jobs, social protection and benefits to Swiss citizens over those from the 27 countries of the EU, of which Switzerland is not a member.  Critics of the proposal maintained that would have been disadvantageous to Swiss citizens wanting to live or work in any EU member countries. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the result, saying that it upheld “one of the core pillars of our relationship: the mutual freedom to move, to live and to work in Switzerland and the EU.” About 1.4 million EU citizens live in Switzerland, a country of roughly 8.2 million, while some 500,000 Swiss live in EU member countries. Regarding domestic issues included in the ballot, more than 60 percent of voters favored extending parental leave to fathers, which like maternity leave affords parents 80 percent of their salary, up to 196 Swiss francs per day. The $6.5 billion fighter jet purchase, an issue debated for about a decade, received a yes vote with only 50.1% in favor. Swiss voters rejected an attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves considered a threat to livestock. The turnout of about 60% in Sunday’s referendum was considerably higher than in most recent referendums.