Russia and the West battle for Georgia’s democratic future

The European Union granted official candidate status to Georgia last year, but analysts say that led by the country’s richest man, the government has turned toward Russia following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Critics warn that Georgia’s democratic future is at stake in October’s elections. Henry Ridgwell reports from Tbilisi.

EU countries approve landmark nature law after delays

BRUSSELS — European Union countries approved a flagship policy to restore damaged nature on Monday, after months of delay, making it the first green law to pass since European Parliament elections this month. 

The nature restoration law is among the EU’s biggest environmental policies, requiring member states to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030. 

EU countries’ environment ministers backed the policy at a meeting in Luxembourg, meaning it can now pass into law. 

The vote was held after Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler of the Greens, defied her conservative coalition partners by pledging to back the policy — giving it just enough support to pass. 

“I know I will face opposition in Austria on this, but I am convinced that this is the time to adopt this law,” Gewessler told reporters. 

The policy aims to reverse the decline of Europe’s natural habitats — 81% of which are classed as being in poor health — and includes specific targets, for example to restore peat lands so they can absorb CO2 emissions. 

The move by Austria’s minister angered Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservative People’s Party, which opposes the law. The OVP minister for EU affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, said Gewessler’s vote in favor would be unconstitutional. 

Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and chairs meetings of ministers, said the Austrian government dispute would not affect the legality of the EU ministers’ vote. 

EU countries and the European Parliament negotiated a deal on the law last year but it has come under fire from some governments in recent months amid protests by farmers angry at costly EU regulations. 

Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden voted against the law on Monday. Belgium abstained. 

EU countries had planned to approve the policy in March but called off the vote after Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support, wiping out the slim majority in favor. 

Countries including the Netherlands had raised concerns the policy would slow the expansion of wind farms and other economic activities, while Poland on Monday said the policy lacked a plan for how nature protection would be funded.

Stoltenberg: Record number of NATO allies hitting defense spending targets during war in Ukraine

Washington — A record more than 20 NATO member nations are hitting the Western military alliance’s defense spending target this year, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday, as Russia’s war in Ukraine has raised the threat of expanding conflict in Europe.

The estimated figure is a nearly fourfold increase from 2021 in the number of the 32 NATO members meeting the alliance’s defense spending guideline. Only six nations were meeting the goal that year, before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Europeans are doing more for their collective security than just a few years ago,” Stoltenberg said in a speech at the Wilson Center research group before meeting with President Joe Biden later Monday at the White House.

NATO members agreed last year to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. The surge in spending reflects the worries about the war in Ukraine.

Some countries also are concerned about the possible reelection of former President Donald Trump, who has characterized many NATO allies as freeloading on U.S. military spending and said on the campaign trail that he would not defend NATO members that don’t meet defense spending targets.

Stoltenberg’s visit is laying the groundwork for what’s expected to be a pivotal summit of NATO leaders in Washington next month. The mutual-defense alliance has grown in strength and size since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, with both Sweden and Finland joining.

Defense spending by many European countries fell after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to neutralize what was then the prime security threat to the West.

But after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO members unanimously agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense within a decade. The full-scale invasion that Putin launched in 2022 spurred European countries newly on the front line of a war in the heart of Europe to put more resources into meeting that target.

Much of the focus of the summit is expected to address what NATO and NATO member governments can do for Ukraine as it faces unrelenting air and ground attacks from its more powerful neighbor. They so far have resisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appeals to take his country into the bloc as long as the war is still on.

Stoltenberg pointed to efforts to bolster Ukraine in the meantime. That includes NATO streamlining the eventual membership process for Ukraine, and individual NATO nations providing updated arms and training to Ukraine’s military, including the U.S. giving it F-16s and bringing Ukrainian pilots to the U.S. for training on the advanced aircraft.

“The idea is to move them so close to membership that when the time comes, when there is consensus, they can become a member straight away,” Stoltenberg said.

However Russia’s offensive concludes, only taking Ukraine into the alliance will dissuade Putin from trying again in the future to conquer Ukraine, the NATO chief said.

“When the fighting ends, NATO membership” for Ukraine “assures that the war really ends,” he said.

The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO has long been anathema to Putin, and it was one of his stated motivations for seizing Crimea. He offered last week to order an immediate cease-fire if Ukraine renounced plans to join the alliance, an offer that was dismissed by Ukraine.

A weekend conference held in Switzerland was billed as a first step toward peace and ended with pledges to work toward a resolution but had few concrete deliverables. It was attended largely by Western nations and Russia was not invited. China sat it out and then India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Mexico did not sign the meeting’s final document Sunday.

Kyiv’s outgunned and outnumbered forces are battling to hold back the bigger Russian army, which has taken over chunks of territory after pollical squabbles led to delays in delivering U.S. and European military aid. Ukraine has been short of troops, ammunition and air defenses in recent months as the Kremlin’s forces try to cripple the national power supply and punch through the front line in eastern parts of the country.

Homesick refugees risk return to Ukraine despite war

Nearly 6.5 million – that is the number of Ukrainian refugees the United Nations counts in the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion. According to the world body’s latest report, most of them hope to return home one day. Lesia Bakalets talked to Ukrainians who have already done so. VOA footage by Vladyslav Smilianets.

China launches anti-dumping probe into EU pork imports

BEIJING — China said Monday it had launched an anti-dumping investigation into imports of pork products from the European Union.

The probe is in response to an application submitted on behalf of domestic producers, Beijing said, and comes in the face of mounting trade tensions between China and the EU.

“The Ministry of Commerce has opened an anti-dumping investigation into imports of relevant pork and pig by-products originating from the European Union,” the ministry said in a statement.

China has criticized the bloc’s decision last week to slap additional tariffs of up to 38 percent on Chinese electric car imports from next month after an anti-subsidy probe.

The European Commission pointed to “unfair subsidization” in China, which it said “is causing a threat of economic injury” to EU electric car makers.

Beijing warned the tariffs would “harm Europe’s own interests” and condemned the bloc’s “protectionism”.

Pork is China’s most popular meat and a staple of diets in the world’s second most populous nation.

France begins frenetic campaign after Macron poll gamble

PARIS — France on Monday began less than a fortnight of frenetic election campaigning for snap polls called by President Emmanuel Macron to combat the far right, with star footballer Kylian Mbappe warning the country was at a historic crossroads.

Candidates had until Sunday evening to register for the 577 seats in the lower house National Assembly ahead of the official start of campaigning from midnight for the June 30 first round. The decisive second round takes place on July 7.

The alliance led by centrist Macron, who called the snap polls some three years early after the far right trounced his party in EU Parliament elections, is still lagging way behind with little chance of winning an outright majority itself.

Many in France, including ex-leaders, remain baffled over why Macron took the risk of calling an election that could see the far-right National Rally (RN) leading the government and its leader Jordan Bardella, 28, as prime minister.

One of the most high-profile of the last candidates to register was Marie-Caroline Le Pen, the elder sister of the RN’s three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who will stand for the party in the central Sarthe region.

Her daughter Nolwenn Olivier is Bardella’s ex-partner.

Mbappe, representing France at the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany, said he was “against extremes and divisive ideas” and urged young people to vote at a “crucial moment” in French history.

The striker defended comments made on Saturday by his teammate Marcus Thuram, saying he “had not gone too far” in calling on the country “to fight every day to stop” the RN winning the elections.

“Today we can all see that extremists are very close to winning power and we have the opportunity to choose the future of our country,” Mbappe said.

France’s men’s football team has long been seen as a beacon for diversity in the country. The French Football Federation has urged against “any form of pressure and political use of the French team”.

Macron’s dissolving of parliament after the French far right’s victory in the EU vote has swiftly redrawn the lines of French politics.

A new left-wing alliance, the New Popular Front that takes in Socialists and hard-leftists, faced its first crisis over the weekend after some prominent MPs from the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party found they had not been put forward to stand again.

But Adrien Quatennens, a close ally of LFI figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon, withdrew his candidacy which had sparked anger due to a conviction for domestic violence.

On the right, the decision of Eric Ciotti, the leader of the Republicans (LR), to seek an election pact with the RN provoked fury inside the party and a move by its leadership to dismiss him, which a Paris court blocked on Friday.

Adding to the chaos, the LR’s executive is now fielding a candidate to stand against Ciotti in his home region of Nice.

Trial of US reporter detained in Russia to be closed to public

MOSCOW — Russia will hold the espionage trial of detained U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich behind closed doors later this month, a court in the city of Yekaterinburg said on Monday.

Gershkovich, 32, was detained by the Federal Security Service on March 29, 2023, in a steak house in Yekaterinburg on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison.

Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be detained on spy charges in Russia since the Cold War over three decades ago, denies collecting secrets for the CIA.

The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said that Gershkovich was collecting secrets about Uralvagonzavod, a powerful Russian defense enterprise that is one of the world’s biggest battle tank producers.

“According to the investigation authorities, the American journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA, in March 2023, collected secret information in the Sverdlovsk region about the activities of the defense enterprise JSC NPK Uralvagonzavod for the production and repair of military equipment,” the Sverdlovsk Regional Court said.

“The process will take place behind closed doors.”

The first hearing is scheduled for June 26, the court said.

Gershkovich’s arrest shocked many Western news organizations and there are now almost no U.S. reporters in Russia, which is ranked by the State Department as a hardship posting on par with Freetown, Mogadishu, Damascus and Kabul.

Russia has said Gershkovich was caught “red-handed.”

President Vladimir Putin has said there has been contact with Washington about potentially exchanging Gershkovich for someone jailed in the West, but that such negotiations should be held away from the media.

The White House has called the charges “ridiculous,” and President Joe Biden has said Gershkovich’s detention is “totally illegal.”

The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones say that Gershkovich was simply doing his job in Russia and deny the espionage charges. The Journal and Dow have repeatedly demanded that Russia release him, thus far to no avail.

Uralvagonzavod, based in Nizhny Tagil, sits at the heart of the Urals region, where Russia conducts some of its most secret weapons production and research. It is part of Rostec, Russia’s vast defense corporation run by Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

A fluent Russian-speaker born to Soviet émigrés and raised in New Jersey, Gershkovich moved to Moscow in late 2017 to join the English-language Moscow Times, and subsequently worked for the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

Gershkovich has appealed against his detention several times, appearing in the glass cages used for suspects in Russian courts. All of the appeals have been rejected.

Iran rebukes G7 statement over its nuclear program escalation

Dubai, UAE — Iran called upon the Group of Seven leaders Sunday to distance itself from “destructive policies of the past,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said, referring to a G7 statement condemning Iran’s recent nuclear program escalation.

On Friday, the G7 warned Iran against advancing its nuclear enrichment program and said it would be ready to enforce new measures if Tehran were to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia.

“Any attempt to link the war in Ukraine to the bilateral cooperation between Iran and Russia is an act with only biased political goals,” Kanaani said, adding that some countries are “resorting to false claims to continue sanctions” against Iran.

Last week, the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors passed a resolution calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the watchdog and reverse its recent barring of inspectors.

Iran responded by rapidly installing extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report.

Kanaani added Tehran would continue its “constructive interaction and technical cooperation” with the IAEA but called its resolution “politically biased.”

Iran is now enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the 90% required for weapons grade — and has enough material enriched to that level, if enriched further, for three nuclear weapons — according to an IAEA yardstick.

American tourist dies on Greek island near Corfu, 3 others missing

Athens, Greece — A missing American tourist has been found dead on a beach on a small Greek island west of Corfu, local media reported.

The body of the man was found Sunday on a rocky, fairly remote beach on the island of Mathraki by another tourist. He had been reported missing Thursday by his host, a Greek-American friend. The tourist had last been seen Tuesday at a cafe in the company of two female tourists who have since left the island.

No further details about the victim, including a name or hometown, were immediately available.

Mathraki, which has a population of 100, is a 3.9-square-kilometer (1.2-square-mile) heavily wooded island, west of the better-known island of Corfu.

This was the latest in a string of recent cases in which tourists on the Greek islands have died or gone missing. Some, if not all, had set out on hikes in very hot temperatures.

A 74-year-old Dutch tourist was found by a fire department drone Saturday lying face down in a ravine about 300 meters (330 yards) from the spot where he was last observed last Sunday, walking with some difficulty in the blistering heat.

Dr. Michael Mosley, a noted British television presenter and author, was found dead last Sunday on the island of Symi. A coroner concluded that he had died the previous Wednesday, shortly after going for a hike over difficult, rocky terrain.

On Friday, two French tourists were reported missing on Sikinos, a relatively secluded Cyclades island in the Aegean Sea, with less than 400 permanent residents.

The two women, ages 64 and 73, had left their respective hotels to meet.

On the island of Amorgos, also in the Cyclades, authorities are still searching for a 59-year-old tourist reported missing since Tuesday, after he went on a solo hike in very hot conditions. U.S. media identified the missing tourist as retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Albert Calibet of Hermosa Beach, California.

German police shot a man allegedly threatening them with an axe in city hosting Euro 2024 match  

Berlin — German police said Sunday they shot and wounded a man who was threatening them with an axe and a firebomb in the northern city of Hamburg, hours before it hosted a match in the Euro 2024 soccer tournament. 

Police officers opened fire after the man refused to lay down the ax, hitting him in the leg, German news agency dpa reported, citing Hamburg police. German media published images of a person lying in the street surrounded by paramedics and police officers. 

The incident occurred in the downtown St. Pauli area of the northern port city, which was thronged with fans ahead of Sunday’s soccer match between the Netherlands and Poland. 

The police spokesman said there was no initial indication that the incident was related to the soccer game. 

German authorities have put police on high alert during the tournament, which began on Friday and runs through July 14, for fear of possible fan violence and terrorist attacks. 

On Friday, police shot to death an Afghan man after he fatally attacked a compatriot and later wounded three people watching the televised game between Germany and Scotland in a town in eastern Germany. Police said Sunday that the motive for that attack was still unclear. 

‘In seventh heaven,’ says Swede freed in Iran prisoner swap 

Stockholm — A Swede freed in a prisoner swap with Iran, 33-year-old EU diplomat Johan Floderus, said in his first words since his release that he was “in seventh heaven”, in a video published Sunday.

In the video obtained by AFP from the Swedish government, Floderus can be heard speaking to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson by satellite phone while on a flight home from Iran on Saturday.

“I’m in the sky and I feel emotionally like I’m in seventh heaven. I’ve been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” an audibly exhilarated Floderus told a smiling Kristersson.

“I’ve dreamt of this day so many times,” he said, adding: “It’s beginning to sink in that I’ve left Iran’s airspace and am on my way home.”

Floderus could later be seen hugging his family members at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport after he landed, in images released by the Swedish government.

Floderus was arrested in Iran as he was about to return home from a holiday in April 2022. He was accused of espionage, for which he risked a death sentence.

He and another Swedish national, Saeed Azizi, were released on Saturday in exchange for Hamid Noury, a 63-year-old Iranian former prisons official handed a life sentence in Sweden in 2022 for his role in mass killings in Iranian jails in 1988.

A Swedish court had convicted Noury of “grave breaches of international humanitarian law and murder”. He had said he was on leave during the period in question.

Swedish officials have defended their decision to issue a pardon for Noury, amid criticism from exiled Iranians in Sweden, among others.

“Under normal circumstances, Hamid Noury should have served his prison sentence,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer told reporters late Saturday.

“On the other hand, we had an exceptional situation, with two Swedish citizens detained in Iran on arbitrary grounds, with the risk of a death sentence in one of the cases.”

“This was a difficult decision, but one the government had to take,” Strommer said.

Another Swede, dual national and academic Ahmad Reza Jalali, has been on death row in Iran since 2017 after being convicted of espionage.

His wife has criticized the Swedish government for not including him in the prisoner swap.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Stockholm had tried to secure his release, but Tehran refused to discuss his case as it does not recognize dual nationality.

“Unfortunately, Iran refuses to recognize him as a Swedish citizen,” Billstrom said.

UK ‘guinea pig’ for election security before landmark votes

London — The UK general election is being watched closely after stark warnings that rapid advancements in cyber-tech, particularly AI, and increasing friction between major nations threaten the integrity of 2024’s landmark votes.

“These rogue and unregulated technological advances pose an enormous threat to us all. They can be weaponized to discriminate, disinform and divide,” the head of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard said in April.

The UK election on July 4 — four months before the United States — will be seen as the “guinea pig” for election security, said Bruce Snell, cyber-security strategist at US firm Qwiet AI, which uses AI to prevent cyber-attacks.

While AI has grabbed most of the headlines, more traditional cyber-attacks remain a major threat.

“It’s misinformation, it’s disruption of parties, it’s leakage of data and attacking specific individuals,” said Ram Elboim, head of cyber-security firm Sygnia and a former senior operative at Israel’s 8200 cyber and intelligence unit.

State actors are expected to be the main threat, with the UK already issuing warnings about China and Russia.

“The main things are maybe to promote specific candidates or agendas,” said Elboim.

“The second is creating some kind of internal instability or chaos, something that will impact the public feeling.”

The UK has an advantage over the United States due to the short time period between announcing and holding the election, giving attackers little time to develop and execute plans, said Elboim.

It is also less vulnerable to attacks on election infrastructure as voting is not automated, he added.

Deepfakes

But hacking of institutions remains a threat, and the UK has already accused China of being behind an attack on the Electoral Commission. 

“You don’t have to disrupt the main voting system,” explained Elboim. “For example, if you disrupt a party, their computers or a third party that affects that party, that’s something that might have an impact.” 

Individuals are most at risk of being targeted, he added. Any embarrassing information could be used to blackmail candidates.

But it is more likely the attacker will simply leak information to shape public opinion or use the hacked account to impersonate the victim and spread misinformation.

Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, a fierce Beijing critic, has already claimed that Chinese state actors have impersonated him online, sending fake emails to politicians around the world.

However, it is the increased scope for using AI to create and distribute misinformation that is the real unknown quantity in this year’s elections, said Snell.

The spread of “deepfakes” — fake videos, pictures or audio — is of prime concern.

“The levels of potential for fakery are just tremendous. It’s something that we definitely didn’t have in the last election,” said Snell, calling the UK a “guinea pig” for 2024’s votes.

He highlighted software that can recreate someone’s voice from a 30-second sample, and how that could be abused.

Labour’s health spokesman Wes Streeting has said he was a victim of deepfake audio, in which he appeared to insult a colleague.

Bot farms

Snell advised authorities to focus on a “shortcut” solution of “getting awareness out there, having people understand that this is the issue.”

Other software can be used to make fake pictures and videos, despite filters on many AI applications designed to prevent the depiction of real people.

“AI is, while very sophisticated, also extremely easy to fool” into creating images of real people, said Snell.

AI is also being used to create “bots”, which automatically flood social media with comments to shape public opinion.

“The bots used to be really easy to spot. You’d see things like the same message being repeated and parroted by multiple accounts,” said Snell.

“But with the sophistication of AI now… it’s very easy to generate a bot farm that can have 1,000 bots and every one have a varying style of communication,” he added.

While software already exists to check if videos and pictures have been generated using AI to a “high level of competency”, they are not yet used widely enough to curb the problem.

Snell believes that the AI industry and social media firms should therefore take responsibility for curbing misinformation “because we’re in a brave new world where the lawmakers have no idea what’s going on.”

Former French President Sarkozy flags chaos risk as election looms

Paris — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned on Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected decision to dissolve the National Assembly and call for snap legislative elections could backfire and plunge the country into chaos.

Macron called the snap vote, to be held in two rounds on June 30 and July 7, after his centrist alliance was trounced by the far-right National Rally (RN) in last Sunday’s European Parliament ballot.

Sarkozy, the conservative former president who was in office from 2007 to 2012 and remains an important political figure, said possible chaos triggered by the dissolution of the assembly might be challenging to get out of, according to a report in the Journal du Dimanche. 

“Giving the floor to the French people to justify the dissolution is a curious argument since this is precisely what more than 25 million French people have just done at the polls”, Sarkozy, who is on friendly terms with Macron, said in reference to the European elections on June 9.

“The risk is great they confirm their anger rather than reverse it,” he said.

A poll on Saturday appeared to support his concerns.

The OpinionWay-Vae Solis poll conducted for Les Echos and Radio Classique forecast RN would lead in the first round of the parliamentary election with 33% of the vote, ahead of the Popular Front, the alliance of left-wing parties, with 25%. Macron’s centrist camp had 20%.

Thousands marched in Paris and cities across France on Saturday to protest against the far-right National Rally (RN) ahead of the upcoming elections.

Study: Men all over world tend to eat more meat than women

chicago, illinois — Vacationing in Chicago this week from Europe, Jelle den Burger and Nirusa Naguleswaran grabbed a bite at the Dog House Grill: a classic Italian beef sandwich for him, grilled cheese for her. 

Both think the way their genders lined up with their food choices was no coincidence. Women, said Naguleswaran, are simply more likely to ditch meat, and to care about how their diet affects the environment and other people. 

“I don’t want to put it in the wrong way, that male people feel attacked,” said Naguleswaran, of Netherlands, laughing. She said she used to love eating meat, but giving it up for climate reasons was more important to her. “We just have it in our nature to care about others.” 

Now, scientists can say more confidently than ever that gender and meat-eating preferences are linked. A paper out in Nature Scientific Reports this week shows that the difference is nearly universal across cultures — and that it’s even more pronounced in countries that are more developed. 

Researchers already knew men in some countries ate more meat than women did. And they knew that people in wealthier countries ate more meat overall. But the latest findings suggest that when men and women have the social and financial freedom to make choices about their diets, they diverge from each other even more, with men eating more meat and women eating less. 

That’s important because about 20% of planet-warming global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal-based food products, according to earlier research from the University of Illinois. The researchers behind the new report think their findings could fine-tune efforts to persuade people to eat less meat and dairy. 

“Anything that one could do to reduce meat consumption in men would have a greater impact, on average, than among women,” said Christopher Hopwood, a professor of psychology at the University of Zurich and one of the authors of the paper. The work drew on surveys funded by Mercy for Animals, a nonprofit dedicated to ending animal agriculture. Hopwood said he is not affiliated with the organization and is not an advocate. 

Researchers ask what thousands eat

The researchers asked over 28,000 people in 23 countries on four continents how much of various types of food they ate every day, then calculated the average land animal consumption by gender identity in each country. They used the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures health, education and standard of living, to rank how “developed” each country was, and also looked at the Global Gender Gap Index, a scale of gender equality published by the World Economic Forum. 

They found that, with three exceptions — China, India and Indonesia — gender differences in meat consumption were higher in countries with higher development and gender equality scores. 

The large number and cultural diversity of people surveyed is “a real strength of this,” said Daniel Rosenfeld, a social psychologist at UCLA who studies eating behavior and moral psychology and was not involved in the study. 

The study did not answer the question of why men tend to eat more meat, but scientists have some theories. One is that evolutionarily, women may have been hormonally hardwired to avoid meat that could possibly have been contaminated, affecting pregnancy, whereas men may have sought out meat proteins given their history as hunters in some societies. 

But even the idea of men as hunters is intertwined with culture, Rosenfeld said. That’s a good example of another theory, which is that societal norms shape gender identity from an early age and thus how people decide to fill their plates. 

‘I’m going to eat more’

Rosenfeld, who said he stopped eating meat about 10 years ago, said his own experience hanging out in college “as a guy hanging out with other guy friends” illustrated the cultural pressure for men to eat meat. “If they’re all eating meats and I decide not to,” he said, “it can disrupt the natural flow of social situations.” 

The same cultural factors that shape gender influence how people respond to new information, said Carolyn Semmler, a professor of psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia who also studies meat eating and social factors such as gender. Semmler was not involved in this study. In some of her past work, she’s studied cognitive dissonance around eating meat. 

In those cases, she said, women presented with information about poor animal welfare in the livestock industry were more likely to say they would reduce their meat consumption. But men tended to go the other direction, she said. 

“One participant said to me, ‘I think you guys are trying to get me to eat less meat, so I’m going to eat more,'” she said. 

Semmler said meat can be important to masculine identity, noting for example the popular notion of men at the grill. And she said presenting eating less meat as a moral cause can be a sensitive issue. Still, she said, people should be aware of how their food choices affect the planet. 

But she and Hopwood acknowledged how difficult it is to change behavior. 

“Men are a tough nut to crack,” Hopwood said. 

Jose Lopez, another diner at the Dog House Grill, said he thought men should eat less meat but said that in general he has observed otherwise. 

“We’re carnivores,” he said. “Men eat like savages.” 

Even legal African visitors to Europe face hurdles

ALGIERS, Algeria — France has twice rejected visa applications from Nabil Tabarout, a 29-year-old web developer from Algeria who hopes this year to visit his sister there.

He’s among the many people navigating the often-arduous visa process throughout Africa, which faces higher visa rejection rates than anywhere else in the world when it comes to visiting Europe’s Schengen Area. Appointments are often difficult to secure. Applicants often must prove a minimum bank balance, substantiate the purpose of their visit and prove they plan to return home.

“That’s how it is. Every pleasure deserves pain,” said Tabarout, who has succeeded just once in obtaining a French visa.

Though much of Europe’s debate about migration centers on people who arrive without authorization, many more people choose to come by legal means. It’s painful, then, to discover that following the rules often fails.

The disproportionate rejection rates — 10% higher in Africa than the global average — hinder trade, business and educational partnerships at the expense of African economies, according to an April study from U.K.-based migration consultancy firm Henley & Partners.

The study called the practices discriminatory and urged Schengen countries to reform them.

Nowhere are applicants more rejected than in Algeria, where more than 392,000 applicants were rejected in 2022. The 45.8% rejection rate is followed by a 45.2% rejection rate in Guinea-Bissau and 45.1% in Nigeria.

Only one in 25 applicants living in the United States were rejected.

While the study found that applicants from poorer countries experienced higher rejections in general, it noted that applicants from Turkey and India experienced fewer rejection than applicants from the majority of African countries.

The reasons for that anti-Africa bias could be political, according to the study’s author, Mehari Taddele Maru of the European University Institute’s Migration Policy Center. Visa rejections are used as a political tool by European governments, including France, to negotiate the deportation of those who migrate to Europe without proper authorization. North African governments have refused to provide consular documents for their citizens facing deportation.

In an interview, Maru said Algeria has continent-high rejection rates because its number of applicants outpaces those from other African countries for geographic, economic and historical reasons. Many Algerians apply for visas in France, where they speak the language and may have family ties. And North Africa’s proximity to Europe means flights are short and cheap compared to flights from sub-Saharan Africa, leading more people to apply, he said.

Beyond rejection rates, the difficulty of applying is also a policy choice by European governments, Maru said. “When we talk about increasing barriers for potential applicants, it’s not only the rate of rejections, it’s also the restrictions to apply.”

That means the challenges can be local too.

For Algerians like Tabarout, VFS Global is a new player in the visa application process. The subcontractor was hired by French consular authorities after years of criticism about the previous system being dominated by a so-called “visa mafia.”

Applicants previously faced challenges securing time slots, which are quickly reserved by third-party brokers and then resold to the public — similar to how scalpers have dominated concert platforms. Rumors swirled about intricate computer programs connecting to appointment platforms and gobbling up slots within moments.

“They’re a bunch of swindlers who’ve been at it for years, making fortunes on the backs of poor citizens by making them pay dearly to make an appointment to apply for a visa,” asserted Ali Challali, who recently helped his daughter submit a French student visa application.

Under the previous system, applicants told The Associated Press they had to pay 15,000 to 120,000 Algerian dinars (103 to 825 euros) just to get an appointment.

In Algeria, many decide to pursue opportunities in France after not finding adequate economic opportunities at home or seek residency after going to French universities on student visas. According to a 2023 report from France’s Directorate General for Foreign Nationals, 78% of Algerian students “say they have no intention of returning to Algeria” upon finishing their studies.

The visa issue has historically been a cause of political tensions between the countries. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is scheduled to visit France later this year.

“Everything that can contribute to increasing trade between France, Europe and Algeria must be facilitated in both directions,” French Ambassador Stephane Ramotet said at a recent economic conference in Algiers. “Algerians who want to go to France to develop a business must be able to benefit from all the facilities, particularly visas.”

Dutch visitor dies on Greek island, 4 foreign missing

athens, greece — A missing Dutch tourist was found dead early Saturday on the eastern Greek island of Samos, local media reported, the latest in a string of recent cases in which tourists in the Greek islands have died or gone missing. Some, if not all, had set out on hikes in blistering hot temperatures. 

Dr. Michael Mosley, a noted British television anchor and author, was found dead last Sunday on the island of Symi. A coroner concluded Mosley had died the previous Wednesday, shortly after going for a hike over difficult, rocky terrain. 

Samos, like Symi, lies very close to the Turkish coast. 

The body of the 74-year-old Dutch tourist was found by a Fire Service drone lying face down in a ravine about 300 meters (330 yards) from the spot where he was last observed Sunday, walking with some difficulty in the blistering heat. 

Authorities were still searching for four people reported missing in the past few days. 

On Friday, two French tourists were reported missing on Sikinos, a relatively secluded Cyclades island in the Aegean Sea, with less than 400 permanent residents. 

The two women, aged 73 and 64, had left their respective hotels to meet. 

A 70-year-old American tourist was reported missing Thursday on the small island of Mathraki in Greece’s northwest extremity by his host, a Greek-American friend. The tourist had last been seen Tuesday at a cafe in the company of two female tourists who have since left the island. 

Mathraki, population 100, is a 3.9-square-kilometer (1.2-square-mile) heavily wooded island, west of the better-known island of Corfu. Strong winds had prevented police and the fire service from reaching the island to search for the missing person as of Saturday afternoon, media reported. 

On the island of Amorgos, authorities were still searching for a 59-year-old tourist reported missing since Tuesday, when he had gone on a solo hike in very hot conditions. 

U.S. media identified the missing tourist as retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Albert Calibet of Hermosa Beach, California. 

Amorgos, the easternmost of the Cyclades islands, is a rocky 122-square-kilometer (47-square-mile) island of less than 2,000 inhabitants. A couple of years ago the island had a record number of visitors, over 100,000. 

Some media commentary has focused on the need to inform tourists of the dangers of setting off on hikes in intense heat. 

Temperatures across Greece on Saturday were more than 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) lower than on Thursday, when they peaked at almost 45 C (113 F). They are expected to rise again from Sunday, although not to heat-wave levels.  

Zelenskyy eyes ‘history being made’ at Ukraine peace conference

OBBURGEN, Switzerland — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday predicted “history being made” at the Swiss-hosted conference that aims to plot out the first steps toward peace in Ukraine even though experts and critics expect little substance or few big breakthroughs because Russia is not attending.

The presidents of Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia joined dozens of Western heads of state and government and other leaders and high-level envoys at the meeting, in hopes that Russia — which is waging war on Ukraine — could join in one day.

In a brief statement to reporters alongside Swiss President Viola Amherd, Zelenskyy already sought to cast the gathering as a success, saying, “We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace. I believe that we will witness history being made here at the summit.”

Swiss officials hosting the conference say more than 50 heads of state and government will join the gathering at the Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne. Some 100 delegations, including European bodies and the United Nations, will be on hand.

Who will show up — and who will not — has become one of the key stakes of a meeting that critics say will be useless without the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and is pushing ahead with the war.

As U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived at the venue, shuttle buses rumbled along a mountain road that snaked up to the site — at times with traffic jams — with police along the route checking journalists’ IDs and helicopters ferrying in VIPs buzzed overhead.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have dispatched their foreign ministers while key developing countries such as Brazil, an observer at the event, India and South Africa will be represented at lower levels.

China, which backs Russia, is joining scores of countries that are sitting out the conference, many of whom have more pressing issues than the bloodiest conflict in far-away Europe since World War II. Beijing says any peace process needs to have the participation of both Russia and Ukraine and has floated its own ideas for peace.

Last month, China and Brazil agreed to six “common understandings” on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to endorse them and play a role in promoting peace talks.

The six points include an agreement to “support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans.”

Zelenskyy has recently led a diplomatic push to draw in participants to the Swiss summit.

Russian troops who now control nearly a quarter of Ukrainian land in the east and south have made some territorial gains in recent months. When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace initiative began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large swaths of territory, notably near the cities of southern Kherson and northern Kharkiv.

Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategizing, summit organizers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, such as at the Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and exchange of prisoners of war; and global food security — which has been disrupted at times due to impeded shipments through the Black Sea.

That to-do list, encapsulating some of the least controversial issues, is well short of proposals and hopes laid out by Zelenskyy in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022.

The plan includes ambitious calls, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from all occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and restoring Ukraine’s state borders with Russia, including Crimea.

Putin’s government, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine’s neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russia-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push over the years to join the NATO military alliance has rankled Moscow.

Ukraine is unable to negotiate from a position of strength, analysts say.

“The situation on the battlefield has changed dramatically,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, saying that although Russia “can’t achieve its maximalist objectives quickly through military means, but it’s gaining momentum and pushing Ukraine really hard.”

“So, a lot of countries that are coming to the summit would question whether the Zelenskyy peace formula still has legs,” he told reporters in a call Wednesday.

With much of the world’s focus recently on the war in Gaza and national elections, Ukraine’s backers want to return focus to Russia’s breach of international law and a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

On Friday, Putin called the conference “just another ploy to divert everyone’s attention.”

The International Crisis Group, an advisory firm that works to end conflict, wrote this week that “absent a major surprise on the Burgenstock,” the event is “unlikely to deliver much of consequence.”

“Nonetheless, the Swiss summit is a chance for Ukraine and its allies to underline what the U.N. General Assembly recognized in 2022 and repeated in its February 2023 resolution on a just peace in Ukraine: Russia’s all-out aggression is a blatant violation of international law,” it said.

Experts say they’ll be looking at the wording of any outcome document and plans for the way forward. Swiss officials, aware of Russia’s reticence about the conference, have repeatedly said they hope Russia can join the process one day, as do Ukrainian officials.