Michael Phelps Talks to Congress About Athlete Drug Testing

Michael Phelps is to be in Washington to speak out in support of more consistent drug testing for competitive athletes.

The retired swimmer testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill before a congressional committee looking into ways to improve the international anti-doping system.

In a witness statement posted on the committee’s website, Phelps expresses his frustration in seeing athletes he knows are cheating “break through performance barriers in unrealistic time frames.” While Phelps says the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s demanding drug testing process “takes a toll,” he adds that it’s worth it to “keep the sport clean and fair.”

Phelps says he hopes one day that someone will break his record of 28 Olympic medals, but says that person needs “a fair opportunity to compete.”

USADA CEO Travis Tygart was also scheduled to testify.

French Presidential Address Interrupted by Police Gunfire

French authorities say two people were shot Tuesday during a speech by President Francois Hollande, when a gun belonging to a police sniper accidentally discharged.  

Early reports described both victims with minor injuries.

Hollande was inaugurating a new high-speed rail line in the southwestern village of Villognon when gunshots caused him to briefly stop his remarks.

Widely circulated video of the incident shows Hollande speaking from a platform when a sharp sound resembling a gunshot is heard.

Hollande briefly stopped talking, looked to his left toward the noise and said he hoped “it was nothing serious.”  He then resumed his address.

Regional administrator Pierre N’Gahane later told reporters the sharpshooter was located in an assigned location when he changed position and his weapon accidentally discharged.  He said both victims sustained slight leg wounds.

N’Gahane also said a judicial and an administrative probe of the incident has been launched.

EU Commission Grants Visa-free Travel for Georgians

European Union member states on Monday agreed to grant Georgian citizens visa-free travel within the 26 countries of Europe’s Schengen Area.

Visa liberalization for the central Caucasus nation enables biometric passport holders to travel throughout the European bloc for 90 days within any 180-day period.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, issued a congratulatory statement alongside Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tblisi.

Georgians “must be very proud of this great achievement, which is the result of the common efforts of the Georgian people and the Georgian authorities,” said Avramopoulos, calling final adoption of the policy further proof that the former Soviet republic has completed “far-reaching and difficult reforms in the area of the rule of law and the justice system.”

“These reforms also bring Georgia closer to the EU standards, facilitating cooperation with the European Union and bringing the country a step forward on its European path.”

Georgia, which has been seeking European integration since becoming the 41st Member State of the Council of Europe in April 1999, has drafted EU-style legislation to abolish the death penalty, comply with European conventions and battle corruption and organized crime.

European Union praised

Kvirikashvili praised the EU on delivering on its promises.

“This result proves that the EU has not reneged on its promise,” he said. “Today the European spirit is stronger in Georgia than anywhere else … [and] European ideology triumphs in Georgia more than ever.”

Monday’s move to ratify Georgia’s visa liberalization is viewed as a significant geopolitical achievement among officials and civil society activists who have been strong voices for European integration.

Russia, however, has openly expressed concern over Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations, describing the country as part of its backyard. Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the Munich Security Conference that security officials from both countries plan to initiate talks on easing visa restrictions soon.

A recent public opinion poll by Caucasus Research and Resources Center showed that 56 percent of Georgians identify as European.

Easier to travel

Monday’s decisions allows all Georgians to travel freely through all EU member and non-member countries, along with Schengen candidate countries.

EU member nations include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

Non-member countries are Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Schengen candidates are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania.

The law does not apply to the Britain or Ireland.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Georgian Service.

Juncker to Offer EU ‘Pathways’ to Post-Brexit Unity

European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker will propose to national leaders next month a handful of options for shoring up unity once Britain launches a withdrawal that some fear could trigger a further unraveling of the bloc.

The European Commission president wants some states to be able to deepen cooperation further and faster without the whole bloc having to follow suit, but this idea has raised concerns, especially among poorer eastern countries, that their richer neighbors may use Brexit to cut EU subsidies to them.

Juncker has said he will argue for what is commonly called a “multi-speed Europe” in a White Paper policy document.

Juncker will chair a special meeting of his commissioners on Tuesday but a spokesman said on Monday it was not yet clear when exactly the paper would be published.

Officials will not detail what the proposals are likely to be, though say they would probably not mean major institutional changes or treaty amendments for which most governments, beset by challenges from eurosceptic nationalists, have no appetite.

Some options are not mutually exclusive and could be combined, all with the aim of persuading voters disillusioned by years of economic malaise that the EU is worth preserving.

By setting out four or five practical “pathways to unity” or “alternative avenues for cooperation at 27”, EU officials say Juncker aims to give the 27 leaders of the post-Brexit Union some broad choices to start considering at a summit in Rome on March 25, where they will mark 60 years of the bloc’s founding.

As the 27 also try to hold to a common line in the two-year negotiating period with Britain which they expect London to launch before the Rome summit, the main aim of the Juncker proposals is to overcome internal divisions, EU officials said.

He wants to see responses by the autumn – by which time the Netherlands, France and Germany will have held elections marked by challenges from anti-EU movements that have been inspired by last year’s votes for Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump.


“This is no longer a time when we can imagine everyone doing the same thing together,” Juncker said last week, echoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who called on Feb. 3 for an EU of “varying speeds.”

Their remarks, however, have perplexed other states whose envoys note that existing rules already allow for “enhanced cooperation” in various fields, such as the 19-nation eurozone.

“A multi-speed Europe is a fact. No one has a problem with it,” said one senior EU diplomat. “So why are they talking like this now? They are irritated with the east … It is divisive.”

Noting that a key obstacle to deeper integration of, for example, the eurozone was disagreement between Berlin and Paris on how to do it, the diplomat said talk of a two-speed approach sounded like an attempt to penalize the post-communist east.

Hungary and Poland in particular have irritated the EU by challenging its rules on democracy and resisting calls to take in asylum-seekers, while Germany has taken in over a million.

Hollande accused easterners of treating the Union “like a cash box”. With Brexit leaving a hole in the EU budget, some diplomats see a push by Paris and Berlin to cut their subsidies.

German officials say Merkel does not see one specific set of countries going for deeper cooperation but imagines varying groups moving ahead in different fields. For example, defense integration is a priority for Germany.

“Some see this as a risk to unity,” one senior official said of Juncker’s multi-speed idea. “Others see a risk if we don’t do it and we fail to aspire.”

Thousands Protest Wider Use of Albanian Language in Macedonia

Several thousand people protested in Skopje against an agreement that would ensure the wider use of the Albanian language in the  ethnically divided state.

Last Thursday, the leader of the Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, said he expected to be able to form a government in March after he had secured support from ethnic Albanian parties in the 120-seat parliament.

Those parties had made their support for any potential coalition conditional on the passage of a law backing broader use of their language in Macedonia.

But on Monday, a movement that called itself “For Joint Macedonia” called on social media for people to come out on the street and protest the deal Zaev had made with the Albanian parties.

Protesters marched from the government building to the state parliament in Skopje shouting “This will not pass” and sang Macedonian national songs.

“With one symbolic gesture we want to show how you should love Macedonia,” said Bogdan Ilievski, a member of the movement.

The Balkan nation’s two-year-old political crisis was triggered by a surveillance scandal that forced veteran leader of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, to resign a year ago.

The crisis was the worst since Western diplomacy helped drag the country of 2.1 million people back from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, promising it a path to membership of the European Union and of NATO.

In a snap vote in December, VMRO-DPMNE won 51 seats to the Social Democrats’ 49, and neither was able to form the government without parties representing ethnic Albanians who make up one third of the population.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE party had tried but failed to form a coalition.

On Monday Zaev asked President Gjorge Ivanov to give him the mandate to form a government and had presented him with the signatures of 18 deputies from ethnic Albanian parties.

On Sunday evening former prime minister Gruevski called on Social Democrats to revoke the deal, saying it was unconstitutional and jeopardised state interests.

Albanian is currently an official language only in municipalities where Albanians account for more than 20 percent of the population.       

США: Пентагон подав до Білого дому проект плану перемоги над «Ісламською державою»

Міністерство оборони США повідомило, що передало до Білого дому попередній план, як завдати поразки екстремістському угрупованню «Ісламська держава».

Як сказав речник Пентагону капітан Джефф Дейвіс, цей план передбачає широке коло питань щодо боротьби з цим угрупованням у всьому світі, а не лише в Сирії й Іраці.

США переглядають свою стратегію боротьби з цим угрупованням у ширшому плані в час, коли, за оцінками, головні твердині «Ісламської держави» в міста Ар-Ракка в Сирії і Мосулі в Іраці будуть ліквідовані протягом приблизно шести місяців.

Опозиція в Македонії заявила, що створила нову коаліцію

У Македонії опозиційна партія «Соціал-демократичний союз Македонії» заявила, що зібрала достатньо підписів депутатів за формування урядової коаліції з нею на чолі і передала ці підписи президентові, від якого очікує щойнайшвидшого отримання мандату на формування уряду.

Як заявив Зоран Заєв, лідер цієї партії, що разом із союзниками в лівій виборчій коаліції має 49 місць у парламенті зі 120, він домовився про підтримку з трьома партіями албанської меншини, що дали йому ще 18 підписів, і ці 67 підписів він подав президентові Джорґе Іванову.

За його словами, ці підписи дозволять покласти край кризі в Македонії, і він тепер очікує на «мирну і швидку передачу влади» від дотеперішнього уряду консерваторів.

Але найбільша з цих трьох албанських партій, «Демократичний союз за інтеграцію», що має 10 місць, заявила, що хоча погодилася дати підписи на підтримку Заєва, та ще не вирішила, чи буде входити до його уряду, а чи піде в опозицію. Без голосів цієї партії урядові Заєва не вистачить голосів для створення більшості.

Македонія після парламентських виборів у грудні досі не має нового уряду. Найбільше місць у парламенті – 51 – отримала досі владна консервативно-націоналістична партія «ВМРО-ДПМНЕ» («Внутрішня македонська революційна організація – Демократична партія за македонську національну єдність») дотеперішнього прем’єра Николи Ґруєвського, який відтак отримав мандат на формування уряду. Але в передбачений 20-денний термін він урешті не зміг скласти коаліції, бо відкинув вимогу «Демократичного союзу за інтеграцію» оголосити албанську другою державною мовою країни і залишився без підтримки цієї партії. Консерватори відтак закликали до нових виборів.

Після повідомлень про домовленість Заєва з албанськими партіями Ґруєвський назвав її загрозою єдності й унітарному характерові Македонії, його партія пообіцяла всіма можливими законними засобами не допустити перетворення країни, в якій албанська меншина становить близько чверті населення, на двомовну.

2001 року Македонія була на межі громадянської війни через збройні заворушення представників албанської меншини, що домагалися розширення своїх прав – і частково домоглися.

Трамп закликав підвищити оборонні витрати США на 9%

Президент США Дональд Трамп подасть до Конгресу бюджетний запит про збільшення видатків на оборону наступного року на 54 мільярди доларів зі скороченням на таку саму суму видатків на необоронні витрати, зокрема, на закордонну допомогу, повідомили в Білому домі.

Як сказав Трамп губернаторам штатів, що зібралися в Білому домі, його перша бюджетна пропозиція до Конгресу буде містити «історичне зростання оборонних витрат із метою відбудувати спустошені збройні сили».

За повідомленнями, загальна сума оборонних витрат на 2018 рік планується в обсязі 603 мільярдів доларів. Зокрема, додаткові видатки мають бути заплановані на будівництво нових бойових кораблів і літаків.

За словами посадовців, знайомих із планом Трампа, таке зростання оборонних витрат на 9 відсотків мають частково відшкодувати за рахунок скорочення видатків на Державний департамент, Агентство захисту довкілля та інші програми, не пов’язані з обороною. Зокрема, бюджет Держдепартаменту, за цими повідомленнями, можуть скоротити на 30 відсотків, що, якщо це дійсно відбудеться, призведе до радикальної зміни структури відомства і закриття низки його програм.

‘White Helmets’ Rescuers Say Oscar Win Shows People Care About Syrians Under Fire

The Oscar awarded to a documentary about the daily lives of volunteers of a Syrian search and rescue group called the “White Helmets” shows people care about its mission to help civilians caught in Syria’s civil war, the group said on Monday.

The White Helmets operate a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria, which have been subjected to fierce bombardment by the government and Russia’s air force during the country’s civil war that has leveled whole city districts.

Syria’s government under President Bashar al-Assad has accused the group of being a front for al Qaeda and of faking footage of the aftermath of air strikes for propaganda purposes, charges the White Helmets deny.

“I am absolutely delighted that we won an Oscar — it show us that people care about us and the people we serve,” said Khaled Khatib, a volunteer and cinematographer on the film, which won an Oscar for best short documentary at Sunday’s award ceremony.

“We are honored that ‘The White Helmets’ film has received an Oscar,” Raed Saleh, head of the Syria Civil Defense, said in a statement posted on Twitter early on Monday. “But we are not happy to do what we do. We abhor the reality we live in,” he added.

The 40-minute Netflix film, directed by British documentary-maker Orlando von Einsiedel, follows volunteers as they conduct search and rescue operations in Aleppo and undergo training in Turkey.

But members of the “White Helmets” could not attend the awards ceremony in Los Angeles because of passport issues and air strikes in Syria, the group said in a statement.

Both Saleh and Khatib were given visas by the United States for the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles.

However, in a statement early on Sunday, the White Helmets said Saleh would not be able to leave his work because of the high intensity of air strikes while Khatib could not attend because Syria’s government had cancelled his passport.

“We hope this film and the attention helps move the world to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” Saleh said.

The nearly six-year-long conflict in Syria has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced millions, according to groups that monitor the war.

Girls Rugby Teams Shatter Stereotypes in Nigeria

It’s a rare sight. Girls in Nigeria playing rugby. And in northern Nigeria’s Kano state, the girls in the Basic College secondary school are defying cultural norms.

“A girl is expected not to be involved in all those masculine games, because they believe rugby needs strength,” said Rahilat Umar. “So they believe, as a girl, I’m just supposed to face my studies, leave all those games. I believe that what a man can do, a woman can do better.”

 At 13 years of age, Umar is one of the youngest players on this all-girls high school rugby team. The team captain, Janet Emmanuel, is a star player. Janet says she has learned to ignore what people say about girls playing rugby.

“We are not weaklings at all,” Emmanuel said. “We’re doing good in rugby.”

‘Here to crack rocks’

The team has been getting ready for Nigeria’s largest rugby tournament, and Coach Stanley Uka is working hard to prepare them as much as he can on the field.





“To let them know that they’re coming here to crack rocks,” said Uka. “Not just coming here for child’s play.”

Off the field, the coach knows that some of his players are facing challenges.

Umar comes from a conservative Muslim family. Her father is strongly against her playing rugby.

“I sent her to school to learn, not to be playing rugby,” said her father. “As a Muslim and a girl, I don’t think it will be very wise, I allow her to play rugby. If I decide to stop her, I will do that.”

Game day is here

But Umar said she hopes her parents will eventually come around. The next day is game day, and the team is ready.

At the Kano State Youth Rugby Championships, only two of the thirteen competing teams are made up of female players. Umar’s parents are not coming. But she doesn’t dwell on that for long. Coach Uka is counting on her.

“Rahilat as a player is one of the fantastic players I have,” said Uka. “When it comes to games, Nigeria … was nowhere to be found when it comes to the females. But presently, the females are coming up; they are beating the imaginations of so many people.”

This is the second time the tournament takes place. It was put together by the Kano State Rugby Association and the Barewa Rugby Club. U.K. national Martin Crawford moved to Kano 13 years ago. He grew up playing the sport, and these days, he’s passing it on to Nigerian youngsters.

“When we started, we focused on the senior secondary [students] and we realized that was a mistake,” said Crawford. “Because if you catch the kids when they’re 12 or 13, they’re with you till 13, 14, 15, 16. They leave secondary school, by that time, they’re die-hard rugby players. They play rugby for the pure pleasure of it, in fact, they’ll walk over hot coals.”

Coach is proud

They try their best, but by halftime, no one scores. And Coach Uka is not happy. They try again. But it’s a scoreless draw. In the end, both female teams win a trophy. Uka said he is proud of his players.

“Nigerian females are coming up and not just crawling,” said Uka. “They are really coming up, and I believe they’re going to make the world proud some day. With the cooperation and the understanding of her parents, Rahilat is moving somewhere, and I know for sure she will get somewhere. The sky will not just be her limit, but her starting point.”

Umar is disappointed that they didn’t score, but that doesn’t dampen her spirits.

“I tried my best,” said Umar. “I put all my effort in it.”

These female players from Basic College secondary school represent change and gender equality.

Iranians Cheer Farhadi’s Oscar As Rebuke of Trump Policies

The Oscar for Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” energized many of the filmmaker’s fellow Iranians, who saw the win for best foreign film Monday as a pointed rebuke to the Trump administration and its efforts to deny them entry into the U.S.

Farhadi refused to attend the Academy Awards, announcing after the temporary U.S. travel ban was initially imposed last month for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries that he would skip it even if an exception was made for him. Iran was one of the seven countries affected by the measure, which has since been blocked from being carried out by a federal court ruling.

“The Salesman” – about a couple performing ArthurMiller’s “ Death of a Salesman” and their attempts to find peace and justice after the wife is attacked at their Tehran apartment – had become a rallying cry for immigrant rights after the travel ban.

The six nominated directors in the foreign language category had put out a joint statement ahead of the award decrying what they called the climate of “fanaticism” in the United States and dedicating the award to the promotion of “unity and understanding” regardless of who won.

Film critic Esmaeil Mihandoost, who wrote a book about Farhadi, told The Associated Press that thanks to the boycott, the film director has now “more influence on public opinion than a politician.”

“It created an exceptional opportunity for criticism” of Trump’s policy, he added Monday.

The award was the second Oscar for Farhadi, after his film “A Separation” won in the same category for 2012.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he saw the prize as taking a stance against Trump’s executive order. “Proud of Cast and Crew of “The Salesman” for Oscar and stance against #MuslimBan. Iranians have represented culture and civilization for millennia,” he tweeted in English.

Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri praised Farhadi both for the award and for boycotting the ceremony, calling it a “priceless action.”

State radio and television briefly reported on Farhadi’s Oscar, while Tehran film daily Banifilm ran an op-ed saying that Trump had “probably never imagined what contribution the travel ban would have for Farhadi’s film.” The trade paper said the executive order had likely propelled “The Salesman” to victory.

Trump’s victory has prompted concern among many in Iran, particularly in the wake of a 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers that led to the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. The Trump administration earlier this month said it was putting Iran “on notice” after it test-fired a ballistic missile.

Many Iranians learned of the Oscar win from social media.

“I am proud of this,” Mahbod Shirvani, a 19-year-old music student said outside the campus of Tehran University. “It shattered the U.S president’s stance on Muslim nations. It showed that American people and artists are against Trump’s policies.”

Davood Kazemi, 21, who studies painting, said the “award showed Trump cannot stop international figures and he cannot thwart artists’ solidarity that has formed, regardless of race, nationality and religion.”

Iranian news websites published cartoonist Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour’s sketch depicting Farhadi playing chess and using a small Oscar statue to knock out an unseen opponent’s last chess piece, a figure resembling Trump.

In a statement read out at the Oscars ceremony on his behalf by Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American astronaut, Farhadi said the empathy filmmakers can foster is needed today more than ever. Ansari was joined onstage by another accomplished Iranian-American, Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director.

“I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight,” Farhadi’s statement read. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

“Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear,” it said.

Stars Arrive at Oscars, Where La La Land Could Shine

Sunday night’s Oscars are shaping up to be one of the most turbulent and politically charged ceremonies in recent memory. The three-hour-plus telecast, which begins at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, is expected to resemble one very glitzy protest against President Donald Trump, whom award-winners _-like Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes – have railed against throughout Hollywood’s awards season.


An unusually tense atmosphere has coalesced before the Dolby Theatre ceremony, with protests, rallies and boycotts swirling around this year’s Oscars. Even the normally sunny California weather has been stormy, and light rain fell Sunday as stars arrived on the covered red carpet.


“It’s crazy to be at the prom,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Broadway star who is to perform his nominated song from “Moana.” He brought his mother, Luz, as his date.


Yet most expect another day of sun for Damien Chazelle’s celebrated musical “La La Land,” up for a record-tying 14 nominations. A best picture upset, while unlikely, isn’t out the question, though. Barry Jenkins’ eight-time nominated “Moonlight” on Saturday took best feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, where “La La Land” wasn’t eligible.


The other films up for best picture are Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water,” Theodore Melfi’s `’Hidden Figures,” Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” and Garth Davis’ “Lion.”  


The “#OscarsSoWhite” crisis of the last two years was largely quelled this season by a richly diverse slate of nominees, thanks to films like “Moonlight,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” A record six black actors are nominated. For the first time ever, a person of color is nominated in each acting category. And four of the five best documentary nominees were also directed by black filmmakers.


The nominees follow the efforts by Academy of Motions Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male film academy. In June, the academy added 683 new members: 46 percent of them were female; 41-percent were nonwhite; and they pulled from 59 countries.

 But just how political the ABC show becomes will depend in part on the tone set by host Jimmy Kimmel, who’ll have a delicate balancing act to maintain. Play it too light and he’ll appear out of sync with the mood. Hammer too hard and he’ll alienate viewers already inundated by politics. Some Trump supporters, expecting political speeches, have said they will boycott the broadcast.


The academy and ABC will be hoping to improve on last year’s telecast. The Chris Rock-hosted show drew 34.4 million viewers, an eight-year low. Ads this year are still going for $2.1 million for 30-second spots.

 There are some sources of suspense at this year’s Oscars, most notably in the best actor category. While Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) was the favorite through most of awards season, Washington (“Fences”) took the highly predictive Screen Actors Guild award, setting him up as the odds-makers’ favored pick.


Affleck, wearing a shirt with the word “love” in Arabic, was among those to speak bluntly against Trump at Saturday’s Spirit Awards.


“The policies of this administration are abhorrent and will not last,” said Affleck, accepting the best actor award.


Politics pervaded Oscar weekend, usually a time of frothy anticipation of Hollywood’s big night:


– On Friday, the United Talent Agency, forgoing its usual Oscar party, instead held a rally protesting Trump over immigration. “We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering,” Jodie Foster told attendees.  


-Also on Friday, the six directors of the foreign film nominees released a joint statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries.”The signees included the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose “The Salesman” is favored to win him his second foreign language Oscar. He isn’t attending the awards in protest of Trump’s proposed travel ban of seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran.


 – U.S. immigration authorities are barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary short nominee “The White Helmets,” about the nation’s civil war.


 -The Academy of Motion Pictures also added best actress nominee Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) to its lineup of A-list presenters. Her fiery remarks at the Golden Globes prompted Trump to call her “overrated.”  


Oscar Predictions: What Will Win, What Should Win

Ahead of Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards, Associated Press film writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle share their predictions for a ceremony many expect will be a “La La Land” sweep.


Best Picture


The Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.”




Will Win: It has to be “La La Land.”


Should Win: “La La Land,” although that’s not the stylish choice of the moment. I think we’ve all been burned too many times, by “The Artist” and “Argo” and other films that lure us in with their retro, navel gazing sensibilities and then evaporate from our memories come March 1. “La La Land” is different. It’ll be a modern classic that we’ll be watching for years to come.


Should Have Been a Contender: Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” is a film that gets better with every viewing. It is deep and funny and gives a poignant historical context of the lives of women in the very recent past.




Will Win: It would be idiotic to pick against “La La Land,” the 14-time nominated favorite and Golden Globe winner. And, yet, I can’t help myself. The election of Donald Trump changed the mood so drastically in Hollywood that I just don’t see Chazelle’s effervescent musical waltzing off with best picture. “Moonlight,” lyrical and poetic, isn’t a social issue film. But it feels more of-the-moment. Maybe it pulls off one of the most historic upsets in Oscar history. Just don’t bet the house.


Should Win: “Moonlight,” but not because of the post-election angst. Because it’s beautiful.


Should Have Been a Contender: It had zero shot, but Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song” was a pastoral hymn of a movie: a radiant portrait of Scottish farm life and time passing over it. Yeah, so not exactly Oscar bait.






The Nominees: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”; Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” and Denzel Washington, “Fences.”




Will Win: It’s probably going to be Denzel Washington, and it won’t be a bad call either. Washington has lived in August Wilson’s Troy Maxson for years and his is a powerfully resonant interpretation.


Should Win: Casey Affleck has become another unpopular choice of late, but his performance in “Manchester by the Sea” is so singular and specific to him. He’s the only one who could have made Lee Chandler work.


Should Have Been a Contender: Honestly, Tom Hanks. He was great in “Sully.” Perhaps we’ve come to expect only the impossible from him at this point, though.




Will Win: This has turned into a nail-biter. I think the SAG winner Denzel takes it.


Should Win: If you look up “powerhouse performance” in the dictionary, you should just be treated to a torrent of words from the titanic Denzel. Affleck, too, is deserving. But I’m going to go with Gosling, who’s being curiously underrated this year despite being more-or-less the coolest movie star on the planet. My vote, though, is more for him in “The Nice Guys” than “La La Land.”


Should Have Been a Contender: Johnny Depp in “The Art of the Deal.” No, the Funny or Die feature film about Trump wasn’t even eligible. But before Alec Baldwin took over the part, Depp turned in his best wigged performance in years.






The Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”; Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie”; Emma Stone, “La La Land” and Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”




Will Win: Emma Stone. The academy loves ingenues. It’s even better when the role itself is “ingenue.”


Should Win: This is a tough one. Stone is wonderful, but Natalie Portman had such an impossible task in embodying the public and private sides of Jackie Kennedy in a non-campy way, and she pulled it off magnificently.


Should Have Been a Contender: Annette Bening was transcendent as a the spirited single mom raising a teenage boy in 1979 Santa Barbara in Mike Mills’ crisp and vibrant “20th Century Women.”




Will Win: It’s a competitive category, but Stone.


Should Win: Stone. What’s not to like here? She can do it all.


Should Have Been a Contender: Honorable mention to Beyonce in “Lemonade” but Hailee Steinfeld, people. Already a nominee for “True Grit,” the 20-year-old was uncannily good – funny, smart, real – in Kelly Fremon Craig’s teen comedy “The Edge of Seventeen.”






The Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”; Dev Patel, “Lion” and Michael Shannon “Nocturnal Animals.”




Will Win: Mahershala Ali. Has anyone done so much to win an audience over with so little screen time?


Should Win: Mahershala Ali. Full stop. It’s the role that made us all learn the name of an actor who we’ve all seen many times before. That’s no small thing.


Should Have Been a Contender: I’m going to go out on a limb in support of one of my favorite performances of the year and say Ralph Fiennes for “A Bigger Splash.” He never had a chance, but he’s just bursting with joy and energy and delusion and it’s one that makes me smile every time I think about it.




Will Win: Ali. From the vast cast of  “Moonlight,” he has (deservedly) been chosen


Should Win: Ali should because “Moonlight” is at its most soulful when he’s onscreen. But we should all be rooting for a Michael Shannon speech if not on Sunday, some Oscars soon.


Should Have Been a Contender: The Academy Awards aren’t really built to suitably reward the three Chirons of “Moonlight.” Three actors – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sander, Trevante Rhodes – playing the same character across three chapters, add up to the year’s best performance.






The Nominees: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” and Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea.”




Will Win: It has to be Viola Davis, right? She’s terrific in “Fences,” even if it is more of a co-lead.


Should Win: “Supporting” quibbles aside, Davis is still the strongest candidate in a very strong category. Sorry, Michelle.


Should Have Been a Contender: Sometimes I fear we’ve forgotten what a real supporting part is (i.e., not just whoever is second-billed). Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” was never going to break through the Oscar ranks – it’s too quiet, too slow, and, let’s face it, probably too female – but if there were any justice, Lily Gladstone would have been among the nominated at least.




Will Win: Davis is the lock of all locks.


Should Win: Davis. It will be her first Oscar, but it won’t be her last.


Should Have Been a Contender: It’s a strange thing that Octavia Spencer, a fine actress, has been singled out for “Hidden Figures.” Both of her co-stars, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae, are better in it. Monae, also electric in “Moonlight,” really should have been in the running. Her entry into movies was one of the best things about 2016.






The Nominees: “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle; “Hacksaw Ridge,” Mel Gibson; “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins; “Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan and “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve.




Will Win: Damien Chazelle, of course.


Should Win: “La La Land” was not an inevitability, nor is any original musical and Chazelle willed this impossible project into being despite all the odds _ whether it be the time constraint of a sunset for the perfect shot or shutting down a freeway to stage the perfect opening number. The work is on the screen.


Should Have Been a Contender: Pablo Larrain had not one but two brilliant, genre defying biopics this year in “Neruda” and “Jackie.”




Will Win: The 32-year-old wunderkind Chazelle appears to have it in the bag.


Should Win: Both Chazelle and Jenkins are overwhelmingly worthy. Just give these two exceptionally talented and annoyingly young filmmakers the keys to Hollywood.


Should Have Been a Contender: Andrea Arnold, the British director of “American Honey,” created the year’s most intoxicating sensory experience in her wild cross-country exploration. One of the most offensive Oscar stats is that no woman has been nominated in this category since 2010.

Oscars Still Lagging in Female, Minority Representation

The 2017 Oscar nominations were a banner year for black nominees both in front of and behind the camera, but other nonwhite groups and women were largely left out of the running. As #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign said, her hashtag was never about just black actors, but all communities marginalized in Hollywood including Asians, Latinos, and women.


“We still have work to do,” said Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association.


This year, the sole non-black acting nominee of color was British-Indian actor Dev Patel for his supporting performance in “Lion.” It’s been over 13 years since another Indian – Ben Kingsley – was nominated. Kinglsey is also the only person of Asian/Indian descent to be nominated for best actor (two nominations, one win). The lead actress category is even bleaker for Asian women. You have to go back to 1935 to find the only nominee.


Latinos, too, have been missing from the acting nominations for years. Demian Bichir was the last Latino best actor nominee in 2012. In the supporting category, you have to look to 2004 and Benicio de Toro’s nomination for “21 Grams.” The last time a lead actress of Latino descent was nominated was Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in 2005 for “Maria Full of Grace.”


“We just have to keep on doing good films and if in the United States these get picked up and they get a little bit of attention, well, it’s great,” said Mexican actor and director Gael Garcia Bernal. “But at the same time, it’s something that is not in our hands. We need to just make good films.”


Supporting actor nominee Mahershala Ali hopes that people of color can become part of the fabric of entertainment in a “real and organic way.”


Behind the camera, after a three year stretch of Mexican filmmakers winning best director, this year none were nominated. The only Latino nominee in any category this year is Rodrigo Prieto, who was nominated for best cinematography for “Silence.” If he wins, it will be the fifth year in a row that a Latino has won that prize.


Asians behind the camera were a little more represented. “La La Land’s” Ai-ling Lee became the first Asian sound editing nominee. And “La La Land’s” Tom Cross, who is half-Vietnamese, is up for the editing award. Toshio Suzuki is nominated for best animated feature for “The Red Turtle,” as is Joanna Natasegara for best documentary short for “The White Helmets.” This past year, the academy also gave Jackie Chan an honorary Oscar.


“It’s not about the awards, it’s about the creators, the actual birth of those stories,” said Patel.


Women, too, are a minority in Hollywood. For women behind the camera, things have gotten worse overall, despite some strides, including “Jackie” composer Mica Levi becoming the first women to be nominated for original score.


However, it’s been seven years since there was a female best director nominee when Kathryn Bigelow won for “The Hurt Locker.” Before Bigelow, there had been only three female directing nominees in the history of the awards.


Only one woman was nominated in any screenwriting category, Allison Schroeder for “Hidden Figures,” down from three last year, and, once again, no women were nominated for cinematography.


Other categories experienced similar drops, save an increase in nominations for women in the sound editing and sound mixing categories, thanks to “La La Land’s” Ai-ling Lee.


Overall representation of women in Oscar-nominated behind-the-scenes categories fell two percent, according to a recent report from the Women’s Media Center.


But this isn’t surprising to those who follow the industry year round.


“This year is similar to previous years where we don’t have enough women in many of the positions behind the scenes,” said Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of the Women and Hollywood blog. “It’s wonderful to see a lot of female producers whose films are nominated for best picture, but again this illuminates how difficult it is for women to rise to the top of the business and to be taken seriously at this level.”


And it’s not just a box office issue, Silverstein says. It’s also about prestige.


“When money is there, there are fewer women. When prestige is there, there are fewer women,” she said. “This has not changed and I don’t see this changing on the horizon. At the Oscars we just notice it a lot more.”


Тисячі людей у Лондоні прийшли на показ фільму номінованого на «Оскар» режисера з Ірану, що бойкотує премію

Тисячі людей зібралися в неділю на Трафальгарській площі у Лондоні, щоб подивитися фільм іранського режисера – номінанта на премію «Оскар» Асгар Фархаді. Він вирішив бойкотувати вручення нагород Американської кіноакадемії на знак протесту проти імміграційних обмежень нової адміністрації президента США Дональда Трампа.

26 лютого, за кілька годин до початку церемонії вручення «оскарів» у Лос-Анджелесі, щонайменше 10 тисяч людей прийшли в центр британської столиці на показ просто неба кінострічки «Комівояжер».

Цей фільм Асгара Фархаді у переліку номінантів «Оскара» на «найкращий фільм іноземною мовою».

Фархаді відмовився бути присутнім на врученні престижної кінопремії на знак протесту проти заборони на в’їзд до США громадян семи переважно мусульманських країн. Іран якраз є в цьому переліку. Режисер не змінив своєї думки навіть після того, як суд у США на запит Білого дому припинив розгляд указу щодо іммігрантів.

ВМС Ірану повідомили про масштабні навчання в стратегічній Ормузькій протоці

Військово-морський флот Ірану повідомив про початок щорічних навчань поблизу стратегічної для транспортування нафти танкерами Ормузької протоки. Державне телебачення повідомило, що дводенні навчання почалися 26 лютого.

Відповідно до наказу командувача іранських ВМС адмірала Хабібулли Сайярі, маневри охоплять площу в 2 мільйони квадратних кілометрів в Оманській затоці та частині Індійського океану.

Державна телекомпанія показала кадри іранських військових кораблів і вертольотів, які беруть участь в навчаннях. Також у повідомленні вказувалось, що на навчаннях не присутні сили іранської Революційної гвардії (Корпус вартових Ісламської революції), яку ВМС США часто критикують за утиски суден США в міжнародних водах.

5-й флот ВМС США, базований в Бахрейні, відмовився коментувати навчання Ірану або можливі спостереження за ними.

Майже третина світової торгівлі нафтою морем проходить через Ормузьку протоку, яка неодноразово була об’єктом загострення між Сполученими Штатами та Іраном.

Бойовики обстріляли автомобіль української сторони СЦКК біля Попасної – штаб

Підтримувані Росією бойовики обстріляли офіцерів української сторони Спільного центру з контролю і координації режиму припинення вогню на Донбасі біля Попасної, повідомляє прес-центр штабу АТО.

«Сьогодні представники незаконних збройних формувань ОРДЛО черговий раз здійснили збройну провокацію. Так, під час виконання завдань поблизу східних околиць населеного пункту Попасна, близько 13:30 під мінометний обстріл калібру 120 міліметри і СПГ потрапили офіцери української сторони Спільного центру контролю і координації питань припинення вогню і стабілізації лінії розмежування сторін. При цьому, автомобіль мобільної групи СГ «Попасна» був маркований великими літерами «НМ», а офіцери мали відповідні розпізнавальні знаки», – йдеться в повідомленні.

У штабі уточнили, що постраждалих в результаті обстрілу немає, але пошкоджений автомобіль місії.

Як повідомили раніше українські військові, напередодні вдень неподалік населеного пункту Катеринівка сепаратисти здійснили збройну провокацію щодо представників Спеціальної моніторингової місії ОБСЄ. Повідомлялося, машину місії зупинив чоловік у балаклаві та з нашивкою «Новоросія», потім до нього приєднався ще один, який вистрелив у повітря. Коли авто місії від’їхало, через 50 метрів пролунало два вибухи від гранат. За даними військових особовий склад патруля СММ ОБСЄ та техніка не постраждали.

У п’ятницю бойовики угруповання «ДНР» також взяли на приціл членів місії і відібрали в них міні-безпілотник. Інцидент стався в окупованій Ясинуватій, де патруль СММ ОБСЄ збирався запустити безпілотник, щоб перевірити повідомлення про обстріл Донецької фільтрувальної станції. На цей факт сьогодні відреагував Державний департамент США, який у заяві закликав Росію і підтримувані нею сили сепаратистів «негайно» дотримуватися угоди про припинення вогню на сході України.

Контактна група із врегулювання ситуації на Донбасі неодноразово оголошувала режим тиші на сході України, проте обстріли тривають, а сторони конфлікту звинувачують одна одну в порушенні перемир’я.

Data Shows Hate Crimes Against Refugees on Rise in Germany

German officials have released data that shows refugees and asylum seekers suffered nearly 10 attacks a day there in 2016, the interior ministry said.

Citing police statistics, officials said more than 3,500 anti-migrant attacks were carried out last year, resulting in 560 people injured, including 43 children.

The numbers were published as a response to parliamentary questions by Ulla Jelpke, a member of the left-wing party Die Linke.

The German government said it “strongly condemns” the violence.

“People who have fled their homeland and are seeking protection in Germany have the right to expect that they will be accommodated safely,” said a letter issued by the interior ministry.

“Everyone in our society and politics has the common responsibility to position themselves clearly against the quiet support of, or even the quiet tolerance of, such attacks by a minority of our society,” it added.

Rising xenophobia has emerged as a key concern in German as the influx of migrants in the last two years has been accompanied by anger and attacks on asylum seekers in many eastern states such as Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

In 2015, Germany recorded 1,408 violent acts carried out by right-wing supporters last year, a rise of more than 42 percent, and 75 arson attacks on refugee shelters, up from five a year earlier.

Germany’s acceptance of more than 1 million refugees in 2015 boosted popular support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is now represented in all of the eastern federal states, and mounted criticism and resentment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy towards refugees.