Turkish Government Under Fire Over COVID-19 Alcohol Ban

The Turkish government’s decision to ban alcohol sales as part of a nearly three-week lockdown to contain COVID-19 is causing a political storm, with opponents accusing the Islamic-rooted government of using the pandemic to pursue a religious agenda.   The alcohol ban is part of a national lockdown that took effect Thursday and will end on May 17. The ban is stoking tensions and suspicion over the Islamist roots of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics accuse of seeking to undermine the 90-year-old secular state, said columnist Mehves Evin of the Duvar news portal. “Erdogan’s government, it’s like trying all the little ways to change the way, he thinks it’s the right way for people to live. Meaning, for example, the way they are building up the Imam Hatip religious schools. The way they are encouraging more and more students to go to those schools, actually is social engineering. So with the alcohol ban, it is actually also the same thing,” Evin said.  A customer shops for alcoholic beverages at a supermarket ahead of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Istanbul, April 29, 2021.The government denies such accusations. But with the ban coinciding with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, such denials have done little to quell the controversy.  The head of Turkey’s trader’s association, Bendeki Palandoken, called for the ban’s reversal, asking if is it possible to demand an alcohol ban in a developed and democratic country of law, which is integrated with Europe, and has many foreign customers, as well. The ban is also being challenged in Turkey’s high courts. But the government is vigorously defending the controls, noting that other countries, like South Africa, imposed similar restrictions.  Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Thursday there would be no exemptions and no backing down. The alcohol shops will endure this sacrifice, as everyone else will, he added. But numerous shops are starting to challenge the ban by selling alcohol, with many people posting pictures of their purchases on social media. “Don’t touch my alcohol” is among this week’s Turkish Twitter top trending hashtags.   
 

Russia Releases Video of Black Sea Military Drills

Russia’s defense ministry released video Friday of its warships firing rockets during military drills in the Black Sea, the Reuters news agency reported Friday.
 
The drills were conducted earlier this week amid rising tensions between Russia and the west over Russia’s military buildup near the border it shares with Ukraine.  
 
Russia said the troop buildup was part of drills it planned in response to what it said was NATO’s threatening behavior. Last week, Russia ordered a pullback of some troops from the border area.  
 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a May 5-6 visit to Ukraine “to reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Blinken’s spokesman, Ned Price, said in a statement.
 Blinken Heads to Ukraine After Russia Sends 150K Troops to Border Trip aims to ‘reaffirm unwavering US support for country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,’ State Department saysRussia began naval combat drills Tuesday as the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Hamilton was entering the Black Sea to work with NATO and other allies in the area.
 
Russia’s Black Sea fleet said its Moskva cruiser would participate in live-fire exercises with other Russian ships and military helicopters, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
 
The drill took place as fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed troops escalated sharply since January, despite a cease-fire that took effect last July.
 
The conflict began when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, since killing some 14,000 people, according to Ukraine’s government.

5 Arrested in Violent Robbery of Lady Gaga’s Dogs

The woman who returned Lady Gaga’s stolen French bulldogs was among five people arrested in connection with the theft and shooting of the music superstar’s dog walker, Los Angeles police said Thursday.
Detectives do not believe that the thieves initially knew the dogs belonged to the pop star, the Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement. The motive for the Feb. 24 robbery, investigators believe, was the value of the French bulldogs — which can run into the thousands of dollars.
The dog walker, Ryan Fischer, is recovering from a gunshot wound and has called the violence “a very close call with death” in social media posts. He was walking Lady Gaga’s three dogs — named Asia, Koji and Gustav — in Hollywood just off the famed Sunset Boulevard when he was attacked.
Video from the doorbell camera of a nearby home shows a white sedan pulling up and two men jumping out. They struggled with Fischer and one pulled a gun and fired a single shot before fleeing with two of the dogs, Koji and Gustav.  
The video captured Fischer’s screams of, “Oh, my God! I’ve been shot!” and “Help me!” and “I’m bleeding out from my chest!”  
Lady Gaga offered a $500,000 reward — “no questions asked” — to be reunited with the dogs. The singer had been in Rome filming a movie at the time.
The dogs were returned two days later to an LAPD station by a woman who originally appeared to be “uninvolved and unassociated” with the crime, police initially said. The woman, identified Thursday as 50-year-old Jennifer McBride, had reported that she’d found the dogs and responded to an email address associated with the reward, police said.  
McBride turned out to be in a relationship with the father of one of the suspects, the LAPD said Thursday. It was not immediately clear if she had received the reward.
Police arrested James Jackson, 18, Jaylin White, 19, and Lafayette Whaley, 27, in connection with the violence. They are charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and second-degree robbery, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Jackson, who authorities say was the shooter, also faces charges of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and a felon carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle. White faces one count of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
White’s father, 40-year-old Harold White, and McBride were arrested and accused of being accessories to the attack. The elder White also was charged with one count of possession of a firearm and McBride faces a charge of receiving stolen property.
Jackson, Whaley and the Whites are all documented gang members, according to the LAPD.
The five suspects were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, according to the  Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.
All five were being held on $1 million bail each, online jail records show.
Lady Gaga did not immediately address the arrests on her social media accounts Thursday afternoon. Fischer and Lady Gaga’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

In France, Chauvin Conviction Has Not Brought Comfort

The trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin made headline news in France. But much of the reporting about the trial, and its underlying themes of police violence and racism, largely zoomed in on the United States.“I think it’s viewed as an American problem with some resonance in France,” said Steven Ekovich, a U.S. politics and foreign policy professor at the American University of Paris.American University of Paris professor Steven Ekovich says the French viewed the Derek Cauvin trial in the death of George Floyd as an American problem, but with some resonance in France. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)”It also feeds into a certain strain of French anti-Americanism, on the left and on the right, so that the French can moralize about the United States, and its difficulties and its flaws,” he said.That wasn’t the case last year, when George Floyd’s death caused many French to look inward. They joined spreading global protests for police accountability. Traore deathAlong with Floyd, many chanted the name of Frenchman Adama Traore, 24, whose family said he died under circumstances similar to Floyd’s, although that claim is disputed. The Black American’s death opened a broader spigot here of soul-searching about France’s colonial past and continuing injustices today.French authorities vowed zero tolerance of police racism and brutality and pledged to ban a controversial police chokehold. President Emmanuel Macron called racial profiling “unbearable.”Police representatives deny systemic racism. They say police are overworked and underappreciated as they tackle violence in tough neighborhoods, and they sometimes become targets of terrorism.David-Olivier Reverdy of the National Police Alliance union said the country’s police aren’t racist. To the contrary, he said, they’re Republican and diverse, from all ethnic origins and religions. There may be some problematic individuals, he added, but the force itself isn’t racist.Critics argue otherwise. A 2017 report by an independent citizens rights group found young Black or Arab-looking men here are five times more likely to be stopped for police identity checks than the rest of the population. Four Paris police officers were suspended last November after TV footage showed them punching a Black music producer. In January, six nongovernmental groups announced the country’s first class-action lawsuit on alleged racial profiling by police.’Struggling’ for a decade“We’ve been struggling with the state for 10 years,” said Slim Ben Achour, one of the lawyers representing the groups in the case.“The French Supreme Court convicted the state in November 2016 for discrimination, and after that we could have expected from the state … which should respect the rule of law — to do police reform. They have done nothing,” he said.Allegations of police violence and racism are an old story in France. In 2005, the deaths of two youngsters fleeing police sparked rioting in the banlieues — code word for the multicultural, working-class suburbs ringing cities here. Activists point to bigger, long-standing inequalities going far beyond policing.Some aren’t waiting for change from above. In the Paris suburb of Bobigny, youth group Nouvel Elan 93 is mentoring youngsters, helping them with schoolwork and giving them alternatives to hanging in the streets.Aboubacar N’diaye, left, helped launch a youth group in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. He says police profiling is something that could happen to him. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)One of Nouvel Elan’s founders, Aboubacar N’Diaye, said the group is trying to push youngsters to the maximum of their potential. They’re talented, he said, in sports, music, theater — everything.N’Diaye said Floyd’s death has resonated in this community and that it could happen to Blacks here like him. There’s a close relationship, he added, in the protests for Floyd and Traore.He and other activists said it would take time for the lessons from Floyd’s death — and France’s colorblind creed of liberty, equality and fraternity —to take hold.

In France, Derek Chauvin Verdict Brings No Comfort  

Reports of police violence and racial injustice resonate especially strongly in France, with its large population of ethnic Africans and Arabs. Yet cautious optimism by some in the United States and elsewhere that the guilty verdict in American former police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial might trigger societal change is less shared in France. From the Paris suburb of Bobigny, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA.   Camera:   Lisa Bryant, Agencies  

Pope Francis Enlists Cardinals in Vatican Corruption Fight

Pope Francis has issued an anti-corruption decree requiring Vatican managers, including cardinals, to sign a declaration attesting they are not being investigated or have not been found guilty of terrorism, money-laundering or tax evasion. The new regulations are part of the pope’s long battle against corruption inside Vatican’s walls.Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been battling corruption inside the Vatican and his decree issued Thursday mandates full economic disclosure and controls for all managers working for the city state, including cardinals.  They will be required to sign a declaration when they are appointed attesting that they have never been convicted of a crime. They will also be required to declare that they are not under investigation for offenses including money laundering, corruption, fraud, exploitation of minors or tax evasion.Vatican managers will also have to declare they are investing funds that are consistent with the Catholic Church’s social doctrine. In addition, the decree states that they will not be allowed to use tax havens or accept any work-related gifts that are worth more than $48. They also cannot hold real estate obtained with illegal funds.FILE – Police officers patrol an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, April 10, 2020.Last May, Pope Francis issued another decree tightening the rules on Vatican departments to secure contracts. But the pope’s latest anti-corruption crackdown is the toughest since he took office eight years ago to ensure Vatican City employees are not involved in illegal financial activity.For the past two years, prosecutors have been investigating allegations of corruption in a Vatican investment into a London property deal. The Vatican has been involved in numerous financial scandals and the pope has made clear he would battle corruption from the outset of his pontificate.Pope Francis has spoken out about the issue of corruption on many occasions. One of those times was during a trip to Kenya, two years after being elected.Cases of corruption, he said, are found not only in politics, but in all institutions and inside the Vatican as well. Corruption, he added, is something that hits us inside. It’s like sugar, it’s sweet, we like it. It’s easy. But then, the pope concluded, it ends badly.The pope’s new decree made clear that Vatican employees must adhere to “internationally accepted regulations and best practices” that require transparency to fight “conflicts of interest, patronage practices and corruption in general.”  Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s Committee that evaluates anti-money laundering measures and the financing of terrorism, is expected to publicly release its report soon, which also includes details on the Holy See’s adherence to combat those practices. 
 

WHO Europe Reports First Drop in COVID Cases in 2 Months

The World Health Organization’s Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge reported Thursday the number of new COVID-19 infections in the region dropped significantly in the last week for the first time in two months. Speaking from WHO regional headquarters in Copenhagen, Kluge said hospitalizations and deaths were also down in the past week. He also said as of Thursday, 7% of Europeans have been totally vaccinated, more than the 5.5% of the population that has contracted COVID-19. Kluge cautioned that while that is good news, the virus remains a threat, as infection rates remain high in several areas. He said individual and collective public health and social measures remain dominant factors in shaping the pandemic’s course. A man receives his first dose of the of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center in Piraeus, near Athens, April 29, 2021.But he also noted that in those areas where high-risk groups such as health and other frontline workers were prioritized with vaccines, admissions to hospitals and death rates are falling. Kluge said in the context of the pandemic, it is a combination of vaccines and strong public health measures that offer the clearest path back to normal. But noting it is European Immunization Week, the WHO regional director said he wanted to send a message beyond COVID-19 and pressed the value of vaccines in general. He said before the pandemic, vaccines had protected the world against life-threatening diseases for more than 200 years. While vaccines bring the world closer to ending the pandemic, he said they could also end measles, cervical cancer and other vaccine-preventable diseases. He said when COVID-19 interrupted routine vaccine programs around the world, the results can be other severe infectious disease outbreaks just down the line. He urged public health systems to maintain routine primary health care while continuing to control the pandemic. “Once again, vaccines are about to change the course of history — but only if we act responsibly and get vaccinated when offered the opportunity to do so,” Kluge said. 
 

Pew Census Breakdown: Asian American Population Reached 24 Million

The Pew Research Center released Thursday an analysis of 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data showing the population of Asian Americans reached 24 million people.
 
The Washington-based research group previously projected that population will reach 46 million people by 2060, and that by that time Asian Americans will be the largest immigrant group in the United States.
 
It said Thursday nearly all the Asian American population comes from 19 Asian origin groups, and that Chinese Americans account for 23% of the Asian population.
 
In terms of geographical distribution, Pew said 45% percent of Asian Americans live in western states, while 24% live in southern states.
 
Pew reported that in 2017, about 14% of the 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States were people from Asia.
 
It said overall 57% of Asian Americans were born in another country.
 
Between 2000 and 2019, according to Pew, the number of people with Bhutanese, Nepalese and Burmese origin grew at the fastest rates, while the number of Laotians and Japanese grew at the slowest rates.

Державний борг у березні знизився більш ніж на 38 млрд гривень – Мінфін

Державний борг станом на кінець березня становив 2 234,77 млрд грн (80,14 млрд дол. США), з яких 45,8% складає державний внутрішній борг (ОВДП), а 54,2% – державний зовнішній борг

A Gaunt Navalny Appears in Court After Hunger Strike

In his first court appearance since ending a three-week hunger strike, Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “naked, thieving king.” Navalny appeared Thursday in a video link from prison to a Moscow courtroom where he was appealing a guilty verdict for defaming a World War 2 veteran. According to news reports, Navalny appeared thin, and his head was shaved. “I looked in the mirror. Of course, I’m just a dreadful skeleton,” he said. Yulia Navalnaya, wife of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, is seen in a courtroom, in Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2021, in this still image taken from video. (Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via Reuters)Navalny began his hunger strike March 3 and ended it April 23. Later in Thursday’s hearing, he took the opportunity to attack Putin. “I want to tell the dear court that your king is naked,” he said of Putin. “Millions of people are already shouting about it, because it is obvious. … His crown is hanging and slipping.” He also reiterated his claim of innocence on the embezzlement allegations that ostensibly landed him in prison. “Your naked, thieving king wants to continue to rule until the end. … Another 10 years will come, a stolen decade will come,” Navalny said referring to Putin. Last week, authorities in Russia disbanded several regional offices of Navalny’s anti-corruption group, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. A Russian court is considering branding the group extremist. FILE – Demonstrators march during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, April 21, 2021.Last week, more than 1,900 Navalny supporters were detained during protests in cities across the country. From his Instagram account, he said he felt “pride and hope” after learning about the protests. Navalny survived a near-fatal poisoning last year and was arrested when he returned to Moscow in January following lifesaving treatment in Germany. The Kremlin denies any role in the poisoning. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in February on an embezzlement charge and was being held at the Pokrov correctional colony, which he described as “a real concentration camp.” The United States and other countries have sanctioned Kremlin officials over the poisoning, and many are calling for Navalny’s release. 
 

German Health Minister Says COVID-19 Infection Numbers Have Fallen

German health officials had good news for the country Thursday in terms of falling COVID-19 infection rates and record numbers of vaccinations delivered but said there is still a long way to go.
 
At a Berlin news conference, Germany Health Minister Jens Spahn, along with Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases (RKI) President Lothar Wieler, noted the average number of new infections per 100,000 people in the country fell to 155 Thursday for the third day in a row, its lowest level in two weeks. On Monday, the rate was 169.
 
But to Spahn, the dropping numbers reflected a “stagnation” of rising numbers of cases, and it has yet to be determined if this was a one-time occurrence or if it reflected an actual reversal of recent trends. He said it was still not enough progress, as hospital intensive care units remain full in many cities.
 
Spahn also noted Germany vaccinated a record 1.1 million people Wednesday — more than 1% of the population in a single day. He said that means “now, 25.9% of Germans have had at least one vaccine, and 7.5% have had the second vaccine.”
 
But Wieler said it is too early to talk about lifting restrictions across the country. He said the numbers show that cases are continuing to rise among those under the age of 60, and cases among children are “going up drastically.”  
 
He said that while children are less likely to get sick or get a severe case, there are now studies showing children experiencing long-term COVID-19 side effects, where symptoms of the infection continue beyond the infection itself.
 
Parts of Germany imposed tougher lockdown rules last weekend after Chancellor Angela Merkel drew up legislation to give the federal government more power after some of the 16 federal states refused stricter measures.
 
The new law enables the government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in districts where cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days. The rules also include stricter limits on private gatherings and shopping.

Spain’s Matadors Fight Back After COVID-19 Nearly Kills Their Art

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, crowds are expected to return on Sunday to Las Ventas bullring in Madrid, the spiritual home of this controversial spectacle. Six matadors will do battle with bulls in front of 6,000 cheering aficionados amid tight health restrictions that included limiting ticket sales to 25% of capacity.  However, for lovers of what is known in Spain as the fiesta nacional it will be a huge emotional boost after a year in which rings across the country have remained closed. The charity bullfight will raise money for matadors and some of the 200,000 people who work in this sector who have been hard-hit by the coronavirus. In normal times, the bloody spectacle generates $4.8 billion for the economy annually, almost 1% of GDP, according to the National Association of Organizers of Bullfights. Regarded as an art by admirers in Spain, bullfighting has met with increasing criticism in recent years from a growing animal rights lobby which has been supported by left-wing parties. Fighting back Now, after the pandemic has pushed the industry onto the ropes financially, the men who wear the colorful “suit of lights” are staging a fight back. “For bullfighting this will be hugely symbolic. It will be the first time we return to Las Ventas, the world home of bullfighting, since before the start of the pandemic,” Antonio Lorca, bullfighting critic of El País, one of Spain’s major newspapers, told VOA. “The hope is that this will be the start of many more fights. It will be in aid of those who work in the industry. They have all struggled to get through the past year.” Victorino Martín, president of the Foundation of Fighting Bulls that represents breeders, believes this weekend’s contest will mark the start of a recovery for an industry which, he says, has cultural as well as economic importance for Spain. “This bullfight will be strategically important as it will mark the start of a series of similar fights in Madrid next month,” he told VOA. “This industry has suffered economically but it is also a part of Spanish culture, a little like theatre.” Tradition and politics The pandemic has accelerated the decline of a spectacle which in the past has inspired artists including Francisco de Goya, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. In 2012, there were 1,997 fights but this fell to 1,425 by 2019, according to Spain’s ministry of culture which deals with bullfighting as it is considered an art form. After the financial crisis of 2008, many local councils, which traditionally pay for bullfights, cut their budgets. A younger generation are attracted as much to Tik Tok or YouTube as a paying to see a spectacle which is seen by some as old fashioned. Bullfighting has recently become an increasing political issue. Rocio Monasterio, the candidate for the far-right Vox party in regional elections in Madrid on May 4, took on a bull in the ring – with the aid of a real matador – to kick off her campaign. Vox, which is the third largest party in the Spanish parliament with 52 deputies, supports countryside pursuits. “I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. It was great in spite of the nonsense of the totalitarians who oppose bullfighting,” she told VOA afterwards. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the current conservative president of Madrid who polls suggest will win, has promised to organize 18 bullfights in small towns in coming months and pledged $3.63 million in subsidies. Spaniards have been split over the issue of bullfighting in recent years with some considering it an art, while others see it as cruelty. FILE – People hold banners reading in Spanish: “92% of Spain, don’t attend the bullfights” during a protest against bullfighting in downtown Madrid, Spain, Sunday, July 12, 2020.A 2019 poll for the online newspaper El Español found 56.4% of Spaniards opposed bullfighting while 24.7 per cent supported it and 18% were indifferent. José Zaldivar has been campaigning to ban bullfighting but holds out little hope of success – at least in the short term. He works from an office that contains an arsenal of the weapons which matadors use to battle with the bull, from the sword which ends the animal’s life to the banderillas which are punctured into its back to weaken it during the duel. “What the animal goes through in terms of stress and pain cannot be anything else but torture,” said Zaldivar, who is president of the Association of Veterinarians for the Abolition of Bullfighting. He believes as long as bullfighting is protected as part of Spain’s cultural heritage it will be impossible to deal the estocada – the sword thrust in which the matador kills the bull. In 2013, the then conservative government passed a law which established the “indisputable” cultural character of bullfighting. This meant that in 2016 the Constitutional Court was able to annul a ban on bullfighting by regional authorities in Catalonia and in the Balearic Islands.