With No Sign of Eruption’s End, Ash Blankets La Palma Island

A volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma that has been erupting for six weeks spewed greater quantities of ash from its main mouth Sunday, a day after producing its strongest earthquake to date.

Lava flows descending toward the Atlantic Ocean from a volcanic ridge have covered 970 hectares (2,400 acres) of land since the eruption began on Sept. 19, data from the European Union’s satellite monitoring service, showed. On the way down the slope, the molten rock has destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and forced the evacuation of over 7,000 people. 

But authorities in the Canary Islands, of which La Palma is part, have reported no injuries caused by contact with lava or from inhaling the toxic gases that often accompany the volcanic activity.

Experts said that predicting when the eruption will end is difficult because lava, ash and gases emerging to the surface are a reflection of complex geological activity happening deep down the earth and far from the reach of currently available technology.

The Canary Islands, in particular, “are closely connected to thermal anomalies that go all the way to the core of the earth,” said Cornell University geochemist Esteban Gazel, who has been collecting samples from the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

“It’s like a patient. You can monitor how it evolves but saying exactly when it will die is extremely difficult,” Gazel said. “It’s a process that is connected to so many other dimensions of the inside of the planet.”

Signs monitored by scientists —soil deformation, sulfur dioxide emissions and seismic activity— remained robust in Cumbre Vieja. The Spanish Geographic Institute, or IGN, said that a magnitude 5 quake in the early hours of Saturday was not just felt on La Palma, but also in La Gomera, a neighboring island on the western end of the Canary Islands archipelago.

IGN said the ash column towering above the volcano reached an altitude of 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet) on Sunday before heavier wind scattered it. Many nearby towns and a telescope base further north that sits on a mountain at 2,400 meters above sea level (7,800 feet) were covered in a thick layer of ash.

The eruption has also turned the island into a tourist attraction, especially as many Spaniards prepared to mark All Saints Day, a Catholic festivity that honors the dead, on Monday.

Local authorities said some 10,000 visitors were expected over the long weekend and 90% of the accommodations on La Palma were fully booked. A shuttle bus service for tourists wanting a glimpse of the volcano was established to keep private cars off the main roads so emergency services could work undisturbed.

G-20 Leaders Pledge to End Financing for Overseas Coal Plants 

G-20 leaders meeting in Rome have agreed to work to reach carbon neutrality “by around mid-century” and pledged to end financing for coal plants abroad by the end of this year.

The final communique was issued Sunday at the end of a two-day summit, ahead of talks at ahead of a broader U.N. climate change summit, COP26, this week in Glasgow, Scotland.

Leaders in Rome addressed efforts to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with a global commitment made in 2015 at the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,” the communique said, according to Reuters.

The group of 19 countries and the European Union account for more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Two dozen countries this month have joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Coal, though, is a bigger point of contention. G-20 members China and India have resisted attempts to produce a declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

Climate financing, namely pledges from wealthy nations to provide $100 billion a year in climate financing to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is another key concern. Indonesia, a large greenhouse gas emitter that will take over the G-20 presidency in December, is urging developed countries to fulfill their financing commitments both in Rome and in Glasgow.

Also on Sunday, the U.S. and EU announced an end to tariffs on EU steel imposed by the Trump administration, ending a dispute in which the EU imposed retaliatory tariffs on American products including whiskey and power boats.

 

“Together the United States and the European Union are ushering in a new era of transatlantic cooperation that’s going to benefit all of our people both now, and I believe, in the years to come,” Biden told reporters on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. 

Global supply chain 

Biden will hold a meeting at the summit’s sidelines to address the global supply chain crisis. The group of 20 countries in the summit account for more than 80% of world GDP and 75% of global trade. 

“The President will make announcements about what the United States itself will do, particularly in respect to stockpiles, to improving… the United States’ capacity to have modern and effective and capable and flexible stockpiles,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “We are working towards agreement with the other participants on a set of principles and parameters around how we collectively manage and create resilient supply chains going forward.”

Addressing global commerce disruptions has been a key focus for the Biden administration, which is concerned that these bottlenecks will hamper post-pandemic economic recovery. To address the nation’s own supply chain issues, earlier this month the administration announced a plan to extend operations around the clock, seven days a week, at Los Angeles and Long Beach, two ports that account for 40% of sea freight entering the country. 

“Whether it’s you’re talking about medical equipment or supplies of consumer goods or other products, it’s a challenge for the global economy,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some of the concrete measures to alleviate global supply chain pressure points may need to be longer term, such as shortening supply chains and rethinking dependencies, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House.

“Those are not quick fixes,” she said. “But the G-20 is historically set up really to be dealing with short-term crises. So, I think that there will be considerable effort made to really discuss and come to terms with that.” 

While global supply chain issues are a key concern for the leaders in Rome, Goodman said he doubts the meeting will result in tangible solutions. 

“It’s a very difficult group — the G-20 to get consensus to do very specific things. And this may be one area in which it’s going to be particularly difficult,” he added. 

President Xi Jinping of China, considered to be the “world’s factory,” is not attending the summit in person. In his virtual speech to G-20 leaders, Xi proposed holding an international forum on resilient and stable industrial and supply chains, and welcomed participation of G-20 members and relevant international organizations. 

Biden Meets Erdogan Amid Simmering Tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden is meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome Sunday amid simmering tensions and strategic disagreements between Washington and Ankara.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters in Rome Saturday that the leaders would discuss a range of regional issues, including Syria and Afghanistan, and defense issues including Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system and its request to purchase U.S. F-16 fighter jets.

The official said in the Sunday meeting Biden would warn Erdogan that the two countries will need to work to avoid crises such as Ankara’s recent threat to expel the U.S. and nine other countries’ ambassadors who pushed for the release of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala.

“Precipitous action is not going to benefit the U.S.-Turkey partnership and alliance,” a senior administration official told reporters in Rome Saturday. “I’m not actually even sure we would have had the meeting if he [Erdogan] had gone ahead and expelled.”

In 2019, during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program because of its purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. Now Ankara wants to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets made by U.S. company Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 modernization kits for its air force’s existing warplanes.

U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration not to sell F-16s to Turkey, saying Ankara has “behaved like an adversary.”

“This meeting is important for President Biden to send some messages to Turkey about what is and is not acceptable behavior from a NATO ally,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Biden will convey his expectations for Turkey as a partner in a range of issues including security challenges following U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, its role in the Black Sea region and performance in NATO.

Bilateral relations between the two NATO allies have also been strained over human rights. As president, Biden has pledged to restore human rights and democracy as pillars of U.S. foreign policy. In August of last year, before taking office, then-Democratic presidential candidate Biden advocated for a new U.S. approach to the “autocrat” Erdogan. Ankara slammed the comment as “interventionist.”

Since then, the two leaders have taken a more pragmatic approach to maintaining a relationship. Biden is keen to avoid another escalating flashpoint in the region following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, while Erdogan is embattled politically at home.

“The Turkish economy is faltering, he [Erdogan] is actually losing in popularity,” Ellehuus said. “Whether he’ll admit it or not, I think he needs to be perceived as having at least a cooperative relationship with President Biden.”

This is the second in-person discussion between the leaders under the Biden presidency, following a June meeting in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO summit. 

 

UK, France Urged to Cool Down Escalating Fishing Spat

Britain and France faced calls Saturday to sort out their post-Brexit spat over fishing rights in the English Channel, which threatens to escalate within days into a damaging French blockade of British boats and trucks.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the dispute is testing the U.K.’s international credibility, while each country accused the other of being in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement that Britain’s government signed with the European Union before it left the bloc.

As the war of words intensified, Britain said it was “actively considering” launching legal action if France goes through with threats to bar U.K. fishing boats from its ports and slap strict checks on British catches.

“If there is a breach of the (Brexit) treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told British broadcasters in Rome, where he and Macron are both attending a Group of 20 summit.

At stake is fishing — a tiny industry economically that looms large symbolically for maritime nations like Britain and France. Britain’s exit from the economic rules of the 27-nation bloc at the start of this year means the U.K. now controls who fishes in its waters.

France claims some vessels have been denied permits to fish in waters where they have long sailed. Britain says it has granted 98% of applications from EU vessels, and now the dispute comes down to just a few dozen French boats with insufficient paperwork.

But France argues it’s a matter of principle and wants to defend its interests as the two longtime allies and rivals set out on a new, post-Brexit relationship.

The dispute escalated this week after French authorities accused a Scottish-registered scallop dredger of fishing without a license. The captain was detained in Le Havre and has been told to face a court hearing next year.

France has threatened to block British boats crossing the English Channel and tighten checks on boats and trucks from Tuesday if the licenses aren’t granted. France has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands — British Crown dependencies that lie off the coast of France and are heavily dependent on French electricity.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex appealed to the EU to back France in the dispute, saying the bloc should demonstrate to people in Europe that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it.”

U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost called Castex’s comments “troubling” and accused France of a pattern of threats “to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation.”

He said if France acted on the threats it “would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement,” and said Britain was “actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings,” a formal legal process in the deal.

He urged France and the EU to “step back.”

Many EU politicians and officials regard Frost, who led negotiations on Britain’s divorce deal, as intrinsically hostile to the bloc.

Macron, who is scheduled to meet Johnson on Sunday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, defended France’s position and said the fishing dispute could hurt Britain’s reputation worldwide.

“Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners,” Macron told the Financial Times. “Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”

Macron said he was sure that Britain has “good will” to solve the dispute. “We need to respect each other and respect the word that has been given,” he said.

Johnson said the fishing issue was a distraction from fighting climate change — top of the G-20 leaders’ agenda at their meeting, which comes before a U.N. climate conference in Scotland next week.

“I am looking at what is going on at the moment and I think that we need to sort it out. But that is quite frankly small beer, trivial, by comparison with the threat to humanity that we face,” Johnson added.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the northern French ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, said the spat was “ridiculous” and urged both sides to resolve it.

He told BBC radio that the dispute was over just 40 boats — “a drop in the ocean” — and that there would be “terrible” consequences if France carried out its threat of blocking British trawlers from French ports.

“If no agreement can be found, it will be a drama, it will be a disaster in your country because the trucks will not cross,” he said. 

 

Jay-Z, Foo Fighters Welcomed Into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Jay-Z added another title to a resume that includes rapper, songwriter, Grammy winner, billionaire business mogul, and global icon — Hall of Famer.

The self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” was inducted Saturday night as part of an eclectic 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class that included Foo Fighters, Carole King, Tina Turner, The Go-Gos and Todd Rundgren.

Once a drug dealer on the tough streets of Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z rose through the rap world with hard, straightforward songs that often portrayed the struggles of Black people in America.

His catalogue includes songs like Hard Knock Life, 99 Problems and Empire State of Mind, as well as 14 No. 1 albums.

Following a video introduction that included President Barack Obama, LeBron James and David Letterman, Jay-Z was inducted by comedian Dave Chappelle, who praised him for being an inspiration.

“He rhymed a recipe for survival,” Chappelle said. “He embodies what the potential of our lives can be and what success can be.”

Paul McCartney welcomed Foo Fighters, who have carried the mantle as one of rock’s top arena acts. Initially, the band was little more than a side project for front man Dave Grohl, who was previously inducted as Nirvana’s drummer.

McCartney described the parallels between himself and Grohl as both were part of massively popular bands that broke up.

“Do you think this guy is stalking me?” McCartney joked.

Foo Fighters and McCartney closed the show with the Beatles’ Get Back.

Rapper LL Cool J was enshrined for musical excellence along with keyboardist Billy Preston and guitarist Randy Rhoads.

 

Electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, singer-poet Gil Scott-Heron and Delta blues legend Charley Patton were inducted as early influencers, and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

Cool J recruited some of his heavyweight musical friends to usher him into rock immortality. He was joined on stage by Eminem and Jennifer Lopez for a powerful career-spanning performance.

With New York street style and swagger, Cool J remains a relevant artist more than 40 years after he first spit lyrics.

“What does LL really stand for?” asked rapper/producer Dr. Dre in his induction speech. “Ladies love? Living large? Licking lips? I’m here because I think it stands for living legend.”

Cool J then did a medley of his hits, including Rock The Bells accompanied by a bearded Eminem before he was joined by J-Lo for All I Have. Cool J wrapped up his blistering set with one of his biggest hits, Mama Said Knock You Out.

Superstar Taylor Swift opened the show with one of King’s best-known songs, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which appeared on Tapestry her seminal 1971 album — a soundtrack for a generation.

Swift gave a heartfelt induction speech for one of her musical idols.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Carole King’s music,” Swift said, saying her parents taught her several important lessons as a child with one of the most important being “that Carole King is the greatest songwriter of all time.”

King thanked Swift “for carrying the torch forward.” She noted other female singers and songwriters have said they stand on her shoulders.

“Let it not be forgotten,” King said. “They also stand on the shoulders of the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. May she rest in power, Miss Aretha Franklin.”

King then introduced Jennifer Hudson, who performed a stunning, rafter-shaking performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman before King sang You Got A Friend.

The 81-year-old Turner, who found her greatest success when she left abusive husband Ike Turner, lives in Switzerland and did not attend the ceremony.

“If they’re still giving me awards at 81,” Turner said in a video message. “I must have done something right.”

Keith Urban and H.E.R. performed It’s Only Love, a duet Turner did with Bryan Adams, before Mickey Guyton took on her most iconic song, What’s Love Got To Do With It. Then Christina Aguilera belted out River Deep, Mountain High.

 

Considered the greatest female group in rock history, The Go-Go’s emerged from Los Angeles’ punk scene in the 1980s. The quintet broke rules and smashed gender ceilings in a male-dominated industry with hits like We Got The Beat, My Lips Are Sealed and Head Over Heels.

“They’ve been in my personal Hall of Fame since I was 6 years old,” said actress Drew Barrymore, who mimicked the cover of the band’s debut album, Beauty and the Beat, during her induction speech by wrapping her body and hair in bath towels and applying face cream.

“Now,” she said. “My childhood fantasy is fulfilled.”

Best known for soft ballads like Hello It’s Me and Love Is The Answer, Rundgren also had a long path to induction. He’s been outspoken about the hall’s selection process and skipped the ceremony in protest.

“Ever defiant,” Patti Smith said in a video presenting Rundgren.

This year’s ceremony was held for the first time at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the 20,000-seat home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and a venue familiar to Jay-Z and Foo Fighters, who have played shows in the arena before.

It was a return to normalcy for the event, which was forced to go virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artists are not eligible for induction until 25 years after release of their first recording.

There are lively debates every year over omissions, and as Public Enemy’s Chuck D noted during a plaque induction ceremony on Friday at the hall, patience is sometimes another requirement for entrance.

“It ain’t no overnight thing,” he said. “You can’t stumble into this place.”

That was certainly the case for King, who had been eligible for enshrinement as a solo artist since 1986. She went in previously as a songwriter with Gerry Goffin, her late husband, in 1990.

The ceremony will be shown on HBO on Nov. 20. 

 

G-20 Leaders to Discuss Climate Change

The G-20 heads of state from the world’s major economies will discuss climate change Sunday on day two of their meeting in Rome.

Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed the heads of state, including U.S. President Joe Biden, to the Italian capital, where they discussed issues of mutual concern, including the pandemic recovery.

The G-20 leaders supported a sweeping global tax deal agreed to by 136 finance ministers earlier this month, including a minimum 15% global corporate tax rate for companies with annual revenues of more than $870 million. It still needs to be implemented within each member country’s legal framework.

On COVID-19, G-20 health and finance ministers announced the formation of a new panel to improve future pandemic preparedness, proposed by the United States and Indonesia, but did not specify funding for it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on the sidelines with Biden and said they support Biden’s pledge to return the United States to full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, so long as Tehran does the same. Talks are scheduled for November.

This year’s meeting is the the first face-to-face G-20 meeting in two years. Notably absent were Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who joined virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

“Despite the G-20 decisions, not all countries that need them can have access to vaccines,” Putin said. “This happens partly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G-20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates.”

Activists marched Saturday through the streets of Rome protesting the lack of action by G-20 leaders in tackling climate change, before the leaders move on the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

US, EU Agree to Resolve Trump-Era Steel, Aluminum Tariffs, Sources Say

The United States and European Union are expected this weekend to announce a deal to resolve a dispute over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, easing a major transatlantic trade irritant, six people familiar with the agreement said.

Three of the sources said the agreement, details of which were still being finalized, would allow EU countries to export duty free some 3.3 million tons of steel annually to the United States under a tariff-rate quota system.

“An agreement on steel has been reached and will be announced soon,” said one source familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to mend fences with European allies following Trump’s presidency to more broadly confront China’s state-driven economic practices that led to Beijing building massive excess steelmaking capacity that has flooded global markets.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi raised the need to resolve trade issues during a meeting Friday with Biden as a G-20 leaders summit got underway in Rome, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The deal may ease record-high U.S. steel prices that have topped $1,900 a ton as the industry has struggled to keep up with a demand surge after COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns. This has contributed to rising price inflation for manufactured products in the United States including cars.

Steel volumes above the 3.3-million-ton quota would be subject to tariffs, but additional duty free-status would be extended for about 1 million tons of EU steel products that had previously won Commerce Department tariff exclusions, three sources said.

The agreement leaves intact Trump’s global tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum but on a practical basis exempts a substantial portion of Europe’s steel exports to the United States.

Europe exported about 5 million tons of steel annually to the United States prior to Trump’s imposition of the “Section 232” tariffs in March 2018 on national security grounds.

The Commerce Department, U.S. Trade Representative’s office and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is scheduled to address American steel industry executives Tuesday in Washington. The industry and the United Steelworkers union have been pressing Biden’s administration to maintain the steel tariffs to protect a resurgence in new investment since 2018.

Industry officials also have said they were pushing for a requirement that any EU steel imported duty free be melted and poured in the trade bloc, a provision aimed at keeping Chinese steel from being minimally processed in Europe and exported to the United States.

The metals deal would allow officials about a month to implement it before a late-November deadline for a doubling of EU retaliatory tariffs on certain U.S. products, including motorcycles and whiskey.

Details were not immediately available on terms of the aluminum portion of the deal. An industry source said a resolution is expected to be included as part of an overall metals dispute agreement.

The United States allows imports of steel duty-from North American trade deal partners Mexico and Canada, with a mechanism that allows tariffs to be reimposed in the event of an unexpected “surge” in import volumes.

China’s Top Diplomat Visits Serbia, Albania Aiming to Deepen Ties

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made stops in Belgrade, Serbia, and Tirana, Albania, this week, seeking to further the Chinese government’s “17+1” effort to promote trade and investment between Beijing and the countries of Eastern and Central Europe.

While Wang was received cordially in both countries, Serbia and Albania have taken somewhat different approaches to economic cooperation with Beijing through China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has funded infrastructure projects throughout the developing world.

A stop in Greece on Wednesday and a scheduled stop in Italy on Saturday served as bookends to Wang’s visit to the Balkans. The trip is widely seen as China’s attempt to shore up economic ties in the region, which has traditionally looked more toward the European Union for development assistance.

Friendship ‘made of steel’

In Serbia, officials presented Wang with a building permit for a stretch of railway from Novi Sad to Subotica, part of a larger project to modernize the railroad between Belgrade and Budapest, Hungary. The move reflects Serbia’s relative openness to Chinese investment in the country.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić reiterated that Belgrade supports the “one China” policy, which considers Taiwan part of China. Wang, in turn, said Beijing respects the territorial integrity of Serbia, a signal that Beijing will continue to refuse to recognize the independence of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Wang said the friendship between the two countries was “made of steel” and added, “Serbia is a country that has its own principles and that Beijing is proud to have such a friend.”

Vučić said that Serbia and China are implementing joint projects worth 8 billion euros ($9.3 billion) and trade between the two countries has tripled.

Large Chinese presence

According to Bojan Stanić, the assistant director for analytics at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in addition to 1.5 billion euros ($1.73 billion) in direct foreign investment from China in the past five years, more than 20,000 people in Serbia work in Chinese-owned companies. Additionally, more than half of the suppliers of the Smederevo Ironworks, which is owned by the Chinese HBIS Group, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, are Serbian companies.

Serbia and China have had a strategic partnership agreement since 2009 and a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement since 2016. The latter involves more high-level meetings between both country’s officials, and more extensive personnel exchanges. China is the dominant lender for road construction in Serbia. Beijing is also the owner of the Bor mining complex and the Linglong tire factory, which is under construction.

Extensive Chinese ownership of businesses in Serbia has raised concerns about compliance with environmental protection and working condition regulations in factories.

Relationship unclear

Other concerns arise from the difficulty in understanding the relationship between Chinese firms and the Chinese Communist Party’s security services.

Igor Novaković, research director at the Center for International and Security Affairs Centre – ISAC Fund, said it is not always clear where a company’s commercial interest ends and the CCP’s political interests begin.

“I do not claim that companies operating in Serbia are dangerous in themselves, but when there is a connection between politics and business, then there is a danger of using business decisions in favor of the political interests of the country from which investments come,” Novaković said.

Belgrade visit

Wang traveled from Belgrade to Tirana Thursday, ahead of Friday’s meetings with Albanian President Ilir Meta, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Olta Xhaçka.

In Belgrade, officials have historically been much more cautious with regard to Chinese investment and lending.

“The truth is that serious doubts have actually been raised about Chinese funding following the experiences in some African countries and in the Balkans as the time comes for debt refinancing, that is, debt repayment and liabilities that have placed the governments of these countries in great financial difficulties,” said Selami Xhepa, an economist and a member of the Assembly of the Republic of Albania.

“This has required some kind of renegotiation, or similar diplomacy, with the Chinese authorities,” he added. “I think market discipline is better than diplomatic negotiations.”

UN Security Council

Last year, Albania joined a group of nations, headed by the United States, that has shut out Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment essential to the rollout of 5G wireless service in the country.

Nevertheless, with Albania about to take a seat on the United Nations Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, experts saw Wang’s visit to the country as an important opportunity to cement ties between the two countries and open dialogue about issues important to Albania. Among those issues is China’s continued effort to block the recognition of Kosovo as an independent country, which Albania supports.

“China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and it is necessary to talk about Kosovo, about Kosovo’s accession to the United Nations, where China is a very big obstacle,” said Besnik Mustafaj, a former foreign minister of Albania who now serves as president of the Council of Albanian Ambassadors. “It is time to say that there is no parallelism between Kosovo and Taiwan, that Albania recognizes only one China.”

Ilirian Agolli of VOA’s Albanian Service and VOA’s Serbian Service contributed to this report.

Greece Bids Merkel Bittersweet Farewell

Angela Merkel has completed her final trip as German chancellor to Greece, a country where she was not overly welcome in the past because of the strict austerity measures she backed to keep Greece’s economy afloat.

Sticks, stones, gas bombs and heated demonstrations gripped Greece on Merkel’s first visit to Athens in 2012.

But now, a decade later, the outgoing chancellor got an almost indifferent public reception, walking freely along streets bare of any public protest or threat for the European politician many people here had dubbed an enemy.

Resentment, though, was obvious, and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou tapped into the nation’s mood, bidding Merkel farewell with criticism of the austerity policies she advocated for Greece, recalling the tough times the two countries faced during Greek financial crisis. 

There were times of difficulty and tension, she told Merkel with a stern face. Greeks had to pay a heavy price. And, Sakellaropoulou said, there were many times when Greece, as a European nation, felt alone.

The decade-long financial crisis saw a quarter of the country’s economy wiped out and 1.2 million Greeks losing their jobs. 

Many Greeks expected Merkel to return to the country with an apology for the bitter policies she supported because Germany was the single largest contributor to a bailout scheme that helped keep the Greek economy from crashing.

She instead came with a strong dose of self-criticism.

“I knew that I was asking a lot of the people in Greece, Merkel said. But she cited the role that previous leftist governments played in making the implementation of those policies more difficult, adding to social upheaval at the time,” Merkel said.

The remarks scored few points with Greeks. 

Political analyst Panayiotis Lampsias explains the nation’s reaction to Merkel.

Of course, she played a pivotal role in keeping Greece in the EU, and that should not be underestimated, he said. But this self-criticism comes too late, and now years later and on her way out, Lampsias added, Merkel has the luxury of being able to make such remarks.

In Greece’s post-crisis era, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reassured Merkel that the country would stick to fiscal discipline but not what he called, “blind austerity.”

Greece, he said, is no longer a source of crisis but a modern European state striving for a better future within the European Union.

Merkel’s vice chancellor, finance minister and likely successor Olaf Scholz accompanied her on the visit to Athens. He refrained from making any comment or offering any thoughts on whether Germany would ease up on its fiscal requirements, a concern nagging Greeks as Merkel departs the chancellorship.

Biden Acknowledges AUKUS Deal Rollout Was ‘Clumsy’

U.S. President Joe Biden launched his whirlwind European diplomatic tour on a conciliatory note, saying Friday that the rollout of a security deal between the United States, Britain and Australia that cut out longtime ally France was “clumsy.”

“What happened was, to use an English phrase – what we did was clumsy,” Biden said. “It was not done with a lot of grace,” he acknowledged, next to French President Emanuel Macron in Rome ahead of the G-20 summit. The two spoke to reporters following their meeting which was notably held at Villa Bonaparte, the French Embassy to the Vatican, instead of a neutral venue.

The Indo-Pacific AUKUS security deal provides Australia with U.S. nuclear-powered submarines.  But buying U.S. subs meant Canberra cancelled the $65 billion deal it previously made with Paris for traditional submarines.

The diplomatic fallout was swift: Paris temporarily recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, saying they were not consulted in advance of the AUKUS deal.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not coming through,” Biden said Friday. “Honest to God, I did not know that you had not been.”

This modest concession matters, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House. 

“It’s pretty clear that both Biden and Macron have a lot to lose and wish this relationship to work,” she said. “So, they are finding ways to signal that, including in this case an acknowledgment that stops short of an apology.”

Biden earlier committed to supporting France in their counterterrorism effort in the Sahel, where instability triggers waves of African migrants to aim for Europe.

“Clearly the U.S. made a tough call on how to deal with France in the run-up to this decision and, ultimately, the AUKUS partnership stands and France is outside of it,” Vinjamuri said.

Other key meetings 

Earlier Friday, Biden met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a potential key ally in transatlantic relations at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to leave office and Macron remains politically embattled at home.

They and other leaders will gather at the G-20 summit of the world’s wealthiest nations, hosted this year by Italy, which begins Saturday.

“Italy really is an anchor in southeastern Europe for the United States,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director and senior fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

The White House said Biden thanked Draghi for Italy’s support following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, including by temporarily housing more than 4,000 Afghans who were on route to the U.S. in August. The leaders discussed challenges to security in the Mediterranean region and reaffirmed the importance of NATO’s efforts to deter and defend against threats.

Biden is also expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the summit’s sidelines. Erdogan recently threatened to expel the U.S. and nine other Western ambassadors over their support of a jailed Turkish philanthropist over charges of espionage, terrorism and attempts to overthrow the government – allegations that Western observers have called absurd.

“This meeting is important for President Biden to send some messages to Turkey about what is and is not acceptable behavior from a NATO ally, what his expectations are for Turkey being a partner in everything from follow-on security challenges from Afghanistan to Turkey’s role in the Black Sea region and Turkey’s performance in NATO,” Ellehuus said.

Observers, journalists and international partners have repeatedly asked when Biden will meet one-on-one with the leader of the country the U.S. considers its main adversary: China. But Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend the G-20 summit in person, nor the climate conference that will follow immediately after, in Glasgow. 

The White House has confirmed Biden and Xi will meet virtually before the year’s end.

US, 17 Other Nations Condemn Russia’s ‘Intensifying Harassment’ of Media, Journalists

An 18-member group of nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, has expressed “deep concern” over what it calls the Russian government’s “intensifying harassment of independent journalists and media outlets” in the country.

In a statement issued on October 28 under the name of the Media Freedom Coalition, was also signed by Ukraine and North Macedonia, along with Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The statement said that “media freedom is vital to the effective functioning of free and open societies and is essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Russian authorities have been accused of increasingly cracking down on independent media outlets, civil society groups, rights activists, and others, using legislations on “undesirable” individuals or groups, as well as the so-called “foreign agents” law.

The 18-nation statement said Russian authorities continue in 2021 to “systematically detain journalists and subject them to harsh treatment while they reported on protests in support of imprisoned opposition figure Aleksei Navalny.”

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It also said the office of student magazine Doxa was searched in April in relation to “spurious charges, and four editors were then subjected to severe restrictions on their freedom.”

Other cases cited by the group included a June 29 raid by Russian authorities on the apartments of staff members of investigative news website The Project (Proekt), a move made on the same day the site published an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by Russia’s interior minister.

The statement added that Russian occupation authorities in Crimea have held Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko since March “and have reportedly tortured him in detention.”

“On July 15, Yesypenko was indicted on specious charges and faces up to 18 years’ imprisonment,” it said.

Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, was detained on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. He had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on the social and environmental situation on the peninsula before being detained.

A court in Simferopol on July 15 formally charged him with possession and transport of explosives. He pleaded not guilty and faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly at the time described the case as the latest example of the Kremlin’s campaign to target independent media outlets and called it “a mockery of justice.”

The statement by the 18-nation group also said that on October 8, Russian authorities applied the “media foreign agent” label to the international investigative journalism project Bellingcat, known for its investigation of the poisoning of Navalny.

“In an unambiguous effort to suppress Russians’ access to independent reporting, the Russian government introduced onerous labeling requirements for so-called ‘media foreign agents’ last year.

“Since then, it has charged RFE/RL with more than 600 violations, resulting in fines totaling more than $4.4 million,” the statement said.

“It increasingly appears the Russian government intends to force RFE/RL to end its decades-long presence in Russia, just as it has already forced the closure of several other independent media outlets in recent years.”

In addition, it said, authorities have applied the media foreign agent label to independent Russian outlets operating within or near Russia’s borders. “While concerns related to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in Russia have intensified, they are not new. We stand in solidarity with independent Russian journalists who assume personal risk in carrying out their professional activities, and we honor the memory of those reporters whose intrepid work has cost them their lives.”

The statement urged Russia to comply with its international human rights commitments and obligations and “to respect and ensure media freedom and safety of journalists.”

Pope to UN Conference: Don’t Waste Chance to Save the Planet

Pope Francis issued an urgent appeal Friday to world leaders ahead of the U.N. climate conference to take “radical decisions” to protect the environment and prioritize the common good rather than nationalistic interests.

Francis delivered the “Thought for the Day” on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s morning radio program ahead of the Oct. 31-Nov. 13 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

In the message, Francis urged political leaders not to waste the opportunity created by the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic to change course and chart a future based on a sense of shared responsibility for a common destiny.

“It means giving priority to the common good, and it calls for a change in perspective, a new outlook, in which the dignity of every human being, now and in the future, will guide our ways of thinking and acting,” Francis said. “The most important lesson we can take from these crises is our need to build together, so that there will no longer be any borders, barriers or political walls for us to hide behind.”

Francis has made caring for God’s Creation one of the hallmarks of his papacy. In 2015, ahead of the last U.N. climate conference in Paris, he penned the first-ever ecological encyclical, “Praised Be,” in which he denounced how the “perverse” profit-at-all-costs global economic model had exploited the poorest, ravaged Earth’s natural resources and turned the planet into an “immense pile of filth.”