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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the public in Simferopol
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the public in Simferopol, Crimea March 18, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS

March 18, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin has signed into law tough new fines for Russians who spread what the authorities regard as fake news or who show “blatant disrespect” for the state online, an official portal for legal information showed on Monday.

Critics have warned that the legislation could create a mechanism for state censorship, but lawmakers say the new measures are needed to combat false news reports and abusive online comments.

The legislation grants authorities the power to block websites if they fail to comply with requests to remove information that the state deems to be factually inaccurate.

Under the new law, individuals can be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,100) for circulating false information online that leads to a “mass violation of public order”.

People who show “blatant disrespect” online for the state, the authorities, the public, the Russian flag or the constitution can be fined up to 100,000 rubles under the new legislation. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to 15 days.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

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FILE PHOTO: Season opening of La Scala theatre in Milan
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the La Scala theatre before the season opening in Milan, Italy December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo/File Photo

March 18, 2019

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s La Scala opera house has decided to return more than 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in funding to Saudi Arabia after a plan to work closely with the country was widely criticized, including by members of the governing League party.

The Saudi proposal, which would have included giving a seat on the La Scala board to Saudi Arabia’s culture minister, had set off a furious row, with human rights groups and some politicians arguing that one of Italy’s most prestigious cultural institutions should shun Saudi money.

The deeply conservative Muslim kingdom has been accused of repeated rights abuses and has come under intense international scrutiny since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.

The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, who also chairs La Scala’s board, said the funds – part of a proposed 15-million euro five-year partnership deal with the Saudi culture ministry – had been deposited into an escrow account without the theater’s consent.

“We have unanimously decided to return the money,” Sala told reporters after a board meeting called to decide whether to accept the funding.

“Right now, going down this road is not possible,” he said.

Deputy prime minister and League leader Matteo Salvini had urged the opera house to reject the cash, while the governor of the Lombardy region – also a member of the League – called at the weekend for the dismissal of the opera house’s artistic director, Alexander Pereira.

Sala said Pereira, whose term at La Scala ends next year, would remain in his job

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Ethiopian Federal policemen stand near engine parts at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu
FILE PHOTO – Ethiopian Federal policemen stand near engine parts at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

March 18, 2019

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) – Investigators probing the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet eight days ago have found strong similarities in the ‘angle of attack’ data recorded by the doomed aircraft’s cockpit recorder and data from a Lion Air jet of the same model that crashed in October, a person familiar with the matter said.

Graphs of the two sets of data are “very, very simliar,” the person said on Monday, asking not to be identified because the matter is still in the early stages of investigation.

The angle is a key flight parameter that must remain narrow enough to preserve lift and avoid an aerodynamic stall.

A flight deck computer’s response to readings from an apparently faulty angle-of-attack sensor is at the centre of an ongoing probe into the Lion Air disaster.

The similarity between the two data readings on the Ethiopian and Lion Air flights will be subjected to further investigation, the person said.

Ethiopian and other investigators were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Editing by Georgina Prodhan)

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FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro listens to Paraguay's President Mario Abdo during a meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia
FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro listens during a meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

March 18, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters on Monday, an unusual move for a foreign head of state that was not on the public agenda for his first official trip to Washington.

The visit underscored Bolsonaro’s embrace of U.S. influence in Latin America to confront what he calls a communist threat against democracy — a theme he remarked on during a dinner on Sunday evening with his ministers and right-wing thinkers.

Presidential advisers, including his official spokesman, had said during the dinner that his agenda on Monday morning would be kept private. But Bolsonaro’s son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, revealed the visit in a Twitter post.

“Going now with the (president) and ministers to the CIA, one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world,” he wrote. “It will be an excellent opportunity to discuss international topics in the region with experts and technicians of the highest level.”

The Brazilian president was scheduled to meet later on Monday with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and deliver remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The CIA’s headquarters is in Langley, Virginia, near Washington.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Protest against Serbian President Vucic in Belgrade
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators face-off with riot police at a protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his government in front of the presidential building in Belgrade, Serbia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

March 18, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday it was seriously concerned by what it described as attempts by some opposition forces in Serbia to provoke violence during protests in Belgrade over the weekend.

Thousands of anti-government protesters staged a rally outside President Aleksandar Vucic’s residence on Sunday to press their demands for greater media freedom and free and fair elections, a day after they briefly broke into the state television building.

Russia’s foreign ministry noted what it called the “measured and balanced” reaction to the protests by authorities in Serbia, a close ally of Russia.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

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Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt takes part in a EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt takes part in a EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Belgium March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

March 18, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers fear a Brexit paralysis and they want the issue resolved, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after a meeting with his EU counterparts on Monday.

“Spent the morning discussing Brexit with Foreign Ministers in Brussels,” Hunt wrote on Twitter. “General curiosity and concern about Brexit votes in Parliament. Like us though they want it resolved and fear Brexit paralysis.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by William Schomberg)

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People take pictures of a newspaper kiosk burned during the last
People take pictures of a newspaper kiosk burned during the last “yellow vests” protest on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, France, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

March 18, 2019

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – It is meant to be one of the world’s most elegant streets: more than a kilometer of boutiques, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and fashion outlets vying for tourists’ attention. But on Monday, the Champs Elysees looked more like a construction site.

On their 18th Saturday of protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his policies, France’s Gilets Jaunes (‘yellow vest’) movement targeted the tree-lined avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe, smashing banks, ransacking restaurants, burning newspaper kiosks and looting luxury stores.

From GAP to leather goods maker Longchamp, from Levis to high-end bakery Laduree, a hard core of violent protesters threw cobble stones through pane-glass windows, scrawled graffiti on walls, set fire to half a dozen newspaper stands and torched famed restaurant Le Fouquet’s in an orgy of destruction.

Whether the Disney store or Samsung, Tissot, Zara or Dior, few major retailers were left untouched by the rampage, which also took in a cinema, Hugo Boss, a Renault branded cafe, an Iran Air office and banks from Societe Generale to HSBC.

Among those that did emerge unscathed, perhaps thanks to heavy boarding-up after previous bouts of vandalism, were Apple’s flagship store, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton.

Carpenters were cutting wood to board up shattered windows on Monday morning, and glass panes were being replaced in some bus-stops and storefronts, but stretches of the wide avenue remained a mess, with the smell of charred paper and metal hanging over the incinerated carcasses of newspaper kiosks.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said Michael Bilaniuk, a tourist from Ontario, Canada who said he had come straight to the Champs Elysees to check out the scene after arriving in France, aware that the Gilets Jaunes had been on the rampage.

“It’s almost part of the tourist attraction — we’ve heard and seen so much about the protests, you kind of want to come and see for yourself what’s happened. It’s interesting.”

Nearby, protesters’ slogans were written across a storefront and the elegant entranceway to a gallery of shops.

“They have millions, we are the millions” read one. Another threatened: “We are a legion, you are pawns, be careful.”

“PROTEST TOO FAR”

Since the ‘yellow vest’ movement began in November, originally as a protest against fuel taxes before morphing into a general denunciation of Macron’s politics, the government has struggled to neutralize the threat.

While there has been a protest every Saturday in Paris and other cities since November, not all of them have been as violent and destructive as Saturday’s, which has made it hard for businesses to predict how to prepare.

While some retailers began boarding up their shops after rioting in early December, in recent weeks the numbers joining the protests declined sharply and many storeowners may have thought it was safe to operate normally again.

France’s overall retail sales were affected at the end of 2018 because of nationwide disruption in the run-up to Christmas, and after Saturday’s vandalism, Paris’ Chamber of Commerce called for action from the government.

“Employers and their staff have been traumatized by the intensity and repetition of the violence,” the chamber said in a statement on Monday, pointing out that more than 90 businesses had been affected.

“Last Saturday’s demonstrations have taken things too far,” it said, demanding that the government take “firm measures that will allow retailers to go about their business normally”.

(Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by William Maclean)

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Traffic is stopped as the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy moves along a national highway in Qazigund
Traffic is stopped as the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy moves along a national highway in Qazigund March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

March 18, 2019

By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Military roadblocks on Kashmir’s main highway are delaying ambulances carrying patients and leading to confrontations with motorists that occasionally turn physical, residents and medical staff say, as India’s crackdown on separatists in the region causes major disruption to daily life.

Tensions in Kashmir, a mountainous region claimed by both India and Pakistan, have been elevated since a suicide car bomb attack killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the region on Feb. 14.

The nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought two wars over the territory, which is divided between them, both launched airstrikes last months, forcing world powers to urge calm.

Tensions between the two countries have temporarily eased. But India has kept up pressure on militant groups on its side of the contested border, boosting its military presence there and arresting hundreds of alleged separatists. Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops patrol the valley, and motorists say security around military convoys has increased delays.

Roadblocks on a 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch of NH-44, Kashmir’s picturesque main highway linking the summer capital of Srinagar with the rest of India, are sometimes trebling the time it has taken for sick patients to reach hospitals in the capital, several users of the road told Reuters.

India’s military denies this, saying troops are instructed to stop traffic for only a few minutes at a time, and that ambulances and school buses are getting priority.

“School buses, ambulances will be give priority during the convoy movements,” said Indian defense department spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia on Monday. “We have given directions to the troops on the ground that they are not stopped.”

But the Kashmir Private Schools Association sees no difference in the security forces approach, and its Chairman G N Var said it may have to close down the schools because the disruption is so great.

“The school buses were stopped even today,” Var said. “It is harassment. We can’t run schools like this.”

CHEST PAIN

Irfan Ahmad, 45, a resident of Awantipora in South Kashmir, said it took him three hours to take his mother, Sajja Begum, for treatment at a hospital in Srinagar on March 11, a journey that usually takes an hour.

“She was crying with chest pain but who listened, there were long queues everywhere we were stopped”, he said.

Mohammad Yusuf, an ambulance driver who frequently ferries critical patients from nearby Qazigund to hospitals in Srinagar, said commuting on the highway has become increasingly difficult.

“We are stopped (in) five to six places on the way,” he said. “It takes four hours to take patients from Qazigund to Srinagar and normally it hardly takes 70-80 minutes.”

Waqar Ahmad, a doctor at North Kashmir’s main Baramulla hospital, said he faced similar delays making him late for work shifts.

“Every few kilometers we are stopped by troops on the highway,” he said. “They are very aggressive and they don’t listen to us. We feel insecure. Earlier, they would nicely talk to you and now they are abusive. We are stopped in at least five to six places in a 60-kilometre journey. It is a routine now and we feel dejected.”

The hospital’s medical superintendent, Syed Masood, said most of its doctors were now late for work.

“It affects the functioning of the hospital which caters to lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people,” he said.

SCHOOLS HIT

A rail line intended to link mountainous North Kashmir to the winter capital of Jammu is more than a decade behind schedule.

That means the highway – India’s longest that begins in Srinagar and terminates at the country’s southern tip – is a vital lifeline to Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region where many residents say they feel cut off from the rest of Hindu-majority India.

Some residents also allege that troops have damaged cars during roadblocks.

Khursheed Ahmad, a 23-year-old from South Kashmir, said he was hit by troops carrying batons and had one of his car windows broken at a traffic stop on March 8.

“I was on the way to Srinagar and was stopped by troops, it took me a little while to apply the breaks and two men swooped on me,” he said. “They beat me with batons and smashed one of the window panes.”

Lt General KJS Dhillon, one of India’s top military commanders in the region, denied troops had harassed or assaulted motorists.

“The point about harassment and all, it is not true, it is propaganda,” he said. “I appeal to my civilian friends to please cooperate with the security forces for one and a half minutes.”

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari, writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

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Turkish President Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 104th anniversary of Battle of Canakkale, also known as the Gallipoli Campaign, in Canakkale
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 104th anniversary of Battle of Canakkale, also known as the Gallipoli Campaign, in Canakkale, Turkey March 18, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

March 18, 2019

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday described a mass shooting which killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back “in caskets” anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.

Erdogan, who is seeking to rally support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections, has invoked the New Zealand attack as evidence of global anti-Muslim sentiment.

“They are testing us from 16,500 km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn’t an individual act, this is organized,” he said, without elaborating.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman killed 50 people at mosques in the city of Christchurch.

At weekend election rallies Erdogan showed video footage of the shootings, which the gunman had broadcast on Facebook, earning a rebuke from New Zealand’s foreign minister who said it could endanger New Zealanders abroad.

Erdogan also displayed extracts from a “manifesto” posted online by the attacker and later taken down.

He has said the gunman issued threats against Turkey and the president himself, and wanted to drive Turks from Turkey’s northwestern, European region. Majority Muslim Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is split between an Asian part east of the Bosphorus, and a European half to the west.

“We have been here for 1,000 years and will be here until the apocalypse, God willing,” Erdogan told a rally on Monday commemorating the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, when Ottoman soldiers defeated British-led forces including Australian and New Zealand troops trying to seize the peninsula, a gateway to Istanbul.

“You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople,” he added, referring to the city’s name under its Christian Byzantine rulers before it was conquered by Muslim Ottomans in 1453.

“Your grandparents came here… and they returned in caskets,” he said. “Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandfathers.”

Erdogan was re-elected last year with new powers but his AK Party, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, is battling for votes as the economy tips into recession after years of strong growth. He has cast the local elections as a “matter of survival” in the face of threats including Kurdish militants and attacks on Muslims such as the New Zealand shootings.

Speaking after a meeting of New Zealand’s cabinet, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he told his Turkish counterpart that Erdogan’s use of the footage in an election campaign was wrong.

“Anything of that nature that misrepresents this country, given that this was a non-New Zealand citizen, imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and that is totally unfair,” Peters said.

Turkish relations with New Zealand have generally been good, strengthened by Gallipoli commemorations which emphasize shared sacrifices in battle as much as the confrontation itself.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was in Christchurch and visited Turkish citizens wounded in the attack, said Muslims around the world were worried about Islamophobia and racism.

A senior Turkish security source said Tarrant had entered Turkey twice in 2016 – for a week in March and for more than a month in September. Turkish authorities have begun investigating everything from hotel records to camera footage to try to ascertain the reason for his visits, the source said.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Nick Tattersall)

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FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Patron of Children in Crossfire, speaks during a press conference in Londonderry
FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Patron of Children in Crossfire, speaks during a press conference in Londonderry, Northern Ireland September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Krishna N. Das and Sunil Kataria

DHARAMSHALA, India (Reuters) – The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said on Monday it was possible that once he dies his incarnation could be found in India, where he has lived in exile for 60 years, and warned that any other successor named by China would not be respected.

Sat in an office next to a temple ringed by green hills and snow-capped mountains, the 14th Dalai Lama spoke to Reuters a day after Tibetans in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala marked the anniversary of his escape from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, disguised as a soldier.

He fled to India in early 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and has since worked to draw global support for linguistic and cultural autonomy in his remote and mountainous homeland.

China, which took control of Tibet in 1950, brands the 83-year-old Nobel peace laureate a dangerous separatist.

Pondering what might happen after his death, the Dalai Lama anticipated some attempt by Beijing to foist a successor on Tibetan Buddhists.

“China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” said the Dalai Lama, swathed in his traditional red robes and yellow scarf.

“In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen,” he added, laughing.

China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, as a legacy inherited from China’s emperors.

But many Tibetans – whose tradition holds that the soul of a senior Buddhist monk is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death – suspect any Chinese role as a ploy to exert influence on the community.

Born in 1935, the current Dalai Lama was identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor when he was two years old.

Many of China’s more than 6 million Tibetans still venerate the Dalai Lama despite government prohibitions on displays of his picture or any public display of devotion.

UP FOR DISCUSSION

The Dalai Lama said contact between Tibetans living in their homeland and in exile was increasing, but that no formal meetings have happened between Chinese and his officials since 2010.

Informally, however, some retired Chinese officials and businessman with connections to Beijing do visit him from time to time, he added.

He said the role of the Dalai Lama after his death, including whether to keep it, could be discussed during a meeting of Tibetan Buddhists in India later this year.

He, however, added that though there was no reincarnation of Buddha, his teachings have remained.

“If the majority of (Tibetan people) really want to keep this institution, then this institution will remain,” he said. “Then comes the question of the reincarnation of the 15th Dalai Lama.”

If there is one, he would still have ” no political responsibility”, said the Dalai Lama, who gave up his political duties in 2001, developing a democratic system for the up to 100,000 Tibetans living in India.

SEMINAR IN CHINA?

During the interview, the Dalai Lama spoke passionately about his love for cosmology, neurobiology, quantum physics and psychology.

If he was ever allowed to visit his homeland, he said he’d like to speak about those subjects in a Chinese university.

But he wasn’t expecting to go while China remained under Communist rule.

“China – great nation, ancient nation – but it’s political system is totalitarian system, no freedom. So therefore I prefer to remain here, in this country.”

The Dalai Lama was born to a family of farmers in Taktser, a village on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, in China’s Qinghai province.

During a recent Reuters visit to Taktser, police armed with automatic weapons blocked the road. Police and more than a dozen plain-clothed officials said the village was not open to non-locals.

“Our strength, our power is based on truth. Chinese power based on gun,” the Dalai Lama said. “So for short term, gun is much more decisive, but long term truth is more powerful.”

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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