As expected, discussion of the Syrian crisis dominated the first day of talks at the G8 summit, being held this year in Northern Ireland. Spoiler alert: They didn’t go well.
Russian president Vladimir Putin remains intransigent on the issue, refusing to call for the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and expressing doubt over whether or not the regime has employed chemical weapons as the French, British and American governments claim.
US president Barack Obama met privately with Putin for two hours yesterday evening, an event capped by a tense press conference at which the two leaders acknowledged common concerns of ending the violence, preventing the use and proliferation of chemical weapons and controlling extremism but admitted that they have “different perspectives” and that their “opinions do not coincide” on the issue.
Obama announced last week that the US would begin providing “military assistance” to the Syrian rebels, a move that Putin has criticised sharply. The Assad government is a long standing ally of Russia, who supplies most of Syria’s military hardware.
While he has not yet announced that France will join the US in providing weapons, French president François Hollande had harsh words for Putin yesterday, asking, “How can you allow Russia to continue to send weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad while the opposition gets so few weapons? How can we accept the fact that we have proof of the use of chemical weapons without a unanimous condemnation by the international community, and that includes the G8?”
Putin’s reluctance to condemn Assad does not come as a surprise. While he refrained from open criticism following his meeting with Obama, he was much more direct Sunday after a discussion with UK prime minister David Cameron, saying that “one hardly should back those who kill their enemies and, you know, eat their organs.” This is a reference to a widely distributed video of a Syrian rebel cutting open the body of a dead Syrian army soldier and eating his heart.
The Russian foreign ministry has stated that they would veto any attempt to seek US approval for a no-fly-zone, a tool that was used successfully in the NATO intervention in Libya three years ago.
The discussion today is expected to shift to other matters on which the leaders may agree more. UK prime minister David Cameron has expressed interest in expanding international cooperation on the automatic sharing of tax information to prevent tax evasion. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development presented a plan for such a system at the summit yesterday.
Further cooperation on international counter-terrorism efforts is also on the agenda.
Europe's Herschel space telescope went to sleep on 17 June, when controllers emptied its fuel tanks and commanded the observatory to end all communications, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced.
The final command to the Herschel satellite was sent on 17 June at 12:25 GMT (14:25 CEST), marking the end of operations for ESA’s space observatory.
Herschel, which is considered the largest and most powerful infrared telescope in space, carried out around 35,000 scientific observations and analysed more than 25,000 hours of science data.
Despite Herschel’s mission had already ended in April, when it spent its supply of liquid helium that cooled the observatory’s instruments, the spacecraft had to be active for a few more weeks in order to perform the final manoeuvres. The satellite has now been placed in a safe orbit around the Sun.
"Herschel has been turned off," ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain told journalists at the Paris Air Show. "It is not a surprise, it was expected, it was scheduled," he added.
"We had a sophisticated spacecraft at our disposal on which we could conduct technical testing and validate techniques, software and the functionality of systems that are going to be reused on future spacecraft. This was a major bonus for us," said Herschel's spacecraft operations manager, Micha Schmidt.
Herschel has ended its mission, but astronomers will continue to scrutinise the pictures it took and will probably make new discoveries.
Launched in May 2009, Herschel's expected lifetime was 3.5 years. It had a launch mass of 3.4 tonnes and cost €1.1 billion. Besides, it carried three cameras and spectrometers and a primary mirror able to collect almost 20 times more light than any previous infrared space telescope.
“Herschel has not only been an immensely successful scientific mission, it has also served as a valuable flight operations test platform in its final weeks of flight. This will help us increase the robustness and flexibility of future missions operations,” stated Paolo Ferri, ESA’s Head of Mission Operations.
The director general of the EU’s anti-fraud body, OLAF, Giovanni Kessler, has denied that he was out under any pressure by the European Commission over the investigation into bribery allegations against former Health Commissioner, John Dalli, during a meeting at the European Parliament on 18 June.
However, Kessler admitted to being asked by the commission’s secretary general to “prioritise” the case.
When pressed by MEPs on whether or not it was really the place of the commission to instruct OLAF on the importance of particular cases, Kessler defended his position, saying that such a request did “not embarrass” him.
“We got no instructions and no pressure from the European Commission,” he said, although he admitted that a letter from Secretary General, Catherine Day, to prioritise the investigation, had been acted upon. He said he was “not offended by Mr Barroso asking me to do that.”
The OLAF director general also said that he would not have changed the way he led the investigation into the John Dalli affair, despite stinging criticism of how it was carried out, he told MEPs.
Speaking before the parliament’s budgetary control committee, Kessler said that the investigation was carried out to the highest possible standards and he would not change any aspect of it. He also denied there was any external pressure on OLAF to come to a quick resolution of the case.
During an initially tense meeting – some MEPs wished to deny Kessler initial speaking time to set-out his thoughts – the director general defended OLAF’s role in investigating the Dalli case, which has come under much scrutiny from the committee, which has drafted a series of questions for OLAF, and the European Commission on details of the investigation. So far around 40% of those questions have been unanswered, leading to a mistrust of Kessler from certain members of the committee.
When asked if he would have changed anything with the benefit of hindsight, Kessler said “I would not do anything differently,” adding that this was in spite of a negative media campaign against the investigation, levelled, “to attack the independence of OLAF.” He noted that John Dalli “has been rather active in the press.”
“I will, and we will, continue to do these kinds of investigations, even if we risk being politically attacked.”
He also said that OLAF was in no way influenced by outside pressures during the course of the investigation. He said allegations to the contrary were “slanderous.”
He said that he “welcomed” the decision by John Dalli to bring the matter to court. The former health commissioner has taken a case citing a breach of his fundamental rights owing to mishandling of the investigation against him. This, said, Kessler will give OLAF “the right place” to put things on the record.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has published a report criticizing EU aid spending to promote key areas of governance in Egypt in the periods before and after the Uprising of January 2011. The audit focused on Public Finance Management (PFM) and the fight against corruption, as well as on human rights and democracy.
As Mr Karel Pinxten, the ECA member responsible for the report stated: “The ‘softly softly’ approach has not worked, and the time has come for a more focused approach which will produce meaningful results and guarantee better value for the European taxpayers’ money.”
Between 2007-2013, approximately € 1 billion in aid was allocated by the EU to Egypt. However, according to the report, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) failed to ensure that the Egyptian authorities tackled major weaknesses in PFM, such as lack of budgetary transparency, an ineffective audit function and endemic corruption. On the contrary, they continued to provide the EU funds directly to the Egyptian Authorities. It is significant that the authorities hold at least € 4 billion outside the state budget in so-called ‘Special Funds’, not revealing the purposes and the way they are used.
Furthermore, the main human rights programme was largely unsuccessful. In particular, it was slow to commence and was hindered by the negative attitude of the Egyptian authorities. Following the Uprising no new major initiatives were taken to promote human rights issues and the measures taken have had little impact to date. Women’s and minorities’ rights were not given sufficient attention despite the critical need for urgent action. On the contrary, these groups were often the target of threats and sectarian violence has been on the rise.
The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi stressed that the monetary policies promoted by the ECB are based in the principles of “ordoliberalism.”
On 18 June, Draghi spoke at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem. The ECB president said that the EU monetary institution is firmly committed to the central tenet of “ordoliberalism” which is “adherence to the principles of an open market economy with free competition, favouring an efficient allocation of resources.”
However, the President of the ECB stressed that in the euro area there is a fragmentation of the financial system, as the EU banks are playing a crucial role in providing liquidity to the real economy of the Internal market.
According to Draghi, “the majority of credit intermediation is processed via the banking system, as opposed to financial markets. Banks lend to households and to financial and non-financial firms of any size across the credit spectrum.” As a result, “influencing bank funding conditions amounts to influencing credit conditions across the whole economy.”
Therefore the ECB, under the “ordoliberalism” principle of the efficient allocation of resources is trying to address the fragmentations in bank lending in order to promote a more efficient allocation of resources.
Draghi stressed that, “financial fragmentation in itself creates a distortion of the allocation of resources. It undermines the concept of a free market economy because it alters the conditions of competition.”
Therefore, the ECB President stressed that the EU Bank will have an open mind on non-standard monetary policy in order to promote the efficient allocation of resources in the Internal Market.
“There are numerous other measures – standard interest rate policy and non-standard measures – that we can deploy and that we will deploy if circumstances warrant,” Draghi emphasised.
However, the Italian economist stressed that equally important is the ongoing EU economic reforms and the adjustment at both the national and European level.
The Afghan forces will take the nationwide security lead from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
On 18 June, the president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai announced the fifth and final group of Afghan provinces, cities and districts to undergo under the control of the Afghan forces. “Our security and defence forces will now be in the lead,” Karzai said in a speech to an audience of Afghan security and political leaders and foreign dignitaries. “From here, all security responsibility and all security leadership will be taken by our brave forces.”
The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed Karzai’s announcement and commented. “As Afghan forces step forward, ISAF’s role will shift from combat to support. We will no longer plan, execute or lead combat operations. By the end of 2014 our combat mission will be completed, and a new mission will begin. Together with our partners, we are planning to continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. And NATO will also play its part in the broader international efforts to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces.”
Karzai asked by the international community and in particular NATO member countries to supply the Afghan forces with modern military equipments. In addition, he called on the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan to take practical steps in war against terrorism and militants safe havens in Pakistan.
Six days ago, the commander of ISAF in Afghanistan Gen Joseph Dunford, had stressed that NATO needs to establish a long-term cooperation with the Afghan forces as the sustainable stability hasn’t been achieved. Speaking to BBC in Kunduz, he stressed. “At this point we have made significant progress, but we are not yet at the point where it is completely sustainable…That really is the focus of effort over the next 18 months. That's why we need to start now - especially with the Afghan security forces - to talk about 2018, not 2014. That period of time will allow these gains to be sustainable.”
Just ahead of todays’ transition event, a suicide bomber killed three people in Kabul.
The Mayor of Montreal, Michael Applebaum, has been arrested on fraud charges. According to the authorities, Applebaum is accused of having received illicit commissions in two real estate development deals in the neighborhood he represented on the city council between 2006 and 2011, before he became mayor.
Moreover, the former Mayor of Montreal, Gérald Tremblay was forced to resign as he is accused of corruption too. Tremblay is accused of ignoring the reports that warned almost a decade ago, of the damage being done by practices in the local construction industry. The 2004 transparency report highlighted that the city’s public-work projects were operating in a closed market, with constructions projects being 20 to 30 per cent more expensive than elsewhere.
Robert Lafreniere, the head of Quebec's anti-corruption unit, together with the police captain of Quebec provincial police Andre Boulanger said in a news conference on Monday. “The corruption and collusion will no longer be tolerated…No one is above the law and you cannot hide from the law….All actions which compromise the integrity of the state are inacceptable for the public.”
The transactions made by Applebaum were each worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. “These were bribes that influenced a decision, approvals or permit distribution,” one of the investigators said of the alleged crimes.
The arrest of the Mayor of Montreal was made by the anti-corruption unit UPAC. The unit was founded in 2011 by the Quebec government, under public pressure about corruption in the province’s construction industry and the awarding of public contracts. Lafreniere and Boulanger, said the investigation that resulted in Monday’s arrests only began in March based on “sold information” received that month.
Massive protests in Brazil, took place on Monday in at least eight cities. According to The Associated Press (AP) more than 100,000 people participated in the demonstrations.
The protests in Brazil focused on the heavy tax burdens and the increasing income inequality. In Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic hub, at least 65,000 protesters gathered at a small, treeless plaza. The Sao Paulo demonstrators also focused on the cause that initially sparked the protests last week — a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares.
A protester told AP, “this is a communal cry saying: We're not satisfied…We're massacred by the government's taxes — yet when we leave home in the morning to go to work, we don't know if we'll make it home alive because of the violence…We don't have good schools for our kids. Our hospitals are in awful shape. Corruption is rife. These protests will make history and wake our politicians up to the fact that we're not taking it anymore!”
According to the Russian Times, the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing a number of difficulties, as growth in Brazil has slowed considerably since she took over from Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who managed to positively change the course of the Brazilian economy, as during the last decade, about 40 million Brazilians have moved into the middle class and they have begun to demand more from their national governments.
Another reason behind the protests in Brazil was the huge cost of the World Cup in 2014. One of the protesters told AP, “we need better education, hospitals and security — not billions spent on the World Cup.”
The famous Brazilian football player Romario said about the protests in Brazil and the World Cup. ‘‘Unfortunately today, a lot of things concerning the World Cup are not positive for the country, most of the spending and investments are not necessary, because Brazil still has a lot of social and public problems: public hospitals and schools are really bad and they don’t invest in those areas. However, as a Brazilian I’m very positive and I want to believe that the World Cup would be good for the country and bring benefits for the future.”
Greece's coalition government appeared bitterly divided after the leaders of the three parties wrapped up a meeting to stave off a political crisis caused by Prime Minister Samaras' decision to pull the plug off the country's public broadcaster overnight on June 11.
During the meeting, which lasted for more than three hours, Greece's highest court issued an injunction regarding the decision which all three coalition parties appeared to interpret in a different way. The decision suspends the enforcement of the ministerial decision that shut down public broadcaster ERT, but nevertheless says that the relevant ministers must put their heads together and find a way for public broadcasts to resume until the terms of the decision can be fulfilled - not by ERT whose closure the court appears to accept as a matter of fact.
The three leaders will meet again on Wednesday to discuss how they will go ahead, according to Vangelis Venizelos, head of junior coalition partner PASOK.
PASOK and the Democratic Left, also a junior partner, say they agree that ERT must be reformed but while on air.
Even though divisions remain, it appears the three have not yet decided to part ways. Such a move would most likely result in yet another election that would have to take place just over a year since Antonis Samaras' coalition came to power after two successive national contests. Venizelos said the three had decided on the need for a reshuffle and that the three-party coalition should not function like a New Democracy government- the major partner of the three.
"We expect all (ERT) frequencies to go on the air without further delay," said Democratic Left president Fotis Kouvelis and added that "no-one has the right to shut down the national radio and television.
While the three were holding their critical meeting in parliament, the head of the main opposition Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, held a rally in Greece's main square right in front of it. Tsipras said that "today we are finishing with the disaster government" and accused PM Samaras of shaming the country abroad.
The president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz as well as the European Union of Broadcasters which represents the continent's national television stations have all expressed their disapproval of the decision.
But today, the European Popular Party to which New Democracy belongs rallied behind Samaras saying it supported Greece's reform efforts and in what is perceived as a show of support for the PM, Germany's minister of finance Volfgang Schaeuble announced he will be visiting Athens shortly and that Samaras will return the visit in early July.
Germany's chancellor says US intelligence was key to foiling a large-scale terror plot, acknowledging her country is "dependent" on cooperating with American spy services.
But Angela Merkel also told broadcaster RTL on Monday that she was "surprised" to learn of the scope of recently leaked US spying programs.
Merkel said the US must clarify what information on people's communications is monitored and how, reiterating that she will raise the issue in talks with President Barack Obama in Berlin on June 19.
However, Merkel said security services could have not foiled a 2007 terror plot without "tips from American sources."
Four Islamic extremists were then arrested while preparing an explosive device with power equivalent to 900 pounds of TNT that authorities said was meant to attack American soldiers and citizens in Germany.
Top European Union officials are calling this weekend's national election in Albania a "crucial test" for its democratic institutions and progress toward joining the bloc.
High Representative Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in a joint statement issued on June 17 that the "parliamentary elections in Albania on23 June represent a crucial test for the country's democratic institutions and its progress towards the European Union."
They said in that the election must be held in line with international and European standards and reinforce the public's trust in the electoral process.
The country votes on Sunday, and conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha is seeking a third mandate against Edi Rama of the main opposition Socialist Party.
Some 3.3 million registered voters will elect 140 legislators.
The balloting is seen as an important step in Albania's bid to become an EU member.
In the past, Albania's elections have been marred by violence, vote-rigging and intimidation.
Talks on a sweeping trade deal between the European Union and the United States are to get underway in Washington next month, European Commission head Jose Barroso, US President Barack Obama and top EU officials said on June 17 at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Barroso said that the first round of negotiations that will get underway in Washington in July "will be the start of a joint undertaking of real strategic importance".
"Very frankly, three years ago very few would have bet that today we will be in the position to launch negotiations on an ambitious European Union-United States free trade agreement," Barroso added and said the deal could bring "huge economic benefits" to both parties.
"The EU-U.S. relationship is the biggest in the world," Obama said after meeting with European leaders, citing roughly the $1 trillion in trade in goods and services between the two every year. "This potentially ground-breaking partnership would deepen those ties," he added.
Summit host British Prime Minister David Cameron said the trade pact could create 2 million jobs.
The aim of the trans-Atlantic deal would be to promote economic growth by eliminating the import tariffs and changing regulations that keep goods made on one side of the Atlantic from being sold on the other side.
Officials have said a deal could be reached next year. But securing one will be tricky. The talks will be watched warily by interest groups and would have to be approved by each side's lawmakers and leaders before the new trade arrangements take effect.
The EU has already yielded to a demand from France to exempt the TV and movie industry from the talks. Barroso said the exception for movies and TV shows could be revisited later. Meanwhile, U.S. labour officials have also expressed skepticism.
The statement of support for the trade deal came just ahead of the opening of the Group of Eight Summit among the leaders of leading industrial nations: The U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia, plus the European Union.
The host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, greeting the arriving leaders against a backdrop of green grass and stunning lake views at the Lough Erne golf resort near the small town of Enniskillen.
Later Monday over a working dinner, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia's support for the Syrian government will be a topic for discussion.
Cameron said he wanted the summit to deliver a firm plan for promoting multi-faction talks in Geneva aimed at ending the country's bloody civil war. Moscow officially shares that goal but keeps shipping military aid to the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Following a frosty Putin-Cameron meeting Sunday in London, the Russian leader remains opposed to plans by the West to start shipping weapons to rebels struggling to topple Assad.
Obama announced Friday that the U.S. would start sending weaponry, while Britain and France remained concerned that the firepower might end up helping anti-democratic extremists linked to Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
Syria's president warned that Europe "will pay a price" if it delivers weapons to rebels fighting to topple him, saying in an interview published Monday that arming them would backfire as the "terrorists" return to their countries with extremist ideologies.
Bashar Assad also dismissed the U.S. administration's findings that the Syrian army used chemical weapons in the civil war.
Assad's comments were his first since last week's decision by President Barak Obama to authorize weapons and ammunition shipments to Syrian rebels, after confirming that Assad's regime used chemical weapons against them.
The European Union has also allowed a weapons embargo against Syria to expire, allowing members of the 27-nation bloc to arm the rebels. France and Britain are moving in that direction, but the German government opposes such a move.
Assad's interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Runschau appeared aimed at reinforcing German skepticism.
"If the Europeans ship weapons, Europe's backyard becomes a terrorists' place, and Europe will pay a price for it," Assad said in Arabic comments translated into German.
Chaos in Syria would result in "the direct export of terrorism to Europe," he warned. "Terrorists will return to Europe with fighting experience and extremist ideologies."
Assad also insisted that European efforts to distinguish between good and bad rebels when it comes to shipping weapons amounts to "differentiating between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban a few years ago, or a 'good' and 'bad' al-Qaida."
The interview was conducted in a government building in Damascus last week. Following the U.S. decision on Friday, the president answered a few more questions via email Sunday, the newspaper said.
Assad disputed the U.S. administration's findings that at least 150 people have been killed in chemical weapons attacks in Syria, noting that Western countries have yet to unveil evidence to prove their claim.
"Weapons of mass destruction are capable of killing hundreds, thousands at once. That's why they are used. That's why it is not logical to use chemical weapons to kill a number of people that can be achieved through conventional weapons," Assad said.
"If Paris, London and Washington had only one piece of evidence backing up their allegations, they would have unveiled it to the world," he added.
At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a recent U.N. estimate. Millions have been displaced.
The civil war is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shiites. It is also threatening the stability of Syria's neighbors, including Lebanon and Iraq. Sunnis dominate the rebel ranks, while the Assad regime is mostly made up of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
Sectarian divisions deepened a few weeks ago, when Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite militant Hezbollah openly joined the fight inside Syria on the Assad's side.
Earlier this month, Assad's troops dealt a major blow when they pushed the rebels out of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, with Hezbollah's help.
Assad denied that Hezbollah is taking a prominent role, saying it had "only a few hundred men" in Syria.
This is about "individual fighters along the border," he said.
Assad warned that once the conflict spills over into neighboring countries, blurring borders, that would set off a domino effect.
"Nobody can imagine how the region would look like in case of a redrawing of the map. That will be a map for uncounted wars in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere, that nobody can stop," he said.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas on Monday urged Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria and accused it of stoking sectarian tensions, in unprecedented public criticism against its former ally.
In a statement, Hamas, a Sunni movement, called on Hezbollah to "withdraw its forces from Syria and keep its weapons directed at the Zionist enemy (Israel)." Hamas also said that sending forces to Syria "contributed to the sectarian polarization in the region."
The Hamas statement came as the region's Sunni and Shiite Muslims are lining up on opposite sides of Syria's civil war.
The fall of Qusair shifted the balance of power on the battlefield in favor of the Damascus regime, which is now looking to keep the momentum and aims to take back control of Aleppo, the country's commercial hub. The rebels captured parts of the city last summer during an offensive in the north along the border with Turkey.
Troops clashed with rebels inside Aleppo and in the city's outskirts on Monday, activists said.
In addition to arming the rebels, Washington has also been contemplating other options, including imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, though no decision has been made.
Assad's air force has been his most lethal weapon, relying on it to prevent rebels from holding on to territory won on the ground.
A spokesman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, Alexander Lukashevich, said in a televised news conference Monday that "there are no conditions and no need for a no-fly zone" in Syria, adding that such measures by the U.S. and other would be "counterproductive."
The host of the G-8 meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron, conceded Monday there is a disagreement on Syria, but said Russia, like all G-8 governments, has a responsibility to push opposing factions in the civil war to the negotiating table as rapidly as possible and not to back a government that "butchers" its citizens.
Russia supplies Assad's army with weapons and has its only Mediterranean port in Syria.
Cameron met with Putin in London on Sunday. The British leader said Russia and the West need to unite behind a diplomatic push that transitions Assad from power. Both said they're hopeful Syria's warring factions can resolve their differences at upcoming peace talks tentatively planned for next month in Switzerland.
Both sides of the conflict have set unrealistic terms for attending.
Entertainment star Barbra Streisand waded into one of Israel's touchiest issues Monday on the first major stop of her tour of the country — Jewish religious practices that separate men and women.
Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Monday, she took aim at cases of ultra-Orthodox Jews targeting women.
"It's distressing to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus," she said, "or when we hear about 'Women of the Wall' having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray."
She was referring to isolated incidents in which ultra-Orthodox men tried to force women to sit separately at the rear of buses that go through their neighborhoods, as well as more serious clashes in which ultra-Orthodox Jews tried to prevent women donning prayer shawls and carrying Torah scrolls from praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can worship.
According to traditional Orthodox Jewish practice, only men wear prayer shawls and handle Torah scrolls, though that is slowly changing in some places. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who cut themselves off from the rest of society but wield disproportionate power in government and religious affairs, fear that allowing women to make such inroads will erode their authority.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has introduced legislation making forced separation of men and women in public places like buses illegal. On the issue of women praying at the Western Wall, a court has upheld the right of women to wear prayer shawls, and a proposal has also been made to set aside a section of the Western Wall for mixed-gender prayers.
Streisand visited the university in one of the first stops of her trip to Israel since 1984, receiving an honorary Ph.D. In her acceptance speech, she reaffirmed her support of Israel and the school.
Streisand spoke at length of her admiration for Israel and the Hebrew University, which opened a building named after her father in 1984 after she donated money for its construction. She stressed the need for gender equality, praising the university for graduating a record number of female Ph.D. students this year, the first time that women made up a majority of the degree recipients.
University officials called the Jewish singer and actor "a close friend of Israel" and said that her honorary Ph.D. was "an opportunity to recognize her support, her friendship, her generosity."
Streisand's tour has attracted widespread attention from the public and the media. Her arrival at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday, with her dog in tow, received prominent media coverage. Streisand, 71, will attend the 90th birthday party of Israeli President Shimon Peres later in the week before appearing at her first ever concerts in Israel on Thursday and Saturday.
Labor unions and political foes of Prime Minister Tayipp Erdogan rallied by the thousands across Turkey on June 17, hoping to capitalize on weeks of initially small-scale protest to register broader discontent.
Two major unions urged their members to hold a one-day strike and join demonstrations in response to a police crackdown against activists who led a wave of protest that have centered on Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park in recent weeks.
The show of labor force follows a weekend in which police purged activists from an 18-day sit-in at the park that has come to symbolize defiance against the government, while Ergodan's conservative political base held huge rallies in both Istanbul and Ankara.
Monday's rallies had a more structured feel compared with the counterculture-style sit-in at Gezi and spontaneous protests of recent weeks, which at times devolved into clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police firing tear gas and water cannons.
The rallies went on despite a warning from the interior minister that participants in unlawful demonstrations would "bear the legal consequences."
In Ankara on Monday, thousands of demonstrators waving union flags, jumping and whistling converged at central Kizilay Square in an uneasy face-off about 50 meters away from riot police and a line of trucks.
Turkey's NTV television reported that riot police issued warnings to the demonstrators to disperse, saying the rally was unlawful and authorities would take action if they did not. After about three hours, the protesters left peacefully.
TV images showed hundreds marching in the Aegean Sea coastal city of Izmir.
Behind the strikes were the KESK confederation of public sector workers and DISK, a confederation of labor unions from industries including transport, construction, health care and media. Together they say they represent 330,000 workers. Small unions that group professionals like dentists, doctors and engineers also joined in.
Strikes, however, often have little visible impact on daily life in Turkey, a country of about 75 million, and the call to walk off the job Monday had limited fallout beyond the demonstrations.
Unionists in Istanbul hoped to reach Taksim Square Monday afternoon. But police have maintained a lockdown on the square after unrest continued in pockets of the country overnight.
The standoff between police and protesters began as an environmentalists' rally. But a police crackdown lit a fuse on much broader anger and morphed the movement into a protest against Erdogan's government.
Erdogan's opponents have grown increasingly suspicious about what they consider a gradual erosion of freedoms and secular Turkish values under his Islamic-rooted party's government. It has passed new curbs on alcohol and tried, but later abandoned its plans, to limit women's access to abortion.
Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured, according to a Turkish rights group.
Erdogan has been praised for shepherding Turkey to strong economic growth as many other world economies lagged. But his government's handling of the protests has dented his international reputation. He has blamed the protests on a nebulous plot to destabilize his government and repeatedly lashed out at reports in foreign media and chatter in social media about the situation.
The labor walkout was the second since the protests began. Another took place June 5.
"The first one, we said it's a warning for the government, to listen the streets, to listen the message from the demonstrators, and we asked them to stop this police violence," said Kivanc Eli Acik, a labor leader.
"But after that day, rather than stopping the violence, the excessive police violence and intervention is going much, much bigger. So this is the second warning, the second strong message to the government," he added.
Europe is making progress on reducing deaths, but the cost of accidents is equal to 2% of Europe’s GDP.
Speaking at a road safety conference, Commissioner Siim Kallas said that there were 9% fewer accidents last year, on average in the EU.
The commissioner is hoping to reach a target of reducing road accident deaths to half the 2010 total. Between 2001 and 2010 there was a 43% drop in road accident fatalities.
“One of our main aims is to do more to protect vulnerable road users - pedestrians, cyclists, children and the elderly,” said Kallas, noting that urban areas were having to cope with increased numbers of vehicles, making roads and streets more dangerous. “Pedestrian safety is slowly improving, but it has not yet improved as much as that of car drivers,” he added.
He also noted that motorbike and scooter riders were in the highest risk group.
“We have tried to do something. The main problem is that there are simply too many vehicles with technical defects on the road,” he said.
He explained that the commission had twice seen plans to toughen vehicle tests twice defeated, “by EU ministers and the European Parliament’s transport committee.” Kallas added, “This is more than unfortunate – and it is yet another unnecessary political compromise.”
Kallas said there were several other causes of accidents, “t could be a moment's distraction of a driver or a pedestrian, a damaged section of road. Or simply because one road user chooses to ignore a traffic rule.” He added, “That last cause - breaking the most important traffic rules – is, in fact, shockingly common.”
“The 'big killers' on our roads are the same: drink-driving, speeding, running red lights and not using seatbelts,” he explained.
Kallas warned member states to adopt the EU’s cross-border enforcement directive into their own national law, noting the deadline was coming up. “We will not hesitate to act if any Member State fails to do so,” he said.
2010 figures show almost 1.5 million people were injured in traffic accidents, and about a quarter of a million of these were reported as serious. This compares with the 28,000 road fatalities reported in the EU for 2012.
“The socio-economic costs are also very high. With treatment costs, loss of workforce and the financial burden placed on insurance, legal and social support systems, road injuries cause a combined annual bill of around 2% of our GDP,” Kallas declared.
He said that one issue was the differing ways statistics were graded and collected, but a new system, with common definitions, was due and when in place would allow the EU to issue a parallel target on lowering road accident injuries, alongside the target to halve fatalities.
The President of the European Commission has said that the G8 should take the lead in combatting global tax evasion.
Speaking before the meeting of the world’s largest economies gets underway in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, Jose Manuel Barros told journalists that the Eu was “the driving force” behind a renewed push for a clampdown on tax evasion.
The issue continues to split G8 members –a s well as EU member states – including current G8 chair, the United Kingdom, who want a more globally-led focus against big business tax evasion and the use of offshore tax havens.
“I hope that bank secrecy and tax evasion will be seen as a thing of the past” for both companies and individuals, he said at a joint press conference with the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy on 17 June.
Referring to a recent deal with tax havens within European territory, such as Andorra, Lichtenstein and Monaco, he said that Europe would eradicate its “white spots” on tax before 2015.
“We are convinced that there is a need to improve tax governance everywhere. This G8 summit should foster a unity of purpose at the global level. We will fully support the work of the G8 UK Presidency, the OECD and the G20 in this regard,” he said.
Barros said that this summit should ultimately be “about fairness in the way taxes are paid by individuals and by companies. Tax evasion and avoidance costs EU member states around €1 trillion every year. The global bill, he said, is higher. “I expect this G8 Summit to give a powerful signal that we are ready to look for those who do not respect the rules of the game and hold them accountable.”
Speaking at the European Commission on 17 June, Neelie Kroes, Commissioner Responsible for the Digital Agenda, highlighted that a telecoms single market is essential if European operators want to achieve economies of scale, like 4G connections, and don't lag behind regions like the US.
“Operators cannot reach economies of scale, and face barriers at every turn. They can't think European and compete globally. They can't invest in the broadband we need. Our citizens cannot enjoy innovative new services,” Kroes stated.
She pointed out that “companies doing business in different member states don't have the networks to match: because arranging seamless communication services is costly and difficult. And that's a serious barrier to growth.”
Kroes proposed a “passport” for operators, which will let them operate in different Member States, like other sectors, like banking or broadcasting are already doing. However, this “passport” is not enough, and “we need a road,” she explained.
Europe needs better interconnections, implementation of cross-border networks and better use of spectrum, Kroes insisted, and added that she wants to make “the pie bigger”, with fewer barriers, better services, and fairer prices.
Göran Marby, Director-General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority, explained that a new regulation is required because consumers' needs have shifted and they are currently demanding speed, mobility and good access.
After the application of new regulations in Sweden, 90% of citizens have access to 4G connections, 50% of houses have access to fibre and revenues of mobile operators are increasing, Marby said. According to him, Europe must listen to consumers in order to know how much are they willing to pay, which are their needs, and to ensure the right balance between this necessities and fair prices.
Neelie Kroes stated that all stakeholders agree in the necessity of using the power of the single market, however some of them consider that Commission's proposal can be improved. For instance, Luigi Gambardella, President of ETNO, emphasised that they “haven't seen any concrete proposal that may generate benefits and the boost that Europe needs. There's no time for minor reforms.”
In addition, Ursula Pachl, Deputy Director-General of BEUC, highlighted that the way to gain consumers' confidence and their protection “must be included in the review, otherwise it will fail.”
Back in March, the European Council urged the Commission to present concrete principles for its Telecoms Single Market strategy. Kroes and her team are still consulting with different stakeholders and more detailed proposals will be ready by September, while the whole package is expected to be ready by Easter 2014.