Belgium residents reject MEPs' new campaign against Cuba

Latin American and Cuban organizations residing in Belgium rejected this Tuesday a new campaign against the country boosted by right-wing lawmakers in the European Parliament.

In a statement, these organizations denounced the subordination of European politics' sectors to the aggressiveness of the Trump administration towards Cuba, which has its maximum expression in the tightening of the US economic, commercial and financial blockade in force for over 60 years.

The solidarity groups criticized that the event's organizers, the Spanish MEP Jose Ramon Bauza Citizens party member and the NGO Civil Rights Defenders only invited 'a delegation of pro-American Cubans in order to define political actions for the European Union (EU).'

The people summoned to the European Parliament on February 4 are not either independent or represent the Cuban civil society at all. All belong to the ultraconservative and reactionary right. Their organizations are funded by the US National Foundation for Democracy (NED), they warned.

In the press release, to which Prensa Latina had access in that capital, parliamentarians are asked if they would accept that entities sponsored by secret services of a hostile nation as the United States to Cuba, be the representatives of civil society in their country.

'Because the aid provided by the US to the Cuban opposition is far from being insignificant, amounts to around 20 million dollars every year and the NED funds are approved by Congress, the figures are public,' noted the signatories.

Latin Americans and Cubans residing in Belgium recalled the escalation in aggressiveness against Cuba since Trump's arrival at the White House in January 2017.

They also asked those who try to drag the EU into a new crusade to attack Cuba if 'the European problems are not big enough.' And if 'the European Parliament really needs to interfere in the internal affairs of a nation located 7,800 kilometers from here.'

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Trump approves sanctions against Russia-Europe gas pipeline

The US sanctions were included in the 2020 military spending bill that Trump signed on Friday at a ceremony on Joint Base Andrews, an air force installation outside Washington, DC.

The sanctions, which are opposed by the European Union, target companies building the nearly $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea with the aim of doubling deliveries of Russian natural gas to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

US lawmakers claim the pipeline would vastly increase Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence in Europe and enrich Russia’s government at a time of heightened tensions with Moscow.

Both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly approved the sanctions, with the Senate voting on Tuesday and sending the measure to Trump for him to sign into law.

Trump, who has been accused by Democratic opponents of being soft on Putin, had little choice but to give his approval.

The sanctions were inserted into a much wider $738 billion annual Pentagon spending bill and, given the level of congressional support, a veto would likely have been overturned.

The US measures have angered Moscow and the European Union, which says it should be able to decide its own energy policies.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas discussed the issue during a phone call Friday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who expressed “strong opposition” to the project, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

The German-Russian Chamber of Commerce said last week that the pipeline was important for energy security and urged retaliatory sanctions against the US if the bill is approved.

The US sanctions target pipe-laying vessels for Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, a Russia-Turkey pipeline, and include asset freezes and revocation of US visas for the contractors.

One major contractor that is targeted is Swiss-based Allseas, which has been hired by Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom to build the offshore section.

US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said that halting Nord Stream 2 should be a major security priority for the United States and Europe alike.

However, Senator Rand Paul, another Republican from Kentucky, voted against the bill, objecting to its bid to “sanction NATO allies and potentially American energy companies.”

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Iran will give Europe two months to save nuclear deal - Rouhani

Europe has two months to negotiate sanctions relief for Tehran, otherwise the country will initiate ‘phase three’ in its rollback of commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said.

“Europe has another two-month deadline for negotiations, agreement, and a return to its commitments,” Rouhani warned at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Tehran has been calling on the EU to provide relief from the sweeping sanctions that were imposed by Washington after the US unilaterally left the 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA. Iranian officials have warned that they will gradually reduce their commitments under the agreement if this does not happen.

In early July, Iran activated the ‘first phase’ of this strategy by increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium beyond the 300kg limit imposed by the JCPOA. The ‘second phase’ – enriching uranium beyond 3.67 percent – was effected shortly afterwards.

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Rouhani didn’t specify what the next step would be, but he hinted that it would play an important part in transforming the nation’s nuclear program.

“The third step is of an extremely important nature, and will considerably accelerate the activities of the country’s nuclear energy organization,” he said.

Rouhani stressed that the impact of the move “will be extraordinarily huge.”

France previously suggested offering Iran $15 billion in credit lines if it returns to complying with the JCPOA in its entirety. The move would help Iran to negate US sanctions, which have targeted its oil trade and financial sector. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi confirmed that the country would revert to the agreement if the EU continues to buy oil from Iran or provides a suitable credit line.

Washington insists that sanctions are necessary to pressure Iran into shutting down its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as cutting ties with several militant groups in the Middle East. Tehran, however, denies any wrongdoing and says the sanctions are unjustified and illegal under international law.

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Europe warming faster than expected due to climate change

Climate change is increasing the number of days of extreme heat and decreasing the number of days of extreme cold in Europe, posing a risk for residents in the coming decades, according to a new study.

Temperatures in Europe have hit record highs this summer, passing 46.0 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in southern France. New research in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters finds the number of summer days with extreme heat has tripled since 1950 and summers have become hotter overall, while the number of winter days with extreme cold decreased in frequency by at least half and winters have become warmer overall.

The new study finds parts of Europe are warming faster than climate models project.

"Even at this regional scale over Europe, we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability. That's really a signal from climate change," said Ruth Lorenz, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and lead author of the new study.

Extreme heat is dangerous because it stresses the human body, potentially leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Scientists knew climate change was warming Europe, but they mostly studied long-term changes in extreme temperatures. The new study looked at observational data to evaluate whether the climate models used for regional projections can reproduce observed trends.

In the new study, Lorenz and her colleagues used observational data taken by European weather stations from 1950-2018 and then analyzed the top 1% of the hottest heat extremes and highest humidity extremes, and the top 1% coldest days during that period.

"We looked further at the hottest day or coldest night per year, so for each year we looked for the maximum/minimum value and how these changed over time," Lorenz said.

They found the number of extreme heat days in Europe has tripled since 1950, while the number of extreme cold days decreased by factors of two or three depending on the region. Extremely hot days have become hotter by an average of 2.30 degrees Celsius (4.14 degrees Fahrenheit), while extremely cold days have warmed by 3.0 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on average. The hottest days and coldest nights warmed significantly more than their corresponding summer and winter mean temperatures.

Individual regions throughout Europe experienced drastically different temperature trends, which makes it difficult to compare the average European temperatures to specific stations' extremes, according to the authors. In Central Europe, the extremes warmed by 0.14 degrees Celsius (0.25 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade more than the summer mean, equivalent to an almost 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) increase more than the average over the whole study period, according to Lorenz.

More than 90% of the weather stations studied showed the climate was warming, a percentage too high to purely be from natural climate variability, according to the researchers.

The results also showed that the region was warming faster than climate models projected. Some regions experienced higher extremes than expected and some had lower extremes that expected.

"In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the model trends are about two times lower than the observed trends," said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate analysist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt, Netherlands, who was not connected to the new study. "We're reaching new records faster than you'd expect."

European summers and winters will only grow hotter in the coming years as climate change accelerates, impacting cities and people unprepared for rising temperatures, according to the study authors.

"Lots of people don't have air conditioning for instance and it makes this really important," Lorenz said. "We expected results based on modeling studies but it's the first time we see it in what we've observed so far."

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Materials provided by American Geophysical Union. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

CoE Backs Restoring Russia's Voting Rights

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted on Tuesday in favor of restoring Russia's voting right, five years after they were revoked over its illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

After nine-hour debates and multiple voting amendments, the Council of Europe (CoE) said the assembly affirmed its members' rights to vote, to speak and to be represented in the assembly and its bodies. The assembly voted 118 in favor and 62 against, with 10 abstentions.

Concerning this new measure, the Russian PMs return on Tuesday to the PACE.

Before PACE plenary session, the outgoing CoE Secretary-General, Thorbjorn Jagland, referred to the need for that body to hold an innovative character, through dialogue and not confrontation.

CoE, along with its sister institution, the European Court of Human Rights, is tasked with promoting human rights and the rule of law in its 47 European member states.

Its decisions are not binding, but it issues some recommendations or asks governments for human rights and democracy.

In April 2014, PACE deprived Moscow of its voting right, in violation of its own statutes, in response to the Crimean split from Kiev and its annexation to Russia, following the March 2014 referendum, in which over 96 percent of voters favored to be part of Russia.

After this measure was taken, the Kremlin stopped sending its parliamentary delegation in 2016, and a year later suspended its fee payments, waiting for their rights to be fully restored.

To make Russia's return possible, PACE adopted a document that exceptionally allows a nation to be represented by a delegation throughout the year, and it also excludes the possibility of depriving it of its main voting rights.

The Vice President of the Russian Parliament, Piotr Tolstoy, reported that Moscow, before the voting result was known, sent its delegation to Strasbourg on Monday.

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Continental Europe braced for 'potentially dangerous' heatwave

High pressure pulling hot air northward from Africa will send temperatures soaring

A potentially record-breaking heatwave is forecast to grip much of continental Europe next week, with temperatures in cities from Spain to Germany expected to exceed 32C and climb to more than 38C or even 40C in the hottest areas.

The combination of a storm stalled over the Atlantic and high pressure over central Europe would pull very hot air from Africa northward, leading to a “potentially dangerous heatwave over a large portion of western and central Europe”, forecaster AccuWeather said.

In France, temperatures of between 35C and 40C were expected across most of the country except Brittany from Monday, Météo-France said, and were unlikely to fall below 20C overnight.

“Even though it will be shortlived, this heatwave could be remarkable for its momentum and intensity,” the forecaster said in a bulletin.

France’s health minister, Agnès Buzyn, warned local authorities, hospitals and retirement homes to be on high alert, noting that last summer’s heatwave resulted in 1,500 more deaths than normal in July and August.

Meteorologists in Germany said there was a 50% chance of temperatures hitting 40C, possibly breaking the national record of 40.3C set in Bavaria in 2015.

AccuWeather said cities from Madrid to Berlin, including Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt, were likely to experience a “multi-day heatwave” in the first half of the week, with similar temperatures of 32C or above expected further east later in Bucharest, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia.

“Multiple days of extreme heat combined with warm nights will not allow buildings and homes without air conditioning to cool off, creating uncomfortable sleeping conditions and also raising the risk of heat-related illnesses,” the forecaster’s senior meteorologist, Eric Leister, said.

“The elderly and children are most at risk from such ailments, and outdoor exposure should be limited during the hottest times of the day to reduce the risk of illness.”

Long-range weather forecasts show summer temperatures throughout July and August are expected to be higher than normal, rivalling those of 2018, which according to the European Environment Agency was one of the three warmest years on record on the continent.

Scientists have said last year’s heatwave, which led to increased mortality rates, a dramatic decline in crop yields, the shutdown of nuclear power plants and wildfires inside the Arctic Circle, was linked to the climate emergency and that extreme climate events are likely to be regular occurrences in the coming decades.

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Despite new limits, Cuba tour operators see a way forward

Tour operators are saying that the Trump administration's ending of the people-to-people category of Cuba travel will not impact their operations.

The administration on Tuesday imposed major new restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, including a ban on people to people travel and travel by cruise ship.

However, many tour operators say their tours do not operate under the people to people category that has been banned and will continue to operate under the assumption that the other categories of authorized travel to Cuba are not affected.

One of them, "support for the Cuban people," is commonly used by Cuba tour operators, including Cuba Candela, which said that its tours remain legal under the new rules.

"Our clients participate in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people and engage in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people, through wonderful immersive cultural experiences that comply with U.S. travel rules," said Cuba Candela CEO Chad Olin. "We continue to operate business as usual, and we continue to guarantee compliance with U.S. law."

Cultural Cuba owner David Lee said, "Removing people-to-people does not affect companies like mine. We only do support for the Cuban people, humanitarian and religious travel on a private custom basis for our clients. These forms are still legal and it's business as usual for us."

Ya'lla Tours president Ronen Paldi said it has been operating tours since 2002 "with other legal provisions, other than [people-to-people]."

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, was one of several companies that was analyzing the new laws and seeing how their tours would be impacted.

"There are still a number of ways to legally visit Cuba. Commercial flights were left intact and any previously made reservations can go forward," Laverty said. "We will study the new regulations and figure out how to continue to legally take thousands of Americans to Cuba going forward."

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Vietnam Welcomes 4.5 Million Foreign Tourists in First Quarter

More than 4.5 million foreign tourists have visited Vietnam in the first three months of 2019, a good start towards the goal to receive 18 million during the year.

That figure represents a seven percent growth over the first quarter of 2018, a year in which the nation received 15.6 million foreign vacationers, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism reported on Tuesday.

Although China tourists fell by 5.6 percent, the Chinese market still produce the largest amount of tourists travelling to Vietnam with 1.2 million, more than one third of the total.

Despite that fall, Asia continued to be the main tourist market for Vietnam with a 7.5 percent increase. The most notable growth was Thailand (49.3 percent), Taiwan (26 percent), South Korea (24.1 percent), Malaysia (11.1 percent ) and Japan (8.3 percent).

The growth in Europe (6.1 percent) and the Americas (6.3 percent) were also encouraging.

Vietnam began 2019 with a solid tourist support that in terms of lodging, the country has more than 500,000 rooms, distributed mostly in 116 five stars hotels, 259 four star hotels and 488 three star hotels.

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