Netherlands joins Germany in halting Iraq mission due to security threat

The Netherlands has followed Germany in suspending its mission in Iraq amid heightening tensions between the US and Iraq’s neighbor, Iran.

The Netherlands decided to halt the mission which provided assistance to the Iraqi authorities because of a security threat, the Dutch ANP news agency said.

The Dutch Defense Ministry confirmed the suspension of the mission to the media. The ministry’s spokesperson told ANP that withdrawal of Dutch forces from the area is “currently not discussed.”

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Around 50 Dutch soldiers train Kurdish forces in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil, others are stationed in Baghdad. According to some reports, the decision to suspend the training mission was taken by the commander of the international coalition which currently operates in Iraq.

The report gave no details about the alleged danger. The Dutch military take part in a training mission, alongside other foreign nations, including Germany.

The German Defense Ministry has earlier announced that it halted its mission aimed at training the Iraqi soldiers, citing increasing tensions on the ground. The developments came after Washington ordered all the non-essential personnel of the American embassy in Bagdad and a consulate in Erbil to leave Iraq as soon as possible.

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The US evacuation alarmed some EU politicians, who expressed concern that Washington might go to war against Tehran and called on Europe to prevent such an outcome.

The US is poised for war with Iran,” a leader of the Left Party’s faction in the German parliament, Sahra Wagenknecht, warned. She called on those, “who want to save the international peace and the Iranian nuclear deal,” to “make it clear that they are against these war plans, arbitrary US sanctions and the use of the US military bases in Europe [in a potential war with Iran].”

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Venezuela names German ambassador ‘persona non grata’ for ‘interference in its internal affairs’

The Venezuelan authorities have declared the German ambassador Daniel Kriener persona non grata over what it called “interference into its internal affairs."

Germany’s envoy has become the first European diplomat to be expelled from the Latin American state amid the ongoing escalation of tensions between Caracas and Washington and its allies, supporting a self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido, who challenges the rule of elected leader Nicolas Maduro.

“Venezuela considers its unacceptable that a foreign diplomat … plays a public role on its territory, which is more typical for a political leader, who clearly supports the conspiracy agenda of the extremist parts of the Venezuelan opposition,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement explaining its decision.

Kriener was granted a period of 48 hours to leave the territory of Venezuela, the statement said.

El Gobierno de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela hace del conocimiento público la decisión de declarar persona non grata al Embajador de la República Federal de Alemania, Daniel Kriener, ante sus recurrentes actos de injerencia en los asuntos internos del país. Comunicado:

The ambassador’s actions “contradicted the essential norms … of diplomatic relations” and are considered “hostile and unfriendly,” the ministry said, adding that any interference into “matters of exclusive competence of Venezuelan people and authorities” would “not be tolerated.”

At the same time, Caracas said it is still ready to maintain a “respectful and cooperative relationship with all the governments of Europe” as long as they refrain from “encouraging a coup and violent actions,” as well as contribute to a “peaceful solution” of the Venezuelan political crisis and foster a dialogue between various Venezuelan political forces.

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In mid-February, Venezuela also kicked out a team of “interventionist” European parliamentarians, who came to meet with Guaido. Caracas accused them of coming with “conspiratorial purposes” and sent them back upon arrival.

Later the same month, Maduro also broke relations with neighboring Columbia and expelled its diplomats as well. The US envoy and his deputy were sent out of Venezuela back in May 2018 after being accused of allegedly conspiring against the government. The move came after Washington denounced Maduro’s victory in Venezuela’s presidential elections and refused to recognize its results.

 

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Cuba To Welcome 5 Million Visitors In 2019

This year could be a banner year for Cuban tourism.

As the Caribbean island continues to court foreign vacationers, the tourism ministry announced that they expect over five million visitors in 2019.

If the island hits their goal, it will be the 12th consecutive year of growth in tourism numbers for the Pearl of the Antilles, with 7.4% growth between 2018 and 2019, said the ministry. Tourism incomes are estimated to exceed 3 billion dollars in Cuba in 2019 , according to the ministry.

Experts say that the expansion of accommodation choices – including five-star hotels in Havana – as well as the increase in competitively priced hotels and casa particulares has resulted in more interest for vacationers. Additionally, in November, Havana will celebrate its 500th year anniversary.

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“Five million is realistic,” said John McAuliff, executive director of Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in an email. “Americans are slowly waking up to the reality that they are still free to travel independently under the Support for the Cuban People license.”

Continuing, he said that “the number could go even higher if Congress ends all restrictions on travel by Americans. Under Democratic control, the House could match bipartisan support in the Senate to allow normal travel and agricultural sales.”

The top two tourism markets remain Canada and the United States, although Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba for tourism explicitly. (Americans can still travel to Cuba legally under one of these 12 permitted categories.)

Cuba has also launched promotional campaigns recently to attract more travelers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain as well as emerging markets like China, Vietnam and South Africa.

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Although regulations dictate that Americans are not allowed to go on a ‘typical’ beach vacation while exploring the country, Steve Powers, owner of Hidden Treasure Tours in Long Beach, New York, said during last month's New York Times Travel Show that traveling to Cuba legally remains a great deal as compared to the rest of the Caribbean, thanks to cheap, commercial flights from the US.

In 2018, the island welcomed 4.78 million visitors with less than one million of those travelers arriving by cruise ship.

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Erdoğan meets Merkel, Putin ahead of Syria summit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on Saturday ahead of a four-way Syria summit.

The summit on Syria, hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will see the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special Syria envoy, will also attend the summit.

During the summit, the leaders will address the Syrian conflict in all its aspects, focusing on the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement, and the political process, and harmonizing joint efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

The leaders will also discuss the Sept. 17 agreement between Ankara and Moscow to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib.

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Exchange of Experiences on Renewable Energy in Germany

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will provide a space in Germany for the exchange of experiences in the field over the next few days, the organization informed on its website.

Starting tomorrow, and until next Friday, IRENA foresees the celebration of the so-called Innovation Week 2018 in the German city of Bonn, an event that will bring together about 250 leading, innovative and political companies of the entire membership of that entity with headquarters in Abu Dhabi, according to the report.

The event, whose last edition was held in 2016, seeks to explore how innovations in enabling technologies, business models, system operations and sector linkage can accelerate the transition towards renewable energy matrices.

According to the report, the attending political leaders will have the opportunity to learn from their counterparts and innovative leaders about the state and the possibilities arising from emerging creations.

According to IRENA, the renewable energy sector is undergoing transformative changes, such as the increasing digitization of systems and the greater decentralization of electricity supply.

Solidarity conference with Cuba praised in Germany

Activists from the German Network of Solidarity with Cuba, an alliance of dozens of organizations, have highlighted today the positive outcome of their annual youth conference.

Stephanie Remus, the organizer of the event, stressed in an interview with Prensa Latina that 'among the issues of this exchange were the unjust blockade of the United States against Cuba and the situation of the youth'.

Under the slogan 'Cuba after the elections, our solidarity continues', dozens of participants debated for two days at the forum, which had among its aims the dialogue with young Germans, to integrate them into the solidarity movement with the Caribbean nation, she added.

Remus also highlighted the depth of the analysis during this weekend's meeting in Bonn, the second of its kind, which included Cuban Congresswoman Yenisey Cruz Carreño among its guests.

According to the source, the 30-year-old legislator, a representative of the youth of Cuba, "explained the current debate on the constitutional draft in Cuba'.

Joerg Rueckmann, from the organization Cuba Sí, explained the Cuban electoral system to the young people present, while other activists presented solidarity projects with Venezuela and other nations.

The conference also dealt with current issues, such as the rise of the extreme right in Germany.

At the end of the meeting, Cruz Carreño and the head of the Cuban diplomatic office in Bonn, Yamari Perez Viera, answered questions from participants.

The Network of Solidarity with Cuba announced it plans to organize the third youth conference next year.

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Spain Declines Extradition of Ex-Catalan leader from Germany

Spain's Supreme Court said on Thursday it had decided to decline the extradition of former Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont from Germany on the charge of misuse of public funds linked to his organization of a banned referendum on independence.

A German court ruled one week ago that Puigdemont could be extradited for alleged misuse of public funds but it rejected a request to send him back to answer a more serious charge of rebellion.

Former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati's lawyer welcomed a Spanish court's decision to withdraw European Arrest Warrants against Catalan politicians, but said it was unclear whether they would be allowed back.

Spain's Supreme Court has also said that it had withdrawn European Arrest Warrants for politicians linked to the organization of a Catalan independence referendum last October.

Former education minister Ponsati, 61, a professor at Scotland's University of St Andrews, is one of several leaders of Catalonia's regional government being sought by Spain. "It's excellent news, with regards to my client Clara Ponsati, and obviously for Puigdemont... but we tread cautiously," Aamer Anwar told Reuters by phone.

"The question that arises is whether the Spanish government are willing to allow Mr Puigdemont to simply return back to Catalonia and declare independence... I suspect not."

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Germany: 25 People Injured in Explosion

German police officials are reporting that at least 25 people have been injured after an explosion ripped through a building in the city of Wuppertal.

"It can currently not be ruled out that there are still other people in the building. The rescue efforts are ongoing," the police release said.

Police reports say the area where the explosion took place has been evacuated, however, the cause of the blast remains unknown and is being investigated.

Fires broke out in several sections of the housing unit resulting in the structure collapsing which made it difficult for firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

Emergency services were tasked with attempting to stabilize the building to prevent it from falling down. Several persons managed to escape the ill-fated structure without aid while others were assisted by rescue service.

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