Louisiana law classifies abortion drugs as controlled, dangerous substances

NEW ORLEANS — First-of-its-kind legislation that classifies two abortion-inducing drugs as controlled and dangerous substances was signed into law Friday by Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry.  The Republican governor announced his signing of the bill in Baton Rouge a day after it gained final legislative passage in the state Senate.  The measure affects the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in medication abortions, the most common method of abortion in the U.S.  Opponents of the bill included many physicians who said the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses, and that changing the classification could make it harder to prescribe the medications.  Supporters of the bill said it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions, though they cited only one example of that happening, in the state of Texas.  The bill passed as abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone.  The new law will take effect October 1.  The bill began as a measure to create the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud.” An amendment adding the abortion drugs to the Schedule IV classification of Louisiana’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law was pushed by Sen. Thomas Pressly, a Republican from Shreveport and the main sponsor of the bill.  “Requiring an abortion inducing drug to be obtained with a prescription and criminalizing the use of an abortion drug on an unsuspecting mother is nothing short of common-sense,” Landry said in a statement.  Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion, in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills. Other Schedule IV drugs include the opioid tramadol and a group of depressants known as benzodiazepines.  Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time. Language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant women who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.  The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, and the drugs would have to be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics.  In addition to inducing abortions, mifepristone and misoprostol have other common uses, such as treating miscarriages, inducing labor and stopping hemorrhaging.  More than 200 … “Louisiana law classifies abortion drugs as controlled, dangerous substances”

Preholiday travel sets TSA record for people screened at US airports

ATLANTA — A record was broken ahead of the Memorial Day weekend for the number of airline travelers screened at U.S. airports, the Transportation Security Administration said Saturday.  More than 2.9 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, surpassing a previous record set last year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to the transportation security agency.  “Officers have set a new record for most travelers screened in a single day!” the TSA tweeted. “We recommend arriving early.”  The third busiest day on record was set on Thursday when just under 2.9 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports.  In Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport had its busiest day ever. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport broke a traffic record on Thursday when 111,000 passengers, airlines crew and airport employees were screened at security checkpoints. The second busiest day followed on Friday when 109,960 people were screened, according to the TSA.  With 104.6 million passengers, the Atlanta airport was the busiest in the world last year, according to Airports Council International.  U.S. airlines expect to carry a record number of passengers this summer. Their trade group estimates that 271 million travelers will fly between June 1 and August 31, breaking the record of 255 million set last summer.  AAA predicted this will be the busiest start-of-summer weekend in nearly 20 years, with 43.8 million people expected to roam at least 50 miles from home between Thursday and Monday — 38 million of them taking to the roads.  The annual expression of wanderlust that accompanies the start of the summer travel season is happening at a time when Americans tell pollsters they are worried about the economy and the direction of the country.  In what had long been celebrated every May 30 to honor America’s fallen soldiers, Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday in 1971, observed on the last Monday in May.  …

G7 officials make progress on money for Ukraine from frozen Russian assets

FRANKFURT, Germany — Finance officials from the Group of Seven rich democracies said they had moved toward agreement on a U.S. proposal to squeeze more money for Ukraine from Russian assets frozen in their countries. But the ministers left a final deal to be worked out ahead of a June summit of national leaders.  “We are making progress in our discussions on potential avenues to bring forward the extraordinary profits stemming from immobilized Russian sovereign assets to the benefit of Ukraine,” the draft statement said, without providing details.  Despite the progress made at the meeting in Stresa, on the shores of Lago Maggiore in northern Italy, a final decision on how the assets will be used will rest with the G7 national leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, next month at their annual summit in Fasano, in southern Italy.  Host Finance Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti said that “progress has been made so far” but that there were “legal and technical issues that have to be overcome.”  “It is not an easy task, but we are working on it,” he said at a news conference following the end of the meeting.  Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko joined the finance ministers and central bank heads at their concluding session on Saturday. “I am satisfied with the progress,” he told journalists afterward. He said the G7 ministers “are working very hard to find a reliable construction for Ukraine.”    The U.S. Congress has passed legislation allowing the Biden administration to seize the roughly $5 billion in Russian assets in the U.S., but European countries have a strong voice in the matter since most of the $260 billion in Russian central bank assets frozen after the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion are held in their jurisdictions.  Citing legal concerns, European officials have balked at outright confiscating the money and handing it to Ukraine as compensation for the destruction caused by Russia.  Instead, they plan use the interest accumulating on the assets, but that’s only around $3 billion a year — about one month’s financing needs for the Ukrainian government.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is pushing for borrowing against the future interest income from the frozen assets. That would mean Ukraine could be given as much as $50 billion immediately.  But the proposal has run into concerns from European members about the legal complexities, and about concerns that Russia could retaliate against the diminished number of Western … “G7 officials make progress on money for Ukraine from frozen Russian assets”

US rapper Nicki Minaj freed after Netherlands arrest

The Hague, Netherlands — U.S. rapper Nicki Minaj was detained at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on suspicion of possessing soft drugs before being released with a fine, Dutch media reported Saturday. The singer was to perform a show in Britain later Saturday and posted images on social media of her being questioned by officials. Police confirmed to AFP that they had detained a 41-year-old American woman but declined to confirm that it was Minaj, as per their usual policy. “We never confirm the identity of a person in custody, but I can confirm we have arrested a 41-year-old woman suspected of trying to export soft drugs to another country,” Robert Kapel, a military police spokesman, told AFP. Kapel later told AFP the suspect had been released after the payment of a “reasonable” fine. “There’s no reason for us to keep her in custody any longer. We have all the information for our file. Case closed,” he told AFP. The rapper posted on X that authorities told her they had found cannabis in her luggage, which she said belonged to her security personnel. A common misconception outside the Netherlands is that marijuana is legal in the country, home to world-famous coffee shops (which actually sell pot) that are a huge draw for cannabis smokers. The consumption of small quantities of cannabis is technically illegal but police choose not to enforce the law as part of a tolerance policy in place since the 1970s. Transporting the drugs to another country is illegal. Minaj was due to perform in Manchester on her Pink Friday 2 World Tour, and the hashtag #FREENICKI was trending on X. The Manchester concert originally scheduled for Saturday night has now been postponed. Promoter Live Nation said the performance will be rescheduled and tickets will be honored. “Despite Nicki’s best efforts to explore every possible avenue to make tonight’s show happen, the events of today have made it impossible,” the promoter said in a statement. “We are deeply disappointed by the inconvenience this has caused.” …

Ex-CIA officer accused of spying for China pleads guilty

HONOLULU, HAWAII — A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI accused of spying for China for at least a decade pleaded guilty Friday in a federal courtroom in Honolulu. Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 72, has been in custody since his arrest in August 2020. The U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing it amassed “a war chest of damning evidence” against him, including an hourlong video of Ma and an older relative — also a former CIA officer — providing classified information to intelligence officers with China’s Ministry of State Security in 2001. The video shows Ma counting the $50,000 received from the Chinese agents for his service, prosecutors said. During a sting operation, he accepted thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for past espionage activities, and he told an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted to see the “motherland” succeed, prosecutors said. The secrets he was accused of providing included information about CIA sources and assets, international operations, secure communication practices and operational tradecraft, the charging documents said. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Ma pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The deal calls for a 10-year sentence, but a judge will have the final say at Ma’s sentencing, which is scheduled for September 11. Without the deal, he faced life in prison. Ma was born in Hong Kong, moved to Honolulu in 1968 and became a U.S. citizen in 1975. He joined the CIA in 1982, was assigned overseas the following year and resigned in 1989. He held a top-secret security clearance, according to court documents. Ma lived and worked in Shanghai, China, before returning to Hawaii in 2001. He was hired as a contract linguist in the FBI’s Honolulu field office in 2004, and prosecutors say that over the following six years, he regularly copied, photographed and stole classified documents. He often took them on trips to China, returning with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs, prosecutors said. In court Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson revealed that Ma’s hiring as a part-time contract linguist was a “ruse” to monitor his contact with Chinese intelligence officers. The FBI had been aware of Ma’s ties with the intelligence officers and “made the determination to notionally … “Ex-CIA officer accused of spying for China pleads guilty”

G7 ministers move closer to Russian assets deal to help Ukraine

Stresa, Italy — Finance ministers representing the G7 are expected Saturday to agree a broad plan to use interest from frozen Russian assets for Ukraine, paving the way for a potential agreement among leaders next month. The challenge of finding more funds for Ukraine as it battles fresh territorial advances by Russia after more than two years of war has dominated a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s richest democracies in the northern Italian city of Stresa. The meeting comes as Kyiv said it had “stopped” the Russian advance in the Kharkiv region. But Ukraine’s General Staff acknowledged Saturday “the enemy has partial success” and “the situation is tense” as fighting continued. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has increased appeals for help as his army has struggled. Washington on Friday announced a new $275 million package of military aid for Kyiv. Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko was to attend Saturday’s G7 meeting in Stresa seeking to tap interest from frozen Russian assets. Any detailed agreement would require the approval of G7 leaders, who meet next month in Puglia, but observers have suggested that a deal “in principle” could be agreed on Saturday. “We need to reach a declaration of principle that marks the overall agreement of the G7 countries to use revenues from Russian assets to finance Ukraine,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. He said ministers aim to “reach a political agreement in principle, not a turnkey solution.” The European Union’s economy commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, also expressed cautious optimism, saying there was “a positive convergence” at the talks toward the concept of tapping profits from frozen Russian assets. Calls have mounted this year in the West to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen since Russia’s 2022 invasion. Many questions Noting there remained “many details yet to be clarified,” Gentiloni said the discussions “may lead to an agreement” at the G7 summit in Puglia June 13-15. Italian Finance Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, too, said he and his counterparts were eyeing “the basis for a solution for the mid-June summit.” The EU this week formally approved a plan to use interest from Russian assets frozen by the bloc in what it estimates could generate up to three billion euros a year for Ukraine. But the United States has maintained that G7 countries can go further, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen … “G7 ministers move closer to Russian assets deal to help Ukraine”

UK election has been called for July 4. Here’s what to know

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s first national election in five years is shaping up as a battle for the country’s soul, with some saying it poses an existential threat to the governing Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010. The center-right Conservatives took power during the depths of the global financial crisis and have won two more elections since then. But those years have been filled with challenges and controversies, making the Tories, as they are commonly known, easy targets for critics on the left and right. The Labour Party, which leans to the left, faces its own challenges in shaking off a reputation for irresponsible spending and proving that it has a plan to govern. Both parties are being ripped apart by the conflict in the Middle East, with the Tories facing charges of Islamophobia and Labour struggling to distance itself from antisemitism that festered under former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Here is a look at the upcoming election and the biggest issues at stake. When will the next U.K. election be? Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set July 4 as the date for the election, months ahead of when it was expected. He had until December to call an election that could have happened as late as Jan. 28, 2025. How long is a political term in the U.K.? Elections in the U.K. have to be held no more than five years apart. But the timing of the vote is determined by the prime minister’s calculation of the date most advantageous to the ruling party. Sunak had been expected to call the vote in the autumn, when a number of economic factors were expected to have improved their chances, according to the Institute for Government, a London-based think tank. But favorable economic news on Wednesday, with inflation down to 2.3%, changed the narrative. How does voting work? People throughout the United Kingdom will choose all 650 members of the House of Commons for a term of up to five years. The party that commands a majority in the Commons, either alone or in coalition, will form the next government and its leader will be prime minister. That means the results will determine the political direction of the government, which has been led by the center-right Conservatives for the past 14 years. The center-left Labour Party is widely seen to be in the strongest position. Who is running? Sunak, a … “UK election has been called for July 4. Here’s what to know”

US, Chinese defense chiefs to meet following Taiwan tension

Washington — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart, the Pentagon announced Friday, after Beijing carried out war games around Taiwan in a sign to the U.S.-backed democracy’s new leader. The Pentagon said that Austin would meet Chinese Admiral Dong Jun when they attend the May 31-June 2 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defense officials around the world. China this week encircled Taiwan with warships and fighter jets in a test of its ability to seize the island, which it claims. The drills followed the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who has vowed to safeguard self-ruling Taiwan’s democracy. Austin’s meeting with Dong had been widely expected since they spoke by telephone in April, in what were the first substantive talks between the two powers’ defense chiefs in nearly 18 months. President Joe Biden’s administration and China have been stepping up communication to ease friction, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Beijing and Shanghai last month. But defense talks had lagged behind until Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a resumption of military dialogue during a summit with Biden in California in November. Austin will also travel next week to Cambodia for talks with defense ministers of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN and end his trip in France, where he will join President Joe Biden in commemorations of the 80th anniversary of D-Day. The trip was announced even though Austin late Friday handed over duties for about two-and-a-half hours to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, due to his latest medical procedure. Austin is a key figure in Western efforts to support Ukraine against a Russian offensive. He “underwent a successful, elective, and minimally invasive follow-up non-surgical procedure” related to a previously reported bladder issue at the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said. During the procedure, Hicks served as acting secretary of defense, and Austin “resumed his functions and duties” as defense secretary later Friday evening and returned home, Ryder said. The transparency comes after a furor when Austin vanished from public view for cancer treatment in December and again in January when he suffered complications. A spotlight-shunning retired general, Austin, 70, said later that he was a “pretty private guy” and did not want to burden others with his problems. But Biden’s Republican rivals went on the attack after it was revealed that Austin did not inform the chain of command. … “US, Chinese defense chiefs to meet following Taiwan tension”

France’s secularism increasingly struggling with schools, integration

MARSEILLE, France — Brought into the international spotlight by the ban on hijabs for French athletes at the upcoming Paris Olympics, France’s unique approach to “laïcité” — loosely translated as “secularism” — has been increasingly stirring controversy across the country. The struggle cuts to the core of how France approaches not only the place of religion in public life, but also the integration of its mostly immigrant-origin Muslim population, Western Europe’s largest. Perhaps the most contested ground is public schools, where visible signs of faith are barred under policies seeking to foster national unity. That includes the headscarves some Muslim women want to wear for piety and modesty, even as others fight them as a symbol of oppression. “It has become a privilege to be allowed to practice our religion,” said Majda Ould Ibbat, who was considering leaving Marseille, France’s second-largest city, until she discovered a private Muslim school, Ibn Khaldoun, where her children could both freely live their faith and flourish academically. “We wanted them to have a great education, and with our principles and our values,” added Ould Ibbat, who only started wearing a headscarf recently, while her teen daughter, Minane, hasn’t felt ready to. For Minane, as for many French Muslim youth, navigating French culture and her spiritual identity is getting harder. The 19-year-old nursing student has heard people say even on the streets of multicultural Marseille that there’s no place for Muslims. “I ask myself if Islam is accepted in France,” she said. Minane also lives with the collective trauma that has scarred much of France in the aftermath of Islamist attacks, which have targeted schools and are seen by many as evidence that laïcité (pronounced lah-eee-see-tay) needs to be strictly enforced to prevent radicalization. Minane vividly remembers observing a moment of silence at Ibn Khaldoun in honor of Samuel Paty, a public school teacher beheaded by a radicalized Islamist in 2020. A memorial to Paty as a defender of France’s values hangs in the entrance of the Education Ministry in Paris. For its officials and most educators, secularism is essential. They say it encourages a sense of belonging to a united French identity and prevents those who are less or not religiously observant from feeling pressured. For many French Muslims, however, laïcité is exerting precisely that kind of discriminatory pressure on already disadvantaged minorities. Amid the tension, there’s broad agreement that polarization is skyrocketing, as crackdowns … “France’s secularism increasingly struggling with schools, integration”

5 things to know about the US Memorial Day holiday

NORFOLK, Virginia — Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.  But for people such as Manuel Castaneda Jr., the day is very personal. He lost his father, a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, in an accident in 1966 in California while his father was training other Marines.  “It isn’t just the specials. It isn’t just the barbecue,” Castaneda told The Associated Press in a discussion about Memorial Day last year.  Castaneda also served in the Marines and Army National Guard, from which he knew men who died in combat. But he tries not to judge others who spend the holiday differently: “How can I expect them to understand the depth of what I feel when they haven’t experienced anything like that?”  Why is Memorial Day celebrated?  It’s a day of reflection and remembrance of those who died while serving in the U.S. military, according to the Congressional Research Service. The holiday is observed in part by the National Moment of Remembrance, which encourages all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. for a moment of silence.  What are the origins of Memorial Day?  The holiday stems from the American Civil War, which killed more than 600,000 service members — both Union and Confederate — between 1861 and 1865.  There’s little controversy over the first national observance of what was then called Decoration Day. It occurred May 30, 1868, after an organization of Union veterans called for decorating war graves with flowers, which were in bloom.  The practice was already widespread on a local level. Waterloo, New York, began a formal observance on May 5, 1866, and was later proclaimed to be the holiday’s birthplace.  Yet Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, traced its first observance to October 1864, according to the Library of Congress. And women in some Confederate states were decorating graves before the war’s end.  David Blight, a Yale history professor, points to May 1, 1865, when as many as 10,000 people, many of them Black, held a parade, heard speeches and dedicated the graves of Union dead in Charleston, South Carolina.  A total of 267 Union troops had died at a Confederate prison and were buried in a mass grave. After the war, members of Black churches buried them in individual graves.  “What … “5 things to know about the US Memorial Day holiday”

Italian museum recreates Tanzanian butterfly forest

TRENTO, Italy — In a lush greenhouse high in the Alps, butterflies of various species and colors flutter freely while butterfly pupae are suspended in a structure as they grow into adult insects. This is the Butterfly Forest in the tropical mountain greenhouse in Trento, Italy, a project by the Museo delle Scienze (MUSE), an Italian science museum. It’s modeled on Udzungwa Mountains, a mountain range and rainforest area in south-central Tanzania that’s one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Butterfly Forest features plant species endemic to the region, as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates from different parts of the world, all inside 600 square meters of forest with cliffs, inclinations and a waterfall. The Butterfly Forest was created this spring to create public awareness on some of the research that MUSE is doing in Udzungwa Mountains to study and protect the world’s biodiversity against threats such as deforestation and climate change. Deforestation leads to habitat loss, which causes declines in nectar sources for butterflies, changing the functioning of the ecosystem. It can also limit the movements of the insects causing a decline in biodiversity and potential extinction of vulnerable butterfly species. Changes to soil and air temperatures are altering the life cycles of the insects, impacting their development rates, mating behaviors, and migration patterns. Butterfly populations are declining in many areas, especially in places under intensive land use. “Our aim is that of being able to study better, to understand better what is happening,” said Lisa Angelini, a botanist and director of the MUSE greenhouse. “Our work consists of monitoring and trying to develop projects in order to bring attention to biodiversity-related issues.” Butterflies are pollinators that enable plants to reproduce and therefore facilitate food production and supply. They are also food for birds and other animals. Because of the multiple roles of butterflies in the ecosystem and their high sensitivity to environmental changes, scientists use them as indicators of biodiversity and a way to study the impact of habitat loss and other threats. “Insects in general play a fundamental role in the proper functioning of ecosystems,” said Mauro Gobbi, an entomologist and researcher at MUSE. Through a partnership with the Tanzania National Parks Authority, MUSE established the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Center in 2006 to support research as well as in development of environmental education programs for schools. “Research on butterflies is essential for informing conservation efforts … “Italian museum recreates Tanzanian butterfly forest”

Attempts to regulate AI’s hidden hand in Americans’ lives flounder

DENVER — The first attempts to regulate artificial intelligence programs that play a hidden role in hiring, housing and medical decisions for millions of Americans are facing pressure from all sides and floundering in statehouses nationwide. Only one of seven bills aimed at preventing AI’s penchant to discriminate when making consequential decisions — including who gets hired, money for a home or medical care — has passed. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis hesitantly signed the bill on Friday. Colorado’s bill and those that faltered in Washington, Connecticut and elsewhere faced battles on many fronts, including between civil rights groups and the tech industry, and lawmakers wary of wading into a technology few yet understand and governors worried about being the odd-state-out and spooking AI startups. Polis signed Colorado’s bill “with reservations,” saying in an statement he was wary of regulations dousing AI innovation. The bill has a two-year runway and can be altered before it becomes law. “I encourage (lawmakers) to significantly improve on this before it takes effect,” Polis wrote. Colorado’s proposal, along with six sister bills, are complex, but will broadly require companies to assess the risk of discrimination from their AI and inform customers when AI was used to help make a consequential decision for them. The bills are separate from more than 400 AI-related bills that have been debated this year. Most are aimed at slices of AI, such as the use of deepfakes in elections or to make pornography. The seven bills are more ambitious, applying across major industries and targeting discrimination, one of the technology’s most perverse and complex problems. “We actually have no visibility into the algorithms that are used, whether they work or they don’t, or whether we’re discriminated against,” said Rumman Chowdhury, AI envoy for the U.S. Department of State who previously led Twitter’s AI ethics team. While anti-discrimination laws are already on the books, those who study AI discrimination say it’s a different beast, which the U.S. is already behind in regulating. “The computers are making biased decisions at scale,” said Christine Webber, a civil rights attorney who has worked on class action lawsuits over discrimination including against Boeing and Tyson Foods. Now, Webber is nearing final approval on one of the first-in-the-nation settlements in a class action over AI discrimination. “Not, I should say, that the old systems were perfectly free from bias either,” said Webber. But “any one person could … “Attempts to regulate AI’s hidden hand in Americans’ lives flounder”

Despite Biden’s ICC rejection, US sometimes sides with court

white house — The Biden administration denounced an International Criminal Court announcement this week that it is pursuing arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.   “We made our position clear on the ICC,” President Joe Biden said Thursday. “We don’t recognize their jurisdiction, the way it’s been exercised, and it’s that simple. We don’t think there’s an equivalence between what Israel did and what Hamas did.”  International law experts say that the relationship between the U.S. and ICC has never been simple.  The ICC was established in 1998 by the Rome Statute and tasked with prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It was signed by the U.S. in December 2000, by U.S. lead negotiator David Scheffer.  The U.S., fearing that Americans would be vulnerable to prosecution abroad, never ratified the treaty.  More than 120 countries have ratified it, making them member states.  The ICC has jurisdiction over atrocity crimes committed by citizens of member states, or committed in member states, or in nonmember states that grant it jurisdiction. It also has jurisdiction over crimes committed in nonmember states that are referred to it by the U.N. Security Council.  The U.S. maintains that the ICC has no jurisdiction over citizens of non-ICC states. Israel is not an ICC member; therefore, the Biden administration said, the court has no right to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.  Stephen Rademaker, former chief counsel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, agrees. “The fundamental principle undergirding all treaty-based international law is the principle of consent,” he told VOA.   Under the U.S. argument, which Scheffer calls the “immunity interpretation,” the same standards should apply to all non-ICC states.   However, various U.S. administrations have supported some ICC investigations.  The George W. Bush administration supported the ICC’s 2002 investigations into allegations of atrocities committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Obama administration supported the ICC’s case in Libya in 2011, which accused the government of Moammar Gadhafi of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Sudan and Libya were non-ICC states, but under the Rome Statute, the U.N. Security Council had the authority to refer those cases to the ICC for investigation, Rademaker … “Despite Biden’s ICC rejection, US sometimes sides with court”

Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war  

Carentan-les-Marais, France — Agnes Scelle grew up listening to her parents’ stories about life in occupied France, living near the Normandy town of Carentan-les-Marais. She heard of the knife pushed up against her father’s throat for trying to block a strategic river, of how German soldiers held her mother at gunpoint. “They were very afraid,” said Scelle, a former postal worker and village mayor, who still lives in her family’s ancestral home. “Even when the American soldiers had landed, they didn’t know what was going on because there were bombings.” As Normandy prepares for the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings on June 6, locals like Scelle are focusing on another war, as Russia gains ground in Ukraine. “The war is at Europe’s doorstep, so of course we’re afraid,” Scelle said. “We need to stick together, the Americans and the European Union, in case we see another conflict on our soil.” That message is expected to resonate next month, as onetime D-Day allies gather to mark the 80th anniversary of landings on Omaha Beach, roughly 30 km from Carentan-les-Marais. But the celebrations come as some Europeans worry that decades-old transatlantic ties may unravel, along with a U.S. commitment to Kyiv. The war in Ukraine is shaping this latest D-Day commemoration in other ways. Host France has invited Russia to the official ceremonies, but not Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even including Moscow has reportedly sparked tensions on the part of other WWII allies. “I can’t say what the solution is for this commemoration,” said Denis Peschanski, a World War II historian at the Sorbonne University in Paris. “What’s certain is we refuse to deny the fundamental contribution of the Soviet army in the liberation. We would never have had a successful landing in Normandy if there hadn’t been 180 German divisions that were blocked on the eastern front’’ by Soviet soldiers. Like other towns across Normandy, Carentan-les-Marais — known to locals as Carentan — has a full schedule of D-Day events running before and well after official ceremonies. Among them: a parachute drop in period clothes, a parade of World War II military vehicles, and an opportunity to meet Ukrainian war veterans and view a phalanx of donated ambulances bound for Ukraine’s battlefields. There’s also the wedding of 100-year-old U.S. World War II veteran Harold Terens to 94-year-old Jeanne Swerlin. Carentan’s mayor, Jean-Pierre Lhonneur, will officiate at the ceremony. “If you come … “Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war  “

Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war 

Some of the last surviving World War Two veterans gather in Normandy, France, next month to mark the 1944 allied landings that began the country’s liberation from Nazi German control. But another war on Europe’s doorstep — in Ukraine — casts a dark shadow on this 80th anniversary of D-Day. Lisa Bryant reports from the Normandy town of Carentan-les-Marais. …

French court issues life sentences to three senior Syrian officials for war crimes 

washington — A court in the French capital on Friday ordered life sentences for three senior Syrian government officials in a landmark case.  After a four-day trial, the Paris Criminal Court said three Syrian officials had been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war-torn country.  The case against Ali Mamlouk, former director of Syria’s National Security Bureau; Jamil Hassan, former head of the air force intelligence directorate; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of the air force intelligence’s branch in Damascus, was based on their role in the deaths of two French nationals of Syrian origin.  The two Frenchmen, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, were arrested in Damascus in 2013. The two were declared dead in 2018. The family was formally notified that Patrick had died in 2014 and that Mazzen had died in 2017.  The three Syrian officials were tried in absentia. This was the first time a trial of Syrian government officials had been held in France. The court’s ruling on Friday also upheld international arrest warrants against the Syrian officials that were issued in 2018.  Anwar al-Bunni, a Germany-based Syrian human rights lawyer, said Friday’s ruling was “historic,” and he noted it would have significant political implications for the Syrian government.     “This ruling will prevent any future efforts to normalize with the Syrian regime, especially since one of the officials prosecuted is Ali Mamlouk, who currently serves as a presidential adviser,” he told VOA. Ninar Khalifa, a researcher at Syrians for Truth and Justice, a France-based advocacy group, said the defendants could appeal the court’s decision only if they attended in person.     “But the fact that the verdict included crimes against humanity shows that the entire Syrian regime has been involved in persecuting people in Syria,” she told VOA. “This is not only about three officials. It’s against the military hierarchy of the Syrian regime from top to bottom.”    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of committing atrocities against civilians since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011.     The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population of 22 million. The U.N. says more than 7 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while the others have fled to other countries. Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media … “French court issues life sentences to three senior Syrian officials for war crimes “

Libertarians warily welcome Trump to their convention

Washington — Every four summers in America comes the spectacle of nominating conventions for the two major political parties. This July, Republicans in Milwaukee are set to again place former President Donald Trump at the top of their ticket. The following month in Chicago, Democrats are to do the formalities for their incumbent, President Joe Biden. Less attention is being paid to another gathering that will nominate its presidential candidate Saturday night. Compared to the behemoth conventions, the Libertarian’s nominating event is a rather low-key affair. Devoid of pageantry, its casually dressed delegates are nonetheless full of passion. And it is taking on new significance this year because it will place a presidential candidate on the ballots of most states. With polls showing a very tight race between Biden and Trump — and independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. beginning to poll above 10% in some swing states — a small number of votes for the Libertarian candidate could determine whether it is Biden or Trump who gets a second term. None of the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidates are household names. They include New Orleans surgeon Charles Ballay; adult entertainment and tech entrepreneur Lars Mapstead; Georgia political activist Chase Oliver; and economist Mike ter Maat. It will be up to the approximately 1,000 delegates to decide who will appear on their national ballot. “The Libertarian Party — it’s really kind of a big-tent party,” said Nathan Polsky, chairman of the Libertarian Party in Collin County, Texas. “At the end of the day, you’ve got people that are on the right. You’ve got people that are on the left. But the one thing we all agree on is that the state has too much control and we want to roll back the level of power that the state has. Give it back to the people,” said Polsky, a cowboy hat atop his head as he surveyed the scene inside the Washington Hilton Hotel, site of this year’s Libertarian convention. An unusual invitation The party takes its name from the classic liberalism movement that profoundly changed the face of nations from the start of the 18th century, waging political battles in Europe and elsewhere against monarchs, slavery and religious persecution in the pursuit of individual freedom. The present Libertarian Party in America, however, is facing turmoil inside its big tent.  That ascendant faction, known as the Mises Caucus, generally supports as its presidential candidate a … “Libertarians warily welcome Trump to their convention”

Mali, Russia start work on major solar plant 

Dakar, Senegal — Mali and Russia on Friday launched the construction of the largest solar power plant in West Africa, Malian Energy Minister Bintou Camara said on national television.  It comes as the country continues to be plagued by electricity supply problems, with only half of the population having access to electricity.  The power station, “the first [in terms of size] in the country and even in the subregion … will greatly reduce the electricity shortage currently affecting our country,” Camara told Malian TV station ORTM.  Grigory Nazarov, director of NovaWind, the Russian company in charge of the construction, said it is expected to increase Mali’s electricity production by 10%.  NovaWind is a subsidiary of Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom.  The 200-megawatt solar station will cover 314 hectares in Sanankoroba, in southwestern Mali, close to the capital, Bamako.  The work, which is costing over 200 million euros ($217 million), will take a year to complete, Nazarov said.  The solar power plant is designed for “stable operation for 20 years” and will come “under full control of the Malian Ministry of Energy” after 10 years, he added.  Malian electricity production is 70% thermal, which is extremely costly, Finance Minister Alousseni Sanou said in March when the deal with NovaWind was signed.  Burdened with a debt of more than $330 million, Mali’s national energy company is no longer able to supply electricity to the capital and other towns around the country.  Construction of two other solar plants near Bamako is scheduled to start on May 28 and June 1 and be built by Chinese and Emirati companies.  Moscow has steadily gained influence in Mali through the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries, unofficially serving the Kremlin’s aims in resource-rich Africa since the 2010s.  During a call in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Malian junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita discussed strengthening “cooperation in energy, agricultural and mining projects,” the Kremlin said.  …

Hungary to seek to opt out of NATO efforts to support Ukraine, Orban says

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary will seek to opt out of any NATO operations aimed at supporting Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday, suggesting that the military alliance and the European Union were moving toward a more direct conflict with Russia.  Orban told state radio that Hungary opposes a plan NATO is weighing to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in coming years to repel Moscow’s full-scale invasion, as better armed Russian troops assert control on the battlefield.  “We do not approve of this, nor do we want to participate in financial or arms support (for Ukraine), even within the framework of NATO,” Orban said, adding that Hungary has taken a position as a “nonparticipant” in any potential NATO operations to assist Kyiv.  “We’ve got to redefine our position within the military alliance, and our lawyers and officers are working on … how Hungary can exist as a NATO member while not participating in NATO actions outside of its territory,” he said.  Orban, considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest partner in the EU, emphasized NATO’s role as a defensive alliance, and said he doesn’t share the concerns of some other Central and Eastern European countries that Russia’s military wouldn’t cease its aggression if it wins the war in Ukraine.  “NATO’s strength cannot be compared to that of Ukraine,” he said. “I don’t consider it a logical proposition that Russia, which cannot even deal with Ukraine, will come all of a sudden and swallow up the whole Western world.”  Hungary has refused to supply neighboring Ukraine with military aid in contrast to most other countries in the EU, and Orban has vigorously opposed the bloc’s sanctions on Moscow though has ultimately always voted for them.  The nationalist leader is preparing for the European Parliament election on June 6-9 and has cast his party as a guarantor of peace in the region. He has characterized the United States and other EU countries that urge greater support for Ukraine as “pro-war” and acting in preparation for a global conflict. …

Thousands protest as Georgia MPs plan to override veto of ‘foreign influence’ law

Tbilisi, Georgia — Thousands of people took part in a rally in the Georgian capital on Friday against a controversial anti-NGO law, as the country’s parliament said it would start proceedings next week to override a presidential veto.  The ruling Georgian Dream party’s “foreign influence” law targets nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and media outlets that receive funding from abroad. It has triggered a month of huge street rallies in Tbilisi and sparked condemnation from Europe and the United States.  Opponents say the law mirrors Russian legislation used to silence dissent and risks destroying the Black Sea nation’s shot at EU membership.  Georgian Dream blasted the United States for “encroaching” on Georgian sovereignty after Washington announced a plan for visa restrictions on Georgian officials over the legislation.  Almost daily rallies against the law have been held since April 9. And several thousand protesters gathered in central Tbilisi on Friday evening to show solidarity with people arrested at previous demonstrations.  Waving Georgian and EU flags, demonstrators marched from Freedom Square to the Interior Ministry headquarters to demand the release of detainees.  “We will never tolerate a pro-Russian government in Georgia,” student demonstrator Misha Kavtaradze, 20, told AFP.   “No to the Russian law, yes to Europe,” he said.  Georgian MPs adopted the law last week, but it was later vetoed by President Salome Zourabichvili, who is at loggerheads with the government.  The parliament press office told AFP that a legal affairs committee will discuss overruling the veto on Monday, formally launching the procedure that could see the measure come into force.   A vote at a plenary session is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, the press office said.    Georgian Dream has enough MPs to override the veto, and Zourabichvili has acknowledged that her attempt to block the legislation holds only “symbolic” power.  The law requires NGOs and media outlets receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as acting “in the interests of a foreign power.”  It has been blasted as undemocratic by Western countries.  Georgian Dream slammed Washington’s announcement Thursday of visa restrictions for “individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia” via the law.  In a statement, it accused the United States of “visa blackmail” and a “flagrant attempt to encroach on Georgia’s independence and sovereignty.”  The law was reintroduced one year after Georgian Dream dropped similar proposals that also triggered mass protests.   … “Thousands protest as Georgia MPs plan to override veto of ‘foreign influence’ law”