Daily Archives: February 8, 2017

France 24 : Russian opposition leader Navalny convicted of embezzlement

Russian opposition leader Navalny convicted of embezzlement


A Russian court on Wednesday handed opposition leader Alexei Navalny a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement that could end his bid to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin in the 2018 polls.

In a webcast hearing, Judge Alexei Vtyurin found Navalny guilty of embezzling timber worth about $500,000 (€467,000). The previous guilty verdict was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled thatRussia violated Navalny’s right to a fair trial.

The court also handed Navalny’s co-defendant a four-year suspended sentence.

Responding to the verdict, the prominent Russian opposition figure said the verdict was a sign that the Kremlin considered him “too dangerous”. He also said he planned to appeal the court decision and maintained that he would not scrap his plans to take part in the Russian presidential election.

The trial was held in Kirov, a city nearly 800 kilometres east of Moscow.

Identical verdicts, says Navalny

Earlier Wednesday, during a break in the proceedings, Navalny told reporters that he and his lawyers were comparing this verdict with the text of the 2013 verdict and found them to be identical.

“You can come over and see that the judge is reading exactly the same text, which says a lot about the whole trial,” Navalny told reporters, adding that even the typos in the names of companies were identical in both rulings.

Navalny, the driving force behind massive anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012, had announced plans to run for office in December and had begun to raise funds.

Navalny’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, insisted that the campaign goes on even though the guilty verdict formally bars Navalny from running.

In a post on Facebook, Volkov said that theKremlin will ultimately decide whether Navalny will be confirmed as a presidential candidate.

“This is the political decision we need to win by campaigning,” he said.

Navalny’s plans to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election were shattered when the Kirov court found him guilty and sent him to prison. But after he spent a night in jail, the court held an emergency hearing and released Navalny on a suspended sentence.

The unusual move was seen by observers as the Kremlin’s decision to allow him to run against its candidate in the mayoral race in order to make it look more legitimate. Navalny came in second, garnering about a third of the vote. 

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

France 24 : UK’s lower house of parliament gives PM power to trigger Brexit

UK’s lower house of parliament gives PM power to trigger Brexit


Britain’s House of Commons gave its final approval Wednesday to a bill authorising the government to start exit talks with the EU, despite fears by opposition lawmakers that the UK is setting out on the rocky path to Brexit.

As the votes were being tallied, a few pro-EUlegislators whistled Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the bloc’s anthem. But the decisive 494-122 result was another big step on Britain‘s road to the EU exit door.

The bill now goes to the House of Lords, which has the power to delay – but not to derail – the legislation; it should become law within weeks.

Lawmakers had backed the bill by a 498-114 margin during an earlier vote last week, so Wednesday’s result by a similar margin was not a surprise.

It came after three days of debate in which opposition lawmakers tried to pass amendments guaranteeing Parliament a bigger role in the divorce process and setting rules for the government’s negotiations with the 27 other EU nations.

Pro-Brexit Conservative Iain Duncan Smith said that “tonight we have started the process of delivering on … what the people wanted.” But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who opposed the bill, vowed to fight on.

“In a democracy, you respect the result but you do not wave the white flag and give up,” he said.

Pro-EU lawmakers had hoped to prevent an economy-shocking “hard Brexit,” in which Britain loses full access to the EU’s single market and faces restrictions or tariffs on trade. One amendment would have committed the government to continuing tariff-free trade with the EU; another sought to guarantee the residency rights of EU citizens already living in Britain; another called for a new referendum on the eventual divorce terms.

All were defeated, as pro-EU lawmakers from Prime Minister Theresa May‘s Conservative Party backed the government despite their reservations.

But the government appeared to bow to opposition pressure by promising lawmakers they will get to vote on an exit deal before it is finalized by the bloc.

“We do expect and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement,” May said Wednesday.

Some pro-EU lawmakers say the promise does not go far enough. They say the vote would be meaningless unless Parliament is given the power to send the government back to the EU negotiating table. Otherwise, rejecting the deal could mean chaotically forcing Britain out of the bloc without any new arrangements in place.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said opponents of Brexit “haven’t got everything we wanted” but are “chipping away” at the government’s position.

The government didn’t want to let Parliament debate the bill that passed Wednesday at all. It was forced to introduce the legislation after a Supreme Court ruling torpedoed May’s effort to start the process of leaving the 28-nation bloc without a parliamentary vote.

Most British lawmakers backed the losing “remain” side in last year’s EU membership referendum, but voted to trigger Brexit out of respect for voters’ wishes.

The debate has caused ructions in the largely pro-Europe Labour Party, the largest opposition group in Parliament. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn ordered Labour lawmakers to back the bill, but more than 50 rebelled, including business spokesman Clive Lewis. Lewis resigned from Labour’s senior Commons team after denying his leader, whose job many party members believe he covets.

The bill is likely to face further challenges in the House of Lords. Pro-EU peers there – who are appointed for life and don’t have to worry about re-election – are likely to seek new amendments. But any changes they pass would have to be approved by the Commons.

The government wants to pass the bill through Parliament by early March and trigger Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty – starting a two-year divorce process – by March 31.  


BBC News: Trump travel ban: President attacks ‘so political’ courts

I saw this on the BBC and thought you should see it:

Trump travel ban: President attacks ‘so political’ courts – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38902574

Gallery of the Mirrors at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, Italy

Gallery of the Mirrors at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, Italy

“Little M’Orphan Annie” Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl

“Little M’Orphan Annie”

 Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl

 After a few attempts to see and photograph this red-morph eastern screech owl, I finally got the shot I was looking for. She shimmied up from inside her tree to get a look at me and when she did it was with her eyes wide open. Normally during the day they are mostly found with their eyes closed. This bird is in the top 5 cutest birds I’ve ever seen. 

 Please don’t ask for the location. I am sworn to secrecy.

Nikon D4 500mm F4 – ISO 640 F5.0 and 1/800th sec


Inside St Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italyunder the influence of the byzantine architecture

Harpy EagleCetatea FĂGĂRAŞULUI 


Harpy Eagle

Harpy Eagle

A stunning Great Grey Owl in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. Photo thanks to A.Bucci Photography. More of these birds here –> http://owlpag.es/GreatGreyOwl

A stunning Great Grey Owl in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. Photo thanks to A.Bucci Photography. More of these birds here –> http://owlpag.es/GreatGreyOwl




Paris Bordone(1500-1571)The Presentation of the RingDate:1534Medium: Oil on canvasDimensions: 370cm×301cmLocation: Galleria dell Accademia ,Venice

France 24 : Embattled Romanian PM survives no-confidence vote

Embattled Romanian PM survives no-confidence vote


Romania’s defiant Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu easily survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday as his left-wing government battles nationwide unrest over its attempt to weaken corruption laws.

The motion, submitted by the centre-right opposition, failed to garner the required 233 votes in parliament where Grindeanu’s left-wing Social Democrat party (PSD) holds a solid majority after winning elections only two months ago.

The prime minister had appeared defiant ahead of the vote and vowed not to quit.

“We have a duty to the people who gave us their trust during the election and to continue to govern,” the 43-year-old told lawmakers in Bucharest.

For more than a week, hundreds of thousands of people have protested against an emergency decree approved on January 31, which critics say would have protected the corrupt from prosecution.

Although the measure was scrapped late Sunday, the marches have continued, with some protesters vowing not to stop until the government steps down.

While the crowds have noticeably shrunk from the half a million people thronging cities and towns on Sunday — the largest rallies since the fall of communism in 1989 — they are expected to grow again over the weekend.

“Every action the government took in the last week proves that they are not honest at all. So we cannot trust them,” protester Danchiric, who works in advertising, told AFP at Bucharest’s Victory Square where 3,000 people had gathered on Tuesday night.

Political arm-wrestling

“Romanians don’t want corrupt politicians to be pardoned and shielded from justice. We call on you to stop acting against the law,” read the motion filed by 123 opposition MPs, dozens of whom wore armbands reading “Quit”.

Observers say much of the public anger is directed at the graft-riddled political establishment, which includes powerful PSD head Liviu Dragnea.

The 54-year-old was barred from running for office because of a voter fraud conviction and is currently on trial for alleged abuse of power, a charge he denies.

“The government has understood the demonstrators’ message. Other measures will be taken to end this conflict,” Dragnea said on Wednesday.

The street protests have also grown into political arm-wrestling between the PSD and the opposition-backed President Klaus Iohannis who has championed the mass rallies.

In a parliamentary address Tuesday, Iohannis had hinted that the government should quit.

“The repeal of the decree and the possible sacking of a minister is too little. Early elections are too much,” Iohannis said.

“If the PSD, which has created this crisis, fails to resolve the crisis immediately, I will summon all the political parties for talks. You’ve won, now govern and legislate — but not at any price,” he warned.

In response, around 2,000 pro-government supporters gathered outside the presidential palace on Tuesday evening chanting “traitor”.

Grindeanu also lashed out at the president on Wednesday, accusing him of displaying a “strong desire to quickly install his own government”.

‘Difficult marathon’

Despite backtracking on the corruption law, the government still aims to free some 2,500 people serving prison sentences of less than five years, via a separate decree to be reviewed by parliament.

Grindeanu has argued the measures were meant to bring penal law into line with the constitution in the European Union member and reduce overcrowding in prisons.

But critics see the moves as a brazen attempt to let off the many lawmakers who have been ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive in recent years.

That push has seen almost 2,000 people convicted for abuse of power, and a serving prime minister and a string of ministers and lawmakers go on trial.

The government’s latest manoeuvres have sparked alarm in Brussels and Washington.

The European Commission, which had previously praised Romania for its efforts, warned Wednesday that a U-turn in “this incredibly difficult marathon” against corruption would be a “disservice” to the country.  


France 24 : Silenced at Senate hearing, Warren reads letter in corridor

Silenced at Senate hearing, Warren reads letter in corridor


Silenced on the Senate floor, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took her criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee out to the hallway – and found a much larger platform.

Republican senators voted on Tuesday evening to end Warren’s reading of a letter written 30 years ago by Martin Luther King Jr’s widow that criticized Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee to lead the Justice Department, for his civil rights record.

The action prompted a tide of support on Facebook for Warren, a darling of the political left, under a hashtag #LetLizSpeak” after she went outside the chamber and read the 
letter in a video posted on the site that drew more than 5 million views by Wednesday morning.

“The Republicans took away my right to read this letter on the floor – so I’m right outside, reading it now,” she said.

The unusual rebuke of Warren came after the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday cleared the way for confirming Sessions as attorney general. A final vote was expected on Wednesday.

Warren took to the Senate floor to argue against the nomination, reading the letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 about Sessions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately rejected his nomination to be a federal judge.

Sessions had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” when he prosecuted voting fraud cases when he was the U.S. attorney in Alabama,” according to the letter read by Warren.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut her off, saying that she broke a Senate rule that “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” Senators voted 49-43 to silence Warren.

Warren has been a fiery critic of Trump since he launched his presidential campaign. Democrats have expressed concern about Sessions’ record of controversial positions on race, immigration and criminal justice reform.

“Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks,” the Massachusetts senator responded.

Many civil rights and immigration groups also have concerns about Sessions with the American Civil Liberties Union saying his positions on gay rights, capital punishment, abortion rights and presidential authority in times of war should be examined.

Sessions was a federal prosecutor in 1986 when he became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge. This came after allegations that he had made racist remarks, including testimony that he had called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.

Sessions said he was not a racist, but he said at his hearing in 1986 that groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered “un-American.” He also acknowledged he had called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.”



El GrecoMary Magdalen in Penitence, 1580-1585Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas-City