Dutch Lawmaker Cancels Cartoon Contest Amid Threats of Violence  

A Dutch lawmaker, who was planning to hold a caricature contest of Islam’s prophet, has backed away from his plans amid fears of violence.   

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Party of Freedom, the second-largest political party in the Netherlands, announced his decision Thursday in a written statement. 

“To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead,” Wilders said. 

Wilders also noted in a tweet that the contest was being canceled due to safety and security concerns.

Wilders is known for his anti-Islam views, declaring Islam a totalitarian ideology.

Earlier in June, Wilders announced plans for a cartoon contest to depict Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The news stirred anger and grief among Muslims throughout the world as the physical depiction of Prophet Muhammad is considered offensive and insulting to the followers of Islam.

Roiling protests 

The cartoon contest also sparked protests in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely charged issue, often leading to mob violence incidents, including the killing of those accused of blasphemy.  

Earlier this week, thousands of supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious-turned-political party, started a march from Lahore to Islamabad, demanding the newly elected government of Pakistan cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and expel its ambassador.

“We are ready to die in Islamabad for this cause [to stop the cartoon contest] and have already written our wills,” Ejaz Ashrafi, TLP’s spokesperson had told VOA on Wednesday. “Nothing will stop us now.”

TLP members are staunch supporters of the controversial blasphemy law and openly justify violence to safeguard what they call the honor of the prophet. They also demand the death penalty for those who are found guilty of committing blasphemy. 

The party rose to prominence last year and was able to win more than 2 million votes during Pakistan’s general elections last month.

The same party also organized a huge protest in Islamabad in front of the Dutch Embassy last week. Pakistani security forces intervened and barred angry protesters from pelting the Dutch Embassy with stones.

Earlier this month, a Pakistani cricketer had announced a bounty of $24,000 for Wilder’s murder.

Pakistan’s reaction

Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry welcomed Wilder’s decision to cancel the contest and framed it as a diplomatic achievement for Pakistan. 

Earlier Thursday, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a video message stating that Muslim countries need to raise their concerns against the cartoon contest in the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. 

“They [the West] have their own way of looking at their religions while we [Muslims] look at it in a very different way,” Khan said.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign office, tweeted Wednesday about the issue and said the government had raised it with senior diplomats from the Netherlands. 

“FM [foreign minister] spoke with the Dutch FM on phone to discuss the issue of blasphemous caricature. FM expressed concerns on the announcement of abominable and sacrilegious competition by Greet Wilders. The Dutch FM said that his government was neither associated nor supporting the event,” Faisal tweeted.

Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reportedly said that while he didn’t support the planned contest, he would defend Wilders’ right to hold it.

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters. 

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Dutch Lawmaker Cancels Cartoon Contest Amid Threats of Violence  

A Dutch lawmaker, who was planning to hold a caricature contest of Islam’s prophet, has backed away from his plans amid fears of violence.   

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Party of Freedom, the second-largest political party in the Netherlands, announced his decision Thursday in a written statement. 

“To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead,” Wilders said. 

Wilders also noted in a tweet that the contest was being canceled due to safety and security concerns.

Wilders is known for his anti-Islam views, declaring Islam a totalitarian ideology.

Earlier in June, Wilders announced plans for a cartoon contest to depict Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The news stirred anger and grief among Muslims throughout the world as the physical depiction of Prophet Muhammad is considered offensive and insulting to the followers of Islam.

Roiling protests 

The cartoon contest also sparked protests in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely charged issue, often leading to mob violence incidents, including the killing of those accused of blasphemy.  

Earlier this week, thousands of supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious-turned-political party, started a march from Lahore to Islamabad, demanding the newly elected government of Pakistan cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and expel its ambassador.

“We are ready to die in Islamabad for this cause [to stop the cartoon contest] and have already written our wills,” Ejaz Ashrafi, TLP’s spokesperson had told VOA on Wednesday. “Nothing will stop us now.”

TLP members are staunch supporters of the controversial blasphemy law and openly justify violence to safeguard what they call the honor of the prophet. They also demand the death penalty for those who are found guilty of committing blasphemy. 

The party rose to prominence last year and was able to win more than 2 million votes during Pakistan’s general elections last month.

The same party also organized a huge protest in Islamabad in front of the Dutch Embassy last week. Pakistani security forces intervened and barred angry protesters from pelting the Dutch Embassy with stones.

Earlier this month, a Pakistani cricketer had announced a bounty of $24,000 for Wilder’s murder.

Pakistan’s reaction

Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry welcomed Wilder’s decision to cancel the contest and framed it as a diplomatic achievement for Pakistan. 

Earlier Thursday, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a video message stating that Muslim countries need to raise their concerns against the cartoon contest in the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. 

“They [the West] have their own way of looking at their religions while we [Muslims] look at it in a very different way,” Khan said.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign office, tweeted Wednesday about the issue and said the government had raised it with senior diplomats from the Netherlands. 

“FM [foreign minister] spoke with the Dutch FM on phone to discuss the issue of blasphemous caricature. FM expressed concerns on the announcement of abominable and sacrilegious competition by Greet Wilders. The Dutch FM said that his government was neither associated nor supporting the event,” Faisal tweeted.

Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reportedly said that while he didn’t support the planned contest, he would defend Wilders’ right to hold it.

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters. 

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US Cuts Funding to UN Agency Helping Palestinian Refugees

The Trump administration has cut funding to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, calling the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

The U.S. State Department ended decades of support to the organization Friday, saying “the administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.N. agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

UNRWA provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

The United States supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA and donated $355 million to the agency in 2016. However, in January, the Trump administration withheld $65 million it had been due to provide UNRWA and released only $60 million in funds.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would cut more than $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. A senior State Department official said the decision took into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance to Gaza, where “Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, seized the coastal territory in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. That led to Israel and Egypt placing severe economic restrictions on the region.

Under the Trump administration, Washington has taken a number of actions that have angered the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian leadership has been boycotting Washington’s peace efforts since the Jerusalem announcement.

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US Cuts Funding to UN Agency Helping Palestinian Refugees

The Trump administration has cut funding to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, calling the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

The U.S. State Department ended decades of support to the organization Friday, saying “the administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.N. agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

UNRWA provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

The United States supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA and donated $355 million to the agency in 2016. However, in January, the Trump administration withheld $65 million it had been due to provide UNRWA and released only $60 million in funds.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would cut more than $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. A senior State Department official said the decision took into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance to Gaza, where “Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, seized the coastal territory in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. That led to Israel and Egypt placing severe economic restrictions on the region.

Under the Trump administration, Washington has taken a number of actions that have angered the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian leadership has been boycotting Washington’s peace efforts since the Jerusalem announcement.

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US to Proceed With Mexico Trade Pact, Keep Talking to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico after talks with Canada broke up earlier in the day with no immediate deal to revamp the tri-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said U.S. officials would resume talks with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday with the aim of getting a deal all three nations could sign.

All three countries have stressed the importance of NAFTA, which governs billions of dollars in regional trade, and a bilateral deal announced by the United States and Mexico on Monday paved the way for Canada to rejoin the talks this week.

But by Friday the mood had soured, partly on Trump’s off-the-record remarks made to Bloomberg News that any trade deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He later confirmed the comments, which the Toronto Star first reported.

“At least Canada knows where I stand,” he later said on Twitter.

Ottawa has stood firm against signing “just any deal.” 

​’Making progress’

But at a news conference Friday afternoon, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach agreement with the United States on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact if there was “goodwill and flexibility on all sides.”

“We continue to work very hard and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Freeland told reporters.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach,” she added. “With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there.”

The Canadian dollar weakened to C$1.3081 to the U.S. dollar after The Wall Street Journal first reported that the talks had ended Friday with no agreement. Canadian stocks remained 0.5 percent lower.

Global equities were also down following the hawkish turn in Trump’s comments on trade.

Lighthizer has refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Freeland to offer some dairy concessions to maintain the Chapter 19 independent trade dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, The Globe and Mail reported Friday.

However, a spokeswoman for USTR said Canada had made no concessions on agriculture, which includes dairy, but added that negotiations continued.

The United States wants to eliminate Chapter 19, the mechanism that has hindered it from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to cut the mechanism. For Ottawa, Chapter 19 is a red line.

Trump argues Canada’s hefty dairy tariffs are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for his Republican Party.

But dairy farmers have great political clout in Canada too, and concessions could hurt the ruling Liberals ahead of a 2019 federal election.

At a speech in North Carolina on Friday, Trump took another swipe at Canada. “I love Canada, but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” he said.

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US to Proceed With Mexico Trade Pact, Keep Talking to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico after talks with Canada broke up earlier in the day with no immediate deal to revamp the tri-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said U.S. officials would resume talks with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday with the aim of getting a deal all three nations could sign.

All three countries have stressed the importance of NAFTA, which governs billions of dollars in regional trade, and a bilateral deal announced by the United States and Mexico on Monday paved the way for Canada to rejoin the talks this week.

But by Friday the mood had soured, partly on Trump’s off-the-record remarks made to Bloomberg News that any trade deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He later confirmed the comments, which the Toronto Star first reported.

“At least Canada knows where I stand,” he later said on Twitter.

Ottawa has stood firm against signing “just any deal.” 

​’Making progress’

But at a news conference Friday afternoon, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach agreement with the United States on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact if there was “goodwill and flexibility on all sides.”

“We continue to work very hard and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Freeland told reporters.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach,” she added. “With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there.”

The Canadian dollar weakened to C$1.3081 to the U.S. dollar after The Wall Street Journal first reported that the talks had ended Friday with no agreement. Canadian stocks remained 0.5 percent lower.

Global equities were also down following the hawkish turn in Trump’s comments on trade.

Lighthizer has refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Freeland to offer some dairy concessions to maintain the Chapter 19 independent trade dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, The Globe and Mail reported Friday.

However, a spokeswoman for USTR said Canada had made no concessions on agriculture, which includes dairy, but added that negotiations continued.

The United States wants to eliminate Chapter 19, the mechanism that has hindered it from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to cut the mechanism. For Ottawa, Chapter 19 is a red line.

Trump argues Canada’s hefty dairy tariffs are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for his Republican Party.

But dairy farmers have great political clout in Canada too, and concessions could hurt the ruling Liberals ahead of a 2019 federal election.

At a speech in North Carolina on Friday, Trump took another swipe at Canada. “I love Canada, but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” he said.

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