Report in Poland Lists Judges, Prosecutors Facing Reprisals 

An association of judges in Poland published a report Saturday listing dozens of judges and prosecutors who face reprisals and disciplinary measures for having criticized or questioned changes the country’s right-wing government has made to the judicial system. The 200-page report issued by the Polish judges’ association Iustitia named judges and prosecutors who were called before disciplinary bodies, moved to lower courts or had cases taken away from them. The actions took place after the lawyers and jurists commented on the reorganization of the judiciary or issued rulings that seemed to deviate from government policy. Among those listed in the report as being subject to reprisals are Warsaw District Court Judge Igor Tuleya; Olsztyn District Court Judge Pawel Juszczyszyn; and Iustitia’s president, Judge Krystian Markiewicz of the District Court in Katowice. Markiewicz has urged the European Union to act in defense of judicial independence in Poland. Some 4,000 out of Poland’s 10,000 judges are Iustitia members. “As judges we stand guard over the civil rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution,” said the English-language version of the report. “We do not and will not agree to politicize the courts,” it said. ‘Slandering’ judges, prosecutorsThe report also names and quotes government and judiciary officials who, it says, have been publicly “slandering” the judges and prosecutors in Poland and internationally. The government says the changes it has introduced since 2016 were designed to make the justice system more efficient and free of jurists left over from Poland’s communist era. In response to criticism coming from newer judges, the government said it is taking steps to prevent “anarchy” in the court system. The EU, international judicial bodies and critics in Poland have said the changes could undercut judicial independence, the rule of law, and the democratic system of checks and balances. One recent law allows politicians to fine and fire judges who are considered biased because of their group affiliations or who take actions regarded by the government as harmful to the Polish court system. Candidate’s promiseAt a political convention Saturday, the main opposition candidate in Poland’s May 10 presidential election said that if elected, she would make right “all wrongs done to independent judges” by the ruling Law and Justice party. “Poland’s judges are persecuted,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, who is running for the pro-EU Civic Platform party, said. Kidawa-Blonska is among several candidates challenging Poland’s incumbent president, Andrzej Duda. Opinion polls suggest she may provide competition for Duda, who is backed by the ruling party. Kidawa-Blonska said that as president, she would work to regain Poland’s place as a respected European Union member and to unify the country after what she described as divisions created by the conservative Law and Justice government. She said her guiding values would be “mutual respect, trust and honesty.” 

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Poll: Sinn Fein Would Easily Win Repeat Irish Election

The pro-Irish unity Sinn Fein party would easily win a repeat Irish election if ongoing government talks fail, with an opinion poll on Saturday showing it has almost twice as much support as its two nearest rivals. The left-wing party’s support jumped to 35%, ahead of Fianna Fail at 20% and acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael at 18% in a Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll that may influence early talks between the two center-right rivals. Sinn Fein shocked the political establishment in an election earlier this month by securing more votes than any other party for the first time, almost doubling its vote to 24.5%, ahead of Fianna Fail at 22.2% and Fine Gael at 20.9%. But it has been frozen out of government talks by its two rivals, who refuse to contemplate sharing power because of policy differences and Sinn Fein’s history as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, the militant group that fought against British rule in Northern Ireland. The conflict, in which 3,600 people were killed, was resolved in a 1998 peace deal. Too few candidatesCaught by surprise themselves, Sinn Fein ran too few candidates to emerge with the most seats — a mistake it will not make next time around. It has already begun a series of packed national rallies to shore up its support. Both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail have 37 seats in the fractured 160-seat parliament, with Fine Gael at 35, meaning some sort of combination of two of the three largest parties is required to form a government. Bruised by its election defeat, Fine Gael will reluctantly hold a “one-day policy exchange” with Fianna Fail next week as well as similar talks with the Green Party, whose 12 seats would be needed for the two historic rivals to reach a majority. If Ireland’s two dominant parties cannot agree to lead the next government while also maintaining their steadfast opposition to governing with Sinn Fein, a second election would be the only way to break the deadlock. All sides predict talks will take several weeks before such a choice has to be made. 

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Socialist Hardliners Aim Guns on Guaido March in Venezuela

Socialist hardliners in Venezuela opened fire during a march headed by Juan Guaido, injuring a 16-year-old demonstrator and adding to tensions in the country as the opposition leader seeks to revive his campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro. A photo of the confrontation provided exclusively to The Associated Press shows a masked man brandishing a pistol pointed toward a group of opposition activists, including Guaido, who can be seen staring down the unidentified man. The confusing incident Saturday in the central city of Barquisimeto was believed to be the first time pro-government vigilantes known as colectivos had aimed a weapon at Guaido, whom the U.S. and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader following Maduro’s re-election in 2018 in a race marred by irregularities. The city’s former mayor and opposition activist Alfredo Ramos said the marchers led by Guaido were “ambushed” by about 200 colectivo members and government security forces loyal to Maduro. Ramos said worse bloodshed was avoided because the unidentified man did not open fire at that moment. Marchers scatterBut later, as the crowd swelled, a 16-year-old demonstrator was shot in the leg and several others were roughed up as the colectivos harassed participants, in some cases stealing their cellphones. Amid the sound of bullets firing into the air, the marchers quickly scattered. “Courage and strength,” Guaido said in a conversation with the injured activist that was videotaped by his aides while their caravan headed back to Caracas. “We’re going to achieve freedom for our country.” The AP was not present at the rally and was unable to verify the lawmakers’ account. There was no immediate comment from the Maduro government. Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas political analyst, said the incident underscored the forceful role being played in Venezuela by the colectivos. As political turmoil has swept over Venezuela the past year, armed groups loyal to Maduro have been increasingly deployed by a government determined to resist domestic opposition and mounting international pressure, Pantoulas said. Trouble ahead?”This is a tactic by the government to use violence by colectivos to intimidate its opponents,” said Pantoulas. “Every day the collectivos are feeling stronger inside the Maduro government. One day, the situation could easily get out of hand and lead to bloodshed.” While colectivos in the past have been subordinate to Maduro, Pantoulas cautioned that as the embattled leader’s grip on power has weakened, some have strayed and operate independently or are aligned with other Chavista revolution bosses. Saturday’s event marked Guaido’s first public trip outside Caracas since he returned from an international tour to rally support, including a White House meeting with President Donald Trump, who invited Guaido as a special guest to his annual State of the Union address. Guaido was met by rowdy Maduro supporters when he returned to Venezuela. Guaido, surrounded by security, pushed his way through the crowd as it pounded on his departing vehicle. His uncle, who returned on the same flight, was jailed on suspicion of bringing explosives into the country, charges Guaido called a threat against him. 

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Ecuador Reports 1st Coronavirus Case; Mexico Reports 2 More

Officials in Ecuador on Saturday confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus in the South American nation, while Mexico reported two more cases and Brazil one more.
Ecuador’s Health Minister Catalina Andramuno Zeballos said a more-than-70-year-old Ecuadoran woman who lives in Spain arrived in the country on Feb. 14 showing no symptoms of illness.
“In the following days she began to feel badly with a fever,” Andramuno said at a news conference, adding that she was taken to a medical center. The National Institute of Public Health and Investigation in Ecuador confirmed the virus.
The deputy minister of health, Julio Lopez said that the patient’s condition was “critical.”
It was the second case in South America, following a Brazilian case reported on Wednesday. The Sao Paulo state health department reported another Brazilian case later on Saturday _ a person who had recently visited Italy.
Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno sent out a tweet urging people to stay calm, and the Interior Ministry announced it was barring mass gatherings in the cities of Guayaquil – where the infected woman was located – and Babahoyo.People wearing face masks wearing masks wait for the arrival of their relatives at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport, in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 29, 2020.Mexico’s Health Department said late Friday that a new case had been confirmed in Mexico City, adding to the first two confirmed cases announced earlier that day. One of those was also in the capital, and the other in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.
Miguel Riquelme Solis, the governor of the northern border state of Coahuila, said Saturday that federal health officials had confirmed a fourth case, in the city of Torreon: a 20-year-old woman who traveled to Europe, including Milan, Italy, in January and February and returned to Mexico in recent days.
“Two days later she began to have symptoms,” Riquelme told Milenio television.
State Health Secretary Roberto Bernal said the woman was in good health. She and family members were under a 14-day quarantine, and two other young people who traveled with her had been in contact with authorities.
Mexican health officials said the country is not currently facing a national emergency over the virus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that as long as the country is seeing only isolated cases there’s no need to take “extreme measures such as canceling mass events.”
Mexico was ground zero for the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu, and many in the country have vivid memories of that time.
Back then many stayed home as much as possible and avoided gatherings out of fear. Shops, restaurants and other businesses closed. In the capital, streets were eerily quiet compared with the usual chaotic traffic.
So far there has been no repeat of that sort of fear.
There were reports of increased purchases of items like face masks and hand sanitizer, and the National Alliance of Small Businesses said shortages of those items would likely cause prices to rise.
The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference in Mexico said parishioners should avoid physical contact during the ritual exchange of wishes for peace and said communion wafers should be placed in Mass-goers’ hands instead of their mouths.    

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Deal With Taliban Paves Way for Start of US Pullout From Afghanistan

In a historic deal signed with the Taliban on Saturday in Doha, the United States promised to bring its troops home from Afghanistan in 14 months, with the first reduction, down to 8,600 from 13,000, to take place in the first 135 days. Full withdrawal will depend on the Taliban sticking to their end of the bargain — making sure they prevent anyone in areas under their control, including al-Qaida, from posing a threat to the U.S. or its allies, and successfully negotiating with other Afghans on the future road map of the country.    “We will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in his statement at the deal-signing ceremony. The agreement also details some of the steps required to start the intra-Afghan negotiations. “The United States is committed to start immediately to work with all relevant sides on a plan to expeditiously release combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides,” the text of the deal reads. Up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 Afghan security forces members will be released by March 10, the first scheduled day of intra-Afghan negotiations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference after a signing ceremony between members of Afghanistan’s Taliban delegation and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020.Afghans’ fate in Afghans’ handsWhile the U.S. would facilitate negotiations between the two sides, Pompeo emphasized that his country would let Afghans decide their own fate. “When it comes down to it, the future of Afghanistan is for the Afghans to determine. The U.S.-Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that,” he said. The head of the Taliban delegation, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed the agreement on behalf of the insurgent group, said negotiations should be based on Islamic values. “I call on all Afghan sides to come to the table of negotiations with honesty to form an independent and strong Islamic system, thus we may all gather around Islamic values and national interest,” he said in his statement.   Once the intra-Afghan negotiations start, the U.S. would also review sanctions against members of the Taliban “with the goal of removing these sanctions by August 27, 2020.” Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu are among those attending a signing ceremony between members of Afghanistan’s Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020.The Saturday ceremony was attended by representatives of 19 countries and four international organizations. Campaign promiseA statement issued by the White House said the deal fulfilled one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises. “President Trump promised to bring our troops home from overseas and is following through on that promise,” it said. Trump later spoke to reporters to thank U.S. allies for approving his Afghan peace plan, saying he believed the Taliban would deliver on their commitments. He warned that U.S. troops would go back if “bad things happen,” though Trump appeared confident it would not be necessary.   “I will be meeting personally with the Taliban leaders in the not too distant future and we will be very much hoping that they will be doing what they say they are going to be doing; they will be killing terrorists, they will keep that fighting going,” the U.S. president said. FILE – A photo circulated by the Taliban of Hibatullah Akhundzada.A message from Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada categorized the agreement as a victory. “This victory is a collective victory of the entire Muslim and Mujahid nation,” he said in a written statement, adding that “the accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement.” Taliban spokesman Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said that after the United States withdraws its forces, the Taliban would like it to return and participate in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation.   The signing was preceded by a week of reduction in violence in which all sides — the Taliban, the U.S., NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan government — agreed not to initiate an attack. The war, which has lasted 19 years, has cost more than 100,000 lives and more than $1 trillion. 

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French Film Awards Held Amid Calls for More Diversity

France’s annual Cesar Award film ceremony Friday is already clouded in controversy, with a shake-up of its board, sexual assault accusations against top director Roman Polanski, and now, fresh calls for more diversity on screen.After Hollywood, French cinema is having its own introspective moment. The latest hashtag trending this week is #BlackCesars, after some 30 leading members of France’s film industry denounced its lack of diversity.  In an open letter published in a French newspaper this week, they claimed actors, directors and producers of ethnic African and Asian origin, and those from France’s overseas territories, are essentially invisible. They mostly get insignificant roles, the group claimed, that would never allow them to be nominated for Cesars or other awards. Many of the signatories are from minority backgrounds.  Hermann Ebongue, secretary general of anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme, notes calls for more diversity in the industry are not new. Although this year’s Academy Awards faced similar criticism, he believes minority artists in the United States still have more opportunities to become stars than in France.  The #BlackCesars petition also points to what it calls a paradox of American film director Spike Lee becoming the first black head of the Cannes Film Festival’s jury in May.  The diversity criticism here comes amid a shake-up of the Cesar’s management. Its board resigned en masse earlier this month, after film industry members accused it of being undemocratic and dysfunctional.Women’s rights activists protest against multiple nominations for Roman Polanski at the Cesar Awards ceremony, in Paris, France, Feb. 28, 2020.Meanwhile, another crisis is part of the backdrop of the awards ceremony. Franco-Polish film director Roman Polanski, whose movie An Officer and a Spy tops the list of nominations, faces accusations of rape and sexual harassment. He denies the accusations and said he would not attend following a storm of protest.  Some minority actors and directors have broken the glass ceiling here. Among them: film star Omar Sy, and director Ladj Ly, whose movie Les Miserables — set in France’s rough, multi-ethnic banlieues, or suburbs, — is another leading Cesar contender. Ly was also France’s first black film director to be nominated for an Oscar this year.  But activists say these stars remain the exceptions. Their box-office success, they say, proves French audiences also want more diversity onscreen.  Ebongue, of SOS Racisme, says real change will come when the industry as a whole signs on to petitions like #BlackCesars — and not just a minority of members. 

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