Leading Greek Sporting Official Resigns Following Rape Charges 

A leading Greek sporting official has resigned over allegations that he sexually assaulted Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou. The revelation has sparked an urgent judicial investigation, prompting more alleged victims to speak out about similar sexual assaults. But prosecuting the alleged offenders may prove impossible due to ineffective laws. 
Greeks are already calling her the silence breaker. And 23 years after the alleged rape took place during qualifying matches for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Sofia Bekatorou now says she wants more women victims to speak out.   “The messages I am receiving are hugely positive and supportive,” she said. Bekatorou says she knows more victims are out there in the field of sport and is calling on them all to make their accusations known.   A gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics in her homeland, Bekatorou referred to the alleged rape during an online conference organized by the Greek Sports Ministry over the weekend. She refused to name the official at the time, but when a local prosecutor called her in during an urgent probe, she is said to have identified Aristides Adamopoulos, then a senior member of the Hellenic Sailing federation. He is also a local official of the ruling New Democracy party.   Bekatorou is due to reappear before the prosecutor by Tuesday to provide additional details – accusations that Adamopoulos has not denied. Adamopoulos has urged he public to refrain from reaching what he called any rash decision.   Andonis Dimitrakopoulos, the president of the federation, said he pushed Adamopoulos to resign over the weekend to clear his name. Dimitrakopoulos said the sporting organization was not aware of the alleged assault and more importantly, would have helped put a lid on the entire affair if Adamopoulos had sought out the support of the federation. Bekatorou says the admission left her stunned. “That the federation would respond to such a serious accusation in such a way is just regrettable,” she said.   Two other leading athletes have since spoken out about similar alleged assaults, including national water polo champion Mania Bikoff, who alleges her team doctor sexually harassed her decades ago. The doctor, who was not named, did not respond to the accusation.    “I was going in for shoulder treatments and he was asking me to instead pull down my pants. He never did anything but would sit there and observe me naked,” said Bikoff. The Hellenic Olympic Committee has also opened an investigation.   For a small, close-knit society like Greece, public revelations of this sort are uncommon, even as #MeToo movements grip countries across the globe.     But even if a subtle change in the country’s cultural mindset is starting to take form, pundits warn that laws lag far behind.   Rape offenders in Greece can face between five and 20 years in prison if convicted. A statue of limitations has already expired in the case of Adamopoulos.   Legal experts contacted by VOA say related laws should now be revised to have the timing on the statute of limitations begin when alleged victims like Bekatorou report the offense.  

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Iran’s Zarif to France: Avoid ‘Absurd Nonsense’ about Tehran’s Nuclear Work 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday dismissed a claim by France that Tehran was in the process of building up its nuclear weapons, calling it “absurd nonsense”. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche published on Saturday, said Iran was building up its nuclear weapons’ capacity and it was urgent that Tehran and Washington return to a 2015 nuclear agreement.”Dear colleague: You kick-started your cabinet career with arms sales to Saudi war criminals. Avoid absurd nonsense about Iran,” Zarif said in a Twitter post, in which he tagged his French counterpart @JY_LeDrian. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has drawn criticism from some countries and rights groups over its support of Saudi Arabia’s actions and allowing weapons it has sold to Riyadh potentially to be used in its Yemen operations. “Reality check: YOU are destabilizing OUR region. Stop protecting criminals who chainsaw their critics and use YOUR arms to slaughter children in Yemen,” Zarif tweeted, referring to Le Drian’s previous post as French defense minister. Iran, which denies seeking to make nuclear bombs, rejected a statement on Saturday by three European powers party that warned the Islamic Republic against starting work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, saying it violated the nuclear pact and had serious military implications. Zarif criticized France, Germany and Britain — which remain in the deal with China and Russia – for failing to enforce the agreement since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal and restored harsh economic sanctions on Iran. “E3 leaders — who rely on [the] signature of OFAC functionaries to carry out their obligations under JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] have done ZILCH to maintain JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. Remember @EmmanuelMacron’s stillborn initiative or UK non-payment of court-ordered debt? JCPOA is alive because of Iran and not E3,” Zarif tweeted. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to return the United States to the deal “if Iran resumes strict compliance” with the agreement that imposed strict curbs on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions. In reaction to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually breached many of the deal’s restrictions. But Tehran says it could quickly reverse those steps if Washington first lifts its sanctions. 

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Navalny Flying Back to Russia with Threat of Arrest Looming

Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny is on his way back to Russia from Germany despite the Russian authorities’ stated desire to arrest him and potentially jail him for years.Navalny is flying to Moscow from Berlin, where he has received months of medical treatment for a poisoning that he has blamed on the Russian authorities.The outspoken Kremlin critic announced on January 13 that he would return to Russia despite having received a notice that the country’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) would seek his arrest.His return sets the stage for a potentially dramatic new showdown between the Kremlin and Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken foes.Police patrol the arrival hall of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow, Russia, prior to opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s arrival, Jan. 17, 2021.Late last month, FSIN demanded Navalny return immediately from Germany or face jail in Russia for violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and for evading criminal inspectors.According to court documents, he could face a jail sentence of as much as 3 1/2 years.“The question ‘to return or not’ never stood before me as I didn’t leave on my own. I ended up in Germany in an intensive care box. On January 17, Sunday, I will return home on a Pobeda flight,” he said in a tweet on January 13, referring to a Russian airline whose name means Victory.His supporters plan to meet him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. About 2,000 people have used a Facebook page to say they plan to be there, with another 6,000 expressing an interest. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.The Moscow Prosecutor-General’s Office has said the event is illegal because it is not sanctioned by the authorities.Citing COVID-19 restrictions, the airport has said it will not allow media inside.ComaNavalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow and was treated and placed in an induced coma in a Siberian hospital before being transferred to a medical facility in Germany.Lab tests in three European countries, confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent of the Novichok class. The findings led the European Union to imposed sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.Russian authorities have claimed that no trace of poison was found in Navalny’s body before he was airlifted to Germany, and have refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.FILE – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny poses for a selfie picture with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital, Germany, Sept. 15, 2020. (Credit: Instagram @navalny)On the eve of his return, Navalny thanked the German people in a Facebook post and said they don’t fit the stereotype that they are unfriendly and only want to give and follow orders.“The five months I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed how much the Germans don’t match the stereotypical idea of them,” Navalny wrote. “These are really the sweetest people with a great sense of humor, always trying to help.””Thank you friends!” he wrote in German.Earlier on January 16, Germany demanded that Moscow carry out a full investigation into the poisoning and sent to Russia the transcripts of interviews its authorities conducted with him.The German Justice Ministry said that, with the sending of the information requested by Moscow — including blood and tissue samples — the Russian government now has all the information it needs to carry out a criminal investigation.A ministry spokesman said Berlin expects that “the Russian government will now immediately take all necessary steps to clarify the crime against Mr. Navalny.””This crime must be solved in Russia. This requires investigations commensurate with the seriousness of this crime,” the spokesman added. 

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For Undocumented Afghan Migrants in Turkey, Life is Hard but Better

Turkey has often been described as the gateway between Asia and Europe and because of its location, millions of refugees have arrived in the country as a way station in their effort to migrate to Europe. VOA’s Hilmi Hacaloglu and Umut Colak filed this report on how Afghan refugees are struggling to survive in Istanbul. Bezhan Hamdard narrated their report. 
Camera: Umut Colak         Producers: Hilmi Hacaloglu and Umut Colak

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European Powers Press Iran to Back off Latest Nuclear Move 

Germany, France and Britain pressed Iran on Saturday to back off the latest planned violation of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, saying that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for uranium metal.The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Iran had informed it that Iran began installing equipment for the production of uranium metal. It said Tehran maintained its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production were part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel.”Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear bomb, however, and research on its production is specifically prohibited under the nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — that Tehran signed with Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the United States in 2015.Since the unilateral American withdrawal from the deal in 2018, the other members have been working to preserve the accord. Iran has been using violations of the deal to put pressure on the other signatories to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling American sanctions reimposed after the U.S. pullout.’Grave’ implicationsA joint statement from the German, French and British foreign ministries said they were “deeply concerned” by the latest Iranian announcement.”Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” it said. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.””We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity and return to compliance with its JCPoA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” the statement added.The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the U.S. to the deal.

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Germany’s Ruling Christian Democrats Pick Merkel Loyalist as New Leader 

Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) Saturday chose Armin Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, as their new leader. The pick suggests the party favors continuing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s middle-of-the-road policies when she steps down in September after 16 years in office.Laschet’s win puts him in position to succeed Merkel when the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, decide in March who should become the center-right bloc’s candidate for chancellor in national elections.The CDU has led Germany’s federal government for 52 of the past 72 years.Laschet, 59, now replaces as chair of the party Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the defense secretary whom Merkel had been grooming as her successor. Kramp-Karrenbauer largely failed to assert her authority over the party and announced her resignation in February after blaming Merkel for not being supportive enough.A longtime Merkel loyalist — some see Laschet as the male version of her — he said during the campaign that a change of direction for the party would “send exactly the wrong signal,” as he touted himself as the continuity candidate in a contest that saw him pitched against corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, a far more conservative figure and Merkel critic, and Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs panel.Röttgen, also a centrist, was eliminated in the first round of voting. The party’s 1,000 delegates, who voted in a virtual conference, then gave Laschet his win in a runoff that saw him beat Merz by 55 votes.’Stick together’“I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year,” he told his CDU colleagues after his win. ” … And then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the [CDU/CSU] union.”For months, Laschet, who’s pro-immigrant, was Merkel’s preferred candidate. He defended her during the 2015 refugee crisis. But their relations turned frosty earlier this year when he pressed for an early relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, forcing him to scramble to repair the political damage he sustained inside and outside the CDU.New Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet, left, and German Health Minister Jens Spahn bump fists as Deputy CDU Chairman Thomas Strobl watches at the end of the party’s 33rd congress, in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 16, 2021.During his campaign he repeatedly stressed the importance of continuing with Merkel’s overall approach of expanding the CDU’s voter base, dismissing suggestions the party needs to be fearful of conservative voters defecting to the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD.“We will only win if we remain strong in the center of society,” Laschet said Saturday, emphasizing the dangers of perpetuating political polarization.Party leaders across the political spectrum joined Merkel in speedily offering congratulations.So, too, did Laschet’s rivals, Merz and Röttgen.“Now there is no competition within the CDU anymore but with others,” Röttgen said, adding that now is the time to “build a team with team spirit.” Merz thanked party members for “good cooperation over the past 10 months,” admitting he had not made life easy for Kramp-Karrenbauer.“It’s going to be an enormously trying time for all of us now over the next few weeks and months,” Merz said.Some criticsOther German politicians were not so favorable. AfD’s Jörg Meuthen said the result was “bad news for Germany” because Laschet’s selection would see a continuation of Merkel’s centrist policies.The co-leader of the left-wing Die Linke, Katja Kipping, said Laschet’s victory didn’t mean he would become the CDU’s chancellor candidate, adding: “No matter who wins the race for the CDU candidate for chancellor, the CDU will not be ready to set the course to get us out of the crisis in a fair manner.”Laschet’s speech Saturday in the run-up to voting attracted a positive response from many German commentators.Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute, an independent think tank in Berlin, tweeted: Candidate speeches: Laschet clear winner. He had compelling personal narrative & presented it well. Also one that works in September 2021. Merz incredibly flat. Röttgen surprisingly non-personal. He could have presented compelling story of picking yourself up but didn’t.Newly elected Christian Democratic Union leader Armin Laschet, center, is pictured with delegates following his election during the second day of the party’s 33rd congress in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 16, 2021.An aide to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden said he predicted the incoming administration could clash with Laschet on Russia and China if he’s elected chancellor.“Laschet favors a less confrontational approach to Moscow and Beijing,” said the aide, who asked not to be identified.But, the Biden aide noted, Laschet favors maintaining very close transatlantic relations.“The U.S. is our most significant partner outside the European Union,” Laschet said in 2019. “It is the world’s leading technology nation, and it is of critical importance to security in Europe.”Laschet did, however, prompt anger in 2014 in Washington and was accused of trading in conspiracy theories when he criticized the Obama administration for its support of rebels in Syria, tweeting to then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: “You supported ISIS and Al-Nusra against President Assad in Syria. And they are financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”Analysts are divided on whether the CDU can win the September election under Laschet’s leadership.“While Laschet has convinced a majority of delegates at the party congress, it’s questionable whether this message of pragmatism and continuity will be enough to win national elections,” tweeted Ulrich Speck, senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin. “And more important: whether it will be enough to make sure that Germany’s success story continues.”But Peter Neumann, a professor at King’s College, University of London, said Laschet is a gifted politician.“Often underestimated, he’s smarter, more skillful, and tenacious than people think,” he tweeted.

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