'Battle for sovereignty': Swiss party kicks off campaign to scrap Free Movement deal with EU

A right-wing Swiss party has started a campaign for a referendum to scrap a deal allowing border-free travel of EU citizens to Switzerland, potentially adding to bilateral tensions.

The right-wing and anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and Action for Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) popular movement have until July 2019 to amass the required 100,000 signatures in order for the popular vote to take place. “A battle for Swiss sovereignty begins today,“ AUNS-president and SVP member Lukas Reimann said Tuesday.

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© Denis Balibouse

Those behind the initiative are advocating for the termination of the so-called Free Movement agreement, which allows EU nationals to enter, live and work in Switzerland without restrictions and vice versa. If the referendum “For Modest Immigration” is staged, and voters decide that Switzerland should curb free travels with the block, the Swiss government (Bundesrat) will be given 12 months to negotiate an end to the current deal with the EU. If the talks deadlock, the Free Movement agreement is to be cancelled unilaterally by Bern within 30 days. After that, Switzerland will not enter into accords granting foreigners free access, the initiative states.

The withdrawal from the travel deal, which is one of many interconnected pacts between Switzerland and EU, is likely to add even more tension to the strained relations when it comes to immigration. Swiss voters already approved quotas on immigration in 2014. But, after two years of discussions, the parliament only introduced a system that gave priority to Swiss-based job seekers – Swiss nationals and foreigners registered in Swiss job agencies – but avoided actual quotas on EU workers. The European Commission still retaliated by suspending Switzerland’s participation in the EU’s scientific and student programs – Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. 

Over the past few years, Switzerland have undertaken a number of actions to distance itself from the EU. In 2015, it threatened to suspend its trade, security and free travel agreements with the bloc, if Brussels did not stop uncontrolled migration into the country.

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A year later, the Swiss parliament voted to invalidate its 1992 application to join the European Union, backing a previous decision by the lower house. The original motion was introduced by Reimann.

In late 2017, Swiss President Doris Leuthard urged another referendum to “clarify our (Swiss) relationship with Europe.” The statement came after the EU granted Swiss stock exchanges only limited access to the bloc, which was labeled discrimination in Bern and prompted threats of retaliation.

It’s unclear at this stage if the anti-immigration campaign will succeed or not. A survey of more than 20,000 people conducted by a Swiss publisher Tamedia this week, found that 55 percent of respondents opposed cancelling the free movement agreement, with 42 percent saying it should be scrapped.

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US Navy brings negligent homicide charges against Fitzgerald, McCain ex-commanders

Both former commanding officers of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain are facing negligent homicide and other criminal charges over the fatal collisions last year that killed a total of 17 service members.

Admiral Frank Caldwell decided to file charges Tuesday against Bryce Benson, former commander of the USS Fitzgerald, and Alfredo Sanchez, former commander of the USS John S. McCain, according to a statement released by the Navy Office of Information.

Three other crew members of the USS Fitzgerald, including two lieutenants, and one lieutenant junior grade are also being charged. A chief petty officer of the USS John S. McCain is also facing a dereliction of duty charge.

Commander William Speaks, a Navy spokesman, said the Navy did not disclose the names of the other service members because their cases were still “very early in the process.”

“Everyone apart from someone in the command triad has an expectation of privacy,” Speaks told Military Times.

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) (R) conduct dual aircraft carrier strike group operations © Jake Greenberg

All of the service members are facing charges that include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

In addition, crew members from each destroyer will face additional administrative actions and four crew members from each vessel will face “non-judicial punishment.”

The charges will be presented at an Article 32 hearing where evidence will be reviewed to determine whether the officers should be court-martialed.

Caldwell, head of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program, was authorized in late October to review the collisions and take administrative or disciplinary actions.

On June 17, seven soldiers were killed as the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship in the middle of the night, southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. The ship sprung a leak and seven sailors drowned. Three of the commanding officers on the ship were later relieved of their duties.

On August 21, the USS John S. McCain crashed into a commercial vessel in the Strait of Malacca off the coast of Singapore. Ten sailors drowned as seawater flooded sealed compartments of the ship. Another five sustained serious injuries.

In November, the Navy announced reforms to improve sailors’ skills at sea after reviews showed crew members in the Pacific were undertrained and overworked.

Benson and Sanchez were both relieved of their command after the collisions. The Navy did not specify when their hearings will begin.

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Trump sticks it to mental health doubters with perfect head exam

Donald Trump has been deemed fit to serve as the president, the White House doctor announced after the US commander in chief voluntarily underwent a cognitive test to put questions about his mental health to rest.

“The president is mentally very sharp, very intact. He is fit for duty,” Dr. Ronny Jackson told reporters after Trump did ‘‘exceedingly well’’ on a cognitive screening. “I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another (four-year) term if he’s elected.”

The cognitive exam was Trump’s own idea. Jackson initially had “no intention” of including such a test in the US president’s first annual physical checkup since it’s not part of the routine procedure. However, Trump, according to Jackson, specifically asked to be screened for impairments such as Alzheimer’s.

The rest of Trump’s body is apparently doing fine, too. His “incredibly good” genes allow the 71-year-old president to stay in “excellent” health, Jackson said after the president’s physical exam which took place Friday.

“He continues to enjoy the significant long-term cardiac and overall health benefits that come from a lifetime of abstinence from tobacco and alcohol,” Jackson pointed out. That’s despite his fast food habit which was ridiculed in the wake of the publication of Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury,’ which claimed Trump enjoys occasional Big Mac dinners in bed.

‘Fire and Fury’ as well as Trump’s belligerent comments that gave rise to the name, have prompted many mainstream reporters to challenge Trump’s mental stability. American news networks have repeatedly raised the issue because of his aggressive Twitter posts, especially those taunting North Korea, seen in the US as a hostile nuclear-capable nation. According to the narrative in ‘Fire and Fury,’ even Trump’s inner circle have questioned their boss’ mental state.

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Decision to freeze $65 million in Palestinian aid ‘not a punishment’ – US official

The United States has announced its withholding $ 65 million in aid to Palestinian refugees but is insistent the move is not aimed at punishing Palestinians.

Washington officially announced Tuesday that it is freezing the funds “for future consideration.” The money was set to be allocated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which works with Palestinian refugees.

“This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a media briefing.

It was initially reported ten days ago that Washington would withhold $ 125 million from the UN-affiliated body, but official word only arrived Tuesday. The funds were supposed to be paid at the start of the year.

The decision to suspend the aid comes two weeks after President Donald Trump threatened to cut funding. In a tweet on January 2, Trump said the US gets no “appreciation or respect” from Palestine despite donating hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel… With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump said.

The tweets came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abbas added that the US can no longer be considered an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

A US official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not link the fund freeze to the president’s tweets, instead demanding that other countries do more to help Palestine.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official said.

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No, Molly, Russia doesn’t believe in ‘nuking their own people’

One self-proclaimed expert who sees Russia’s sinister hand under every bed has claimed that Moscow’s nuclear doctrine includes “nuking their own people.” This was deemed a step too far even by her fellow Russia critics.

After Hawaiians scrambled in panic due to a false nuclear launch alert Saturday, pundit Molly McKew argued on Twitter that the Russian nuclear doctrine “explicitly states that a nuclear weapon could be used to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict, including by nuking their own people in order to stop the perceived loss of territory in an invasion etc.”

There’s only one problem with this: It’s not true.

This was pointed out by none other than Aric Toler, a lead researcher at Bellingcat and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, outfits that could hardly be called sympathetic to the Russian viewpoint, much less “Kremlin agents.”

“The Russian ‘information warfare expert’ is waging really crappy info war on Russia by [completely] inventing sections in the Russian nuclear doctrine,” Toler tweeted.

Instead of actual Russian military doctrine, McKew is relying on a 2015 article by Russian historian Sergei Brezkun, published in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper.

“You can’t take a Russian historian’s quote from an article he wrote and say it is now part of the the Russian nuclear doctrine,” Toler admonishes. He later offers a link to the actual Russian military doctrine, on the Kremlin’s official website.

“I’d reply to these if I could, but McKew blocked me months ago so I can’t,” Toler concludes. “Anyways, all of her sources are in English, and I still haven’t seen any actual Russian nuclear doctrine in a primary Russian source backing any of her claims.”

McKew’s “expertise” on Russia consists of a one-time consulting job for the disgraced Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, best known for chewing his tie on national television after starting a war with Russia in August 2008.

That hasn’t stopped her from pitching all sorts of outlandish takes about Russia in the mainstream US media, from blaming Kremlin for racism in America to accusing whistleblower Chelsea Manning of being a Kremlin stooge.

McKew is also known for peddling the nonexistent “Gerasimov doctrine” of hybrid warfare, a popular myth among Western Russia-watchers that has no basis in observable reality.

She once called American power “the only escape from Putin’s corrosive vision of a world at permanent war.” As part of her thread on Russian “nuclear doctrine,” she also said that “Russian madness is the spark of madness driving the world mad because we’ve decided not to confront it.”

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Fake Russian avant-garde? Art experts say Belgian museum exhibited ‘questionable’ works

A group of art experts have accused a leading Belgian museum of staging an exhibition featuring ‘highly questionable’ works, purportedly by Russian avant garde artists.

The Russian Modernism exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent claims to have 26 previously unseen works by leading artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko.However a group of art connoisseur and dealers have raised questions about the veracity of the works which they say are “highly questionable.”

In an open letter published by the Art Newspaper, the 11 experts, which included art historians who have written and made exhibitions on some of the featured artists, raised questions about how the institution was able to assemble the collection, courtesy of long term loan by Igor Toporkovski, a Russian businessman based in Brussels.

“All the works exhibited could be defined as highly questionable,” the letter states. “They have no exhibition history, have never before been reproduced in serious scholarly publications and have no traceable sales records.

“The exhibited paintings by Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei Jawlensky are not included in the catalogues raisonné—internationally recognized as the definitive sources for determining the work created by these artists.”

While the experts do not describe the works as fake it is clear that they are alleging that the works might be inauthentic.

READ MORE: Artist who breastfed dog and fertilized her egg with dog cell wins prestigious prize

In a statement to artnet, a museum spokesperson said it had followed standard procedures to check the paintings’ authenticity before launching the exhibition. “We have acted throughout, we believe, correctly in this matter, and in good faith,” the spokesperson said.

In October, Toporovski told Belgian press that each piece in the museum had a file of documents confirming its provenance.

Since the letter was released details of the exhibition have been removed from the museum’s website.

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Trump administration report blames immigrants for terrorism

Three out of four people convicted of international terrorism or terrorism-related offenses were “immigrants,” a new report by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security has claimed.

The DOJ broadly defines “immigrants” as both the people extradited to the US for trial and immigrants arrested in US.  

The report, issued Tuesday, is in response to a provision in President Donald Trump’s executive order from March 2017, which allowed the federal government to temporarily suspend all refugee resettlement and ban the issuance of new visas from seven Muslim-majority countries. It coincides with Congress debating a spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, which Democrats insist be tied to immigration legislation.

“This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality — our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press statement. “And the information in this report is only the tip of the iceberg: we currently have terrorism-related investigations against thousands of people in the United States, including hundreds of people who came here as refugees.”

The Justice Department claims 402 foreign-born persons were convicted of international terrorism-related charges in US federal courts between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2016 ‒ but only provides descriptions of eight of those cases. Those cases concern eight young men who were all indicted for either trying to travel to fight for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or offering aid and support to IS, but not actually carrying out a terrorist act.

Among them is Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, a Sudanese national, who was granted entry into the US in 2012 as a family member of a lawful permanent resident.

In 2016, he pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS, and in 2017 was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison. According to court documents, Elhassan “aided and abetted the attempt of Joseph Hassan Farrokh, 29, to travel from the United States to Syria in order to fight on behalf of ISIS,” states the document.

The Justice Department report doesn’t go into the details of the specifics of the cases which were part of the government’s efforts to block people from traveling abroad to join IS, and in the case of Elhassan, fails to mention that three FBI informants were used to entrap the young men. The report also doesn’t include data points on “individual radicalization” or honor killings.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2006 and 2015, there were “approximately 1.3 million non-fatal domestic violence victimizations each year,” the report said. “It is unclear how many were perpetrated by foreign nationals because the federal government has not recorded and tracked in a aggregated statistical manner information pertaining to gender-based violence against women committed at the federal and state level.”

The report was criticized on social media for failing to talk domestic events in 2017. Among them a white supremacist, and army veteran, driving his car into a group of peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and injuring 19 others, or the white man who carried out the Las Vegas massacre killing 58 people and injuring over 500 before killing himself, or the former Army veteran, another white man, who killed 26 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas, among other mass shooting incidents last year.

These events while creating ‘terrifying’ situations don’t fall under official classification of terrorism according to the FBI, even though public opinion afterwards said they should be referred to as domestic terrorism.

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'It was sensationalized by journalists!' – Spartak player on 'chocolates' tweet racism row

Spartak Moscow player Quincy Promes says a tweet published on the club’s official Twitter account, in which defender Georgi Dzhikiya refers to three black teammates as “chocolates melting in the sun”, has been ‘sensationalized’.

On Saturday, Dzhikiya took charge of the club’s official Twitter account, posting footage affording fans an inside view of the Red-Whites’ mid-season training camp in Abu-Dhabi during the Russian Premier League (RPL) winter break.

In one of the posts, the 24-year-old films Brazilian trio Fernando, Ze Luis and Pedro Rocha during a stretching exercise on the training pitch. Dzhikiya can be heard laughing and commenting in Russian, “see how chocolates melt in the sun.”

The comment was captioned in the tweet along with chocolate bar emojis, which was apparently screened by the club’s social media team, and then published along with the video. It has since been deleted.

That was not before the post sparked outrage in Western media, with a string of publications accusing both the club and player of propagating racism.

English football’s equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out said the post highlighted “the prejudices towards black people in Russia.” FIFA condemned the tweet as a form of racism, but said the “handling of this matter falls under the responsibility of the relevant national body.”

Spartak’s Dutch winger Quincy Promes, who is of Surinamese descent and has been playing in Russia since 2014, said he found it hard to comprehend why Dzhikiya’s comments had been met with such a reaction.

“I don’t understand what happened, where this reaction is from. Everything was sensationalised by journalists. But I know the truth, and it’s not what’s written. ‘Chocolates’… To me, is fully ok,” Promes, widely considered to be the best foreign player in the Russian Premier League, told 8news.

“You can never call someone a monkey, for example, they are animals. But there’s nothing to discuss here, there is no excuse to be offended. In Russia I’ve never come across racism. I cannot even think that the people here can be racists.”

After removing Dzhikiya’s tweet, the club then posted a series of follow-up tweets including messages from the players featured in the original video together in friendly manner. One featured Fernando delivering a personal message in Russian to the camera, stating, “There is no racism at Spartak, we are one united family.”

Another showed the three players huddled with their arms around Dzhkiya, himself an ethnic Georgian, before Ze Luis says, in Russian, “This is my friend, my brother, a legend of Spartak. I love you my friend.”

The Russian Football Union (RFU) said it had been made aware of the decision. The organisations Ethics Committee confirmed it would review the matter accordingly.

“We are reviewing this incident, and today (Tuesday) it should come to the attention of (acting RFU president) Alexander Alayev. I believe we will convene on January 25,” RFU Ethics Committee spokesman Semyon Andreyev said, TASS reported.

READ MORE: UEFA charges Spartak Moscow with racism after alleged monkey chants at Liverpool youth game

In response, Spartak issued a statement in which the club apologized “to all who were offended by the the unfortunate comment on the club’s official Twitter account. The player did not intend to offend anyone, but made an unfortunate joke.”

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Coldest village on Earth: Residents of Siberian settlement unfazed by -62C temperatures (VIDEO)

The Siberian outpost of Oymyakon is officially the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth – yet residents incredibly go about their day-to-day routines despite bone-chilling temperatures of -62C (-80F).

In fact, it’s quite possible that it’s even colder than -62C, given that the Siberian Times reports the town’s digital thermometer stopped working when it reached that mark – because of the chilling cold.

While it might provide an interesting photo op for tourists, natives of Russia’s Yakutia Republic take it in their stride. The biting temperature is not an excuse to stay indoors, even for the youngest residents of the coldest place on Earth. “Our country holidays,” wrote one woman, who added a photo of her son in the snowy countryside.

Local schoolchildren were finally allowed to skip classes after temperatures in the village dropped below -53C – the threshold after which schools must close. Yet when temperatures fell to -50C in November, the kids attended classes as normal. That qualifies as a no-excuses environment.

Meanwhile, Nastya, 24, got widespread traction on Instagram after adding a photo of herself with eyelashes turned white like icicles. “Minus 47C, 15-20 minutes’ walk and you get natural mascara on your eyelashes,” she says.

A video showing a smiling nine-year-old boy brushing snow off the back of a horse as it stands in a snow-covered paddock typifies the fortitude of residents.

“For us these temperatures are a common thing. It’s strange that journalists call and ask how we live there. I say: you come and see for yourself. We live an ordinary life,” says Semyon Vinokurov, who shot the video. 

To give tourists some credit, these Chinese ‘ice’ visitors showed an impressive willingness to brave the freezing temperatures as they stripped and danced before taking a swim in the local springs.

In 1933, when temperatures dipped to -68C, the town earned a place in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the coldest permanently-inhabited place on Earth. Only Antarctica gets colder.

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