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A business in Washington, D.C., is working to empower women who have been victims of gender-based violence by targeting the growing number of consumers who are socially and environmentally conscious. Handmade handicrafts are imported from countries where women are vulnerable. Access to a broader market gives victims more opportunities for a better future.

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Parts of our oceans routinely go through temperature swings. The El Nino and La Nina effects in the Pacific are perhaps the best known. But new research in Britain suggests that those heat waves are becoming more common and more extreme. And that spells trouble for the world’s waters. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Spain’s Socialists led in a poll published Sunday in the daily El Pais, but fell short of a majority with its main ally ahead of a general election next month. 

The Socialists would win 27.1 percent of the vote, or 122 seats in the 350-seat parliament. Together with far-left ally Podemos they would have 162 seats in parliament. 

That is exactly the same number that a coalition of three right-wing parties — People’s Party (PP), Ciudadanos and far-right Vox — would have, according to the poll conducted March 14-19. 

Both blocs would be short of the 176 seats needed to secure an outright parliamentary majority. 

Socialist Pedro Sanchez could clinch a majority to get re-elected as prime minister if he gets the support of the array of parties that backed him last June when he won a vote of confidence against PP’s government at the time. 

Catalan pro-independence parties

Sanchez then received the backing of Podemos and small regional parties. But two Catalan pro-independence parties that voted for him in 2018 did not support his budget proposal last February, prompting him to call for a snap election. 

The Socialists would receive the most support in the ‪April 28 election with 27.1 percent of votes, followed by PP with 19.3 percent but losing 61 seats from the last election in 2016, while Ciudadanos would get 17.7 percent of votes and gain 23 seats in parliament, according to the poll. 

Podemos would receive 12.3 percent of votes and lose 31 seats, while Vox would get 10.2 percent, equivalent to 31 seats, being the first time in nearly four decades that far-right lawmakers would be elected to Spain’s parliament. 

A poll of polls published by El Pais on March 13 gave the Socialists 27.3 percent of the vote, PP 20 percent, while support for Vox rose sharply to 12.1 percent. 

Sunday’s survey was conducted by polling firm 40db with 1,500 respondents and had a margin of error of 2.58 percentage points. 

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Italy has signed a memorandum of understanding with China in support of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to weave a network of ports, bridges and power plants linking China with Africa, Europe and beyond.

Premier Giuseppe Conte and Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands during a ceremony in Rome on Saturday, after 29 separate sections of the memorandum were signed by members of both governments.

With the memorandum, Italy becomes the first member of the Group of Seven major economies that includes the United States, to join Belt and Road, following Portugal’s embrace of the initiative in December.

Italy’s involvement gives China a crucial inroad into Western Europe and a symbolic boost in its economic tug-of-war with Washington.

 

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British Prime Minister Theresa May has told lawmakers she may not seek passage of her troubled Brexit withdrawal plan in Parliament next week.

The embattled leader, who faces a major protest march in central London on Saturday, wrote to lawmakers Friday night saying she would bring the European Union withdrawal back to Parliament if there seems to be enough backing for it to pass.

“If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April, but that will involve holding European Parliament elections,” she said.

May’s changing stance reflects the plan’s dismal chances in the House of Commons after two prior defeats.

She also says she would need the approval of House Speaker John Bercow to bring the plan back for a third time despite his objections. Bercow has said a third vote would violate parliamentary rules unless the plan is altered.

May said in her letter to lawmakers that if the deal is approved, Britain will leave the EU on May 22, a date agreed with EU officials.

Lawmakers have twice rejected the deal and haven’t shown any clear swing toward endorsing it in recent days. Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on April 12 if no deal is approved.

Pro-Brexit forces are also girding for the possible political impact of a planned march in central London in support of holding a second referendum that would give British voters the option of remaining in the EU despite the 2016 vote in favor of leaving.

The organizers of the “People’s Vote March” predict that one of Britain’s largest-ever protest marches will grip central London. More than 4 million people endorsed an electronic petition this week in favor of revoking Article 50, the act that formally triggered the Brexit process.

The march will conclude outside Parliament, which remains divided over Brexit. No consensus on a way forward has emerged despite weeks of extensive debate.

May told lawmakers in her letter that Britain still has options including an extension that would require taking part in European Parliament elections in May.

She also said Britain could revoke Article 50 but characterized that as a betrayal of the Brexit vote in favor of severing EU ties.

She also said Britain could leave without a deal.

In a conciliatory tone, the prime minister offered to meet with lawmakers to discuss Brexit policy.

She had offended many legislators with a speech Thursday night that seemed to blame Parliament for the stalled Brexit process.

 

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The French government vowed to strengthen security as yellow vest protesters stage a 19th round of demonstrations, in an effort to avoid a repeat of last week’s riots in Paris.

Authorities banned protests Saturday from the capital’s Champs-Elysees avenue and central areas of several cities including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Rouen in western France.

 

In Paris, some yellow vests protesters were gathering Saturday morning on Trocadero plaza, next to the Eiffel Tower. Others issued calls for a demonstration from the Denfert-Rochereau plaza, in southern Paris, to tourist hotspot Montmartre in the north.

 

The new Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who took charge following last week’s protests, said specific police units have been created to react faster to any violence.

 

About 6,000 police officers are deployed in the capital and two drones are helping to monitor the demonstrations.

 

Authorities also deployed soldiers to protect sensitive sites and allow police forces to focus on maintaining order during the protests. 

 

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed criticism from opposition leaders regarding the involvement of the military. 

 

“Those trying to scare people, or to scare themselves, are wrong,” he said in Brussels.

 

The French government announced new security measures this week and replaced the Paris police chief with Lallement following riots on the Champs-Elysees that left luxury stores ransacked and charred from arson fires.

 

Last week’s surge in violence came as the 4-month-old anti-government movement has been dwindling. 

The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes but have expanded into a broader rejection of Macron’s economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers.

 

The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in their vehicles for emergencies.

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Recent Western-imposed sanctions targeting Russia — spawned by a naval attack on Ukrainian soldiers on the Sea of Azov late last year — are too little, too late, say former top U.S. emissaries to the region.

The United States, in coordination with Canada and the European Union, leveled the sanctions on more than a dozen Russian officials and businesses earlier in March, citing Moscow’s “continued aggression in Ukraine.”

On Nov. 25, 2018, Russian Coast Guard vessels rammed and then seized a trio of Ukrainian naval vessels as they moved across international waters of the Black Sea en route from one Ukrainian port to another. The two dozen Ukrainian sailors aboard those ships have since been jailed in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison.

“Where were we in March, April, May, June of 2018?” said former U.S. Ambassador Victoria Nuland of the timing of the latest sanctions. Nuland spoke in Washington at a recent roundtable event, titled, “Crimea after Five Years of Russian Occupation.”

Nuland was one of several former top State Department officials on hand at the roundtable jointly sponsored by U.S. Institute of Peace, the Ukrainian embassy and the Atlantic Council. Nuland, a former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, echoed criticism by retired U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, who was also in attendance.

“I know where George was [at that time],” she added, referring to George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who was also at the discussion. “But I don’t know where the rest of the administration and the rest of Europe were as the harassment of Ukrainian shipping was beginning, as the first efforts to gain control of that [maritime] territory were beginning.

“As has already been said, perhaps we didn’t want to see, so we waited until the crisis emerged. And even after the crisis, where were we in trying to increase our presence in the Black Sea?” Nuland said. “We’re only just getting there now. Where were we in terms of supporting Ukrainian naval capacity? Where were we in terms of a fast, ready-sanctions reaction?”

Six Russian officials, six defense firms, and two energy and construction firms were targeted with U.S. sanctions, either over the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, or for their activities in Russian-annexed Crimea or separatist eastern Ukraine, according to a U.S. Treasury statement.

‘Late and weak’

Although current and former diplomats all expressed support for the latest sanctions, Herbst said they were still not enough.

“Western sanctions were late and weak,” Herbst later told VOA’s Ukrainian service. “If they’d been late and strong, I’d be celebrating, but they were weak. They sanctioned low-level officials and some Russian maritime-related firms. That’s it. They should have done something like sanction some high officials or family members of high officials, and they should have taken a major step like going after Gazprombank, which would’ve had a real impact on the Russian economy. That would tell [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, ‘Don’t escalate again, or you’re going to get stung.'”

Senior Atlantic Council Fellow Anders Aslund largely echoed that sentiment in a Kyiv Post opinion piece.

Support for Western response

Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent, head of the European and Eurasian Affairs directorate, pushed back on the criticism, pointing out that the U.S. did respond to the Sea of Azov events in real time.

“I think we made our response clear, both in immediately calling Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and calling President [Petro] Poroshenko the next day — as well as in our public comments condemning the attack and calling for the immediate release of both the ships and the sailors and personnel,” Kent told VOA.

“And if you recall, while there was a scheduled meeting later that week in Buenos Aires at the G-20, the U.S. and President [Donald] Trump canceled that meeting precisely because of the Russians’ refusal to release both the ships and the personnel who were — in violation of international law — seized and then detained,” he added. The G-20 group is made up of 20 of the world’s biggest economies.

Kent said the Trump administration is actively working to change the Kremlin’s “cost calculus” for aggression on foreign soil and on international waters.

Controversial referendum

In March 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula in violation of the norms and standards of the international order. The Kremlin denies this charge, claiming that residents of Crimea voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine.

The majority of the international community has not recognized the validity of the referendum.

Russia’s modernization efforts in the region include construction of a 19-kilometer (11.8-mile) bridge which opened last year across the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The $3.6 billion project gave Crimea a land link to Russia. Previously, a ferry crossing that was often interrupted by gales served as the only connection.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. Pete Cobus contributed reporting.

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A man suspected of killing three people in a shooting aboard a tram in the city of Utrecht this week admitted his guilt to a judge on Friday and has said he acted alone, Dutch prosecutors said.

Turkish-born Gokmen Tanis, 37, is accused of carrying out the March 18 shooting with terrorist intent. Authorities are also investigating whether he had other personal motives. Prosecutors gave no further details of Tanis’ confession, citing the importance of further investigation.

The detention of Tanis, who was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt on Monday by Dutch security forces, was extended on Friday by the maximum amount allowed of two weeks.

He is due to appear before court again within two weeks, at which point his detention can be extended by up to 90 days.

A 40-year old man, who was held on Tuesday because Tanis was arrested in his house, was released on Friday as there was no evidence of his involvement in the shooting in any way, the prosecutors said.

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