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Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due back in a Kyiv court Wednesday as a judge considers whether to grant him bail or order his arrest in a treason case he says is politically motivated.

Poroshenko, who led Ukraine from 2014-19, returned to the country Monday to face the charges, and told supporters at the airport that he had come back to help Ukraine face the “growing threat of Russian invasion.”

He added to that message in a series of tweets Tuesday, saying with the help of its international partners, Ukraine “will stand our ground.”

“My sincere gratitude go for the extraordinary attention paid today to the support of Ukraine, especially of our fight against the ongoing aggression of the Kremlin, by our allies in Washington and London, in Berlin and Paris, in Brussels and Ottawa, in the entire European Union, NATO,” Poroshenko posted.

Prosecutors accuse Poroshenko of treason for allegedly using illegal coal sales to finance Russian-backed separatists from 2014-15. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison.

He was in court Monday for a hearing that ran nearly 12 hours, with the court deferring until Wednesday the decision whether to grant Poroshenko bail or order his arrest. Prosecutors have requested bail be set at $35 million.

Poroshenko’s return comes as Ukraine faces a tense standoff with neighboring Russia. Tens of thousands of Russian troops have amassed near the border with Ukraine, prompting the United States to express concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion.

A U.S. delegation visited Kyiv on Monday to show support for Ukraine amid the standoff.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service, “We have Democrats and Republicans of very different political views here to say we stand with Ukraine, and if Vladimir Putin chooses to take this treacherous anti-democratic path of invading this country, there will be severe and swift sanctions.”

U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican, told VOA, “The United States won’t just sit idly by and be a bystander if something happens. What we would like to do is prevent it from happening. We want to be a deterrent. We want to be part of the solution before fighting commences.”

Poroshenko came to power in 2014 after street protests ousted then-President Viktor Yanukovych. He is credited with strengthening Ukraine’s army after Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko, however, lost elections in 2019 following a corruption scandal and charges that he had not done enough to implement political reforms.

Poroshenko owns a confectionery empire and is often called Ukraine’s “chocolate king.” Forbes magazine estimates his fortune at $1.6 billion.

VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to the report. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

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Novak Djokovic risks being frozen out of tennis as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam title, with rules on travelers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 tightening in the third year of the pandemic and some tournaments reconsidering exemptions. 

The Serbian, who has not been vaccinated, was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned. 

Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot get another visa for three years – denying him the chance to add to his nine titles at Melbourne Park – but the government has left the door open for a possible return next year. 

The world number one, however, faces more immediate hurdles in his bid to overtake Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal, with whom he is tied on 20 major titles, as he could be barred from the French Open as things stand. 

The French Sports Ministry said on Monday there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday, which requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas. 

“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice,” the ministry said. 

“As far as Roland-Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope it’ll be more favorable. So we’ll see but clearly there’s no exemption.” 

The ministry’s stance was welcomed by Germany’s world number three Alexander Zverev. 

“At least it’s clear what’s going to happen,” he told reporters after winning his opening match at Melbourne Park on Monday. “At least they’re saying, ‘OK, no unvaccinated players are allowed to play in the French Open.’ 

“We know that now in advance, and I can imagine there’s not going to be any exemptions, and that’s OK.” 

Next up 

The next tournament on Djokovic’s calendar is likely to be the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, February 21-26. 

A spokesperson for the event told Reuters that all players would need to provide negative PCR tests before being allowed into the United Arab Emirates. 

“(Players) will then need to adhere to the testing protocols and processes stipulated by the ATP and the WTA,” the spokesperson added. 

Organizers of the Monte Carlo Masters, which Djokovic has won twice, are awaiting French government guidelines for the next edition in April, while Wimbledon organizers AELTC are also yet to finalize safety arrangements for the major. 

However, England’s Lawn Tennis Association said entry requirements for its events, some of which serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, would be determined by the government. 

Currently, unvaccinated people can enter England but must isolate for 10 days. 

Entering US

A U.S. Open representative said last week that the year’s final major would follow New York City Department of Health guidelines. 

Djokovic could have trouble getting into the United States, because foreign air travelers have had to be fully vaccinated since November and provide proof before boarding flights, with limited exceptions. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there are no exceptions for vaccine requirements “for religious reasons or other moral convictions.” 

That rule could also affect Djokovic’s participation in U.S. hardcourt tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami in March. 

The Serbian, who is among three ATP players in the top 100 yet to be vaccinated, could also face issues ahead of the Italian Open in Rome in May due to tough COVID restrictions in Italy. 

Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told La Sexta TV station on Monday that it would “be great” to have Djokovic play in the April 26-May 8 Madrid Open, which he has won three times, though the government would be the arbiter. 

Spain requires visitors to prove they have been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or have immunity based on recovery. 

 

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Britain’s rebellious Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seldom come across a rule he hasn’t wanted to break — and in many ways his political ascendancy has been because of his flouting of ordinances with voters thrilling to his audacity and readiness to defy conventions and norms.

His rule-breaking, though, is turning into a liability rather than an electoral asset — even among populist-minded voters who liked the idea of a break with the past and wanted him to shake up British politics.

Britain’s Conservative lawmakers returned to London Monday from their constituencies with rebukes still stinging their ears from voters furious with seemingly endless revelations about numerous impromptu and bibulous Downing Street parties held last year as the coronavirus pandemic death toll mounted. The parties were in breach of a strict nationwide lockdown, when social gatherings were banned and thousands were prohibited from visiting family members dying in hospital wards from COVID-19.

The newspaper front pages have been withering in their criticism about what they have dubbed as “Partygate” and so has been the public reaction as more revelations emerge of a culture of partying at Downing Street with aides resupplying with wine and beer purchased from a supermarket near the House of Commons and transported back in a suitcase. Calls for Johnson to resign have mounted — including from some Conservative lawmakers. Cabinet rivals have been jockeying behind the scenes to position themselves to replace him.

Last week, Johnson offered a half-apology in parliament for the breaches of lockdown rules, but said he thought a “bring your own booze” garden party he attended was a genuine work meeting. Later in the parliamentary tea rooms, he suggested to Conservative lawmakers the scandal was a storm in a teacup.

Government aides had hoped the storm would blow over and tasked a senior civil servant to investigate.

On Friday, the scandal worsened when it emerged one party took place at Downing Street the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. Tabloid newspapers — and opposition lawmakers — were quick to note the contrast with the behavior of the rule-observant monarch, Queen Elizabeth.

She mourned the passing of her husband of more than 70 years at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, sitting alone in the pews, distanced from her grieving relatives.

The government apologized to the queen.

A survey conducted by the Grassroots Conservatives group reported Sunday that 40 % of its supporters want Johnson to resign.

Conservative MPs said they confronted enormous anger from their local associations when visiting their districts Saturday and Sunday. Lawmaker Robert Syms told reporters, “I’ve had emails from what I would call Christian, decent, honest, honorable types of Tory voters, who say they feel embarrassed about voting Conservative with Boris Johnson.”

Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party chairman, toured TV studios Sunday, saying Johnson is “both very contrite and deeply apologetic for what happened” and plans to overhaul the “culture” at No. 10. “He is determined to make sure that this can’t be allowed to happen and that we address the underlying culture in Downing Street,” he said.

In his attempt to salvage his premiership, Johnson is reportedly planning to dismiss much of his inner circle of aides and advisers, in what The Times of London newspaper described Monday as a bid to “save his own skin.” He is also planning to announce a series of populist measures, including ending pandemic curbs.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education minister, claimed the prime minister is safe in his job; however, around 20 to 35 Conservative lawmakers are said to have submitted formal letters to party authorities requesting a leadership vote. Fifty-four letters would trigger such a vote. Dowden said it would be wrong for Johnson to step down as prime minister, and that a leadership contest was not what the public wanted.

With Johnson’s poll numbers plummeting, the country’s top pollster, John Curtice, a professor at the University of Strathclyde, said Monday he doubts the prime minister can recover from “Partygate.” Conservative lawmakers “have to ask themselves whether or not the prime minister is likely to recover from a situation where around a half of the people who voted for him thinks he should go,” he said.

 

While it might seem odd that a series of parties would topple a British prime minister, pollsters say, the scandal might be the breaking point for voters. They say voters have become enraged by the toxic mix of government chaos, abrupt policy reversals and corruption allegations. The cavalier partying has cut through to them, they say.

Johnson’s showmanship, once widely seen as an attribute, has also been misfiring as the public mood sours. In November, a rambling speech at a conference of the country’s top business leaders led to widespread criticism. In the speech, Johnson lost his notes, had to apologize for losing his way and extensively praised an amusement park, known as Peppa Pig World, while comparing himself to Moses and imitating the noise of an accelerating sports car.

Just before Christmas, David Frost, Johnson’s Brexit minister and close ally, quit the Cabinet, citing pandemic restrictions and the government’s “direction of travel.” Frost, who had been handling Britain’s post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, voiced dissatisfaction, saying he was worried Britain wasn’t taking advantage of its exit from the EU to chart a new course of limited government, lower taxes and reduced regulation.

Johnson recently suffered one of the most significant parliamentary rebellions in modern British history, when more than 100 of his Conservative lawmakers voted against the reimposition of tough pandemic restrictions. The embattled prime minister was further rocked by a humiliating parliamentary by-election defeat in a seat in the English Midlands that had been held continuously by the Conservatives since 1832. 

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A French court found far-right French presidential candidate and political commentator Éric Zemmour guilty Monday of inciting racial hatred and ordered him to pay more than $11,000 in fines.

Zemmour told a group of foreign correspondents that he stood by his controversial words, insisting he could not have been inciting racial hatred “insofar as unaccompanied minor migrants are not from a separate race.”

Monday’s case focused on comments that Zemmour made in September 2020 during an interview on French television network CNews about children who migrated to France without parents or guardians.

“They don’t belong here,” Zemmour had said about the children. “They are thieves. They are murderers. They are rapists. That’s all they are. They should be sent back. They shouldn’t even come.”

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Zemmour stood by his comments and said he would appeal, adding that the court was condemning him for expressing his views. 

The former TV pundit, who is running in April’s presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration views.

For several weeks last year, opinion polls showed that Zemmour, who has earlier convictions for inciting racial hatred, was coming close to placing second in the presidential poll and facing French President Emmanuel Macron in a runoff. He now ranks fourth in many polls.

 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Tennis star Novak Djokovic returned to his native Serbia on Monday after losing an appeal to stay in Australia, which deported him for being unvaccinated for COVID-19. 

The world’s No. 1-ranked male tennis player arrived at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport where sources told the media he was escorted through a “technical exit.” 

A small group of fans waited outside the arrivals area, some shouting, “You are our champion!” while others waved Serbian flags. One fan held a sign that said, “Novak, God bless you.” 

The 34-year-old tennis champion landed in Melbourne on January 5 hoping to compete in the Australian Open for his 21st major tennis title. His unvaccinated status violated Australia’s immigration rules, but he was granted a medical waiver from two independent health panels set up by the Victoria state government and Australian tennis authorities. Djokovic had been infected with the coronavirus in December.

But Border Force officials canceled his visa, and he was sent to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne. His visa was reinstated by an Australian judge a week ago but was revoked a second time on Friday by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who said Djokovic’s presence in the country would stir anti-vaccination sentiment. 

The tennis champion’s lawyers insisted the government’s argument was irrational and illogical, but three federal court judges unanimously disagreed and dismissed Djokovic’s appeal.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open title nine times. Had he triumphed at this year’s tournament, his 21 grand slam victories would have made him the most successful men’s champion of all time.

Before he left Australia, he said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed with the Court ruling” but respected the decision and would “cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”

Phil Mercer contributed to this story. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday returned to Ukraine to face court on treason charges he believes are politically motivated. 

At the Kyiv airport, where he arrived on a flight from Warsaw on Monday morning, Poroshenko was greeted by several thousand cheering supporters. Some carried banners reading “We need democracy,” and “Stop repressions.” 

From the airport, Poroshenko is expected to head straight to court, which will rule on whether to remand him in custody pending investigation and trial. 

A prosecutor has alleged that Poroshenko, owner of the Roshen confectionery empire and one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, was involved in the sale of large amounts of coal that helped finance Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15. 

Poroshenko’s assets have been frozen as part of its investigation into the allegations of high treason. The former leader of Ukraine faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. 

Poroshenko insists that he is innocent. He accuses his successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of seeking to discredit him politically to distract from Ukraine’s widespread problems, including economic woes and rising deaths from COVID-19. 

The charges are the latest in a string of accusations leveled against Poroshenko since he was defeated by Zelenskyy in 2019. The allegations have generated concerns of undemocratic score-settling in Ukraine and also alarmed Ukraine’s allies. They come as Russia has built up troops along the Ukraine border and the United States has voiced concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion of Ukraine. 

Poroshenko was defeated by voters following a corruption scandal and a mixed record on reforms, but he emerged with strong patriotic credentials for his work in rebuilding the Ukrainian army as it fought Russian-backed insurgent fighters in the east. 

Zelenskyy says he is waging a fight against oligarchs that is aimed at reducing their influence in Ukraine’s political and economic life. 

Poroshenko has been outside of Ukraine for weeks, meeting with leaders in Brussels, Berlin and other European capitals. 

His supporters view charges against him as politically motivated. “It is a revenge of the authorities and an attempt by Zelenskyy to eliminate his biggest rival in Ukraine’s politics,” Anton Ivashchenko, 42, told The Associated Press at the airport. “Persecution of Poroshenko sows animosity and discord among those who push for … Ukraine’s closer ties with the West.” 

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Greek artist Alekos Fassianos, whose work drew on his country’s mythology and folklore, died Sunday at the age of 86, his daughter Viktoria told AFP.

Described by some admirers as a modern-day Matisse and by others as the Greek Picasso, his works, which included paintings, lithographs, ceramics and tapestries, have been shown around the world.

While he resisted comparison with Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, he admired both artists, but insisted he had drawn on many different influences.

Fassianos, who had been bedridden at his home in the suburbs of Athens for several months, died in his sleep, Viktoria Fassianou said. 

Ill health had forced the artist to put down his paintbrushes in 2019.

“All the work of Fassianos, the colors that filled his canvases, the multidimensional forms that dominated his paintings, exude Greece,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid tribute to Fassianos as a painter who “always balanced between realism and abstraction.”

Fassianos, he added, “leaves us a precious heritage.”

The artist split his time between Greece and France, where he studied lithography at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris.

The website devoted to his work says his style was forged in the 1960s and that his main themes have always been man, nature and the environment. 

From Paris to Munich, Tokyo to Sao Paolo, Fassianos’s works were shown around the world. Examples of his work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and in the Pinacotheque in Athens.

“Greekness has always been his inspiration, from mythology to contemporary Greece,” the artist’s wife, Mariza Fassianou, told AFP during a visit to his home last year. “He has always believed that an artist should create with what they know.”

Her husband would work on the floor or even scratch the corner of a table, she said. “He destroyed what he didn’t like.”

An Athens museum devoted to his work will open in autumn 2022 and display some of the works that currently adorn his home.

His friend, architect Kyriakos Krokos, entirely redesigned the central Athens museum that will showcase his work, collaborating with Fassianos himself.

France has bestowed upon him some of its top awards, including the Legion of Honor (Arts and Letters) and he is also an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

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