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Two Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela on Monday, a deployment that comes amid soaring Russia-U.S. tensions.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said a pair Tu-160 bombers landed at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas on Monday following a 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) flight. It didn’t say if the bombers were carrying any weapons and didn’t say how long they will stay in Venezuela.

The ministry said a heavy-lift An-124 Ruslan cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger plane accompanied the bombers to Maiquetia.

The Tu-160 is capable of carrying conventional or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of 5,500 kilometers (3,410 miles). Such bombers took part in Russia’s campaign in Syria, where they launched conventionally-armed Kh-101 cruise missiles for the first time in combat.

Code-named Blackjack by NATO, the massive warplane is capable of flying at a speed twice exceeding the speed of sound. Russia has upgraded its Tu-160 fleet with new weapons and electronics and plans to produce a modernized version of the bomber.

The bombers’ deployment follows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s visit to Moscow last week in a bid to shore up political and economic assistance even as his country has been struggling to pay billions of dollars owed to Russia.

Russia is a major political ally of Venezuela, which has become increasingly isolated in the world under growing sanctions led by the U.S. and the European Union, which accuse Maduro of undermining democratic institutions to hold onto power, while overseeing an economic and political crisis that is worse than the Great Depression.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at last week’s meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Vladimir Padrino Lopez that Russia would continue to send its military aircraft and warships to visit Venezuela as part of bilateral military cooperation.

Russia sent its Tu-160 strategic bombers and a missile cruiser to visit Venezuela in 2008 amid tensions with the U.S. after Russia’s brief war with Georgia. A pair of Tu-160s also visited Venezuela in 2013.

Russia-U.S. relations are currently at post-Cold War lows over Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Russia has bristled at U.S. and other NATO allies deploying their troops and weapons near its borders.

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Environment ministers from nearly 200 countries are arriving in the Polish city of Katowice to join haggling over ways to advance the 2015 Paris accord to curb climate change. National leaders have stayed away from this year’s climate change conference largely because it is devoted to agreeing the details of the implementation of the Paris agreement.

But as ever, the devil is in the details.

Ahead of the ministerial arrivals, climate activists from around the world marched Saturday in the Polish city to vent their frustration and to urge governments to “wake up” and “make the planet green again.”

“It’s time to save our home,” they chanted near the hall hosting the two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Meanwhile, 1,500 kilometers away police in Paris battled Yellow Vest protesters mounting their fourth Saturday of action against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, a revolt triggered initially by the imposition of higher taxes on fuel.

For Western governments, even environmentally-friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma the protests in France are bringing home.

Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners who can ill-afford to bear the expense. Or move slowly and risk blow back from climate activists and their supporters among largely middle-class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship.

Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving towards a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, as the Paris protests demonstrate, say analysts.

Poland, which is hosting this year’s conference, used the opening last Monday of the 24th U.N. climate change conference to emphasize the dilemma and to try to temper ambitions when delegates come to finalize the rule book for the Paris agreement to make the accord operational.

Among other things Polish leaders called for a “just transition” for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, warning a badly managed transition to a low-carbon, renewable-energy future will cause major disruption to industry, hardship for ordinary people and could trigger social unrest not just in France, but in other industrialized nations.

Many climate activists attending the conference dismiss warnings about social and political repercussions, seeing them as merely efforts to impede progress, apply the brakes and of providing specious justification for propping up fossil-fuel industries.

British naturalist and documentary-maker David Attenborough gave voice to their frustration last week at the conference, warning time is running out to avert irreversible disaster.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken, their message is clear, time is running out, they want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They’re supporting you in making tough decisions, but they’re also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives,” he said.

Climate activists remain furious that attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into the talks failed last week. U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published in October, said the world is completely off track from curbing global warming and is heading towards a catastrophic three-centigrade jump in temperatures this century.

Four oil-producing countries, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia, opposed the inclusion of the IPCC report into the conference’s key negotiating text. The report is likely to resurface in the final week of bargaining.

The issue of a “just transition” is fast developing into one of the core climate-related issues governments are debating, and it is prompting the attention of investor organizations as well as organized labor.

“As the world begins its much-needed transition from high-carbon to low-carbon economies, investors will have to look beyond physical environmental issues and consider the social aspects of workers and their communities who will be impacted by the move away from carbon-intensive industries,” says Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of the Principles for Responsible Investment, an international network of major institutional investors.


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Britain’s already disorderly departure from the European Union turned even more chaotic Monday when Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a House of Commons vote on her Brexit withdrawal deal, an agreement that took months of tortuous negotiations with Brussels to conclude.

After four days of debate in the House of Commons and a panicky effort by the prime minister to sell the deal to an increasingly disapproving British public, lawmakers were set to rebuff May’s withdrawal agreement. Defeat would force May out of Downing Street and possibly trigger the fall of the Conservative government.

While May Monday insisted publicly the vote on the withdrawal agreement, which she has staked her credibility on, would go ahead, aides said that behind-the-scenes, Cabinet ministers implored her not to move ahead. They urged her to return to Brussels instead to try to secure more concessions before the House of Commons has the final say.

They argued May was facing a parliamentary defeat of historic proportions and needed to roll the dice. But Plan B — returning to Brussels to reopen negotiations on the 585-page deal — looks doomed.

On news of the postponement, the already anemic pound crashed to its lowest level against the dollar in 18 months; it also fell against the euro.

Speaking to a packed and rowdy House of Commons, May said she had “listened to what had been said” during three days of debate. The comments provoked laughter and jeering from lawmakers.

“If the vote went ahead, it would be lost by a large margin. So the vote will be deferred,” she said. May said the deal in its broad outlines was the best one for Britain. She said she would meet EU leaders “in the days ahead.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dubbed the postponement a humiliation. He said the government had “lost control of events.” He told the House of Commons she should make way for a new government.

“The government is in disarray … and people are in a state of despair.” Opposition leaders were reportedly discussing tabling either a motion of no confidence in the government or one censuring the prime minister.

A clearly irritated Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, criticized the delay and manner of it being announced, calling the move after three days of debate “deeply discourteous.” He raised some potentially difficult procedural hurdles the government will need to navigate before postponing the vote.

Immediately on learning of the postponement, the European Commission ruled out re-negotiations as did some exasperated European national leaders.” This deal is the best and only deal possible. We will not renegotiate the deal that is on the table right now. That is very clear,” said an EU spokesman.

“Our position has therefore not changed and as far as we’re concerned, the UK is leaving the EU on the 29 March 2019. We are prepared for all scenarios.” The European Parliament’s coordinator with the EU’s negotiators, Guy Verhofstadt, voiced frustration, saying “I can’t follow this anymore.” He added, “It is time they made up their minds.”

May’s contentious deal, which tries to square the circle between Britons who want to remain in the European Union and Brexiters who want a clean, sharp break, would see Britain locked in a customs union with the European Union for several years while it negotiates a more permanent, but vaguely defined, free trade settlement with its largest trading partner.

In the temporary customs union, Britain would be unable to influence EU laws, regulations, and product standards it would have to observe. It would be not be able to implement free trade deals with non-EU countries, and Northern Ireland would be treated differently than other parts of Britain in order to avoid customs and immigration checks on the border with the Republic of Ireland.

That provision angers the province’s pro-British Unionists, who fear Northern Ireland’s ties with London will be diminished.May’s minority government relies on the backing of 10 Unionist lawmakers to get legislation passed. The Unionists voiced concerns that May is trying to play for time. Their leader in the House of Commons, Nigel Dodds, cast doubt on her credibility and said the postponement was a “humiliation and a shambles.”

Northern Ireland’s Unionists aren’t the only ones furious with May over the deal, and doubtful the delay would change anything substantially. More than 100 Conservative lawmakers had announced their intention to vote against the withdrawal agreement, and analysts had calculated that had the vote had gone ahead Tuesday, May would have been lucky to secure the support of 185 lawmakers with 409 voting against.No British prime minister has ever survived a parliamentary defeat of such a staggering margin.

Even loyalist lawmakers voiced privately how stunned they were at the course of events and May’s indecision.

The drama in London played out as the European Court of Justice said in an emergency ruling Monday that Britain can stop the Brexit process without approval of other member states.

“The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU,” the ECJ said. But the court added that it could only do so as the result of a House of Commons vote, a referendum or a general election.

The ruling has boosted the hopes of Remainers that Brexit can be reversed. “It is time to put the whole issue back to the public,” said Chris Leslie, a senior Labor lawmaker.

While May loyalists reacted to the postponement with relief, hardline Brexiters in the British parliament as well as Remainers said the prime minister was only delaying the inevitable, regardless of whether she manages to get Brussels to agree to some changes. They said any amendments to the withdrawal agreement wouldn’t be sufficient to secure a House of Commons majority.

“Putting off the vote won’t change anything,” said Peter Bone, a Conservative lawmaker.

It is unclear when a Brexit vote in the House of Commons might now take place. Some government managers said the vote could happen next week or even be delayed until next month.

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A British man who was exposed to the deadly nerve agent Novichok said he is struggling with his eyesight and mobility, and fears the poison will kill him within a decade.

Charlie Rowley, 45, fell ill in June near Salisbury, England, after coming into contact with the Soviet-developed nerve agent that was used months earlier to attack former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Rowley, Skripal and his daughter survived, but Rowley’s partner Dawn Sturgess, who was also exposed, died in the hospital.

Rowley told the Sunday Mirror newspaper that he was back in the hospital being treated for meningitis. He said he was going blind and unable to use one arm, and said he was “terrified about the future” and what long-term effects the military grade poison would have on him.

“I’m still worried the Novichok could kill me if I get any sort of virus again — it’s on my mind all the time. I’m dreading getting a cold,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be alive in 10 years. It’s been horrendous.”

Britain accuses Russia of carrying out the poisoning of the Skripals, a claim Moscow denies.

Rowley and Sturgess collapsed after they handled a small bottle containing the nerve agent, believed to have been discarded by the Skripals’ attackers.

Britain charged two alleged Russian military intelligence agents in absentia for the attack. The pair denied their involvement on Russian television.

The Skripals’ poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.


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French President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday in response to massive, often violent rallies staged by “yellow-vest” protesters across the country for the past four weekends.

Before the speech Monday evening, Macron plans to meet with union officials, local lawmakers and business leaders for talks on formulating a response to the protests that have rocked the country during the holiday season.

Workers across France Sunday cleaned up the debris from protesters who threw rocks, burned cars and vandalized businesses through the weekend.

Earlier Sunday, France’s foreign minister urged U.S. President Donald Trump not to interfere in French politics, following Trump’s tweets on weeks of protests in Paris in which he said:

“Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year! ”

An earlier tweet from Trump insinuated that protesters in Paris sided with his decision to leave the Paris agreement — a landmark 2015 agreement between over one hundred countries to combat climate change.

“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting “We Want Trump!” Love France.” he wrote.

Nearly 2,000 people were arrested Saturday across France in the latest round of “yellow-vest” protests.

Nationwide, the interior ministry says some 136,000 people rallied against France’s high-cost of living. Protesters also expressed their dismay with the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

Protests were held in a number of cities besides Paris, including Marseilles, Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse.

On Saturday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said violent outbreaks in Paris were “under control” despite ongoing disorderly acts he declared “totally unacceptable.”

France closed the Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks and mobilized tens of thousands of security forces for the fourth week of violent demonstrations.

Many shops in Paris were boarded up before Saturday’s protests to avoid being smashed or looted, and police cordoned off many of the city’s broad boulevards.

President Macron made an unannounced visit Friday night to a group of anti-riot security officers outside Paris to thank them for their work.

The protests erupted in November over a fuel tax increase, which was part of Macron’s plan to combat global warming.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called for new talks Saturday with representatives of the “yellow vest” movement. He vowed the government would address their concerns over rising living costs.

“The president will speak, and will propose measures that will feed this dialogue,” Philippe said in a televised statement.

Since the unrest began in November, four people have been killed in protest-related accidents.


While Macron has since abandoned the fuel tax hike, protesters have made new demands to address other economic issues hurting workers, retirees and students.

Government officials are concerned the repeated weekly violence could weaken the economy and raise doubts about the government’s survival.

The “yellow vest” movement was named after the safety jackets French motorists are required to keep in their vehicles, which the protesters wear at demonstrations.

The weeks of protests have exposed intense resentment among non-city residents who feel that Macron, a former investment banker, is out of touch with struggling middle-class and blue-collar workers.

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With a crucial parliamentary vote on Brexit looming, British Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers Sunday that they could take Britain into “uncharted waters” and trigger a general election if they reject the divorce deal she struck with the European Union.

May is fighting to save her unpopular Brexit plan and her job ahead of a showdown in Parliament on Tuesday, when lawmakers are widely expected to vote down the deal she negotiated with Brussels. Her Downing Street office insisted that the vote will go ahead despite speculation that the government may be forced to delay it.

A defeat in the vote could see Britain crashing out of the EU on March 29, the date for Britain’s exit, with no deal in place – an outcome that could spell economic chaos.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, May said rejecting her deal would “mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit or leaving the European Union with no deal.”

“When I say if this deal does not pass we would truly be in uncharted waters, I hope people understand this is what I genuinely believe and fear could happen,” she said.

May’s government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties – as well as many of May’s own Conservatives – have already said they will not back the divorce deal that May and EU leaders agreed on last month.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal keeps Britain bound too closely to the EU, while pro-EU politicians say it erects barriers between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner and leaves many details of the future relationship undecided.

The main sticking point is a “backstop” provision in the Brexit agreement that aims to guarantee an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

The temporary measure would keep Britain under EU customs rules, and is supposed to last until superseded by permanent new trade arrangements. But critics say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

Boris Johnson, May’s former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer, argued Sunday that the Irish border issue should be postponed so it forms part of the talks on a future trade deal.

It’s unclear what would happen next if lawmakers vote down the deal.

May could return to Brussels seeking changes to the Brexit deal and bring it back to Parliament for another vote. But EU leaders have insisted the divorce agreement is final and not renegotiable.

However, while the 585-page withdrawal deal is set, the declaration on future relations between the EU and Britain is shorter and vaguer and may be open to amendment.

Meanwhile, pro-Brexit Conservative rebels who have long wanted to oust May can trigger a no-confidence vote if they amass enough support.

The Labour Party may also attempt to force a general election or seek to form a minority government.

“What we would urge (May) to do is either call a general election – because she wouldn’t have the confidence of Parliament to carry on as prime minister,” Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business spokeswoman, told the BBC. “But alternatively, she could offer to renegotiate around a deal that would provide consensus in Parliament.”

Some have also floated the idea of a second referendum on the question of Britain’s EU membership but the government is firmly opposed to that.

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In France, police clashed with protesters, as tens of thousands of ‘yellow vest’ demonstrators took to the streets Saturday for the fourth consecutive weekend. French authorities deployed nearly 90,000 police across the country, detained hundreds of people, and closed major landmarks and museums as a precaution. Anti-government yellow vest rallies also took place in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more on the action from Paris.

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According to the World Ocean Review, shipping by sea is responsible for about 3 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions. But one Norwegian shipping company is creating hybrid ships and planning for a carbon free future. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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