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Pressure is growing on the European Union to formally back Venezuela’s opposition, after three EU lawmakers were refused entry into the country Sunday.

The Venezuelan government accused them of having “conspiratorial aims,” and forced them back on a plane to Madrid. The three had been invited by Venezuelan members of parliament to visit the country.

“[It was] very unpleasant and a pure demonstration that Venezuela is a country held hostage by a power that is almost like North Korea,” Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a senior member of the European Parliament, told reporters on his arrival in Madrid Monday.

The diplomatic snub has triggered calls for Brussels to take a stronger stand against the government of disputed President Nicholas Maduro. The United States and many allies have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, after accusations of vote rigging in last year’s election.

The EU lawmakers have demanded that the bloc now abandon the International Contact Group or ICG, an EU initiative among European states and four Latin American countries, that is seeking a political way forward in Venezuela. The group met in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, earlier this month.

Europe’s foreign policy chief rejected pulling out of the ICG Monday.

“On the contrary, all member states have reaffirmed how crucial it is to have this instrument, which is currently probably the only one that we can use, to be at the same time in contact with relevant stakeholders and clear on the objective, which is a democratic, peaceful, and early election outcome for the crisis,” Federica Mogherini said in a press conference.

At the Munich Security Conference Saturday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the European Union must recognize the American-backed interim president.

The Netherlands was among the EU member states that followed Washington’s lead. Foreign Minister Stef Blok spoke to VOA following Pence’s speech.

“Twenty-two European countries did recognize Guaido as the interim president. And of course I would have preferred to see the European Union united,” Blok said.

The EU, however, is divided. Spain, which retains the closest links to its former colony, rejected Washington’s demands.

“Mr. Pence can’t ask us to not accept the constitutional law of Venezuela,” Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said at the Munich conference.

Borrell’s French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drain, is insisting on new elections.

“The only way out of the political crisis in Venezuela is a presidential election with democratic guarantees,” Le Drian said.

The Dutch government has agreed that its overseas territory of Curacao, an island off Venezuela, can be used as an aid hub.

“In order to get the aid toward Venezuela, we will need the consent of the Venezuelan authorities,” Blok told VOA.

As the diplomatic debate intensifies over how to end Venezuela’s political crisis, hundreds of tons of foreign aid remain stranded on the country’s borders — and the Venezuelan people continue to suffer.

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Seven British lawmakers have quit the main opposition Labor Party over the leadership’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism allegations in the ranks.  

The seven moderate members of parliament say they will form an independent group. Their defection is the biggest split in the Labor Party since four senior members quit in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party.  

The group told reporters in London’s County Hall Monday that the Labor Party has changed since leader Jeremy Corbyn came to power in 2015 and said the party no longer tolerates center-left views.

 “The bottom line is this — politics is broken. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s change it,” said Chuka Umunna, one of the lawmakers.  

Chris Leslie, another defector, said: “Marxism is now masquerading as the Labor Party. It has the Labor brand, but it is a machine that has taken over.”  

In a direct challenge to Corbyn, the seven centrist parliament members say they are courting other lawmakers to join their group.  

One of the group’s chief complaints is that the Labor Party has been complicit in facilitating Brexit. Corbyn has come under fire by some party members for not doing enough to oppose Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU and for not pushing hard enough for a second referendum.  

The Labor Party has been divided by the Brexit vote, with many traditional voters, particularly in northern England, having chosen to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, while a majority of Labor MPs had supported staying in.

 Brexit has also divided the country’s Conservative Party into pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings. Britain’s departure from the EU — the terms of which are still up in the air — is set for March 29.

The seven lawmakers also accused Corbyn Monday of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, a charge that has previously been leveled at the Labor leader.

A longtime supporter of Palestinian rights and a critic of the Israeli government, Corbyn denies the allegations, saying he is stamping out anti-Semitism in the party.

Luciana Berger, one of the seven MPs who defected, said Labor has become “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Berger, who is Jewish, said in leaving the Labor Party, “I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”

Corbyn said he was “disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labor policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.”

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Ukraine’s foreign minister asked the European Union on Monday for hundreds of millions of euros in loans and aid for infrastructure and businesses in its troubled east and south, regions he said Russia was trying to “suffocate.”

EU foreign ministers were discussing increasing support for Ukraine, which holds a presidential election next month in tough conditions. Russia annexed its Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backs armed separatists in its eastern industrial Donbas region.

The EU is also moving to put more Russians under sanctions over Moscow’s standoff with Kiev in the Azov Sea, to the southeast of Ukraine.

“We need targeted… support for the Ukrainian south, to work with us on infrastructure… Further Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine’s south would be very detrimental for European security,” Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters in Brussels.

“[There is] an attempt to suffocate the whole Ukrainian Donbas… We need infrastructure, it’s about roads and railways. And to support people… help them to launch new small and medium businesses because we need to fundamentally reshuffle the whole economic model there,” he added.

President Petro Poroshenko, elected amid high hopes for change in Ukraine after street protests ousted his pro-Russian predecessor in 2014, is in an uphill battle for re-election after his popularity plunged over graft and sliding living standards.

Klimkin accused Russia of turning the Donbas region – which remains outside the control of the Kiev government – into a “big [money] laundering machine”. He also said Kiev could “under no circumstances” allow Russians to be part of an OSCE election monitoring mission.

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who chaired Monday’s ministerial meeting, stressed the bloc’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” but also urged Kiev to press on with economic and political reforms.

Despite Western pressure, Moscow has vowed never to return Crimea to Ukraine. A peace plan for eastern Ukraine, sponsored by Germany and France, has helped put an end to heavy fighting there but has since largely stalled.

Relations between the EU and Russia plunged to fresh lows last year over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain. But the EU is divided over how hard to punish Moscow – or how far to support Kiev – as some would prefer to prioritize business ties with Russia.

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British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that calls for tougher rules on Facebook to keep it from acting like “digital gangsters” and intentionally violating data privacy and competition laws.

The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament’s influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.

 

The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site’s structure seems to be designed to “conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.”

 

“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report added.

 

U.K. parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding. The committee said it hopes its conclusions will be considered when the government reviews its competition powers in April.

 

And while the U.K. is part of the 28-country European Union, it is due to leave the bloc in late March, so it is unclear whether any regulatory decisions it takes could influence those of the EU.

 

Facebook said it shared “the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity” and was open to “meaningful regulation.”

 

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.

 

“We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

 

Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.

 

The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.

 

 

 

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Conservative European lawmakers who were barred from entering Venezuela this weekend are urging the European Union’s top diplomat to suspend contacts with Nicolas Maduro’s government.

 

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, the head of the European Popular Party parliamentary group, is also calling for European sanctions against Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, who had ordered that the lawmakers should be barred on the grounds that they were conspiring against the government.

The five visitors were invited by the opposition-led congress led by Juan Guaido, whom the European Parliament and a majority of the EU’s members recognize as Venezuela’s interim leader.

Speaking to reporters in Madrid on Monday after returning from Caracas, Gonzalez Pons said that the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner, Federica Mogherini, should cancel the International Group of Contact that seeks talks in Venezuela.

 

He also called for the bloc’s members to oust Maduro’s ambassadors, and he vowed to return to Venezuela on Saturday.

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Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church’s response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders.

These survivors will not be addressing the summit of church leaders itself. Rather, they will meet Wednesday with the four-member organizing committee to convey their complaints. The larger summit of 180 presidents of bishops conferences from around the world begins Thursday.

Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who is coordinating the survivor meeting, told The Associated Press he hopes for a “constructive and open dialogue” and for summit committee members to convey the survivors’ demand that bishops stop pleading ignorance about abuse. 

“This has to stop,” Cruz said. “Raping a child or a vulnerable person and abusing them has been wrong since the 1st century, the Middle Ages and now.”

Francis called the summit in September after he himself discredited Cruz and other Chilean victims of a notorious predator priest. Francis was subsequently implicated in the cover-up of Theodore McCarrick, the onetime powerful American cardinal who just last week was defrocked for sexually abusing minors as well as adults.

Francis appointed a four-member organizing committee headed by the Vatican’s top sex crimes investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, Mumbai Cardinal Osvald Gracias and the Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission.

They had urged participants to meet with victims before they came to Rome, to both familiarize themselves with victims’ pain and trauma and debunk the widely held idea that clergy sex abuse only happens in some parts of the world, Cupich told AP last week. Survivors will be represented at the summit itself via some video testimony, he said. 

Cruz said the key message for the bishops to take away from the summit is that they must enforce true “zero tolerance” or face the consequences.

“There are enforceable laws in the church to punish not only those who commit the abuse but those who cover it up,” he told AP. “No matter what rank they have in the church, they should pay.” 

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has rebuked European allies for their stance on Iran and Venezuela, in a speech Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the conference, the United States brought its largest delegation in decades and called on Europe to apply economic pressure on Iran to give the Iranian people peace and security.

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French prosecutors have opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic comments made by Yellow Vest protesters against a renowned philosopher and intellectual a day earlier.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Sunday an investigation was launched into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” the Associated Press reported. A video broadcast on multiple French news channels shows peple hurling insults such as “dirty Zionists” and “France is ours” at Alain Finkielkraut.

Finkielkraut, 69, told French media that he had approached the protesters, who have held demonstrations in Paris for 14 consecutive Saturdays, out of curiosity. Finkielkraut had initially supported the movement, but called the protests “grotesque” after Saturday’s incident.

French president Emmanuel Macron was among a wide range of politicians who denounced the comments.

“The anti-Semitic insults he has been subjected to are the absolute negation of who we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them,” Macron said on Twitter.

The protesters gained their nickname from the fluorescent vests they wear while marching, which are safety vests French drivers are required to keep in their cars.

Protests around the country began November 17 against a planned fuel tax increase. The demonstrations have transformed into protests largely against  Macron’s liberal economic reform policies. Macron made tax and salary concessions in December, but protests have continued.

Saturday’s insults came amid reports of a stark increase in anti-Jewish offenses, which police estimate are up 74 percent from last year.

Fourteen political parties, including Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche, have called for symbolic gatherings next Tuesday to rally against anti-Semitism.

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