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U.S. officials in Turkey have warned Americans in the country of possible terror attacks in Istanbul and other areas within the country.
 
In a security alert issued Friday, the mission said it received “credible reports of potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings against U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in Istanbul, including against the U.S. Consulate General, as well as potentially other locations in Turkey.”
 
The mission warned U.S. citizens to exercise extra caution in large office buildings, shopping malls and in other places where Americans and other foreigners may gather.
 
Visa and other services for Americans provided at the mission’s facilities in Turkey have been suspended, the mission said.
 
The U.S. State Department said Saturday the alert was issued “as a result of ongoing assessments of security conditions” in the country but did not disclose specifics about what prompted the alert.
 
The alert followed recent U.S. air strikes against al-Qaida forces in Syria, including a strike on Thursday where senior leaders of the terrorist group were said to be meeting.
 
“[Al-Qaida in Syria] takes advantage of the instability in northwest Syria to establish and maintain safe havens to coordinate activities,” the U.S. military’s Central Command warned in a statement.
 
Syria’s Idlib province is the last rebel stronghold in the country after a decade of war. Opposition forces that include jihadist fighters continue to repel attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with assistance from Turkey’s military.
 

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International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said the Olympic Games are not about politics and must guard against becoming a “marketplace of demonstrations.”
Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement to protest racial injustice, calls have increased this year for a change to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans any form political protest during the Games.
World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe said earlier this month he believes athletes should have the right to make gestures of political protest during the Games, contrary to official IOC policy.
“The Olympic Games are firstly about sport. The athletes personify the values of excellence, solidarity and peace,” Bach wrote in The Guardian.
“They express this inclusiveness and mutual respect also by being politically neutral on the field of play and during the ceremonies. At times this focus on sport needs to be reconciled with the freedom of speech all athletes also enjoy at the Games.
“The unifying power of the Games can only unfold if everyone shows respect for and solidarity to one another. Otherwise, the Games will descend into a marketplace of demonstrations of all kinds, dividing and not uniting the world.”
Bach said he experienced the “political impotence” of sport when West Germany was among several countries to boycott the 1980 Moscow Games.
“As chair of the West German athletes’ commission I strongly opposed this boycott because it punished us for something we had nothing to do with – the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet army,” Bach, the winner of team fencing gold at Montreal 1976, wrote.
“It’s no consolation that we were ultimately proven right that this boycott not only punished the wrong ones, but that it also had no political effect… the Soviet army stayed nine more years in Afghanistan.
“The Olympic Games are not about politics. The IOC, as a civil non-governmental organization, is strictly politically neutral at all times.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the IOC to delay this year’s Tokyo Games until 2021. 

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Heavy fighting continues over the Nagorno-Karabakh region as Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of shelling residential areas.Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said Azerbaijani rockets hit the town of Martakert and several villages in the Martuni region overnight.Nagorno-Karabakh officials say 927 of their troops have been killed, and more than 30 civilians have died.Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military losses but has said 63 civilians have been killed and 292 wounded.While the fighting continued in the breakaway mountain enclave, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “end the violence and protect civilians” after nearly a month of intense fighting.In a statement issued Friday after Pompeo met separately with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in Washington the state department said, “The secretary also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”Pompeo said in a tweet after his talks that he and both foreign ministers discussed “critical steps” to halt the violence. “Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” he said.Mnatsakanyan told VOA the talks were “very good” on Friday as he left the State Department, where about two dozen demonstrators, mostly Armenians, were gathered outside. When asked about a timeline for a cease-fire, he said “we [will] keep working on that.” The meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.Turkey said Wednesday it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.Aram Avetisyan of VOA’s Armenian Service contributed reporting.  

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Tensions between the United States and Turkey appear to be growing, following the latest war of words between the two allies over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.The latest spat ignited Friday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed earlier reports that Turkey has started testing the Russian-made system, brushing aside U.S. concerns.”(The tests) have been and are being conducted,” Erdogan told reporters. “The United States’ stance absolutely does not concern us.”“If we are not going to test these capabilities at our disposal, then what are we going to do?” he added.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media, in Istanbul, Oct. 23, 2020. Erdogan confirmed the country tested its Russian-made missile defense system, despite objections from the United States.The U.S. Defense Department responded hours later Friday, with a harshly worded statement, stopping short of accusing Turkey of betraying the alliance.”The U.S. Department of Defense condemns in the strongest possible terms Turkey’s October 16 test,” Chief Pentagon Spokesman, Jonathan Rath Hoffman said, warning the testing “risks serious consequences for our security relationship.”“We have been clear and unwavering in our position,” Hoffman added. “An operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey’s commitments as a U.S. and NATO ally.”Reports that Turkey has started testing the Russian-made air defense system first emerged last week, sparking a U.S. Navy F-35 jets fly over Levi’s Stadium during the national anthem before an NFL playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif.Since then, the U.S. has suspended Turkey from participation in its F-35 stealth fighter jet program and, at times, has considered potential sanctions against Ankara even though it is a NATO ally.U.S. officials have warned Turkey’s use of the advanced Russian radar technology could compromise NATO’s military systems and could potentially be used to target NATO jets in Turkey, including the F-35.Turkey has previously dismissed such concerns, and Erdogan indicated Friday there may not be much the U.S. can do to get hm to change course.”It seems that the gentlemen (in the U.S.) are especially bothered that this is a weapon belonging to Russia,” Erdogan told reporters, before adding, “We are determined, we are continuing on our path as always.”Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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A political standoff is brewing in the Czech Republic where the health minister has refused to resign after pictures were published of him eating in a Prague restaurant closed under COVID-19 regulations.
 
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis Friday called on Health Minister Roman Prymula to resign after the tabloid Blesk published pictures of Prymula leaving a restaurant late at night and entering a car without a face mask. Both acts appear to violate Health Ministry restrictions on restaurants and mask requirements in most places, including chauffeured cars.
 
But later Friday, Prymula told reporters he did not break any rules and refused to step down. He said he had been invited to the restaurant for meeting with a hospital director and entered the restaurant through a private entrance and wore a mask once he was in his car.
 
Bars and restaurants in the Czech Republic are closed under current regulations designed to at least slow the spread of the virus. Schools, theaters, cinemas, zoos and many other locations are also closed and professional sports competitions have been stopped.
 
The health minister said the prime minster does have the option to fire him. Babis was scheduled to meet with Czech President Milos Zeman, who approves ministerial changes, later Friday to discuss the matter.
 
The controversy comes as the nation is battling the worst resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. As of Friday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has led the continent with 1,148 cases per 100,000 people. 

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The rhetoric would not have been out of place in the Spanish parliament in the early 1930s when monarchists and nationalists assailed a Popular Front coalition government consisting of Communists, Socialists and Catalan separatists in the run-up to Spain’s civil war. Launching a no-confidence debate midweek on the Socialist-led minority government of Pedro Sánchez, Santiago Abascal, leader of the country’s ultra-nationalist Vox party, attacked what he described as the “totalitarian agenda” of “a socialist-communist popular front.”  The echo of the past was purposeful in a debate that was meant to be focused on the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Spain’s left-leaning El Pais newspaper. The newspaper dubbed the speech an “unacceptable regression back to a time of obscurantism, intolerance and closed societies.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez applauds after a no-confidence motion against the government at parliament in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 22, 2020. (Reuters)Sánchez survived the no-confidence vote, thanks to Spain’s center-right parties deciding not to back Vox in its bid to unseat the minority government. In the wake of his parliamentary win, Sánchez appealed Friday to Spaniards to pull together to overcome the daunting challenges the country faces, with the coronavirus being the most pressing.  “The situation is serious,” he said. The country’s official tally of coronavirus cases is now more than one million, and the International Monetary Fund is predicting Spain’s economy will contract by around 13 percent this year, plunging it into its worst recession since the civil war of the 1930s. Few analysts believe his appeal for unity will be heeded by his opponents. The central government has clashed for weeks with regional authorities over coronavirus measures. A Spanish Civil Guard questions a motorist after the Navarran local government limited all non-essential movement in and out of the region for two weeks starting Thursday, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Ziordia, Spain, Oct. 22, 2020. (Reuters)A bitter feud between the government and the right-wing opposition over imposing tighter restrictions on the capital Madrid is adding to fears in some European quarters that the pandemic is straining the country’s political stability.  And history is playing a significant role in the country’s disunity, say analysts. Spain has long been bitterly divided over its past, with partisans from left and right stoking historical controversies, arguing over the rights and wrongs of the country’s civil war, one steeped in civilian bloodshed and betrayals. The conflict, won by Gen. Francisco Franco’s nationalists, with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy, was a major geopolitical flashpoint of its day, drawing in the Soviet Union, which supplied arms to the Republican government. After Franco’s death in 1975, the country’s politicians agreed to avoid confronting painful questions about Spain’s recent past for fear of undermining “national reconciliation.” The so-called pact of forgetting was an attempt to leave the past behind. But the war, and Franco’s dictatorship, is again oozing poison into the country’s already toxic politics.  Historical controversies are framing current disputes over judicial reform, the future of the monarchy, the relationship between the central government and the regions. Left and right are accusing each other of trying to weaponize history. Sánchez is pressing on with plans to excavate more than 2,000 mass graves across Spain to exhume and identify victims of Franco’s nationalists. Last year, the right reacted with anger when the Sánchez government dug up Franco’s remains 44 years after his death, removing them from the Valley of the Fallen, a sprawling basilica just outside of Madrid, against the wishes of his family and after a long legal battle. FILE – Relatives of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco carry the coffin after the exhumation at The Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen) in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, Oct. 24, 2019. (Reuters)The government has unveiled a raft of new measures aimed at addressing the legacy of the Civil War, including banning associations that glorify the late dictator’s memory, including the Francisco Franco Foundation, and altering the way Francoism is taught in Spanish schools so there is no idea of symmetric responsibility for the conflict or atrocities.  “Our young people need to know where we come from. They need knowledge about what must never happen again,” according to deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo. “This is an important law for the government, but also for Spanish democracy,” she said last month. Conservative politicians accuse the government of trying to use historical memory to distract from what they say is mismanagement of the pandemic. And they have been responding in kind, threatening to do away with monuments honoring Socialists.  This week, the Madrid authorities ordered the removal of a plaque commemorating Francisco Largo Caballero, the Socialist who led the Republican government in 1936. Largo Caballero fled Spain in 1939, dying in exile in Paris in 1946. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid’s regional head, who has sought to defy the government on locking down the city, has accused Pedro Sánchez of “trying to change this country through the back door.” And partly using history to do so.  But the leader of Podemos, and Spain’s deputy prime minister for social affairs, Pablo Iglesias, says the pact of forgetting should be buried so that the country can advance “on the basis of republican principles toward a new social and political pact in Spain that better resembles the reality in our country.” 
 

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A political standoff is brewing in the Czech Republic where the health minister has refused to resign after pictures were published of him eating in a Prague restaurant closed under COVID-19 regulations.
 
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis Friday called on Health Minister Roman Prymula to resign after the tabloid Blesk published pictures of Prymula leaving a restaurant late at night and entering a car without a face mask. Both acts appear to violate Health Ministry restrictions on restaurants and mask requirements in most places, including chauffeured cars.
 
But later Friday, Prymula told reporters he did not break any rules and refused to step down. He said he had been invited to the restaurant for meeting with a hospital director and entered the restaurant through a private entrance and wore a mask once he was in his car.
 
Bars and restaurants in the Czech Republic are closed under current regulations designed to at least slow the spread of the virus. Schools, theaters, cinemas, zoos and many other locations are also closed and professional sports competitions have been stopped.
 
The health minister said the prime minster does have the option to fire him. Babis was scheduled to meet with Czech President Milos Zeman, who approves ministerial changes, later Friday to discuss the matter.
 
The controversy comes as the nation is battling the worst resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. As of Friday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has led the continent with 1,148 cases per 100,000 people. 

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Washington Friday with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in a bid to help end nearly a month of intense fighting in the breakaway mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
Pompeo invited Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to meet with him separately at the State Department and said earlier this week he is anxious to hear what they are seeing on the ground.
 
The meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.
 
Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.  
 
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.  
 
Also Wednesday, Turkey said it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.  
 
Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.
 

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