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May 28, 2022 6:14 am

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Europe: Italy emerges as next front in gig economy labour battle

Aggressive employment policies and strong unionisation threaten groups such as Amazon and Uber

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“russia analysis” – Google News: Quake info: Moderate mag. 4.6 earthquake – 92 km south of Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia, on Monday, 5 Apr 2021 7:51 am (GMT +7) – VolcanoDiscovery

Quake info: Moderate mag. 4.6 earthquake – 92 km south of Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia, on Monday, 5 Apr 2021 7:51 am (GMT +7)  VolcanoDiscovery

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Voice of America – English: VOA Newscasts (2 Minute)

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Voice of America – English: VOA Newscasts

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Voice of America – English: Afghan Violence Surges Ahead of Turkey-Hosted Peace Conference

Government forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban both claimed Sunday they had inflicted heavy casualties on the other in their latest attacks, as the two adversaries are expected to meet in Turkey later this month for U.S.-proposed Afghan peace talks.  
An Afghan Defense Ministry statement said national security forces in the last 24 hours killed nearly 160 insurgents and injured dozens of others in operations across several provinces.
Afghan army commanders are also reported as saying they have evicted the Taliban from Arghandab district in the southern Kandahar province, months after the insurgents had overrun it.
For its part, the Taliban took responsibility for a Sunday afternoon car bombing of an Afghan forces’ convoy in Paghman district, about 30 kilometers from the capital, Kabul.  

14 Women Killed in Targeted Attacks Since January in Afghanistan, Says Afghan Rights Commission
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission confirmed Thursday that 14 women have been killed and 22 others injured since January in targeted killings by armed militants. VOA’s Lima Niazi reports from Kabul.  

Afghan officials said the blast killed at least three security personnel and injured more than a dozen others, fearing the death toll could increase because many among those wounded were in critical condition.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a group of insurgents staged “tactical attacks” on the convoy following the car bombing and “killed/wounded up to 45” Afghan forces, though insurgents often release inflated casualty tolls for such attacks.
The Taliban did not comment on their battlefield losses in the face of recent operations by Afghan forces, but the group warned of possible retaliation, raising fears of more bloodshed in days ahead.
An insurgent statement said the Taliban “orders the (insurgent) commission for military affairs to take all necessary steps to defend itself and the local population if these operations (by Kabul) are not immediately suspended.”
The statement confirmed that Afghan forces had conducted airstrikes in Arghandab in recent days, but it did not say whether the group had lost control of the district to Kabul.
Turkey conference
The renewed violence, analysts say, does not bode well for a proposed peace conference to be held in Istanbul, Turkey.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government has confirmed it will attend the peace conference, which will be held under the auspices of the United Nations.  
An Afghan official told VOA on condition of anonymity Sunday that the conference will begin April 16 and will last 10 days.
Washington is pushing Kabul and the Taliban to finalize a peace deal at the proposed conference as the May 1 deadline looms for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The deadline is part of a February 2020 agreement the United States signed with the Taliban to end what has been the longest war in U.S. history.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem last week told Afghan media that Turkish officials had formally shared details and the purpose of the Istanbul gathering with his group. The Taliban was in the process of deciding whether to attend the conference, he said.  
Last week, Ghani unveiled his own peace roadmap at an international conference on Afghanistan hosted by neighboring Tajikistan, and Afghan officials say the proposal will be put forward at the Istanbul meeting.  
The plan seeks consensus on a political settlement to the war and an internationally monitored Afghan cease-fire. In the next stage, it calls for holding a presidential election and the establishment of a “government of peace” that will oversee the implementation of a new legal system in the country.  
The Ghani plan, however, runs counter to proposals U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have recently shared with the Afghan warring parties in a bid to accelerate the process of finding a political settlement to the Afghan war.  
The U.S. plan seeks to replace the Ghani government with an interim political setup, including the Taliban, which will oversee peace negotiations on reaching a deal that will end the Afghan war.  
Kabul has strongly opposed the U.S. proposals. But Afghan opposition politicians have not endorsed the Ghani peace roadmap and have stressed the need for devising a unified plan before attending the Istanbul conference.  
The Taliban have voiced opposition to both the plans offered by the U.S. and Ghani. The insurgent group insists a final settlement to the conflict must stem from the U.S.-Taliban deal and ensuing peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan negotiators, including representatives of Kabul.
The so-called intra-Afghan negotiations, hosted by Qatar, started last September but have stalled for most of the time, without making significant progress.  
Critics are skeptical about whether the proposed conference in Turkey would help jump-start the stalled Afghan peace process. It also is not clear whether the Taliban would be willing to negotiate with Washington an extension of the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline. The insurgents have repeatedly urged the U.S. to abide by the deadline.
“While Afghan political groupings in Kabul are expected to consult and seek consensus on a joint political roadmap that is practical ahead of the Istanbul conference, Ghani’s proposal will not only dilute a unified Kabul stance and divide opinions but will also face opposition from the Taliban and provoke a return to full-scale fighting,” said Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat.  
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan adviser and political commentator, hailed the conference in Turkey as another opportunity the international community has created for Afghans to find peace among themselves and reach an agreement.
“The agreement will have international U.N. level guarantees, but such guarantees are difficult to enforce once foreign forces leave,” Farhadi said.  
“If Afghans, including the Taliban, fail to agree with each other as has been the case in the past 30 years, an enduring agreement in Istanbul, which can withstand the test of time is a miracle,” he said. “But one has to hope for it.”



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Voice of America – English: Biden’s $2 Trillion Infrastructure Proposal Faces Challenges

U.S. President Joe Biden recently announced a $2 trillion spending plan aimed at modernizing the nation’s roads and bridges, among other infrastructure. The plan, however, is expected to face obstacles in Congress. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports.

Producer: Mary Cieslak 

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Voice of America – English: Florida Works to Avoid ‘Catastrophic’ Pond Collapse

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday that crews are working to prevent the collapse of a large wastewater pond near Tampa Bay while evacuating the area to avoid a “catastrophic flood.”

Manatee County officials said earlier Sunday that the latest models showed that a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir had the potential to gush out 340 million gallons of water in a matter of minutes, risking a 6-meter-high (about 20-foot) wall of water. Throughout the day the volume had decreased to less than 300 million.

“What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said at a press conference after flying over the old Piney Point phosphate mine.

FILE - A reservoir of an old phosphate plant, the site of a breach which is leaking polluted water into the surrounding area, prompting an evacuation order in Manatee County, is seen in an aerial photograph taken in Piney Point, Florida, April 3, 2021.

FILE – A reservoir of an old phosphate plant, the site of a breach which is leaking polluted water into the surrounding area, prompting an evacuation order in Manatee County, is seen in an aerial photo taken in Piney Point, Florida, April 3, 2021.

Authorities have closed off portions of the U.S. Highway 41 and ordered evacuations of 316 homes. Some families were placed in local hotels.

A local jail 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) away from the 33-hectare (77-acre) pond is not being evacuated, but officials are moving inmates and staff to the second story and putting sandbags on the ground floor. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said the models show the area could be covered with between 30 centimeters (1 foot) to 1.5 meters (1.5 feet) of water, and the second floor is 10 feet above ground.

County officials say well water remains unaffected and there is no threat to Lake Manatee, the area’s primary source of drinking water.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says the water in the pond is primarily salt water mixed with wastewater and storm water. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.

Crews have been discharging water since the pond began leaking in late March. On Friday, a significant leak was detected. That discovery escalated the response and prompted the first evacuations and a declaration of a state of emergency on Saturday. A portion of the containment wall in the reservoir shifted, leading officials to think a collapse could occur at any time.

Hopes, the county administrator, said Sunday that with new state resources, crews will be nearly doubling the amount of water being pumped out of the pond and taken to Port Manatee. Currently about 22,000 gallons of water are being discharged per minute, and Hopes said he expects the risk of collapse to decrease by Tuesday.

Early Sunday, officials saw an increase in the water leaking out, but Hopes says it seems to have plateaued. The water running out on its own is flowing to a creek that leads to Cockroach Bay, an aquatic preserve in the Tampa Bay north of the facility.  

“Looking at the water that has been removed and the somewhat stability of the current breach, I think the team is much more comfortable today than we were yesterday,” he said. “We are not out of the critical area yet.”

Hopes said he could not rule out that a full breach could destabilize the walls of the other ponds at the Piney Point site.

The Florida DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said another pond has higher levels of metals.

“The radiologicals are still below surface water discharge standards. So, again this is not water we want to see leaving the site,” he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a coordinator on the scene to work with emergency management and provide support as necessary, said EPA spokeswoman Brandi Jenkins.  

“We are closely monitoring the ongoing situation and are in close communication with Governor DeSantis’ office, as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” she said in an email.  

Calls to the owner of the site, HRK Holdings, for comments went unanswered Saturday and Sunday.

The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid, radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer. State authorities say the water in the breached pond is not radioactive.

But the EPA says too much nitrogen in the wastewater causes algae to grow faster, leading to fish kills. Some algal blooms can also harm people who come into contact with polluted waters or eat tainted fish.

Environmental groups urged the federal government this weekend to step in to halt sending more wastewater to the existing so-called gypsum stacks and halting the creation of more phosphogypsum, which is left behind when phosphate rock is mined to produce fertilizer.

“We hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource,” Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit organization Suncoast Waterkeeper, said in a statement.


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Voice of America – English: VOA Newscasts (2 Minute)

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Voice of America – English: Protest Parties Surge in Bulgaria Election, Threatening Prime Minister Borissov

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov may have difficulty holding on to power after a surge of votes in an election Sunday for anti-establishment and anti-corruption parties that want him out.

Exit polls forecast his center-right GERB party to remain the largest party in parliament, but with around 25% of the vote, compared with the 33.5% it won four years ago.

Behind it, the opposition Socialists and a new anti-establishment party founded by a singer vied with each other for second place, and two other protest parties that reject Borissov were forecast to enter the parliament.

After a decade of dominating Bulgarian politics, Borissov has few natural coalition partners.

Weeks of talks, or even another election, cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member, may have difficulty tapping the EU’s 750 billion euro ($884 billion) coronavirus Recovery Fund.

A former firefighter and bodyguard, Borissov, 61, sought to showcase his successes in modernizing Bulgaria’s creaking infrastructure in a low-key campaign after his popularity was eroded last year by massive rallies against corruption and the power of oligarchs.

“We are seeing the outlines of one new Bulgaria, where Borissov can continue to win elections with his huge administrative and financial resources, but cannot hold on to power,” said Hristo Ivanov, a leader of the anti-graft Democratic Bulgaria party.

Complicating Borissov’s coalition-building options is the emergence of the anti-establishment There is Such a People party of popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov. A Gallup International exit poll put it second, ahead of the Socialists, while a poll by Alpha Research had them in reverse order.

Trifonov, 54, whose concerts peppered with patriotic songs have attracted thousands, has ruled out governing with either GERB or the Socialists.

Democratic Bulgaria, one of biggest forces in the massive protests last summer, won 10-11%, the polls showed. Another protest party, Stand Up! Mafia Out!, will also enter the next parliament.

Borissov’s government has presided over a 36% increase in the average monthly salary to 1,468 levs ($882), has kept public debt low and secured entry to the “waiting room” for joining the euro currency.

But its failure to tackle endemic corruption and reform the judiciary brought thousands of protesters onto the streets for months during 2020.

Bulgaria ranks as the EU’s most corrupt member state, according to Transparency International. A recent U.S. State Department report on human rights highlights serious problems with judicial independence and media freedom in the country.

President Rumen Radev, a critic of Borissov and an ally of the Socialists, says Bulgaria needs new faces and ideas.

“These elections will be the first step to the return to normality, to laws and rules,” he said after voting Sunday.


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Russia News: Voice of America – English: Kosovo Parliament Elects Vjosa Osmani as National President

Kosovo’s parliament has appointed a 38-year-old U.S.-educated female law professor and candidate of the ruling Vetevendosje party as the country’s new president, following an election in February.

Vjosa Osmani took over as acting president of Kosovo last November when her predecessor, Hashim Thaci, resigned ahead of his impending war crimes trial in the Netherlands.

Osmani’s initial mandate expired when the new government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the head of Vetevendosje, took over after the February 14 election.

On Sunday the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of appointing Osmani president by 71 votes.

Candidate for the President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani arrives for a parliament session to elect the new Kosovo's President in…
Kosovo Vote to Elect New President Stymied
Opposition and Serbian minority boycotted the vote

Opposition parties and civil society watchdogs have criticized her appointment, saying that having a president, prime minister and speaker of parliament all from the same party is not welcome in a country with a fragile democracy.

Osmani represents a type of young Kosovar more familiar with life in the West and frustrated with the nepotism and ineffectiveness of the country’s traditional parties.

In a speech, Osmani called for a dialogue aimed at normalizing ties with Serbia but said Belgrade must first apologize and prosecute those responsible for war crimes committed during the 1998-99 war that ultimately led to Kosovo becoming independent in 2008.

“Peace would be achieved only when we see remorse and an apology from Serbia and when we see justice for those who have suffered from their crimes,” Osmani said.

Until last September, Osmani was a high-ranking official of the Democratic League of Kosovo party, which she quit to join forces with Kurti. She is not a member of the anti-establishment Vetevendosje but she ran on their list in the February elections.

She is married and has two daughters.

Former President Thaci, a wartime hero who turned politician, is in the Hague awaiting trial before the Netherlands-based Kosovo’s war crimes court. He has denied the charges against him.


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