Poland’s Ruling Nationalists Push John Paul II’s Legacy to Election Center Stage 

A controversy over John Paul II’s legacy looks set to spur some undecided voters in Polish elections due by November, political analysts say, as allegations that the late pope concealed child abuse deepen rifts in the predominantly Catholic country.

Claims in a new book and TV documentary that the late pope, born Karol Wojtyla, knowingly hid clerical pedophilia scandals as archbishop of Krakow have led some Poles to demand that his legacy be reassessed.

This has provoked a furious response from religious conservatives, with politicians from the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) defending John Paul II in the face of what they say is a left-wing plot to discredit the nation’s biggest moral authority.

“Defending the pope’s stance, even against documents and facts, may be crucial for those that in normal circumstances would not have voted, but in this case they might go to defend John Paul II’s legacy,” Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University, told Reuters.

Support for PiS has risen by 3 points to 31%, a March 14-16 Kantar opinion poll for private broadcaster TVN24 showed, while liberal opposition party Civic Platform (PO) has fallen 3 points to 26%.

While political analysts say it is too early to attribute this to the papal controversy, a PiS’ vocal stance backed by a resolution passed in the lower house of parliament on March 9 to defend his name has pushed the issue onto the election agenda.

“I’m not a ruling party supporter, but others that were not backing it till now may change their minds because our pope is being insulted,” pensioner Elzbieta Molag, 67, told Reuters in Krakow.

The opposition PO abstained from voting on the resolution. Its leader, Donald Tusk, said on March 19 that pedophilia in church cannot be excused but should not be a reason to question the pope’s role in Polish political history.

The Polish Catholic church urged Poles to respect the late pope’s memory, saying that a review of its archives did not confirm the accusations against the church hierarchy, adding that some files could be opened in future. The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment about the allegations in the book, called “Maxima Culpa.”

“Opening the files that contain sensitive personal data requires care and consent from a local bishop, and possibly also the Vatican. It won’t be a quick process,” priest Lukasz Michalczewski, spokesman for the archbishop of Krakow, told Reuters.


The account of Slawomir Mastek, a 56-old photographer from the late pope’s hometown Wadowice, opens the book by a Dutch investigative journalist published on March 8. Mastek said he was molested by two priests when he was a 13-year-old altar boy.

While one of the priests acknowledged his guilt, when Mastek confronted the church about the other case in 2011, he says local priests banned him from filming religious ceremonies and he lost up to 80% of his business.

Michalczewski said he was not familiar with Mastek’s case, adding that the church has apologized to those that feel hurt by its actions and is ready to apologize again.

Mastek’s studio on John Paul II central square Wadowice remains open but he now makes his living renovating houses. With elections due in autumn, he worries the politicization of the issue will delay justice for other victims.

“If politicians want to help they should speak to the church so that it finally starts dialogue and opens its archives,” Mastek told Reuters.

In the 1980s, the Catholic Church was a voice of freedom in Poland, inspiring people to stand up against communist rule.

However, it is slowly losing ground partly due to clerical sex abuse scandals, and accusations of cover-ups that have rocked the Church in recent years not only in Poland but in many countries, and involved John Paul II’s successors. As many as 70% of Poles support abortion rights, up 17 points since 2019, and children’s attendance at religion classes has been falling since 2010, polls show.


Filip Kaczynski, a PiS lawmaker from Wadowice, said he has not seen the documentary but is convinced it aims to smear the late pope.

“Given that it was aired by a TV station that is openly supporting the opposition it’s not an accident, it’s an attack on the church that may be part of a political infighting,” he said.

In Wadowice, the Museum of the Family Home of John Paul II has no plans to include the controversy, Deputy Director Katarzyna Coufal-Lenczowska said.

“You can’t redefine the most important values and that’s what this exhibit is about,” she told Reuters.

However, despite around three dozen people in Wadowice refusing to comment on camera, some residents voiced criticism of the town’s relationship with the church.

“In Wadowice everybody knows each other and PiS rule here, so if somebody works in a school or a public institution and talks loudly about their views they could face consequences,” a 46-year-old woman working as a freelance tutor told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Azerbaijan Violated Cease-Fire Agreement with Armenia, Russia Says

Russia on Saturday accused Azerbaijan of violating the Moscow-brokered cease-fire that ended a 2020 war with Armenia by letting its troops cross over the demarcation line.

Arch foes Baku and Yerevan have been locked for decades in a territorial conflict over Azerbaijan’s Armenian-majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The fragile Russian-mediated truce, which ended six weeks of fighting in autumn 2020, has stood despite occasional shootouts along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and in Karabakh.

“On March 25 … a unit of the armed forces of Azerbaijan crossed a line of contact in the district of Shusha, in violation” of the agreement of November 9, 2020, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

It said Russian peacekeepers “are taking measures aimed at preventing escalation … and mutual provocations.”

‘Necessary control measures’

Earlier on Saturday, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said it had taken control of some auxiliary roads in Karabakh.

The ministry said “necessary control measures were implemented by the units of the Azerbaijan army in order to prevent the use of the dirt roads north of Lachin” for arms supplies from Armenia.

The sole road linking Karabakh to Armenia, the Lachin corridor, has for months been under Azerbaijani blockade, which Yerevan says has led to a humanitarian crisis in the enclave and is aimed at driving Armenians from Karabakh.

Baku has denied the claims.


Last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned against a “very high risk of escalation” in Karabakh.

Armenia has also accused Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect ethnic Armenians living in the restive region.

Yerevan has said it would appeal to the international community to help prevent genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh.

On Thursday, Armenia accused Azerbaijani troops of killing an Armenian soldier along the countries’ volatile frontier.

Last week, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of opening fire on its army positions along the border and in Karabakh.

Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have held several rounds of peace talks mediated by the European Union and the United States.

Last week, Pashinyan noted some progress in the peace process, but said “fundamental problems” remain because “Azerbaijan is trying to put forward territorial claims, which is a red line to Armenia.”

Yerevan has accused Baku forces of occupying about 150 square kilometers in Armenia, along the countries’ shared border, after the 2020 war.

The European Union last month deployed an expanded monitoring mission to the Armenian side of the border as Western engagement grows in a region that is traditionally the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed some 30,000 lives.

Love, Pain And Loss at Ukraine’s Lychakiv Cemetery

At a historic military cemetery in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Valeriy Pushko lights up two cigarettes. One is for himself, the other for his son whose portrait is fixed to a cross planted in the ground.

“I smoke with my son,” the gray-haired man said.

“We used to take cigarette breaks together. It’s a bad habit but it makes things easier. I talk to him, think about him and that makes me feel better.”

Pushko said many others come here to smoke with their fallen husbands or sons.

In southeastern Lviv, the Lychakiv cemetery is one of the oldest in Europe and is often compared to the historic Pere Lachaise in Paris, where dozens of celebrities are buried.

It is the resting place of prominent figures including the poet Ivan Franko and thousands of soldiers who perished in World War I and II.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine over a year ago, rows of new graves have appeared. A sea of blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags and red-and-black nationalist banners mark them.

Some mourners leave stuffed animals, cigarettes, and cups of coffee at the graves of their loved ones.

More unusual symbols of love and sorrow included children’s drawings, vinyl records, a golf ball, and a bottle of beer.

A funeral nearly every day

Shortly after the Russian invasion in February 2022, authorities began burying soldiers killed in the fighting at the Lychakiv cemetery.

But the area initially designated for military burials quickly filled up, said city official Oleg Pidpysetsky.

The authorities then began laying Ukrainian servicemen to rest at a new site bordering Lychakiv.

Funerals are held nearly every day in the new burial ground. Called the Field of Mars, it now contains about 350 graves.

“No one knew how critical the situation was,” Pidpysetsky told AFP.

“Someone thought it would end in a month, two, three, six months. But, unfortunately, the war has only gotten bigger.”

Oleg, one of the mourners who came to visit a friend’s grave, called the losses irreparable.

“We will have our victory, of course, but this is the price we pay. And that is not the end,” said the 55-year-old. “These people gave their lives for us.”

Oleg mourns the loss of his 45-year-old friend also called Oleg.

He said the father of two volunteered to go to the front.

“Unfortunately, nothing can be done now. Thousands of Russians will not replace my Oleg,” he said, bitterly.

‘The only connection with their heroes’

Kyiv does not reveal the number of its military casualties, but Western officials say more than 100,000 Ukrainians have been killed or wounded.

Olga, who came to visit her brother-in-law’s grave, says the mementos people leave “is all that’s left, the only connection with their heroes.”

Her sister comes to the cemetery every day, she added.

“That’s her second home now,” Olga said.

Vyacheslav Sabelnikov, who served in the infantry before receiving a serious injury, says several men he fought with are now buried at the cemetery.

“I came to visit a friend whose birthday is today,” said Sabelnikov, placing a candle in front of his portrait.

Sabelnikov said he lights candles to remember his friends, saying it was important to honor their memory.

Anna Mikheyeva, a 44-year-old social worker, came to visit her son Mykhailo’s grave. He served in the 80th Parachute Brigade and was killed last year at the age of 25.

Mikheyeva said she often brings her son things he liked including Coca-Cola, sweets, and cigarettes.

“If I come in the morning, I buy a coffee for myself and also for him,” added the dark-haired woman.

She said she felt calm at the Field of Mars.

“There are only young people here. They are like sons and brothers to me,” she said. “When I come I always say ‘Hi guys.’ And I always, always thank them.”

West Regains ‘Unity, Purpose’ in Light of Russian Ukraine War, Poll Indicates 

A poll of global attitudes toward Russia’s Ukraine war suggests the West has regained its “unity and sense of purpose” following the invasion, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The survey, conducted in nine EU countries, Britain, China, India, Turkey, Russia, and the United States in December and January, portrays markedly different attitudes in non-Western nations.

“We asked the question whether they agree strongly with the idea that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine needs to stop as soon as possible, even if that means giving Russia control of some areas of Ukraine,” Susi Dennison, an analyst at the council, which commissioned the poll, told VOA earlier this week.

“What we found was that within the EU, but also in Great Britain and the United States — so what you might refer to as the West — there is a general agreement with the idea that Ukraine needs to regain all of its territory. And that has grown in the European countries that we looked at since we asked a similar question last summer,” Dennison said.

The report says Americans and Europeans are united in believing that Russia is an adversary or a rival. Seventy-one percent of U.S. respondents, 77% in Great Britain, and 65% in the EU countries “regard the future of relations with Russia as one of confrontation,” according to the report.

Non-Westerners gave very different answers.

In China, 42% of those asked are said to agree that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine must stop as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine giving control of parts of its territory to Russia. The desire to quickly end the war is stronger in Turkey, with 48% and India, with 54%, the report said.

“It is worth noting, however, that almost a third of people in both these countries would prefer Ukraine to regain all of its territory, even if it means a longer war or more Ukrainians being killed and displaced,” the report added.

The authors say three factors have driven Western unity: Ukrainian battlefield success, the way the war has united the political left and right, and the perceived return of a strong West led by the United States.

Europeans also feel they have survived a difficult winter, despite high energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion, Dennison said.

“There is a certain sense among Europeans that we weathered that particular storm, we can sustain economically the position that we’re taking against Russia and that we need to do so because of the nature of the war that Russia is fighting — that it threatens the fundamental rules on which the international order is based.”

As Russia tries to take more territory in a spring offensive, the report authors say Western leaders should exploit the public support for arming Ukraine.

“Military aid and support in dealing with that is needed now, because if it starts to look like actually this is not something that the Ukrainians could push back against, then we could see the support among Europeans begin to dissipate,” Dennison added.

The survey also asked citizens about their expectations of the likely global geopolitical order, a decade from now.

Most respondents in Europe and America expect a bipolar world, dominated by the U.S. and China. Most of those outside the West, though, expect a fragmented global order, with several competing powers making up a multipolar world.

“You have strong majorities that say Russia is either an ally or a necessary partner. They see a world of multipolarity in which they are going to have to form pragmatic, relatively interest-based alliances. And so to a certain extent, most global players are seen as necessary partners within that picture. What was quite striking is that Russia is no exception,” Dennison told VOA.

The report concludes that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has “confirmed the renewed centrality of American power to Europe — with billions of dollars spent maintaining the war effort, which has sustained unity across the Atlantic on sanctions and diplomatic positions towards Russia and given a new lease on life for Western-led institutions such as NATO and the G-7. This reality has not gone unnoticed by global publics.”

Pope Expands Sex Abuse Law, Reaffirms Adults Can Be Victims 

Pope Francis on Saturday updated a 2019 church law aimed at holding senior churchmen accountable for covering up cases of sex abuse, expanding it to cover lay Catholic leaders and reaffirming that vulnerable adults can also be victims of abuse when they are unable to consent.

Francis reaffirmed and made permanent the temporary provisions of the 2019 law that were passed in a moment of crisis for the Vatican and Catholic hierarchy. That law had been praised at the time for laying out precise mechanisms to investigate complicit bishops and religious superiors, but its implementation has been uneven, and the Vatican has been criticized by abuse survivors for continued lack of transparency about the cases.

The new rules conform to other changes in the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse that have been issued since then. Most significantly, they are expanded to cover leaders of Vatican-approved associations headed by lay leaders, not just clerics. That is a response to the many cases that have come to light in recent years of lay leaders abusing their authority to sexually exploit people under their spiritual care or authority.

They also reaffirm that even adults can be victims of predator priests, such as nuns or seminarians who are dependent on their bishops or superiors. Church law previously considered that only adults who “habitually” lack the use of reason can be considered victims alongside minors.

The new law makes clear that adults can be rendered vulnerable to abuse even occasionally, as situations present themselves. That is significant given resistance in the Vatican to expanding its abuse rules to cover adults.

It states that a vulnerable person is “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offense.”

Francis originally set out the norms in 2019 as a response to the latest chapter in the decades-long crisis, focused on a cover-up exposed by a Pennsylvania grand jury report and the scandal over then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Francis himself was implicated in that wave of the scandal, after he dismissed claims by victims of a notorious predator in Chile.

After realizing he had erred, Francis ordered up a wholescale review of the Chilean abuse dossier, summoned the presidents of all the world’s bishops conferences to Rome for a four-day summit on safeguarding and set in motion plans for a new law to hold senior churchmen to account for abuse and coverup, and to mandate that all cases be reported in-house.

The law and its update Saturday contain explicit norms for investigating bishops accused of abuse or cover-up — a direct response to the McCarrick case, given it was well-known in Vatican circles and in some U.S. church circles that he slept with his seminarians. The law contained precise timelines to initiate investigations if allegations were well-founded, and that has been retained with some modifications.

The law also mandates all church personnel to report allegations of clergy abuse in-house, though it refrains from mandating reporting to the police. The new law expands whistleblower protections and reaffirms the need to protect the reputation of those accused.

Survivors have long complained that the Vatican for decades turned a blind eye to bishops and religious superiors who covered up cases of abuse, moving predator priests around from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police. The 2019 law attempted to respond to those complaints, but victims have faulted the Holy See for continued secrecy about the investigations and outcomes.

Latest in Ukraine: UK Says Russia Likely Conducting ‘More Defensive Operational Design’

New developments:

Transcript of Ukrainian president’s daily address: "The enemy must know: Ukraine won't forgive offenses against our people, won't forgive these deaths and injuries." – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence report on Ukraine that Russia is likely conducting “a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023” in its campaign in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have dug in at Bakhmut instead of pulling back. Some Western military experts said this tactic might be risky because the Ukrainians need to conserve forces for a counterattack.

However, according to the British ministry, the Russian assault in Bakhmut has “largely stalled … a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force.”

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says some 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, many who are older or have disabilities, were clinging on in grisly circumstances in Bakhmut and surrounding settlements.

“They are living in very dire conditions, spending almost the entire days in intense shelling in the [underground] shelters,” said Umar Khan of the ICRC, speaking to a news briefing via video link from Dnipro, Ukraine.

“All you see is people pushed to the very limits of their existence and survival and resilience.”

In its latest report on human rights abuses in the war, the United Nations confirmed thousands of civilian deaths as well as disappearances, torture and rape, mostly of Ukrainians in Russian-occupied areas. Russia denies carrying out atrocities in what it calls a “special military operation.”

U.S. senators from both parties urged the Biden administration Friday to share information that could assist the International Criminal Court as it pursues war crimes charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The letter to President Joe Biden from Democrats Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse and Republicans Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis noted that Congress passed legislation to give the administration more flexibility in assisting the ICC.

“Knowing of your support for the important cause of accountability in Ukraine we urge you to move forward expeditiously with support to the ICC’s work so that Putin and others around him know in no uncertain terms that accountability and justice for their crimes are forthcoming,” the letter said.

Although the United States is not a party to the ICC, Biden said last week that Putin has clearly committed war crimes, adding that the ICC warrant was justified.

Last week, the court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. The legal move will obligate the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot in their territory.

Firing on Donbas

Russian forces fired a barrage of missile strikes Friday on northern and southern sections of the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

At least 10 civilians were killed and 20 were wounded in several parts of Ukraine by Russian missile strikes, according to regional officials. Five people died in Kostiantynivka, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, when a Russian missile hit an aid station.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned these attacks, saying, “The enemy must know: Ukraine won’t forgive offenses against our people, won’t forgive these deaths and injuries. All Russian terrorists will be defeated.”

Officials in Kyiv said the Russians used S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in the attacks. According to Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Russians targeted the Center for the Registration of Homeless Persons, which recently served as an “invincibility point” where war-stricken residents could warm up, recharge their cellphones, and get food. Five refugees lived in the destroyed wing at the time of the attack.

Russian forces also used air-launched missiles, exploding drones and gliding bombs to attack several regions, Ukraine air force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said.

Airstrikes and rocket and artillery attacks killed two civilians and wounded nine overnight in the town of Bilopillia in Sumy province, according to officials in the northeastern region. In southern Ukraine, Russian shelling killed one person in the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian forces are poised for a spring counteroffensive to dislodge Russian troops from occupied areas as warmer weather sets in and new weapons, including tanks, come in from the West.

Nuclear warning

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and now deputy head of the country’s Security Council, said its forces were ready to repel a counterattack.

“Our General Staff is assessing all that,” he said. Medvedev asserted that any Ukrainian attempt to take Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, could trigger a nuclear response from Moscow.

“An attempt to split part of the state away means an encroachment at the very existence of the state,” he said. “Quite obviously, it warrants the use of any weapons. I hope our ‘friends’ across the ocean realize that.”

Medvedev’s warning echoes Russia’s security doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or one with conventional weapons that threatens “the very existence of the Russian state.”

Additionally, Medvedev said Western weapons, such as the U.S.-made Patriot air defense missile systems supplied to Ukraine, could be targeted. Russian officials claim that foreign instructors stationed in Ukraine to train Ukrainian soldiers would also be targeted.

“If Patriot or other weapons are delivered to the territory of Ukraine along with foreign experts, they certainly make legitimate targets, which must be destroyed,” Medvedev said in a video posted to his messaging app channel. “They are combatants, they are the enemies of our state, and they must be destroyed.”

Kyiv denies this assertion and says soldiers are receiving their training in the U.S.

Medvedev disclosed that the Kremlin wants to create a “sanitary cordon” of up to 100 kilometers around Russian-held areas, so that short- and medium-range weapons can’t hit them.

He asserted that Moscow may even try to grab a chunk of Ukrainian territory stretching all the way to the Polish border.

Nordic air defense

To counter the rising threat from Russia, air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark said Friday they have signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defense.

Their aim is to operate jointly based on known ways of operating under NATO, according to statements by the four countries’ armed forces.

The move to integrate the air forces was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, commander of the Danish air force, Major General Jan Dam, told Reuters.

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Unrest in France Prompts Postponement of King Charles III Visit

Violent pension reform protests in France led to the postponement Friday of British King Charles III’s trip to the country, highlighting the growing security and political problems faced by President Emmanuel Macron.

The French president condemned the latest burst of violence overnight, while a human rights watchdog criticized the “excessive use of force” by police during recent demonstrations.

King Charles’ first foreign trip as monarch had been intended to highlight warming Franco-British relations. Instead, it has underlined the severity of demonstrations engulfing Britain’s neighbor just 10 months into Macron’s second term.

Uproar over legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years of age was enflamed when Macron exercised a controversial executive power to push the plan through parliament without a vote last week.

With fresh strikes expected Tuesday on what would have been the second day of the king’s tour, Macron asked for the postponement of the royal visit, a British government spokesperson said.

The decision was made “to welcome His Majesty King Charles III in conditions which reflect our friendly relations,” Macron’s office said.

Police arrested more than 450 people Thursday, according to interior ministry figures.

In addition, 441 members of the security forces were injured on the most violent day of protests since the start of the year.

More than 900 fires were lit around Paris, with anarchist groups blamed for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows, leading to frequent clashes with riot police.

But rights groups, magistrates and left-wing politicians have also denounced alleged police brutality in recent days.

The Council of Europe — the continent’s leading human rights watchdog — warned that sporadic acts of violence “cannot justify excessive use of force by agents of the state” or “deprive peaceful protesters of their right to freedom of assembly.”

More than a million

More than a million people marched in France on Thursday, according to official estimates, as the protest movement was reinvigorated by Macron’s refusal to back down over the past week.

In the northeast city of Rennes, regional officials denied claims by union leaders that police had deliberately targeted them with tear gas and a water cannon during Thursday’s protests.

In Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the ancient wooden entrance to the city hall Thursday. King Charles had been set to visit the southwestern city Tuesday, after a day in Paris.

With protesters threatening to disrupt the royal visit and the streets of the capital strewn with rubbish because of a strike by waste collectors, some feel the trip’s postponement will avoid further embarrassment for France.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Brussels on Friday, Macron said discussions over rescheduling the visit could take place in the coming months.

“We have proposed that at the beginning of the summer, depending on our respective agendas, we can arrange a new state visit,” he said.

He also insisted that Paris “would not give in to the violence.”

“I condemn the violence and offer my full support to the security forces who worked in an exemplary manner.”

Way out?

It remains unclear how the government will defuse a crisis that comes just four years after the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations rocked the country.

“Everything depends on one man who is a prisoner of the political situation,” political scientist Bastien Francois from the Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP.

The leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said Friday he had spoken to an aide to the president and suggested a pause on implementing the pensions law for six months while opening a channel for negotiations.

“It’s the moment to say, ‘Listen, let’s put things on pause, let’s wait six months,'” Berger told RTL radio. “It would calm things down.”

While France’s Constitutional Court still needs to give the final word on the reform, Macron said in a televised interview Wednesday that the changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year.”

Blockades of oil refineries by striking workers continued on Friday, but the energy transition ministry said it had requisitioned enough workers to restart production at one of these and resume fuel supply to the capital.

About 15% of gas stations were still out of at least one fuel by Friday morning, according to an analysis of public data by AFP.

Some flights have been canceled until at least Wednesday at airports around the country due to a strike by air traffic controllers.

Police and protesters will face off again Saturday, and not just at demonstrations over the pension reform.

At Saint Solines, central France, thousands of people are expected at a protest against the deployment of new water-storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation, despite an official ban on the gathering.

Херсонська міська рада закликає жителів громади евакуюватися до безпечніших регіонів

Російські війська продовжують обстріли територіальної громади, найбільше страждають населені пункти біля Дніпра

Iran Condemns France for ‘Repression’ of Protests

Iran on Friday condemned what it called France’s repression of protests after more than 450 people were arrested and nearly as many police were injured in demonstrations against pension reforms.

Protesters clashed with French security forces Thursday in the most serious violence yet of a three-month revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to change the retirement age from 62 to 64.

“We strongly condemn the repression of the peaceful demonstrations of the French people,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted in French.

“We call on the French government to respect human rights and refrain from using force against the people of the country who are peacefully pursuing their claims,” he added.

His ministry’s spokesman Nasser Kanani had previously urged the French government to “talk to its people and listen to their voices.”

“We do not support destruction or rioting, but we maintain that instead of creating chaos in other countries, listen to the voice of your people and avoid violence against them,” he said.

Kanani was referring to criticism, including from France, of Iran’s response to months-long protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini after the 22-year-old’s arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands arrested in connection with what Iranian officials described as “riots” fomented by Israel and the West.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran for its response to the protest movement, led mostly by women.

“Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind,” Kanani said, adding that such “violence contradicts sitting on the chair of morality lessons and preaching to others.”

On Friday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 457 people had been arrested and 441 members of the security forces injured the day before during the protests.

Darmanin dismissed calls from protesters to withdraw the pension reform.

“I don’t think we should withdraw this law because of violence,” he said. “If so, that means there’s no state. We should accept a democratic, social debate, but not a violent debate.”

UN Weekly Roundup: March 18-24, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Activists thirsty for action at water conference

A major U.N. water conference concluded Friday with more than 700 commitments for action across many sectors to stem a growing global water crisis. Thousands of participants from government, the private sector, academia and civil society participated in the three days of meetings that resulted in a new Water Action Agenda. However, calls by at least 150 countries for the U.N. secretary-general to create a special U.N. envoy for water have so far gone unheeded, although U.N. officials said Antonio Guterres is giving the proposal serious consideration.

UN Seeks Game Changers to Address Global Water Crisis

Black Sea grain deal continues, but for how long?

On March 18, the United Nations announced that the Black Sea Grain Initiative would continue but did not specify for how long. Turkey, which, along with the U.N., helped broker the deal, also did not specify the length of the extension. Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said it is for 120 days (which is what the agreement calls for) but Russia’s foreign ministry said it has agreed to only a 60-day extension. The package deal facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer products to international markets.

Black Sea Grain Deal Extended, Russia Says for 60 Days

Tensions increasing on Korean Peninsula

A senior United Nations official warned Monday that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is heading in the “wrong direction” days after North Korea fired its second intermediate-range ballistic missile of the year, followed by a short-range ballistic missile test Sunday. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenca told the Security Council that tensions are increasing, with no off-ramps in sight. On Friday, North Korea claimed it had tested a new underwater nuclear attack drone, which it said would create a “radioactive tsunami” on enemy shores.

UN: Tensions on Korean Peninsula Headed in ‘Wrong Direction’

Guterres meets with EU Commission, presses climate action

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres brought an urgent climate message to the European Union summit Thursday in Brussels, encouraging leaders of the bloc’s 27 member nations to take dramatic action. Following the release earlier in the week of a grim report by the organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Guterres said dramatic action is needed, as the planet gets closer to the “tipping point” that will make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

UN’s Guterres Brings Climate Warning to EU Summit

Calls for investigation of rights violations in northern Ethiopia

U.N. human rights experts warned Wednesday that peace in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region will not last unless violations committed during more than two years of armed conflict are investigated and the perpetrators are held to account.

Rights Experts: Violations in Ethiopia Must Be Investigated to Ensure Durable Peace

World Tuberculosis Day

After decades of progress, cases of the lung infection tuberculosis are on the rise again. Last year 1.6 million people died from the disease. India has the highest number of cases, with more than half-a-million related deaths in 2021 — about a third of the global total. March 24 is World TB Day and there is hope of a vaccine being developed in the next few years. The World Health Organization has set a target for eradicating TB by 2030, primarily through diagnosis, treatment and the development of a vaccine. Watch this report from VOA’s Henry Ridgwell for more:

World TB Day Sees Global Push to Eradicate Disease By 2030

Good news

Nearly 420 million children benefited from free school meals last year, a new World Food Program report said Tuesday, providing an important safety net as hunger reaches unprecedented crisis levels worldwide. The WFP said governments seem to be realizing the value of protecting the health and nutrition of children.

UN: School Meal Programs More than Just a Plate of Food

In brief

— Ukraine and the International Criminal Court signed a cooperation agreement Thursday on the establishment of a country office for The Hague-based tribunal in Ukraine. The court has been investigating a wide range of possible international crimes carried out since Russia’s invasion February 24, 2022. Earlier this week, the court made headlines when it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another senior Russian official, charging them with criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. The Kremlin rejected the court’s move saying, like many other states, Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court.

— The U.N., the World Bank, the European Union and the government of Ukraine said in the second Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment report that after a year of war, direct damage to infrastructure and people’s lives is calculated at more than $135 billion and social and economic losses amount to $290 billion. The country’s agriculture sector was hard hit, estimated to have lost $40 billion, overwhelmingly from destroyed equipment and mined farmland.

— The World Health Organization expressed concern this week at the rising number of cholera cases, especially in countries that have not had outbreaks in decades. As of March 20, two dozen countries have reported cases. The WHO says the response is hampered in part due to the global shortage of the oral cholera vaccine, as well as overstretched medical personnel, who are dealing with multiple health emergencies.

— As gang violence continues unabated in Haiti hindering people’s ability to access water and food, the World Food Program said Thursday that half of the population – nearly 5 million people – are struggling to feed themselves. Inflation and food prices are also hitting Haitians hard. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification of IPC, says 1.8 million people are estimated to be at emergency Phase 4 levels. The WFP says it urgently needs $125 million for the next six months to assist the most vulnerable.

— As the new school year got underway in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, called on de facto Taliban authorities “to allow all girls to return to school with immediate effect.” It said the “unjustified and shortsighted decision” to continue to bar more than 1 million Afghan girls from attending classes “marks another grim milestone in the steady erosion of girls’ and women’s rights nationwide.”

— WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China Saturday to be transparent in sharing data on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data recently made public suggests that raccoon dogs were present in the Wuhan animal market and may have been infected with the coronavirus. The Chinese city was where the first infections were reported and many of the first human cases were centered around the animal market. The WHO says the information is not conclusive but could shed new light on the origins of the virus and should have been shared three years ago.

What we are watching next week

On March 29, the General Assembly will take up a proposal from Vanuatu and backed by more than 100 countries that would seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice clarifying the legal obligations and consequences of and to states on protecting the rights of current and future generations from climate change. The resolution began in 2019 as the brainchild of students from the Pacific Island nation, which is among several small island states that are suffering the effects of the climate crisis but have contributed little to it.

Elderly Ukrainian Helicopters Pummel Russians From Afar

Skimming the treetops, three Soviet-era attack helicopters bank and swoop down on a field after an early-morning mission to the front lines in the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Each day, they might fly three or four sorties, says the commander, whose two-crew Mi-24 helicopter, built about 40 years ago, is older than he is.

“We are carrying out combat tasks to destroy enemy vehicles, enemy personnel, we are working with pitch-up attacks from a distance from where the enemy can’t get us with their air defense system,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity for operational security reasons, in line with military regulations.

The conflict in Ukraine is largely an artillery war, with territory being fought for inch by inch under a barrage of shells and missiles. But Ukraine’s aviation capabilities play a significant role in the fight, the pilot said.

“The importance of the helicopters is huge,” said the commander, who is part of Ukraine’s 12th Army Aviation Brigade.

Footage from a camera attached to the helicopter during a recent combat mission shows it flying over fields pockmarked with craters from artillery bombing, and firing missiles at Russian trenches that cut through the landscape.

“We are shooting from the big distance and hit the target clearly, like there’s a cross on the target and (the missiles) go by themselves where they should go,” the commander said.

He would, however, like to fly a newer model.

“We need to master something new, something from abroad,” the commander said. “It has better characteristics. You can maneuver more on it, there are more rockets on it and the weapons are more powerful. We can do more tasks with better quality and with less risk for us.”

Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have pledged to send, or have already sent, helicopters to Ukraine as part of military aid since the start of the war sparked by Russia’s invasion in Feb 2022.

На в’їзді до Києва затримали попа, якого від виїзду з України до РФ стримують «квартири і лахи» – ДПСУ

Наразі священнослужителя передали співробітникам СБУ для подальшої перевірки та ухвалення правового рішення щодо нього

Bosnia’s Serb Region Moves to Criminalize Defamation Despite Protests

Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic has moved towards criminalizing acts of defamation and insult despite international criticism and protests by journalists who see the new law as a crackdown on free speech.

The regional parliament on Thursday passed draft amendments to the criminal code introducing fines of 3,000 to 60,000 euros ($3,200-$65,000) for damaging a person’s honor or reputation and for publishing damaging videos, photos or documents without consent.

The legislation has prompted a public outcry since it was announced in early March, with journalists, civil society activists and diplomats saying it aimed to silence independent media.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all called on the Serb Republic to drop the criminal code changes and ensure the full protection of media freedom as a necessary precondition for Bosnia to progress on the EU path.

Bosnia was the first country in the Western Balkans region that de-criminalized defamation in 2001. Under provisions of the 1995 U.S.-brokered Daytron peace deal that ended a war there, Bosnia is split into the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic.

“News reporting will become a mission impossible, investigative journalism will cease to exist and all citizens will feel effects on their own skin,” Sinisa Vukelic, the president of the Banja Luka Journalists Club, said last week at a protest during which reporters symbolically taped their mouths.

The law was proposed by the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats headed by Serb secessionist leader Milorad Dodik, the Serb Republic president, and agreed by their coalition partners with whom they form a parliamentary majority.

After some journalists criticized the draft law as repressive over the past week, Dodik publicly lashed out at them. Following his remarks, the cars belonging to two journalists who publicly criticized the law were damaged in Banja Luka.

Dodik this week dismissed criticism that journalists will be targets under the planned legislation, saying a draft law may be improved during a public discussion that will follow before it comes into effect.

He said a prison term for offenders was not introduced in the law even though those who cannot pay the fine will have to serve a jail term.