Global Corruption Worsens, but Africa Makes Progress

The past year saw little progress in tackling global corruption due to greater violence and insecurity, according to the organization Transparency International’s “Corruption Perceptions Index 2022.” However, there are some encouraging signs that corruption is being successfully tackled in parts of Africa.

“Most of the world continues to fail to fight corruption: 95 percent of countries have made little to no progress since 2017,” the report says. “Governments hampered by corruption lack the capacity to protect the people, while public discontent is more likely to turn into violence. This vicious cycle is impacting countries everywhere from South Sudan to Brazil.”

Violence

For the sixth year running, South Sudan, Syria and Somalia are at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception index.

“South Sudan is in a major humanitarian crisis with more than half of the population facing acute food insecurity — and corruption is exacerbating the situation,” the report reads. “A Sentry report from last year revealed that a massive fraud scheme by a network of corrupt politicians with ties to the president’s family siphoned off aid for food, fuel and medicine.”

Conflict and corruption create a vicious cycle, said Transparency International’s Roberto Kukutschka.

“Having weak and corrupt police and defense sectors — including … other law enforcement organizations or institutions such as the courts or the judiciary itself — it is very unlikely that we will be able to tackle organized crime or the effects of organized crime and terrorism,” Kukutschka told VOA.

Russia

The report says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February exemplifies the threat that corruption poses for global security.

“Kleptocrats in Russia have amassed great fortunes by pledging loyalty to President Vladimir Putin in exchange for profitable government contracts and protection of their economic interests,” the authors say. “The absence of any checks on Putin’s power allowed him to pursue his geopolitical ambitions with impunity. This attack destabilized the European continent, threatening democracy and killing tens of thousands.”

Brazil

Transparency International says perceived corruption worsened in Brazil under former president Jair Bolsonaro. His supporters attacked the parliament, supreme court and presidential palace following his election loss in January.

“It is much easier for corruption to occur when these checks and balances are weaker,” said Kukutschka. “That’s why one of our main recommendations this year and also in the past has been to really focus on establishing very clear separation of powers across the judiciary, the legislature and the executive whenever we have those three branches of power.”

The index ranks 180 countries by the perceived level of corruption, using data from 13 external sources including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.

Democracy

Denmark, Finland and Norway top the index. “Strong democratic institutions and regard for human rights also make these countries some of the most peaceful in the world,” says the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog.

Several European countries are at historic lows, though, including Britain, which has slipped 10 places in the past five years following a series of political scandals. Qatar and Guatemala also have fallen to historic lows on the index.

Four other traditionally top-scoring countries — Australia, Austria, Canada and Luxembourg — saw a significant decline in their assessments, as VOA recently reported, while the U.S. scored 69, a “negligible” increase of 2 points, according to a Transparency International expert who called the rating “troubling.”

African progress

Some African nations have made significant progress and are rising on the index, including Angola, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Senegal.

“Seven of the 24 countries that we see improving are actually in Africa, so this is one of the regions that is stuck at the bottom of the index, but where we also see progress happening,” Kukutschka told VOA.

“Many of them have also ramped up their anti-corruption commitments. There’s been a lot of work also within the framework of the African Union to have to fight against corruption,” he added.

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Global Corruption Worsens, But Africa Makes Progress

The past year saw little progress in tackling global corruption due to greater violence and insecurity, according to the organization Transparency International. Their annual index measures citizens’ perceptions of the level of corruption. As Henry Ridgwell reports, there are some encouraging signs that corruption is being successfully tackled in Africa. Videographer: Henry Ridgwell

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Депутат Волинець повідомив, що не може повернутися з відрядження із Женеви через госпіталізацію

Підозрюваний у недостовірному декларуванні депутат Верховної Ради Михайло Волинець (фракція «Батьківщина») повідомив, що не може повернутися зі службового відрядження з Женеви через проблеми зі здоров’ям.

«Змушений повідомити, що мене було екстрено госпіталізовано під час повернення зі службового відрядження на шляху з Женеви до Києва. За попередніми висновками лікарів, у мене виявлено хворобу, яка, на жаль, загрожує життю. Проте лікарі вживають усіх необхідних заходів задля усунення загрози та надання адекватного лікування», – написав Волинець у фейсбуці.

Він висловив сподівання, що незабаром зможе повернутися до України. Депутат долучив до допису фото, де він перебуває у лікарняній палаті.

24 листопада 2022 року Національне антикорупційне бюро повідомило про оголошення депутата Михайла Волинця в розшук. За даними НАБУ, підозру в недостовірному декларуванні депутату фракції «Батьківщина» вручили 17 листопада, в рамках кримінального провадження, яке в НАБУ розпочали після виходу розслідування «Схем» (Радіо Свобода) у квітні 2021 року.

Тоді Волинець казав, що ніхто не вручав йому ані повістки, ні підозри, і що він не переховується, а перебуває в одному з медзакладів столиці на лікуванні.

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In Search of Ukraine Weapons, NATO Looks East

Until last year, many countries in Western Europe had long-standing policies against sending weapons into war zones. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine quickly changed all that.

Those countries — most notably Germany, Sweden, and Norway — changed course, eventually donating several rounds of arms to help Ukraine fight a battle they see as decisive for Europe’s future.

But after nearly a year of fighting, and with Europe now struggling to produce enough ammunition for Ukraine and itself, the search is on for other sources of weapons.

Some are looking to northeast Asia for help. During a trip this week that included stops in Seoul and Tokyo, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for more military aid to Ukraine, noting the example set by European countries.

“After the brutal invasion of Ukraine, these countries changed their policy,” Stoltenberg said during an address in Seoul. “If you don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then they need weapons. That’s the reality.”

South Korea and Japan have already given Ukraine non-lethal military gear, such as bulletproof vests and helmets. But neither country has sent weapons directly to Ukraine, in part because of the same types of legal restrictions that had limited many European countries.

Neither South Korea nor Japan have given any indication they will change their policies toward Ukraine, but Stoltenberg’s comments suggest both countries may come under more Western pressure to provide military support, especially as the war grinds on.

South Korea circuitous approach

So far, South Korea has only indirectly supported Ukraine’s war effort. Instead of donating weapons, South Korea’s government has approved the sale of South Korean-made arms to countries that are supplying the Ukrainian military.

Poland, a major arms supplier for Ukraine, last year agreed to purchase $5.8 billion in South Korean weapons, including tanks, howitzers, and ammunition. South Korean companies have inked smaller deals with Estonia and Norway, and are in similar talks with the United States and Canada.

“These are being used to replace older weapons being sent by these countries to Ukraine, and there are credible reports that some of them will make their way to Ukraine, or are already getting there,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea specialist at King’s College London.

South Korean officials have not announced any policy to enable the direct provision of weapons, though their language on the issue appears to be softening.

Asked Tuesday whether Seoul was considering arms exports to Ukraine, South Korean defense minister Lee Jong-sup said he and the NATO chief “share the same sentiment on the need for the international effort” in resolving the crisis.

During his meeting with Stoltenberg, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol mentioned a “possible role in cooperation with the international community to help the Ukrainian people,” but did not elaborate, according to a statement released by the South Korean presidential office.

Some foreign news reports saw those comments as a sign Seoul is open to changing its mind.

But a Seoul-based diplomat from a NATO country told VOA he did not expect a major shift from South Korea anytime soon, given Seoul’s close economic ties with Russia, as well as Moscow’s influence with North Korea.

“I hope I’m wrong,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Even with indirect South Korean support for Ukraine, Russia still is not happy. In March, Moscow placed Seoul on a list of “unfriendly” nations. In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned South Korea providing arms to Ukraine “will destroy our relations.”

Japan’s arms restrictions

There may be even less chance that Japan sends weapons to Ukraine.

Though Japan is gradually loosening its pacifist restraints, its legal restrictions on arms exports appear less flexible than those in South Korea.

Despite those barriers, Japan has become one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters. It quickly joined Western sanctions against Russia, sent over a billion dollars in financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its neighbors, and even delivered non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine — a step that until recently was unthinkable.

“We now have a situation where Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines are wearing Japanese Type 88 helmets and using Japanese drones as they fight and kill soldiers from a country neighboring Japan,” said Jeffrey J. Hall, who teaches at Japan’s Kanda University of International Studies.

Russia’s invasion came as a major shock in Japan, which like Ukraine has threatening neighbors with nuclear weapons. As a result, the Japanese public broadly supports the government’s approach to Ukraine, opinion polls suggest.

“But handing the Ukrainians the tools to directly kill Russians, such as ammunition, would be much more controversial,” said Hall.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also may have other priorities. Perhaps most notably, he must find a way to pay for a plan to double defense spending over the next five years without relying too heavily on unpopular tax hikes.

“This puts Kishida in a politically shaky situation where he will want to avoid introducing any further policy changes that could hurt his approval ratings,” Hall added.

Even if Japan eventually gave weapons to Ukraine, its potential impact may be less than that of South Korea, which has a much larger defense export industry.

Continued pressure?

As long as the war in Ukraine continues — and keeps sapping Western countries of their ammunition stockpiles — South Korea and Japan may face continued pressure to arm Ukraine.

That’s especially the case since both countries are led by conservative governments that have attempted to further align themselves with the West and deepen ties with NATO.

During his visits this week, Stoltenberg vowed closer ties with Japan and South Korea. While he expressed reluctance to offer specific policy advice, he warned that the security of Europe and Asia are connected.

“We must keep supporting Ukraine, for as long as it takes,” he said. “Because if President Putin wins, the message to him and other authoritarian leaders will be that they can get what they want through the use of force.”

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Day of Disruption in UK as up to Half a Million Join Walkout

Thousands of schools in the U.K. are closing some or all of their classrooms, train services will be paralyzed and delays are expected at airports Wednesday in what’s shaping up to be the biggest day of industrial action Britain has seen in more than a decade, as unions step up pressure on the government to demand better pay amid a cost-of-living crisis.  

The Trades Union Congress, a federation of unions, estimated that up to half a million workers, including teachers, university staff, civil servants, border officials and train and bus drivers, will walk out of their jobs across the country. 

More action, including by nurses and ambulance workers, is planned for the coming days and weeks. 

Britons have endured months of disruptions to their daily lives as a bitter dispute over pay and work conditions drags on between unions and the government. But Wednesday’s strikes mark an escalation of disruptive action across multiple key industries. 

The last time the country saw mass walkouts on this scale was in 2011, when well over 1 million public sector workers staged a one-day strike in a dispute over pensions. 

Union bosses say that despite some pay rises, such as a 5% offer the government proposed to teachers, wages in the public sector have failed to keep pace with soaring inflation, effectively meaning workers have been taking a pay cut.  

The Trades Union Congress said Wednesday the average public sector worker is $250 a month worse off compared with 2010, once inflation has been taken into account. 

Inflation in the U.K. stands at 10.5%, the highest in 40 years, driven by skyrocketing food and energy costs. While some expect price rises to slow down this year, Britain’s economic outlook remains grim. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said that Britain will be the only major economy to contract this year, performing worse even than sanction-hit Russia. 

The National Education Union said some 23,000 schools will be affected Wednesday, with an estimated 85% fully or partially closed. Others also on strike range from museum workers and London bus drivers to coastguards and border officials manning passport control booths at airports.  

“It’s everybody out … of course there’s going to be some disruption and some queues,” Phil Douglas, director-general of Border Force, told reporters.  

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train driver’s union ASLEF, said the government must now listen  

“Everybody knows somebody working somewhere that’s out on strike, about to go on strike or being balloted for strike action,” he said. “Quite simply, the government has now got to listen – the people in this country are speaking, and they’re speaking volumes that they want a cost-of-living increase.” 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office acknowledged that Wednesday’s wave of walkouts will cause “significant disruption” to people and maintained that “negotiations rather than picket lines are the right approach.” But union leaders say the government has refused to negotiate and offer enough to halt the strikes.  

Unions have also been angered by the government’s plans to introduce a new law aiming to curb strike disruptions by enforcing minimum service levels in key sectors, including health and transport.  

Lawmakers on Monday backed the bill, which has been criticized by the unions as an attack on the right to strike.  

On Wednesday thousands of people are expected to take part in protests against the bill in London and other cities. 

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Президент Австрії приїхав до Києва

«Приїхав до Києва. Після майже року війни Україна не забута. Разом із президентом Зеленським і хоробрим народом України – ми виступаємо за європейські цінності»

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Hungary Most Corrupt EU Member in 2022: Watchdog

Hungary slid to bottom place among EU nations in a corruption index, with graft watchdog Transparency International on Tuesday alleging misuse by “political elites” of state and bloc funds.   

Hungary has been embroiled in a long-running spat with Brussels over corruption and rule of law concerns that have led to the freezing of billions of euros of bloc funding.    

In a bid to unlock the funds, Budapest committed to a range of legal and anti-corruption reforms, including the set-up of a watchdog that includes a Transparency International staff member.   

Hungary replaced Bulgaria as the last among EU and Western European countries in the group’s “Corruption Perceptions Index” report for 2022 launched on Tuesday.   

The report noted “a decade of democratic backsliding and systemic deterioration of the rule of law at the hands of the ruling party.”  

“Evidence is mounting against political elites on their misuse of both state and EU funds,” it said.   

Budapest hit back at Transparency, pointing to a corruption scandal in Brussels that emerged last month with one of the assembly’s vice presidents charged in connection with allegations of bribery.   

“It is interesting that Transparency International did not investigate either the Brussels bureaucracy or the European Parliament,” a government statement said.    

The statement accused the watchdog of “belonging to the Soros network” referring to the 92-year-old Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros who Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accuses of meddling in Hungarian and global politics.   

The annual Transparency report ranks 180 countries around the world and territories on a corruption scale since 1995 based on surveys with experts and businesspeople. 

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Буданов: Росія не застосує ядерну зброю

Голова Державної думи Росії Вʼячеслав Володін днями пригрозив країнам Заходу «глобальною катастрофою» та «знищенням» унаслідок можливого застосування Росією зброї масового ураження

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Report: Advanced Economies Complicit in Transnational Corruption

Anti-corruption efforts in seemingly “clean” advanced economies have stalled even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought to the fore that nation’s role in fostering kleptocracy in recent decades, Transparency International said in a report on Tuesday.

While painting a grim picture of the global fight against corruption, the Berlin-based watchdog put the spotlight on countries that have historically scored high, meaning favorably, on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Those countries remain among the “cleanest” in the world. But from Germany to France to Switzerland, most saw their CPI scores drop or stagnate last year.

Five traditionally top-scoring countries — Australia, Austria, Canada, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom — saw a significant decline in their assessments, Transparency International said.

The U.S. scored 69, a “negligible” increase of 2 points, but a Transparency International expert called the rating “troubling.”

Even Denmark, ranked No. 1, was relegated to the “little or no enforcement” category in the fight against foreign bribery.

Cross-border corruption takes many forms, from countries allowing corrupt foreign actors to launder stolen funds through their economies to governments failing to punish companies that bribe foreign officials.

In recent years, investigators have uncovered myriad instances of corrupt money finding its way into Western economies, from nearly $2 billion worth of U.K. property owned by Russians accused of financial crime or with links to the Kremlin, to tens of billions of dollars laundered into Canada each year. 

Transparency International said that while its Corruption Perceptions Index does not capture transnational graft, that form of corruption remains the advanced economies’ “biggest weaknesses.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “made it painfully apparent how inaction on transnational corruption can have catastrophic consequences,” the report says. “Not only have advanced economies helped to perpetuate corruption elsewhere, but they have also enabled kleptocracies to consolidate, threatening global peace and security.”

Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International U.S., said the U.S., thanks to the sheer size of its economy and financial secrecy rules, remains a “major facilitator of corruption internationally.”

“If you take a bribe for a thousand dollars, you put that in your pocket. If you’re trying to steal millions or billions, you need to find, as they say, ‘a more sophisticated investment strategy,’ and hiding it in an economy that’s over 20 trillion dollars makes it a little bit easier to hide,” Kalman said.

Transparency International is not the first organization to call out Western nations for aiding kleptocracy.

Last year, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States was arguably “the best place to hide and launder ill-gotten gains.”

“And that’s because of the way we allow people to establish shell companies,” Yellen said. 

Transparency International said there are signs that the U.S. and other nations are taking the problem seriously but more needs to be done.

In 2021, the U.S. Congress enacted the Corporate Transparency Act, which aims to end the use of anonymously owned companies for money laundering.

Facilitating the transnational corruption, Kalman said, are financial service providers who are not currently subject to anti-money laundering reporting obligations.

“These are the lawyers, the accountants, the money managers, the corporate formation agents, those that create trusts for wealthy people, investment advisers who are currently not covered by any anti-money laundering responsibilities,” Kalman said.

To close the loophole, he said Congress should pass the Enablers Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives last year but fell short in the Senate.

A Justice Department task force created to seize Russian assets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is increasingly targeting enablers and facilitators of sanctions evasions.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against two businessmen, one of them Russian and the other British, for facilitating the ownership and operation of a luxury yacht owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

The $90 million, 255-foot yacht, owned by Viktor Vekselberg, was previously seized by Spanish authorities at the request of the U.S.

The U.S. is also a member of the multinational Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, which has seized billions of dollars in Russian assets.

“While some governments appear to have finally woken up to the problem that they had helped create, ending top-scoring countries’ complicity in cross-border corruption —originating from Russia and beyond — requires a long-term, concerted effort,” Transparency International said.

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Байден анонсував розмову із Зеленським про зброю для України

«Ми збираємося поговорити», – сказав Байден журналістам менш як через добу після того, як він однозначно відповів «ні» на запитання, чи нададуть США Україні винищувачі F-16

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US Contends Russia Violating Nuclear Arms Treaty

The U.S. accused Russia on Tuesday of violating the nuclear arms control START treaty, contending that Moscow was refusing to allow inspection activities inside Russia.

The treaty, the last major pillar of post-Cold War nuclear arms control efforts, took effect in 2011 and was extended in 2021 for five more years. It sets a limit on the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy and the deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Together, the two countries still account for about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.

Washington has been trying to preserve the treaty, but ties with Moscow are the worst they have been in decades, the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago. The U.S. has led Western allies in supplying munitions to Ukraine to help fend off the Russian attack.

“Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control,” the State Department said.

In August, Moscow suspended cooperation with inspections under the treaty. It blamed travel restrictions imposed by Washington and its allies after Russia invaded Ukraine but said it was still committed to complying with the provisions of the treaty.

The State Department said Russia had a “clear path” to comply with the treaty by permitting inspections to continue.

On Monday, Russia told the United States that the treaty could expire in 2026 without a replacement, claiming that Washington was trying to inflict “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA state news agency that it “is quite a possible scenario” there will be no nuclear arms control treaty after 2026.

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Protesters Say Russian Ship Bound for Antarctica Unwelcome at South African Port  

Climate activists in South Africa are protesting a refueling stop by a Russian ship that they say is ignoring a ban on exploring oil and gas in Antarctica.

Protest organizers Greenpeace Africa and Extinction Rebellion say the seismic tests the Akademik Alexander Karpinsky has been conducting in Antarctica for the past 25 years are harmful to marine life like dolphins and whales.

They also say that fossil fuels should stay in the ground if the world is to prevent catastrophic global warming.

The ship’s operator, Polar Marine Geosurvey Expedition, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned mineral explorer RosGeo, insists it is not exploring for oil and gas in Antarctica but simply conducting research.

South African environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan isn’t convinced and says it’s vital everyone sees the importance of fighting global warming.

“It’s incredibly Important from a climate change perspective because the oceans there absorb a lot of the Co2 from the atmosphere but it’s also part of regulating the world’s climate and, also the currents and the weather system. But it’s also very much affected by climate change because the ice is melting,” he said.

Cormac says it’s problematic that there isn’t a government for Antarctica but instead an agreement signed in the 1950s, called the Antarctic Treaty System, where 29 countries have decision-making powers.

“Decisions are made by consensus and over the last years, when they tried to declare more marine protected areas, countries like Russia and China block them so it’s not really going anywhere,” he said.

He says terms of the treaty are only binding on the people who’ve signed up to them. And he says policing compliance is almost impossible because there’s no international police force dedicated to this task.

“If there is a big enough dispute, it could be referred to the International Court of Justice. But you know in a situation like this, often countries won’t take on another country like Russia because they think Russia may retaliate in other ways,” he said.

Cullinan is working on a Declaration for the Rights of Antarctica which environmentalists hope will be launched towards the end of this year or early in 2024. He says among other things, they hope it will make it possible for lawyers to represent Antarctica in courts of law.

“Certainly, if you think how important human rights are in the world. Even though you know governments violate rights all the time, just the fact that we’ve got agreed standards of behavior.”

He says a similar rights-of-nature declaration is being worked out for the Amazon rain forest which spreads across several countries.

Meanwhile, in Cape Town, Greenpeace Africa volunteer Elaine Mills says her organization is working on a letter of demand to send to the government.

“The one is that Alexander Karpinsky and other vessels like it are not allowed into South Africa. The second is that the Alexander Karpinsky and vessels like it have to prove that they are engaged in genuine scientific research before they are allowed entry into our ports. The third one is that we want the parties to adopt a treaty that no hydrocarbon extraction will ever be allowed within the Antarctic region,” said Mills.

Contacted by VOA, the South African Ministry and Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment did not provide comment.

South Africa announced Tuesday that it will host representatives of its partners in the BRICS bloc, namely Russia, China, India and Brazil, in Limpopo province on Wednesday and Thursday.

Naval exercises with Russia and China are also planned in February, a few days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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У МЗС кажуть, що Україна взяла до відома звіт HRW, який належним чином проаналізують

МЗС наголошує, що нині є важливою універсалізація міжнародних інструментів із заборони такого негуманного типу зброї, як протипіхотні міни

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Nordic Unions to Quit Global Journalists’ Body IFJ, Citing ‘Corruptive Activity’

Finnish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic unions will quit a global media federation on Tuesday in protest at “corruptive activity,” including allowing Russian state media journalists in Ukraine to stay as members, the Finnish union said.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents 600,000 journalists in 146 countries, denounced the accusations as “false, defamatory and damaging.”

The Nordic members accused the IFJ of longstanding undemocratic practices, unethical finances and of allowing the Russian state media representatives to continue as members.

“We call this corruptive activity,” Hanne Aho, the chair of the Union of Journalists in Finland, told Reuters, adding the four Nordic unions would resign from the IFJ on Tuesday.

The leader of the Norwegian Union of Journalists, Dag Idar Tryggestad, said the unions had fought for years to put in place democratic rules on IFJ elections as well as transparency around decisions and spending.

“..we believe this (resignation) is the only thing that can save IFJ. Changes must be forced,” he said.

Both Aho and Tryggestad said the Nordic unions’ latest disappointment resulted from the IFJ not taking action against the Russian Union of Journalists for setting up regional journalists’ associations in Ukrainian territories invaded by Russia.

“They have been able to do so in all tranquility without the international federation expelling the Russian union,” Aho said.

The IFJ said its executive committee had triggered a formal process for suspending and expelling the Russian Union of Journalists. It said expenditure was formally audited every year, adding that it had sought to answer all questions posed by the Nordic unions.

“We entirely reject what are false, defamatory and damaging allegations,” IFJ Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Dear told Reuters in an emailed response.

The Nordic unions also complained about what they said was the IFJ’s non-transparent use of finances, including its decision to hold its world congress last year in Oman, which has limited press freedom, Aho said.

The congress in Oman was organized at the end of May, at a time when journalists were widely accusing FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, of corruption and criticizing it for taking the World Cup to Qatar despite its poor track record on human rights.

“Trappings at the congress were extremely flamboyant so we began to wonder where the money had come from to pay for them,” Aho said, asking if it was appropriate for journalist unions to accept such lavish sponsoring.

Aho said the Union of Journalists in Finland had requested and received IFJ’s budget for the congress, which showed that up to 745,000 euros ($811,000) of the total of 778,000 euros ($844,675) came from Omani ministries and private companies as well as the Oman Journalists’ Association, while IFJ itself paid only 33,000 euros ($35,818) of the expenses.

The IFJ said the amounts included subsidies negotiated by the Oman Journalists’ Association.

“This has been normal procedure used in the hosting of successive IFJ congresses over decades,” it wrote in a statement shared with Reuters.

The IFJ, on its website, says it promotes collective action to defend human rights, democracy and media pluralism.

“IFJ policy is decided democratically at a Congress which meets every three years and work is carried out by the Secretariat under the direction of an elected executive committee,” it says.

 

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Australia and France to Supply Artillery Shells to Ukraine  

France and Australia have agreed to join forces to produce thousands of artillery shells to help Ukraine push Russian forces out of its country. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong are in Europe for talks with key allies.

French and Australian officials say several thousand 155 millimeter artillery shells will be manufactured jointly by French arms supplier Nexter, while Australia will supply the gunpowder. The first supplies are expected to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of April.

The announcement was made Monday at a joint news conference in Paris by French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu and his Australian counterpart, Richard Marles.

Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine’s war effort.

It has supplied missiles and Bushmaster armored personnel carriers. A group of up to 70 Australian defense force personnel has also been stationed in Britain to help train Ukrainian troops.

Australia also has sweeping sanctions on Russia — the most severe Canberra has ever imposed on a foreign government.

Marles told reporters Paris and Canberra are standing in solidarity with Ukraine.

“We wanted to act together as a statement about how importantly Australia and France regard the support of Ukraine in the current conflict,” he said. “Both of us have supported Ukraine separately in other ways, but we wanted to make it really clear that Australia and France do stand together in support of Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression.”

Also attending the media briefing in Paris were French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong.

While support for Ukraine’s effort to repel the Russian invasion have dominated bilateral talks, Paris and Canberra have also sought to ease diplomatic tensions.

Ties between the countries took a serious hit in 2021 when Canberra abandoned a French submarine contract in favor of American nuclear submarines, as well as joining the trilateral security alliance with the United States and Britain known as AUKUS.

Marles and Wong are also due to hold talks this week with British government ministers.

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New Round of Strikes as French Workers Protest Pension Reforms

Tuesday brought a new round of strikes in France as citizens protest proposed pension reforms. 

Worker strikes severely limited Paris metro and other rail services, while Air France canceled some of its short and medium flights. 

Half of the primary school teachers planned to strike, their union said, while power supplies were down with workers in the electrical sector also going on strike. 

Tuesday’s round of protests follows an initial round on January 19 in which more than a million people participated. 

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is proposing raising the retirement age in France from 62 to 64 years of age. 

Macron said Monday the change is necessary to keep the pension system working. 

Unions have said the government could instead tax the super rich. 

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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