Brazil President Backtracks on Looser Gun Restrictions as Lawmakers Resist

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday reversed a move to loosen gun control laws by presidential decree, in a strategic retreat after lawmakers pushed back on one of the far-right leader’s key campaign promises.

In May, Bolsonaro signed decrees easing restrictions on importing and carrying guns and buying ammunition, which needed congressional approval to become permanent law. After the Senate rejected a decree last week, Bolsonaro decided on Tuesday to revoke it and reconsider his strategy.

The former army captain vowed last year to crack down on crime and ease access to guns, rolling back decades of arms control efforts as many Brazilians clamored for a dramatic response to rising violent crime.

Bolsonaro’s reversal on Tuesday, published in a late edition of the government’s official gazette, contradicted comments made just hours earlier by his spokesman Otávio Rêgo Barros that the
president would not revoke the guns decree.

Bolsonaro also sent a new bill to Congress on Tuesday that aims to loosen restrictions on the possession of arms in rural areas, Senate President Davi Alcolumbre wrote on his Twitter
account.

US Sanctions Put Telecoms Firms Off Cuba, Internet Task Force Says

U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday.

Chinese companies dominate Cuba’s telecoms sector, a status quo “worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese Internet infrastructure providers,” the report said.

Cuba’s government protested the U.S. State Department’s creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force last year as “foreign interference.” It remains unclear how open it would be to U.S. investment in the strategic telecoms sector.

“U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba,” according to the task force, convened last year by the State Department.

U.S. presidents have successively tightened and loosened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba imposed in the years after its 1959 revolution.

Former President Barack Obama created a loophole for U.S. telecommunications companies to provide certain services to Cuba. His successor, Donald Trump, maintained the loophole but tightened the broader sanctions, worsening the overall business climate.

Banks are increasingly reluctant to process payments originating in Cuba. Some telecoms firms surveyed by the task force said that was putting them off offering key services and products in the country.

The task force advised the U.S. government to clear up the regulatory uncertainty and seek feedback on how to improve telecoms firms’ ability to invest.

Until 2013, the internet was largely available to the public in Cuba only at tourist hotels amid the U.S. embargo, lack of cash and concerns over the free flow of information.

The government has increased web access in recent years, installing a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela and introducing cyber cafes, Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile internet.

Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA signed a deal earlier this year with Alphabet’s Google on increasing connectivity, but the two have not publicly agreed on any significant investments.

Denmark Becomes Third Nordic Country to Form Leftist Government This Year

Denmark on Wednesday became the third Nordic country this year to form a leftist government after Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen finalized terms for a one-party minority government, making her the country’s youngest-ever prime minister.

While the new left-leaning government is unlikely to fundamentally change Denmark’s economic policy, Frederiksen, 41, has promised to increase welfare spending after years of austerity.

A bloc of five left-leaning opposition parties led by Frederiksen’s Social Democratic Party won a majority in a June 5 election, prompting center-right leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen to resign as prime minister.

“It is with great pleasure I can announce that after three weeks of negotiations, we have a majority to form a new government,” she said.

Ageing populations have prompted Nordic governments to chip away at the cradle-to-grave welfare state, but the June 5 election showed clear support among Danish voters for leftist parties. It also dealt a blow to right-wing nationalists, who lost more than half of their votes compared with 2015.

While the leftist opposition bloc received a convincing majority, support for the Social Democratic Party declined slightly compared with the 2015 vote. But it remained the country’s biggest party.

Despite differences among left-leaning parties over issues such as welfare and immigration, Frederiksen got their backing to form a one-party minority government, a common arrangement inDenmark.

Frederiksen’s Social Democrats will have to rely on the Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance and the Social-Liberal Party – formerly headed by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – to pass laws in the 179-seat parliament.

The four parties agreed to soften some tough measures on immigration, including abandoning a plan by the previous government to hold foreign criminals on a tiny island.

The parties also said they agreed on a plan to allow more foreign labor, on further measures to eliminate rising inequality and on a plan to create a binding law on the reduction of emissions.

Following spending cuts by successive governments to reduce the public deficit, which has resulted in an erosion of traditional welfare services, the Social Democrats campaigned for an increase in spending and making businesses and the wealthy pay more toward welfare through higher taxes.

Many Danes, who like counterparts in other Nordic states pay some of the highest taxes in the world to underpin their welfare system, worry that further austerity will erode the universal healthcare, education and elderly services long seen as a given.

Economists have said there is some room within the country’s sound public finances to increase spending.

In Finland and Sweden, the Social Democratic parties formed governments earlier this year.

Brazil Congress Ditches Bolsonaro Decree Weakening Indigenous Agency

Brazil’s Congress threw out part of a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro giving say over indigenous land claims to the Agriculture Ministry, further undermining the right-wing president’s agenda to empower rural farmers in disputes over land.

The move, announced by Senate President David Alcolumbre came a day after a Supreme Court justice suspended Bolsonaro’s move to strip the land decisions from indigenous affairs agency Funai, which is part of the Justice Ministry.

“We agreed the subject should be handled by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security,” Alcolumbre wrote on Twitter.

In late May, lawmakers spoiled Bolsonaro’s first attempt to grant the land demarcation powers to the farm ministry, but the president issued a second decree on June 19 reinforcing the move.

A presidential decree goes into effect immediately, but requires the approval of Congress within 120 days to become law or it expires.

FILE – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro talks at the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 6, 2019.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain elected last year on a wave of conservative sentiment, has alarmed anthropologists and environmentalists alike with vows to assimilate the country’s 800,000 indigenous people into Brazilian society.

The far-right president says he wants to open reservation lands to agriculture and mining, even in the Amazon rainforest, encouraging indigenous tribes to engage in commercial activity in return for royalties.

US House Passes Emergency Funding Bill for Migrant Care Crisis

It took last-minute changes and a full-court press by top Democratic leaders, but the House passed with relative ease Tuesday a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
The bill passed along party lines after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quelled a mini-revolt by progressives and Hispanic lawmakers who sought significant changes to the legislation. New provisions added to the bill Tuesday were more modest than what those lawmakers had sought, but the urgent need for the funding — to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the border from turning into a debacle — appeared to outweigh any lingering concerns.
 
The 230-195 vote sets up a showdown with the Republican-led Senate, which may try instead to force Democrats to send Trump a different, and broadly bipartisan, companion measure in coming days as the chambers race to wrap up the must-do legislation by the end of the week.
 
 “The Senate has a good bill. Our bill is much better,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues in a meeting Tuesday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.
 
“We are ensuring that children have food, clothing, sanitary items, shelter and medical care. We are providing access to legal assistance. And we are protecting families because families belong together,” Pelosi said in a subsequent floor speech.
 
The bill contains more than $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and almost $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over the Department of Health and Human Services. It seeks to mandate improved standards of care at HHS “influx shelters” that house children waiting to be placed with sponsors such as family members in the U.S.
 
Both House and Senate bills ensure funding could not be shifted to Trump’s border wall and would block information on sponsors of immigrant children from being used to deport them. Trump would be denied additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.
 
“The President’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorize communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only — not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
 
Three moderates were the only House Republicans to back the measure. The only four Democratic “no” votes came from some of the party’s best-known freshmen: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ihan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
 
The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts, and the Senate’s top Republican suggested Tuesday that the House should simply accept the Senate measure — which received only a single “nay” vote during a committee vote last week.
 
“The idea here is to get a (presidential) signature, so I think once we can get that out of the Senate, hopefully on a vote similar to the one in the Appropriations Committee, I’m hoping that the House will conclude that’s the best way to get the problem solved, which can only happen with a signature,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
 
A handful of GOP conservatives went to the White House to try to persuade Trump to reject the Senate bill and demand additional funding for immigration enforcement such as overtime for border agents and detention facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a top GOP lawmaker who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting. Trump was expected to reject the advice.
 
House Democrats seeking the changes met late Monday with Pelosi, and lawmakers emerging from the Tuesday morning caucus meeting were generally supportive of the legislation.
 
Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess, and pressure is intense to wrap up the legislation before then. Agencies are about to run out of money and failure to act could bring a swift political rebuke and accusations of ignoring the plight of innocent immigrant children.
 
Longtime GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Democrats were simply “pushing partisan bills to score political points and avoiding doing the hard work of actually making law,” warning them that “passing a partisan bill through this chamber won’t solve the problem.”
 
Lawmakers’ sense of urgency to provide humanitarian aid was amplified by recent reports of gruesome conditions in a windowless Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, where more than 300 infants and children were being housed. Many were kept there for weeks and were caring for each other in conditions that included inadequate food, water and sanitation.
 
By Tuesday, most had been sent elsewhere. The incident was only an extreme example of the dire conditions reported at numerous locations where detainees have been held, and several children have died in U.S. custody.
 
The Border Patrol reported apprehending nearly 133,000 people last month — including many Central American families — as monthly totals have begun topping 100,000 for the first time since 2007. Federal agencies involved in immigration have reported being overwhelmed, depleting their budgets and housing large numbers of detainees in structures meant for handfuls of people.
 
Changes unveiled Tuesday would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish new standards for care of unaccompanied immigrant children and a plan for ensuring adequate translators to assist migrants in their dealings with law enforcement. The government would have to replace contractors who provide inadequate care.
 
Many children detained entering the U.S. from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions, and Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency’s care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.
 
Sanders announced Tuesday that he’s stepping down next month amid outrage over his agency’s treatment of detained migrant children.
 
In a letter Monday threatening the veto, White House officials told lawmakers they objected that the House package lacked money for beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs to let it detain more migrants. Officials also complained in the letter that the bill had no money to toughen border security, including funds for building Trump’s proposed border wall.

Kenyan Ice Hockey Team Hosts First Exhibition Tournament

A Kenyan ice hockey team, the only one in East Africa, has hosted an exhibition tournament with teams made up by foreign diplomats.  The Kenya Ice Lions hope to bring more attention to the sport and its bid to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics.  Sarah Kimani reports from Nairobi.

China Hopes Trump-Xi Meeting Will Help Ease Escalating Trade War

China hopes an upcoming meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will help build trust and deescalate the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The two leaders are scheduled to meet later this week at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, their first face-to-face meeting since trade talks broke off in May.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday in Beijing the meeting will hopefully “promote mutual trust” and “resolve some of the outstanding issues we are facing now.”

During a phone call Monday between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, they exchanged opinions on trade and and agreed to maintain communications, China’s Commerce ministry said. China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency said the phone call was requested by U.S. officials.

A senior U.S. official said Monday the meeting will provide Trump the chance to get China’s position on the escalating trade war. The official added that Trump would be “comfortable with any outcome” of the meeting.

Trump has said he is prepared to impose tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports. The move would extend tariffs to everything China transports to the U.S., since Trump had previously imposed 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports. China has retaliated with tariffs on U.S. goods.

Eleven rounds of previous talks have failed to ease U.S. concerns over China’s massive trade surplus and China’s acquisition of U.S. technology.

 

Midwifery Students Use Augmented Technology to Improve Clinical Skills

Midwifery students in London are learning to bring new life into the world in a radically new way with the help of augmented reality (AR) technology.

Using AR headsets and lifelike models of full-term mothers, trainee midwives at Middlesex University can take part in fully simulated births, which the university’s clinical staff hope will both hone their clinical skills and leave them better prepared to face challenges rarely seen in day-to-day practice.

AR technology offers users an interactive experience in which objects in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated information.

Midwifery educator Sarah Chitongo said the AR system allowed students to understand better the birthing process by displaying an interactive representation of a patient’s anatomy.

“It allows you to see a visual picture of the actual anatomy itself, which is raised out of the normal body, and you can step in, walk around and have an internal view,” Chitongo told Reuters.

Chitongo cited high-risk problems such as shoulder dystocia – when a baby’s shoulders get stuck in the mother’s body – and breech births – when a baby is born bottom first – as particular rarities for midwives where AR could help prepare students to cope better and ultimately to save lives.

Chitongo believes that younger trainees will embrace the technology positively as they are of a generation that has largely grown up with computers and interactive environments.

However, her overarching aim is for midwives to become better prepared to reduce mortality rates, which are disproportionately high among ethnic minority pregnancies.

“Currently, here in the U.K., it sits at 60% combined, compared to 9.8% in white women,” Chitongo said, adding that the issue had not been meaningfully addressed despite the trend having risen since 2011. “When you get it right, with a population where it’s actually on the worst side (of the statistics), it means you’ve got a better and safer maternity service across the U.K.”

 

Conservationists: Venice Must be Put on UN Danger List, Ban Cruise Ships

Venice should be put on the United Nations’ list of endangered cities and cruise ships should be banned from its fragile lagoon to prevent an ecological disaster, Italy’s main conservation group said on Monday.

The call came less than a month after a towering cruise ship collided with a dock and a tourist boat in Venice, injuring four people and rekindling a heated debate in Italy about how to protect the historic city, which draws some 30 million tourists a year.

“Venice is unique and we cannot allow it to be destroyed even more than it has been already,” said Mariarita Signorini, national president of Italia Nostra [Our Italy], whose stated mission is to defend Italy’s cultural and natural heritage.

“Venice is one of the most endangered cities in the world,” she told a news conference announcing the decision to ask the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to put the city on its List of World Heritage in Danger.

Venice and its lagoon are already on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites but Italia Nostra says unbridled tourism, a steady exodus of longtime residents and environmental decay pose a huge threat to the city’s survival.

According to UNESCO’s website, the danger list is meant to “encourage corrective action.”

While being put on the danger list would have no immediate consequences, Italia Nostra argues that this would compel national authorities to enact more safeguards.

It was not immediately clear what Venice’s prospects were for being included on the list, which currently has 54 sites worldwide, some of them but by no means all in conflict zones.

‘Not just buildings’

The June 2 collision between MSC Cruises’ massive 2,679-passenger Opera and the moored “River Countess,” which had 110 people on board, re-ignited calls for banning giant ships.

The accident conjured up memories of the 2012 accident involving the Costa Concordia, which overturned after hitting rocks near the island of Giglio, killing 32 people.

“If something like that happened in the lagoon, it would be the end of the ecosystem,” said Lidia Fersuoch, head of Italia Nostra in Venice. “Venice is not just buildings. The lagoon is a living thing.”

Cruise ships enter the lagoon via one of the three “mouths” that connect it to the Adriatic Sea, pass near St. Marks Square and go through the Giudecca Canal to reach a passenger terminal.

Italia Nostra says they cause waves that damage historic buildings. The group wants a port for big ships built at one of the mouths where the Adriatic meets the lagoon.

 

Turkish Court Frees US Consulate Worker From House Arrest

A court in Istanbul has released an employee of the U.S. Consulate from house arrest for health reasons.
 
The court on Tuesday ruled, however, that Nazmi Mete Canturk should continue to be barred from leaving the country pending the outcome of his trial.
 
Canturk — along with his wife and daughter — is on trial accused of links to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey holds responsible for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He is among three U.S. diplomatic missions’ Turkish employees to be prosecuted on terror or espionage charges.
 
 The top U.S. diplomat in Turkey, Jeffrey Hovenier, welcomed Canturk’s release but said the U.S. saw “no evidence to support the charges brought against him.”
 
 He called for a quick resolution of cases brought against his staff.