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Zelenskyy asks Brussels to defuse Polish farmer dispute

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Zelenskyy asks Brussels to defuse Polish farmer dispute

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the European Commission to step in to avoid what he calls “political manipulation” of a dispute between Ukraine and Poland over agricultural imports.

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As Polish farmers blockaded the border with their war-torn neighbour for a second week in protest over unfair competition, Zelenskyy warned Brussels that unless it intervenes, Moscow could profit from the strained relations between Kyiv and Warsaw.

In a video statement published on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President directly urged Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to join him personally for talks on the blockaded border crossing, adding that he had also invited a representative of the European Commission.

“We must preserve Europe’s unity. This is fundamentally in the interests of the European Union,” Zelenskyy said.

“We have had enough of Moscow’s presence in our lands. We have had enough misunderstandings. We should not humiliate each other, we should not humiliate either Ukrainian or Polish farmers,” he added.

“We need unity. We need solutions—between us, Ukraine and Poland, and at the level of the whole of Europe.”

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But when asked on Thursdays about the direct appeal, the Commission could not confirm if the executive had received a formal invitation from the Ukrainian government. A spokesperson admitted the situation was “complex” and “evolving” and stressed negotiations between Ukraine and the bordering countries were the only way to design a durable solution. The last technical meeting took place on Tuesday.

“(We’re trying to find) a solution to this that satisfies, on the one hand, the Commission’s commitment to continue supporting Ukraine’s economy, including its agri-food sector, which is of systemic importance to its economy,” the spokesperson said.

“On the other hand, we’re trying to find solutions to protecting sensitive EU market sectors when there’s evidence of market disturbance. And so that’s the balance we’re trying to strike.”

Poland’s agriculture minister Czesław Siekierski told TV channel TVN24 on Wednesday that the ongoing talks with his Ukrainian counterparts are “very difficult.” Talks are focused on potential quotas for the import of Ukrainian foodstuffs.

His deputy minister Michał Kołodziejczak added that Brussels needed to get involved. “If the European Commission does not get involved in solving this problem, if this problem is not addressed strategically, Poland will actually isolate itself from products from Ukraine, but they will reach the Western European market,” Kołodziejczak said.

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Long-standing grain dispute intensifies

Tensions over Ukrainian imports have been brewing in Poland and other eastern EU member states since April last year.

The EU lifted customs duties and quotas on a wide range of Ukrainian goods, including agri-food products, in a bid to help the country boost its trade floods amid the Russian aggression and avoid global food shortages.

But farmers in five bordering countries – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria – complained that the move had caused a glut of cheap Ukrainian foodstuff in their countries, depressing prices for local producers, taking up storage and tightening the belt on families in rural communities.

The complaints led Warsaw and other capitals to unilaterally ban the domestic sale of Ukrainian cereals to protect farmers, initially sparking outrage in Brussels.

But with farmers’ discontent threatening to undermine EU solidarity with Ukraine and the rural vote considered pivotal in crunch European elections in June, the Commission struck a temporary deal that allowed four Ukrainian products  – wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed – to transit through the neighbouring countries but without staying in their markets for domestic consumption or storage.

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The arrangement came to an end in September. However, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia defied the European consensus and maintained their prohibitions, which are not coordinated and cover goods beyond the aforementioned four products.

Donald Tusk, who became Poland’s prime minister in mid-December, has inherited the previous Law and Justice government’s struggles to maintain his show of support for Ukraine while also appeasing farmers and truckers, who say their livelihoods have been hit by the show of solidarity to Kyiv.

Tusk’s cabinet has so far kept the restrictions, causing frustration in Brussels. The recent wave of farmers’ protests across Europe, however, has re-awakened discontent as Polish producers call for the grain ban to be expanded to Ukrainian fruit, vegetables and sugar, which they say also are driving down their prices.

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A proposed EU regulation, which is still under discussion, would allow member states to apply “remedial measures” on Ukrainian imports in case of market turmoil at the local level. The new regulation would also enable the automatic re-introduction of tariffs if trade flows of three “sensitive products” – poultry, eggs and sugar – spike.

The Commission hopes this new system will be enough to convince Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to lift their unilateral bans. Otherwise, legal action might be launched.

“Poland maintains its unilateral blockade against imports from Ukraine. And one has to ask the question if that was functioning as it was intended,” a Commission spokesperson said on Thursday.

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The months-long grain dispute has threatened to severely strain the relationship between the neighbouring nations and other Western allies. Warsaw has been a staunch backer of Zelenskyy’s efforts to withstand Russia’s invasion, and has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees fleeing war than any other EU country.

But as the standoff worsens, the Ukrainian leader has stepped up its rhetoric. In his video message, Zelenskyy denounced Polish farmers who he says have “flagrantly dumped” Ukrainian grain in demonstrations over recent weeks.

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“This is the grain that our farmers and peasants cultivate with great difficulty, despite all of the hardships caused by Russia’s brutal aggression,” Zelenskyy said.

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Reggie Bush reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner. Changes in NCAA rules led to the decision

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Reggie Bush reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner. Changes in NCAA rules led to the decision

NEW YORK (AP) — Reggie Bush has been reinstated as the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner more than a decade after Southern California returned the award following an NCAA investigation that found he received what were impermissible benefits during his time with the Trojans, the Heisman Trust announced Wednesday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Reggie Bush back to the Heisman family in recognition of his collegiate accomplishments,” said Michael Comerford, president of The Heisman Trophy Trust. “We considered the enormous changes in college athletics over the last several years in deciding that now is the right time to reinstate the Trophy for Reggie. We are so happy to welcome him back.”

Bush had won the trophy awarded to the top player in college football after amassing more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scoring 18 touchdowns in 2005. His 784 first-place votes were the fifth most in Heisman history.

The Heisman Trust has returned the trophy to Bush and the replica to USC. Bush will be invited to all future Heisman Trophy ceremonies.

The Trust said in a statement that its decision followed a “deliberative process” in which it closely monitored changes in the college football landscape. That included the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision that questioned the legality of the NCAA’s amateurism model and opened the door to athlete compensation; the ability of college football players to be paid for their name, image, and likeness; and the NCAA’s recent proposal to remove the cap on education-related payments.

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“Recognizing that the compensation of student athletes is an accepted practice and appears here to stay, these fundamental changes in college athletics led the Trust to decide that now is the right time to return the Trophy to Bush, who unquestionably was the most outstanding college football player of 2005,” the Trust said.

___

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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United Nations demands investigation after mass graves discovered at 2 Gaza hospitals raided by Israel

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United Nations demands investigation after mass graves discovered at 2 Gaza hospitals raided by Israel

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The United Nations called Tuesday for “a clear, transparent and credible investigation” of mass graves uncovered at two major hospitals in war-torn Gaza that were raided by Israeli troops.

Credible investigators must have access to the sites, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, and added that more journalists need to be able to work safely in Gaza to report on the facts.

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Earlier Tuesday, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said he was “horrified” by the destruction of the Shifa medical center in Gaza City and Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis as well as the reported discovery of mass graves in and around the facilities after the Israelis left.

PELOSI CALLS ON NETANYAHU TO RESIGN, CONDEMNS HIM AS ‘OBSTACLE’ TO PEACE

He called for independent and transparent investigations into the deaths, saying that “given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.”

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law,” Türk said. “And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are ‘hors de combat’ (incapable of engaging in combat) is a war crime.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel on Tuesday called the reports of mass graves at the hospitals “incredibly troubling” and said U.S. officials have asked the Israeli government for information.

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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

The Israeli military said its forces exhumed bodies that Palestinians had buried earlier as part of its search for the remains of hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. The military said bodies were examined in a respectful manner and those not belonging to Israeli hostages were returned to their place.

The Israeli military says it killed or detained hundreds of militants who had taken shelter inside the two hospital complexes, claims that could not be independently verified.

The Palestinian civil defense in the Gaza Strip said Monday that it had uncovered 283 bodies from a temporary burial ground inside the main hospital in Khan Younis that was built when Israeli forces were besieging the facility last month. At the time, people were not able to bury the dead in a cemetery and dug graves in the hospital yard, the group said.

The civil defense said some of the bodies were of people killed during the hospital siege. Others were killed when Israeli forces raided the hospital.

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Palestinian health officials say the hospital raids have destroyed Gaza’s health sector as it tries to cope with the mounting toll from over six months of war.

The issue of who could or should conduct an investigation remains in question.

For the United Nations to conduct an investigation, one of its major bodies would have to authorize it, Dujarric said.

“I think it’s not for anyone to prejudge the results or who would do it,” he said. “I think it needs to be an investigation where there is access and there is credibility.”

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said after visiting Israel and the West Bank in December that a probe by the court into possible crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli forces “is a priority for my office.”

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The discovery of the graves “is another reason why we need a cease-fire, why we need to see an end to this conflict, why we need to see greater access for humanitarians, for humanitarian goods, greater protection for hospitals” and for the release of Israeli hostages, Dujarric said Monday.

In the Hamas attack that launched the war, militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

In response, Israel’s air and ground offensive in Gaza, aimed at eliminating Hamas, has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities, created a humanitarian crisis and led around 80% of the territory’s population to flee to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

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North Macedonia votes in presidential polls as EU membership bid looms

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North Macedonia votes in presidential polls as EU membership bid looms

The vote is the first in a series of polls that could decide whether the diverse Balkan country will ever join the EU.

Voting is under way in North Macedonia to elect a president ahead of an upcoming parliamentary election as the Balkan country continues to ponder its European Union membership bid.

The results of Wednesday’s polls are due later in the day, shortly after the polling stations close at 18:00 GMT.

The country has 1.8 million registered voters in a population of 2.3 million, and the turnout must be at least 40 percent for the result to be valid.

The 61-year-old incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski is a candidate of the pro-European Social Democrats running for a second five-year term and is challenged by the 70-year-old Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova from the opposition VMRO DPMNE coalition.

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The two offer different views on how to deal with neighbouring Bulgaria’s condition of securing a recognition of a Bulgarian ethnic minority in the constitution of North Macedonia, in exchange for its backing of Skopje’s EU bid.

Pendarovski and the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) are prepared to make the amendments but lack the numbers to win a parliamentary vote.

The opposition coalition refuses to budge, saying any constitutional changes can come after North Macedonia joins the EU, a stance the government says is unrealistic.

EU membership talks for the Balkan state began in 2022 as part of a process expected to take years, and its candidacy for the 27-nation bloc dates back to 2005.

The country had already cleared another resistance to its membership bid from Greece in a 2019 move to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. The Balkan state joined NATO in 2020.

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About 1.8 million registered voters can cast ballots on Wednesday for one of seven candidates who are competing for the largely ceremonial president’s post [Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo]

Voter Stavre Temelkovski told The Associated Press news agency that he had high expectations that North Macedonia would become a full-fledged EU member soon.

“I expect a civic movement to win, for us to be a part of all those pro-Western systems, and to start a process of healing for a state which has waited for almost three decades,” he said. “Many generations are exhausted.”

Parliamentary vote

The election on Wednesday comes ahead of a parliamentary vote on May 8.

If the presidential vote goes to a second round of voting, a possibility indicated by the results of state-released polls, a run-off vote will also be held on May 8.

The opposition’s Siljanovska-Davkova is expected to take 19.2 percent of the votes and Pendarovski 9.7 percent, according to state television. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, a candidate for the DUI party, is forecast to come third with 6.6 percent of votes.

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In total, seven candidates are running for the largely ceremonial position after less than a month of campaigning, with discussions also ranging from the rule of law, fighting corruption to reducing poverty.

North Macedonia
Ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia’s presidential candidate and North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski votes during the presidential election [Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters]
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