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Isolated in EU, Poland seeks better ties with Germany behind the scenes

WARSAW: When two dark cars drove up to the retreat of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a baroque castle on a sunny afternoon last July, only a handful of people knew they were bringing Poland’s top politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

So awkward are relations with Berlin for the rightwing Polish leader that the public was not told of the meeting for seven months. Kaczynski finally revealed it in February, saying only that it had been “very secretive”.

While Merkel has hosted many politicians at the Meseberg castle 65 km (40 miles) north of Berlin, such a clandestine visit had never taken place in her 11 years in office, a German source present at the meeting told Reuters.

Supporters of Kaczynski’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) were far from thrilled.

“Poles and Germans as brothers? I really hope Mr Kaczynski will not allow for that, otherwise he will lose my trust,” said Wanda Lewandowska, a 74-year-old retiree and PiS supporter, who said the Nazis killed some of her family members during the war.

In public, Kaczynski has been no friend of the German chancellor. He once said Merkel wants “first of all, a subordination” of Poland.

But the PiS, which Kaczynski chairs, was anxious to mend its ties with Germany, feeling increasingly isolated in Europe. The secret talks with Merkel were held two weeks after Britain had voted to leave the EU, depriving Warsaw of its main ally among the big countries in the bloc.

Officials now say the meeting lasted several hours, with the two taking a long stroll through the castle’s gardens before sitting down to a dinner with German and Italian wine. Kaczynski gave Merkel a painting of the house where her mother was born in a town that became Polish territory after World War Two. The chancellor gave him a bottle of wine.

Since Kaczynski revealed the meeting, relations in public have only deteriorated again, culminating last month when EU leaders voted unanimously to re-elect former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the chairman of EU summits.

Tusk’s party is the main domestic rival to Kaczynski’s PiS in Poland, and a furious Kaczynski blamed Berlin for helping his foe. German pressure, he said, was “overpowering”.

Nevertheless, Polish government sources say Warsaw has a better relationship in private with its neighbour and biggest trading partner than it appears in public. Sometimes, it keeps the friendship quiet to avoid angering its own rightwing voters.

“We are working on better ties with Germany, but we have to tightly control what becomes public information and what doesn’t,” a government source familiar with Poland’s foreign policy, told Reuters. “It is a difficult task.”

German officials also brush off the public criticism as the hazard of occupying the leading role in the bloc.

“As the strongest in EU we have to … learn not to always react. Because it makes it worse,” a German minister told Reuters.

MUCH TO DISCUSS

The two countries have a lot to talk about. EU countries accuse Kaczynski’s PiS of veering away from democracy by asserting control over the courts and the media.

Poland wants to see EU treaties changed to return more powers to member states, an aim in which it once counted on Britain as its most influential ally.

The burden of navigating the relationship lies chiefly on Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a supporter of better ties with Germany but loyal to her party’s leader Kaczynski.

On Sunday, she and Merkel will discuss bilateral relations and the EU after opening a trade fair in Hanover.

Many Poles, especially rightwing PiS supporters, are still animated by a visceral hatred of Germans dating to World War Two, although feelings have warmed up since the end of communism when Germany threw its weight behind Polish EU membership.

These days half of Poles perceive Germans in a positive way, double the share in 1993, according to pollster CBOS. But more than one in five Poles still feels antipathy towards Germans, compared to one in 10 who dislike Poland’s southern neighbours the Czechs and the Slovaks.

PiS officials regularly invoke Poland’s suffering under German occupation during World War Two as a reason why Berlin should never criticise Warsaw.

But if there is one big country that frightens Poles more than Germany, it is Russia. Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 has made Poland an ally of Merkel in seeking EU sanctions against Russia and strong ties with NATO and the United States.

With Britain leaving the European Union, the relationship is more important than ever, said Nicola von Ondarza, at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) think-tank.

“The Polish government, because of economic and security issues looks very much to closer ties with the EU and especially Germany,” she said. “That’s much more apparent after the Brexit vote.”

(Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw; writing by Lidia Kelly; editing by Peter Graff)

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Fiji honours Olympic rugby sevens heroes with new currency

REUTERS: The government of Fiji will release new 7 Fijian dollar (2.61 pounds) banknotes and 50 cent coins to honour the rugby sevens team that won the gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said on Friday.

The Fiji rugby team won the country’s first Olympic Gold, the nation’s first ever Olympics medal, by beating Great Britain 43-7 in the rugby sevens final at last year’s competition.

Two million 7 Fiji dollar banknotes and one million 50 cent coins with images of captain Osea Kolinisau, former coach Ben Ryan and the team members will be released on Friday.

Ryan, who is Fiji’s most successful coach, was previously awarded the Companion of the Order of Fiji and three acres of land after he stepped down as coach in 2016. He is currently a consultant for the Welsh Rugby Union.

(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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BRF executives among 60 charged in Brazil bribery scandal

SAO PAULO: Two executives at Brazilian poultry firm BRF SA were among 60 people charged on Thursday with taking part in a scheme to bribe health officials, in a scandal that briefly closed global markets to Brazilian meat, according to a statement from prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors in the state of Parana said they accused BRF director Andre Luiz Baldissera and government relations executive Roney Nogueira of taking part in a scheme to bribe officials in return for less rigorous plant inspections.

Others charged include public officials, heath inspectors and other BRF employees.

BRF representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment but in the past have said the company followed industry regulations and was cooperating with authorities.

The executives could not be reached for comment.

The charges come a month after police raided plants operated by BRF and beef company JBS SA in an investigation known as “Operation Weak Flesh.” Police said they found evidence of meatpackers bribing inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices such as processing rotten meat and shipping exports with traces of salmonella.

The scandal briefly threatened nearly US$ 14 billion in exports from Brazil’s powerhouse protein industry, as markets from China to Europe curtailed shipments of Brazilian meat.

Most foreign markets soon lifted import bans or narrowed them to the 21 processing plants under investigation after Brazil’s president and agriculture minister insisted that the irregular inspections were contained to a handful of cases.

(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito and Maria Pia Palermo; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Wilshere expected back in Arsenal training in July – Wenger

LONDON: Injured England midfielder Jack Wilshere will return to Arsenal from Bournemouth at the end of the season and is expected to return to training in July, manager Arsene Wenger said on Thursday.

Wilshere, 25, broke his leg during a 4-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and will be out until after the end of his loan deal.

Wenger told reporters he had discussed the situation with medical staff.

“They think it’s a very simple fracture, that doesn’t need any surgery at all. Hopefully he will be back in July for normal training,” he said. “But we need patience. Let’s hope that all goes well.

“Until the end of the season he’s a player of Bournemouth but we have a good understanding with the medical staff,” added the Frenchman. “The rehab will certainly be made here…because the loan spell ends at the end of the season.”

The injury-prone Wilshere has made 27 league appearances for Bournemouth during his season-long loan deal, his biggest run of domestic outings since the 2013-14 season.

Once one of the brightest young hopes in English football, Wilshere slipped down the pecking order at Arsenal after managing only 17 games in two seasons blighted by prolonged spells on the sidelines.

However this season was looking brighter and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said this month that he wanted to sign the player, who is entering the final 18 months of his contract with Arsenal, on a permanent basis.

Wenger said negotiations with Wilshere had yet to start and the injury had nothing to do with any extension although he had been saddened to hear of it.

“Jack is a great football player, a great football brain and his career has been stopped by many injuries,” he said. “Today at the top level the most important thing is the consistency of the presence.

“When the player has been out for a while, the game is of such intensity that it takes you always a while to find the rhythm, the confidence back. A great career doesn’t suffer stop and go. You have to be consistently present.

“When you look at all the players who are at the top level in the world like (Real Madrid’s Cristiano) Ronaldo, they play 50 or 60 games a year. They have the luck not to be stopped by injuries. so you are always sad when a guy of that quality is stopped by problems.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Russia identifies mastermind behind St. Petersburg metro bombing – Russian agencies

MOSCOW: Russia’s Federal Security Service has identified the person who orchestrated an attack that killed 14 people on the St. Petersburg metro earlier this month, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday, citing FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov.

“He has been provisionally identified. Yes, yes, identified,” agencies cited Bortnikov as saying.

Police have so far detained 10 people they suspect of being involved in the attack.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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France backs Lille as best choice to host EU drug agency after Brexit

PARIS: France offered the northern city of Lille as a candidate to host the European Union’s drug regulator to replace London after Britain leaves the bloc, the government said on Wednesday.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is preparing to leave its London headquarters in the wake of Brexit and its executive director is hoping for a quick decision on its new location.

The agency is responsible for the smooth-running of the EU drug approval process, which is vital for companies, as well as overseeing the safety of medicines once they reach the market.

With nearly 900 staff, an annual budget of 322 million euros (US$ 340 million) and luring 36,000 experts a year to its meetings, the EMA is the largest EU institution in Britain and an attractive prospect for multiple cities.

The European Commission dismissed a suggestion from Britain this week that the EMA and another EU agency, the European Banking Authority (EBA), might not have to leave London.

Countering Britain’s suggestion that their relocation was “subject to the exit negotiations”, a spokesman said it was not and that they would be moved so that they remain on EU territory.

In a statement issued by the office of the French Prime minister, the government praised Lille’s location in western Europe as the city is close to Brussels, London and Paris.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Michel Rose and Alison Williams)

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Mourinho tells Martial he needs to see more from French forward

CARRINGTON, England: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho sent a clear message to French forward Anthony Martial on Wednesday, saying he needs to do more to impress him and comparing his approach unfavourably with that of team-mate Marcus Rashford.

It was the latest example of Mourinho going public with his challenges to a player, after his recent criticisms of full-back Luke Shaw.

Martial joined United in a 36 million-pound move from Monaco in 2015, but this season he has struggled to earn a regular starting place. Even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic rested on Sunday against Chelsea, the 21-year-old was left on the bench.

Speaking before Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final, second-leg against Anderlecht at Old Trafford, Mourinho was asked his thoughts on the France international and whether leaving him on the bench indicated he was not fully satisfied with him.

“We are together now for almost 10 months and the same way I know the players much better now, the players should know me also much better now,” said Mourinho, who opted for Jesse Lingaard and Rashford in attack against Chelsea.

“The same way I know what they like, I think they also know what I like. I have to go in the direction of the players and they have to come in my direction.

“That is the point – that is why Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals, even without being without a Premier League goal since September, even with that, he was always a player that I trusted, a player that I played, was always a player that I support, because he was always coming in my direction, the direction of what I want from a player, what I want from a Manchester United player,” the United manager said.

“It is about that – we have to know each other better and better and go in the direction. Do I think Anthony has potential? Yes. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like very much,” he said.

Mourinho also said that Wayne Rooney could be back on the bench for Thursday’s game if he comes through training on Wednesday without any reaction from an ankle injury.

The fixture stands at 1-1 after the first leg.

(Reporting by Simon Evans)

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As Trump warned North Korea, his 'armada' was headed toward Australia

WASHINGTON: When U.S. President Donald Trump boasted early last week that he had sent an “armada” as a warning to North Korea, the aircraft carrier strike group he spoke of was still far from the Korean peninsula, and headed in the opposite direction.

It was even farther away over the weekend, moving through the Sunda Strait and then into the Indian Ocean, as North Korea displayed what appeared to be new missiles at a parade and staged a failed missile test.

The U.S. military’s Pacific Command explained on Tuesday that the strike group first had to complete a shorter-than-initially planned period of training with Australia. But it was now “proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered,” it said.

The perceived communications mix-up has raised eyebrows among Korea experts, who wonder whether it erodes the Trump administration’s credibility at a time when U.S. rhetoric about the North’s advancing nuclear and missile capabilities are raising concerns about a potential conflict.

“If you threaten them and your threat is not credible, it’s only going to undermine whatever your policy toward them is. And that could be a logical conclusion from what’s just happened,” said North Korea expert Joel Wit at the 38 North monitoring group, run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

The U.S. military initially said in a statement dated April 10 that Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of Pacific Command, directed the Carl Vinson strike group “to sail north and report on station in the Western Pacific.”

Reuters and other news outlets reported on April 11 that the movement would take more than a week. The Navy, for security reasons, says it does not report future operational locations of its ships.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis initially appeared to play down the deployment on April 11, saying the Vinson was “just on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time.”

“There’s not a specific demand signal or specific reason why we’re sending her up there,” he said.

But even Mattis initially misspoke about the strike group’s itinerary, telling a news conference that the Vinson had pulled out of an exercise with Australia.

The Pentagon has since corrected the record, saying the ship’s planned port visit to Fremantle, Australia, was cancelled – not the exercise with Australia’s navy.

On April 15, the U.S. Navy even published a photo showing the Vinson transiting the Sunda Strait. http://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=235255

From April 16-18, the website http://www.gonavy.jp/CVLocation.html reported that the Vinson was in the Indian Ocean.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Vinson carried out the exercises after passing through the Sunda Strait and wrapped them up this week.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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