Investigators to identify MH17 suspects: Dutch broadcasters

FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists, two leading Dutch broadcasters reported on Friday.

MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

About two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch.

Dutch prosecutors said on Friday a multi-national investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced.

Citing anonymous sources, broadcaster RTL reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects.

National public broadcaster NOS also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects.

No suspects were named in the reports.

The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.

Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate.

Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia.

The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively.

The Netherlands and Australia, which lost 38 people, hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Dutch church holding non-stop service to block deportations hopes for Christmas miracle

A protestant church holds round-the-clock sermons in an attempt to prevent the extradition of an Armenian family of political refugees, in The Hague, the Netherlands December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Worshippers at a church in the Netherlands that have been holding round-the-clock prayer services for more than six weeks to prevent an Armenian family from being deported are hoping for a Christmas miracle.

Under Dutch law, police are barred from entering a place of worship while a ceremony is in progress. So hundreds of supporters from the Netherlands and abroad have held non-stop services at the Bethel church in The Hague to block the deportation of the Tamrazyan family.

They are “from all over the world, and that means a lot to our family. …It gives us the strength to keep going,” said daughter Hayarpi, 21. “I really don’t know what the outcome will be, but we hope we can stay here because this is our home.”

The congregation hopes to convince Dutch authorities to make an exception to immigration rules on humanitarian grounds.

“We will continue for as long as we believe it is necessary and possible,” Bethel Minister Derk Stegeman said. “We hope at Christmas our minister will make a great gesture” and grant clemency to the family, he said.

The family came to the Netherlands in 2010 and say they cannot safely return home because they are considered dissidents by the Armenian authorities, although the nationalist Republican Party government that dominated Armenia since independence from the Soviet Union was toppled this year after peaceful protests.

The Netherlands took in hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the 1960s and 1970s but now has one of the EU’s toughest immigration policies. The conservative government under Prime Minister Mark Rutte says “economic” immigrants cannot stay, though refugees fleeing violence have a right to asylum.

The Tamrazyans lived legally in the Netherlands for nine years while their asylum application made its way through the courts. But a final rejection came this year, and they have been refused an exemption under a program for minors living there for more than five years.

“They’ve been told numerous times they have to leave the Netherlands,” the deputy minister for asylum and migration affairs, Mark Harbers, said on Dutch television last week. “This (vigil) seems pretty hopeless to me.”

Hayarpi Tamrazyan (oldest daughter of the family) is pictured at the protestant Bethel Church in The Hague, the Netherlands December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

Hayarpi Tamrazyan (oldest daughter of the family) is pictured at the protestant Bethel Church in The Hague, the Netherlands December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

Hayarpi and her sister, 19-year-old Warduhi, have been studying at a Dutch university, while their younger brother, 15-year-old Seyran, plays on a local soccer team.

“My brother, sister and I grew up in the Netherlands,” she told journalists. “All our friends are here, and my sister and I are studying here. This is just where we belong.”

(Writing by Toby Sterling, Editing by Anthony Deutsch)

Turkey summons Dutch diplomat over Christian Armenian ‘genocide’ decision

A demonstrator holds a Turkish flag outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam where a crowd gathered to await the arrival of the Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who decided to travel to Rotterdam by land after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's flight was barred from landing by the Dutch government, in Rotterdam, Netherlands March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires on Friday to complain about the Netherlands parliament recognizing the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide, the Turkish foreign ministry said.

The parliamentary motion, which the Dutch government said would not become official policy, risks further worsening relations already strained over the Netherlands barring Turkish ministers from campaigning for a 2017 referendum that gave President Tayyip Erdogan more power.

A second motion called for a high-level Dutch government official to attend Armenia’s genocide remembrance day on April 24. In the past, the Dutch ambassador has attended.

Turkey accepts many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the Dutch motions were “baseless decisions”. Nearly a dozen other EU countries have passed similar resolutions.

Talks to repair relations between the two countries have broken down and the Netherlands recalled its ambassador on Feb. 5.

(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Robin Pomeroy)

Dutch vote in test of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party surrounded by security as he votes in the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

By Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Dutch tested their own tolerance for immigration and Islam on Wednesday in an election magnified by a furious row with Turkey, the first of three polls in the European Union this year where nationalist parties are seeking breakthroughs.

The center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, 50, is vying with the PVV (Party for Freedom) of anti-Islam and anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders, 53, to form the biggest party in parliament.

As many as 13 million voters began casting ballots at polling stations across the country that will close at 2000 GMT. A charged campaign, plus clear skies and sunshine meant high turnout was expected. National broadcaster NOS said that by 0930 GMT in the morning, turnout was at 15 percent, 2 percent ahead of the previous parliamentary election in 2012.

With as many as four out of 10 voters undecided a day before voting and a tight margin of just 4 percent between leading candidates, the outcome was unpredictable.

Wilders, who has vowed to “de-Islamicise” the Netherlands, has little chance of forming a government given that other leading parties have ruled out working with him. But a first place PVV finish would still send shockwaves across Europe.

The vote is the first gauge this year of anti-establishment sentiment in the European Union and the bloc’s chances of survival after the 2016 surprise victory of “America First” presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s vote to exit the EU.

“Whatever the outcome of the election today the genie will not go back into the bottle and this patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will take place,” Wilders said after voting at a school in The Hague.

Wilders won over Wendy de Graaf, who dropped her children off at the same school. “I hope he can make a change to make the Netherlands better.. I don’t agree with everything he says… but I feel that immigration is a problem,” she said.

France chooses its next president in May, with far-right Marine Le Pen set to make the second-round run-off, while in September right-wing euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany, which has attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, will probably win its first lower house seats.

Rutte, who has called the Dutch vote a quarter-final before a French semi-final and German final said a Wilders victory would be felt well beyond the Netherlands.

“I think the rest of the world will then see after Brexit, after the American elections again the wrong sort of populism has won the day,” he said.

Late opinion polls indicated a three percentage point lead for his party over Wilders’, with a boost from a rupture of diplomatic relations with Ankara after the Dutch banned Turkish ministers from addressing rallies of overseas Turks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch of behaving like Nazis, and Rutte’s government expelled a Turkish minister who had traveled to the country to address Erdogan supporters at an impromtu rally without seeking permission.

“I think Rutte did well this weekend with the Turkey row,” said Dave Cho, a 42-year-old supply manager and long-time VVD supporter.

On Wednesday morning, two major publicly subsidized voter information websites were offline, targeted by a DDoS cyber attack.

It was not clear whether Wednesday’s attack was related to the row with Turkey, which also led to the temporary defacement of numerous small websites in the Netherlands.

Separately on Wednesday, several large Twitter accounts including that of the European Parliament, Reuters Japan, Die Welt, Forbes, Amnesty International and Duke University were hijacked temporarily, apparently by Turkish activists.

NO CLEAR WINNER, WEEKS OF BARGAINING

Unlike the U.S. or French presidential elections, there will be no outright Dutch winner under its system of proportional representation. Up to 15 parties could win a seat in parliament and none are set to reach even 20 percent of the vote.

Experts predict a coalition-building process that will take many months once the final tally is known.

Rutte’s last government was a two-party coalition with the Labour Party, but with no party polling above 17 percent, at least four will be needed to secure a majority in parliament. It would be the first such multi-party alliance since three in the 1970s. Two of those fell apart within 12 months.

In a final debate on Tuesday night, Wilders clashed with Lodewijk Asscher, whose Labour party stands to lose two-thirds of its seats in its worst defeat ever on current polling.

Asscher defended the rights of law-abiding Muslims to not be treated as second-class citizens or insulted, saying “the Netherlands belongs to all of us, and everyone who does his best.” Wilders shot back: “The Netherlands is not for everyone. The Netherlands is for the Dutch.”

Front-runner Rutte, who is hoping Dutch economic recovery will help him carry the election, has been insistent on one thing – that he will neither accept the PVV as a coalition partner nor rely on Wilders to support a minority government, as he did in 2010-2012.

“Not, never, not,” Rutte told Wilders.

(Additional reporting by Phil Blenkinsop and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Guatemala blocks entry to Dutch ship providing abortions

Members of Women on Waves, a Dutch non-profit that provides abortion services beyond the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal, are seen on their ship at a pier in Puerto de San Jose, Guatemala February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

PORT OF SAN JOSE, Guatemala (Reuters) – Guatemala’s army detained a boat carrying a supply of abortion pills on Thursday and prevented it from picking up women seeking to end their pregnancies, saying the move was prohibited by the country’s constitution.

The boat, operated by Dutch nonprofit Women on Waves, was in military custody with some of its seven crew members still aboard, after landing at a private pier at the Port of San Jose, 75 miles (120 km) south of the capital, said Leticia Zenevich, a spokeswoman for the group.

The organization provides free abortion services for women pregnant up to 10 weeks, beyond the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal.

The abortion pill – also known as a medication abortion — combines two medicines, mifepristone and misoprostol, to end a pregnancy. It is more than 90 percent effective for women up to 10 weeks pregnant.

In a statement, the Guatemalan army said that it would not allow the nonprofit to carry out its activities, in adherence “to the Constitution regarding the preservation of human life and the laws in effect in our country.”

The trip was the first made by the organization since Morocco blocked a ship from entering one of its harbors in 2012, Zenevich said.

Marleny Arias, a 50-year-old Guatemalan, heckled the ship’s crew, yelling: “Why don’t you go to the Netherlands to kill children?”

Group organizers defended the legality of the ship’s operation, which picks up women on shore and brings them to international waters where local laws do not apply.

On board, women are given an abortion pill and remain under observation for a few hours before returning to land.

“Guatemala has been chosen because the laws are very restrictive on the subject of abortion,” said Quetzali Cerezo, director of Women in Equity in Guatemala, which helps the Dutch nonprofit.

In Guatemala, where Catholic and Evangelical churches hold powerful influence, abortions are only permitted if a mother’s life is at risk.

According to the organization, which was founded in 1999, some 65,000 illegal abortions are performed annually in the Latin American country.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Natalie Schachar; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Artificial leaf copies nature to manufacture medicine

Artificial leaf to produce medicine

By Ben Hirschler

(Reuters) – Dutch scientists have developed an artificial leaf that can act as a mini-factory for producing drugs, an advance that could allow medicines to be produced anywhere there is sunlight.

The work taps into the ability of plants to use sunlight to feed themselves through photosynthesis, something industrial chemists have struggled to replicate because sunshine usually generates too little energy to fuel chemical reactions.

The leaf-inspired micro factory mimics nature’s efficiency at harvesting solar radiation by using new materials called luminescent solar concentrators with very thin channels through which liquid is pumped, exposing molecules to sunlight.

“Theoretically, you could use this device to make drug compounds with solar energy anywhere you want,” said lead researcher Timothy Noel at Eindhoven University of Technology.

By doing away with the need for a power grid, it may be possible one day to make malaria drugs in the jungle or even medicines on Mars in some future space colony, he believes.

The device, made from silicone rubber, can operate even when there is diffuse light, which means it will work under cloudy skies. However, there is still a way to go to scale up the process to make it commercially viable.

Noel and his colleagues, who published their research in the science journal Angewandte Chemie on Wednesday, are now trying to improve energy efficiency further and increase output.

Because the artificial leaf relies on micro-channels to bring chemicals into direct contact with sunlight, each unit needs to be small – but they could be easily linked together to increase production.

“You can make a whole tree with many, many different leaves placed in parallel,” Noel told Reuters. “These are very cheap things to make, so there is a lot of potential.”

He thinks the process could start to become broadly available to chemical engineers within five to 10 years.

It is not the first time that scientists have drawn inspiration from plants when considering novel ways to manufacture pharmaceuticals.

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug called Elelyso from Pfizer and Protalix Biotherapeutics for Gaucher disease, a rare genetic condition, made with genetically modified carrot cells.

Other researchers are also cultivating crops that have been specially bred to produce useful medicines and vaccines in their leaves.