Climate records tumble as Europe swelters in heatwave

A temperature indicator outside of a pharmacy indicates 42 degres Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) – Soaring temperatures broke records in France, Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday as a heatwave gripped Europe for the second time in a month, in what scientists said were becoming more frequent events as the planet heats up.

Tourists shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas as temperatures reach new record highs in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Tourists shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas as temperatures reach new record highs in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

As a cauldron of hot air from the Sahara desert moved across the continent, drawn northwards by high pressure, Paris recorded its highest temperature since records began and Britain reported its hottest weather for the month of July.

The unusual conditions brought a reduction in French and German nuclear power output, disrupted rail travel in parts of Britain and sent some Europeans, not habitual users of air conditioning in their homes, out to the shops in search of fans.

Health authorities issued warnings to the elderly, especially vulnerable to spikes in temperature.

“It’s very hot at the moment. I saw 42 degrees (Celsius) is forecast for today,” said 19-year-old French tourist Ombeline Massot in the capital’s Montmartre district, where visitors drank chilled bottles of water and fanned themselves.

Shortly after she spoke, the mercury touched 40.6 Celsius (105.08° Fahrenheit) in the French capital, above the previous Paris record of 40.4 C (104.72) recorded in July 1947.

In Britain, the temperature reached its highest for July, hitting 36.9 C (98.42 F), said the Met Office, the national weather service. The temperature, recorded at Heathrow, London, beat the previous July record of 36.7 C (98.06°F).

In the southern Netherlands, the temperature peaked at 40.4 Celsius (104.7 Fahrenheit), topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time on record, Dutch meteorology institute KNMI said. That broke the national record of 39.3 Celsius set the previous day. Before this week, the national heat record of 38.6 degrees had stood for 75 years.

The heat is expected to persist until Friday.

A boy plays with water in a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A boy plays with water in a fountain on a hot summer day in Brussels, Belgium, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

GLOBAL WARMING

Climate specialists said such heatwaves are becoming more frequent as a result of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions.

Britons were facing travel disruption, with trains being forced to slow down to prevent tracks buckling in the heat. Several train operators asked commuters not to travel or set off very early.

A Met Office study found that a heatwave like one that broke records last year was 30 times more likely to occur than in 1750 because of the high amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since the pre-industrial period, the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius.

“There is a 40-50% chance that this will be the warmest July on record. This heatwave is exactly in line with climate change predictions,” said Dr. Karsten Haustein at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

Peter Inness, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading, said: “The fact that so many recent years have had very high summer temperatures both globally and across Europe is very much in line with what we expect from man-made global warming.”

The heatwave in Britain is expected to come to an abrupt end on Friday with thunderstorms forecast for several parts of the country, the Met Office said.

Very high temperatures across Europe coupled with prolonged dry weather has reduced French nuclear power generation by around 5.2 gigawatts (GW) or 8%, French power grid operator RTE’s data showed.

Electricity output was curtailed at six reactors by 0840 GMT on Thursday, while two other reactors were offline, data showed. High water temperatures and sluggish flows limit the ability to use river water to cool reactors.

In Germany, PreussenElektra, the nuclear unit of utility E.ON, said it would take its Grohnde reactor offline on Friday due to high temperatures in the Weser river.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney in London, Richard Lough in Paris, Alexandra Regida in Brussels and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Russians, Ukrainian to face murder charges over downing of Flight MH17

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

By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, the international investigative team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in proceedings set to start in the Netherlands next March. Dutch authorities said Russia has not cooperated with the inquiry and is not expected to surrender defendants.

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians,” Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that it had not cooperated while saying on Wednesday the investigation was intended to damage Moscow’s reputation.

“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone aboard died.

The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.

Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.

“The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.

Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.

“The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. There were 10 Britons on the flight.

RUSSIAN MISSILE

Most of the passengers were Dutch. The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was downed by a Russian missile.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”

The investigation team said Girkin was a former Russian FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.

It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov headed a second department of the agency. Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Christian Lowe, Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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)

Major European nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela president

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Jose Elas Rodriguez and Sudip Kar-Gupta

MADRID/PARIS (Reuters) – Ten European nations joined the United States in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president on Monday, heightening a global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.

France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands’ coordinated move came after the expiry of an eight-day ultimatum for Maduro to call a new election.

The Venezuelan leader, accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy, has defied them and said European rulers are sycophantically following President Donald Trump.

Guaido, who leads the National Assembly, declared himself caretaker leader last month in a move that has divided international powers and brought Venezuelans onto the streets.

Trump immediately recognized him but European Union countries were more hesitant.

Russia and China, which have poured billions of dollars of investment and loans into Venezuela, are supporting Maduro in an extension of their geopolitical tussle with the United States.

“From today, we will spare no effort in helping all Venezuelans achieve freedom, prosperity and harmony,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, urging fair elections and humanitarian aid.

In response, Maduro accused “cowardly” Spain of taking a “malign” decision. “If one day there is a coup, if one day there is a gringo military intervention, your hands will be stained with blood, Mr. Pedro Sanchez,” he said in a speech.

Maduro, 56, a former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, replaced former president Hugo Chavez in 2013 after his death from cancer. But he has presided over an economic collapse and exodus of 3 million Venezuelans.

He accuses Washington of waging an “economic war” on Venezuela and harboring coup pretensions aimed at gaining control over its oil. Venezuela’s oil reserves are the largest in the world but production has plunged under Maduro.

“ILLEGITIMATE, KLEPTOCRATIC REGIME”

Critics say incompetent policies and corruption have impoverished the once-wealthy nation while dissent has been brutally crushed.

A draft EU statement said the 28-member bloc would “acknowledge” Guaido as interim president, but formal recognition was a prerogative of individual states.

“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as he announced London was recognizing Guaido.

Russia accused Europe of meddling.

“Imposing some kind of decisions or trying to legitimize an attempt to usurp power is both direct and indirect interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Caracas pays both Russian and Chinese loans with oil.

Maduro won re-election last year, but critics say the vote was a sham. Two opposition rivals with a good chance of winning were barred, while food handouts and other subsidies to hungry Venezuelans were linked with political support.

Italy’s 5-Star Movement, which makes up half of the ruling coalition, dissents from the European stance, saying it would not recognize self-appointed leaders.

But its governing partner, the League, disagrees.

Guaido told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that he would do everything possible to secure Italian support.

In addition to European pressure, a bloc of Latin American nations plus Canada were to meet on Monday seeking to maintain pressure on Maduro.

“All these shameless people are clinging to power,” said Luis, a 45-year-old Venezuelan outside the consulate in Madrid. “Let them hold elections so they see they won’t get even 10 percent of the votes.”

Italy’s SkyTG24 channel quoted Maduro as appealing to the Pope to help dialogue ahead of what he hoped would be a “peace conference” led by Mexico and others on Feb. 7. Conscious of the collapse of a past Vatican mediation bid, foes say Maduro uses dialogue to play for time and regroup when on the back foot.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Guy Faulconbridge and Mike Holden in London; Jose Elias Rodriguez in Madrid; Andrew Osborn and Thomas Balmforth in Moscow; Andrei Khalip in Lisbon; Steve Scherer in Rome; Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Sarah Marsh in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Marathon church session ends as Dutch let Armenian family stay

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A round-the-clock prayer service to stop an Armenian family being deported from the Netherlands was ended after 96 days on Wednesday after the government agreed to make an exception to immigration rules.

Using a law that bars police from entering a place of worship while a service is in progress, hundreds of supporters of the Tamrazyan family have held rites non-stop at the Bethel church in The Hague since Oct. 26 to block their deportation.

Late on Tuesday, the cabinet decided to allow the Tamrazyans and other families rejected for permanent residence after living for years in the Netherlands to stay in the country after all.

The families, which together have around 700 children, did not qualify for an exemption granted to minors living in the Netherlands for more than five years.

To avoid other families with no other prospect of qualifying for permanent residence taking root in the Netherlands, the government will also try to speed up asylum procedures.

“We are incredibly grateful that hundreds of refugee families will have a safe future in the Netherlands,” a spokesman for Bethel Church, Theo Hettema, said on Wednesday.

But he said the church was worried about the consequences for future immigration policy.

The fight over the “children’s pardon” put pressure on Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right government, which has only a one-seat majority in parliament’s Lower House, and looks set to lose its Senate majority in a March 20 election.

Rutte’s Liberal party is trying to present a tough stance on immigration, to avoid losing ground to opposition parties such as the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.

Although Tuesday’s decision was good news for the Tamrazyans, it came days too late for another family, the Grigoryans. That family of five, with children aged three to eight, was deported to Armenia early last week, just as the cabinet began deliberating on the issue.

“This is unfair and very painful,” their lawyer told Dutch news agency ANP on Wednesday.

“If their deportation had been postponed a few days, the family would have been allowed to stay.”

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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)

Lawyer of freed Christian woman leaves Pakistan a ‘prime target’

Saiful Mulook, lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, addresses a news conference at the International Press Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

By Bart H. Meijer

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped free a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy said on Monday he had been forced to flee to the Netherlands for his life, and has no idea where his client is.

Lawyer Saiful Mulook, who defended Asia Bibi in a case that has led to the assassination of two Pakistani politicians, said local United Nations staff had urged him to leave the country on Saturday following her acquittal last week.

“I was put on a plane against my wishes,” Mulook told reporters in The Hague. “I am not happy to be without her. I would have been much happier if I was in the same place as her. But everybody said I was a prime target.”

Mulook said he did not know whether Bibi had already been released from prison, or where she would want to seek asylum after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“Ask the people of the U.N.”, Mulook said. “They are not telling me, for security reasons.”

Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam during an argument with her neighbors, and had been on death row since then.

The court’s decision to overturn the verdict led to violent protests throughout Pakistan by angry mobs calling for the judges in the case to be killed.

Several parties in the Dutch parliament have said they support providing temporary shelter to Bibi if she flees there.

Mulook said Italy had offered asylum to both Bibi and her family and his own family, but that they had not accepted the offer straightaway, as U.N. staff said they would make arrangements.

Islamists have shut down major cities in Pakistan through days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have said they would escalate the protests if she were permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by David Stamp)

Dutch government says it disrupted Russian attempt to hack chemical weapons watchdog

Dutch Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld speaks during a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

By Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Dutch authorities disrupted an attempt in April by Russian intelligence agents to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld said on Thursday.

At a news conference in The Hague, Bijleveld called on Russia to cease its cyber activities aimed at “undermining” Western democracies.

She noted that the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue indictments of suspected Russian spies later on Thursday, in part due to information gleaned from the Dutch operation.

According to a presentation by the head of the Netherlands’ military intelligence agency, four Russians arrived in the Netherlands on April 10 and were caught on the 13th with spying equipment at a hotel next to the OPCW headquarters.

The men were not successful in breaching OPCW systems, the minister said.

At a presentation, Dutch Major General Onno Eichelsheim showed the antennae, laptops and other equipment the men intended to use to breach the OPCW’s wifi network. He said the spies were caught red-handed and attempted to destroy some of their own equipment to conceal what they had been doing.

At the time, the OPCW was working to verify the identity of the substance used in the March attack in Salisbury, Britain, on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It was also seeking to verify the identity of a substance used in an attack in Douma, Syria.

The four Russians in the Netherlands were detained in April and expelled to Russia and not immediately prosecuted because the operation was considered military, not police, Eichelsheim said.

The men, who were also believed to have spied on the investigation into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had planned to travel on from the Netherlands to a laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland used by the OPCW to analyze chemical weapons samples, he said.

They were instead “put on a flight to Moscow,” said Bijleveld.

Eichelsheim warned against being naive and considering the Netherlands as relatively safe from Russian cyber attacks.

Russian military intelligence “is active here in the Netherlands … where a lot of international organizations are (based),” Eichelsheim said.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini looks on during the news conference at the Viminale in Rome, Italy, June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Steve Scherer and Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coastguard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.

Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.

On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coastguard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.

Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”

International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety”.

The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.

A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety”.

“NOT DUTCH RESPONSIBILITY”

“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coastguard to investigate state flag issue.

Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coastguard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.

Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.

With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.

Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.

Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coastguard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law”.

“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”

Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers”, suggesting they profit from the rescues.

Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Finland is world’s happiest country, U.S. discontent grows: U.N. report

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Finland is the world’s happiest country, according to an annual survey issued on Wednesday that found Americans were getting less happy even as their country became richer.

Burundi came bottom in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) 2018 World Happiness Report which ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns said access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country.

 

FILE PHOTO: Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Finland’s flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“I’ve joked with the other Americans that we are living the American dream here in Finland,” said Brianna Owens, who moved from the United States and is now a teacher in Espoo, Finland’s second biggest city with a population of around 280,000.

“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” Owens told Reuters.

Finland, rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top-10, as ever dominated by the Nordics, is: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year. Britain was 19th and the United Arab Emirates 20th.

One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the last half century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business and declining confidence in public institutions.

“We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government,” the head of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of New York’s Columbia University, told Reuters as the report was launched at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

Asked how the current political situation in the United States could affect future happiness reports, Sachs said:

“Time will tell, but I would say that in general that when confidence in government is low, when perceptions of corruption are high, inequality is high and health conditions are worsening … that is not conducive to good feelings.”

For the first time since it was started in 2012, the report, which uses a variety of polling organizations, official figures and research methods, ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in 117 countries.

Finland took top honors in that category too, giving the country a statistical double-gold status.

The foreign-born were least happy in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for seven years.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said Professor John Helliwell of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he said.

“Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Reuters television in Finland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)