Hotline launches to help Polish women travel abroad for abortion

Hotline launches to help Polish women travel abroad for abortion
By Sonia Elks

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women in Poland facing some of Europe’s tightest restrictions on abortion will be offered advice and funding to travel abroad to get a termination through a new “Abortion Without Borders” initiative launched on Wednesday.

The hotline service will give advice about how to safely buy abortion pills online and refer women to medical abortion providers in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain.

Women struggling to afford the procedure will also be given financial support to make the trip, said organisers of the initiative, a collaboration between six Polish and international groups.

“Abortion Without Borders believes that getting an abortion shouldn’t depend on where someone is born and what passport they carry,” they said in a statement.

“Until everyone who needs an abortion can get one locally, we will be here.”

Poland only allows doctors to grant abortions if the fetus has a severe abnormality, if the mother’s health is threatened or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Women’s rights groups say it is often very hard to find a doctor willing to carry out an abortion even if the conditions are met.

Only about 1,000 women get a termination in Poland each year, according to official figures, mostly for cases of fetal damage.

Abortion rights campaigners estimate tens of thousands more access abortion unofficially, either by buying pills online or travelling abroad for the procedure.

Organisers of “Abortion Without Borders” posed with suitcases at Warsaw’s main train station to highlight the situation of women forced to travel abroad to get a medical abortion.

They said all their activities were legal and there was no law in Poland criminalising women who took action to end their pregnancy or had an abortion abroad.

The initiative was launched by Polish abortion rights groups Abortion Dream Team and Kobiety w Sieci (Women on the Net), together with four other European and international groups.

Organisers said they hoped to break down stigma and uncertainty for Polish women seeking abortions and to reach those who would otherwise be unable to afford the procedure.

“The only person with the right to decide to continue or end a pregnancy is the person who is pregnant – not governments or churches or bad laws or policies,” said Justyna Wydrzynska from Kobiety w Sieci.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Putin: U.S. in position to deploy new cruise missile in Europe

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Presidental Palace in Helsinki, Finland, August 21, 2019. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was in a position to deploy a new land-based cruise missile in Romania and Poland and that Russia considered that a threat which it would have to respond to.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

Putin, who was speaking during a visit to Helsinki, said that Washington could potentially use its launch systems in Romania and Poland to fire the missile and that Russia would have to respond in an appropriate and reciprocal manner.

(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

Trump says U.S. may send 2,000 troops from Germany to Poland

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Poland's President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is considering sending 2,000 U.S. troops from Germany to Poland, a step sought by Warsaw to deter potential aggression from Russia.

“We’re talking about it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The United States already has troops in Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbor Ukraine in 2014.

Trump said the United States has upwards of 50,000 troops in Germany and said 2,000 of them could be sent to Poland. He said Poland is going to be spending a lot of money on a military facility for the troops.

He also said he hopes Russia “will treat Poland with respect.”

“They get hurt unfortunately too often,” Trump said of the Poles. “They’re in the middle of everything. When bad things happen it seems like Poland is the first one…I hope that Russia and Poland and Germany are going to get along,” said Trump, who has often been criticized by Democrats for being too close to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. president said he thought he would travel to Poland at some point, but no dates were set yet. Duda has said he would unveil a deal this week to bolster the U.S. security presence in Poland.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Remains of hundreds of Jews unearthed in Nazi-era mass grave in Belarus

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

BREST, Belarus (Reuters) – Soldiers in Belarus have unearthed the bones of hundreds of people shot during World War Two from a mass grave discovered at the site of a ghetto where Jews lived under the Nazis.

The grave was uncovered by chance last month on a construction site in a residential area in the center of Brest near the Polish border.

A soldier from a special "search battalion" of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A soldier from a special “search battalion” of Belarus Defence Ministry takes part in the exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of about 730 prisoners of a former Jewish ghetto, discovered at a construction site in the centre of Brest, Belarus February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Soldiers wearing white masks on Tuesday sifted through the site with spades, trowels and their gloved hands to collect the bones. They also found items such as leather shoes that had not rotted.

Dmitry Kaminsky, a soldier leading the unit, said they had exhumed 730 bodies so far, but could not be sure how many more would be found.

“It’s possible they go further under the road. We have to cut open the tarmac road. Then we’ll know,” he said.

Some of the skulls bore bullet holes, he said, suggesting the victims had been executed by a shot to the back of the head.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic, was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two and tens of thousands of its Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The site of the mass grave served from December 1941 to October 1942 as part of a ghetto, areas created by the Nazis to segregate Jews and sometimes other minorities from other city dwellers. Brest was part of Poland before the war.

The remains were discovered when builders began to lay the foundations for an apartment block.

Local authorities want to bury the bodies in a ceremony at a cemetery in the north of the city.

“We want to be sure that there are no more mass graves here,” said Alla Kondak, a local culture official.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

U.S. to host Iran-focused global summit in Poland Feb. 13-14

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after arriving at Manama International Airport in Manama, Bahrain, Jan. 11, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to jointly host a global summit focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, next month in Poland, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

The gathering will take place in Warsaw from Feb. 13 to Feb. 14, it said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News in an interview to air on Friday that the meeting would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”

Pompeo said the meeting would “bring together dozens of countries from all around the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Western Hemisphere countries, Europe too, the Middle East of course.”

The State Department did not immediately respond when asked which countries would attend. Its statement said there were strong shared interests in Middle East stability.

“The ministerial will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” it said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s top diplomat is visiting a number of Middle Eastern countries this week in an effort to shore up support in the region on a number of fronts, from the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria to the Saudi-Qatar rift to the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo, in the middle of his eight-day trip through the region, has said the United States is “redoubling” its efforts to put pressure on Iran and sought to convince allies in the region that it was committed to fighting Islamic State despite Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Pompeo told Fox News the summit would include representatives from countries around the world to address Iran’s regional influence as the Trump administration has sought to pressure Tehran.

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and moved to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, even as other partners in the deal – including China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – have sought to maintain the agreement.

In a shift earlier this week, the European Union moved to impose some sanctions on Iran.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Lesley Wroughton in Cairo; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Susan Thomas and Jonathan Oatis)

Exhibition depicting death camp survivor’s trauma opens at Auschwitz

A man looks at a painting during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – David Olere, a former Auschwitz prisoner who helped dispose of bodies at the Nazi death camp, depicted his trauma of the horrors he witnessed in haunting drawings and paintings.

Paintings are pictured during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Paintings are pictured during the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Now more than 80 of those artworks have gone on display at an exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland.

“David Olere: The One Who Survived Crematorium III,” shows the extermination process which took place at Auschwitz during the Holocaust through the late painter’s own eyes.

A French Jew of Polish descent, Olere was part of a special unit of male Jewish prisoners, dubbed the Sonderkommando, chosen by the Nazis to discard the bodies of those killed in gas chambers.

“He is the only witness who documented this unimaginable cruelty in the form of paintings and drawings,” Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian at the Museum Collections and one of the curators of the exhibition, said in a press release.

Born in Warsaw in 1902, Olere studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Polish capital before eventually settling in Paris. He was arrested in 1943 and deported to Auschwitz, one of several concentration camps operated by the Nazis on Polish soil during the Holocaust in which some six million Jews were killed.

Marc Oler, David Olere's grandson attends the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

Marc Oler, David Olere’s grandson attends the opening of an exhibition featuring works by David Olere, a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, at the museum in Oswiecim, Poland October 30, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki via REUTERS

His grandson Marc Oler described the artist, who died in 1985, as “very, very tough, very, very talented, very, very traumatized”.

“David Olere wanted the next generation to be aware so they could be … (spared) the horrors that he had been through and know peace,” Oler, who attended the exhibition’s opening on Tuesday, said.

The exhibition, which runs until March, displays its own collection of Olere’s artwork as well as many others on loan from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and France’s Memorial de la Shoah.

(Reporting by Reuters Television and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

Polish lawmakers back Holocaust bill, drawing Israeli outrage, U.S. concern

Israel's Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, is seen after a meeting with Poland's Senate Marshal Stanislaw Karczewski, in Warsaw, Poland January 31, 2018.

By Justyna Pawlak and Lidia Kelly

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, drawing concern from the United States and outrage from Israel, which denounced “any attempt to challenge historical truth”.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says the bill is needed to protect Poland’s reputation and ensure historians recognize that Poles as well as Jews perished under the Nazis. Israeli officials said it criminalizes basic historical facts.

The Senate voted on the bill in the early hours on Thursday and it will now be sent to President Andrzej Duda for signature.

“We, the Poles, were victims, as were the Jews,” Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a senior PiS figure and supporter of the law, said on Wednesday before the vote. “It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland. Just as the Jews, we were victims.”

Under the proposed legislation, violators would face three years in prison for mentioning the term “Polish death camps”, although the bill says scientific research into World War Two would not be constrained.

Israel “adamantly opposes” the bill’s approval, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

“Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Twitter.

Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant, one of several cabinet ministers to denounce the bill, told Israel’s Army Radio that he considered it “de facto Holocaust denial”.

The bill has come at a time when rightwing, anti-immigrant parties like PiS have been in the ascendancy in Europe, especially in the former Communist countries of the east. EU officials have expressed alarm over the PiS administration in Poland, which they say has undermined the rule of law by exerting pressure over the courts and media.

The ruling PiS, a socially conservative, nationalist group, has reignited debate on the Holocaust as part of a campaign to fuel patriotism since sweeping into power in 2015.

The U.S. State Department said the legislation “could undermine free speech and academic discourse”.

“We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, told Reuters it was likely to push Poland further toward nationalism and isolation.

“The president will have to sign it – otherwise it would mean he is giving into international pressure. But the external criticism will, of course, push the government further into the position of a besieged fortress, strengthening both the nationalistic rhetoric…and the nationalistic mood in the country.”

PAINFUL DEBATE

Poland had Europe’s largest Jewish population when it was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union at the start of World War Two. It became ground zero for the “Final Solution”, Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews.

More than three million of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for around half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Jews from across Europe were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by the Germans on Polish soil, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

According to figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Germans also killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.

Many thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect their Jewish neighbors; Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust center recognizes 6,706 Poles as “righteous among nations” for bravery in resisting the Holocaust, more than any other nationality.

But Poland has also gone through a painful public debate in recent years about guilt and reconciliation over the Holocaust, after the publication of research showing some Poles participated in the Nazi German atrocities. Many Poles have refused to accept such findings, which have challenged a national narrative that the country was solely a victim.

A 2017 survey by the Polish Center for Research on Prejudice showed that more than 55 percent of Poles were “annoyed” by talk of Polish participation in crimes against Jews.

Poland has long sought to discourage use of the term “Polish camps” to refer to Nazi camps on its territory, arguing that the phrase implies complicity.

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and political foe of the PiS, said the bill had the opposite of its intended effect, tarnishing Poland’s name and encouraging the view of history it aimed to criminalize.

“Anyone who spreads a false statement about ‘Polish camps’ harms the good name and interests of Poland,” Tusk said on his private Twitter account. “The authors of the bill have promoted this vile slander all over the world, effectively as nobody has before.”

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in JERUSALEM, Mohammad Zargham in WASHINGTON, Gabriela Baczynska in BRUSSELS and Marcin Goettig in WARSAW; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Peter Graff)

Russia seeks to reassure over war games, denies invasion plans

FILE PHOTO: Servicemen take part in the joint war games Zapad-2013 (West-2013), attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, at the Khmelevka range on Russia's Baltic Sea in the Kaliningrad Region, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

By Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia tried to calm fears over war games it plans to hold next month, saying on Tuesday the large-scale exercise would rehearse a purely defensive scenario and that allegations it was a springboard to invade Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine were false.

The Zapad-2017 war games next month have stirred unease in some countries because Russian troops and military hardware will be training inside Belarus, a Russian ally which borders Ukraine as well as NATO member states Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Russia has used such exercises in the past as a precursor or as a cover to project force in other countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, and the war games are taking place at a time when East-West tensions are high.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s top general in Europe, told Reuters last month that U.S. allies in eastern Europe and Ukraine were worried the exercises could be a “Trojan horse” aimed at leaving behind military equipment brought into Belarus.

And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who has warned that “substantially more” troops may take part than will be officially divulged, said last week the alliance would be watching closely.

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told Western military attaches in Moscow on Tuesday the West had nothing to fear.

“Some people are even going as far as to say that the Zapad-2017 exercises will be used as a springboard to invade and occupy Lithuania, Poland or Ukraine,” said Fomin.

“Not a single one of these paradoxical versions has anything to do with reality.” He called suggestions that Russia posed a threat to anyone “myths”.

The drills, which will be held from Sept. 14 to 20 in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, will simulate repelling an attack by extremist groups.

“As well as its anti-terrorist backdrop, the Zapad-2017 exercise is of a purely defensive nature,” said Fomin, who said the drills were routine and conducted with ally Belarus every two years.

Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen will take part, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters. Almost 700 pieces of military hardware will be deployed, including almost 250 tanks, 10 ships and various artillery and rocket systems.

Russia said the scale of the exercise was in line with international rules. With less than 13,000 troops, international observation of the drills was not mandatory, it said.

Belarussian Deputy Defence Minister Oleg Belokonev, speaking in Minsk, said any troops and equipment brought into Belarus for the war games would be withdrawn afterwards.

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and by Andrey Makhovsky in Minsk; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Poland to allocate additional $55 bllion on defense by 2032: deputy minister

FILE PHOTO: Polish troops parade during National Army Day parade in Warsaw, Poland August 15, 2016. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski/via REUTERS

By Lidia Kelly

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will allocate an additional 200 billion zlotys ($55 billion) on defense over the next 15 years to modernize its army amid signs of growing aggression from Russia, a deputy defense minister said.

Russia’s Zapad military exercises next month in Belarus and western Russia, the largest in years, have raised concerns for their lack of transparency, with NATO worried the official number of troops participating might be understated.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Poland on Thursday and Friday to check on deployment of U.S. troops in the east of the country and to meet Polish, Romanian and Turkish government officials.

Poland, alarmed by what it sees as Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“The government has approved a legislative amendment … which gives us nearly 200 billion zlotys over the next 15 years,” deputy defense minister Tomasz Szatkowski said, adding that this was in line with plans to raise defense spending gradually to reach 2.5 percent of gross domestic product.

“This is not a trivial amount,” he told Reuters in an interview.

The Polish government agreed in June to raise defense spending gradually from 2 pct to 2.5 percent of GDP. This means that annual spending would nearly double to about 80 billion zlotys by 2032.

HARD CHOICES

Szatkowski, architect of a new national concept for defense, said that although the ministry would be getting almost all the money needed to implement the strategy, some “hard choices” will have to be made.

The plan is to increase the size of the army nearly twofold and revamp the equipment. Nearly two-thirds of equipment dates from the Soviet era when the country was in the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact.

The navy, though, will fare less well from modernization. The ministry has canceled the purchase of two classes of surface vessels, including multi-task frigates used to protect other warships.

“We cannot afford to expand the transport fleet,” Szatkowski said. Higher spending on artillery, engineering or assault helicopters will come at the cost of expanding the airborne forces.

Warsaw plans to acquire fifth-generation fighter jets, but Szatkowski said that this would not happen until the second half of the next decade.

Szatkowski defended the spending plans which have been criticized as “unrealistic”.

“Nobody can release from us the obligation of planning and creating a coherent vision and proving there is money for it – something that is happening for the first time on such a scope in the history of Polish defense planning,” he said.

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Richard Balmforth)