U.S. troops to start extended exercises in Lithuania amid tensions over Belarus

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) – U.S. troops and tanks will arrive in Lithuania on Friday for a two-month deployment near the Belarus border, but the government said the move was not a message to its Russian-backed neighbor, where protests continue over a disputed election.

In an announcement on Wednesday evening, NATO member Lithuania said U.S. troops will be moved from Poland for pre-planned military exercises. These are “defensive in nature and not directed against any neighbor, including Belarus,” it added.

However, the troops are arriving earlier and staying longer than the government had indicated before the outbreak of protests in Belarus over the Aug. 9 election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, to power.

Lukashenko has denied accusations by the Belarus opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted protesters’ demands to step down. He has accused NATO of a military buildup near Belarus’ borders, something the alliance denied, and has said he will ask for Russian military help if needed.

The deployment in Lithuania, which will begin on Friday and will last until November, includes 500 American troops and 40 vehicles, such as Abrams tanks and Bradley armored troop carriers, a Lithuanian army spokesman said.

On July 29, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told BNS wire the United States would send a battalion-sized troop contingent – between 300 to 1,000 soldiers – in September, for two weeks’ training, beginning in the middle of the month.

He repeated that information on Aug. 4 in an interview with public radio LRT.

“Deployment was aligned with training schedule and training area availability,” defense minister spokeswoman Vita Ramanauskaite told Reuters.

In addition to the U.S. deployment, up to 1,000 troops and military planes from France, Italy, Germany, Poland and others will take part in an annual exercise on Sept. 14-25, the Lithuanian army spokesman said.

The ministry did not state any plans for those troops to stay beyond Sept. 25.

Karoblis said earlier this month that there was a real danger Russia would send forces to Belarus.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson, Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)

Economic clout makes China tougher challenge for U.S. than Soviet Union was – Pompeo

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) – China’s global economic power makes the communist country in some ways a more difficult foe to counter than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Pompeo called on countries around Europe to rally against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which he said leverages its economic might to exert its influence around the world.

“What’s happening now isn’t Cold War 2.0,” Pompeo said in a speech to the Czech Senate. “The challenge of resisting the CCP threat is in some ways much more difficult.”

“The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was.”

The Cold War reference came after China’s ambassador to London last month warned that the United States was picking a fight with Beijing ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S.-China ties have quickly deteriorated this year over a range of issues including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus; telecoms-equipment maker Huawei; China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea; and the clampdown on Hong Kong.

Pompeo’s visit to the Czech Republic, part of the Soviet bloc until the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution, marked the first stop on a swing through the region to discuss cyber and energy security.

He used the occasion to swipe at both Russian and Chinese influence and lauded officials in the central European nation of 10.7 million who took on Beijing over the past year.

He cited the Czech Republic’s efforts to set security standards for the development of 5G telecommunications networks after a government watchdog warned about using equipment made by China’s Huawei.

Pompeo and Prime Minister Andrej Babis signed a declaration on 5G security in May, but the country has not made an outright decision to ban Huawei technology. Its President Milos Zeman has been promoting closer ties with China.

Pompeo also acknowledged the chairman of the Czech Senate Milan Vystrcil, who followed through on a plan by his deceased predecessor to visit Taiwan at the end of this month, a trip that has angered China.

Pompeo said some nations in Europe would take longer to wake up to the threats, but there was a positive momentum.

“The tide has turned (in the United States), just as I see it turned here in Europe as well. The West is winning, don’t let anyone tell you about the decline of he West,” he said.

“It will take all of us… here in Prague, in Poland, in Portugal. We have the obligation to speak clearly and plainly to our people, and without fear. We must confront complex questions… and we must do so together,” he said.

(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn, William Maclean)

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)