U.S. Postal Service on ‘death spiral’ without urgent reform: chief

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers that U.S. mail system is losing $10 billion a year and urgently needs reform and legislative relief from Congress.

“I would suggest that we are on a death spiral,” DeJoy told the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform committee at a hearing Wednesday, who did not rule out changing first-class delivery standards or other significant changes.

DeJoy, a supporter of former President Donald Trump appointed to head the Postal Service last year, suspended operational changes in August after heavy criticism over postal delays. He plans to release a new 10-year strategic “break-even” plan soon.

Delays in paychecks and other mail deliveries by the Postal Service, or USPS, gained attention this summer as a record number of voters mailed in ballots to elect a new president.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney made the case for action as the USPS faces shrinking volumes of first-class mail, increased costs of employee compensation and benefits, and higher unfunded liabilities and debt.

New Postal Board chairman Ron Bloom, who said that the USPS is currently projected to lose $160 billion over the next decade, told lawmakers “we can’t just throw money at the problem. We must address the systemic issues plaguing its outdated model.”

The USPS reported net losses of $86.7 billion from 2007 through 2020. One reason is 2006 legislation mandating that it pre-fund more than $120 billion in retiree health care and pension liabilities, a requirement labor unions have called an unfair burden not shared by other businesses.

Maloney has circulated draft legislation on some USPS financial issues, such as eliminating a requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits and require postal employees to enroll in government-retiree health plan Medicare, for a saving of $40 to $50 billion over 10 years. “The Postal Service is facing a dire financial situation that requires us to act,” she said.

DeJoy said the reform bill alone “doesn’t solve the problem.” He also rebuffed calls from some Democrats to step down vowing that he will stay “a long time. Get used to it.”

Bloom said the USPS will ask the Biden administration to calculate pension obligations “using modern actuarial principles” that would save another $12 billion.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, urged Congress to award the USPS an additional $15 billion and called for a separate “modernization grant” of $25 billion.

In December, Congress converted a $10 billion U.S. Treasury loan to the USPS into a grant.

Some Democrats want President Joe Biden to fire the current postal board. There are three vacancies on the board that the White House has promised to soon fill.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)

WHO reform needed in wake of pandemic, public health experts say

By Kate Kelland and Josephine Mason

LONDON (Reuters) – The role and remit of the World Health Organization (WHO) should be examined in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reforms will likely be needed to free it from politics and give it more independence, public health experts said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Reuters Next conference, British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and Chikwe Ihekweazu, the head of Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control, said the United Nations health agency had faced difficulties in leading a global response to the pandemic.

“We need to reflect on how the global architecture can be improved,” Ferguson said, including a need to rethink “the governance of organizations such as the WHO”.

“One of the challenges it faces is being truly independent,” he said. “Typically, it is influenced by big states. Historically that has been western countries like the United States, and now it’s very much China as well – and that can sometimes prove challenging in situations like the last year.”

Many governments around the world, including in the United States, Australia and the European Union, have called for the WHO to be reformed or restructured amid criticism of its response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The WHO has been rocked by a decision last year by the United States to halt its funding and has been accused of being too close to China in the first phase of the pandemic, when critics say Beijing was slow in sharing crucial information on the new coronavirus which first appeared in the city of Wuhan.

The WHO has repeatedly dismissed such accusations, and China insists it has been open and transparent.

Speaking on the same Reuters Next conference panel, Sweden’s Tegnell said that in his view, “this crisis compared to many of the crises in the last decade has become a lot more politicized.”

“That has made the WHO’s role a lot more difficult,” he said.

Nigeria’s Ihekweazu said he hoped the year ahead would see the world work together more closely to tackle the pandemic, particularly in improving equitable access to vaccines designed to prevent the disease.


While vaccines against COVID-19 are starting to be rolled out in some wealthier countries in Europe and the Americas, poorer nations may have to wait some months before they have access to supplies.

“There’s no doubt this year will be the year of vaccines,”Ihekweazu said, adding that he had just seen an updated map of countries where vaccines have been given already.

“Looking at it from a global perspective, it is heartbreaking,” he said. “But it’s early days, it is January, so we’ll have to see how the year pans out.”

All three experts said they expected populations in their countries and others to face restrictions designed to slow the spread of the pandemic for at least the first half of 2021, and maybe longer if the rollout of vaccines takes more time.

But they said they hoped that by the end of the year, life might start to look a little more like a pre-pandemic normal.

“We have to remember that in the world around us, most likely, this virus will keep on transmitting,” said Tegnell. “So we need to keep a high level of preparedness in place. It’s not going to be an easy life.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland and Josephine Mason; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Damaged WTO now leaderless as chief Azevedo steps down

By Emma Farge and Philip Blenkinsop

GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization’s director-general Roberto Azevedo steps down on Monday, leaving the already-damaged global watchdog leaderless as it faces the biggest crisis in its 25-year history.

As the WTO’s influence seeps away, rising international tensions and protectionism during a COVID-induced slowdown, most obviously between China and President Donald Trump’s U.S. administration, make reform of global trade rules ever more urgent.

“This is indeed a new – though alas not unsurprising – low point for the WTO,” said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Center for International Governance Innovation. “The organization has been directionless for some time, several years in fact, and will now be functionally leaderless.”

In particular, the WTO appeals court, which rules on international trade disputes, has been paralyzed by Washington’s blockade on the appointment of new judges.

Azevedo, a Brazilian, is heading for a job at PepsiCo Inc and eight candidates are vying to replace him.

In 1999, a four-month gap leadership vacuum was widely seen as damaging, and guidelines to prevent a repeat envisaged the 164 members selecting a temporary replacement from among four current deputies. But Washington’s insistence on its candidate prevented agreement, leaving a vacuum that will last for months.


In theory, a winner should be selected by Nov. 7, under an agreed elimination process that seeks to have a new director-general appointed by consensus.

In practice, trade sources say the uncertainty around the presidential election on Nov. 3 in the United States, which has not said publicly which candidate it prefers, could delay matters further. The 2021 budget, due to be set at the end of the year, which Washington might question, could also be a hurdle.

The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump says the WTO, which took almost 20 years to broker its first global agreement, has failed for years to hold China – the world’s second largest economy after the United States – accountable for unfair trade practices. It also says the wider WTO tariff system is unfair to the U.S.

Trump has even suggested quitting the WTO, although no firm plans have been announced.

Peter Ungphakorn, a former WTO staff member who now writes blogs on trade, said there was a risk of a similar “messy selection” of the next full-time chief, citing trade tensions and members’ unwillingness to compromise over the acting director-general.

In theory, day-to-day operations can be handled by the deputies, including the director-general’s key role of selecting panelists to adjudicate on trade disputes.

Negotiations to reduce fishing subsidies in particular are supposed to conclude by the end of the year.

But David Tinline, a former adviser to Azevedo, noted that the red-tape-cutting Trade Facilitation Agreement had needed Azevedo’s interventions to get over the line in 2013.

“What we are not going to have is that galvanizing force of the DG (director-general), pushing people to solve specific problems,” Tinline said.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

U.S. pulls funding for U.N. counterterrorism office headed by Russian

The United Nations building is seen during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States cut a planned $2 million pledge for the United Nations Counterterrorism Office on Wednesday and downgraded its presence at a conference on the issue, the latest move by the Trump administration to wield its funding to push for reform of the world body.

The funding cut was made over a decision by the U.N. counterterrorism chief, a former Russian diplomat with more than 30 years service, to close part of an inaugural conference to nongovernmental interest groups, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said.

When asked if the decision had anything to do with counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov being Russian, the U.S. official said “it matters” and that Voronkov had come under “tremendous pressure by his home country” on the conference.

Voronkov’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has been accused by Western countries of cracking down on interest groups known as “civil society” and discouraging independent institutions.

The U.S. official said the United States and other countries had pushed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Voronkov, who was appointed a year ago, to include the groups in the whole conference because they have valuable contributions to make.

“Our entreaties seem to have fallen on deaf ears and instead the views of countries like Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Russia seem to have more weight on this matter than do the countries that do the most on counterterrorism,” the U.S. official said.

The U.S. stance on the one-year old office is the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s push for change at the United Nations. Last week, the United States withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council over what it saw as the body’s bias against Israel and a lack of reform.

Two sessions at the conference’s opening day on Thursday – on the sharing of information and expertise and combating foreign fighters – will be closed to interest groups and media.

A senior U.N. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reason for closing the sessions was the expectation of “a lot of sensitive information shared between the heads of counterterrorism agencies.”

The U.S. official said Washington has downgraded its representation at the two-day conference to an acting deputy coordinator in the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism, instead of a possible ministerial level official.

Nearly 120 countries were expected to attend, along with 100 civil society groups, the U.N. official said. Close to 75 percent of delegations would be led by heads or deputy heads of counterterrorism agencies or interior ministers, the official said.

(This version of the story corrects day conference opens to Thursday)

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

French leader Macron’s power system: never explain, never apologize

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony to start the construction of the first metro line in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – When Emmanuel Macron was gearing up for his presidential campaign in 2016, he set out on an unprecedented “great march” – a door-to-door campaign to hear voters’ grievances in what promised to be a new, more open way of running the country.

A year after his election, things have not turned out that way, and a small but growing number of rank-and-file supporters has voiced frustration at a leadership style that is, by Macron’s own admission, not always inclusive.

Surrounded by a small coterie of close aides, Macron is pushing through a series of contentious reforms with less consultation than is usual even for France, whose 1958 constitution gives the president wide-ranging powers.

The 40-year-old, described by one adviser as a hyperactive who needs little sleep, strongly defends his methods.

“I make absolutely no apology for the verticality of power,” he told literary journal La Nouvelle Revue Française.

“I am proud of the choices that are being made, and I hate the process which means you have to constantly explain the reasoning behind a decision.”

That grates with the likes of Corinne Lepage, a former minister under conservative Jacques Chirac who was one of the first well-known politicians to join Macron’s campaign in 2016.

Initially won over by the ex-minister’s charisma and a promise of doing politics differently, she said Macron’s program was written behind closed doors by the same group of people now in charge at the Elysee.

“What I quickly found embarrassing is the contradiction between the bottom-up approach that was promised and sold to the French, and the reality,” Lepage told Reuters.

“It’s democratic centralism, the Soviet way. Completely vertical. And also very masculine.”

Many grass root supporters, who set up thousands of “En Marche” committees across France during Macron’s campaign, gave up when they realized their ideas did not filter through to Paris, she said.

While there is no sign of Macron changing tack, his popularity ratings have slipped to their lowest point since he took office, with only 40 percent of the population having a favorable opinion of him, according to a recent poll.

Among the reasons for weakening support is people’s perception of an arrogant president worried about looking after the wealthy.


Despite being France’s youngest elected leader, Macron has shown a sure-footed confidence in office so far, backed by a tight group of like-minded administrators – most of them men and dubbed the “Macron Boys”, although there are women too.

Overseen by Alexis Kohler – who like Macron is an alumnus of the elite administrative school ENA and worked in the private sector – the core group of around a dozen members is responsible for driving the reform program.

It has done so at breakneck speed.

In just a year, Macron has made hiring and firing easier, slashed a wealth tax, launched an overhaul of the education system, unveiled plans to cut the number of lawmakers and confronted unions with a reform of the debt-laden railways.

More is in the pipeline.

“It’s started like a sprint but will soon turn into a marathon,” Kohler, 45, told Reuters in his gilded office, one room away from the president’s.

“We’re making plans rather far into 2018, even beyond that. We’re working on the basis that we’ll have the capacity to reform,” he said.

That confidence – in a country where governments have long been forced to water down or scrap reforms in the face of political opposition and protests – comes from a centralization of power that is down as much to men as institutions.

Macron, who wrote his undergraduate philosophy dissertation on Renaissance Italian diplomat Machiavelli famed for his chilling guide to holding power, has ensured competing voices do not easily emerge.

He has capped the number of advisers ministers can have to 10, reducing their autonomy. When Macron was economy minister, he had 25 advisers.

Ministers also allow their press interviews to be proof-read by the Elysee – sometimes by Macron himself.

Many members of the cabinet are technocrats still widely unknown to the public. The prime minister, a former conservative mayor, has had to share advisers – often Macron loyalists – with the president.

Streamlined decision making goes hand-in-hand with tight control of the message, as an occurrence at the Elysee Palace in May last year underlined.

Kohler, Macron’s most trusted adviser, wanted to ensure that French company Alstom was not sidelined by a proposed plan by German industrial giant Siemens to merge part of its operations with Canadian rival Bombardier.

Any such merger could have left Alstom, the maker of TGV high-speed trains, isolated and weakened.

“I need three months without any leaks,” Kohler told the president’s press adviser, according to a person present.

Unusually for such high-stakes cross-border deals, nothing leaked until the day a Siemens-Alstom merger was announced by the two companies four months later.

Perhaps surprisingly for a president hailed as a savior of progressive values in Europe and elsewhere, Macron’s office also announced it would move the press room – a symbol of transparency and accountability – out of the Elysee.

Macron’s “special adviser” Ismael Emelien has developed a communications strategy using Twitter and Facebook Live to cut out the media and produce slick snippets of presidential life.


Shortly after his election, Macron was given a huge parliamentary majority thanks to an electoral system specifically designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle to maximize presidential independence from parliament.

His lawmakers, many of them newcomers to politics, have diligently passed reforms sent their way, often via legal decrees meant to speed up debate.

For investors, the ability to deliver a modernizing program is positive for the French economy and wider euro zone.

But Macron’s controlling style is not without risk.

Rivals and a handful of allies warn that the electorate could turn to populist parties in 2022 presidential elections if they feel their voices are not being heard by the presidency.

Although Macron’s majority remains solid, some supporters, mostly hailing from the left, feel he has lurched to the right and bypassed parliament.

A particularly divisive immigration bill, which critics said was too tough and jarred with Macron’s pro-refugee stance during campaigning, showed one of the first cracks in his support.

One Macron lawmaker voted against it and 14 abstained.

The defector, former Socialist Jean-Michel Clement, said there was a risk that France was drifting toward a situation where “parliamentary control is non-existent”.

“Why was I the only one to vote against this bill when everyone thought it was a bad one? Because they’re not answering the question,” he told Reuters.

“Does that mean the executive branch has a stranglehold on the legislative branch? I think it does,” he said.

And a draft constitutional reform to cut the number of lawmakers will tip the balance of power even more toward the president and the government and weaken parliament, he added.

The stakes are high: if voters conclude that Macron is merely the latest in a line of mainstream politicians that have let them down, that could benefit more extremist forces.

“The most disappointed ones won’t give their vote to the president twice. When you have Marine Le Pen at 21 percent and Jean-Luc Melenchon at 20 percent, anything can happen tomorrow,” said Clement.

Le Pen leads the far-right Front National party and Melenchon represents the far-left.

Advisers shrug off such criticism.

“He (Macron) says Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande’s big mistake has been to try to mother the French,” one top adviser said, referring to the previous two presidents.

“You have to accept the paternal side of the office, with all the unpopularity that it implies. Because a father is also a hated figure.”

(Writing by Michel Rose; additional reporting by John Irish, Noah Barkin, Emmanuel Jarry, Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

As North Korea threat looms, Trump to address world leaders at U.N.

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea’s nuclear threat looms large this week over the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York, where diplomats are eager to hear U.S. President Donald Trump address the 193-member body for the first time.

North Korean diplomats will have a front-row seat in the U.N. General Assembly for Trump’s speech on Tuesday morning, which will touch on the escalating crisis that has seen Trump and Pyongyang trade threats of military action.

Despite his skepticism about the value of international organizations and the United Nations in particular, Trump will seek support for tough measures against North Korea, while pressing his “America First” message to the world body.

“This is not an issue between the United States and North Korea. This is an issue between the world and North Korea,” Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said on Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who, like Trump, took office in January – plans to meet separately with “concerned parties,” including North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, on the sidelines of the 72nd General Assembly.

“The solution can only be political. Military action could cause devastation on a scale that would take generations to overcome,” Guterres warned on Wednesday.

A week ago, the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted its ninth sanctions resolution since 2006 over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said U.N. sanctions had banned 90 percent of the Asian state’s publicly reported exports, saying of Pyongyang on Friday: “This is totally in their hands on how they respond.”

Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that Washington had “pretty much exhausted” its options on North Korea at the Security Council.

Ri is due to address the General Assembly on Friday.



Some leaders will also push Trump not to give up on a 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for a lifting of U.N., U.S. and European sanctions, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was time to “fix it – or cancel it.”

The foreign ministers of Iran, the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and France – the parties to the agreement – are due to meet on Wednesday ahead of an October deadline for Trump to tell Congress if he believes Tehran is sticking to what he has described as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

When asked on Friday what Moscow’s message would be for Washington, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said: “Stay in the JCPOA (the nuclear deal).”

A senior U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We are faced with real uncertainties with respect to North Korea and it’s a bit dangerous … to add another source of uncertainty with respect to Iran.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday his country would not be bullied by the United States and would react strongly to any “wrong move” by Washington on the nuclear deal.

Iran and North Korea will also feature heavily during a ministerial Security Council meeting on Thursday, at the request of the United States, to discuss the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.



While leaders and diplomats are also due to meet on longer-running crises including Libya, Syria, South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, Yemen and Iraq, a last-minute addition has been Myanmar, where the United Nations has branded violence against Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing.”

Britain is due to host a ministerial meeting on Monday to seek a way to get Myanmar authorities to end a military offensive in the country’s Rakhine state that has sent more than 400,000 minority Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.

Following Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from a landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, several high-level gatherings are planned on the sidelines of the General Assembly to bolster the deal.

“Climate change is a serious threat,” Guterres told reporters. “Hurricanes and floods around the world remind us that extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe, due to climate change.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to hold the door open for the United States to remain in the Paris climate accord “under the right conditions.”

“The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” Tillerson said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” program on Sunday.

Trump will seek to boost support for reforming the United Nations, which he once called “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

The United States is the largest U.N. contributor and Trump has complained that Washington pays too much.

“The United Nations, of course, holds tremendous potential to realize its founding ideals, but only if it’s run more efficiently and effectively,” McMaster said on Friday.


(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)


Activists fear federal review of U.S. police agreements could imperil reforms

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s decision to review federal agreements with troubled police departments nationwide could imperil ongoing reform efforts, particularly in Baltimore and Chicago, civil rights advocates said on Tuesday, even as city officials vowed to continue pursuing improvements.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memorandum ordering the review endangers one of the key legacies of former President Barack Obama, whose Department of Justice reached more than a dozen agreements with police departments over constitutional abuses.

Many of the Obama-era investigations took place amid a string of high-profile police killings of minorities that sparked protests across the country.

Sessions’ order will likely have its most immediate impact on Baltimore and Chicago, both of which have been negotiating reform settlements with the department since before Donald Trump became president in January.

The memo was released on Monday, the same day that the Justice Department asked a judge to delay an agreement to revamp Baltimore’s beleaguered department for three months just days before the judge was set to approve the deal.

Officials in both cities said they would press ahead with reforms despite the memo. But advocates said the review could undermine those efforts and suggests the Justice Department under Sessions will not undertake future civil rights investigations.

“He’s talking about the federal government turning its back on a pattern and practice of racialized policing that goes back decades in this country,” said Jeffrey Robinson, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “To suggest that the government should just leave it to local police departments is just frightening.”

Police unions, however, have expressed frustration with some of the court-approved settlements, known as consent decrees, and they welcomed the shift in policy.

“From a rank-and-file police officer’s point of view, we’re very happy,” said Bill Johnson, head of the National Association of Police Officers. “These agencies have come under a very heavy hand from the Department of Justice.”


The Justice Department is authorized to investigate whether police departments engage in an unconstitutional “pattern and practice,” such as unnecessary force or racial profiling.

Under Obama, it probed two dozen departments and reached reform agreements with 15, more than either of his predecessors, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

In Baltimore, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the move a “punch to the gut” at a Tuesday news conference.

Though he said reforms would proceed, Davis said the court-enforced agreement is important because it ensures implementation even if he and Mayor Catherine Pugh leave office.

But the head of the Baltimore police union, Lieutenant Gene Ryan, said the union should have more of a voice in the process.

“I want to meet with Donald Trump,” he said, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper. “I want to tell him what’s really going on.”

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson likewise said they remain committed to reforms despite Sessions’ order.

A former Obama administration official who oversaw federal police reforms at the Justice Department for six years, Christy Lopez, said the review leaves her most concerned about Chicago.

“I’ve never seen a city that cries out more for a consent decree than Chicago,” said Lopez, now a visiting law professor at Georgetown University.

A Chicago pastor and retired police officer, Richard Wooten, said activists would hold Emanuel and other city officials accountable to push reforms despite the Sessions order.

“This is a sad day, but on the flip side, we saw this coming,” Wooten said.

Trump has often decried Chicago’s rising murder rate, threatening in January to “send in the feds.”

It is not clear whether the Justice Department could secure changes to existing consent decrees, such as those governing police departments in Cleveland; Newark, New Jersey; Seattle; New Orleans; and Ferguson, Missouri. That would require approval from federal judges, some of whom have made clear they will not accept changes without good cause.

Some unions have chafed under consent decrees, calling them costly, ineffective and stigmatizing to officers. Sessions’ memo touched on that issue, saying the department should ensure police officers are not tarnished by the “misdeeds of individual bad actors.”

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has advocated for police reform, said the government has only investigated “the worst offenders” – 25 departments out of some 18,000 since 2009.

Robinson, the ACLU lawyer, said his group and others would consider legal action to enforce agreements but warned that any retreat by the federal government would make it harder to monitor reforms.

“If the federal government is silent, it is sending a message to local police departments: do whatever you want and we will look the other way,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Ian Simpson in Washington, Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago and Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. in deal to reform Baltimore police after Freddie Gray death

mural of late Freddie Gray in Baltimore

By Donna Owens

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – The city of Baltimore will enact a series of police reforms including changes in how officers use force and transport prisoners under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department filed in federal court on Thursday.

The agreement comes almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, of injuries sustained while in police custody sparked a day of rioting and arson in the majority-black city. It also led to an investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the deal, which is subject to a judge’s approval, would be binding even after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety,” Lynch told reporters, flanked by recently elected Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The 227-page consent decree agreement is the result of months of negotiations after a federal report released in August found that the city’s 2,600-member police department routinely violated black residents’ civil rights with strip searches, by excessively using force and other means.

The probe followed the April 2015 death of Gray, 25, who died of injuries sustained in the back of a police van. His was one of a series of high-profile deaths in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked an intense debate about race and justice and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Department of Justice is scheduled to release the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department on Friday in the Midwest city, local media reported. In Philadelphia on Friday, a report on reform efforts by the Philadelphia Police Department will be released, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors brought charges against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest but secured no convictions.

William Murphy Jr., an attorney who represented the Gray family in a civil suit against the city that led to a $6 million settlement, praised the deal.

“Make no mistake, today is a revolution in policing in Baltimore,” Murphy said.

The head of city’s police union was warier, saying his group had not been a part of the negotiations.

“Neither our rank and file members who will be the most affected, nor our attorneys, have had a chance to read the final product,” Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement.

City officials said union officials had been involved in talks early on but stopped attending meetings.

(Additional reporting by Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago. Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

Pope decries ‘malevolent resistance’ to needed Vatican reforms

Pope Francis (L) speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis decried “malevolent” internal resistance to his campaign to reform the Vatican bureaucracy on Thursday and said lay men and women should get top jobs if they are more qualified than clerics.

For the third year running, Francis used his annual Christmas greetings to the Roman Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy, or Curia, to lecture the assembled cardinals, bishops and other department heads on the need for change.

The Argentine-born pontiff, who in his 2014 address said the Italian-dominated Curia suffered from “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, listed 12 guidelines to reform including better coordination, dedication to service and openness to “the signs of the times”.

Speaking forcefully, he acknowledged that there had been resistance from some self-centered members of the bureaucracy, some of it open, some of it hidden and some hypocritical.

“But there has also been some malevolent resistance,” Francis, who turned 80 last week, told cardinals, bishops and monsignors gathered in the Vatican’s frescoed Sala Clementina.

“This (type) germinates in distorted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires wicked intentions, often in lambs’ clothing,” he said.

Pope Francis speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican,

Pope Francis speaks during the traditional greetings to the Roman Curia in the Sala Clementina (Clementine Hall) of the Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican, December 22, 2016. REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/Pool

Last month, four conservative cardinals made a rare public challenge to the pope over some of his teachings in a major document on the family, accusing him of sowing confusion on important moral issues and requesting clarification.

Francis has not directly answered them but said some people displayed “a certain legalism” and misunderstood the document.

After his election in 2013, Francis set out to reform the Curia, whose intrigues, alleged corruption and leaks were widely held responsible for the decision by his predecessor Benedict XVI to become the first pope in six centuries to resign.

He has shut departments deemed inefficient or outdated and merged others. He has also worked to make the Vatican’s often murky finances transparent according to international standards.

In his address, Francis said Curia officials must be less concerned with careers or promotions and more with spiritual renewal, humility and a sober lifestyle.

He said the reforms, in which a number of ranking members have lost or will lose power, would be continuous and deep and Curia officials should implement them with “courage … firm decisions … (and) unconditional obedience”.

They would not be like “plastic surgery to remove wrinkles,” he said, adding: “Dear brothers, it is not wrinkles that the Church should fear, but stains.”

The Curia, he said, had to be more multinational, more multicultural and, where possible, less clerical.

“It would be opportune to foresee access (to Curia jobs) for a greater number of lay faithful, especially in those departments where they can be more competent than clerics …,” he said, adding that lay men and women should be “integrated in leadership roles”.

Francis called the age-old bureaucratic practice of promoting someone to get them out of the way was “a cancer” that had to end.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Making space for coup purge, Turkey starts to release 38,000 prisoners

Turkish Prison

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey began freeing 38,000 prisoners on Wednesday, after announcing a penal reform that will make space for tens of thousands of suspects rounded up over last month’s attempted coup.

The reform was one of a series of measures outlined on Wednesday in two decrees under a state of emergency declared after the July 15 failed putsch during which 240 people were killed.

The government gave no reason for measure, but its prisons were already straining capacity before the mass arrests that followed the coup.

Western allies worry President Tayyip Erdogan, already accused by opponents of creeping authoritarianism, is using the crackdown to target dissent, testing relations with a key NATO partner in the war on Islamic State.

Angrily dismissing those concerns, Turkish officials say they are rooting out a serious internal threat from followers of a U.S.-based cleric.

Wednesday’s decrees, published in the Official Gazette, also ordered the dismissal of 2,360 more police officers, more than 100 military personnel and 196 staff at Turkey’s information and communication technology authority, BTK.

Those dismissed were described as having links to cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan turned enemy. Erdogan says Gulen was behind the attempt by rogue troops using tanks and jets to overthrow the government. Gulen denies involvement.

Under the penal reform, convicts with up to two years left in sentences are eligible for release on probation, extending the period from one year. The “supervised release” excludes those convicted of terrorism, murder, violent or sexual crimes.

“I’m really happy to be released from jail. I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” prisoner Turgay Aydin was quoted by Andolu news agency telling reporters outside Turkey’s largest prison Silivri, west of Istanbul. “I thank President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I’ve come to my senses. After this I will try to be a better, cleaner person.”

In an interview with A Haber television, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 38,000 people would initially be released, but as many as 93,000 could benefit from the program.

To be eligible for the scheme, prisoners must have served half of their sentences. Previously they were required to have already served two thirds of their sentences.

According to justice ministry data obtained by Anadolu agency, there were 213,499 prisoners in jail as of Aug. 16, more than 26,000 above prison capacity.

Another measure in the decrees gave the president more choice in appointing the head of the armed forces. He can now select any general as military chief. Previously only the heads of the army, navy or air force could be promoted to the post.

A telecoms authority will also be closed under the moves.

Erdogan says Gulen and his followers infiltrated government institutions to create a ‘parallel state’ in an attempt to take over the country.

Alongside tens of thousands of civil servants suspended or dismissed, more than 35,000 people have been detained in the purge. Judges, journalists, police, and teachers are among those targeted for suspected links to Gulen’s movement.

Turkish police on Tuesday searched the offices of a nationwide retail chain and a healthcare and technology company, detaining executives who authorities accuse of helping finance Gulen’s network.


A prosecutor in the western province of Usak has submitted the first indictment formally accusing Gulen of masterminding the coup plot, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

An 11-month investigation focused on alleged wrongdoing by the Gulen movement from 2013, and now includes charges Gulen organized an armed terrorist group to topple the government, scrap the constitution and murder Erdogan on July 15.

The 2,257-page indictment seeks two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in jail for Gulen, plus tens of millions of lira in fines, Anadolu said. It names 111 defendants, including 13 people who are already in custody.

U.S. officials have been cautious on the extradition of Gulen, saying they need clear evidence. He has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Western criticism of the purge and Ankara’s demands that the United States send Gulen home have already frayed ties with Washington and the European Union, increasing tensions over an EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.

In another tense exchange, Turkey lashed out at Germany on Wednesday, saying allegations in a media report that Turkey had become a hub for Islamist groups reflected a “twisted mentality” that tried to target Erdogan.

Incensed over a perceived lack of Western sympathy over the coup attempt, Erdogan has revived relations with Russia, a detente Western officials worry may be used by both leaders to pressure the European Union and NATO.

Measures in Wednesday’s decrees will also enable former air force pilots to return to duty, making up for a deficit after the dismissal of military pilots in the purge.

Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency on July 21, and decrees since then have dismissed thousands of security force members and shut thousands of private schools, charities and other institutions suspected of links to Gulen.

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Patrick Markey, Anna Willard and Peter Graff)