WORLD LEADERS laud fallen soldiers on eve of armistice centennial

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold hands after unveiling a plaque in the Clairiere of Rethondes during a commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, in Compiegne, France, November 10, 2018. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Pool via Reuters

Leaders laud fallen soldiers on eve of armistice centennial

|AIWA! NO!|PARIS — Traveling from across the world to monuments honoring soldiers who fell 100 years ago, victors and vanquished alike marked those sacrifices Saturday ahead of Armistice Day and assessed alliances that have been redrawn dramatically since the dark days of World War I.

The leaders of former enemies France and Germany, in an intimate gesture that underscored their countries’ current roles as guarantors of peace in Europe, held their heads together at the site north of Paris where the defeated Germans and the Allies signed the agreement that ended the 1914-18 war.

After Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly snuggled her head into the neck of French President Emmanuel Macron, the two went inside a replica of the train car where the armistice was reached and put their names in a guestbook. Macron then took Merkel’s hand in his, again highlighting the changes on the continent where two world wars were fought in the 20th century.

“Our Europe has been at peace for 73 years. There is no precedent for it, and it is at peace because we willed it and first and foremost, because Germany and France wanted it,” he said.

Merkel was equally convinced of the power their friendship exudes.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet with veterans at the Clairiere of Rethondes, during a commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, in Compiegne, France, November 10, 2018. Photo by Philippe Wojazer/Pool via Reuters

“The will is there, and I say this for Germany with full conviction, to do everything to achieve a more peaceful order in the world even though we know we have very, very much work still ahead of us,” she said.

The open show of affection was a welcome antidote for Macron. Earlier Saturday, the French leader had a somewhat awkward meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. As Air Force One landed in Paris on Friday night, Trump wrote on Twitter he had been “very” insulted by comments Macron made in the days before that he considered anti-American.

A century ago, the entry of U.S. troops into World War I tipped the momentum toward its allies, including France and Britain. Even as he embarked on two days of observances for the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice, Trump said the United States now bears far too much of the burden to defend the West.

A flurry of Armistice-related diplomacy once again turned Paris, the jewel that Germany sought to take in 1914 but which the Allies successfully fought to defend, into the center of global attention Saturday as dozens of world leaders arrived in the French capital on the eve of the solemn centennial commemorations.

A portrait of a soldier is displayed at the Armistice Museum in the Clairiere de Rethondes in Compiegne where the Germans signed the armistice in 1918 that ended the World War One, France, August 30, 2018. Picture taken August 30, 2018.  Photo by Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Merkel’s appearance in Compiegne marked how her nation’s bloodstained history with France has become a close alliance that is now the driving force behind the European Union.

In the four years of fighting, remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of gas, France, the British empire, Russia and the United States had the main armies opposing a German-led coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

Almost 10 million soldiers died. France lost 1.4 million and Germany 2 million.

Yet, despite a war that was supposed to end all wars, World War II pitted both sides against each other once again in 1940.

Across the line that once marked the Western Front, leaders lauded the courage of soldiers who were killed during the unprecedented slaughter, before converging on Paris for a dinner.

The armistice entered into force on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and on Sunday 69 world leaders will commemorate the centennial of the event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, underneath the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.

A view shows the table inside the replica of the wagon where the Germans signed the armistice in 1918 that ended the World War One at the Armistice Museum in the Clairiere de Rethondes in Compiegne, France, August 30, 2018.  Picture taken August 30, 2018.   Photo by Christian Hartmann/Reuters

At dawn Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to Vimy Ridge, the battlefield in northern France where Canada found its sense of self when it defeated German opposition against the odds.

Standing amid the white headstones against an ashen sky, Trudeau addressed the fallen, saying what Canada has achieved in the past century has been “a history built on your sacrifice. You stand for the values on which Canada was built.”

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PM @Theresa_May and President @EmmanuelMacron laid a wreath of poppies and le bleuet at the Thiepval Memorial.

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In southern Belgium’s Mons, Canadians were also lauding George Price, the last Commonwealth soldier to die in the war when he was shot by a German sniper two minutes before the armistice took effect.

Trump was looking beyond the tragedy of death and destruction, asking in a tweet: “Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?”

After his meeting with Macron, Trump had been scheduled to head to the battlefield of Belleau Wood, 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of the capital, where U.S. troops had their breakthrough battle by stopping a German push for Paris shortly after entering the war in 1917.

The battle of Belleau Wood proved America’s mettle to allies and foes alike, and by the time the war ended U.S. forces were at least an equal to any of the other major armies, which were exhausted and depleted.

However, Trump canceled his visit because of bad weather and immediately came in for criticism.

“It’s incredible that a president would travel to France for this significant anniversary – and then remain in his hotel room watching TV rather than pay in person his respects to the Americans who gave their lives in France for the victory gained 100 years ago tomorrow,” David Frum, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, tweeted,

The White House sent a delegation that included chief of staff John Kelly in Trump’s place. Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, said the White House should have had a fallback plan for the president.

“There is always a rain option. Always,” Rhodes said.

Trump is scheduled to visit a different U.S. cemetery close to Paris on Sunday.

John Leicester contributed.

Trump announces US withdrawal from nuclear arms treaty with Russia

US President Donald Trump accuses Russia of violating the 31-year-old nuclear weapons agreement which prohibits Washington and Moscow from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.

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ABCUS President Donald Trump addresses a press conference.
|AIWA! NO!|US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he will exit a landmark arms control agreement the US signed with the former Soviet Union, saying that Russia is violating the pact and it’s preventing the US from developing new weapons.
The 1987 pact, which helps protect the security of the US and its allies in Europe and the Far East, prohibits the US and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 483 to 5,472 kilometres (300 to 3,400 miles).

“Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years,” Trump said after a rally in Elko, Nevada. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.”

The agreement has constrained the US from developing new weapons, but America will begin developing them unless Russia and China agree not to possess or develop the weapons, Trump said. China is not currently party to the pact.

“We’ll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Moscow later said that the US withdrawal from the Cold war-era nuclear arms deal is a ‘dangerous step.’

“This would be a very dangerous step that, I’m sure, not only will not be comprehended by the international community but will provoke serious condemnation,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told TASS state news agency.

Bolton heads to Russia

National Security Adviser John Bolton was headed on Saturday to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. His first stop is Moscow, where he’ll meet with Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. His visit comes at a time when Moscow-Washington relations also remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and upcoming US midterm elections.

There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin or the Russian Foreign Ministry on Trump’s announcement.

Trump didn’t provide details about violations, but in 2017, White House national security officials said Russia had deployed a cruise missile in violation of the treaty. Earlier, the Obama administration accused the Russians of violating the pact by developing and testing a prohibited cruise missile. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has violated the treaty and has accused the United States of not being in compliance.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has previously suggested that a Trump administration proposal to add a sea-launched cruise missile to America’s nuclear arsenal could provide the US with leverage to try to convince Russia to come back in line on the arms treaty.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in February that the country would only consider using nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or in response to a non-nuclear assault that endangered the survival of the Russian nation.

“We are slowly slipping back to the situation of cold war as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, with quite similar consequences, but now it could be worse because (Russian President Vladimir) Putin belongs to a generation that had no war under its belt,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent Russian political analyst.

“These people aren’t as much fearful of a war as people of Brezhnev’s epoch. They think if they threaten the West properly, it gets scared.”

Controversial decision 

Trump’s decision could be controversial with European allies and others who see value in the treaty, said Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on nuclear arms control.

“Once the United States withdraws from the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to even pretend it is observing the limits,” he wrote in a post on the organisation’s website. “Moscow will be free to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile if it wants, without any restraint.”

US officials have previously alleged that Russia violated the treaty by deliberately deploying a land-based cruise missile in order to pose a threat to NATO. Russia has claimed that US missile defences violate the pact.

In the past, the Obama administration worked to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty but made little progress.

“If they get smart and if others get smart and they say let’s not develop these horrible nuclear weapons, I would be extremely happy with that, but as long as somebody’s violating the agreement, we’re not going to be the only ones to adhere to it,” Trump said.

London Residents Recruit Street Artists Armed With Satire in War On Drugs

Drug Dealers Only Art To Highlight Problem in London
© Photo: Picture, Penny Creed

London Residents Recruit Street Artists Armed With Satire in War On Drugs

The words “Crack Pickup” and “Drug Dealers Only” have been spray painted onto roads in response to the “brazen” drug dealing outside people’s homes in Tower Hamlets in East London.

Resident Penny Creed tweeted the images “to embarrass the Met Police and Tower Hamlets into doing something about the brazen drug dealing in my neighborhood.”

Residents of Shoreditch, famous for its street art, have commissioned artists calling themselves the “Columbia Road Cartel” to start the campaign to highlight the problem of drug dealing in their neighborhood. However, the signs were promptly removed by council workers.

  Sep 16
It’s official has gone drug dealer friendly. To celebrate joe on the scooter will be doing 10&10. For £15. Whilst stocks last. – at Columbia Road Flower Market

Penny Creed, resident and vice-chair of the Columbia Road Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said the situation on her street had deteriorated.

“Eight to 10 users congregate on a street waiting for dealers to come past and buy from their car window,” she told the BBC.

Penny Creed says people living there have been “continually dialling 999” to report the problem described by Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs as “unacceptable.”

  Sep 17
Interesting that we are still waiting for to replace street lights taken out by a speeding drug dealer several weeks ago but they can remove the art work highlighting the issue in a matter of hours

“Too often criminal activity including drug dealing is not being stopped, and like the residents I think this is unacceptable,” Mayor John Biggs Tweeted.

Resident Jonathan Moberly told The Telegraph, “our corner of our street is used as a drug collection point 24 hours a day.”

“Heroin and crack addicts gather in small groups waiting for deliveries which arrive by a speeding car.”

Guerrilla street art is no stranger to politics, with many artists using the medium to score political points.

Dismaland
© FLICKR / KENT WANG

Spray painting, stenciling and graffiti by street artists has long sought to present alternative perspectives and highlight social injustices, from Banksy’s early graffiti in Bristol highlighting police violence, to the use of tear gas on refugees at the height of the crisis in Calais.

When I was in Calais refugee camp, the legendary street artist Banksy painted Steve Jobs portrait to highlight Syrian refugee crisis.

The satirical art commissioned to shame the police and their inaction on one residential road in London carries a serious message; Britain’s capital city has witnessed a surge in crime since the start of 2018.

“This is Shoreditch where street art is a thing we’re known for,” Penny Creed told London Live. “I think using street art was obviously a good idea to use our identity to highlight our own issue.”

Scotland Yard has recorded its 100th homicide, with drugs and social media cited as reasons for the rise in knife, gang and moped related incidents.

”Rule out ‘no-deal’ Brexit now”, – The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) urges UK ministers

Rule out ‘no-deal’ Brexit now, negotiators urged, as SMMT warns £5bn tariffs threat just tip of iceberg for auto sector

AIWA! NO!//A ‘no-deal’ Brexit must be ruled out now to avoid damaging one of the EU’s most valuable economic assets, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is warning today. Time is running out, and negotiators on both sides of the Channel must prioritise the agreement of terms for a managed withdrawal and ‘status quo’ transition as soon as possible. ‘No-deal’ would undermine the industry’s ability to operate and cannot be an option.

The UK trade body will today meet with EU representatives in Brussels to highlight the economic importance of the integrated European automotive industry and set out the repercussions for businesses, economies and jobs if a deal cannot be struck. New SMMT analysis suggests that no-deal and the resulting tariffs on light vehicles alone would add £5 billion to the collective EU-UK auto trade bill.brexit poll (1)

If passed directly on to consumers, import tariffs would push up the cost of UK-built cars sold in the EU by an average £2,700, and that of light commercial vehicles by £2,000 – affecting demand, profitability and jobs. Similarly, UK buyers of a car or van from the EU would be faced with £1,500 and £1,700 increases if manufacturers and their dealer networks were unable to absorb these additional costs.

The automotive sector is one of Europe’s most valuable economic assets, employing 13.3 million people and representing 6.8% of EU GDP. The sector invests some £47 billion in innovation each year, making it the EU’s largest R&D investor, and it produces roughly 17 million cars annually – nearly a quarter of global passenger car production.

UK Automotive is a key component of this success. It is the EU’s second largest new car market – worth some £29 billion to EU manufacturers every year – and the fourth largest car manufacturing nation. Alone, it turns over some £82 billion, supports 856,000 jobs (186,000 in manufacturing) and is responsible for 11% of EU auto manufacturing R&D spend. In 2017, British buyers registered some 1.9 million cars and vans from the Continent.

READ RELATED: U.K., EU Said to Drop October Deadline for Brexit Deal

Tony Blair: ‘Brexit’s doomed coalition will burst’

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau
Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Leading French journalist Marion Van Renterghem meets Tony Blair, one of Remain’s Don Quixotes suddenly realising their task might not be as futile as it first seemed.

AIWA! NO!//From my side of the Channel, I initially saw you Remainers as some tribe of Don Quixotes, at war with windmills, assigning yourselves a quite impossible mission: to bring your compatriots back to wisdom.

Yet as time goes by, it seems that Quixotism might turn into something more achievable. The lies behind Leave are blowing up, the nation’s mood is changing, the move for a People’s Vote is growing. And you, Remainers, have become like little mosquitos, tormenting the government, creating a constant, inescapable noise which is giving ministers sleepless nights.

As a spectator, I am fascinated to witness such a spectacle: the officers who set the course are leaving the ship one after another (Farage has become a radio entertainer, David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others have cynically transferred their investments out of Brexitland); the captain herself, Theresa May, remains on the bridge – but hardly in control. And yet the ship carries on.

The UK today reminds me of the Fellini film E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On). In it, the ocean liner Gloria N sinks and the passengers evacuate by singing opera arias, after having triggered the First World War. As I watch, I’m amused. As a European, I’m bemused. And scared. Because your story is ours.

But there are mutineers on board the UK’s ship, and in recent months, I have been meeting with many of them: brilliant debaters emerging out of nowhere like Femi Oluwole; previously unknown voices like Gina Miller; older hands putting all their energy to shift opinion, like Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Peter Mandelson… and Tony Blair.

In Paris, Brussels and London, I’ve been meeting regularly with your former prime minister – the most intelligent and reformist politician you have had in recent times, and the man you hate the most.

At one meeting, he stares at me like a martian and dissolves into laughter when I tell him that Europe’s misfortune – Brexit – stemmed from the fact that Britain did not lose the Second World War. I insist: the arrogance of you British and your current teenage crisis over ‘independence’ results from the fact that you were able to stand up to Hitler. “You, the British, look down on Europe because it was defeated, while you weren’t,” I tell him. “As a result, you live under the delusion that the EU isn’t of any use to you, except possibly to facilitate your business affairs.”

He stops laughing and admits: “The British tend to forget the importance of their European heritage. They wanted to join the Economic Community in 1973 only, and they didn’t understand that they should have been a founding member in 1951 or 1957. This would have changed everything.”

He adds: “My vision of Europe has always been political as much as economic. We signed the European Social Charter and I personally laid the foundations for a European defence policy in 2000. Europe must not be only a market, but a broader project that takes into account the social dimension of the market.” The trouble is, even then, he was one of the only Britons to think so.

Years of criticism have given Blair the expression of a Hamlet haunted by some spectre. His hair has whitened, the forehead has darkened. Yet his courtesy and cheerfulness seem to have resisted all the blows.

Even in France, politicians of the left are careful not to mention his name publicly, even though some keep on having meetings with him and envy his exceptional career in power: elected three times for his visionary reforms in the NHS and education and for his humanitarian interventions in international crises.

When campaigning against the Conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007, socialist Ségolène Royal was blamed by her own party for praising Blair’s policy. Sarkozy himself was more open about their friendship, and said recently that he and Blair might work on some projects together. Emmanuel Macron, when a candidate for the French presidency, said that he was not ashamed to be compared to Blair – he didn’t insist too much, however, knowing this statement would act like a scarecrow to his voters on the left.

Anglo Saxon politicians can’t easily provide a simple template for French ones, who traditionally tend to celebrate the role of the state in the economy. Blair will always be considered a man of the right by the French left – just as he has come to be seen on the British left, since Corbyn shifted it further to the extreme.

Then there is Iraq. His burden, the tragic mistake that has thrown him into hell. His deep motivation for following George W Bush in his Baghdad mission remains a mystery. Was it strategic loyalty to the Atlantic alliance, as he himself explained? Or a kind of a religious revelation? A journalist told me he was present for a telephone conversation in January 2001 in which Bill Clinton urged his friend Blair to be “as close to Bush” as he had been to himself.

According to a YouGov poll earlier this year, only 17% of Britons have a favourable image of Blair. The most smiling of all prime ministers has learned to live with this hostility. “I can’t prevent people from hating me nor can I force them to listen to me,” he says quietly. “But they can’t prevent me from speaking out what I believe in.”

One of the main reasons – apart from Iraq – why Blair irritates you British so much might be that, in one crucial respect, he is so different to you: he is viscerally European.

By European, I mean supporting a community of political, ethical and social values – not only a single market, for one’s own interest. In that sense, Blair is the first genuine European to have occupied Number 10 since Churchill, even if – paradoxically – he is blamed on my side of the Channel for being too British and not European enough. Wasn’t he the strongest supporter to the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and the man who favoured intra-European immigration, both of which have contributed to today’s populism?

“The context was different,” he answers. “In 2004, the economy was booming. If I had been in power for the last ten years, I would have hardened the rules on immigration. It remains desirable and necessary for the economy, but we must hear the anxiety it arouses and regulate it. As for enlargement, can you imagine the eastern countries left behind, with the emergence of Russian nationalism? They would have been more vulnerable, and so would we.”

He pauses, looks for words by looking up to the ceiling and concludes: “The irony is that the single market and the enlargement are British initiatives – Thatcher, then Major, then me. The Brexiters now blame Brussels for what Great Britain wanted and supported… They want to ‘take back control’, but I can’t remember one single law imposed by Brussels that I would have been forced to apply. They want a ‘global Britain’ whereas only the European Union can be global, facing the three economic giants – USA, China, India.”

A silence again, eyes to the ceiling, then: “There are two irreconcilable groups among the Brexiters – those who are scared of globalisation and those who are scared of a too socialist Europe. If Brexit takes place, this coalition will burst.”

He adds: “The government wants to believe that this is a negotiation with the EU, but it is not. Either we stay close to the EU, then we wonder why there would be any reason to leave, or we leave the EU, then we accept to lose the benefits of the single market. There is no alternative.” The inevitable restoration of some sort of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic that Brexit will bring – an issue particularly pertinent for Blair, as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement – is, he says, a “metaphor of the impasse”.

The former prime minister was among the first to articulate calls for what is now called a People’s Vote. “We have the right to reconsider the issue once the deal between London and Brussels is known,” he told me, back in November 17. “It would not be a second referendum, but a new one, given the situation itself is all new. Brexit as it now looks like has nothing to do with what people have voted for. Until March 29 2019, it is not too late.” Back then, it was a fringe view. Not any more, if the polls are correct.

As a strong European myself, I couldn’t understand why you Remainers didn’t take the opportunity, at the last general election, to vote for one of the two only pro-European, UK parties you have: the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Instead, you showed a Pavlovian link to the two-party system, and then blamed Jeremy Corbyn for his persistent silence on Brexit, despite his notorious, long-standing anti-European credentials.

Blair insists he voted Labour in June 2017 and pretends not to have given up hope that Labour will play the role of a centrist party – “but that looks increasingly unlikely,” he admits. As we would say in France, by the time Labour comes back to the centre hens will have teeth.

So does a new, centrist party remain a possibility for the UK? “The paradox,” Blair answers, “is that a majority of people would vote for a centrist policy – a strong market economy together with a liberal society, justice and mobility not for the few but for the many – while both the two main parties can only be taken over from outside the centre. That is why they both are disappointing and deceitful.” What happened in France with Emmanuel Macron, who broke through with a new political party, En Marche, by blowing up the old ones, can hardly be replicated in the UK’s parliamentary system. But old French politicians thought the same regarding French politics. And all laughed at Macron when he launched his attempt. So perhaps, with Brexit, it should be worth a try in the UK.

The countdown is running in the UK, and across Europe, towards March 29, 2019. Whatever the outcome will be, the anger that caused Brexit remains. As in all European countries, British society is cut in half. In my meetings with politicians from different parts of Europe in recent months, I have never heard such uncertainty. In such uncertainty, as regards Brexit and the possibility of a second referendum, Blair can find some optimism – or pessimism, depending on how you look at it. “Everything is possible,” he says

Marion Van Renterghem is a reporter-at-large and a writer. This article has been partly adapted from a piece published in Vanity Fair France online

Europe – Right Wing Sites Swamp Sweden With ‘Junk News’ in Tight Election

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, Green Party spokesperson Gustav Fridolin, Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor and Sweden's Prime Minister and Social Democrat party leader Stefan Lofven during a TV debate in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 03, 2018.
Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, Green Party spokesperson Gustav Fridolin, Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor and Sweden’s Prime Minister and Social Democrat party leader Stefan Lofven during a TV debate in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 03, 2018.
One in 3 news articles shared online about the upcoming Swedish election come from websites publishing deliberately misleading information, most with a right-wing focus on immigration and Islam, Oxford University researchers say.
Their study, published Thursday, points to widespread online disinformation in the final stages of a tightly contested campaign that could mark a lurch to the right in one of Europe’s most prominent liberal democracies.
The authors, from the Oxford Internet Institute, labeled certain websites “junk news,” based on several detailed criteria. Reuters found the three most popular sites they identified have employed former members of the Sweden Democrats party; one has a former MP listed among its staff.

A woman walks by an ad promoting diversity and tolerance, at a shopping mall in Stockholm, Sweden, Aug. 31, 2018.
A woman walks by an ad promoting diversity and tolerance, at a shopping mall in Stockholm, Sweden, Aug. 31, 2018.

Effect on voters unclear

It was not clear whether the sharing of “junk news” had affected voting intentions in Sweden, but the study helps show the impact platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have on elections, and how domestic or foreign groups can use them to exacerbate sensitive social and political issues.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, whose center-left Social Democrats have dominated politics since 1914 but are now unlikely to secure a ruling majority, told Reuters the spread of false or distorted information online risked shaking “the foundations of democracy” if left unchecked.

The Institute, a department of Oxford University, analyzed 275,000 tweets about the Swedish election from a 10-day period in August. It counted articles shared from websites it identified as “junk news” sources, defined as outlets that “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news.”

“Roughly speaking, for every two professional content articles shared, one junk news article was shared. Junk news therefore constituted a significant part of the conversation around the Swedish general election,” it said.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the results of the study.

Facebook, where interactions between users are harder to track, said it was working with Swedish officials to help voters spot disinformation. It has also partnered with Viralgranskaren, an arm of Sweden’s Metro newspaper, to identify, demote and counterbalance “false news” on its site.

Joakim Wallerstein, head of communications for the Sweden Democrats, said he had no knowledge of or interest in the party sympathies of media outlets. Asked to comment on his party’s relationship with the sites identified by the study, he said he had been interviewed by one of them once.

“I think it is strange that a foreign institute is trying to label various news outlets in Sweden as ‘junk news’ and release such a report in connection to an election,” he said.

‘Deceptive tools’

Swedish security officials say there is currently no evidence of a coordinated online attempt by foreign powers to sway the Sept. 9 vote, despite repeated government warnings about the threat.

But Mikael Tofvesson, head of the counter influence team at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), a government agency tasked with safeguarding the election, said the widespread sharing of false or distorted information makes countries more vulnerable to hostile influence operations.

“Incorrect and biased reporting promotes a harder, harsher tone in the debate, which makes it easier to throw in disinformation and other deceptive tools,” he said.

Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Project on Computational Propaganda, said most of the “junk news” in Sweden supported right-wing policies, and was largely focused on issues around immigration and Islam.

Big three ‘junk news’ sites

The top three “junk news” sources identified by the study, right-wing websites Samhallsnytt, Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider, accounted for more than 85 percent of the “junk news” content.

Samhallsnytt received donations through the personal bank account of a Sweden Democrat member between 2011-2013 when it operated under the name Avpixlat. A former Sweden Democrat member of parliament, who also previously ran the party’s youth wing, is listed on the Samhallsnytt website as a columnist.

Samhallsnytt often publishes articles saying Sweden is under threat from Islam. In June, for example, it said a youth soccer tournament in the second-biggest city had banned pork as “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law. The article is still online with the headline: “Islam is the new foundation of the Gothia Cup — pork proclaimed ‘haram.’”

A tournament organizer told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that caterers had not served pork for more than 10 years for practical reasons, and there was no ban against eating or selling pork at the event.

Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Commenting before the Oxford study was published, Nyheter Idag founder Chang Frick disputed the “junk news” label and said his website followed ethical journalistic practices, citing its membership of Sweden’s self-regulated Press Council body.

“Yes, we put our editorial perspective on news, of course, like everyone else,” he said. “If you are doing a tabloid you cannot have dry, boring headlines, it should have some punch to it. But we do not lie, we do not make false accusations.”

Fact checkers and bots

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to tackle disinformation on their platforms following accusations that Russia and Iran tried to meddle in domestic politics in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Moscow and Tehran deny the allegations.

A report by the Swedish Defense Research Institute last week said the number of automated Twitter accounts discussing the upcoming election almost doubled in July from the previous month. Such so-called “bot” accounts shared articles from Samhallsnytt and Fria Tider more frequently than real people, the report said, and were 40 percent more likely to express support for the Sweden Democrats.

Facebook said its work with Viralgranskaren to fact check content on its sites helped it quickly identify “false news.”

The company declined to give specific figures about the amount or sources of false news it had recorded around the Swedish election, but said any flagged content is given a lower position on its site, a practice known as “downranking,” which it says cuts views by 80 percent. Users who see disputed articles are also shown other sources of verified information, it said.

In a blog post on its website, Twitter says it “should not be the arbiter of truth.”

But the MSB’s counter influence team’s head Tofvesson said there had been a “positive increase” in the work of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help safeguard the election, largely via better communication and coordination with local authorities.

British firms urged to stockpile medicines in preparation for no-deal Brexit

British government issues warning notices to businesses if agreement with EU fails

 Dominic Raab, the British Brexit secretary, is still confident that a deal can be reached with the EU. Photograph: EPA/Luke MacGregor / POOL
Dominic Raab, the British Brexit secretary, is still confident that a deal can be reached with the EU. Photograph: EPA/Luke MacGregor / POOL

bY Denis Staunton/The Irish Times-The British government has told pharmaceutical companies to stockpile an extra six weeks supply of medicines to prepare for a no-deal Brexit and warned that businesses will face new bureaucratic hurdles when they import and export goods.

Twenty-five technical notices published on Thursday outlined the impact of a no-deal Brexit on a number of sectors and economic activities but Brexit secretary Dominic Raab stressed that London remained confident of reaching an agreement with the EU.

“I am still confident that getting a good deal is, by far, the most likely outcome. The vast majority, roughly 80 per cent, of the withdrawal agreement has now been agreed, and we are making further progress on those outstanding separation issues,” he said.

The technical notices, the first batch of a total of 84, warned that failure to reach a deal with Brussels would make credit card transactions with the EU more expensive for British consumers. And British citizens living in the EU could be unable to access their UK bank accounts or pensions without an agreement on financial services.

The notice on trade tells businesses importing goods from the EU that they will have to register as importers and decide the correct classification and value of their goods and enter it on a customs declaration for the revenue and customs service (HMRC).

‘Good faith’

They should “consider how they will submit import declarations, including whether to engage a customs broker, freight forwarder or logistics provider (businesses that want to do this themselves will need to acquire the appropriate software and secure the necessary authorisations from HMRC). Engaging a customs broker or acquiring the appropriate software and authorisations form HMRC will come at a cost”.

Britain would continue to accept medicines tested in EU member states and Mr Raab said he would expect the EU to act with similar “good faith” and flexibility even without a Brexit deal.

“Most of the worst-case scenarios, being bandied around, imply that the EU would resist all and any mutual co-operation with the UK. In reality, I find it difficult to imagine that our EU partners would not want to co-operate with us even in that scenario in key areas like this, given the obvious mutual benefits involved,” he said.

Eight weeks

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the technical notices and Mr Raab’s speech showed that the government was not prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

“We are eight weeks out from the deadline for reaching an agreement. Ministers should be getting on the job of negotiating a Brexit deal that works for Britain, not publishing vague documents that will convince no one. A no-deal Brexit has never been viable and would represent a complete failure of the Government’s negotiating strategy,” he said.

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A young protestor shouts as she takes part in the People’s Vote demonstration against Brexit
Getty Images

The Confederation of British Industry said the notices exposed Brexiteers’ claims about the ease of leaving the EU on “World Trade Organisation terms” as a fantasy. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, said they confirmed that a no-deal Brexit was not a credible option.

“It would be devastating for working people. Jobs and rights at work would be under threat, and price increases would hit already-struggling families hard. The government cannot allow us to crash out. The prime minister must throw out her red lines, face down the extremists in her party, and negotiate a deal that works for the whole of the UK,” she said.

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