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Polish president vetoes media bill, U.S. welcomes move

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Poland‘s president vetoed a media bill that critics said was aimed at silencing a Discovery-owened news channel that is critical of the government, citing worries about the strain the law would put on relations with Washington.

The move allows NATO-member Poland to sidestep a potentially explosive row with the United States at a time of heightened tension in eastern Europe amid what some countries see as increased Russian assertiveness.

However, the decision means that a project voted through parliament by the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) has been blocked by a president elected as their ally.

President Andrzej Duda said in a televised statement on Monday that if the law came into force it could violate a treaty signed with the United States on economic and trade relations.

“One of the arguments considered during the analyses of this law was the issue of an international agreement that was concluded in 1990 … this treaty speaks about the protection of investments,” he said.

“There is a clause which says that media-related investments may be excluded, but it concerns future investments.”

The United States had urged Duda to use his veto. The U.S. charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, thanked him on Twitter ” … for leadership and commitment to common democratic values and for protecting the investment climate in Poland”.

Unexpectedly rushed through parliament this month, the legislation would have tightened rules around foreign ownership of media, specifically affecting the ability of news channel TVN24, owned by U.S. media company Discovery Inc, to operate.

TVN24’s parent, TVN, is owned by Discovery via a firm registered in the Netherlands in order to get around a ban on non-European firms owning more than 49% of Polish media companies. The law, which drew nationwide protests, would have prevented this workaround.

MEDIA FREEDOM

“This is a victory for the Polish people,” Discovery said in a statement. “We commend the president for doing the right thing and standing up for the democratic values of a free press and the rule of law.”

However, PiS spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska told state-run news agency PAP the party was “disappointed” by the decision.

“In our opinion, the media law requires clarification so that the law is applied in accordance with the same practice as in other countries,” she was quoted as saying.

Parliament could vote to overturn the president’s veto, but PiS does not have the required qualified majority of votes.

PiS has long argued that foreign media groups have too much power in Poland, distorting public debate.

However, critics say that moves against them seek to limit media freedom and are part of an increasingly authoritarian agenda that has put Warsaw at loggerheads with the European Union.

Duda said he generally believed limiting foreign ownership of media was sensible, but that any regulation should concern future investments in the sector, not current owners.

(Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Additional reporting: Dawn Chmielewski; Writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alison Williams)

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U.S. charges man with human smuggling after 4 freeze to death near Canada border

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U.S. authorities on Thursday charged a man with human smuggling of Indian nationals from Canada, the day after four people including a baby were found frozen to death in a remote part of Canada close to the Minnesota border.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota said 47-year-old Steve Shand had been arrested just south of the border on Wednesday while driving two undocumented Indian citizens.

U.S. border patrol agents soon came across five more Indians traveling on foot, one of whom was carrying a backpack belonging to a family of four who had become separated from the group as they all tried to cross the border.

They alerted Canadian police who found the victims – a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a baby – about 40 feet (12 meters) from the frontier with Minnesota. First indications are that they died from exposure to the cold.

“These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a televised news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Wind chill had driven down the temperature to minus 35 C (minus 31 F), she said.

The U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that the four victims had tentatively been identified as the missing Indian family.

The five Indian nationals explained they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone and estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours.

Shand has been charged with one count of human smuggling. He is next due in court on Jan 24.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

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Canada agency says Russian-backed actors targeting infrastructure

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Network operators of critical Canadian infrastructure should boost their defenses against Russian state-sponsored threats, Canada’s signals intelligence agency said on Thursday.

The warning from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is the latest in a series of bulletins from Canada’s two main spy agencies accusing Russian actors of trying to hack into sensitive computer systems.

“(CSE) encourages the Canadian cyber-security community —especially critical infrastructure network defenders — to bolster their awareness of and protection against Russian state-sponsored cyber threats,” it said in a statement.

Russian actors and others are targeting critical infrastructure network operators as well as their operational and information technology, it added.

Operators should be prepared to isolate components and services that “would be considered attractive to a hostile threat actor to disrupt” and boost vigilance, CSE said.

Canada has had poor relations with Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ottawa fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any further aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Canada adds jobs for fifth month in December -ADP

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Canada added 19,200 jobs in December, the fifth straight month of gains, led by hiring in the professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors, a report from payroll services provider ADP showed on Thursday.

The November data was revised to show 102,100 jobs were created rather than an increase of 231,800. The report, which is derived from ADP’s payrolls data, measures the change in total nonfarm payroll employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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