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Trudeau outlines ‘first steps’ on long road to justice for UIA Flight PS752 victims

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The Iranian government’s admission that its own military forces shot down flight PS752 was “an important step,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Saturday, but it was also a “first step.” There are still, the prime minister explained, “many more steps” to be taken — that “must” be taken.

This is the prudent response. Though there can be no doubt now that Iranian actions directly caused the deaths of 176 people, including 57 Canadians, the tasks of mourning for those lost and achieving justice on their behalf are far from complete.

The weight of responsibility will have to be borne for months and years to come.

For Iran, Trudeau laid out his expectations. A full and complete investigation “must” be conducted. “Full clarity” is needed. Families “deserve” closure. It is “absolutely necessary” that Canada participate in the investigation and Canadian officials “expect” the full co-operation of Iranian authorities. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had responded with a “commitment to collaborate.”

Watch Trudeau’s statement following Iran’s admission

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to Iran’s admission that it unintentionally shot down passenger jet PS752, says all Canadians are shocked and appalled at this senseless loss of life. 1:01

The prime minister has been careful since Tuesday to not get ahead of himself or the facts, and again on Saturday he was unwilling to ruminate publicly on possible consequences if Iran is somehow less than fully co-operative and forthcoming.

“I think there are going to be many conversations and reflections on consequences over the coming days and weeks,” he said. “Right now, we’re focusing on what the families most need and that is answers and access, and that is where all of our efforts are focused.”

Trudeau’s greatest natural advantages as a politician have been his lifelong connection with the Canadian public and his own inclination to connect and so it might seem to naturally follow that he would orient himself toward the personal needs of those directly affected. He spent much of Friday meeting with grieving families and made a point of relaying their feelings and desires in his prepared remarks on Saturday.

“They are hurt, angry and grieving,” Trudeau said. “They want answers. They want justice.”

A confirmation of his own feelings was tacitly, and perhaps correctly, put secondary to those who have suffered directly. The prime minister’s tone this week has been grim and his words have been heavy, but only when asked by a reporter did Trudeau acknowledge that he was “furious” and “outraged.”

Watch as Trudeau says he’s ‘outraged and furious’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a news conference in Ottawa on Saturday, saying Iran must take “full responsibility” and that a full and complete investigation must be conducted. 6:12

But focusing on the needs of those most directly affected is also an important signpost for a Canadian government that will be held responsible for properly doing everything in its power to achieve accountability and justice. It might be emotionally satisfying to quickly threaten the Iranian regime, but words and actions are only truly useful if they advance the cause of justice for those who died and those who are left behind.

Asked again to account for exactly what sequence of events can be said to have led to this week’s disaster — the provocative question of whether the targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the United States played a role in this tragedy — Trudeau again declined to speculate.

Echoes of Obama after MH17 downing

He did surmise that “it is at times of tension like these that tragedies like this crash can happen, causing great loss of innocent life” — an echo of then-U.S. President Barack Obama’s words after the downing of MH17 in 2014. But he also noted that “the reality is there have been significant tensions in that region for a long time.”

What the example of MH17 — the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down by a Russian missile over Ukraine — would suggest is that it may be years before full justice is achieved. Five years after that disaster, the Netherlands and its international partners are still pursuing the case and Russia has not admitted responsibility.

In the case of the Iranian flight that was shot down by American forces in 1988, it took eight years for compensation to be agreed upon and delivered. The real details of what happened were slowly uncovered.

Iran’s admission on Friday night — perhaps compelled by the overwhelming evidence of a missile attack, including video images — might suggest a quicker resolution, at least at the level of official accountability and restitution. But much remains to be seen and nothing can be taken for granted.

 

Vigils have been held across Canada, including this one in Ottawa, to commemorate those killed aboard Flight PS752. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

 

Speaking at a memorial for MH17 last July, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who Trudeau consulted for advice this week, offered words that may be applicable now.

“Our hearts cry out for a swift resolution, while our heads tell us to proceed carefully,” he said. “Because the road to justice requires determination and unity. It requires self-control and restraint.”

Trudeau seems to implicitly acknowledge the task ahead when he says that this country “will not rest” until it gets the “accountability, justice and closure that families deserve.”

Even if the wound is treated, the Iranian regime itself should understand that scars can last a lifetime — just days ago President Rouhani was reminding Americans of what they had done 31 years ago.

The days ahead will involve mourning and diplomacy and the pursuit of answers, for however long that takes. The disaster will linger as a trauma for Canada and Canadians.

And PS752 — its tragedy, its causes and its ramifications — will loom for many years to come a scar on the history of the world.

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Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates

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The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.

Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.

Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.

“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.

Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.

The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.

The White House declined to comment.

The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.

Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.

Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.

Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.

The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.

In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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Putin hits back as NATO warns Moscow against attacking Ukraine

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Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s possible motives for massing troops near the Ukrainian border.

President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if U.S.-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.

“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Stoltenberg, saying: “Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States…, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

Tensions have been rising for weeks, with Russia, Ukraine and NATO all staging military exercises amid mutual recriminations over which side is the aggressor.

Putin went further than previously in spelling out Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine, saying it would have to respond if NATO deployed advanced missile systems on its neighbour’s soil.

“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” the Kremlin leader said.

“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” he said, pointing to Russia’s recent testing of a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound.

EU and other Western leaders are involved in a geopolitical tug-of-war with Russia for influence in Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, through trade, cooperation and protection arrangements.

U.S. BRIEFING

NATO foreign ministers began two days of talks in the Latvian capital Riga to debate what they say is the growing Russian threat, with Blinken due to brief his 29 alliance counterparts on Washington’s intelligence assessment.

Blinken, speaking at a news conference with his Latvian counterpart, said he will have more to say on Wednesday on how to respond to Russia after holding talks with NATO allies.

“We will be consulting closely with…allies and partners in the days ahead…about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity,” he said.

Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal accused Russia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-pm-says-russia-absolutely-behind-coup-attempt-2021-11-30 of trying to topple the elected government in Kyiv, which the Kremlin denies, after Ukraine’s president last week unveiled what he said was a coup attempt.

Shmygal also said Ukraine would seek more weapons from the United States – precisely the course of action that Putin has warned against.

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.

In May, Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders numbered 100,000, the most since its Crimea takeover, Western officials say. Ukraine says there are more than 90,000 there now.

Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukrainian suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.

Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.

“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken…Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”

 

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon

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Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.

She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.

He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.

Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.

In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.

Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.

 

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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